Content Harry Potter / Buffy Crossover

Who are you?

  Narcissa Malfoy stared at the text for a long time, wondering what had brought the boy to a realization that he was dealing with a person.

  Few wizards of any stripe would have made that connection, not in a world where self updating books were common and magic seemed to breathe life into the lifeless on a daily basis. It was a penetrating question, one that took her by surprise and made her think.

  This one was growing up, she supposed.

  Alright, it was time then.

  She opened her copy to the index page and pressed a wand to the paper. In a moment a big black dog raced out, panting eagerly as he stared up at her from the pages.

  “Alright, Sirius,” She said tolerantly. “You may consider yourself off restriction.”

  The dog barked sharply, jumped around on the page, and then ran across the book and off the page on the other side.

  Narcissa sighed, smiling slightly at the memory of her cousin, and carefully and deliberately took a quill and began to compose her answer to the young man’s question.

****

  Xander called Jessie and Willow first thing after he’d unpacked, and in short order the two were over at his place and they were getting caught up on the past year while some of the shows Jessie had taped for him played in the VCR.

  “A Prank war?” Jessie cackled, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

  “No, these twins are insane,” Xander grinned, “Though I have to admit I almost thought I was dead meat when one of the pranks I set up caught the teachers.”

  “You pranked the TEACHERS!?” Willow screamed while Jessie laughed.

  “Yeah, but I got it blamed on the twins.” Xander smirked, then frowned as he considered, “Though it did get a little out of hand. The pranks weren’t bad, but one of the teachers reacted kinda... stupid. That made things worse.”

  Jessie was still laughing as Willow openly scowled at him.

  “Anyway, it was an ok year except for the snake.” Xander said.

  “Snake?” The two blurted together.

  Xander nodded, “yeah, once got loose and bit some students. Caused a bit of an uproar.”

  Willow shivered. Snakes she did NOT like. Jessie just whistled softly, “Cool dude.”

  “Anyway, it’s summer, I got money, and while I do have some work to do I also want to have some fun. What do you two say?” Xander asked with a grin, “up for a real blast of a summer?”

  “Sure, what have you got in mind?” Jessie grinned back as Willow nodded.

  “Well, I figure we take at least one day a week and do something awesome.” Xander said, “Theme parks, a day in LA, whatever. Sound good?”

  “Sounds cool to me, good with you Wills?” Jessie looked over.

  Willow nodded, “I think I can sell my parents on the idea.”

  The deal made the trio settled in to watch some more TV until Jessie had to go home for Supper. Willow, who lived closer, lagged behind.

  “Xander, were those stories true?” She asked when they were alone.

  He nodded, “Just underplayed. The snake was actually a sixty foot long Basilisk.”

  Willow ‘eeped’. “You’re kidding!”

  Xander shook his head.

  “You HAVE to be kidding!!”

  “I wish. It petrified a friend of mine,” Xander said, frowning. He then smiled slightly and looked up at Willow, “Hermione, actually. She’s kinda like English-Willow.”

  “Hey! I speak English!”

  Xander chuckled, “Not what I meant. Anyway, yeah the stories were true.”

  “Jeeze.  Are you sure you want to go back there?”

  Xander thought about it then shrugged, “Yeah, I think so. It’s awesome, Wills. We’re learning stuff you only see in movies and comics. Come on downstairs, I want to show you some of my notes.”

  Down in the basement that had been set aside for Xander’s ‘magical studies’, he broke out his notebook and showed it to Willow. She skimmed through it quickly, and then looked at him with a curious eye.

  “Magical tattoos?”

  “It sounded cool?” Xander replied with a weak smile.

  She rolled her eyes, “Can I borrow this, Xan? I’ll bring it back tomorrow.”

  “Sure.”

  “Ok, I’ll see you then,” She said, getting up to leave. “It’s real good to have you home. Bye.”

  “Bye.”

****

  It took some convincing, but the three of them managed to convince their parents and the first excursion day was set for the beginning of the following week. Xander and the other two settled in to a bit of a routine otherwise, watching TV and doing whatever came to mind. With Willow he found himself working on his projects, as well as a bit on homework, and he spent his time with Jessie pouring over comic books and Jessie’s latest obsession, Role Playing Games.

  It turned out that, without Xander around, Jessie had started hanging out with Jonathan and the Wells brothers, as well as some of their friends. That group was into the geek scene SO much more than Xander had ever been, but it was fun to be immersed back into a year’s worth of total geekdom in just a few days.

  The books were cool too, since they gave him ideas for things to research when he went back to his projects.

  It was his Uncle who surprised Xander, though. Sam had showed up to make sure Xander was still working out as he’d begun to the year before, and express disgust at how much Xander had slacked off, then he got serious for a bit.

  “Hey kid,” Sam said after one workout, while Xander was wiping the sweat away, “got someone I’d like you to meet.”

  Xander shrugged, “Sure, Unc.  Who?”

  “He’s family,” Sam told him, “Squib, same as me, from way back. He asked about you after you left last year.”

  “Oh yeah?  How come?”

  “Keeps tabs on the family, heard you were going to magic school I guess.”

  Xander nodded, “Alright.  When?”

  “Today, if you want. He’s out near LA, I’ll drive you.”

  The drive out was peaceful, leaving Xander relaxed as they drove up to a nice colonial style home tucked into the hills maybe an hour out of Los Angeles. Sam brought him in and they found a really old man sitting on the porch, looking out over the Ocean.

  “Hello Robert.” Sam said respectfully, pausing at the porch steps.

  “Sam.  This your nephew then?” The old man asked, looking Xander over carefully.

  Sam nodded.

  “Well don’t just stand there, come on up, take a set.”

  They did, and there was a moment of silence before the old man looked at Xander again.

  “I understand the Family has been showing an interest in you.”

  Xander shrugged, “I suppose so, Sir. I don’t really know much about it.”

  The old man snorted, “Don’t suppose you would. Watch out for the Harris’ son, we’re a sneaky lot.”

  Xander smiled weakly at the man.

  “Anyway, Sam also tells me that you’re taking schooling abroad?”

  “Hogwarts, Sir.”

  Robert nodded, “Was a good school in my day, haven’t heard anything much about it lately, but then I don’t keep up like I used to.”

  The conversation fell into a lull for a long moment and then just as Xander opened his mouth to ask why the old man wanted to see him, Robert spoke up again.

  “So tell me, son, what happened over there this year?”

  Xander blinked, “Pardon?”

  Robert chuckled, “Last year Sam and your Dad are telling me about how you were a Wizard and all, then this year past the family starts buzzing about you, and just last week you’d think someone dropped a live grenade in the Elder Harris’ lap. You’re causing waves, son, and I’d like to know why.”

  “What does it matter to you?” Xander asked, a little put out that his life was being watched so closely.

  “Me? Nothing much. To be honest, I probably won’t be around much longer anyway. To the family, though, it may matter.”

  “Wasn’t anything much, just a memory of that psycho dark lord.” Xander shrugged, “Loosed a basilisk on the school, didn’t have much to do with me, I just went down with the guy who killed it.”

  The old man snorted, “Wasn’t anything much.  Funny.  And the year before?”

 “Hey, I had nothing to do with that.” Xander protested, “That was all Harry and his group.”

  Robert chuckled, “You’re an interesting lad, Alexander. What are you studying beyond the basics, if you don’t mind my asking?”

  “Nothing really,” Xander said, “I’m signed up for Arithmancy and Runes next year, but those are my first electives.”

  Robert nodded, “Any history classes?”

  “American Wizarding History and History of Magic,” Xander responded.

  Robert exchanged glances with Sam, then turned back to Xander. “Tell me, do you plan on living solely in the Wizarding world, lad?”

  “I don’t know, but I doubt it. I’m not giving up my TV,” Xander declared.

  The two men chuckled at that, but shook their heads.

  “Not what I meant, but it answers the question well enough.” Robert said with a sigh, “You know, most children who go into the magical world never come back. They lose the ability to exist in the realm of mere mortals. Even those who were born to completely normal parents.”

  Xander frowned, “How come?”

  “Because, from the age of eleven all they see is magic for ten months of the year. By eighteen, the normal world has moved on without them, and that was decades ago. Today you can lose your place in the world in even less time.”

    Xander frowned, “How come?”

  Xander grimaced at the thought, but another one was pushing to the surface. “Why are you guys so intent on all this stuff?”

  Sam laughed, “Told ya he’d ask.”

  “So you did, whelp.” Robert grumbled good naturedly, then turned back to Xander. “We’re interested because it suits us to have a contact that can walk in both worlds.”

  “Can’t you?”

  “We’re both Squibs,” Robert explained, “We know the magical world, but the magical world doesn’t really want to know us.”

  “Sounds like those idiot pureblood types in England.”

  “To a degree, yes.”

  “So what do you guys want?”

  “For now? To do you a favour, if you really want to walk in both worlds. Later, well we’ll talk about later when it comes.” Robert said.

  “Did the rumours mention I was sorted into Slytherin?” Xander asked dryly, “Cause you’ve got to be cracked if you think I’m going to agree to anything without knowing the end price.”

  They laughed, “No end price, lad. We don’t recruit or blackmail children. However, by helping you now we at least have a chance at a future arrangement. That’s something we won’t have if you vanish completely into the magical.”

  Xander frowned, he’d never thought about it in those terms.

  “Alright, what did you have in mind?”

****

  Lately it seemed that no matter what Xander did, or which way he turned, he was faced with more work than he’d ever imagined he’d do, let alone want to do.  Sam and Robert had offered him some tutoring in subjects more useful in the normal world, including more exercise and some actual fight training this summer, and Xander had accepted.

  Then he arrives home and cracks open his favourite book, the Grimoire of the Coven, and found a long note in the interactive section of the book.

  Who Am I?

  That, young man is an interesting question with a detailed response. Simply, I was Miss Black.

  Xander blinked, looking at the words in surprise. Was? Did she die? Was this something like Riddle’s diary then? He read on.

  Before my marriage that was my name, at least. Today I use another name, one that isn’t important for the moment.

  Xander sighed, grinning a little to himself. At least he wasn’t facing some weird Dark Chick trying to do whatever. Well, probably wasn’t facing that anyway.

  When I went to school, Miss Evans, Miss Prewitt, and I became... unlikely friends. We shared some classes, and some acquaintances, and eventually many things together as we grew from the young girls we were to the women we became. Miss Evans was killed not long after graduating, her family’s opposition to the Dark Lord finally demanding the ultimate price. Miss Prewitt now resides in St Mungos, where she has been since almost the same time, and will likely remain for the rest of her days.

  They were both reliable and very good friends, and while still in school we made an agreement. We would help any who came across the book you now hold, regardless of their blood or their politics. You see, We three held very different views in those regards, views that ultimately led us down the roads we have taken, to the destinations we each found.

  The words within this tome are not political; they are not intended to sway your thinking or your actions. They are, however, the opinions of three very different young women who came of age in a difficult time and so are highly charged and should always be carefully considered before being accepted as truth or falsehood.

  So, the answer to your question is that I am who I agreed to be when I made the pact with Miss Evans and Miss Prewitt. I am who they would be, if they could. I am your advisor, occasionally your tutor, and if it is so required I will be your confidant. Nothing you write in this book with be shared with anyone else on pain of the Oath we took, of that you have the word of the Coven.

Narcissa Malfoy Nee Black of the Coven

  Ps. I do apologize for the plague I have unleashed upon you; however as it is your third year certain agreements have to be upheld.

  Xander gulped.

  Plague??

  Then he frowned. The plague was scary, but he suspected that it was less than lethal, whatever it was, and so it took second place. First place was taken quickly by the name ‘Malfoy’.

  Was she related to Draco? She almost had to be, which made a certain sense as he thought about it. Miss Black was a blood purist, Xander knew from reading her entries. She didn’t have a particularly low opinion of muggle born and all, but she still believed in the superiority of breeding.

  No Matter how he looked at it, things were starting to get interesting.

Just as that thought crossed his mind, Xander nearly jumped out of his skin. The coven Grimoire suddenly jumped on the desk, as the large black dog that represented Sirius Black bounded into view. The dog began barking up a storm, its cartoonlike speech bubbles blocking out the page as it seemed to be trying to get Xander’s attention.

His attention it got, and Xander quickly forgot about the note from the coven member at he tried to get rid of the dog that was in the process of befouling his pages.

“No, stop it! I said stop it, don’t eat that! No, I need those notes! You crazy mutt,” Xander screamed at the book, trying in vain to get the dog to behave.

The black dog was jumping up and down, obviously having the time of its life, gleefully ignoring Xander’s protestations. After several minutes of this, Xander finally gave up and slumped down in his chair. Shortly after that happened dogs excited rampage, came to a stop. Xander slowly looked back up at the book, and found the dog staring seriously out at him.

For a long moment the two looked at each other, and then the dog slowly began to shift morphing into a bottle of ink, and then finally into a man.

“Now you’ve finally learned it’s futile to fight a marauder,” the man grinned up at him, “let’s move on to the fun stuff.”

****

Sirius Black was insane. That was all Xander had to say on the subject.

No, scratch that. Xander had a hell of a lot more to say; the problem though, was that Sirius wasn’t listening. Instead the black mongrel of a shape shifter was tearing through Xander’s notes and lessons and generally making a pain of himself. Not that he cared what Xander thought, of course.

Still, the man knew his magic.

Practically against his will, Xander found himself learning from the troublemaker.  Sirius went in-depth into what he called the noble art of the prank, though to Xander it often sounded like good old-fashioned bullying. That said, while he didn’t approve of Sirius’s methods of identifying the target, Xander had to admit that the ideas were scary good.

In fact, he shuddered to imagine the twins with the amount and kind of information that Black was feeding him.

The first weekly trio trip, as Xander had taken to calling it, came along not a moment too soon. Between black, his relatives, and Willow, Xander figured he was working harder on his holidays than he did during school. So when, under the supervision of Jessie’s mother, the trio headed for LA, Xander was determined to do nothing that even resembled work for the entire day.

****

“Disneyland,” Jessie exclaimed, “I love this place!”

Xander laughed, draping an arm over the shoulder of both his best friends, dragging both closer to him as the trio walked in the magic kingdom. “This is going to be so cool.”

“You know I heard they have great educational...”

“Hey!” Xander cut Willow off abruptly, holding up his hand a stop her in place. “We talked about this Willow, no work, no learning, only fun.”

Jessie smirked at Willow, enjoying the outraged look on her face as she turned on Xander.

“Just because we’re having fun, doesn’t mean we can’t learn something to,” Willow huffed at him, obviously spinning up for rant.

Xander just grinned at her, “today is not for learning Willow, today’s for mindless, totally unproductive, and utterly time wasting, fun.”

Will crossed her arms, glaring at Xander, who just kept on grinning back at her. Finally, after a long moment, she gave up and grinned back. “Alright fine.”

“Yes!” Jessie crowed, pumping his arms in the air in triumph. “Let the fun times begin!”

Xander put his arms back around his two friends, and trailed by Jessie’s mother, the trio made their way into the happiest place on earth.

****

The three of them spent their day going from ride to ride and show to show, and generally just having fun. For Xander it was the first time, and perhaps as much two years, that he just focused on nothing but fun. That thought struck him as they were leaving the park, and the concept actually staggered him for a moment.

It was insane, where was the slacker he used to be? He and Jessie had perfected their don’t care attitude, had spent hours on it even, and now what was he? The horror of horrors was that he was becoming, God forbid, Willow or Hermione.

Now there was a scary thought.

In all seriousness, though, it did worry him somewhat. The idea that he was losing himself kept coming back to him. He couldn’t help it though, just the idea of magic and the things he could do, those kept him up at night. He would lie awake, staring up at the ceiling in the dark, and just try to mentally map out all the things he could accomplish.

It was like living in comic book, the wonder, the horror, and the sheer infinite possibilities. It was, in plain and simple fact, a fantasy come true. How could any geek worthy of the title possibly do any less?

****

The day after the Disney trip, Willow came over in the morning and the two of them went down to the basement and immediately began to crack open the books.

“Have you been reading over the winter,” Xander asked.

Willow nodded enthusiastically, “I’ve read all the theory, and even managed to practice some of potions, but it was hard keeping it from my dad.”

Xander nodded, “they around more this year?”

Willow shrugged, “not really. But potions stink, so I can’t really do any inside.”

“Yeah I can see that.” Xander responded, opening his notebook on wand making. “It kind of sucks that your dad is so close minded.”

Willow grimaced, neither nodding nor refuting Xander’s statement. “I guess, but I don’t really want to give up my computer classes either. So I don’t know, maybe I’m happier here?”

Xander shrugged, mulling that over. Finally shook his head, “you could be right. Wizards are a little strange, and really backwards it seems. As long as you doing what you love, I’ll be happy for you.”

Willow blushed red for a moment, ducking her head down to look at her toes, “thanks.”

Xander just smiled, and then looked down at his book. Willow took a moment to regain her composure, then looked over at what he was reading.

“Wand crafting?” Willow asked, her voice getting a touch of excitement. “You want to build a wand? Because I would really love to have one, you know if you thought you could do it, but it can be really frustrating reading through the books and not being able try the spells, you know...”

Xander laughed, holding up his hands to stem the flow of words from his friend’s mouth. “Hold on, hold on. I’m just doing the basic reading; we are a long way from building one.”

“Oh,” Willow said, blushing again. “I was just, kind of you know, hoping and all.”

“I know,” Xander said sympathetically, “but it’s supposed to be really hard to make a proper wand.”

“How are they made?”

“Well according to what I’ve been reading modern wands are built with a wooden conduit,” Xander said seriously, “that’s around a magical core.”

Willow blinked, “that sounds simple enough.”

Xander shrugged, “where it gets complicated is the fact that no one knows why or how it works. At least no one who knows is talking. In fact, I think I read almost a dozen different explanations so far and all of them contradict each other.”

Willow scowled at the book, “there are no facts? Have there been any studies? There should be standards, shouldn’t there? If every wizard or witch needs to use a wand wouldn’t it make sense for the wand to be the most studied piece of magic in the world?”

Xander half shrugged, half smirked, “you just used the words wizard, witch, and sense in the same sentence. I’m pretty sure that violates the law somewhere.”

When Willow scowled at him, Xander couldn’t help himself; he broke down laughing much to his redheaded friend’s ire. As he laughed she kept glaring, which caused him to laugh harder, which in turn caused her to glare more. The circular reinforcement continued until Xander was clutching his side painfully, and even Willow was finally beginning to crack a smile.

****

“Hey kid, how was the week?”

Xander nodded to Robert, tossing down some of his exercise gear, “pretty good, you?”

“At my age kid, any morning I see the sun, that’s a good morning.” Robert grinned, belying the grim nature of his words. “So how is Sam treating anyway?”

Xander rolled his eyes, suppressing a groan. The aches and pains in his muscles had aches and pains of their own, but it wasn’t something he exactly wanted to advertise.

The old man just grinned at him, “I know that look boy, seen it in my own eyes while looking in the mirror all too many times in the past. All I can tell you is that it gets worse before it gets better.”

This time Xander did groan, not even bothering to hide it. That was about the last thing he wanted to hear, “God man, are you guys sure I need all this? I mean, really, Phys Ed doesn’t seem to be a real big deal in the Wizarding world as far as I can tell.”

Robert fell silent for a moment, looking at Xander intently. “Magic is a glorious thing boy, but like everything else it has its limits. I grew up in a small town in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Spent my first 15 years in the family home. Like you say, working out, making yourself stronger, it doesn’t seem too important to most wizards, not on the physical level anyway. When I left, I learned that strength and muscle, those are things I could trust. It took painful lessons, but they were important lessons, lessons I paid for dearly.”

The old man was quiet for a moment, as if considering what he’d said, or maybe considering what was left to be said.

“The most important thing a man can do right in this world is learn from his own mistakes.” Robert said after a long moment, “but learning from another man’s mistakes, that’s the mark of more than a man. That’s the mark of a leader.”

Xander was silent in turn, considering Robert’s advice. The old man hadn’t given any real examples, but it was obvious he was serious. Xander found himself licking his lips, a little nervous, “what happened?”

Again, Robert was quiet for a long moment, and Xander wondered if maybe he wouldn’t answer this time. Still, however, the moment ended in the old man began to speak, “I joined the Army boy, but back then it wasn’t the same armies you join today. Training consisted of being shown what end of the rifle bullet came out of, assuming you were lucky enough to get a rifle.”

As Robert told his story, Xander listened at first a little confused, trying to work out exactly when Robert had been born. After a short while, however, the confusion faded as he just began to absorb the words.

“Our family was well-to-do, so I had a rifle of my own when I joined. But I come from a magic home, we didn’t hunt for our own food, so my shiny new rifle had never seen use.” Robert said, looking a little lost in his memories, “because of my family’s position, I was groomed for leadership role. That’s not how we do things today, but then it was the natural order of things. My first squad, my first assignment, we were sent out to deal with the minor Indian uprising.”

Robert shook his head, his face tinged with memory, “we were told it was a walk in the park. The superiority of our civilized military assured our victory.”

By this point Xander was spell bound, listening intently.

“We lost half the squad in the first few seconds of the ambush, most of the rest the next three minutes.” Robert said stonily, “I almost died because I couldn’t move fast enough, couldn’t think fast enough, and couldn’t keep a steady hand when I needed it. That was when I learned my lesson, paid my price. Family position, magic, civilized culture... these are wonderful things, but in the real world, where the blood splatters the ground... they mean a whole lot less than we’d like to.”

With that said, Robert rose from his chair and tottered a little unsteadily back into the house. Behind him Xander sat silently, questions whirling in his mind. He heard a sound behind him, and turned to see Sam standing there.

“How...,” Xander hesitated, “when...?”

“Robert was born in 1807,” Sam answered, already knowing the question Xander wanted to ask. “We don’t live quite as long as wizards, at least not as a general rule, but we still live a long time.”

“But then he’d be almost...” Xander trailed off.

Sam nodded, “he’ll see his second Centennial in a few years. The oldest squib I know of.”

Xander swallowed, “and you say wizards live longer?”

“On average,” Sam answered with a nod.

“Wow.”

Sam chuckled, patting Xander on the shoulder as he walked past, heading into the house. “Why don’t you run through the kata’s I showed you kid, I need to speak with Robert for a few minutes.”

Xander nodded dumbly, shaking himself from his stupor, and slowly got down to work.

Inside the home, Sam found Robert leaning on a cane staring out at the boy as he worked in the yard.

“Whose story you telling?” Sam asked quietly.

Robert let out a quiet breath, “my older brother’s.”

Sam nodded, “was a good story.”

“I learned from my brother’s mistakes,” Robert said with finality, “I hope he can do the same.”

Sam just nodded again.

There really wasn’t much else he could do, or anything he could say. Some lessons you had to learn yourself, and the mark of a man was how well you learned them. That said, however, there were bigger things in the world than being a man. Sam knew, as Robert did, but the ability to learn from the mistakes of others was perhaps one of the most elusive, and valuable, qualities to have.

****

By the end of the week, Xander’s work out had gotten a little easier. The muscles he’d let go while back at Hogwarts slowly tightened up again, and even showed signs of perhaps not trying to kill him while he slept. He had to admit, he did make sense, or least it seemed it did that being fit would probably benefit him whether he had magic to use or not.

Of course, he supposed that he might see it that way simply because that was what he was told from a young age. A fit mind in a fit body. That was the saying, but it was a saying from a non-magical school.

Still, it made sense, he decided. So until he had evidence to the contrary, Xander decided he was going to stick it out, and deal with his sadist of an uncle. It was something he’d have to look up though, if only to determine what value, if any, the whole routine really had.

His personal projects were moving along better than his workouts, thankfully. With Willow’s somewhat obsessive help, Xander thought that maybe they might be getting a handle on the wand crafting thing.

They had actually tried making one already, with no success. The preparation of the word was apparently one of the most complicated parts, all the book seemed to agree on it. The reference material he picked up in the New Salem library indicated that wand blanks were often aged as much as 50 years, which really put a crimp in lot of his ideas.

It was Willow unsurprisingly, who offered him an intriguing alternate path.

****

“Are all wands made of wood?” Willow asked, looking up from the book.

Xander nodded, “all modern wands are anyway.”

“What about non-modern wands?”

Xander stopped, leaning back from his book, and thought about the question.

“Well,” he said slowly, “staves were made from wood, but they often used a crystal focus.”

“Crystal?” Willow asked curiously.

Xander nodded, remembering the history book he’d read on the subject. “Actually, there was a time when Crystal foci were pretty trendy.”

“What kind of Crystal?”

“Diamonds were the most popular,” Xander answered, “I think some other crystals were used as well, but those were very rare.”

“Diamonds,” Willow mused, falling silent for a moment as she considered it.

Xander recognized the look on her face.

“What is it?” He asked.

“What is what?” Willow blinked, looking up at him.

Xander smiled, leaning forward, “I know that look. You have some kind of idea, and I know you well enough that I want in.”

Willow blushed, “well, I don’t know if it’s an idea... really is just a vague thought.”

Xander raised an eyebrow questioningly.

Willow sighed then leaned forward with just a glimmer of a glint in her eye, “it’s just that diamonds and wood have something in common.”

Xander blinked, “they do?”

Willow smirked, nodding happily at Xander’s confusion. “They do.”

Xander thought about it for a long moment, then shook his head, “I give.”

“Carbon.”

Xander looked puzzled, rolling it over his head, “carbon?”

Willow nodded, “carbon is the base material of all life on earth.”

Xander nodded, “carbon-based life, right? I remember that episode of Star Trek.”

Willow rolled her eyes, “really Xander, life is not a television episode.”

“Can I help it if everything I really needed to know, I really did learn from TV?” Xander grinned.

Willow stomped her foot, eliciting a crack that echoed in the basement. “That’s not funny mister.”

“I beg to differ.”

Xander smirked as Willow reddened slightly, glaring at him. Her tolerance levels to his nonsense had dropped markedly in his absence, and he was really enjoying the fact that he could get to her more easily than he used to.

Willow took a few breaths however, and calmed down. “As I was saying, diamonds and wood have carbon in common.”

Xander thought about it, frowning a little as he puzzled it out, “okay, yeah. Diamonds are pure carbon right? But wood isn’t. I don’t think, right?”

Willow sighed, but nodded, “no, wood isn’t pure carbon. But carbon is the most basic element of all life, including wood, here on earth. And if the diamond works as a foci, then maybe carbon is what’s important in a wand.”

Xander considered it “could be. How do we test it?”

Willow thought about it for a moment, then got an expression on her face and Xander had a hard time recognizing. It was an expression, he realized shortly, that would have been more at home on Wednesday Addams’ face. And while he become inured to that look on Wednesday’s face, seeing it on Willow’s sent a spike of fear up his spine.

Lucky for Xander, he wasn’t the target of the expression of pure evil. Not this time anyway.

Willow’s face morphed back to one of pure innocence as she spoke up, “well, you know daddy did buy a new set of golf clubs.”

****

Over the next couple weeks Xander and Willow played around with the notes and few details Xander had been able to pick up on the rather nebulous art of wand crafting. As he found out in Europe, there were very few details in the public domain, to the point of it being simply ridiculous. Certainly, the process followed by the three families of wand making was for all practical purposes passed only from father to son.

The lesser art of wand crafting, with all its foibles, was only somewhat more open. The basic process was available to those who wished to research it, however by all accounts the devil was in the details.

In their pursuit of the ideal, however, Xander had to admit to being a little scared of how obsessively Willow was pursuing her goal. Stealing her dad golf clubs, well that showed a good deal more nerve than he really gave her credit for.

In the end, though, Xander figured Willow was just really pissed off over not being able to go to a magic school.

That said, even she wasn’t willing to do more than wreck one of her father’s clubs. So that was how the two of them wound up crouched over an expensive graphite club, hacksaw in hand. With the club properly dissected, their having gained two pieces about long enough to use for a wand, the duo began to puzzle out how they were going to put it all together.

The core would be easy enough, since Xander had been planning this for several months. While still at Hogwarts Xander had managed to finagle several unicorn hairs from the groundskeeper, Hagrid. He figured that those would make an excellent start for a new wand crafting project.

As the preparations for this little project continued, however, a new force made her way to Xander’s summer.

The floo specialists from the California County Bureau of the American ministry arrived and put Xander’s special order into effect, opening the Harris home floo to full transport, as well as communications, capacity. With that done, two of the girls in Xander’s life were now on a collision course to meet.

****

Wednesday tucked in to a roll as the burst of green fire flared in the fireplace, coming back to her feet about halfway into the living room. The dark haired girl glanced around briefly, idly dusting the floo powder from her close as she did.

“Wednesday!” Xander grinned, striding forward and gave his friend a brief hug.

She spared him a brief glare in return, then grudgingly returned the embrace.

“Man, it’s good to see you!” Xander said, stepping back and gesturing around. “Welcome to California, home of Hollywood, giant redwoods, rainbow pride, and the Hellmouth.”

“Yes...” Wednesday said slowly, as she turned around. “I can feel it.”

Xander carefully had a smirk, thinking about how it was strange those things you could get used to if you really had to. From anyone else that comment would have sent shivers up the spine, but from Wednesday Addams it really was just par for the course.

“It’s like a cold dark presence,” she said, musing mostly to herself. “A chilled blanket, to keep the summer warmth away. Delightful.”

And there went the shivers.

This time Xander had to muffle a snicker. Wednesday was of course, purely Wednesday.

“Come on downstairs,” Xander said with a grin. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

The Addams scion merely inclined her head slightly, and then followed Xander without comment.

****

Willow was pouring over one of the wand crafting books, trying to absorb the sections on theory, when Xander and Wednesday walked downstairs. Xander smiled when Willow characteristically didn’t even bother to look up, just waiting in his general direction as she mumbled, “hey Xander.”

Wednesday, for her part, merely raised a single eyebrow as she took in the near disaster zone of books and papers that surrounded the redhead. “It would appear that I have located the reason for you being so comfortable in the presence of Hermione.”

Willow jerked up at the sound of the other girl’s voice, twisting around in a manner that really couldn’t be recommend, and wound up falling off the chair and flat on her butt.

“Ow!!”

“Just as jumpy,” Wednesday noted, “though perhaps a little more clumsy.”

Willow pushed the hair out of her face, staring up at Xander and Wednesday with wide eyes, “hey! I’m not clumsy ...”

Wednesday raised an eyebrow.

Willow flushed red; looking around at the mess she had made when she fell, and sighed. “Well, not normally.”

Xander snickered.

“It’s not funny!”

Xander started to laugh, slumping against the wall as he managed to nod and get a few words in between breaths, “yes it is.”

Willow glared at him, Wednesday merely stared, and Xander... well Xander just started to laugh harder. Finally, after several minutes and several hundred gales of laughter, that even Xander would have to eventually admit were over the top, he calmed down.

“Wednesday,” Xander wheezed out as he tried to catch his breath, “meet Willow. Willow, meet Wednesday.”

Willow, who was still flushed bright red, nodded towards the dark haired girl. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

Wednesday’s dry, acerbic drawl left Willow flustered and uncertain as to whether the other girl meant what she said or was merely humouring Xander. The moment of uncertainty caused her innate shyness to kick in, and she ducked her head turning quickly away from the darker girl, mumbling some words about getting back to her studies.

Wednesday glanced at Xander, raising her expressive eyebrow again, and Xander shrugged in return. The Addams scion sighed silently, and then the two of them walked to the table, split apart by mutual consent, and took seats on either side of Willow.

“So,” Wednesday said her monotone voice, “what are we working on today?”

“Wand crafting.”

Wednesday glanced over at Xander, unsurprised. Xander’s interest in wands had been ongoing, so there was certainly nothing new here. She glanced across the materials on the table, taking them in silently as she also took the moment to formulate her thoughts. There were two items that she took to be wand blanks resting in the centre of the table, both of them identical, and both of them looking surprisingly like her own ebony wand.

She reached out, taking one, and realized instantly that really it was nothing like her own.

“This isn’t wood.” She said as she examined the rod in her hand, “was this from a golf club?”

Willow blushed deeper red, hiding her face behind a curtain of her hair as Xander grinned wide enough to split his face. Wednesday was far from stupid; she could’ve put the whole story together with a lot less evidence.

“So, just to be clear, you cut up what looks like a brand-new golf club,” she drawled dryly, “which I’m guessing, from the look on your faces, you didn’t exactly have permission to do. Am I right?”

Xander snickered as Willow just nodded mutely, practically pressing her face into the desk.

“Impressive.”

Willow bolted up straight, eyes wide as she stared in surprise at the other girl. “What?”

Wednesday however wasn’t someone to repeat herself, so she merely examined the material more closely. “What is your justification for this material?”

Willow swallowed, “well we, I mean Xander and me... that is, Xander and I, we were looking for ways to build a wand when we realized, well actually Xander realized that the wood usually had to be prepared, sometimes seasoned as much as 50 years. Since we didn’t really have that much time, I mean I sort of want a wand before I’m 65, so we looked for alternatives. Did you know they used to use diamonds as foci? That’s cool, but a bit expensive; I mean I have some money but not like that...”

Wednesday stared over at Xander, her expression practically unreadable, except for the fact that he’d spent two years learning what her expressions meant. At the moment she was caught in the cross roads between surprise and amusement.

Oblivious to the communication between the other two, Willow continued on, “anyway I thought that since diamonds are carbon, and that’s the only thing that they have in common with wood, maybe another form of carbon would work as well.”

Wednesday raised an eyebrow, examining the former golf club in her hand. “A graphite club? Interesting. Intriguing even.”

She said to rod back down the table next to its twin, then nodded to the books and papers, “what have you found?”

****

With Wednesday coming through the floo every couple days to help out, they quickly moved the project along from theory to the more practical aspects of testing. Some things of course, were easier theorized than accomplished.

For example, embedding the unicorn hair into the shaft was both simple and complicated at the same time. Simple because the shaft was hollow, and more than thick enough to accommodate the hair. Complicated because the shaft was hollow, and too thick to hold the hair firmly in place.

Xander suggestion of superglue was quickly shot down, much to his disappointment.

“What about a liquid core,” Wednesday suggested.

Xander frowned, thinking about it, “The only liquid that would work is...”

“Blood.”

Willow squeaked, eyes going wide, “b... blood?”

Wednesday nodded silently.

Xander scowled and thought about it, “Aren’t blood cores illegal? I think I read about that in here somewhere.”

Wednesday shrugged, “so?”

Willow squeaked again.

Xander thought about it, then shrugged as well, “before we even think about that, I think we should research blood cores. In the meantime, what if we filed down some of the graphite and filled core with powder?”

Willow nodded enthusiastically, happy to be away from the topic of blood. “That sounds like a good idea.”

Wednesday sighed, rolling her eyes, “if we must, then we must.”

Xander hid a grin as Willow stared wide-eyed at the dark haired and just plain dark Addams scion.

“Excellent,” Xander said, clasping his hands together. “We have a plan of action then. Let’s do this.”

The two very dissimilar girls nodded in agreement as they began to gather the materials needed for their first hands-on project of the summer.

****

By the middle of summer, now with a month’s worth of goof off days under their belt, Xander, Willow, and Jessie, were finding themselves a little tired of theme parks and the like. Xander had been disappointed to learn that Willow and Jessie had begun drifting apart, as Willow spent more of her time studying and Jessie began to hang around Jonathan and his friends.

Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be much that he could do about that, so Xander focused as much he could own spending time with both his friends while he was home. That meant study time and projects with Willow, but for Jessie a different tack was needed.

Thus while his afternoons were spent in pursuit of academia, his evenings, more often than not, were ironically spent in pursuit of evil wizards, dragons, and monsters of a mythical menagerie.

****

“Yes! A natural 20!”

Jessie’s crowing echoed through the room as he pumped his arms in the air.

The game had progressed, with the players delving deeper and deeper into the dungeons designed by Warren, the group’s game master. From Xander’s point of view, it was actually rather comical to the point where he was having trouble hiding snickers when they were attacked by giant rats, spiders, and the like.

Having gone down into actual dungeons, and faced monsters a good deal more dangerous, there was a surreal aspect to the whole thing.

Still, as Jessie’s fireball torched their enemies Xander leaned back and thought about the difference between the magic in the books, and the magic in his life. The fireball spell was one example, in school books the closest he’d come to was the incendio. That spell, however, operated in a different fashion. For one thing it didn’t waste energy blazing across the intervening space between the caster and the target; rather it lit the target on fire directly.

Xander did suspect however, that there were plenty of spells in the Wizarding world just as wasteful, and just a spectacular.

When the session that ended Xander hung around with the others and read through some of the sourcebooks.

“How much these cost?” He asked glancing over at Jonathan.

“Some of them are pricey,” Jonathan admitted.

“Why?” Warren asked with a sly smile, “hooked?”

Xander shrugged, “could be. It’s interesting reading at least.”

Jonathan nodded enthusiastically, “I love reading through them for fun.”

“How many of them are about magic and spells and stuff?” Xander asked.

“For Dungeons & Dragons?” Jonathan asked in return.

Xander thought about it for a moment then just shrugged, “or any game.”

“Tons.”

Xander raised an eyebrow, looking over curiously, “yeah?”

The whole group nodded furiously.

“Oh yeah,” Jonathan spoke up first, “just in DND there has to be more than a dozen.”

Warren, who had worn the same scowl almost the entire time Xander known them, rolled his eyes as he spoke up. “What are you just asking the magic? There’s lots of cool stuff in these books.”

Xander shrugged again, “just like magic I guess.”

“For really cool magic,” Warren suggested after a moment, “checkout Shadow run.”

“Oh yeah, what’s in that?”

“Technomancy.”

Xander leaned forward, his expression interested, “sounds cool.”

That seemed to be the key phrase that set the whole group off, then suddenly each of them were throwing him recommendations from their favourite games. Xander wasn’t sure that any of that would be useful, but he hadn’t lied about them being interesting reading, and if you got any good ideas out of it well then it would be worth the price of the books.

Before too long, however, the discussion deteriorated into it heated debate about the relative merits of one game versus the others. Xander mostly tuned them out at that point, and only peripherally entered the discussion as he spent most of the rest of the evening reading through various magic sourcebooks.

****

Of course while Xander considered most of the time spent with any of his friends to be enjoyable, and thus arguably playtime, his time with his uncle was most certainly not.

The workouts this summer were a great deal more strenuous, leaving him in serious aching pain at the end of his days. The early weeks were particularly bad, which forced Xander to vow not to slacken off so much the following year.

It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy the time so much, of course. If he hated it, he simply would not have done it. Even with enjoyment however, it was still damn hard work. By the middle of the summer though, Sam had begun to introduce him to basic sparring, as a lead-in to fulfilling his promise concerning the proper usage of fighting knives.

What that really meant, however, was that in addition to aches and pains Xander now had black and blue bruises to show off to the world.

What really kept them coming back however, were the discussions with Robert, and the stories he related.

****

The discussion of the day had begun while Xander was wrapping up his cool down routine, and Sam was heading for a cold beer. What had begun with Robert pulling out some of the flaws in Xander’s defence tactics and quickly moved on to a discussion of magical versus mundane defences.

“Wards!” Robert scoffed, shaking his head. “Some of the most worthless things around.”

Xander frowned, “people seem to trust them?”

Robert laughed, “That’s what makes them worthless.”

Seeing that Xander was still confused, Robert went on. “Wards are flighty things, you see. They work well enough within their limitations, but most people use them don’t bother to learn about them. Your school, Hogwarts right? I expect you’ve heard of the fidelius, given how famous it is over there now?”

Xander nodded, the fidelius was indeed the most famous defence Ward he knew about.

“That’s a funny one,” Robert said with a crooked smile. “It can hide a location from any searcher, so perfectly that no magic and no technology so far, have ever been able to penetrate it. Right?”

“I guess so.”

“Bullshit.”

Xander flinched slightly at the flat tone Robert delivered the curse in.

“How many folk you think can cast that spell?”

Xander shrugged, “dunno.”

Robert chuckled dryly, “on the whole planet, only one man. Leastwise, only one man who admit to it. That’s what makes that spell so strong; it’s never really been tested. At least not in recorded history.”

Xander blinked, thinking he heard something in Robert’s tone. “Recorded history?”

“Yes boy. That one was a lost spell, until the Evans girl managed to piece it back together from old artefacts. At least that’s the public story, or the semi public story I suppose.”

Xander perked up, eyes widening. “Evans girl?”

Robert nodded, “the one who married Potter, the mother of the boy-who-lived. The point is that Ward is only secure through obscurity. The more common a ward is, the less secure it is. Do some research, kid, you’ll find the most powerful wards of the world are all ancient magic. They’re all based on formulas that no one remembers, and no one could possibly recast today. Your school, the major banking centres of Europe, various ministries, they’re all the same. They are ancient wards that are only maintained today, never cast.”

Xander thought about that for a moment, then a slow realization came to him. “It’s not just wards, is it?”

Robert smiled slowly, “what do you think?”

“I think...” Xander said slowly, “I think the magical world is buried in secrets. Wand makers don’t seem to ever tell anyone how to do the job. Now you say this about wards, what about other areas?”

“Good, boy. Very good.” Robert said with a smile, “that’s exactly the point. Secrets are powerful, magical secrets doubly so. A ward is like a lock, the problem is the key to the lock is the one thing that every wizard on the planet carries.”

“A wand.” Xander said, his eyes opening wide.

“Bang on.” Robert said with a grin, “so what good is a lock if everyone holds the key? Of course in this case the locks are really combination based, so that’s where obscurity comes in. Never use a ward out of a book if you really intend to protect something, you may as well just hand it over to whoever wants it instead.”

It made sense, Xander had to admit, and it matched with the things she was seeing when he explored or researched the Wizarding world. Secrets, hidden formulas, ancient magic, they were everywhere. Why were the best protected places always protected by long forgotten words that were, today, merely recharged by their caretakers?

“Those old magic’s, they had come from somewhere...” Xander said softly.

Robert nodded in agreement, “Oh yes, they certainly came from somewhere. There was this time, during the war, when I led my cavalry unit over a ridge. We just crested it when we all felt a tingling down our spines. Most of my boys, they were non-magical, didn’t know what it was. I knew I had felt it before just not that strong. It was a chain collapse of multiple ward fields, the most powerful I’ve ever felt. My men, our horses, they all panicked. Standard my unit, but I was transfixed. Ahead of me, there were these two mountains side by side, and as I watched they jumped apart.”

Robert fixed Xander with a piercing stare, “you don’t know what it’s like to see two huge mountains actually jump apart. I found myself staring into a fertile valley that wasn’t there a minute earlier. This valley, held hundreds of hectares of ground, probably a good chunk of the state it was in. Until that day, however, it never existed on the map. Think on that a moment and not how many other slabs of land have been parcelled up and forgotten by the Wizarding world.”

Xander swallowed as he thought about it and wondered who or what cultures have developed spells like the fidelius. What if that was a common ward once in the distant past? How much of the earth was hidden from men, from wizards, from them all?

“Staggering thought, isn’t it?” Robert asked with a knowing smile. “I’ve thought a lot about it myself, since that day. It’s humbling to realize that it’s just possible that the world we live in is only a small fraction of the world we should have inherited.”

****

Conversations with Robert always left Xander with something to ponder. The old man, approaching his second Centennial, had a way with words and the way with people. He also had a way of planting seeds with his words, then it is invariably took root and began to push their way through Xander’s thinking.

Secrets.

It was the opposite of how he been brought up to think, Xander realized. You learned from shared information, you built on what other people know, that was how things were done. Airplanes, television, computers. These things couldn’t exist on their own.

People stood upon the shoulders of giants to accomplish these things.

Was it really possible that the magical world was so different?

He didn’t know.

But Xander knew that he would have to find out.

****

As summer peaked and began the inevitable march towards fall, Willow, Wednesday, and Xander finished their first test wand.

“Graphite wand blank, unicorn tail hair core, first test.” Xander said as Willow scribbled down the words.

He held the wand in his normal fashion and just flicked it through the air with a casual motion. His breath caught, and Willow gasped, as a moderate shower of sparks erupted.

“It works!” Willow said gleefully.

Wednesday held up a hand, “proceed with the test.”

Xander nodded, shifting his grip on the wand. He turned towards the far wall, a solid cement buttress that was part of the house’s foundation, and cast his first spell.

“Stupefy!”

  The result, an uninspired pink pulse of energy hit the far wall a moment later and vanished with a pop.

“Well, that was disappointing.” Xander said, sighing.

Willow frowned, “it wasn’t supposed to do that?”

Wednesday rose, and walked over beside Xander, her own wand in hand. “Stupefy!”

A glaring red blast of energy tore across the room and slammed into the wall before bursting into a multicolour display.

“That is what it should do.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah,” Xander said in agreement, “we’re missing something.”

The three were silent for a moment, until Willow spoke up, “well, what about the other spells? Maybe they’ll be different?”

Xander shrugged, “I don’t see why, but let’s try em.”

He turned to a book on a table, and with a classic swish and flick intoned the words, “Wingardium Leviosa!”

He was surprised when the book was steadily into the air, showing no real signs of instability.

“Intriguing.” Wednesday said calmly. “Try the shield charm.”

Xander let the book down, nodding in agreement, and turned away from the table again. “Protego!”

The shield popped into existence, showing some of the soap bubble lines that indicated weakness and instability, but it was almost a strong as Xander could currently manage with his own wand.

“So... Is that good?” Willow asked uncertainly.

“It seems to be better for charms, then curses.” Xander said thoughtfully.

Wednesday nodded in agreement, “may I?”

Xander shrugged and dropped the graphite wand into her interest hand. She accepted it and gracefully swished it through the air as a test. Her reward was a shower of sparks very similar to the one Xander had created.

“Stupefy! Wingardium Leviosa! Protego!”

The three spells as tried to Wednesday, reacted fairly close to how they had for Xander. When she was done, Wednesday was the one on the table and calmly took her seat.

“Well I believe further testing is required, it would appear to be a fairly functional wand for charms at least.”

Xander frowned, “yeah, but why? Do you think it’s the graphite, the core, or something we did?”

Wednesday and Willow ponder the question, until finally Willow spoke up.

“There’s really only one way to find out.”

Wednesday nodded in agreement, “Try another wand.”

“Right.” Willow agreed, “We try again, then we change one variable. Only one.”

“So we have to find wood for a new wand blank, new material for the core, or we change our construction method?” Xander asked.

Willow nodded, “That’s right. We should try a new core, at least I think so. A different blank will actually introduce multiple variables, since the wood isn’t as pure as graphite. Also, our construction method has too many steps to change in a controlled manner for testing.”

Xander frowned, “Okay, I can see that. The trouble is, I don’t have any Dragon heartstrings, and I sure as hell don’t have any Phoenix feathers.”

There was a long moment of silence, until Wednesday spoke softly.

“But we do have basilisk materials.”

After a moment, Xander let out a long low whistle.

“Never heard of that in a wand, which just makes me more interested to see if it will work.” He grinned.

****

Of course, working with basilisk quickly turned out to be easier said than done. One of the few details of wand crafting that Xander’s research had been able to turn up was that wand cores were normally taken from as close to the centre of a creatures magic is possible.

For dragons, their magical core was within their hearts. The feathers of the Phoenix held some of the most potent magical energy in the known Wizarding world. Unicorn tail hairs were an exception to the rule, but only because taking materials from any closer to the unicorn centre of magic would result in the death of the creature, something no sane person would risk being responsible for.

What that meant for this project was twofold. First, they didn’t know for certain what the magical centre of a basilisk was. For obvious reasons, there had been little research on the subject in the past. They could make some educated guesses, which revolved mostly around the giant snake’s eyes and fangs, which were the creature’s most potent weapons.

Those guesses led directly into their second problem. Namely, the fact that those things the trio believed were most potent, were also those things that they had the least of them were loathe to waste.

Finally they decided to start with something more common, with the full knowledge that it was almost certainly less potent.

****

“Graphite wand blank, basilisk muscle sinew core, first test.”

Xander again turned to the wall, and casually swept the wand in front of them. A burst of green and red sparks showered out of the end of the dark wand, showing that it was distinctly capable of channelling magic.

That done, Xander shifted his grip and moved on to the first spell.

“Stupefy!”

A deep red bolt flew across the room been splattered into the cement foundation on the other side.

“Wingardium Leviosa. Protego.”

Both of those spells were cast properly, but were obviously weak. The Wingardium was shaky and unsteady, forcing Xander to apply unusual focus to maintain the levitation of the book. And the Protego was the worst he had cast in almost a year.

When he was done, Xander place the wand on the table beside their other completed model and carefully wrapped a circle of green tape around the end. The green wrapped basilisk wand rested beside the blue wrapped unicorn wand as the trio consider the results of the test.

“I think we need to test them against our regular wands with spells we can easily quantify,” Wednesday said simply.

Willow nodded in agreement.

“Okay, we’ll have to write up a list of spells to use then.” Xander said, “But for now it’s looking like we have an answer.”

“I think so too,” Willow said in agreement, however she held up a cautionary hand, “but it’s not proven yet.”

“True.”

Xander nodded, agreeing with the other two. “Agreed. For now though, unicorn hair seems better for charms, and basilisk muscle sinew appears to be better for curses.”

The other two merely nodded in agreement.

“There’s nothing about that in the books though,” Willow complained.

“Wizards like their secrets.” Xander said thoughtfully, his face twisted into a puzzled frown. “Still, it wasn’t that difficult to test. There should be some mention of it, right?”

“It was impossible to test.” Wednesday corrected, “Until Willow here suggested the use of graphite. Any wooden blank would require several years of seasoning, at least, it would likely introduce several unknown and unknowable variables.”

Willow nodded, “I think she’s right. Graphite is pure, it’s just carbon. We know now that carbon will channel magic, but wood isn’t pure. Of course, that may be why our wands don’t react as well to you as your own.”

Wednesday fixed her with a stare, “Explain.”

“What I mean is that the impurities in wood may be beneficial to wand crafting.” Willow said slowly, “like how little bit of carbon introduced during forging turns iron into steel.”

“You’re saying that these graphite wands,” Xander said with a grimace, “may never match up to proper wooden ones?”

Willow nodded glumly, “right now it’s clear that even in their areas of strength, the graphite wands aren’t as good as your matched wooden ones. In other areas, their weaker ones, they’re far inferior.”

Xander sighed, disappointed, but he had to admit that Willow was right.

“It’s not a failure, Xander.” Willow said quickly, “we made real wands! They work, that’s incredible, right?”

“She’s right, Xander.” Wednesday said calmly. “We have something new here, it may lead nowhere, but it may just lead some were very interesting indeed. To find out we have to walk the path.”

Xander nodded, “I know. I guess I was just hoping for a miracle.”

“Miracles are for the weak and the desperate.”

Xander had to smile at the cold, bleak tone that Wednesday delivered her statement in. Still, the words had their effect, and he nodded in agreement.

“Alright, ideas then. Where do we go from here? Just brainstorm, will organize the ideas later.”

For the rest of the afternoon that was what they did, just throwing out various ideas and jotting down for later organization. The three of them knew that there was a mountain of work remaining to do if they wanted to even bring this idea into the realm of practicality. However, for the moment it wasn’t labour, it wasn’t work, it was quite simply fun.

****

Xander’s summer had turned into a hectic one, and he often found himself almost literally running from one activity to the next. Still, by the end of July, Xander realized that for all the running around he’d been doing there were some things on his list that he’d forgotten.

That led to a shopping excursion in Los Angeles’ magical district with Willow and Sam.

Three Angels block was a section of LA cut directly out of the city by several advanced Ward schemes that were powered by the geological Ley lines that existed all up and down the West Coast. The trio took Sam’s 1952 Chevy from Sunnydale and arrived in LA a few hours later.

To access three Angels they drove up to a barricaded alley were Sam stopped the car and leaned out the window.

“Do you see that?” Willow asked, staring ahead of them.

Xander nodded, “yeah.”

Willow twisted around the car, looking behind them, “why doesn’t anybody else see that?”

Xander grinned, “Magical sensitivity wards. In Europe they call them Muggle wards; they’re designed to hide the area from people who don’t have enough magic in them to see through them.”

Willow’s eyes widened, “oh wow.”

“If you like that,” Sam grinned as he as he straightened back up, “you’re gonna love this.”

Willow squealed at Sam put the gas pedal down in the old classic surged forward directly into the barricade.

“Oh my God! We’re going to --”

Her squeals were cut off as the car effortlessly penetrated the barricade, actually seeming to be swallowed up as they drove on through. They broke out into three Angels a moment later; bright sunlight from above beating down on them at Sam guided the old Chevy through the immense park they found themselves in.

“Shopping district is over that way,” Sam said nodding in the direction he was turning.

“Wha – but how?” Willow stared around in shock, “but we were in LA!”

“Still are little lady,” Sam grinned. “Three Angels is a magically expanded area. It started as a single city block back around 1850, but as the city boomed the magical population grew as well. The Ley lines in the area offer a lot more power than most places get, so they were able to engineer some pretty impressive wards and magical effects.”

Even Xander, who had seen Diagon alley in London, was awed by what he was seeing here.

“There are only three cities in the states with a significant magical population,” Sam explained, “New York, San Francisco, and LA. Most of the rest of the Americas are spread out pretty widely, for a lot of reasons. LA and New York are immigrant towns, while San Francisco tends to draw in all sorts because the city itself was built on multiple Ley line nexus’. You kids will have to visit San Fran sometime, I’m a squib and I can feel the air tingle up there.”

As Sam spoke they were approaching a congregation of people and buildings that looked like the shopping district he mentioned. The two kids were surprised to note that Sam’s car wasn’t even remotely out of place. In fact, neither of them saw a vehicle that seemed newer than the late 60s. When they brought it up, Sam just laughed.

“No electronics.” He said by way of reply, “Any magically dense area will blow any electronics you bring into it. Don’t know why, just the way things are.”

Willow frowned, the idea of losing your computer just by driving through a magical area not sitting well with her. “No one’s done the research to find out why?”

Sam laughed again, “Lots of people done research, no one got any answers. There is always some bright young genius, usually from a non-magical family, crusading to find the answer but it’s apparently hiding pretty well.”

Xander, unsurprised by the response, just shrugged. Willow, however, seemed to take it as a personal insult, or challenge. Xander just grinned as she ranted under her breath, knowing that their little research group had just picked up another project.

Before she could get much steam up Sam pulled the car over to a stop in a nicely shaded parking lot near the shopping district.

“Alright come on kids,” the former Navy seal said as they climbed out of the vehicle. “You have your lists?”

The duo nodded, so Sam led the way to the shops.

Willow wanted a wand more than anything; unfortunately they had found that since she wasn’t on the list of approved magical school she couldn’t legally buy one. Xander had been racking his brains, looking for an option, but had yet to find one. To date, the best he’d found, was to get Willow a tutor as soon as possible.

Without her parents’ consent and knowledge, however, the earliest easy time would be when she turned 18.

He hoped that they’d find another option, but in the meantime the redhead had laid claim to the graphite wands they had crafted, saying that they were better than nothing. Xander didn’t mind, of course, though it did mean that he needed more graphite blanks to continue experimenting.

He was distracted from his reverie by Willow’s squeal as the redhead spotted the bookstore.

Sam chuckled to himself as his nephew was dragged bodily by a girl a fraction of his weight, and decided to wait for them at the Starbucks across the road.

****

Xander found himself at the centre of a whirlwind as Willow dragged him from stack to stack, all but drooling over the wealth of information she found herself surrounded by. The redhead quickly tapped out her own budget, picking up copies of the standard book of spells grade 3, and other books recommended in Xander’s supply list. Xander had already handed over his books from first and second year, along with many of his notes since most of what felt was valuable was stored in the coven Grimoire, or his research notebooks.

Even so, Willow ran out of money long before she ran out of books.

Xander’s budget was somewhat larger however. His new bank account, while far from inexhaustible, was more than sufficient to the task of buying all but the rarest and expensive research tomes. So when Willow’s list was done, the two of them turned their focus to books that might have answers, or even leads, for the projects they were working on together.

So it was that by the time they were finished Xander was quite certain his new library would rank quite respectably, even in the eyes of the likes of Hermione and Wednesday.

From the bookstore the two made their way across the promenade, waving to Sam when they saw him outside the Starbucks, chatting up a woman they didn’t recognize.

“I can’t believe they have a Starbucks.” Willow said shaking her head.

Xander shrugged, “Money is money. I’m surprised there isn’t a McDonald’s.”

Willow made a horrified face, shaking her head, “at least there’s some standards here.”

Xander chuckled, “I wouldn’t say that until I looked around a little bit more, if I were you. We did just get here; there could be a fast food strip right around the corner.”

Willow groaned, but was quickly distracted by the sights through the shops front windows. There were, of course, brooms and Quidditch equipment, cauldron and potions ingredients, and all the things Xander come to expect after seeing Diagon alley. There were also the oddities and unidentifiable objects that he had also come to expect after seeing Diagon alley. These were all mixed in with a smattering of more common non-magical items the two of them were far more familiar with.

Xander for his part quickly located a leather and hide working shop and made his way in that direction.

“Why are we going in here?” Willow asked, puzzled.

“I made a promise.” Xander said as they walked in.

“May I help you?” A man asked from behind the counter, as he laid down an awl and strip of leather.

“Yeah, you guys make boots?” Xander asked with a halfway smirk.

****

After Xander made his order, the rest of the day progressed fairly quickly and without incident. The trio returned to Sunnydale that evening with bags of shrunken goods fuelling the boisterous good moods of the two children.

“That was so cool!” Willow gushed.

Xander nodded, “Definitely awesome. I never realized there was such a large magical community this close.”

“Nature of the beast,” Sam replied as they walked into Xander’s house.

“What’s the nature of the beast?” Anthony Harris asked from the couch as they approached.

Sam dropped and the couch beside his brother, snagging an unopened beer right out of anything hands. “Secrecy and magic.”

“Hey!” Tony growled, grabbing the beer back. “Get your own, you moocher!”

Sam grumbled, starting to get up off the couch, but was stopped when Willow jumped up.

“I’ll get it for you,” she said in a rush as she ran for the kitchen.

Sam settled back down smirking at his brother, “I could get used to this.”

Anthony just rolled his eyes, “So why the talk about secrecy and magic?”

“I was just saying that I was surprised that there was such a large magical community so close to us.”

Tony nodded, twisting the cap off his beer and taking a drink, “yeah, three Angels. Been a while since I’ve been there, would have liked to join you today if I didn’t have to work.”

Xander shrugged, smiled, “it’s alright dad, we just did some shopping anyway.”

Sam nodded, “spent most of the afternoon drinking coffee.”

Tony shrugged, “yeah I guess. As for secrecy, three Angels has to hide from 12 million people right on the doorstep. Not too hard to imagine why we never hear of it here in Sunnydale.”

Xander nodded, knowing that it made sense. He’d only known about the magical world going on three years now, and most of his experience in it was halfway around the world. It was plainly obvious that there was a lot to see, much closer to home.

“You get all your shopping done, son?”

Xander looked up, shaking from his thoughts, then nodded after a moment. “Unless they change the books on us again this year, but no big deal if they do. I’ll be able to pick up what I need in Diagon.”

Tony grunted, “Going back to Hogwarts then?”

“I think so,” Xander said. “I’ve got friends there now, and I’m doing pretty well in my studies. No reason to change it now.”

Tony nodded reluctantly, “just don’t like the stories coming out of that place.”

“What stories?” Sam asked as Willow returned with his beer.

“Petrifaction of students, and the boy here being involved in some fight with a basilisk.” Tony responded.

Xander grimaced, “they told you about that?”

“Damn right they did.” Tony said crossly, “Something you should have done when you got home.”

“Wasn’t a big deal.” Xander shrugged, “it’s not like I was a target anyway.”

Sam leaned forward, “target? Would you mean target?”

“Professor from Salem seemed to think that they have a terrorist problem over there.” Tony answered, “probably the same group from 15 years ago.”

Sam settled back, closing his eyes as he thought back that far. “Death eaters then. They’ve been quiet since their Dark Lord got himself roasted by a baby, what’s bringing them out now?”

Xander rolled his eyes, “you remember the baby’s name?”

Sam snorted, “hard not to. Every wizard on the planet knows his name, so if you’ve talked to one of them in the last 13 years, you’ve heard it. Potter. Harry Potter.”

Xander nodded, “you want to guess who’s in my year?”

“Jesus.” Sam cursed, “You mean to tell me those dipshits have been trying to off a 13-year-old?”

“And failing miserably.” Xander responded with a grin. “Since he was eleven.”

“Fuck.”

****

  “Dude!”

  Xander half turned, looking over his shoulder to see Jessie approaching with Jonathan and Warren in tow. He grinned, waving to the trio as they approached, “hey guys! Right on time.”

  The trio grinned and nodded to Xander as he turned with them and the group headed into Sunnydale’s games and comics shop. Xander grinned as he looked around, nodding to the owner.

  “Xan!” Michael Smith greeted him with a smile, “Haven’t seen you in ages.”

  “Boarding school, same as last year.” Xander replied, pausing to lean on the counter and chat with the man who had pretty much singlehandedly supplied him and Jessie with years’ worth of comics.

  “Doing well, I hope?”

  “Not bad,” Xander said, “I’m not going to take honour spots, but I’m doing pretty good according to some people.”

  “Good, good. Here for the comics you’ve missed?” Smith asked, grinning.

  “Actually, these delinquents are trying to get me hooked on gaming now.” Xander said, grinning back.

  “Oh, excellent, those cost MUCH more than comics.”

  Xander laughed, but nodded, “Yeah, well I guess I better see what they’re about then, huh?”

  “You have any questions, just ask, I’m here all day.”

  “And most nights, as I recall.” Melinda Smith, Michael’s wife said as she walked over. “Hello, Xander.”

  “Hey, Mel.” Xander nodded.

  “Gaming now, is it?” She asked with a smirk.

  “Hey, you told us that it was our duty to sucker... err, invite our friends into the fold,” Jessie spoke up.

  Mel rolled her eyes, “Subtle you ain’t, McNally. Ok, what game are you interested in, Xan?”

  “I want all of them,” Xander smirked.

  “What?” Mel blinked, noting with surprise that the others didn’t seem fazed.

  “Well, I want details on all the magic systems, spells, stuff like that.” Xander amended. “So any books on magic, at least, plus the core rules I guess.”

  “Whoa. That’s going to set you back a little.”

  “That’s ok, for this I can afford it.” Xander said, knowing that he’d basically sold the idea as ‘educational’ to his parents, so they weren’t going to make a fuss over the money, even though they still had some control over his accounts until he was eighteen.

  “Alright...”

****

  The day was spent picking up core books and magic based sourcebooks for everything from AD&D to Gurps, from necromancy to technomancy, and everything in between. The hit to his back account didn’t quite break the thousand dollar mark, but only because they only stocked the more popular books.

 Mel promised to find more uncommon titles, and even said she would check into older occultist titles if he was interested. Xander wasn’t sure if those would be of much use compared to the books he could find easily in the Magical quarters, but he agreed anyway.

  If nothing else, between Wednesday, Willow, and Hermione he was quite certain that any book he bought would eventually be read one way or the other.

  He wasn’t buying any of these titles to learn magic, of course, but rather because he thought that maybe he could learn new ways to use magic. There were some cool ideas in the Gurps book on technomancy, if they could figure out why electronics and magic didn’t mix of course.

  Besides, it was really pretty fun reading, and more importantly it was something he and Jessie could get together and do to catch up. Xander wasn’t sure he liked the way things were going in Sunnydale, from what he could tell Jessie and Willow were drifting apart, and he was worried about where that left his best gal pal. Wills had never been the sort to make friends easily, all through grade school it had really just been him and Jessie, no one else lasted.

  Girls and guys alike were put off by her intelligence, Xander knew. So much so that Willow had gotten progressively shier as the years went by, her bubbly nature being buried slowly under more and more self conscious fears.

  Really, he worried about her.

  Oh, not in the long run. Xander was pretty certain that Willow would eventually blow past anything the world left in her road, but in the short run she was hurt so easily. He knew she had to be hurting that Jessie was hanging around less, but he also figured that she was hurting because he wasn’t around.

  That really bothered him, because he didn’t see any way around it. School mattered to him suddenly, but even so he’d throw it out for Willow, except that Xander knew she’d skin him alive if she did.

  Shy and bubbly was one thing, but Angry Willow was a scary sight to see.

  “Xander!”

  Xander shook his head, looking up, “Huh?”

  “I asked which game you wanted to try tonight.” Jessie asked him again, nodding to the stack of books laid out in front of them.

  Xander forced a smile, pushing the thoughts aside for another time. “Let’s just stick with your campaign, guys, at least until we read through these more.”

****

  And so the summer moved on, with Xander’s time being split between his family and his friends. Sam had a contact that secured Xander an ample supply of graphite rods to play with, and even came up with another suggestion for them to pursue.

  The former Seal knew a bit about high tech materials, though how and why Xander didn’t know, nor did he press on, and had some suggestions to make on his own.

****

  “So you’re using graphite as blanks for making wands?” Sam asked, drumming his fingers on his chin as he considered what Xander had mentioned, “Interesting. Never heard of that before.”

  “Well, it was Willow’s suggestion really.”

  Willow blushed, “It was nothing, just obvious I think.”

  “So obvious no one thought of it yet, at least as far as I know.” Sam said with a smile, then looked pensive, “yeah, I think I can get you a supply. There’s a company that does contract work for Darpa, supplying stuff like that, I know a guy. Have you thought about Carbon Fibre rods, though? Or Carbon rods?”

  Xander looked blank, “Aren’t they all carbon?”

  Sam chuckled, “Sure, but Graphite is a naturally occurring crystal. You might want to figure out if it’s the carbon that matters, or the molecular bond.”

  Willow’s eyes lit up, “Of course!”

  “Huh?” Xander shook his head.

  “Diamond and Graphite are both allotropes of Carbon; they’re not ‘just’ Carbon, Xander.” Willow said in a rush, “We should try both of Sam’s suggestions and anything else we can think of that might work.”

  “Alright. So where do we get Carbon rods and Carbon Fibre?”

  “Carbon rods are used in a lot of things, including nuclear reactors,” Sam said pensively, “But they’re not restricted, so we can get a hold of those easily. Carbon fibre rods are a bit rarer, but I know a guy at Lockheed. I’ll make some calls.”

****

  So they got new materials and continued the experimentation, with Wednesday regularly coming through the floo to join in. It didn’t take long to determine that carbon rods worked fine, but didn’t have the flex of graphite, which made them less suitable for charms but quite decent for curses. The common swish and flick motion that formed the basis of most charms movements was enhanced by a little flex in the wand, while curses required a strong steely anchor to properly cast.

  Carbon fibre was a mixed bag, though, which puzzled the trio. Some blanks worked exceptionally well, rivalling Xander and Wednesday’s matched wands in some areas, depending on the cores, yet others were completely useless and seemed to turn out dud wands as far as any of them could determine.

  With continued experiments, though, they were able to start cataloguing different results based on materials used.

  Unicorn tail hair worked best with Graphite, particularly when they carefully aligned the hair along the length and fixed it in the precise centre of the blank. The resulting wand was exceptional for charms work, and quite decent for transfiguration, but very poor indeed for curses.

  Basilisk material showed promise when combined with pure Carbon rods, and was frighteningly good for curses, particularly the darker ones in Wednesday’s repertoire. Xander suspected that a Carbon wand made with core material from Basilisk venom or powdered basilisk eye would be something terrible to behold, indeed. The material was, however, nearly worthless at charms work, and only moderately decent at some transfiguration spells.

  Also, while the Carbon rods were tough, they were also somewhat brittle in the size and lengths used. Plenty of drawbacks when compared to their strengths, such that Xander couldn’t see one being practical as it stood.

  Still, they carefully documented each wand they made, and began to wonder about other core materials.

  They finally had to go back into LA and look up some Wand crafters, just to ask their questions.

  Phoenix Feather, they learned, was beyond rare. When Xander asked around in Three Angels, the response was unequivocal, phoenix core wands were generally only made once or twice a generation, and sometimes not at all. They were considered by many to be among the most powerful of wands, however, though it was probably more due to those who wielded them than the wands themselves.

  Wendelyn the Weird, an exceptionally powerful witch from Spain, who Xander had learned about in History of Magic, was one. Benjamin Franklin was another, as was Nicholas Flamel. Albus Dumbledore himself was rumoured to use a Phoenix core wand, though there was some dispute over that, from what the local Wand crafter had to say. Apparently during his battle with Grindlewald, the Arch Mage had indeed used a Phoenix core wand, the same wand he had used all his life up to that point. Afterwards, however, several historians had noted that he began using a different wand in public.

  The most powerful wand, speaking of legends, was of course the fabled Elder wand. Made of Elder wood and Thestral Hair, it was one of the so called Deathly Hallows. Supposedly it made its wielder unbeatable in combat, though it’s bloodied history of one dead wielder after another made Xander doubt the stories. It sounded rather Lord of the Rings, to him, with the so called all powerful artefact actually being cursed and not blessed.

  Dragon Heartstrings were actually the most common of core materials, since one dragon’s heart could supply the material for hundreds of wands. It was this, in fact, that led to Dragons being a protected species by Wizard Kind, since they had been hunted to near extinction by Wizards who wanted to turn their flesh into materials for spells, wands, and other magical artefacts’. Even today, Xander learned, Dragon poaching was a serious problem in many parts of the world.

  In the end, though, all their questions came back to one simple truth.

  Any magical creature could donate material to create a wand core; some wand crafters had even created functional wands with human hairs from witches and wizards. The key was to take the material from as close to a creature’s centre of magic as possible. In many cases wand crafters had to settle for second best, however. In Unicorns the horn would be the ideal, however only the darkest of dark would craft a wand from that, and the consensus was that such a wand would never suit them. Dragon hearts were more potent, because that was the true centre of the Dragon’s power, while Phoenix feathers were probably one or two steps removed from the true centre of the avian’s magic, which made the potency of feather core wands even more impressive.

  What it came down to, Xander, Willow, and Wednesday decided was experimentation. They would have to acquire material from as many creatures as they could, within ethical bounds, and build wands to see what happened.

****

  “I want you to be careful when you go back to Hogwarts, Alexander.”

  Robert leaned forward seriously, eyeing his young relative.

  “Come on, man, it’s not that bad.”

  “Your parents have told me about the Basilisk, child.” The old man replied wryly, shaking his head. “That is hardly a safe environment.”

  “Didn’t hurt anyone really,” Xander shrugged, “Besides, we got it.”

  “A miracle, however welcome, does not a stable world make.” Robert returned.

  Their current discussion had risen from a brief back and forth between the two on Magical beasts, and their dangers. Robert had only middling experience in such matters, most of his life had been spent in the non magical world, but other than the Addamses, who’s opinions on dangerous creatures was suspect, he was the only person Xander could talk to.

  Robert had heard all about Hogwarts from Xander’s parents, however, and had obviously been looking for an opening.

  “When navigating the magical world, remain vigilant Alexander.” he said, sounding a little tired. “There are threats there that are utterly inconceivable to the non magically inclined. Especially if you’re involving any of your friends from outside the magical world.”

  “Why?” Xander asked, puzzled.

  “Because you’re a Wizard, boy. I’m a Squib. That makes us tough compared to most; a non magical person would be dead in a very short time if left on their own in a magical environment.” Robert countered sharply, “Even squibs like me don’t fare well as a general rule. Hell, boy, only a thousand years ago people we would today call Wizards were cowering in mud huts, pretending to be non magical because it was safer.”

  That surprised Xander; it was something he hadn’t gleaned from his History classes. “Huh?”

  “Before wands there were few magically adept who could stand up against even the most mean of magical threats,” Robert explained, “without a wand you could be killed by pixies easily enough.”

  Xander grimaced, remembering the first day of defence class the previous year, and had to concede the point. “Ok, I guess I see that.”

  “Damn right, and you should. Wands are a force multiplier.”

  “Ok, you lost me again.”

  “It’s a military term, Alexander.” Robert smiled, “It just means something that takes what you have, and multiplies it by a certain factor. Before wands came into common use, for example, humans were often under siege by Goblin rebellions. Even after they came into use the rebellions continued for a time, while Wizards learned to maximize their use. Now, however, Goblins don’t stand a chance against Wizards and they know it. Wands are the reason why.”

  “Really? Why don’t they just make their own?”

  “Because Wizards have banned non humans from making, owning, or using wands.” Robert replied, “Plus human wands don’t work particularly well for Goblins, and since they lost the wars, the concessions they had to give up include the right for Ministry officials to perform search and seizure on any suspected focus research.”

  “Huh.” Xander replied thoughtfully, mulling that over.

  “Don’t get me wrong, the Goblins aren’t pushovers,” Robert went on, “They hold a mastery over warding magic’s that’s beyond anything Wizards have yet produced, and they know more about ritual magic than most wizards alive. All of which makes attacking them a dicey matter, however if they want to come out of their warrens they have to meet Wizards in the open field, and there they would be slaughtered.”

  “So it’s a balance of power, then.”

  “For now.” Robert nodded, “With the balance tipping somewhat in the favour of Wizards at the moment. While a successful assault on Goblin Warrens would be... Pyrrhic to say the least, Wizards hold the threat of siege over their heads. Cut off from outside supply, the Goblins would be forced to surrender, or stage a final battle, within a few months at best. All because of wands.”

  “Wow.” Xander muttered, rolling the term around in his head. “Force multiplier.”

  “The military says that the Moral is to the Physical as Three is to One.” Robert said, “Napoleon said it first, at least in those terms. That’s a force multiplier.”

  “I don’t get it.”

  “Say you’re a soldier,” Robert said and waited for Xander to nod before going on. “We’ll give you a ‘value’ of one. That’s your mathematical impact on the battlefield, alright?”

  Again, Xander nodded.

  “What Napoleon meant was that a motivated soldier, one who wanted to fight, had a reason to fight... was automatically worth a value of three. The multiplier of morale, three, times the standard value of one. In theory, at least, it meant that one motivated soldier has the impact of three ‘normal’ soldiers.” Robert explained patiently. “Myself, I think I would rank wands as being a factor of ten. A normal wizard without a wand is worth one, that same wizard with a wand, assuming he knows how to use it, is worth ten. Do you follow?”

  Xander nodded, “I think so. So, you’re saying that a motivated wizard with a wand is worth thirty normal soldiers? Or normal wizards?”

  “Pretty much the same thing,” Robert smiled, “Magic is a multiplier as well, but so is training. If you really wanted to work out the battlefield math you’d have to take that into account. For example, a soldier is worth one, but advanced training is perhaps a multiplier of five. And, generally, highly trained soldiers are usually motivated.”

  “So they’d be worth fifteen?” Xander asked.

  “As a base value.”

  “So, magic is worth... how much?”

  “Now THAT is a good question,” Robert smiled, leaning forward. “I don’t think anyone has ever worked it out because there’s no standard value of ‘M’. We know that some wizards are more powerful than others, which will affect its value, but there’s no chart to calculate from. What is the value of a Merlin? A Dumbledore? A Franklin? Are they exceptional because they’re powerful? Or are they powerful because they’re exceptional?”

  He let Xander consider that for a moment before continuing.

  “That said, it’s safe to say that even moderate magical power and reserves is at least as valuable as advanced training. So, for your average Constable, we can give the value of magic to be around five. That’s really the minimum combat level for magical ability, I would say. For a powerful wizard? I don’t know. Could be twenty five. Could fifty.” Robert said seriously, “The math just isn’t available to tell.”

  “That would mean that a well trained and powerful wizard would be worth...” Xander blinked, thinking about it.

  “Hundreds. Maybe thousands of normal soldiers, assuming the equations balanced.” Robert said, “However the math is never the whole story when it comes to human interactions. Those numbers are really based on theoretical averages, what will happen in the long run if you run thousands or millions of battles out to their final conclusion. Individual cases can always surprise you.”

  “How?”

  “Imagine Merlin, today. A supremely powerful wizard, trained to the highest standard imaginable. Give him any value you want,” Robert said, “One thousand, ten thousand, a million.”

  Xander nodded intently.

  “Now, on the other side. One soldier. He’s motivated, trained, and equipped. Give him a value of maybe 45 for those factors. He’s a sniper, that’s at least worth 10, so now he’s 450. His target, our Merlin, doesn’t know he’s out there. He will only get one shot, but if he makes it... our little 450 value sniper just eliminated a player worth, at least, twice his value... quite probably more. Does it mean the math was wrong?”

  Xander didn’t know, he shook his head and shrugged.

  “No, it means it was incomplete. There were other factors that we didn’t add in, that conspired to increase the value of that one soldier, in that one instance, to an equal or greater level than his target.” Robert said seriously. “And that is the danger of the real world. We can’t know all the variables, and so things surprise us.”

  Xander swallowed, but nodded in understanding.

  “And that is why I’m telling you to be careful in Hogwarts, boy. You may think it’s not that bad, but I’m telling you now, you don’t know all the variables in the game that’s being played around you.” Robert said suddenly, sternly. “And make no mistake; someone is playing a game there. Probably several someone’s and you don’t want to be drawn into it blindly.”

  Xander nodded again, “I’ll be careful.”

  Robert forced a smile. “Good. Now go on, get out of here, but think on what I’ve told you.”

  “I will, Sir. Thank you.”

  The old man watched his young relative leave and thought about some of what he was hearing from the other side of the Atlantic. There was more than one game being played over there, he suspected, with more than a few players. He hoped Alexander didn’t get drawn in, because he was too young to see the game for what it was, and those types of players were rough on their pawns.

  There was now family pressure to keep him in Hogwarts, however, something Tony and Jessica had no clue how to fight. The boy was getting close to some heavy duty up and comers over there and the family wanted it that way.

****

  Xander didn’t know what to think about everything he was being told now; it seemed a little messed up.

  “That’s totally messed up!” Willow responded when he told her, pulling a laugh from his throat.

  “I think I got that much, Wills.”

  “I mean, why send you back there if they’re so worried?”

  Xander was wondering that himself, he knew that he parents weren’t happy about it, and now Robert was giving him advice that basically amounted to ‘watch your back, someone has a knife’. He was thirteen for crying out loud, what the hell was he supposed to do about it?

  “I don’t think it’s that dangerous, Will,” He said finally.

  Her eyes widened, “But... the big snake! And spells, and stuff...”

  “None of it was aimed at me,” Xander said, thinking it over. “I involved myself, right?”

  “I guess,” Willow said reluctantly.

  “It’s not like I’m Harry or anything.”

  Willow perked up at the mention of Harry Potter, almost drawing a groan from Xander.

  “God, Wills, don’t tell me you’ve joined his fan club.”

  Willow blushed red, “Of course not, dummy, but I’ve read all the stories about him and...”

  “And from what Harry grumbles about, you now know a lot of very near fictional stories about his life.” Xander grinned wryly.

  “Those were HISTORY books!” Willow blurted, scandalized.

  “They were written by people who didn’t know much history, apparently.”

  Willow looked a little disturbed by that, but didn’t comment further. It brought to mind the similarities between her and Hermione, and Xander had to smile at the thought.

  He wondered, a shiver passing through him as he looked at Willow for the first time as a Girl, and realized that she was a lot cuter than he seemed to remember.

  Xander shook off the thought, “Anyway, I’m a nobody at the school. What’s more, I’m an American nobody, so I’m not worth killing.”

  Willow slapped his shoulder, “Don’t talk like that! You’re Xander; you’re a somebody to me.”

  “Thanks, Wills, but that’s not what I meant.” Xander said softly, smiling at her. “I talked with Professor Hardy about it. I’m not worth anything to either side over there, but dead I could cause them a lot of trouble.”

  “Why?” Willow scrunched up her face, confused.

  “Cause it would attract attention from the States,” Xander shrugged, “And a lot of other countries, I guess. Right now the bad guys are still pretty crippled from what Harry did to their boss twelve years ago, and the good guys are the British government... How much do you think they want a bunch of Yanks sticking their nose into British business?”

  “Not much, I suppose.”

  Xander smiled, “Dead on. Anyway, I’m pretty safe.”

  “Not if you stick your own nose in where it doesn’t belong, Mister.” She told him firmly, resolve face in place.

  “Wills... That snake hurt a friend.” Xander told her evenly in return.

  Willow paled slightly, but nodded.

  That was one thing she knew about Xander, one thing that she wouldn’t change. He protected his friends, as best he could anyway. When they were younger he took beatings from Bullies to protect her and Jess, even though neither of them wanted him to. It was just what he did, it was who he was.

  She sighed, “Alright, but please... be careful.”

  “Hey, no worries.” Xander smiled, “I’ll have Wednesday there, and you know that when in doubt, we lead with bone splitter curses.”

  Willow rolled her eyes, but nodded.

****

  Summer was coming to a rapid close, and Xander found himself against the wall as he seemed to be running out of time, but not out of things to get done.

  His conversations with Robert continued, with the older man speaking to him a lot about history, especially military history. That was cool, Xander found, because he’d always had a degree of interest in it, and now he had someone to talk to who had actually *fought* in the American Civil War. Robert had also been involved in the first and second world wars, and every conflict up until Vietnam, though he had only been an advisor by that point.

  Robert had a far different opinion on most of the subjects than Xander had always heard, but a lot of his points made sense, so Xander wasn’t sure what to believe. Robert insisted that he had to learn all he could about something, though, and only then form an opinion. Too many people just accepted the common thoughts on a subject, ignoring the facts, and what was worse, ignoring the people who were twisting those facts to their own ends.

  Wand research continued, though they didn’t make a lot more progress than they had managed already. Willow now had two wands claimed as her own, a Carbon rod with ground Basilisk scale core, and a Graphite model with unicorn tail hair. The two made for a good all round casting capacity, they had found.

  Xander had stored all their extra blanks in his trunk, along with his notes and various components. He was already planning his own wand for fighting, based around a Carbon Rod blank and Basilisk eye core. He didn’t want to waste the basilisk eye material they had, though, until he had perfected the design, it was far too valuable, especially since he and Wednesday were quite certain that the eyes were the core of the large snake’s magic.

  He wasn’t sure, of course, that he would be able to make anything better than a fitted wand, but it felt like they were on the right track, so he was making plans in the hopes they would succeed.

  A trip back to Three Angels had won Xander his new pair of boots, which he was certain, would make an impact back at Hogwarts. The new boots were based off a Motorcycle design, with metal clasps that gleamed against the iridescent green flecks of the snake skin material. Almost black, they glimmered green in the right light, and suited his Slytherin colours perfectly.

  They had cost him a bit, more so in materials than cash, since he had to provide the basilisk skin for them, but Xander figured it was worth it there. The boot maker had counselled him to use more material than needed, fashioning a larger pair of boots than he normally wore. Charms were then applied to shrink them to a perfect fit.

  When Xander had asked why, the answer had surprised him not so much because it was surprising, but rather because it made so much sense.

  “Well boy, it’s like this,” The old man had told him, “Sizing charms can make a cloak, or boots, or whatever, larger or smaller as you need them... but they can’t make more material. So they’re stretching the material, or compressing it, to fit. In most cases, that don’t matter none. But this here, this is basilisk skin, and it has some properties that you don’t want to spread thin if you have a choice. Better to make it bigger and then shrink it down, which actually makes the material tougher by focusing its strengths into a smaller area. These’ll be as fine a pair of boots as I’ve ever made, you’ve my word on that.”

  With that answer, Xander had simply nodded and told the craftsman to do his best and he would take the expert’s advice on the matter.

  Xander had to admit, though, that he was looking forward to getting back to Hogwarts. Willow, Jessie, and all were great, but there was just something about a magical environment that was so damned cool. He couldn’t believe that he was actually getting assigned magic as HOMEWORK. It was so insanely cool that Xander could barely contain himself sometimes.

  Being a Star Wars geek from way back, it was like being approached and asked to join the Jedi order or something. He honestly couldn’t understand anyone who didn’t love every moment of it.

  This brought him back to the Grimoire.

  That book from his first year had unlocked a few levels now that he was about to go into his third, giving him access to spells even further along than it had before. The release of Sirius Black into his precious reservoir of knowledge, however, was a mixed blessing at best. The Wizard turned Shaggy Dog, or vice versa (Xander wasn’t certain which), was a pest that constantly forced Xander to fight him off if he wanted to actually read anything.

  The flip side was that Xander was getting better with a lot of rather obscure spells that pertained to enchanted items. He’d also begun to learn more and more about how the book had been written originally.

  It was all based around a very old charm known as The Protean Charm, ironically one that Xander knew quite well since he had come across it when researching magical tattoos. It was the same spell that made the base for the Dark Mark on the arms of Chief Mouldy Shorts’ thugs.

  The Protean was from a very obscure branch of magic that was based strongly around what was called the Similarity Principal. In fact, Xander had learned quickly, that few Witches or Wizards had ever really heard about it, maybe as little as one in ten. Which was ironic, since almost every non magical person on the planet knew of one of its applications, the Voodoo Doll.

  Basically, the Similarity Principal stated that like affected like, and it was possible to connect two similar items so that what affected one, would affect the other. That was how a Voodoo Doll, properly made, could affect the person it was crafted to resemble, it was also how Voldemort could inflict pain on anyone wearing the Dark Mark from any Dark Mark within his reach. It was how the book was connected with the one in Narcissa Malfoy’s study...

  And, more interestingly in Xander’s opinion, it was also how a LOT of semi-legal Wizarding objects were made, including one Sirius Black referred to as The Marauder’s Map.

  Sirius refused to hand over the details on how to make said map, but he had been hinting around it, and Xander was wondering if it were possible to make one of his own. The protean charm was very advanced, NEWT level at least, but much of the rest was relatively easy, though probably long, detailed, and precise in nature. He would bring it up with Hermione and Wednesday back at school, Xander decided. If nothing else, it would be fun to research, especially when he started to think about what ELSE the Protean could be used to make.

****

  Almost too soon, yet after such a long wait; it was time to leave for school again.

  Xander had said his goodbyes, and was waiting for the port key to Salem when his Mom and Dad came in.

  Anthony looked serious as he sat down, “Son... we should talk.”

  “What’s up, Dad?”

  “We just want you to be careful.”

  Xander smiled, “I will, Mom... Dad, I promise. If it was really dangerous it’s not like I’d be going back, right?”

  His parents exchanged a glance, which caused Xander to stare for a moment.

  “Some in the family want you there, Son,” Tony said after a moment, “They’re putting a lot of pressure on us, and the school.”

  “How?”

  “Harris is a big family, with a lot of power,” Tony sighed, “And right now, the head seems to think that you getting closer to a few of those kids over there is a good thing. That place seems a little off too me, but I’ve never been to a magical school, so I don’t know for sure. I know that the Wizarding world can be dangerous, or at least seem like it, to normal folk though, so I expect it’s not as bad as it seems to me...”

  Xander nodded, he’d already worked that out. Well, and Robert had said as much as well.

  “So I just want you to know to watch your back, and try to keep your head down, ok boy?” Tony said gruffly.

  Xander nodded, “I will.”

  Jessica hugged him quickly then, and Xander fought off a lump in his throat as she sobbed a little.

  “We’re both going to miss you, so try and come back in one piece, k?” Tony asked with a wry smile.

****

  The port key released Xander with all the normal grace he was able to muster, that was none at all, and he slammed into the grounds outside Salem.

  “Did that hurt, man? That looked like it hurt.”

  Xander groaned, pushing himself over, and looked up to see a boy about his age looking down at him.

  “You ok?” The boy asked, extending a hand. “I’m Mike.”

  “Xander.” He replied, taking the hand and letting the boy help him to his feet.

  “Good, the right guy came falling out of the sky.”

  Xander curled his lip up in a sarcastic expression, but didn’t reply.

  “The Headmaster wanted me to meet you; I’ll take you to his office.”

  “Thanks.”

  The meeting with the headmaster was really just a formality, and Xander breezed through it in a few minutes. His marks, both from the Hogwarts professors and Professor Hardy were adequate to keep pretty much everyone off his case, so really all he was doing was confirming what he already knew.

  When released, Xander headed back for the main gates. He’d agreed to meet Wednesday here, as they’d be going on the England together, and despite the fact that they had gotten together a lot over the summer it felt like a reunion of sorts.

  “Alexander.”

  Xander turned and recognized The Lavelle Matriarch, Jessica, as she approached. “Ma’am.”

  “How was your summer?”

  “Fine.” Xander said his tone a little uncertain. He wasn’t sure what this woman, or anyone else in the family for that matter, wanted with him. But everyone he knew was warning him to tread softly.

  “I understand that you are doing well in your classes.”

  “I guess so.”

  “Excellent. A Hogwarts education carries a great deal of esteem in certain circles, young man. See that you take it seriously.”

  Xander nodded automatically, “I do.”

  “Have you chosen your courses for the next year?”

  Xander nodded, “I’m taking the normal load, plus Runes and Arithmancy.”

  “Good choices,” The Lavelle Matriarch nodded approvingly. “Those will open the widest career path in the future. Have you thought that far ahead?”

  Xander shook his head, “Not really, Ma’am. Over there it’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening, but when I come home everything is different.”

  She raised one eyebrow, “indeed. I can see how, if you were from England, one might seriously plan on joining The Proud.”

  Xander blinked, “The Proud?”

  “Sorry,” She smiled slightly, “What do they call it over there? Oh yes, The Aurors. The Proud are the American Ministry’s Law Enforcement Branch, well... they’re our Federal level group, at least. Unlike the European’s, we Americans don’t centralize law enforcement to the same degree. Wizarding Constables enforce the laws in their own communities, The Proud exist to handle issues beyond their ability, generally Dark Lord types and Dark Bands.”

  Xander couldn’t help but smirk, “I didn’t know Metallica was a threat.”

  Apparently purebloods in the States’ weren’t quite as separated from normal culture as in England, because that comment earned him a dark scowl from the old lady. “A Dark Band is akin to what you might know as an Outlaw Gang. A group of wizards and witches, and occasionally other creatures, that while individually are not particularly powerful, operate as a group to terrorize communities.”

  That brought Xander up short, as he considered it, “Wow. I’ve never heard of the like.”

  “Well, it’s not a strictly American invention by a long shot, young man; however our extremely large expanse of territory, compared to population, makes it a viable alternative for outlaws of all stripes. When you combine it with American laws against using military force on our own citizens, you can see how these groups survive.”

  Xander nodded, filing the information away. “Why do they call the cops, The Proud?”

  She smiled, “Because’ they’re LEOs, and Lions always travel in a Pride.”

  Xander blinked, but was obviously confused.

  “LEO, Law Enforcement Officer.” She explained, “The Proud, or Pride, is America’s Federal Response Organization. We mandate them to less than one hundred members, but they’re the most powerful and well trained Wizards and Witches in the country, some say the world.”

  Xander smirked, “Most of those live in the States, I’ll bet.”

  “Or Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and the like,” She nodded with a smile.

  “Wha? Wait, why?”

  “Why what?” Jessica seemed as confused as Xander suddenly felt.

  “Why would Cuba or Mexico say that our guys are the best?”

  “Our...?” Her face suddenly cleared, “Oh, wait, I see. You were muggle raised, of course. I apologize; I can see that there are several things you don’t know. For one, there is no Magical Ministry of the ‘United States’. The American Ministry of Magic actually represents Wizards and Witches from Canada, The United States, Mexico... Basically down as far as Panama, and yes Cuba is under the same government on our side of things. Basically all of North and Central America, aside from Alaska.”

  Xander blinked, “Why not Alaska?”

  “The Russian Magical Federation controls that,” She said with a shrug, “Always has.”

  Xander slumped, trying to wrap his mind around it, and failing almost totally. “Whoa.”

  “Most political lines in our world doesn’t quite match up with the corresponding lines in the non magical world, child,” She said matter of factly. “In Europe, particularly, things are a horrid mess. All the Muggle wars have shifted the lines around massively from where they originally were, yet few of those wars affected Magical lines of authority. I don’t suppose that’s really much of a concern to the schooling in Hogwarts, however, since magically the British Isles falls entirely under one government.”

  “Oh man,” Xander moaned, “You mean I have to learn a whole new set of countries??”

  The Lavelle Matriarch suppressed a smile with thin compressed lips, but nodded, “Yes, though most of the countries are more or less the same, just their boundaries have a margin for error.”

  “No wonder the world seems to be in such a mess,” Xander muttered.

  “I rather think that there other reasons for that, young man,” She told him sternly, “At any rate, in North America at least, it’s part of normal life.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “Because our ministry is more of a loosely allied group of independent states,” She explained, “So the idea of flexible boundaries of jurisdiction is something you should get used to. There are different laws in different areas of the country, even in different towns in some cases.”

  “That sounds... complicated.”

  “Wizards and Witches came to America to get away from the iron hands of European rulers, and the ministries they were backing.” She told him, “Central government is anathema to most first Generation Americans, and we’re not yet so far removed from those men and women that we’ve forgotten. In fact, it’s entirely possible that there are a couple of them left, Franklin knows that we’ve misplaced one or two of the Founding Families, and their Founders.”

  “Misplaced?” Xander asked, amused.

  “In the Magical world, anything is possible, Alexander.” She told him calmly. “Including some truly spectacular ages. At any rate, this is getting beyond the original topic, which I believe was what you intend to do when you graduate?”

  Xander shifted uncomfortable, “I don’t really know yet. I’ve been playing with a lot of things, and there are some that interest me, but I don’t know enough about anything yet.”

  “Hmmm...” She nodded, accepting that. “I’ve heard about your patent, so perhaps you have a future in potions research.”

  “THAT was an accident!” Xander protested, flushing hotly. “I was trying to make a joke potion to turn back on some pranksters at school! I swear!”

  She chuckled dryly, practically a cackle, “No need to swear in my direction, Alexander. I believe you, but still many great discoveries are made by accident. That doesn’t mean that the people who made them were worth any less in their fields.”

  She rose up just as an ancient Rolls steamed onto the school grounds.

  “Remember, Alexander,” She said, sparing him a glance before turning away. “The Families are watching you now. We can aid you greatly in whatever you choose to do... or not.”

  Xander watched the old woman walk away, his expression darkening at her parting words as he wondered if it was more of an offer... or a threat?

  The Rolls Royce came to a smooth halt in front of him, breaking him of those thoughts as the doors opened and the Addams stepped out. He smiled genuinely, and rose to greet them.

****

Platform 9 and Three Quarters, London

  The trip from Salem had gone as smoothly as any International Port key had ever gone in Xander’s experience. That is, he would up flat on his face while Professor Hardy and Wednesday looked down at him in thinly disguised amusement.

  “The secret to landing on your feet is to remember that you’re moving,” Hardy said as he helped the boy up. “Most people, especially non magical raised, expect it to be some sort of teleport. Star Trek, beam me up Scotland, and all that.”

  Xander barely held back the snicker, though he had to admit that Hardy was a lot better at the non magical references than most Wizards seemed to be.

  “It’s not, however.” Hardy went on, “We’re actually moving, and you have to land like your moving. Move your legs to absorb the excess momentum, and you’ll land at a walking pace. If you don’t, it’ll just slam you into the ground every time.”

  “Thanks.” Xander said, shaking himself as he looked around.

  The Platform was filling up nicely, students from all over England gathering for their year at Hogwarts. At a glance you could easily tell who was pureblood and who came from a non magical family, irrespective of whether they wore robes or jeans. There was just something about how they walked that gave them away, in Xander’s opinion.

  “I smell fear.” Wednesday said softly, looking around.

  “What?” Xander glanced over at her.

  She didn’t repeat herself, however, instead choosing to study the crowd. “Police.”

  “Where?”

  She nodded to several red cloaked wizards who were moving through the crowd, then again to several others that were moving the same way, but wearing normal robes. Only after did she turn to Professor Hardy, “Has something happened?”

  Hardy frowned, “I’m not sure. I heard something about an escaped criminal, but that was weeks ago.”

  “Hang on, I’ll find out.” Xander said, spotting someone he knew.

  He made his way over, through the crowd, and paused by her side. “‘Lo.”

  Daphne Greengrass jumped a little, and then smiled as she recognized him. “Harris. How was your summer?”

  “Well spent,” Xander returned the smile. Then he nodded around, “What’s going on? Aurors running around, both in and out of uniform and people are tense enough to snap if you look at them wrong.”

  Daphne glanced around and sighed, leaning in closer to whisper, “It’s Sirius Black.”

  “Black?” Xander blinked, honestly stunned.

  Daphne mistook his reaction for something else and nodded, “I know. How anyone could escape from Azkaban, I have no idea, but he did it. I take it you just got here from America?”

  Xander nodded.

  “The Ministry’s been pumping it up for weeks, now, even though Black hasn’t been seen since he got loose,” Daphne said, “My father expects that Fudge is using it to push some unpopular legislation through the Wizengamot.”

  “What did Black do?” Xander asked, really curious.

  “You don’t know??”

  “American, remember?”

  “Ah, yes, well...” Daphne gave him an arched look. “Black is the one who betrayed the Potter’s to the Dark Lord. After He Who Must Not Be Named died trying to kill Harry, they say Black went mad, He killed Peter Pettigrew and over a dozen muggles with a single curse and was laughing hysterically when the Aurors found him.”

  Xander frowned, trying to place that with what he knew of Black from the Grimoire. Sirius was a pain in the ass, but a Blood Purist he was not. At least not by words or actions within the book. Very strange, Xander thought. Of course, Wizards were all nuts, so who knew?

  Daphne took his frown for worry and merely shrugged, “I wouldn’t worry overly. Daddy says that Black’s reputation is overblown anyway, he’s really only so widely feared because as the traitor who gave up the Potters he’s almost as famous as the Dark Lord himself. He was a good Auror, apparently, but nothing beyond that.”

  Xander nodded with a quirk of his lips and a shrug, “Hey, I’m not worried. Even if he is some super villain incarnate, he’s going to go after Harry first, remember?”

  Daphne giggled slightly, but nodded. “That’s what everyone says.”

  Xander nodded, mind racing, and thanked the girl for her help before heading back to Hardy and Wednesday. He quickly filled them in as the students began to board.

  Hardy shook his head, “Going to school with that Potter boy seems to keep things from getting dull, I’ll admit. Alright, I’ll see you at school in a couple weeks. Follow your lesson plans, and do watch your backs.”

  “Yes Sir.” They said together, drawing a smile from the man.

  “Go on; get lost the both of you.”

  The two smirked and clambered aboard the train.

****

  The train filled up quickly, but Wednesday and Xander had scored an empty compartment with little trouble. Most people who past took one look at Xander’s Slytherin colours and moved on and those who seemed inclined to enter paused when they spotted Wednesday before bolting. There was one who ignored the terrifying third years, however, and entered quietly.

  “May I sit here?”

  Wednesday looked over at the blond girl, recognizing her as a Ravenclaw a year behind them and nodded. “You may.”

  Luna Lovegood smiled, her expression a little dazed like she wasn’t exactly listening to the here and now, and promptly dropped into a seat across from them. “Thank you. I’m Luna.”

  “Xander.” Xander said with a smile.

  “Wednesday.”

  “Oh, I know.” She said, “You’re infamous in the dorms.”

  Xander snorted, “She’s infamous everywhere.”

  He grunted under a strategically placed elbow, and forced a smile through the pain. “Truth hurts, I guess.”

  “Yes.” Wednesday replied, “Particularly the person who speaks it.”

  The train got underway, leaving the three alone in their carriage and to their own devices. Xander spent some time working on his old ‘battery’ project, using some ideas Willow had given him, while Luna tried to engage Wednesday in a chat about magical creatures.

  “I knew I could sense the wrackspurts in this compartment,” Luna said, her tone disconnected from her expressions. “They must cling to your terribly.”

  “You are mistaken,” Wednesday returned equally, “Wrackspurts tend not to survive around an Addams.”

  Luna blinked, “Oh! Then they must be...”

  Wednesday permitted herself a slight smile.

  “Oh, I’m terribly sorry to hear that.”

  “Why? I get along fabulously with them.”

  Xander looked up from his book, his mind having half been on the conversation, and noted that Luna’s expression had shifted to one of mild, though wide eyed, apprehension. He made a note to ask what the hell they were talking about later, but after years of experience with Willow, Wednesday, and Hermione, he wasn’t stupid enough to ask it now when the two of them could gang up on him and bury him in facts he didn’t need, nor particularly want.

  So he filtered out the conversation and went back to his notes.

  The problem of a Magical battery was a pain, though Xander was starting to think that maybe he had a way around it. Willow had pointed out that there were lots of historical, and current, magical items that did exactly what he was talking about. They stored magical power, and let it out on command.

  The problem was that they all used certain things in common with each other. Gold, Silver, and Wood were good at holding a spell, for example, however he didn’t want some large clunky item. He was looking for a tattoo, much to Willow’s ire.

  Oh the rant she’s levelled on him over that one, Xander shuddered to even remember it. Still, the conversation did bring up some good points. He could use gold and silver, in fact many high end tattoo inks used metals as their base. The problem was that they were trace amounts, not enough to hold any significant charge of magical energy.

  That was where Runes came in.

  Runes could also hold a charge, and even generate one to a degree. So now Xander was looking into how to work gold and silver based inks, with runic designs, into his concept. He’d run the numbers by Hermione, then Willow, and see if anything came of it.

****

 While Xander was reading the train got underway, and sped quickly to its destination. They were closing on Hogsmeade, in the process of getting changed for school, when the train stopped suddenly and threw Xander into Wednesday, and both of them into Luna.

  “What the hell?”

  The trio got untangled, and Xander was looking around in confusion.

  “Is it getting cold in here?” He asked, shivering suddenly.

  “Yes.”

  Xander glanced over at Wednesday, surprised at her answer. He’s assumed it was just him, but then he looked at the window and saw what she saw, ice crystals forming quickly along the glass. His wand was out in a second, trailing just behind Wednesday’s own. “What’s going on?”

  “We’re being searched.” Luna said, her tone clearer than before, but somehow smaller.

  Xander glanced over, and was disturbed to see the girl curling up and shuddering on her seat. “Are you ok?”

  “No.” She said, barely muffling a sob. “No please...”

  Xander felt sick to his stomach, the chill pealing through him as the light itself seemed to retreat. “Wednesday... what’s going...?”

  “Get behind me.” She said, pushing him back.

  The door to the compartment burst open then, and Xander saw a ghastly thing float in. He shivered, but lifted his wand, the bone splitting curse on his lips.

  “Don’t.” Wednesday pushed his arm down. “It won’t work.”

  “B... b-but.” Xander shivered.

  “Hold her.” Wednesday pushed him at Luna. “It will help.”

  He slumped into the seat, and almost instantly Luna latched on to him, sobbing into his shoulder. Xander felt cold, through and through, like every good thing in his life had been taken, and would never return. And so he held her back, and it seemed to help as the feeling lessened.

  “Get out.” Wednesday said, staring evenly at the thing. “There is no one here that you seek.”

  The thing gazed at her for a long time, then slowly backed out, retreating from their compartment the way it had come. The door closed behind it, and for a moment nobody moved. Then Wednesday Addams took a shuddering breath and slumped, falling into Xander’s free arm as he grabbed her and pulled her into the seat.

  “W-what the hell was that thing?” He gasped out.

  “Dementor.” Wednesday said, “Minor demons.”

  She shivered slightly, eyes burning as she looked at him. “I hate demons.”

****

  The arrival of the Express in Hogsmeade was a sombre, yet frenzied, affair as Auror’s rushed the train, and students struggled to get off.  Xander and Wednesday pushed their way off, Xander carrying Luna who was still shivering.

  “Hey! Can we get a medic here!?”

  A shabbily dressed figure rushed over to them and, quickly eyeing the three of them produced a large slab of chocolate and handed it over. “Share this between you. It’ll help.”

  Xander glanced at it, “its chocolate.”

  The man grinned, “Trust me.”

  Wednesday accepted the slab and broke it into pieces, handing some to Luna and the rest to Xander after she had taken her own. Xander was surprised at how quickly the warmth returned as the chocolate melted in his mouth, and in a few seconds Luna asked to be put back on her feet.

  “Whoa.” Xander blinked, “Ok, I can admit when I’m wrong.”

  “Practice does make everything easier.” Wednesday replied dryly.

  “Hey!” Xander glare over at her, “That’s uncalled for. Probably true, but uncalled for.”

  Luna giggled slightly, then clapped a hand over her mouth, her wide eyes even wider than before.

  “I’m everyone’s entertainment.” Xander sighed theatrically.

  “Not everyone’s,” Wednesday said, nodding to another group.

  Draco Malfoy was crowing in Harry Potter’s direction, “Fainted, Potter? Really now, I knew you were overrated but come on...”

  Xander shook his head as Harry was helped off by Ron and Hermione. “Harry fainted?”

  “Dementors affect different people in different ways,” Wednesday said by way of explanation. “Most of our age experiences a mild chill, and a sensation of happiness fleeing forever.”

  Xander nodded, “Yeah. That... sounds about right.”

  “The worse your experiences, however, the stronger the effect.” The girl went on, “If your life has been hard enough, a Dementor can summon up the very worst thing you have ever experienced and force you to relive it.”

  Xander grimaced, knowing that Harry’s life hadn’t exactly been perfume and roses. “You didn’t seem too bothered, not until it left anyway.”

  Wednesday looked over at him for a moment, then turned toward the castle. “That... thing had no idea who it was facing. I react differently to darkness than most.”

  She was walking away by the time she finished, leaving Xander to stare after her.

  “She ain’t kidding, either.” Xander finally said, chuckling as he too headed for the carriages.

****

  The sorting ceremony was a subdued affair, with the teachers and students both quietly going about their business with very little of the boisterous behaviour of previous years. Xander had mixed feelings on that, since he was having doubts about his planned opening salvo against the Twins.

  He’d been planning it all summer, however, and as the firsties were being sorted off Xander finally decided to go for it and surreptitiously began casting.

  He used his Graphite/Unicorn Hair wand, because he figured that it wouldn’t leave the same tell tales as his matched wand, and carefully began laying the charms needed on the room. The Great Hall was a spectacular piece of enchantment, something Xander would have recognized even without Hermione hammering it in every year, practically everything in the room was charmed or enchanted somehow. The spells were, in fact, nearly impossible to break or alter in any permanent way, the strength of the magic involved was so great.

  However, they were also explicitly designed to accept temporary modifications as a method for adapting the room to different needs. Technically only the Headmaster or a Professor was supposed to be able to make said modifications, however over the years several students had worked out the methodology for doing so... including the Coven and the Marauders.

  Now Xander prepared his first sally of the year using their techniques as the hat droned on, sending students to their tables.

  By the time the sorting was done, and the Headmaster’s requisite nonsensical words had been uttered, Xander too was finished and the meal appeared.

  This year no one was digging in too fast, having remembered the events of the year before, and the upper students were carefully vetting the food. Xander, however, didn’t. He quickly dug in and drew surprised stares from around him.

  “Did you check the food?” Daphne nudged him.

  Xander shook his head, “nope.

  “But... the Twins?”

  “If they get me, they get me.” Xander replied, then smirked, “but I don’t think they’re stupid enough to try. Not after last year.”

  Daphne considered than, and had to admit that it was likely true. She shrugged and took a sampling for herself, “You think they’ve given up?”

  Xander snorted, “Not hardly. But they’ll come from a new direction this year, I’ll bet.”

  “That’s hardly comforting.”

  Xander just grinned.

  The meal progressed with little incident, apparently even the twins were feeling less than eager to mix things up given the events of the day, until the desert course was served. Xander waited until that was petering out, most students looking around more and at their food less, then he tripped his charm string and carefully made a point of digging in to a new slice of pie.

  At first nothing happened, then a gasp and series of whispers began to echo back and forth through the hall. Xander looked up, putting on a confused expression, and looked to where the others were pointing.

  On the charmed ceiling of the Hall a large banner was playing itself out.

  HEIRS OF THE MARAUDERS, BEWARE.

  Xander smirked inwardly, really he felt kinda cheap stealing Mould in his Short’s lines, but it was too good to pass up. The tension in the room had cranked up noticeably, and Xander was only mildly surprised to see the twins pale slightly.

  He had been wondering if they knew anything about their predecessors, but from what he could tell from the book it was entirely probable so he’d played it out as if they did.

  he mused as the ceiling changed again.

  THE COVEN AWAKENS, AND WE ARE WATCHING YOU.

  It really was all he could do not to grin insanely at the sudden look the twins shot each other, their freckled face paling a little more as they searched the room for their unknown adversaries. That was a memory worth savouring, Xander decided, as he looked around the room himself.

  The twin’s reaction was exactly what he had hoped for, but it was the teacher’s reactions that sent his mind into overdrive.

  The shabby looking man who had given them the slabs of chocolate earlier was sitting, wide eyed and opened mouthed as he stared up, and every other teacher including the Headmaster, was staring at him with suspicious eyes.

  Well, except for Snape, who was glaring with killing intent.

  Xander wondered, as he wracked his brain for the man’s name.

  Lupin, he thought. He hadn’t been paying a lot of attention when the Headmaster introduced him.

  Remus Lupin.

  Xander frowned; his focus shifting as he started thinking about the reaction from the teacher’s and filed the twins away as less interesting for the moment. Lupin was now shaking his head and whispering intently to the headmaster, obviously denying involvement.

  Xander knew that Lupin had no connections to the Coven, at least none that he could think of. So, realistically, that only left one possibility.

  Was he a Marauder?

  The teachers quickly dispelled the charms Xander had laid, and amidst the whispers of the students, the assembly was broken up and everyone sorted out to their dorms.

****

  “Well!” Daphne blinked, “What was that all about?”

  “Don’t know.” Xander lied, “Did you see the teachers, though?”

  “Yeah, they were glaring at that new Professor. I wonder if he did it.”

  “Snape seemed to think so.”

  Daphne cracked a wry grin, “True, however as much as it pains me that may not be a good judge of the situation.”

  Xander chuckled, but nodded as the two of them let themselves into the Common Room.

  “You filthy little worm! What possible excuse could the hat have for letting something like YOU disgrace our great House!?”

  Xander looked up and rolled his eyes. Apparently Draco had made it back first, and had quickly cornered a First Year. “God, Draco, it’s the first day. Do you HAVE to be courting trouble already?”

  Malfoy spun on him, “Stay out of this Harris.”

  “What did this one do?”

  “This little mudblood, who belongs in a ZOO, touched my robes.”

  Having spent a little time chatting back and forth with Draco’s mother, Xander had to wonder where the guy got his lines. His mother, while a pureblood supremacist to be sure, at least had style.

  “Dude,” Xander sighed, “Isn’t it enough that two thirds of the school would probably look the other way if they saw you bleeding on the floor? Do you HAVE to make enemies in the place you sleep?”

  “What are you babbling about?” Draco turned on him, the first year scrambling away.

  “Pretty much every Gryffindor hates your guts...”

  “As if I care.”

  “Which means most of the Puffs hate your guts,” Xander continued.

  “Useless twits.”

  “And a good chunk of the Claws too.” Xander finished, “I figure that amounts to about two thirds of the school. I don’t know WHY you seem to want them to hate you, and I don’t care. But, if it were me, I don’t think I’d be trying to make enemies of people who, A) have been sorted into the house of ruthless cunning, and B) Have access to where I sleep.”

  Draco looked a little lost for a moment, then paled. “Are you threatening me?”

  “Me? Dude, I don’t hate you.” Xander shook his head, “If I did, I wouldn’t be telling you this, I’d just slit your throat or whatever while you were sleeping. Which brings me to my point.”

  Draco looked around, noting the people listening to the conversation even as they struggled to NOT appear to be listening, and swallowed. “No one would dare.”

  “You and I have GOT to be using different definitions of the words ‘ruthless’, ‘cunning’, and ‘ambitious’,” Xander said dryly as he pushed past Draco and headed for his room.

  Behind him he left a completely confused, and newly paranoid, Draco Malfoy looking around with new eyes.

****

  “Nice speech.”

  Xander glanced up and nodded to Blaise Zabini as the boy entered the room. He didn’t respond, though, having noticed that Blaise tended to be quiet himself, and just went on with unpacking.

  “I doubt he’ll take it to heart.”

  Xander looked up again, and this time shrugged, “Distracted him long enough for the Firstie to get away. That’s all I was aiming for. If he takes it to heart, that’s a bonus.”

  Zabini nodded, not saying anything more.

  Xander opened his trunk and pulled out some of his research books to set by his bed. He didn’t take out any of his notebooks or the Grimoire, of course, those remained safely secured. Then he shifted the trunk to another compartment and drew out a change of clothes.

  That caught Blaise’ attention, and the dark skinned boy leaned over.

  “I say, is that an expanded trunk?”

  Xander nodded, “Yeah, why?”

  “Surprised to see one.” Blaise admitted, “They’re bloody rare.”

  “You have one, don’t you?” Xander asked, having noticed it before.

  Blaise nodded, “Sure, but my Grandfather builds them. I’d bet good galleons that we’re the only students in the school with one.”

  “You’d lose.” Xander smirked.

  Blaise stared for a moment, then nodded, “Addams. Of course. Grandfather Zabini sold two last fall to Gomez Addams. He only sold three all year, and one of those was to a Master Auror who had the standard Ministry subsidy they all get.”

  “I didn’t know they were that rare. Aren’t all school trunks a little expanded?”

  Blaise nodded, “Yes, but those are child’s play compared to a multi compartment trunk. Those are bought premade from Muggles, then charmed by apprentices usually. True expanded trunks are handmade, and it takes a Master Charm smith and Carpenter to do it.”

  “Wow.” Xander said, looking at the trunk again, impressed. “I didn’t know. How much are they worth?”

  “That depends on who you ask,” Blaise smiled very slightly. “My Grandfather would say that they’re priceless. I believe the going market value is around twenty thousand Galleons, unless you have the Ministry subsidy.”

  Xander blinked, thinking it through. A Galleon was worth about one point three Golden Eagles, and a Golden Eagle was worth... last time he checked, Xander tried to remember the exchange, a GE held 6 grams of pure gold at around thirty dollars a gram... Xander’s eyes flashed opened and he whistled.

  “That’s a lot of cash.” he admitted, wondering at how much Gomez had spent on him.

  “And now you know why I was surprised.” Blaise said simply.

  Xander nodded silently, and made a quick promise to return the favour to the Addamses when he could. He also eyed the trunk with a little more respect than he had before, surprised at the value of something he owned.

  It seemed that there was more to the Wizarding world than cool toys.

  There were expensive cool toys.

****

Malfoy Manor

  Narcissa chuckled softly to herself as she read the day’s entry in the Grimoire, particularly when she reached the part about Remus being caught in the crossfire of the little joke Xander had played on the Twins.

  She thought to herself, finding the man’s plight to be amusing for a moment.

  Then she thought about Sirius and her humour was gone.

  How that man had escaped from Azkaban, she didn’t know, but it did present an opportunity, if she could get to him before he got himself caught again. Unfortunately Lucius was being no help at all, merely growling at her when she asked him to contact Sirius.

  She thought irritably,

  From what Fudge reported that seemed to be her Cousin’s target, but it could NOT be allowed. Narcissa set her jaw; if Lucius would not help she would have to make some inquiries of her own.

  Sirius must NOT be caught.

****

  “Stop playing us for fools, Lupin.” Severus Snape sneered, “The very day you step foot back in this school, the name of the Marauders is flaunted across the great hall, do you expect us to believe you had nothing to do with it?”

  “I already answered that, Severus.” Remus said softly, face pensive. “And to be honest, it’s not the Marauder’s name that has me on my heels.”

  “Do explain, Remus.” Albus motioned to the tired looking man.

  “I haven’t heard from the Coven since I finished school, Albus.” Remus said pensively, “James and I never did figure out who they were, and Sirius would never tell us. He thought it was a great joke.”

  “Are you saying that Sirius Black was part of the Coven??” Minerva McGonagall stiffened in her chair, eyes wide as she pinned Remus with a glare from across the room.

  “No, but he found out who they were.” Remus replied, a touch of a smirk showing on his face, “We waged war with the Coven for three years, and only stopped when Sirius brokered a ‘treaty’.”

  “I remember.” Minerva said sourly, drawing chuckles from Fillius and Albus. “Particularly since you four had no idea who you were fighting, so you just targeted everyone.”

  “That was mostly James’ idea,” Remus admitted with a smile, “We also had to fire twenty times as much in order to make up for the fact that they knew who we were.”

  “Indeed,” Albus chuckled softly, but then grew serious. “However, the fact that Sirius Black has connections to the Coven, and their reappearance now... has disturbing connotations.”

  Remus sighed, “I know.”

  “So we must find out who is taking up their mantle,” Albus said softly, “Did Sirius ever give any hints at who they may have been?”

  Remus shook his head, “Not really. He seemed to think that we knew them, though.”

  “From my House?” Minerva leaned forward.

  “Possibly,” Remus acceded, “But I’m not sure that the Coven was just one house. Sirius seemed to hint that they were a cross house alliance of sorts, specifically created to nail us.”

  “If anyone could drive multiple houses to close cooperation, it would have been you four.” Severus said sourly.

  Remus didn’t rise to the bait, however, and just shrugged in response.

  “Very well,” Albus said, “We’ll have to watch for any more action by this ‘Coven’. Judging from the choice of names, we’re probably looking at Witches I believe.”

  Remus nodded, “Traditionally, a Coven is all or mostly female.”

  “Only for the last century or so,” Minerva warned.

  “Indeed,” Albus conceded, “The old root simply means to Convene. However, if students invented it twenty years ago...”

  Minerva nodded, acceding the point.

  “It may be unrelated,” Fillius spoke up for the first time.

  “Fillius?” Albus questioned softly, “Do you have information to add?”

  Professor Flitwick considered it, “Possibly. Was it just me, or did the message seem to be targeting someone specific?”

  Remus scowled a little sourly himself this time, “That’s how it felt.”

  Fillius chuckled, “Not you, Remus, I think you were merely... unintentional splash over.”

  Several teachers chuckled at that, and Remus seemed to be caught between which was worse, being the target or merely having wandered blindly into the firing line. “Who then?”

  “The Weasley Twins,” Fillius suggested. “The ‘Heirs’ of the Marauders.”

  “That’s possible,” Minerva conceded, “Those two are surely cut from the same cloth.”

  “There is also Harry.”

  The room fell silent, all eyes turning to Albus, who went on, “Harry is the only blood Heir of the Marauders, and the message could have been aimed at him. I believe that it would behove us to locate the members of this Coven as quickly as we can, just to ensure the safety of the school.”

  The staff nodded in agreement, and shortly thereafter the meeting broke up.

****

  School went on, the year beginning with a bang but quickly descending into routine as the students found that even with demons floating around outside the wards; things were mind numbingly normal within.

  Xander had set aside the wand projects for the time being, not having anything more than a few minor adjustments in mind for them, and those could wait until summer. He instead started interesting Wednesday and Hermione in a new school project of sorts.

  “Marauder’s Map?” Hermione frowned, looking over the notes. “These are some advanced spells.”

  Xander nodded, “yeah, but think about the final form. A real-time map of the school? Too cool.”

  “Indeed. The information value alone is staggering,” Wednesday admitted.

  “What you two might want with such a map is, quite frankly, frightening.” Hermione said flatly.

  “Could be worse.” Xander smirked.

  “How?”

  “The twins could have one.”

  Hermione shivered, cringing at the very idea. “That’s horrifying.”

  Xander grinned and nodded, then turned back to the notes. “It’s all based around this, The Protean Charm.”

  Hermione leaned in, “That’s very advanced.”

  “NEWT level,” Xander confirmed.

  Hermione’s expression wavered between horrified and enthused by the prospect of learning a spell that advanced.

  “The tough part is actually going to be linking the charm to the Castle Wards.” Xander admitted while she was thinking, though. “From what I can gather, that’s not easy.”

  “Why?”

  “You have to do it from the Headmaster’s Office.”

  Hermione started, then drew in a breath to scream at him, only to have Wednesday calmly slap a hand over her mouth.

  “We’re in the Library.”

  Hermione eyeballed Wednesday for a moment, then nodded as she took in a deep breath through her nose. As the hand dropped away she leaned in, whispering fiercely. “Are you insane?? You can’t be serious!”

  Xander shrugged, “That’s where the keystone to the wards is placed. It’s the only place you can finish the map.”

  “Well then we’re not going to be making one, are we?” The bushy haired witch hissed.

  “Well, I don’t know about you...” Xander grinned.

  “You don’t have the Arithmancy to pull this off.” She said simply.

  “No, but I do.” Wednesday replied.

  “Plus I think I can get some help from others,” Xander said with a smirk.

  “I’ll... I’ll tell!”

  Xander raised his eyebrows, “Really? Over this?”

  Hermione wavered, wincing visibly.

  “You won’t tell, Hermione.” Xander said after a moment, “You won’t betray us over this. We’re not talking about hurting anyone, or ourselves. Worst thing that happens is we get caught.”

  “That’s bad enough.” She objected sullenly. “You could get expelled.”

  Xander rolled his eyes, “Hermione, Draco Malfoy regularly attacks other students. Harry, Ron, and you are constantly getting into the most idiotic messes... Do you really believe that we’ll get expelled over breaking into the Headmaster’s office?”

  Hermione grimaced, then shook her head.

  “No.”

  “Besides, even if we did, Salem would take us.” Wednesday said coolly.

  “That’s fine for you, but I’m not American.” Hermione said to that, then let out a breath, “Thank god.”

  The two just looked at her for a long moment.

  “Ok fine,” She huffed, “But if we get expelled I’m blaming you two.”

  “Deal.” Xander smirked, pushing the pages over. “Here are the first steps. Do you think we can learn the Protean soon?”

  “It depends, I haven’t looked at it too closely yet,” Hermione sighed, “It’s on next year’s reading list, to be honest. I’ll move it up.”

  Xander grinned at her. Only Hermione had her reading lists planned out like that, AND could remember them so easily. Well, her and maybe Willow. He wasn’t sure about Wednesday, maybe her too, but it was hard to tell. All he ever saw her reading was horror tales.

  Xander made a note to introduce her to Horror comics sometime.

  For the moment, though, they had a project and he had a rather difficult spell to learn.

****

  As classes got into full swing Xander began to question his choices when it came to electives, Ancient Runes and Arithmancy both tested his resolve to learn as much as he could about magic, and his interest in same. Until Arithmancy in particular, Xander didn’t really think ANYTHING could make Magic boring.

  Luckily, and unluckily as it were, he already had a base in Magical Number Theory. This was good in that he wasn’t struggling in class, but he was even more bored than he would have been otherwise. Good and Bad travelled as a pair, or so it seemed.

  The base ideas in Magical Number Theory were fairly easy to grasp. Certain numbers held a power of their own. Three, Seven, and Eleven being the most common and powerful numbers most wizards encountered. It was magically beneficial to do things in a way that related to those numbers, such as brewing potions in batches of three doses, or being the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

  For an even more pronounced effect you combined them, such as brewing eleven doses of a potion that required seven ingredients in three brewing steps. The real challenge, of course, wasn’t in devising the most powerful way to make such a potion, but rather formulating a potion that did what you wanted while also requiring the arithmetic steps. Potions Masters had spent their entire lives carefully reformulating specific potions to take advantage of that common rule of magic.

  Madame Vector had carefully introduced them to the Wave Graph of Magical Influence, which was basically what it sounded like a large graph that showed magical potency along one axis and numbers along the other.

  “As you can see,” She said, looking over the class, “Magical Potency increases as we approach the number three, then declines to its lowest ebb by the number five, only to increase again as we reach seven.”

  The class nodded, understanding that much from the clearly printed graph, but Hermione quickly raised her hand.

  “Yes, Miss Granger?”

  “What about Zero, Professor?” Hermione asked, frowning as she looked at the graph, “Your numbers start with one.”

  “Well you can hardly perform zero steps, or use zero ingredients in a potion, Miss Granger.” Vector replied a little testily.

  Hermione sank back, shrinking a little as several in the class laughed or sneered at her.

  “The Number Zero is one of the most important mathematical concepts in history,” Wednesday Addams spoke up softly, her voice still somehow being heard all through the room. “I find it difficult to believe that it has no bearing on Arithmancy.”

  “Yes, that doesn’t mean it isn’t so.” Vector said calmly, looking around the class. “Scholars have studied magical numbers for thousands of years, since before Wizarding Society came to exist as we know it today. These are tested truths, and while they may not be complete they are as close as anyone has yet gotten. Should you be able to add to this knowledge, you will have truly made an impact on the world.”

  Silence followed that statement, and she nodded in satisfaction.

  “Very well, take out your quills and note this down...”

****

  The quiet and peaceful school year didn’t last long for Hogwarts, of course, since in short order Draco had managed to stir things up while in Care of Magical Creatures. He’d been injured by a Hippogriff and was milking that for all it was worth, promising retribution upon the animal and on Hagrid as the class Professor.

  Now Xander didn’t much know Hagrid, and he didn’t have that class, but what he’d seen of the big guy had been good so he was having a hard time matching what Draco was saying with the man he’d met as a first year.

  As it turned out there was a reason for that, which he learned in the Library was studying with Hermione and Wednesday.

  “It was really all Draco’s fault, you know,” Hermione practically growled, her hands flipping pages with near violent motions. “Hagrid told him to be respectful, but he had to be... be...”

  “Draco?” Xander asked mildly.

  “Yes! Exactly!”

  “Shhh!” Madame Pince hissed from behind her desk.

  Hermione blushed and shrank down a little, “And I’ll bet it’s not even a bad injury...”

  “It isn’t.” Xander said dryly, “Draco doesn’t wear the sling in the dorms...”

  “I knew it!” She hissed.

  “That doesn’t meant that Hagrid did right, though,” Xander went on, “It’s like you said, Draco was being Draco. If you’re going to do something potentially dangerous, you have to know how people are going to act.”

  Hermione shrank down yet again, looking glum, “Well, when you put it that way.”

  Wednesday looked up, eyes narrowing as she pierced Hermione with a stare. “How do you know all the details?”

  “I was there,” Hermione said hotly. “I saw everything.”

  “That class was conducted at the same time as Ancient Runes, was it not?” Wednesday said quietly. “The class you attended with us?”

  Hermione suddenly got nervous, “I, Um, well I’m not sure. Couldn’t have been. Oh my, I have to go, I’ll see you later!”

  Wednesday and Xander exchanged glances as the girl ran out of the room.

  “She’s hiding something.”

  Xander smirked, “Ya think?”

  The Addams scion merely rolled her eyes as his amused tone, “I fail to see how she could be in two classes at the same time.”

  “Don’t know,” Xander shrugged, “Magic?”

  That earned him a glare, “Do NOT make me hurt you.”

  Then she paused, considered her words, and smiled slowly. “On second thought, please... make me hurt you.”

  Xander gulped at her tone, and it was his turn to squirm in his seat as he made a show of looking at his bare wrist. “Hey, look at the time. Gotta go.”

  Wednesday watched him bolt from the library and shook her head slightly as she smiled. He was such a fool, but not in a bad way she decided. Much like Uncle Fester, perhaps. On the surface Xander resembled her father, but Gomez Addams had a terrifying dark side beneath the clown’s facade.

  She had seen it once, when she was very young, and it still gave her shivers to this day. Of course, all Addams had their demons, but there was something truly exciting about the true unleashed darkness she’d witnessed that day.

  Wednesday shook herself free of her reverie a moment later, carefully returning to her studies with disciplined intent.

  Like her father, she too had a dark side. She merely chose to leash it in a different way.

****

  Defence Against the Dark Arts started off with a bang, literally, when the professor used an incantation that sounded suspiciously like a child’s mumbling, or perhaps an African city, to fire a piece of chewed bubblegum straight up Peeve’s nose when the Poltergeist tried to prevent them from entering class.

  This was the first time Xander had a chance to examine the Professor closely since the opening feast. On the surface there was nothing impressive to relate about the man, other than his old and frayed robes as Malfoy constantly pointed out. He seemed competent as a teacher, though, so Xander was relieved to not be dealing with another Lockhart.

  Their first class brought about a new spell and the introduction of the class to a creature known as a Boggart. Lupin brought them up to a Staff room and, after some words from Snape, selected Neville to be the first to try the new spell.

  The spell, simply incanted as ‘Riddikulas’ was, on the surface, nothing but a joke spell. Make fun of someone by casting a simple cantrip to make them look stupid, which made Xander wonder why he hadn’t heard of it already until he looked the spell up later and found that it was, pardon the pun, ridiculously easy to stop. Like most cantrips, it actually didn’t work properly, if at all, against an unwilling Wizard.

  Against the Boggart, however, it worked fine as Neville proved when he turned the image of Professor Snape into a cross dresser. Even many Slytherin’s laughed at that, including Xander, though he did keep it a little muffled.

  After that the class was treated to a spin of the Wheel of Phobias as Lupin directed them in to face their Boggart and cast the cantrip to repel it.

  After Seamus had given his Banshee laryngitis Lupin called out, “Harris!”

  Xander moved forward, wand in hand, and blanched slightly as the Boggart became two forms that lunged in his direction. A Black clad jack booted Gestapo Officer glared at him, drawing a Luger, while a gaily coloured clown with creepy face paint grinned at him wildly.

  “R... Riddikulas!” Xander snapped, flicking his wand at the duo.

  The two merged and in the next instant there was a Gestapo Clown wielding a floppy rubber chicken in a way that could no longer be remotely considered menacing.

  “Excellent, back now,” Lupin said, nodding to Wednesday. “Addams.”

  Wednesday calmly stepped forward and the Boggart changed instantly, looking suspiciously to Xander like Mary Poppins. The incantation rang out and Wednesday stepped back as the Boggart became one of the most hideous hags he’d ever imagined, cackling wildly while singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  Xander, alone the entire room, burst out laughing wildly as everyone else screamed at the change.

  Lupin, sparing a puzzled glance at Wednesday, stepped in and calmly dispatched the Boggart when it turned into an image of the Moon for him. He moved away, then quickly nodded to Neville again, “Forward Neville! Finish him off!”

  Neville did just that, considerably more confident this time as the cross-dressing Snape made its reappearance once more.

*****

  Narcissa Malfoy nee Black slammed the palm of her hand into the corner of a table, her face just slightly twisting into an irritated grimace as she attracted the attention of several others in the pub. Rosmerta looked over in her direction, but she merely shook her head to the inquiring glance.

  There was nothing ‘Merta could do to help her, nothing anyone could do, or would do apparently.

  Some days she would cheerfully strangle her ‘beloved’ husband. A word from him and she knew that she could get a meeting with Sirius, Lucius was as plugged into the Dark Lord’s network as he had ever been and she knew it. Instead what was she doing? Haunting Hogsmeade and playing muggle dog catcher!

  She thought grimly as she finished her drink and left a few coins on the table as she rose.

  “Will there be anything else, Madam Malfoy?” Rose asked, stepping up quietly.

  “Thank you, No, Rose.” Narcissa said with a tired shake of her head.

  Rosmerta leaned in close enough that no one else could hear, “You look like hell, Ciss.”

  Narcissa stiffened slightly, but a glance in the mirror behind the bar told her that Rose had spoken the simple truth. She sighed and nodded, “I have things to do.”

  “If you’re not going to go home, take a room upstairs for a few hours.” The bar owner suggested, “You’ll do no one, least of all yourself, any good if you collapse in the streets.”

  Narcissa grimaced at that image, but steeled herself just the same. She had to find her idiot cousin before he did something stupid to get himself killed. “I don’t have time, Rose, I...”

  A scream went up from outside, shocking them both, and they instantly ran to the door to see a group of Aurors herding Dementors through the streets in a hurry, heading in the direction of Hogwarts.

  “What’s going on!?” Rosmerta called out to a passerby, yelling above the commotion.

  “Haven’t you heard!?” A Man called back, “Sirius Black snuck into Hogwarts!”

  Narcissa gasped softly, her knees buckling as the world wavered around her.

  Rosmerta was there instantly, a single strong arm holding her up and a concerned look shooting in her direction before she looked back to the man. “Did he hurt anyone?”

  “No, he tried to break into Gryffindor Dorms to get at Potter but the Painting wouldn’t open.”

  “Did they catch him?” Narcissa asked tonelessly.

  “Not yet, this is part of the search party.”

  Narcissa shook slightly, breathing a sigh of deep relief as she steadied herself. Rose was eyeing her nervously now, and the two just stood there as the procession moved on up the road to the Castle.

  “I think you need to be talking to me, Ciss,” Rose whispered in her ear, her tone hard and with a lot less of the concern she had earlier.

****

  Xander observed the commotion as he was sequestered in the great hall with some others from his years, not quite able to fathom the situation. That Black had been able to break into the castle wasn’t the problem, from what he knew about Black the man knew more about Hogwarts secrets than most anyone alive.

  That, in fact, was the problem he was having.

  “You ok?”

  Xander started as Daphne came up behind him, “What?”

  “You look confused.”

  “I am.” Xander admitted. “Something about this stinks.”

  “How so?”

  “Black isn’t a stupid guy by any description I’ve heard,” Xander said, shrugging, “So why go looking for Harry in the dorms during the Halloween Feast?”

  “Maybe he was going to wait for him and kill him as he went to bed?” Daphne suggested.

  “And attacking the painting to announce his presence fits into that plan, how exactly?” Xander asked sarcastically.

  “Don’t get snippy with me, Harris.” She snapped back. “He’s been in Azkaban for twelve years, his brain’s probably addled.”

  “So addled he snuck through the line of Aurors and Dementors, then broke through Hogwarts Wards and made it to Gryffindor dorms without being seen? Only to blow it then?” Xander scoffed.

  “Look, what do you care?” She rolled her eyes, “it’s not like he’s here for you.”

  Xander shrugged defensively, not willing to mention the book or the fact that he’d spent a summer learning all sorts of things from Black’s avatar. “I just think its weird is all.”

  “You are weird, Harris. Black is nuts. There’s a difference.” Daphne said with a flick of her hair as she turned away from him and headed for the girl’s bedding pads a few yards away.

  Xander sighed, taking a seat by the wall and drawing out his copy of the Grimoire. His fountain pen in hand he carefully noted the events of the day in one of the interactive sections, then entered a one word question.

  Why?

****

  What’s this all about, Narcissa?” Rosmerta demanded in a hard voice when they were alone. “I don’t like your reaction out there one bit.”

  “It’s none of your concern, Rosmerta.” Narcissa returned in an equal voice. “This is between me and Sirius.”

  “That... murderer... has no business with any decent human.” Rose growled, “Something that, until now, I always believed you to be. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t call the Aurors over here.”

  Narcissa’s eyes glinted, the soft blue turning steel grey in an instant as her wand appeared in her hand, startling the tavern owner. “Because it would do you no good, and would likely cost you everything.”

  Rosmerta paled slightly, taking a step back. “Narciss... Cissy, why are you doing this? You’ve never been this sort...”

  “This is a matter of blood, Rose.” Narcissa said fiercely. “Intervene in my affairs and I will crush you.”

  Rosmerta swallowed as the ephemeral blond spun on her heel and strode out, leaving her to consider the words carefully. Narcissa was not joking; she knew that as a fact. Rose left the private room and looked outside for a moment, eyes falling on a passing Auror as her sense of propriety warred with her sense of self preservation.

  Finally she stepped back, letting the door close, and mechanically went back to work.

  There was nothing she could do against Narcissa Malfoy, and even less for the Aurors to do. There was no crime in being concerned for a relative, even a murderer. She had always thought that Narcissa detested her cousin, though?

****

  The confusion reigned for that night, but by midway through the next day things were back to normal in the school. Xander’s mind was still running in circles as the facts of reality clashed with everything written in his Grimoire, and he didn’t like it. He was becoming distrustful of the book, and the contents within as his arguments with the Avatars went round and round.

  Evans and Black would have screamed his eardrums bloody if they’d been able to, both insisting that it was IMPOSSIBLE for Black to have betrayed the Potters, let alone killed Peter Pettigrew. What made that even more confusing was the revelation that Evans was, in fact, Lilly Evans who became Lilly Potter, who supposedly died at the behest of Black himself.

  Pettigrew was, along with Black and two others (including, Xander was becoming more certain, Remus Lupin) part of the Marauders.

  All Xander knew for sure was that he was being lied to, and he didn’t like it.

  The intelligences locked in the book were of a limited sort, unfortunately, and that meant that they couldn’t answer any of the more relevant questions he had, or had been specifically locked against revealing them. Xander had determinedly locked the book in his trunk when they had been permitted back into their rooms, against the vociferous objections of the book’s inhabitants who were demanding more information.

  Classes moved on, Snape taking over Defence for a few days and tearing into the Gryffindor’s for Neville’s cross-dressing Boggart. The next bit of excitement came when the Puffs won their match against Gryffindor on the pitch, largely because a whole group of Dementors had bolted across the field like the demon wraiths they apparently were, scaring the hell out of the school and nearly killing Harry.

  As usual, he survived, but the loss of the match had shifted the balance in the scores pretty heavily, which had most of the Kittens looking downtrodden while Draco was puffed up like a marshmallow, strutting around like a peacock.

  Xander just shook his head, listening to the whispers behind the boy’s back. He wouldn’t have looked so foolish if he had anything to do with it, but as it stood Draco just didn’t seem to realize that he was making Harry look better and better with every strut.

  After all, apparently Slytherin’s seeker believed he needed Dementors to take on Potter.

  Xander just sighed and let it pass. He didn’t understand the game anyway, so what did he care?

  Soon it was time for the Hogsmeade visit.

****

  Xander and Wednesday made their way into the small town with the group of students, all gleefully happy to be free of the castle for a few hours. The walk felt good, though it reminded Xander that he’d started to let his conditioning go again and would pay for it if he didn’t find some time to exercise soon.

  In the group of students he easily spotted Ron and Hermione as they made their way to town as well, but didn’t attempt to approach the group. Tensions between the Gryffs and Snakes had ratcheted up again with Draco’s nonsense, and Xander didn’t feel like a confrontation with some kittens who didn’t know enough to avoid a snake.

  “Are you well?”

  He was startled by the question, turning to Wednesday. “Why are you asking?”

  “You’ve been sullen, withdrawn, and antisocial for the past week or more,” She said, eyeing him intently, “Most unlike you. I was starting to think you were hopelessly... cheerful.”

  The way she spat the word made Xander laugh, which drew a disgusted look from her and he just shook his head. “I’m fine. Just had some heavy thinking to do lately.”

  “I see.”

  She didn’t push it any further, and he didn’t offer anything else, so the two made their way into town and browsed the candy shops, supplies, and general window shopping they were expected to do.

  Xander nodded to Hermione when they saw her in Honeydukes, and she nodded back. She didn’t look too happy herself, he noted, but he supposed that he shouldn’t be surprised.

****

  Ron spared a glance at the snake as he passed, “I don’t know what you see in that guy.”

  Hermione rolled her eyes, “He only helped save your sister last year.”

  “Yeah, he’s ok for a snake,” Ron said grudgingly, “But still...”

  “Honestly.” She huffed, shaking her head.

  “Leave her be, Ron. Xander’s a good guy.” Harry said tiredly from where he was standing under his cloak. “Anyway, like I was saying, the Twins gave me this map... it’s called the Marauder’s map...”

  Hermione’s eyes widened as she heard that name, looking at Harry’s disembodied head in confusion. “What did you say?”

****

  After the Hogsmeade visit Xander turned his focus back to the arithmetic work needed to construct the Marauder’s map. It was both complex and simplistic in nature, since most of it was tied into the Protean Charm. The individual equations were easy enough to deal with, really they were simple addition and subtraction work since the Wizarding world hadn’t yet gotten too deep into multiplication and division as far as Xander could tell.

  It was weird, in a way, he thought. He had yet to find one single instance of multiplication or division in his Arithmancy books. Everything was adding this, subtract that. The real complexities of Arithmancy seemed to be in the number selection, as there was a huge difference between three of something or four. In fact, from a magical point of view, you were almost always better off using three instead of four or five, even if logically the situation would seem to call for more quantity.

  That bugged the hell out of him on one level, but mostly Xander just shrugged it off. He knew that there had to be something more to it than just what was in the books, but he supposed that it was in the more advanced courses offered later.

  Certainly there was a LOT of power available in the simple addition and subtraction of magical numbers. In class they had broken down the Wingardium Leviosa spell from first year, analyzing its numerical formula. It was rather surprising to learn that the spell was just a long run of threes and sevens being added or subtracted in what looked suspiciously like a triple meter beat.

  He’d brought that up in class, only to receive a strange look from the teacher and a sneer from some of Malfoy’s sycophants in the row behind him. He just sighed and went back to work.

  Music wasn’t something Xander knew a lot about, but he’d taken some piano and guitar lessons in school and had even gotten some lessons with Willow when she learned to play the recorder and flute. He couldn’t exactly read sheet music, but he could get a sense of the pace, and he was almost CERTAIN that the spell formulae were broken into a triple meter beat.

  Tying the numbers into the incantation and wand motion was another aspect of the formulae that Xander found pretty cool, though. Well, actually, the term ‘tying’ was all wrong. He noticed immediately that the swish and flick motion was actually part of the base formula, and all charms would have similar base wand movements. The incantation, however, was a bit of a puzzle. He couldn’t find any connection there at all; it was as if the words had nothing at all to do with the spell.

  It was all terribly confusing, but at least Xander now felt like he was really at school. For a while there he had started to imagine he was just getting to play every day.

****

  Hermione watched, eyes narrowing like a Hawk’s before striking, as Xander worked on the next step in the making of the Marauder’s Map.

  How did he get the instructions for such a thing? Especially since Harry was now holding the original or what she supposed was the original.

  And just who were Moony, Padfoot, Prongs, and Wormtail? They had to be brilliant students, she thought, to have devised a map like this, but at the same time it was obvious that they were troublemakers on the order of which only the Weasley Twins seemed to approach.

  It was all very distressing, Hermione found. She felt like she was caught between her two groups of friends, not able to tell either group about the other without betraying someone. She was distracted for a moment when she noticed Xander struggling with the Arithmetic formula for part of the map, and realized why it seemed to be so out of place.

  “Xander, where’s your Grimoire?” She asked.

  Xander looked up, his face darkening. “I left it in my room.”

  “Why? You always bring it...”

  “I just did, ok.” He said, sharply enough to leave her feeling rebuked, so Hermione quieted down.

  Wednesday looked between them, eyes glittering darkly as she measured the conversation but remained silent.

****

  The fall term swung ever closer to an end, and Xander found himself looking forward to Christmas Hols since he knew he would be spending it with the Addamses again. He had, once more, offered to remain at Hogwarts but neither Wednesday nor Gomez would hear of it. Xander hadn’t really expected much else, but felt the need to make the offer anyway.

  Work on the map was progressing nicely, though it was a lot rougher without the help of the shade of Sirius Black and occasional answers from Narcissa Malfoy. Even so, Xander didn’t want to bring the Grimoire out again, not until he knew he could trust it. With the constant fear of Black practically permeating the entire school, even Xander was feeling a lot of paranoia over the figure he’d originally considered a slight pain in the ass at most.

  The end result of the paranoia, though, was a steep decline in Xander’s capability to manage his ‘fun’ projects, and a lot more focus required on his school work. That, in turn, made the school work feel more and more like, well work, and left him feeling a little trapped by the drudgery of constant repetitions of the same little thing.

  He was really looking forward to the upcoming Break.

****

 Gomez and Mortisha Addams arrived in the town of Hogsmeade by car, the old Rolls silently appearing out of a fogbank and rolling smoothly down the cobblestone streets much to the shock of the town’s populace.

  “Isn’t that one of them muggle carts?” Mundungus Fletcher drawled slightly as he looked out from his permanent seat in the Hogshead Tavern.

  “Can’t be.” Aberforth Dumbledore said without looking up, “The whole town is under muggle repelling wards.”

  “Looks like one ter me.”

  Aberforth sighed, then turned and looked just in time to see the Rolls slide fully past. “My word. Was that a Silver Cloud?”

  “No, that was a Cart, I’m telling ya.”

  Aberforth rolled his eyes and made his way to the door in time to confirm his thoughts. “Good lord, that car is worth more than... well much of the town, I believe. How on earth did it get here? We aren’t even connected to the highway.”

  “What high way?” Fletcher asked, leaning out past him, and looking up as if peering for the way Aberforth was talking about.

  The bar owner sighed, “Never mind, Fletcher. Go back to your drink; the car must be enchanted so it’s not muggles.”

  Fletcher shrugged and happily went back to his drinks.

****

  Elsewhere in town the passage of the vehicle elicited many of the same reactions from the inhabitants of the town, confusion both from those who were aware of what it was, and even more so from those who weren’t. At the far end of town one Narcissa Malfoy was tiredly finishing up what had become a near daily routine of Mutt Watching when the vehicle appeared from around a corner and nearly ran her down on its way past.

  “Well I’ll be!” She gasped, glaring at the departing muggle conveyance. “It’s bad enough to deal with those blasted things in London, but what is one doing here!?”

  She glowered after it for a while, but it was on its way up to Hogwarts and she couldn’t muster up the indignation to chase after it. Frankly, she had her own problems to deal with, and careless fools in muggle toys weren’t even remotely on her list of priorities.

****

  “Quite a stir.” Mortisha said, glancing out the back of the Rolls.

  “Indeed!” Gomez grinned, slightly maniacal as he waved his cigar around. “They must recognize the Addams car and have come out to greet us. Wave to the nice people, Tish.”

  She waved dutifully, but frowned ever so slightly, “That blond woman doesn’t seem to be the greeting type.”

  “Nonsense!” Gomez declared, “Why else would she have risked getting so close to the car as we passed by? Why Lurch almost ran her down.”

  “True.”

  “Such nice people.” Gomez marvelled.

  “Perhaps we should consider a home in the area?” Mortisha suggested.

  “Capital idea, love. The weather is positively dreary in the fall, perfect holiday weather.” Gomez said, “It might be nice to have a home in the Old World again.”

  Lurch, from the front, glanced back and droned out, “The School.”

  The couple looked ahead to see Hogwarts Castle approaching as they topped the hill.

  “It’s just such a...” Mortisha grimaced, “light and airy place for an old castle, don’t you think? These are usually so wonderfully dreary.”

  “Ah, love, not everyone can have the comforts we enjoy,” Gomez said sadly. “It’s a truth of the world that injustice reigns.”

  “I know,” She leaned into him, “but why must Wednesday endure this?”

  “It builds character, love. You’ll see.”

  The conversation was cut off when a dark, dank feeling of hopeless dread filled them, and the two Addamses exchanged glances briefly before Gomez leaned forward.

  “Lurch! Stop the car!”

  The Rolls slid to a stop, and Gomez was instantly out. “You feel that, Tish?”

  “That’s not natural,” his wife said as she nodded, “Where...?”

  “There!” Gomez pointed, noting the darkening form floating in their direction.

  “Demons? Here?” Mortisha blinked.

  “Dementor, unless I miss my guess.” Gomez said his face serious. “The locals keep them as prison guards on some island up the coast.”

  “So why are they here, at a school?”

  “Some imbecile in government, I suppose. I can’t imagine Mr Dumbles allowing it; he’s far too cheerful a sort to permit this, so it must be someone above him.” Gomez didn’t move as the demon approached.

  “Oh dear,” Mortisha said distastefully. “And with Wednesday around too.”

  “Yes well, we’ll see about this.” Gomez just barely grunted out, his demeanour changing as he suddenly glared at the demon as it approached, the feeling of chilled air increasing tenfold.

  The Dementor paused, hitching in mid flight, and then dropped like a stone to the ground where it crumpled and didn’t move again.

  Gomez smirked, “Still got it.”

  “Of course you do, Mon Cher.”

  The serious demeanour was gone in an instant as Gomez spun around, eyes wide as he stared at his wife.

  “Tish! That’s French!”

  Lurch only moaned as Gomez vaulted across the priceless automobile, grabbed his wife’s arm, and began to pepper her with kisses.

****

  The last feast before the hols was well underway when the doors to the Great Hall opened and three figures strode in.

  “Mr Stumbles! I would have a word with you!” The lead said, loud enough for the entire school to hear.

  “I believe its Dumbles, Hon.”

  “Is it?” The man looked confused, “How odd. Never mind that anyway, Just why is the school ringed by demons??”

  The murmuring of the feast fell away as the man’s question rang out clearly, causing Headmaster Dumbledore to rise.

  “Mr Addams, I presume you mean the Dementors?” He asked with a genial sort of gesture, “I’m afraid that while I am able to prevent their encroachment on school grounds, the Ministry has decreed their presence beyond.”

  “There, I told you, Tish,” Gomez shook his head.

  “You did, Dear.” She agreed.

  “Surrounding a school with demons is stupidity of the highest order, Mr Dumbles.” Gomez ground out as he, Morticia, and Lurch strode up the hall. “It’s a miracle they haven’t hurt anyone.”

  Half the school looked over to where Harry was sitting, causing him to shrink from the attention.

  “I assure you, the safety of the children is paramount.” Dumbledore said seriously.

  “Says the man who left an insane basilisk to run loose in his school last year,” Gomez rolled his eyes, “not that I have anything against keeping pets, Mr Dumbles, but obviously you don’t know how to tend them.”

  “Mr Addams,” Dumbledore said with a put upon sigh, “I assume you’re here to pick up young Wednesday and Alexander?”

  “Of course I am, man, but stay on subject.”

  “I know that you’re also aware that parents are supposed to pick up their children and charges in London.” Dumbledore said tiredly. “This is so as to avoid disrupting the school.”

  “You have DEMONS surrounding your school and I’m the one disrupting things?” Gomez looked over at Morticia, confused, “Is he insane or am I?”

  “Why not both?” She asked lightly.

  “True.” Gomez admitted with a sudden grin. “May I enquire as to why...?”

  His question was lost in the clatter as the doors to the Hall burst open again, this time revealing a contingent of Aurors with wands drawn, being followed closely by a chubby man in a bowler hat.

  “Where is he!?” The man demanded, “We’re here, children, its safe now! Where is Black!?”

  Dumbledore sank in his chair, shaking his head, “Minister Fudge, so pleasant to see you. Are you here for a reason?”

  “Don’t play with me, Dumbledore! Where is Black!?” Fudge demanded.

  “What makes you think that Sirius Black is here?” Dumbledore asked, honestly curious.

  “We found a Dementor just outside the grounds,” A tall black Auror said crisply as he and the others carefully covered the room. “Or, we found what was left of it.”

  Murmurs filled the room and Dumbledore straightened up, “Left of it? Explain.”

  “It was dead, or as close to it as I’ve ever seen in a Dementor,” The Auror said calmly.

  “Yes yes, Black is a dangerous one, now where is he!?” Fudge interrupted. “He must be making his move and...”

  “Oh that,” Gomez said calmly as he leaned on the Ravenclaw table and picked at some of the food in front of his daughter, “That was me.”

  The Aurors spun to look at him, about half of them covering him with their wands.

  “You!?” Fudge sputtered. “Impossible! Who are you anyway?”

  Gomez grimaced as he tasted a sip of pumpkin juice, setting the goblet down with distaste. “Gomez Addams. And you?”

  “A... Addams you say?” Fudge faltered, staring at him.’

  “Precisely, now why were demons stationed around the school?” Gomez asked lightly.

  “They’re hunting a dangerous fugitive,” Fudge blustered.

  “Who?”

  “Sirius Black, of course!”

  “Black?” Gomez looked thoughtful, “Where have I heard that name from?”

  “The paper, dear,” Morticia said lightly from where she was standing, “The escaped prisoner?”

  “Oh yes! The very man!” Gomez snapped his fingers, “Escaped from Azkaban, right?”

  “Exactly!”

  “And you set Dementors on his trail.”

  “Precisely!”

  “So, just so I understand things,” Gomez went on, “You set Dementors to hunt down a man who’s already proven that he knows how to escape from them.”

  “Exac... wait, no, I mean...” Fudge blinked, thinking furiously.

  “Indeed.” Gomez pushed off the table, turning to look at his daughter. “Are you ready, my dear? I thought we may get an early jump on things.”

  “Of course, Father.” Wednesday said simply, folding her napkin and setting it aside as she rose up.

  “Alexander?”

  “All set.” Xander said, rising as well. “Just need to get my trunk.”

  “Splendid, we’ll be about that then, shall we?”

  The two children nodded and as a group they made to leave the hall.

  “Hold on just a moment!” Fudge blustered. “You attacked and destroyed property of the ministry, that’s a serious charge and...”

  Gomez turned on him, his jovial tone gone and a dead sounding one in its place. “There are no laws in any country on this entire world that protect demonic entities from destruction, Fudge. Try to get one passed and you’ll learn why the Addams name is feared.”

  Then, in an instant, the dead sounding tone was gone and Gomez smiled at the two children with him. “Come along then, time to go. We have a wonderful place for the holidays this year...”

  Then they were gone, leaving the Minister, The Aurors, the students, and the professors staring in stunned shock at their wake.

  “Minister, Auror Shacklbolt, if I may ask... how did the Dementor die?” Dumbledore asked quietly.

  Shacklbolt looked over at him, then back at where the Addams had been, “Looked like it starved to death, Headmaster.”

*****

  They retrieved their trunks quickly and Gomez led them out of the school to where the Silver Cloud awaited. Xander had to pause for a moment at the incongruity of the car sitting against the backdrop of Hogwarts, then smiled as he shook his head and moved forward.

  “Really, demons at a school. What’s next?” Gomez shook his head, “The world has no sense of balance, Tish. If it’s not those horrible fairytales with Knights killing poor defenceless dragons, it’s allowing demons within striking range of children.”

  Xander had to admit, the comment about poor defenceless dragons seemed more in keeping with the Addamses he knew. Though Wednesday had also voiced her displeasure with the presence of the Dementors as well, so he wasn’t sure.

  They stowed their trunks away in the boot, and piled into the surprisingly roomy back of the car, with four people and two familiars. Xander shifted oddly, noting that the car was tilted heavily toward the passenger’s side of the old car, and was about to comment on it when Lurch settled into the driver’s seat and the car instantly evened out.

  He glanced over his shoulder at the large; man he supposed then shivered a little and let it pass.

  “Uh, Sir, what’s so bad about Dementors?” He asked, however. “I mean, other than the obvious. You don’t seem to have a problem with Werewolves, vampires, and all those...”

  Xander shifted uncomfortably as they stared at him, and was about to say something else when Gomez spoke up.

  “Hardly the same thing, lad.” He said, “There is a difference between magical beasts and demonic ones. We Addamses have no truck with demons; they’re not to be trusted and certainly not to be permitted within range of children.”

  “They are unnatural.” Wednesday supplied.

  “Precisely!” Gomez seized on the comment. “You can feel it when you’re around them, if you listen carefully to your instincts. Demons are the antithesis of everything we stand for on this world, they live only to destroy.”

  “Gomez, darling,” Morticia put a calming hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure that Alexander doesn’t understand, and you know how bad misinformation can be.”

  Gomez sighed, “Yes, yes, of course. Demons, my boy, are not from this world. That’s one of the key points about them. They’re not even from a world remotely like this one. Please, don’t misunderstand me here, we Addamses don’t expect others to believe as we do but there are some things we hold to be self evident. One of those things is that you don’t make deals with those who would destroy you.”

  “Sic gorgiamus allos subjectatos nunc.” Wednesday said calmly.

  “Not just pretty words.” Morticia smiled.

  “Exactly.” Gomez said with a flourish of his cigar.

  Xander’s Latin had, as a matter of necessity, gotten fairly decent over the past three years but he had to struggle a bit to place the phrase.

  We gladly feast on those who would subdue us.

  Xander cringed, “Family motto?”

  “Yes.” Wednesday said with a hint of a predatory smile. “Now imagine what we do to those who would destroy us?”

****

  “How on Earth did that... man...” McGonagall said, obviously using the term lightly. “Kill a Dementor?”

  Dumbledore sighed, shaking his head, “I’m afraid I have no idea. The Addamses are an old family line, with possibly thousands of years of family magic to draw on. Additionally, they don’t blink at interbreeding with many... beings... that we would consider abhorrent.”

  “Obviously they draw the line at Dementors.” The Head of Gryffindor said dryly in return.

  Dumbledore nodded, “thankfully so. The family has long held an active state of open warfare with what they term demonic species.”

  “What they term?”

  “Their definition varies somewhat from most accepted scholars,” Dumbledore admitted tiredly. “So it’s not easy to say precisely what species they will, or won’t, accept without prior experience.”

  “Lovely.” Minerva sighed, “I suppose we should be glad that it was only a Dementor that was harmed, then.”

  “Far be it for me to wish harm on any creature,” Dumbledore sighed, “But I do wish Cornelius would remove the Dementors from the area. They are causing far more trouble than they’re worth.”

  “Why don’t you oppose him in the Wizengamot, Albus?”

  “That would not be a productive use of my efforts at the moment, Minerva.”

****

Toledo, Castillo La Mancha, Spain

  The Rolls Royce Silver Cloud rolled silently out of the fog bank, slowing to a crawl as Gomez looked fondly, and eagerly, out at the passing countryside.

  “Welcome to my home.” He said cheerfully, nodding ahead of them.

  Xander turned in his seat, looking up the winding road to see a foreboding castle in the distance. It looked hard and dark, a gloom surrounding it even in the bright Spanish sunlight, and he had to admit that it was most certainly an Addams building.

  “Castle Addams.” Gomez said, almost sounding serene for a moment. “Oh the times we had here, such wonderful times.”

  “Gomez, darling, we should return more often.”

  “Right you are, Tish,” Gomez sighed, “But we have our responsibilities at home.”

  “Of course,” She said simply, “We are Addamses. Even so, if Wednesday is to be part of the magical world, perhaps we should extend our influences again.”

  “Maybe you’re right, my love.” Gomez said thoughtfully, then shook off the pensive nature of his thoughts and smiled again, “For now though, let us enjoy the holidays in true Addams style.”

  “But of course, mon coer.” Morticia responded.

  “Tish! That’s French!”

****

  Castle Addams was a huge affair, in horrible disrepair from what Xander could see but the family seemed to love it as it was. As they approached the gates they were greeted by an ethereal blond woman whose hair seemed to flow against the wind with an eerie motion.

  “Marietta!” Gomez crowed, spreading his arms wide as the woman grinned in return and stepped into the embrace. “It’s been too long!”

  “Hello Dear Gomez,” Mariette said with a smile, “Welcome back to Castle Addams.”

  “Wednesday, you remember your aunt Marietta,” Gomez said with a smile.

  “Hello Aunt Marietta,” Wednesday said with a calm look, subtly jabbing Xander in the side as he stared at the woman, in a daze.

  He grunted in pain and blinked as the fog lifted from his mind, looking around in confusion.

  “And who is this strapping young buck?” Marietta asked with a sly smile.

  “This is Alexander Harris,” Gomez said cheerfully, “A friend of Wednesday’s from school. Alexander, Meet Marietta Addams.”

  “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”

  “Ma’am.” She chuckled, “None of that here, young man. I am Marietta to you, all of you.”

  “Of course.” Morticia said softly, smiling faintly as she and the others walked onto the ground.

  Xander was shaking his head slightly, rubbing his temples, “What was that?”

  “Marietta is a Xanas.” Wednesday said softly, “distantly related to the Norwegian Veela, they have similar charms.”

  Xander frowned, remembering only a little about the Veela from somewhere.

  “They can enthral men,” Wednesday explained as they began to walk after the family.

  “Can they ever.” Xander muttered, earning himself a dark look from his friend. “Hey, I’m just saying. That was plain creepy.”

  “Wasn’t it though?” A hint of a smile played at Wednesday’s lips, then she turned away from him and began to walk ahead.

  Xander watched her for a moment, then groaned as he knew that he had failed some sort of test. “It’s gonna be some holiday.”

*****

  The initial rush of meeting the Castillo branch of the Family Addams faded away as the holidays moved on, though Xander had to admit that they were every bit as memorable as the American branch of the family.

  Hernandez Addams, the Castilian Patriarch was a frightening reflection of Gomez. Moody where Gomez was cheerful, the man seemed older than his looks suggested and moved like he had something sitting on his shoulders. Nevertheless he had greeted his guests with gusto, then almost instantly challenged Gomez to a fencing duel that raged across the entire castle while the rest of them settled down to dinner.

  His wife, Marietta, was almost the antithesis of Addams. Light fairy hair that blew in the absence of wind, a cheerful pleasant personality that seemed to hold none of the darker aspects of the rest of the family, and a genuine earnest love of everyday things like the perfect rose blossoms that took up the centre of the dining room table. The one thing that marked her as an Addams, in Xander’s opinion, was that eerie charm she wielded without even thinking about it.

    Xander had managed to acclimate himself a little to the food the Addamses ate, enough so that he was able to pick at the food without worrying about going hungry until he found a MacDonald’s, or the local equivalent.

  Marietta noticed, but only smiled slightly and pushed some of the more normally accepted foods in his direction as she leaned over to avoid the sweep of her husband’s blade.

  “Come back here, you lazabout!” Hernandez yelled, chasing Gomez around the table.

  “Never!” Gomez grinned, planting a foot on the table and vaulting up to the chandelier, hooking his legs in it and hanging upside down as he fended off his cousin’s attacks.

  He twisted there for a while, casually parrying sweeps of Hernandez’ blade, then abruptly curled up and somersaulted off the chandelier to land squarely in the centre of the table, feet planted on either side of a bubbling gravy mix.

  “Alexander, my boy! You’re up!” Gomez said, dropping his sword in Xander’s direction.

  Xander’s eyes bugged as he caught the sword on reflex. “What!?”

  Gomez flipped off the table, landing in his chair, and began helping himself to a meal. “I’d duck if I were you, lad.”

  Xander ducked.

  The Toledo Steel blade swept over his head, right about neck level, and Xander didn’t stop. He rolled to the right as the blade reversed and swept down through the back of his chair.

  “Footwork Lad!” Gomez called as Xander scrambled across the floor, “Footwork!”

  “I...” Xander gasped, narrowly avoiding a slash.

  “Have to...” He threw up his blade, deflecting a lunge over his head.

  “Get to my...” He rolled, narrowly ducking a follow up strike.

  “Feet first!” he finished, twisting his sword around and driving the point of Hernandez’ blade into the floor between his knees. Xander immediately locked it in place with a twist of his blade, preventing the Castilian from moving his own blade.

  “Good show lad!” Gomez smirked, “but uh... look down.”

  Xander frowned, blinking, then looked down to grimace as he found Hernandez’ had his Main Gauche just fractions of an inch from Xander’s groin. He shuddered and carefully stepped back, letting go of the blade.

  “Good reflexes, but your form is atrocious.” Hernandez said calmly as he took Xander’s sword, then threw both of them casually aside one after another.

  They were caught, in turn, by a disembodied hand and thrown back up on the wall where they had come from with an ease that spoke of practice.

  “I don’t get a lot of chance to practice...” Xander gasped out, resisting the urge to pat his crotch down to ensure everything was still there.

  “We only began his lessons last Christmas,” Gomez spoke up while he ate. “We’ll be continuing them, of course.”

  Xander nodded dumbly.

  “Good lad.” Hernandez said seriously, taking his seat at the head of the table. “Blade work is the fundament of a strong and balanced life.”

  “I don’t know that I’d go that far,” Gomez said with a smirk. “But it certainly is a fun way to pass the time.”

  “You never take anything seriously.” Hernandez scowled at his cousin.

  “Of course not,” Gomez returned, “What’s the point of that? Sucks all the fun out of life.”

****

  Fester and Pugsley arrived at Castle Addams a couple days later, flushed from their excursion to Bosnia.

  “Bosnia?” Xander just had to ask. “What were you doing there?”

  “Sweeping mine fields.” Fester grinned widely. “Great fun.”

  “Yeah, it was AWESOME.” Pugsley affirmed. “Uncle Fester must have flown fifty meters when he set off that anti tank mine!”

  “Those suckers are hard to detonate,” Fester said, shaking his head. “I must have jumped up and down on that for five minutes.”

  Xander sat down slowly, rubbing his temple.

  Honestly, he was sorry he asked, but he was also really, really curious about the details.

****

  The Holidays were pleasant, though, as the weather remained beautiful in the area, much to the Addams’ frustration. Xander spent his time fencing with Gomez and Hernandez, reading his RPG books, and playing with Wednesday and Pugsley. Though the third one was by far the most dangerous activity he’d experienced yet, and he was including the Chamber of Secrets in that list.

  He quickly learned to avoid certain games, like ‘Innocent Sacrifice’ and ‘Condemned Man’. When games involving electrocution and decapitation came up, Xander begged off to read.

  That, of course, attracted Wednesday’s interest and she cornered him quickly to ask about his material.

  “They’re game books.” He said, “Role Playing Games, basically stuff written by people who like to pretend they can use magic.”

  A twinkling hint of amusement showed in her expression, and Wednesday sat down beside him. “Are they helpful?”

  “There are some interesting ideas,” Xander admitted, “I’m reading about technomancy right now.”

  “I haven’t heard of that, but I can guess what it means.” Wednesday frowned, “Does it exist?”

  “Yeah, a little,” Xander said, pulling out a reference book he’d bought in Three Angels. “It’s kind of a matter of definition, though, I guess. People have been charming cars to run on magic for, well, as long as there have been cars.”

  “I know, our car works that way.”

  Xander nodded, unsurprised. “Right, anyway, that could be considered technomancy I guess. It worked well right up until microchips started showing up in everything.”

  “Oh?”

  “Yeah, magic makes them stop working.” Xander said, frowning, “The newer ones anyway. Some of the older ones were charmed successfully. But even they weren’t reliable.”

  “What’s the difference?”

  “I’m not sure.” Xander had to admit. “Whatever it is, it’s pretty clear though... anything electronic is REALLY hard, if not impossible, to charm.”

  “Curious.”

****

  As was ‘normal’ with the Addamses, the days passed in swift, if often disjointed and bizarre, fashion. They spent some time in the castle, but also got out to visit the local magical community in Toledo, the Villa Del Brujas, or Witches Street. It was probably about twice the size of Diagon; Xander decided as he walked through the crowded plaza, everyone making room for them as people recognized Marietta Addams.

  That was something he was getting used to, the Addams name carried far but where they were recognized by sight it was otherworldly how fast people got out of their way. Xander wondered if it was like that for Gomez and Morticia in America.

  Witches Street was much like Diagon in what it had to offer, though Xander noticed a couple smithy shops and the like with swords on display, as well as some items he’d never seen before like a Magic Carpet shop. He paused in front of that one, checking out the advertisements.

  Family Carpet Flies Six!

  Racing Carpet, Hundred and Twenty mile per hour top end!

  And so on, as he looked.

  “Interested, young master?”

  Xander looked up, startled as the owner of the shop approached. “Uh, no I don’t think so. I’m just surprised; I’ve never seen a flying carpet before.”

  The man looked at him quizzically, “American?”

  Xander nodded.

  “Odd, from what I understand America imports carpets for recreation purposes.”

  “I don’t have a lot to do with the magical community there, yet,” Xander admitted, “I’ve been schooled at Hogwarts.”

  “Ah, well that explains it.” The man said with a chuckle, “Unlike America, Britain has a ban on carpet imports under their Muggle Items laws.”

  “Yeah? Weird.”

  “Not especially. The Nimbus Broom Company is based in Britain, and they have friends in the Wizengamot and Ministry,” The man explained, “Carpets were cutting into their business. In America no one uses brooms or carpets enough to matter. They’re not really useful for transport when people can live hundreds of miles apart or more, so in larger countries like America they’re really just used for sport and hobby.”

  “Oh.” Xander nodded, “You know, I’m not surprised that carpets were biting into broom sales. I don’t really love the whole broom experience myself.”

  The salesman chuckled, “Let me guess, robes bunch up on you?”

  “Yeah. What is up with that anyway?” Xander asked, “I mean, I thought I was doing something wrong, but...”

  “No, no,” The man assured him. “Let me guess though, American Broom?”

  “Yeah...” Xander said, confused.

  “Thought so, You see the comfort charms are different on European Models, and since you have a British instructor on flying... well, you’ve learned the wrong grip.”

  “You’re kidding me.” Xander blurted, eliciting a chuckle.

  “I’m afraid not, get a hand book from your Broom company, it should explain the differences.”

  “Thanks.”

  “No problem, young man,” The salesman smiled, “I love to talk flying. However, I believe I see a customer, so I must bid you a farewell.”

  Xander said bye to the man and moved on down the street, thinking about what he’d been told. He stopped again by a smithy, and began to examine the swords and shorter blades on display. A barrel shaped man noticed him and moved around a huge anvil in his direction.

  “May I help you, young sir?”

  “I’m just looking for now,” Xander admitted, “Though I’m thinking that I may like to buy a blade soon.”

  The man grunted, sizing Xander up. “You carry one now.”

  Xander looked at him sharply, “How did...?”

  “Right boot, outside edge, under your pant legs. I can see it in how you walk.”

  Xander nodded slowly, impressed. He’d received the blade from his uncle two years earlier, but had only received permission to carry it toward the end of the previous summer. Xander thought that Sam was being a little paranoid, but he’d gotten in the habit of planting the blade in his boot every morning.

  “May I?”

  Xander nodded and kneeled down, drawing out the Fairbairn Sykes dagger from its sheath and casually flipped it over and handed it to the smith pommel first.

  The man took it, glancing it over with a grunt and handed it back. “Muggle made, mass produced. Adequate.”

  “I’m still learning,” Xander said with an easy grin, “I wouldn’t know a great blade from a piece of junk, but my uncle said this would serve well enough.”

  “He’s right, it’s an adequate design.” The smith affirmed, turning to a wall with a lot of blades mounted on it. “This, however, is a real weapon.”

  Xander accepted the blade from him and twisted it over in his hand. It was about the same length as his own dagger, with a wider blade and bevelled point that gave it a more elegant look. The blade itself was mottled with dark patterns, and its polished gold pommel and rope wrapped grip gave it a practical but artistic look.

  “Very nice.” Xander admitted.

  “Damascus Steel recipe, Toledo Steel workmanship,” The man said simply, but with a certain pride in his voice. “The muggles lost the ability to make that material centuries ago when the Persian Ministry finally agreed to sign with the ICW in 1704. It won’t dull, it won’t break, and unlike your blade it’ll hold an enchantment if you’re interested in that sort of thing.”

  Xander nodded, handing the blade back. “I’m impressed. Do you make swords the same way?”

****

  Narcissa Malfoy tiredly sank into her chair, wearily activating the lamps with a wave of her hand as she considered the situation.

  On the plus side, her idiot cousin hadn’t gotten himself caught yet.

  That was about the only thing that seemed to be going in her favour at the moment, however. Fudge, the imbecile, was increasing Dementor security around the school in response to Sirius’ encroachments in the fall.

  There would soon be over a hundred of the blasted things infesting the area, and frankly she was beginning to be afraid for the children, her Draco most of all. She was no expert on the beasts, of course, there were few if any outside the Department of Mysteries that could make that claim, but she knew that they weren’t exactly the most discerning of beasts and they had already broken through the outer wards of the school.

  Fudge swore up and down that it was an aberration and wouldn’t happen again, but that was no more or less than she expected of the idiot. She was disappointed in her husband, however, for backing the Minister on this subject. The man she’d married wasn’t this STUPID.

  Narcissa growled, driving her elbow into the chair in a small fit of pique. She was so CLOSE to doing something she had given up on ever being able to accomplish, and not only was that little TOAD of a Minister standing in her way, but he was also risking her only Son’s safety in the process.

  It was infuriating!

****

  Francis Hardy sighed; weary from the complications he was dealing with. This whole exchange idea had sounded like a lark when it was presented to him, a way to travel a bit while keeping his tenure track. He had three students in Beauxbatons, all from Quebec, everything ran smoothly there. There were two in Durmstrang, siblings from a second generation German American family, and everything ran smoothly there although he had to make some hard points concerning their Dark Arts program.

  Hogwarts, however, was a yearly headache.

  First, he didn’t even know why the hell they had anyone there. The blasted course load was antiquarian, which made things all the tougher on the students. The Addams girl didn’t surprise him all that much, not any more than anything else at any rate. She was an Addams, after all. Why the Harris lad was there, though, was a real pain.

  First it was just a simple matter of following the Addams girl, Hardy suspected. But this year the Harris family had swung some of their weight around, keeping the boy in Hogwarts when a few people wanted to try and convince him to go to Salem.

  He was showing some real promise, that one. His little potions accident was fast tracked to being a multibillion dollar invention, and he was showing hints that maybe it wasn’t entirely a freak accident. The Headmaster at Salem wanted to bring him in to an easier program, where he wouldn’t have to do twice the work of his peers to make up for below par education in classes like Defence, History, and Potions.

  The school had the best Charms and Transfiguration programs in the world, as long as you didn’t count a few dedicated apprenticeships and the like, but it hardly made up for the shortfalls in the other core programs.

  Getting Harris into a better balanced program should bring his marks up significantly, and give them a chance to see if he needed any special help in certain areas. As it was he was holding on with respectable grades in most areas, but Hardy knew the boy could do better.

  And now this idiocy with the Dementors.

  Honestly.

  Who put soul sucking monsters around a Franklin be Damned SCHOOL??

  Hardy suspected that it was a simple budgetary decision on Fudge’s part, of course. Aurors wanted to be paid, Dementors just wanted to suck people’s souls out. No brainer there.

  Literally a no brainer, Hardy was starting to think.

  He sighed, rereading the official complain Gomez Addams had placed with the American Ministry and the ICW concerning the whole affair. They had no authority to tell the Brits to do anything, but the potential for outrage at home was turning into a fiasco on its own. He didn’t even want to THINK about what would happen if one of the kids were attacked.

  Briefly he toyed with the idea of teaching them the Patronus Charm, but he had decided against it.

  The Patronus was occasionally useful, but really it was nothing more than pissing in the wind when you were dealing with more than one Dementor. The things were no geniuses, but they knew enough to split up and attack from two directions at once. So even if he succeeded in teaching two underage children an incredibly difficult and, frankly, nearly useless charm it wouldn’t likely do them much good.

  So Hardy found himself in nightly meetings arguing with the likes of Cornelius Fudge and Albus Dumbledore over the life and safety of two of his charges.

  One way or another, though, he wasn’t going to let those two bastards stonewall him on this.

  Perhaps it was time to bring Arthur in on it, though. He knew Dumbledore personally and may be able to convince the man to bend a little.

****

  Christmas came quickly, Xander’s days being occupied with exploring, studying, but mostly dodging the Addams’ siblings ‘games’. Honestly he wasn’t sure how the duo survived some of the stunts they pulled off, but he was far from confident that he would be able to do the same, so he did his best to stay out of the way when they started playing games that civilized nations didn’t inflict on their worst criminals.

  Of course that brought some attention to him as well.

  “Aren’t you having fun, dear?” Morticia asked him one morning when she found him reading and most certainly NOT hiding from Wednesday’s latest ‘Game Storm’, which involved lethal injection and fire ants.

  “I’m great, Mrs Addams.” Xander assured her, “I just like to read, that’s all.”

  Back in Sunnydale Willow flinched as a deep chill ran along her spine, and Jessie jumped as if spooked.

  “Please, it’s Morticia.” The elegant, though dark, lady said with a knowing smile. “Are Wednesday and Pugsley’s games not to your liking?”

  “They’re a little more... risky than I’m used to,” Xander said with a grin, “But that’s ok. I really do like to read, now anyway.”

  “Now?” Morticia asked, taking a seat beside him as Pugsley tore into the room, most of his clothes eaten through and a large army of red ants chasing him. “But not before?”

  Xander tore his eyes away from the direction the Addams heir had gone, looking at Morticia, “That didn’t concern you at all?”

  “Boys will be boys.” She said airily, then raised an eyebrow as Wednesday funeral marched through the room after her brother, a huge needle in hand. “And Wednesday will be Wednesday.”

  “And the kids at school wonder why no one in Ravenclaw bothers her.” Xander shuddered. “Only the Gryffindor’s are stupid, I mean ‘brave’, enough to take a shot at Wednesday.”

  “Oh? Does my little darling have some lion admirers?” Morticia asked with a hint of a smile.

  “Not living ones.” Xander said dryly.

  “Marvellous.”

  Xander couldn’t help but smile a little as he shook his head. He had gotten somewhat used to the Addams sensibilities, or at least what they put forward for public consumption, but it still amused him every time he experienced it. He wasn’t actually convinced that the Addamses were really any different than anyone else; really, Xander often suspected that they just wanted everyone to THINK they were different.

  Pugsley rolled back into the room, covered in ants and screaming as Wednesday liberally sprinkled him with steak sauce.

  Ok, they may be a little different.

****

  Christmas day with the Addams was about as close to normal as Xander ever saw them act. That morning they settled down like any other family, surrounded by decorated skulls and even more disturbing paraphernalia, and just spent time with each other.

  It was almost picture perfect.

  Ok, so the picture was a little twisted, but hey Xander had spent some of his past holidays outside in the yard because he didn’t want to hear his parents scream at each other. No matter how twisted, there was purity in the familial love that the Addams held that beat that hands down.

  Idly, Xander wondered if his parents still screamed at each other on Christmas, or if the reintroduction to the magical world had begun to heal the fractures they’d endured. He would have to spend a Christmas at home soon, he decided. Just to know.

  The Gifts of the morning were what Xander had come to expect, from the disarmingly innocent (and generally deceptively lethal, to the bizarre and horrifying. Xander had received a long rapier from Gomez, on that looked as old as the castle they were in, and some assorted bits of explosives, chemicals, and components for his projects from the rest of the family. He had to gape at most of it in awe because, unlike the trunks from last year, Xander knew exactly how much the materials cost and furthermore how hard it would be for him to acquire any of it and he was stunned.

  “My god.” He choked, “This is...”

  “Don’t you like it?” Morticia asked softly, “Wednesday made several strange suggestions, but she generally knows about such things...”

  “It’s... incredible. Are those...” Xander hesitated, “Dragon heartstrings?”

  “Indeed. Poor thing,” Morticia sighed, “Poachers chased it onto Addams land a few months ago, along with its Pride. By the time the family had finished... harvesting... the poachers, well this one had died of its wounds. Valiant creature, however, it defended its fellows with its life.”

  “Thank you.” Xander croaked, mind still almost blank. “I...”

  He just shook his head, still stunned.

  He wasn’t the only one to be stunned, mind you. As the gifts continued to be passed around Xander’s gifts to the family were opened. They were mostly small things, such as a poisonous black rose Xander had managed to get Neville Longbottom to smuggle out of the school greenhouse for him; the cutting had survived and was now growing strong again, much to Mortisha’s delight.

  “Hear now, boy, that’s my wife you’re charming!” Gomez chuckled, grinning widely as he slid his cigar back into his mouth.

  Morticia rolled her eyes as Xander blushed, but didn’t comment as she cooed to the budding rose plant.

  Fester and Pugsley got a binary gift of potion flasks that left them confused until Xander suggested they mix them. The ensuing explosion blew both of them out of the room, leaving Gomez black with soot with a smoking stub of a cigar in his teeth as Xander dropped the Protego protecting himself, Wednesday, and Morticia.

  “Good show.” He complimented the boy, grinning through the soot, “How far do you suppose they flew?”

  “Probably back into the snakepit, if I aimed it right.” Xander deadpanned.

  “And you said you didn’t like to play Addams’ games,” Morticia said with a soft smile.

  “No, I said they were a little riskier than I was used to.”

  She nodded, but held an amused glint in her eye as the Christmas ritual continued.

  Gomez was the next to stop as he opened his own gift from Xander and stared. “My boy...”

  He numbly drew out a blade in the rapier style he preferred, noting the distinctive mottling of the metal that told him it was Damascus steel and unconsciously whipped it through the air a couple times to test its weight.

  Near perfection.

  He snapped it to the left, flat of the blade curling around his waist slightly as he caught the tip behind his back and drew it the rest of the way around, holding the sword like a belt around his waist, tip the pommel in the front. Then with a snap he let it go and the blade snapped back straight and true and he stared at it.

  “It’s beautiful.” He said, noting the Addams coat of arms on the hand guard.

  Xander smiled, “I’m glad you like it. Figuring out what to get the family who has everything they want, well that’s tough.”

  Gomez smiled again, suddenly, “It’s marvellous my boy, simply marvellous.”

  Morticia clapped her hands slightly, “That said, it’s time to eat.”

****

  The Hols moved by quickly after that, and before long it was time to return to school.

  They loaded into the car, as they had arrived, and drove off into the mist that seemed to grow up to meet them.

  A time later, Xander wasn’t sure how long they had been driving through the mist; they broke out into the small town of Hogsmeade and glided to a stop near Madame Rosmerta. Gomez ushered them all inside to where Wednesday and Xander saw Professor Hardy waiting as he sipped on a bottle of butter beer.

  “Ah, Mr and Mrs Addams, children.” he nodded, setting the bottle down.

  “Professor.” Xander and Wednesday chorused, drawing a smirk.

  “Mr Hardy,” Gomez said seriously, “Do you have them?”

  He nodded, retrieving a couple hatpins from his pocket. He handed one to Xander and one to Wednesday. Xander looked at his, noting that it proclaimed his love of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team with some amusement. Wednesday looked at her LA Lakers pin with substantially less, however.

  “What are these?” She asked disdainfully.

  “Port keys,” Hardy answered, “They’re one way tickets out of Hogwarts wards, straight to the Magical Receiving Zone of the American Embassy in London.”

  The two children blinked in surprise, but gave the pins slightly more interest.

  “They’re only to be used in an emergency,” Hardy warned, “but if something happens, like those Dementors get on the property again, then don’t hesitate. Pull the pin apart, then you have about two seconds before it and anything touching it is dropped right in the MRZ. Don’t draw your wand when you arrive, and if you already have it out, drop it on the ground. The Marines there are squibs, and they don’t have a sense of humour.”

  They both nodded.

  Hardy knew he was overdoing it with that warning, the Marines were diplomatic protection people and were used to all sorts of folks arriving at the MRZ, but just the same they would react badly to a drawn wand so it was better to have the kids be careful. During darker times, like the last war with Voldemort, the MRZ had been staffed by members of the Pride, not squib marines, and the reception to a drawn wand in those days was a lot cooler.

  “Now like I said, those are emergency use only,” He stressed again, “it took a lot of work to get those for you, and your headmaster had to create them himself. Don’t play with them, wear them all the time, and be careful ok?”

  “We will.” The two said.

  “Good. We’ll meet for our first class of the session in a week. We’ll be working on Chemistry and Physics. Prepare yourselves.”

  “Yes Sir.”

  Hardy stood up, nodding to the Addams. “Mr Addams, Mrs Addams.”

  “Thank you for your help, Professor.” Morticia said serenely.

  “It’s my job,” he replied wryly, “I’m glad I could help.”

****

  Xander and Wednesday found Hermione in a funk when they arrived back in the castle; the bushy haired girl was sitting alone at their usual table in the library. She looked depressed and more than slightly frazzled as they split around her and sat down on either side.

  “What’s wrong?”

  Xander winced slightly, noting that tact was not really Wednesday’s forte.

  “Nothing.”

  Wednesday merely nodded, “Alright.”

  Oh for. Xander sighed, pinching his nose, “We can tell something’s wrong, Hermione.”

  “I don’t want to talk about it.”

  “What happened with Harry and Ron?” Xander asked, sighing.

  “How do you know...?”

  “It hardly takes a genius,” Wednesday spoke up, “You are rarely affected deeply by anything else.”

  Hermione crumbled then and spilled the whole sordid tale of Harry getting an expensive broom for Christmas and how she’d told the Professors about it and it had been taken away to be examined.

  Xander winced, but shook his head, “Yeah, I can see that causing some friction.”

  “It could have been from Sirius Black!” Hermione defended herself.

  “Hey, not arguing.” Xander held up his hands, “But you know, Harry? He’s not real big on self preservation, remember? Anyway, I doubt Black would try anything like that so don’t worry about it, he’ll get the broom back.”

  Hermione looked at him narrowly, “What makes you say that?”

  “If Black tampered with Harry’s broom it would probably be to make it fly into the girl’s showers or something,” Xander said dryly, “That man had a real weird sense of humour.”

  “And how would you know this?” Wednesday looked up with an arcing eyebrow.

  Xander scowled a little, shrugging, “Black had a hand in writing the Grimoire.”

  Hermione’s eyes widened, “Xander! You have to tell the Headmaster!”

  “Why would I do that? That book was written years before he turned on the Potters,” Xander said, then shrugged, “if he turned on the Potters.”

  “What do you mean, IF??”

  “Look, no offense to you since you’re British and all, but what I’ve seen of the local government doesn’t really instil me with confidence. They locked up Hagrid last year on no evidence, helped toss Dumbles out of the school when, frankly, we needed every wand we could get in here...” Xander muttered, “I mean really, they threw the most powerful wizard alive OUT of the school and locked US in here with the freaking SNAKE. Does this make sense to anyone??”

  Hermione had leaned back, her face shocked at Xander hissing outburst.

  He didn’t wait for an answer, “And now this year Sirius Black escapes from the Azka-whatsit place, so they think it’s a good idea to turn Hogwarts into New Azkaban. No offense, Herms, you Brits are nuts. Frankly, I think we’d have been safer if they just locked the prisoners in here instead of sending us the Guards.”

  “Indeed,” Wednesday said sourly.

  “I’m sure that Minister Fudge had a good reason...”

  “Fudge is an incompetent fool.” Wednesday said simply in response to that.

  “Yeah, probably,” Xander shrugged, “Incompetent or crooked.”

  “Why not both?”

  Xander snorted as Hermione looked affronted.

  “Just because you two are from America doesn’t mean you have to look down on our government...”

  “No, we look down on it because it’s stooped over so low Fudge’s nose has dirt on it.” Xander smirked.

  “I’m not certain that’s dirt,” Wednesday replied lightly.

  Hermione scowled at them again, face flushed as she rose to the defence of her nation, but Xander cut her off with a grin.

  “Feeling better, are we?”

  She glared at him, then her eyes widened for a moment before narrowing again, “Oooh you...”

  “Pleased to assist,” Xander said, “And like I said, don’t worry about Harry. He’ll come around, though next time, Herms, you should tell him first. You ever go over my head before trying to reason with me, I’m going to get real angry too... even if you ARE right.”

  “Agreed.” Wednesday added as she reached for a book, considering the subject closed.

  Hermione winced, her stomach suddenly clenching. “I suppose that makes sense.”

  Xander just snorted as he opened up one of his notebooks alongside a reference book and a GURPS magical sourcebook.

****

  Unfortunately for Hermione things seemed doomed to get worse before they got better, as even though her relationship with Harry stabilized shortly after, Ron seemed determined to make her pay for the loss of the Fire bolt, bringing it up nearly constantly when the three talked. Xander watched as Hermione spent a couple miserable weeks, leading into a miserable month, in which the girl became more and more frazzled with each passing day.

  It puzzled him because while she was having trouble with some of her friends it didn’t seem to be so bad as to cause what he was seeing. He caught up with Wednesday one morning at the Ravenclaw table for breakfast, that topic on his mind.

  The dark girl merely frowned ever so slightly and shrugged when he brought it up. “I’m not certain. I’ve been wondering too.”

  “Oh, it’s a Tremwrurts infestation,” A blond to Wednesday’s left said airily.

  “Huh-wha?” Xander blinked, looking over at her.

  “Is it really?” Wednesday looked over herself, suddenly seeming interested in the conversation.

  The blond nodded.

  “What’s a Trem-whatsit?”

  A nearby Ravenclaw snorted, and several others giggled.

  “Something not to be discussed in front of the plebes.” Wednesday said acidly, rising from her breakfast. “I have class, we’ll talk later.”

  Several of the ‘plebes’ looked affronted, but none of them quite had the courage to challenge the statement. Xander just sighed, confused, and hoped he would understand the explanation.

****

  Before they could have that conversation, Hermione’s problems seemed solved. The broom was returned and there was much celebration among the Gryffs, and a fair amount of griping amongst the Ravenclaw’s who were next slotted to play a match with the lions. Said reprieve lasted only a few hours however, Xander found out in the morning, when her pet cat killed Ron’s pet rat.

  The bushy haired girl was near in tears at breakfast, sitting well away from both Harry and Ron, and her moment of reprieve from the frazzled look she had been cultivating was long gone. She was nervous and seemed tired, often acting like she didn’t know where she was supposed to be.

  Xander presumed it was a sign of the whatsit infestation, assuming the blond girl had the slightest idea what she was talking about. He hadn’t been able to find any reference to it when he looked, yet Wednesday seemed to recognize the term.

  Wednesday was another puzzle, he was discovering. She had buried herself in her studies in a way he hadn’t seen her do before. Not that she wasn’t a good student, she was, she just never seemed to study. Her time in the library with he and Hermione was usually spent on private reading, as far as he could tell, yet now she was pouring over reference books and barely grunted when he tried to talk to her.

  Girls.

  Well, Girls and Addamses.

  Xander figured it would be a bad sign if he ever understood either.

  Then, in a rapid-fire assault on the school, Sirius Black made another attempt, this time getting as far as Harry’s room where he was caught standing over Ron when the redhead woke up. Xander shuddered at that, the idea of waking up to someone wielding a knife over your head was chilling, but he was also now driven to understand this Sirius Black.

  How the man from the Grimoire became a deranged knife wielding psycho was something Xander couldn’t fathom. So, in the meanwhile, he steeled himself and returned to his room while it was empty and pulled out the Coven Grimoire for the first time since before the holidays.

****

  Narcissa was nearing the end of her patience.

  Her fool of a cousin INSISTED on sticking his head into the noose, and there seemed to be nothing she could do about it. Honestly, sneaking into a boy’s bedroom to kill him, then running away when a twelve year old woke up.

  The Black’s weren’t the noble and kind hearted family in history, Narcissa would be the first to admit, in only in private, so she was fairly certain that several of them were rolling over in their graves at the moment.

  Not because Sirius had tried to kill a child, but because he’d failed in so stupid a fashion.

  If you’re going to kill someone, their Great Grandfather had always said, do the job right the first time. Because your second opportunity may only come at a time of your target’s choosing. And that was no way to run an assassination.

  Honestly, he could have finished it then and there, Narcissa scowled. She didn’t care one whit for the Potter boy, live or die didn’t matter to her, so she rather wished Sirius had finished the job. At least then he could put this stupid obsession behind him and maybe they could have gotten the damned fool out of the country and away from the Dementors.

  Argentina was nice this time of year, Narcissa considered, and the Black’s owned an island off the coast somewhere in that region.

  She thought it was in that region at least.

  The blasted thing was covered in so many wards that only one person alive knew how to get there, she suspected.

  And that one person was trying to get his soul sucked out by the bloody Dementors!

  Where she a different person, Narcissa Malfoy would have screamed her frustration to the world then. As it was she merely stiffened her step and made her way back to her rented room over the Three Broomsticks.

  Damn her idiot cousin and her moronic husband both.

****

  Xander growled slightly as he pushed his fountain pen into the page of the Grimoire, angrily countering the protestations coming from the embedded personalities. It was an exercise in frustration, unfortunately, since they weren’t supposed to be truly independent people, but recorded facsimiles of same.

  The process used to embed the personalities into the book was similar to that used to create portraits, a combination of the Protean Charm and various memory spells that caused the book to become ‘similar’ to the minds of those who had cast the charms on themselves. Xander had to bear in mind that, in magical terms, the word ‘Similar’ had very specific connotations. It didn’t mean similar, it meant Similar, with a capital ‘S’.

  The Similarity Principal of Magic could easily be summed up by saying Like affects Like. That, however, was a kindergarten way of describing the true meaning. It was like saying that the Sun was a burning ball in the sky. It was accurate enough to convey the concept, but wholly inadequate to actually describe the power and majesty that existed in a Stellar object of that nature.

  In his reading Xander had been surprised to discover that Normal Science had begun to predict the existence of this, incredibly important and yet underestimated, branch of magic. It had first shown up in his RPG books, prompting him to read into it further in his Physics text.

  It was called Quantum Entanglement, a theory which held that certain quantum particles could become entangled with other, identical particles, and affect each other at any range, instantly. It was Xander thought, rather shocking that Normal Physics had begun to theorize the existence of an entire branch of magical study.

  In the here and now, however, it was merely giving Xander a headache.

  On the on hand, the book he was holding was supposed to hold several weak imitations of people. People he had been arguing with for several hours and, for all intents and purposes, losing too. They didn’t TALK like reflections, not once he aroused their interest. They changed from the rote by rote teachers and began to argue that real people, often ignoring Xander’s own attempts to enter the conversation in their ire with each other.

  Lilly Evans and Sirius Black were adamantly screaming his innocence; while Narcissa Black was playing Devil’s Advocate and pointing out that Sirius HAD come from a noted Pureblood Family and could easily have fallen into line in his later years. In fact, she pointed out; his infiltrating a noted family like the Potters would be considered a coup worthy of a Black.

  Xander had winced when that point was made, he was relatively certain that his ears would have been ringing from the outraged replies.

  Alice Prewitt was more muted, offering quieter thoughts on the subject, and sometimes drifting off into confusing and nearly incomprehensible lines of thought that brought nothing but confusion to the topic at hand.

  ENOUGH.

  Xander’s heavily scored writing brought a moment of stillness to the book, and he took a few seconds to breathe a sigh of relief before putting pen to paper again.

  These are the FACTS. One, He wrote, the Potters were betrayed and Black was presumed to be the Secrete Keeper. Two, Black did get in a confrontation with Pettigrew in which Pettigrew apparently died. Black was thrown in Azkaban and DID recently escape, and DID show up in Harry’s room last night wielding a knife.

  Those words burned into the page for a moment before the inked blank dog slumped in place and seemed defeated.

  It’s not possible, the word bubbles said over the dog’s head. I couldn’t have. Right?

  Of course you couldn’t, Lilly’s representation, a delicately inked flower, responded. We must not have all the information.

  That was possible, Xander conceded. He’d grown to like the annoying troublemaker over the past few months, and just couldn’t wrap his mind around Black as a murderous traitor. Of course, that’s exactly what the book would want him to think if the book was some evil talisman like the diary from the year before.

  But would he be able to think that way if it was?

  Xander rubbed his temple, trying not to groan. It was just a pain in the ASS.

  He sighed, his pen clattering to the desk as he pushed the book away. He’d trying getting answers, but all he got were more questions.

****

  Narcissa frowned at her copy of the Grimoire. She didn’t know why she had brought it with her to Hogsmeade really, though it did provide a link into the school that couldn’t be traced, and thus a way to get information out that may be otherwise suppressed by Dumbledore or the Ministry. With Lucius being no help at all on this matter, she needed every scrap of information she could lay her hands on.

  The ongoing debate within the pages was just short of ridiculous in her opinion, and she wondered what the boy was trying to accomplish with it? The memories within had no will of their own, and no real information past the day the book had been charmed.

  Or so she thought, until she noted Lilly referring to herself as Lilly Potter.

  Narcissa scowled, that wasn’t right. And why in Merlin’s Name was Lilly so adamantly defending Sirius anyway?

  Back then they had barely tolerated each other. The Grimoire had been completed at the end of their fifth year, before Lilly and James had started to date, and while Sirius was still detested as the Casanova want to be of Hogwarts.

  She cast her mind back to the spell they had used, wondering if they had forgotten to seal it properly. Perhaps the book was even to this day drawing on their memory connection?

  Narcissa shook her head, then quickly cast a few diagnostic spells on it, and herself.

  No, no connection to be found.

  She sighed. It was quite strange, but not immediately important she decided. She had more important things to deal with in the near term.

****

  Xander barely muffled his groan when he stepped down into the common room and right into a, patent pending, Draco Malfoy Rant (tm). The blond was roaring about his punishment, saying that McGonagall didn’t have the right to punish him and basically going on and on to anyone who’d listen.

  It actually took Xander a while to remember what the hell the blond was being punished for, mostly because he rarely paid attention to Quidditch. It hit him when Draco said something about a harmless prank, reminding him of the long Dementor robes Draco and his hangers on had used to try and intimidate Harry during the match.

  “Oh not this again,” Xander muttered, just before he could stop himself.

  “Stay out of this Harris!” Draco snapped, whirling around. “This is none of your business!”

  “You can say that again,” Xander shook his head, pushing past the group and moving toward the far side of the room. “I just came down to get some air, and I don’t mean hot air that’s already been blown up everyone’s ass.”

  Several people in the room laughed openly at that as Draco visibly trembled, turning an alarming shade of puce.

  “How DARE you!?”

  “Me? You’re bitching about being punished after that stunt?” Xander laughed dryly, “If I were McGonagall I’d give you points for that. You made us look like idiots, and Harry look like more of a lion than ever!”

  Draco jerked back, like he’d been slapped.

  “It’s amazing,” Xander said with a shake of his head, “You have to be Harry Potter’s best ally; he can always count on you to make him look good.”

  Draco snapped his wand in his hand in a flash as he snapped it in Xander’s direction, “Furunculous!”

  “Protego!” Xander replied, his own wand having already been gripped tightly as he recognized Draco’s state of mind. “Stupify!”

  The red blast of energy crossed paths with Draco’s curse in the middle of the room, giving the blond just enough time to drop to the ground as it passed over him and dropped Goyle in his tracks. The Furunculous curse splashed across Xander’s shield, dropping its effectiveness but not penetrating the magical bubble.

  Xander instantly dropped the shield, killing the power drain, but prepared to cast another.

  “I’ve told you before, Draco, if you intend to CHEAT don’t get CAUGHT.” Xander said clearly, shifting to one side so if too many of them decided to help Draco he could duck out the door into Hogwarts proper. “Getting caught cheating is worse than losing, even if you win.”

  “Nothing is worse than losing, fool.” Draco sneered as he climbed to his feet.

  Xander rolled his eyes, “If everyone knows you cheated, you get no respect for the win... and the people you beat lose no respect for their loss. But if THEY beat you, and everyone knows you cheated, you lose a HUGE amount of respect for having lost despite having the advantage, and they win an equally huge amount for having beaten the odds. By cheating obviously you give the other side all the cards and concede victory to them.”

  Draco looked confused, then shook his head, “That’s nonsense! If you win you win. That’s what counts.”

  “In a war, sure.” Xander returned his wand still between them and ready to cast. “But this isn’t war. Winning on the field doesn’t get you anything off it, unless people think you won fair. Every time you go and do something stupid like the other day you make us look worse off the field, and everyone else look better. ESPECIALLY the Gryffs.”

  Xander moved back to the door and felt it open as he tucked his wand into his pocket.

  “Not that I care,” He shrugged, “I’m a yank. All this house rivalry crap is meaningless to me.”

  With that parting shot Xander backed out of the Slytherin Common room and let the stone wall close. He turned and began to make his way up the hall, he really did need to get some air, and then maybe back to the library.

  After that little spell exchange he was feeling a lot better actually.

  Hermione had cracked the Protean, somehow, he wasn’t sure how. She didn’t seem to have any TIME to do so. But now it was just a matter of preparing the spell to map Hogwarts Wards.

  Frankly, Xander felt it was overtime to get himself a Marauders Eye view of the school.

****

  Daphne Greengrass leaned slightly back as the commotion in the common room began to die down, noting with amusement that several of those who had been hanging on Draco’s every word a few moments earlier were drifting out of the room even as the blond picked up a new rant against his housemate.

  “He has a way with words.”

  Daphne looked over at Tracy Davis, one eyebrow arcing.

  “Harris, not Draco.”

  “Ah.” Daphne nodded, “I think he’s been thinking about that one since first year, actually.”

  “Still. He has a point.” Tracy said with a put upon sigh. “You’re closer to the Malfoy’s than I am, Daph... is it an act?”

  “Excuse me?” Daphne blinked, surprised at the question.

  “Draco.” Tracy elaborated. “Is it an act? Or is he really this stupid.”

  Daphne had to stop there, suddenly considering the question. “I don’t know. I doubt it’s all an act, though. He’s been too perfect at it.”

  Tracy snickered softly, but nodded in agreement. “I hope you’re right.”

  Daphne nodded soberly, “Me too.”

  Because if it was an act...

  She shuddered to think of it.

  “Ugly thoughts aside,” Daphne said slowly, “I believe that Xander has secured a slight lead in the race.”

  Tracy nodded thoughtfully, considering the likely repercussions of the events of a few minutes earlier. Certainly his little speech had shook a few of the uncertain allies Malfoy had gathered back to neutrality, but it was very likely that Harris’ own little cabal had grown slightly as well.

  “I think you’re right.” She said after a moment, then rolled her eyes, “Do you think either one of them have any idea?”

  “Draco doesn’t, for sure.” Daphne said with certainty, “At least he’s shown no sign of even acknowledging that there ARE Slytherin’s who aren’t rich, pure-blooded, and worship the Dark Lord. So long as his core followers are there, I don’t think he even knows that the rest of us really exist.”

  “He knows,” Tracy said sourly, “He just doesn’t think we have minds of our own. That’s reserved for the rich and powerful.”

  “I stand corrected,” Daphne accepted the correction easily. Draco Malfoy simply separated people into two groups, well three really. First were the people like himself, rich or at LEAST pure-blooded, and espousers of the Dark Lord’s philosophy. Second was, well everyone else. The second group was divided up into people who rightly obeyed the orders of their superiors, IE Draco, and those who didn’t. Those who didn’t had to be destroyed, or put back into their place. Those who did, well they only existed insofar as they had some use to Draco.

  Both girls were quite concerned with what use they would have for Draco in the not too distant future, though their own worries were quite small compared to some in the house. The Greengrass and Davis line were strong enough to make even the Malfoy scion wary of crossing the line of propriety, at least in the current political climate.

  Should a new Dark Lord come into ascendance on the Malfoy’s side, well then things could get ugly.

  Which made them VERY interested in the second horse running in what, realistically, should have been a one horse race. Alexander Harris had pretty much literally come out of nowhere, a true dark horse in a House that prided itself on taking others by surprise. His own cabal of followers, or allies, was relatively low on political power but during their Hogwarts years it wasn’t political power that counted.

  No, it was actual in the hand power. And that was something Harris had on tap, whether he realized it or not.

  Since the previous year Tracy and Daphne had taken close notice in his actions and their repercussions. He was one of the more talented students in their year, prone to strange leaps of seeming genius by times, but not really at the top of any one thing. Draco and Potter both had him outclassed in Defence, Granger, Daphne herself, Tracy and many others had him outclassed in the other classes.

  Still, when everything was averaged out, he always seemed to be in the top five for their year. Added to that, he was close friends with numbers one and two, Hermione Granger and Wednesday Addams, and was said to have fought at Potters side in the events of the previous year which at least implied an accord with one of the most politically powerful students at Hogwarts.

  Within the house he had on several occasions openly challenged Draco’s position and actually backed the Malfoy scion down, or at least diverted him from his course much to the gratitude of many in the house.

  So, what had begun as a small loose alliance of house rejects was now looking like a solid powerbase at least as practically powerful as the traditional Slytherin cabal. It was true that Draco had a far more potent external powerbase to call on in certain situations, but for all intents and purposes he couldn’t fully tap that power except for those very specific situations.

  In the long run that political power would likely be the deciding factor in the race, but their class only had four more years to go before graduation. Once free from the immediate proximity of the Malfoy, well options opened up considerably. So neither Daphne, nor many of the smarter students in the house, were truly playing a long game at the moment. They were looking more to the medium terms, and in that range of play Harris seemed to be the top dog.

  In many ways the only thing preventing Harris from assuming full leadership of Slytherin house was the simple fact that he hadn’t yet demanded it.

  All that as a third year, no less.

  It was absolutely infuriating that he didn’t seem to have the slightest CLUE as to any of it. Daphne was beginning to wonder if he wasn’t some sort of idiot savant.

****

 It was done.

  Xander couldn’t help but smirk a little as he looked over the work. Hermione’s calculations and spell work had been immaculate, as always. His own numbers confirmed her work, as did Wednesdays. That was good enough for him; the map was ready to be imprinted.

  That did leave the very annoying problem of how to get it into the Headmaster’s office however.

  As a Slytherin he couldn’t just get caught doing something bad and get sent there for discipline, Professor Snape handled his own house entirely IN house. Xander figured he’d have to murder someone to wind up in the headmaster’s office, and that seemed a little extreme for his current plans.

  Basically that didn’t leave him many options really.

  He could try and break in, he supposed. The fact that the Headmaster used various sweets as the password to his office was no secret, but even so Xander suspected that the system was a little more complicated than that. If he’d been setting it up he probably wouldn’t let the password work unless he was sitting in his office or it had been used by someone who was cleared through the wards. Even if Dumbledore was careless enough to do otherwise, he’d damn sure have the wards record entries.

  Showing up as having broken into the headmaster’s officer would be a bad way to keep his anonymity, and since he wasn’t a ward breaker that option was out.

  That left a Trojan horse, which should be doable, but he’d have to set the conditions carefully. Xander hummed happily to himself as he began to cast small cantrips he’d learned in his first year. Sometimes the best spells were the simplest.

****

  “Sir?”

  Professor Severus Snape paused, half turning as his robes flowed around him, and glared at the young Slytherin coming up behind him. “Yes?”

  The second year gulped but held out an envelope, “I’m sorry sir, but I found this.”

  Snape took the proffered envelop and noted the name on it, one eyebrow rising. “And you bring it to me because?”

  “I can’t find Xander, Sir.” The boy said, “It looked important.”

  He looked at it again and noted that the letter did indeed have a seal that read Gringotts of America. A markedly different seal from Gringotts, he noted with an odd flash of annoyance. Arrogant colonials. Severus fisted the envelop, however, and drove it into his pocket. “Very well, I’ll see to it that he gets it. Be on your way.”

  “Yes Sir.”

  Snape didn’t even pause to watch the boy run off; he just turned and continued on his way to his nightly visit with the headmaster.

  “Milk Duds.” He growled out, not breaking stride as the gargoyle leapt out of the way.

  In the Headmaster’s office he found the other heads of house waiting and nodded curtly, “My apologies for being late, I was stopped by a student.”

  “No trouble at all, Severus,” Albus smiled calmly, holding out a bowl of confectionaries, “Lemon drop?”

  “No, thank you.” Snape said as he took his seat.

  “Now then, let us beg...” Dumbledore began, then paused with a frown to look back at Snape. “Are you aware you’re carrying a charmed item?”

  Snape stiffened, mind racing, “No, I...”

  He calmed quickly, sighing, and fished out the envelop the student had given him. “I was just given this; apparently Mr Harris left his correspondence lying around carelessly.”

  Albus took it from him, adjusting his glasses, “My my, Gringotts of America. Yes, I see.”

  “Is it a problem, Albus?” Minerva leaned forward.

  “No, no. Merely an identification charm that was activated,” Albus chuckled, “I must be getting paranoid.”

  “Is Mr Harris nearby?” Pomona blinked.

  “No,” Albus chuckled again, “No it was most likely reacting to me as Headmaster, and legal guardian of all my students. Slightly shoddy spellmanship, but I suppose American Goblins are a little laxer in their work than our own.”

  He handed the envelop back, “See to it that Mr Harris receives his bank statements, Severus, I understand he’s made quite a lot off that little potion of his.”

  Snape scowled, stuffing the envelop back in his robes as the others chuckled. He didn’t need to be reminded of that. The very idea that such a simple potion brew could have become worth so much was, well it was both mind boggling and more than a little infuriating. He’d looked up the patent himself shortly after it became public and was quite disgusted by how so frivolous a brew had become too sought after.

  The only thing that saved Harris, in Snape’s eyes, was that the boy was quite rightly embarrassed by the whole matter.

  Still chuckling at his Potions Master, the Headmaster shifted the topic back to the daily reports and began the meeting in earnest.

****

  Xander was sitting in the Common Room when Professor Snape strode in for his nightly inspection. The Professor spotted him from across the room and smoothly crossed over, parting the students with no effort whatsoever, and unceremoniously dumped the letter in Xander’s lap.

  “I strongly advise you not to lose your correspondence in the future.” Snape hissed softly, glaring down at him. “You may not be so lucky as to have someone return it.”

  Xander nodded, clearly swallowing. “Thank you, sir.”

  Snape rolled his eyes and pivoted away, robes billowing around him as he walked. Xander watched him leave before breaking the seal on the envelope and taking out the blank parchment inside.

  He couldn’t help but smirk slightly as he looked around to make sure no one was too close, then tapped the paper with his wand.

  Deafening Silence?

  The words flowed onto the page smoothly and Xander smiled slightly, “Sweet Sorrow.”

  The words faded away, replaced by a series of lines that grew out from the centre, showing a clear view of the Slytherin Common Room with name tags for everyone currently within and slowly grew to encompass the whole school.

  The New Coven Proudly Presents, A Marauder’s Eye View.

  Xander idly placed a finger on the map and used it to drag the view around until he could see the Gryffindor Dorms; his eye picking out Hermione Granger’s name in what he presumed was her room. Another smooth motion brought him to Wednesday, sitting at her desk in Ravenclaw dorms.

  “Mischief managed, Mr Black,” He whispered, with a small decidedly evil looking grin. “But not complete, not by a long shot.”

  Xander tapped the map again, quietly telling it, “Military Intelligence.”

  The map went blank as he got up and walked across the room to a second year he’d saved from a Malfoy beat down.

  “Thanks, Derrick.” Xander nodded, “Just let me know what you want from town next weekend, ok?”

  “No problem, Xan,” Derrick Smythe, half-blood Slytherin outcast said with a small smile.

****

  The next day Xander sat through his classes, barely able to sit still as he thought about the completed map. He couldn’t stop thinking about how insanely cool that little piece of spell work was, and what could be done with it. The security, and counter security, uses alone were fantastic but he’d read the copious notes Black had made concerning the map, and those uses were the LEAST of its abilities.

  In effect, anything reported by the wards were accessible to the map. Unfortunately it was strictly a real-time device, with no recording capability, but Xander was thinking about how to change that already. Even so, before he’d crashed the night before Xander had accessed some of the higher functions of the map to watch the progress of the Prefects on their nightly patrols.

  Percy Weasley had been paired with the Ravenclaw Prefect, Penelope Clearwater. They had an interesting method of patrolling the broom closets on the third floor, a very thorough examination of one in particular Xander had noted with a smirk. The Map didn’t have visual capability, of course, that wasn’t something that was built into Hogwarts wards, but many areas of the castle, including almost all ‘public’ areas were monitored by listening charms tied into the ward structure.

  The map faithfully rendered various epithets, moans, and groans into speech bubbles coming from the two Prefects and, much to Xander’s amusement, Black’s addition to the spell work created cartoon caricatures that writhed together luridly as he watched.

  The Marauders were brilliant, but twisted Xander noted, and he was hardly surprised that the Coven had detested them on principal. He was certainly glad that Black’s supplementary notes hadn’t been included in the spell work he’d shared with Wednesday or Hermione. The map construct itself was so complicated that it was all but impossible to really pick out the difference between the more straightforward functions of the display and Sirius Black’s ‘extra’ additions, otherwise Xander had little doubt that he’d have been treated to a game of Human Sacrifice, with two irate girl’s wielding the knives.

  He shuddered at that, Hermione may stop before actually cutting him in that situation, but Wednesday wouldn’t.

  Xander shared almost everything with his friends, but he wasn’t entirely without survival instincts.

  At least after reading the supplementary notes on the Map, Xander had a good idea what it had been age coded to only let him talk to Black when he was at least in third year. A couple years ago he’d have probably showed the map in ‘spy mode’ to Wednesday for giggles.

  That would have gone over SO well, he was sure.

****

  When classes were done for the day Xander headed for the library. While he was going to hold back some functions of the map for reasons of personal security, not to mention an allergy to pain, he had to let the girls know that it had worked.

  He found Wednesday at their regular table and immediately noticed that something was up. The dark girl was sitting stiffly, as was her habit, but she wasn’t reading. Her glittering eyes were focused on Hermione who was sitting across the room at another table. Xander followed her gaze and paused in place as he took in the normally perky, brightly enthusiastic, girl. Her hair was badly frazzled; looking like it hadn’t been brushed in some time, making its normal bushy appearance look like the height of fashion.

  Xander exchanged a glance with Wednesday, who nodded and rose from her place. Together they split around the tables and approached Hermione from either side, taking the seats beside her silently and clearly startling the girl.

  “You’re not looking so hot,” Xander said, eschewing any attempt at tact as he reached over and slid her book away from her.

  Hermione glared at him, “Well thank you so much for that pick me up.”

  “If the truth irritates you that much, perhaps you’re worse off than you appear.” Wednesday said idly as she and Xander looked at the title of the book Hermione had been reading. “Dangerous Creatures Statutes?”

  “Interesting reading,” Xander said with a twitch of his head. “There’s not another big honking snake in the school is there?”

  “Don’t be silly.” Hermione rolled her eyes, “Where would another Basilisk come from?”

  “I dunno same place the first one did?” Xander shrugged. “Honestly, I’m not real clear on where that one came from.”

  Hermione huffed, but Wednesday merely smiled slightly. “He has a point. I presume, however, that this has something to do with Buckbeak?”

  Hermione slumped a little, looking tired, but nodded.

  “I take it that hasn’t gone well?”

  “We lost,” Hermione admitted, “Buckbeak is due to be executed in a few days.”

  “I see.” Wednesday said quietly.

  Xander felt bad for the animal, he knew for a fact that Draco hadn’t been as badly hurt as he’d pretended, but the fact was it did attack a student and he was pretty damn sure that any dog that did that on school property back in the states probably wasn’t going to last half as long as this Hippogriff had. More to the point, however, Xander had a feeling that this wasn’t the core of the issue he’d come over here to deal with, namely why Hermione looked like she was up for about three days straight.

  “Herms, that can’t be all of it. You really look horrible, are you coming down with something?”

  “No.” She said sharply, glaring at him, “I most certainly am not. I just haven’t been sleeping much lately, thank you very much.”

  With that she got up in a huff and strode off, leaving Xander to frown thoughtfully.

  “Is that part of that Tremwrurt thing you and Luna were talking about?” He asked.

  Wednesday blinked, looking at him with a genuinely confused look, “What?”

  “Tremwrurt, remember? Luna said something about that and you said it wasn’t to be discussed with the ‘plebes’?” Xander asked again, this time he was the one who was confused.

  “Ah,” Her face relaxed into understanding. “Is that what she actually said?”

  “Bwa?”

  “Alexander, I’ve mentioned before that the Addamses have a gift of languages, correct?”

  “Yeah, last year.”

  “Well I didn’t hear what she said, I heard what she meant.” Wednesday said coolly, collecting her books. “Luna is a very interesting person; I don’t believe she herself knows the names for the things she sees, so she makes up things to call them.”

  “Uh... ok. So what did she see?”

  “Elementa Aetas.” She said before following after Hermione, leaving Xander perplexed behind her.

  “What the heck does that mean?” He asked of the air around him.

  Predictably, he got no answer.

  “Great.” He sighed, getting up and collecting his own books.

  In all the ‘excitement’ he hadn’t even got a chance to show his map to the girls.

****

  “Hermione.”

  Hermione half turned, seeing the dark Addams scion walking toward her, and sighed. “What is it, Wednesday?”

  “You may relax; I’m not concerned with how you’re manipulating time.”

  Hermione’s eyes widened and she started to stammer, “I’m sure I don... don’t know what you’re talking about... and further...”

  Wednesday held up a hand, “Stop. I told you, I don’t care. I am interested in helping you with your other problem, however.”

  “What’s that?” Hermione asked suspiciously.

  “Buckbeak.”

  Hermione sighed, “I don’t know that there’s anything we CAN do.”

  A slightly sinister smile played at the lips of the dark girl, “Didn’t I ever tell you that the Addamses are widely considered the world’s foremost authorities on magical creatures? We even maintain several private reserves for them.”

  Hermione’s eyes widened, “You do?”

  “Let’s talk.”

****

  Xander sighed, laying back in his room and watching the names move around on the map. Hermione and Wednesday were speaking together near Gryffindor dorms, but even though they were in a public area Xander didn’t activate the maps ‘eavesdropping’ mode. He hoped that Wednesday could help Hermione, but was pretty sure that neither would be appreciative of him listening, or reading, in.

  Other students were running around the school in various states of madness, the end of year exams having snuck up on them. Xander ignored them, just randomly sliding the image around. Headmaster Dumbledore was in his office, Professor Snape was down in the dungeons, and he noted Harry and Ron were out on the Quidditch Pitch.

  Someone named Peter Pettigrew was running across the grounds outside, and Xander paused on his name for a long moment.

  “Peter Pettigrew...” He mused out loud. “I’ve heard that name before.”

  He shrugged it off, not able to place it.

  Must be a student from one of the other houses. Hufflepuff, probably, he decided. He didn’t know any of them really.

****

  Narcissa looked over the notes in her copy of the Grimoire, puzzled by the sudden interest Alexander had taken in the situation with Sirius. She should have kept his shade locked away she supposed, but it seemed harmless at the time. Sirius was safely locked away, his shade was merely an echo of his Hogwarts self, and was by and large harmless.

  Now she had to worry about what the boy was learning, or believed he was learning, about her cousin. Sirius had always driven her nuts in the past, but it was normally in an annoying way, not the tear the hair from her skull way he was currently managing without even thinking of her. She hoped that Alexander didn’t do anything stupid if he ran across Sirius.

  Whatever the man had been, he was a dangerous felon now.

  Narcissa sighed at the lost dreams of her past. The ways they were going to change the world, her, Lilly and Alice. As a trio they had been unstoppable, fighting even the much vaunted Marauders to a humiliating defeat during one of the most renowned prank wars in Hogwarts history.

  Ok, it had only been the rout it was because the Marauders never knew who they were and even Sirius didn’t find out until Lilly and James were all but betrothed. By that point Sirius had taken the fatalistic point of view that James would never be able to go all out against Lilly, and the equally pessimistic view that Lilly would have no such problem.

  Probably the most realistic view he could have taken, Narcissa supposed. Earlier in their shared history the Marauders would have probably dominated the fight, given the fact that they had the greater experience and knowledge of Hogwarts. When the Coven had learned of the Map, well even Lilly had been stunned into silence by the sheer brilliance of the artefact.

  As it was, without knowing who they were fighting, the Marauders never even touched Lilly or Alice, and only caught Narcissa herself with secondary splash over.

  They had been brilliant, but there was only so much one could do without at least some basic information on your opponents. That was a lesson Narcissa had learned then, and was relearning now in her hunt to bring her erstwhile cousin down before he got himself killed.

  Though she was beginning to wonder if maybe letting him get kissed and claiming the body may not be the best avenue. Would certainly result in fewer headaches, she suspected, however it was certainly not her preferred option. She wasn’t certain if the Magic would accept an Heir conceived post-soul, and for obvious reasons wasn’t eager to find out.

  She would be damned; however, if the Black line ended now that she had a chance to save it. Even as slim as chance as it was. Not without ever possible effort being expended on her part.

****

  End of Year exams were on them shortly after that, leaving few of them with any time to do much other than study and test. Xander found himself fairly confident in his classes, not too worried about the exams, which was a nice change from how he ended every year back home, sweating and panting and praying that Willow would save his sorry ass from repeating a year.

  Ok, that was possibly a little bit of an exaggeration, his marks weren’t that bad but he still went through the horrible anxiety every single year and he was so not missing it now.

  Charms went smoothly, his practice with the shield charm gave him a nice extra credit boost on the test, but overall he was sure he’d done pretty decently. The ones that still tripped him up were the simpler ones they had learned, ironically, because he’d pushed on ahead.

  Transfiguration kinda sucked, Xander found, but he probably scraped by there. He didn’t have the natural hand at it that Hermione seemed to show, but he wasn’t as low on the pole as Ron Weasley or Neville Longbottom either, so he figured he was doing ok. He didn’t expect to ever get a master ship in that subject, however.

  The Defence course was exhausting, a rigged up challenge against various ‘dark creatures’ that had him sweating by the end but little else. Hermione had been badly shaken by the finale obstacle, a Boggart, which marred her otherwise stellar showing. Harry had, on the other hand, blown through it with an absurd ease in Xander’s opinion, like he was testing below his ability.

  Some people just made Xander want to grit his teeth.

  Potions were easy. Not that he was a budding potions master or anything, but Snape was generally soft on Slytherin’s and Xander was no slouch with an Athame and a Cauldron, so he passed. He felt bad for Harry and the others there, since they were working five times harder than he was, and generally got less out of it.

  Mind you, if they survived Snape there wasn’t a thing in the real world that was going to faze them.

  Arithmancy was gruelling. It wasn’t so much that it was difficult; it was just so DAMNED boring. Take three ones, add seven, and subtract nine. What do you get? A powerful spell that was based on the friggin number you STARTED with.

  There had to be something else going on there that Xander just didn’t understand yet, but for the moment it was just obscene amounts of adding and subtracting with no real correlation to practical applications that he could see.

  It was enough to drive a man to drink that is if Xander wasn’t massively anti-alcohol.

  By the time the exams where done everyone was worn out, but glad to see them go. The Gryffindors were still roaring over their victory on the Pitch, while the Slytherin’s were by and large whining about losing.

That was what drove Xander to bed early that night, his mind finally clear of school and still revolving around the mystery of the Grimoire and Sirius Black as he laid himself down to rest.

*****

  Peter Pettigrew!

  Xander bolted upright in his bed, eyes wide as he stared into the darkness.

  No way.

  He shook his head, then lunged across the bed and scrambled over to his trunk. A quick glance over his shoulder told him that no one had noticed his waking, and he quickly fumbled through the lock on the trunk, opening it to the first storage section and retrieved his map.

  The map shimmered for a moment in response to his tap, and then the words ‘Civil War’ appeared centred in it.

  “Quiet Riot.” Xander replied softly.

  The map blanked again, then the lines of Hogwarts appeared. Xander quickly panned over to the Hufflepuff dorms, remembering his thoughts of so many nights earlier, and frowned.

  “Pettigrew... Pettigrew... There’s no Pettigrew there.” He mumbled to himself, panning across the Gryffindor with the same result. Ravenclaw was next, and still there was no one by the name of Peter Pettigrew.

  “It’s not possible, is it?” He licked his lips, zooming the map out so he could scan the grounds. There were a few tags moving around and he quickly scanned over to them. Hagrid was no surprise, but he blinked when he spotted Wednesday and Hermione out and about and heading toward Hagrid’s hut. “What are you two up to?”

  He scowled at the names, but then scanned around some more. Wednesday was far from helpless, and she generally knew what she was doing, so he wasn’t going to impose himself on their company for no reason. Besides, he still had a mystery of his own to solve.

  The fact that Ron and Harry were out as well had him shaking his head.

  “Does anyone sleep in this damned place?” He muttered.

  Xander’s annoyance was cut off; however, when he spotted the name he was looking for close to where Ron and Harry were as those two left Hagrid’s. He hadn’t imagined it.

  Pettigrew was alive? But that made no sense. How does someone hide from the entire world for so long? Especially when they’ve received accolades as a hero in such a small, insular, society? It didn’t seem possible.

  He was still puzzling that out when another name crossed the ward boundaries, heading dead for Harry and Ron.

  Sirius Black.

  “Oh hell.” Xander muttered, grabbing his wand and robes as he bolted for the door. So much for getting to bed early and resting up

****

  “There he is,” Hermione whispered, pointing to the spot where the hippogriff was tied out. “We don’t have much time, they’ll be here soon.”

  “Follow me.” Wednesday said softly, breaking position and creeping toward the garden patch Hagrid kept out behind his hut.

  The two girls made their way down, keeping an eye out for the ministry representatives who were scheduled to arrive that very night. Hermione wasn’t sure what Wednesday thought she could do, but she was going to take any chance she had to save Buckbeak.

  “Damn!” Hermione hissed. “They’re here!”

  “Down.” Wednesday responded, dragging her into the pumpkin patch, behind one of the enormous gourds. They stayed crouched as they heard Minister Fudge speak.

  “Bad business this.” The Minister said as he, Dumbledore, and another man were admitted to the house.

  “What do we do? They’re going to really do it!” Hermione hissed, sounding halfway panicked.

  “Shhh.” Wednesday replied firmly. “Wait.

  “Wait for what?”

  When the face Wednesday had been eyeing in the window turned away, “For this.”

  She rose and quickly approached the Hippogriff, pausing just long enough to bow politely without taking her eyes off it. Buckbeak returned the bow almost instantly, and then her hands were on the rope, undoing the knots with ease.

  “Come.” She ordered flatly, leading the apparently docile animal quickly and quietly away from the pumpkin patch.

  Hermione, shocked, followed in meek silence.

****

  Xander hit the old courtyard at a dead run, having used his map to dodge the Prefect patrols and Filch. Fenrir was at his heels, tongue lolling out as the young puppy happily ran along with his human. The duo headed straight for the Womping Willow, which was where the names were apparently converging on the map, and arrived just as a scream broke the air.

  Xander slid to a stop on the moist grass, eyes wide as he watched Ron just yanked down and under the large tree and Harry dive after him, barely dodging the flailing branches.

  “Stupify!” Xander snapped, extending his wand out at the familiar looking black dog. The crimson bolt barely missed Harry, splashing harmlessly and ineffectively on the trunk of the Willow as Xander lost sight of his targets.

  “Damn it.” He muttered, edging closer. It only took a few moments to determine that he wasn’t getting through easily, and Xander didn’t like his odds of getting through at all. He sighed, and backed off.

  “Where’s Dumbledore...” Xander muttered, drawing out the still active map and starting to slide the image around.

  He paused a moment later when he noted that one Remus Lupin was rushing across the grounds, heading for the main gate.

  “What the...” Xander scowled, trying to make sense of things.

  Everyone seemed to be on the move, Xander tried to puzzle it out but couldn’t. Still, the defence professor was the closest teacher so he bolted off in that direction.

  Xander arrived at the main gate in time to see Remus pause just outside, then vanish with a loud crack.

  “FUCK.” Xander cursed, not for the first time in his life perhaps, but certainly the loudest. He pulled out the map again and glared at it. “Where’d they go??”

  Unfortunately the Womping Willow was right up against the castle wards, and whatever passage lay under it apparently led straight out and beyond the map’s range. Xander sighed, looking out in the direction it seemed to lie and noted that it wasn’t quite in the direction of Hogsmeade, but it was close.

  Xander turned to head back but was brought to a stop when Professor Snape rushed through the gate, not looking to the side even slightly, and vanished with a similar crack before Xander could say a word.

  “Alright, what the hell is going on??” Xander growled, glaring at the spot the Potions professor had occupied a moment earlier. “Does everyone know something I don’t?”

  Fenrir yipped once.

  “Shut up, you.” Xander half smirked at the dog, then sighed and started panning the map again, looking for Dumbledore.

****

  “Did you hear that?” Hermione asked softly.

  Wednesday nodded, “Sounded like a gunshot.”

  “At Hogwarts??”

  “I said like, not that it was one.” The dark girl replied. “I don’t know what it was, but we’re a little busy at the moment, no?”

  “Right. Sorry.”

  “We will have to fly Buckbeak out,” Wednesday sighed, “The closest reserve is on the Continent, it will take several days to arrive.”

  “What? But...” Hermione was aghast. Missing several days of school, without permission? “We’ll be expelled!”

  “Shut up. You’ll get us caught.” Wednesday hissed, then sighed. “I’ll do it.”

  “But... you can’t, you’ll be...”

  “Salem will take me; if not well my family will home school me.” Wednesday shrugged, “They won’t question my choice.”

  Hermione swallowed, stomach rolled into tightly chorded knots. “I’ll... I’ll come too.”

  “No, you will not.”

  “I can’t let you take the responsibility for this, it was my idea!” Hermione hissed.

  Wednesday smiled slightly, “Only one of us can go, Hermione. Buckbeak can’t carry us both that far. And since it can only be one of us, do you know where the Addams Range is?”

  Hermione grimaced, but shook her head.

  “Precisely. Rest assured, it will be handled.”

  The duo were skirting the Forbidden Forest as they led the Hippogriff away from Hagrid’s hut and it’s legally mandated grisly fate. Wednesday wanted to be well clear of the area before flying Buckbeak off, not wanting to be spotted by anyone, especially so early in her flight. They were close to where she intended to leave from when a shadowed figure appeared, heading straight for them.

  Hermione and she drew their wands, but were surprised to see the figure hold out his empty hands.

  “Whoa, whoa, I come in peace!”

  “Xander,” Hermione growled, irritated as she slid her wand back into her robes, “You scared the hell out of me.”

  “Yeah well, that’s the least of our worries.” Xander muttered.

  “What do you mean?” Wednesday asked, eyebrow rising.

  “I just watched a big black mutt drag two students into a tunnel under the Womping willow,” Xander explained.

  “Who??” Hermione blurted.

  Xander just stared at her for a minute, “Which two students are not present and are also known for getting into this kind of trouble??”

  “Oh God, Harry.” Hermione gasped.

  “And Ron. What’s worse, I’m pretty sure the mutt was Sirius Black.” Xander said his face deadly serious.

  Hermione cried out, her knees buckling. Before she could fall, Wednesday had her by the arm, “Get a hold of yourself.”

  The Addams scion turned back to Xander, “What makes you think it was Black?”

  “This,” Xander produced the map, already active. The two girls looked at it and saw their names centred on it, “You can change shape, but you can’t fool the wards that easy. Here’s the weird thing, though... They weren’t alone. Peter Pettigrew was with them.”

  Hermione stared at him for a moment, eyes clearing as she dredged up the memory. They widened a moment later, “That’s impossible!”

  “That’s what I thought, but he was in Hogwarts last night too, I didn’t put it together until a little earlier.”

  “I don’t know this Pettigrew person.”

  “He’s the man Sirius Black supposedly killed after betraying Harry’s family.” Xander explained.

  Wednesday nodded, remembering the story then. “Interesting. Well, this is all fascinating, but we should act.”

  “We need to tell the teachers!”

  “Yeah, good luck finding one.” Xander muttered, “Dumbles is nowhere in sight, Snape and Lupin both left the school, and the others are on the other side of the grounds... ALL the way on the other side.”

  “Show me the tunnel.” Wednesday ordered.

  Xander winced, but nodded. The trio, plus one Hippogriff, rushed off. At the Willow Xander pointed to the tunnel entrance as they stood back at a safe distance. “Right there. It goes off in that direction, if it’s straight.”

  “What’s out there? Hogsmeade?” Wednesday asked.

  “No,” Hermione frowned, “It’s the Shrieking Shack.”

  “You sure?”

  “That’s the only thing in that direction.”

  “Very well,” Wednesday nodded, handing her the reins they’d put on Buckbeak. “Take these for a moment.”

  Hermione accepted the reins, then Wednesday walked calmly into the Willow.

  “Wait! You can’t!” Xander lunged after her, but missed as he realized too late what she was doing.

  She ignored him, ducking one swinging branch then stepping into another and petting it softly as she murmured something they couldn’t hear. In a few moments the tree drooped and made a sound that seemed suspiciously like a sigh of contentment.

  After a moment she looked up, “Xander. Go through the tunnel, be careful. We’ll meet you on the other side.”

  Xander hesitated a moment, then nodded. “Right.”

  In a few seconds he was gone.

****

  The tunnel was dark, dank, and generally sucked but Xander pushed through as the cobwebs brushed the side of his face. He cast a Lumos, lighting up the length of the tunnel, and increased his pace.

  Xander grumbled to himself as he moved as quickly as he could.

  He slowed down as he came to the end of the passage and looked up to find a wooden trap door above him.

  “Well, end of the line.” Xander whispered, then grimaced, “Hopefully not literally.”

  He took a breath and grabbed the rungs of the old wooden ladder that led up to the door above. He winced as it creaked under his weight, but made his way up to the top where he started to hear voices murmuring beyond. He paused at the top, listening, but couldn’t make out the words just that the emotions were running pretty hot beyond.

  Xander hooked his hand in the ladder and looked at his wand, wondering how he was going to do this. He shoved the wand into his teeth and then reached up for the trap door. As it opened a crack he could hear the words beyond.

  “Expeliarumus!!”

  Xander started to surge up as a thud sounded above him, then suddenly a second thud struck the trap door and slammed down on Xander’s head, knocking him off the ladder. He hit the ground on his back, stars spotting in his eyes as his wand flew from his mouth and clattered down beside him.

  “Ohhh crap...” He gasped for air, rolling over, “That sucked.”

  He gasped for a few moments, sucking at air that wouldn’t come in, then finally managed to fill his lungs with a long, ragged, influx of oxygen that burned as much as it tasted good.  He got to his hands and knees, then picked his wand up off the ground and glared at the tooth marks in the wood.

  “Just friggin great.” He muttered, shaking his head as he climbed to his feet.

  He looked up at the door above him again, then determinedly shoved his wand into his robes and started climbing again. This time at the time things were quieter, so Xander tested the door and found it free of obstruction so he slowly pushed it open and climbed up into the room beyond.

  Xander drew his wand as he knelt there, and looked around. The room was dark and empty, whoever had been there had left while he was gasping for air down below. He got to his feet and started for the door when a yip from below startled him.

  “Fenrir!?” He hissed, looking down. “Shut up!”

  The puppy growled up at him, jumping up onto the second rung of the ladder.

  “Alright, alright, give me a second.” Xander muttered, holstering his wand as he climbed back down and hooked the pup up into his arms. “Pushy little mutt.”

  The puppy growled at him, but Xander ignored him as he heaved the puppy up over the threshold and into the room beyond. Xander then pulled himself up and rolled onto the floor and up to his knees where he redrew his wand.

  “You ready, mutt?” He asked wryly, looking at the pup.

  Fenrir yipped once in response.

  “Shhh!”

  Xander got to his feet and quickly crossed to the door, looking outside cautiously. Everything seemed clear so he and Fenrir made their way out from the Shack and looked around. Xander could see the lights of Hogsmeade in the distance, and those of the castle glowing off over the crest of the hill.

  “Great. Where the hell did they go?”

****

  “Oh my god, we’re going to die!” Hermione wailed into the night as she clung to Wednesday, the two flying over the Forbidden Forest to the beat of the big Hippogriff’s wings.

  Wednesday didn’t respond, merely taking the time to guide the direction of the beast beneath them, leaning Buckbeak’s back and guiding him into a dive. Hermione screamed as her stomach leapt up into her throat and tried to strangle her.

  “There’s the shack.” Wednesday pointed ahead of them.

  “Don’t let go! Hold on! Hold on!”

  “Calm yourself.” Wednesday intoned darkly, looking back over her shoulder.

  “Watch where you’re going!”

  Wednesday glared at her coldly, then turned back to the front. “Look, there are people walking there.”

  Hermione grimaced, whimpering slightly, and forced herself to look down. After the vertigo started to fade, being forced back by nothing by her determination alone, “I see them. Can you tell who they are?”

  Wednesday shook her head, “No. It’s too dark. They’re levitating two people.”

  “Do you think Harry or Ron are hurt?”

  “One looks like an adult. The other may be small enough to be Ron...” Wednesday shrugged, “I don’t know.”

  “They’re going back to Hogwarts.” Hermione decided, “That’s good right?”

  “I don’t know. Look at the shack.”

  Hermione pulled her attention away from the group and looked to the shack. Another person moved out of the shack, pausing to look around.

  “Xander.”

  Wednesday nodded, “Yes, I see Fenrir as well.”

  “We have to signal him.”

  “Agreed.” Wednesday drew his wand, “Lumos.”

****

  Xander hesitated, trying to determine what direction to go, when a light flashed above him and he looked up. A glowing light moved across the sky, and Xander could occasionally make out the silhouette of wings. He smiled slowly, then nodded.

  “Right. Back to school then.”

  Xander turned toward the glow of Hogwarts and started off at a light jog. Above him the light went out as he started to move, so he picked up the pace and set his jaw as he jogged off into the night.

****

  The clouds above them were clearing, Hermione noticed, and she looked up to see the full moon appearing in the sky above them. Below the forest was awash in a pale light, shocking the young witch with its beauty.

  “My God.” She whispered, awed.

  “It looks like Harry and Ron are fine.” Wednesday said, nodding to the ground.

  Hermione looked down, recognizing her friends and sighed in relief. “Thank God.”

  Even as she said that, however, Hermione could tell something had changed. The group stopped, shocked and turned towards one figure that seemed to stagger. A howl echoed through the night and her blood froze.

  “Did Xander say he saw Professor Lupin run out tonight?” She asked with Dread.

  “Indeed.” Wednesday replied softly. “This is very bad.”

****

  Xander bolted when he heard the howl and screaming, Fenrir running alongside.

  “It’s always something.” He muttered, cresting the hill with wand already tracking. He spotted the group ahead of them, scattering away from a furry form in the middle

  Xander skidded to a stop, staring as his stomach dropped.

  “Oh please tell me I’m just having Flashbacks to Snape’s Defence lecture.” Xander froze, swallowing hard.

  The group scattered below them, the large wolf man growling and slavering as it turned about. Xander watched as it gave chase and grimaced as he caught sight of Harry in its path.

  “Crap, crap, crap.” He muttered, breaking into a run, “I have got to be the stupidest person I’ve ever heard of. Why the HELL am I chasing a werewolf??”

  He led with his wand, snapping it out in the motion for the stunning curse.

  “Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!”

  Three red bolts lanced out, the first splattering against the ground, but the remaining two striking the wolf dead on for what little good it did.

  “Oh great, I pissed off Shaggy and now he’s looking at me.” Xander skidded to a stop again as the wolf man turned in his direction. “Harry! Run!”

  The wolf began to lope in his direction, causing Xander to backpedal.

  He thought desperate as he clenched his wand and started casting bone splitters.

  “Difindo Ossi!” He snapped out, praying for any kind of edge.

  The spell splashed off the wolf, barely phasing it as it sped up.

  “Xander!? Xander get out of here!” Harry screamed from where he and another man were scrambling up off the ground. “He’ll kill you!”

  “I KNOW THAT!” Xander stumbled backwards, still casting bone splitters with desperate speed.

  The yipping of a small dog startled Xander for a moment until he remembered that Fenrir had been with him, and he panicked as he recognized the small mutt bolting in from the side on a collision course with the wolf man.

  “Fenrir! No! Run!” He screamed, his throat hurting from the effort as the small dog leapt into the air.

  Xander tripped back, falling on his ass as the yipping sounds gave way to deep growling snarls, the fifteen pound puppy gone and a four hundred pound wolf slamming into the wolf man’s side like a locomotive. Xander gaped, shocked beyond words as he looked at the wolf that had been his puppy and saw an animal over a meter tall at the shoulders snarling and wrestling with the werewolf.

  “Fenrir?” He blurted, shocked. “Is that you?”

  “Xander!” Harry ran up to him, “What are you doing here? Are you alright?”

  Xander snapped to look at him, “What am I doing here? I’m trying to save your idiot Gryffindor ass! What brain cell were you using when you dove after Ron anyway? The one you keep in your backside, I’m assuming!?”

  A snicker from one side snapped Xander’s head around and he recognized the face from his Grimoire.

  “Black!” He blurted above the growls of the two wolves, his wand snapping out in reflex. “Stupify!”

  “No!” Harry knocked his hand to one side, sending the stunner into the ground at Sirius Black’s feet. “He’s innocent. It was someone else who betrayed by parents.”

  Xander glared for a moment, then got up, one eye on the wolves. Fenrir seemed to be holding his own, leading the werewolf away from them.

  “Ok fine. Pettigrew, I assume?” Xander asked.

  Now it was Harry’s turn to gape, along with Black. “How did you know that?”

  Xander smirked, holding up a piece of parchment. “Coven secret.”

  “You...” Sirius blinked, “The Coven, but Lily and Alice... Narcissa? She helped you?”

  Before Xander could say anything a shout came from above, and he looked up to see Buckbeak winging low enough to recognize the riders.

  “Xander! Harry!” Hermione screamed, “Dementors!”

  The three on the ground turned to see a dark cloud visible in the night sky, and growing.

  “Oh Crap.”

****

  “Bolt for the wards!” Xander snapped, shoving Harry towards Hogwarts.

  The three of them broke into a run, the frost chill rushing along ahead of the Dementor line as they raced on ahead of it.

  “They’re going to catch up!” Sirius panted out.

  “Change into Padfoot!” Harry yelled, “You can outrun them!”

  “What about you!? I’m not leaving you!”

  Harry paused, twisting around, and snapped his wand out. “Expecto Patronum!”

  A silver mist formed, flowing out from his wand in the direction of the approaching monsters, but it only slowed them slightly.

  “Damn it! Run!” Xander grabbed Harry by the shoulder and pulled him along. After they were moving he glanced over his shoulder, “What was that anyway?”

  “Patronus Charm!” Sirius shouted back, “only spell known to affect Dementors!”

  “Hard to cast?”

  “Devilishly tricky.”

  “Great.” Xander muttered, weighing options as he ran. After a moment he glanced over, “Can I assume you know it, Mutt?”

  “Used to.” The wanted man puffed out.

  “Here.” Xander flipped his wand over and thrust it over in Sirius’ direction.

  The dishevelled man blinked but took it as they ran, then glanced back. “Thanks.”

  “Just get them off our ass.”

  “Right. Harry?” Sirius said, slowing. “You up for a little Godfather/Godson bonding?”

  Harry broke out into a smile and nodded.

  “On three then.”

  “THREE!” They shouted together, flicking their wands out, “Expecto Patronum!”

  Two silver beasts, a prancing stag and panting grim like dog rushed out and charged into the midst of the oncoming Dementors, scattering them somewhat.

  “That bought us some more time,” Sirius said, “How far to the ward line?”

  “Not sure, we’ll have to cut through the forest to get there, though.” Xander said as he looked ahead.

  Sirius winced, “not good.”

  “We can make it.” Harry said, sounding more confident than any of them were really feeling. “We have to.”

  “Alright, let’s go.”

  The three broke for the forest, leaving the milling monsters behind to regroup from the Patronus charge. They reached the forest line before the Dementors gave chase again. The thick undergrowth slowed them, but it also kept the wraiths from dropping down on them from above, so they were thankful for the scratches they endured as they moved.

  “Will the wards keep them out?” Harry asked, panting with exertion.

  “They didn’t last time.” Sirius muttered.

  Xander shook his head, “Dumbles was pretty pissed over than, my money says he’s done something about it.”

  “That’d be fine if it were our money you were betting.” Sirius muttered.

  “Got a better option?” Xander snapped.

  “Guys!” Harry growled, “Can we not do this now?”

  “Right. Sorry.” Sirius muttered, “And no, I don’t. So let’s move on.”

  They all nodded in agreement and pushed towards Hogwarts ward line with as much speed as they could muster.

****

  Fenrir was no fool, in fact the wolf rather thought highly of himself and his intelligence, which many may not consider meaning much but those people were prey more often then not so their opinions didn’t exactly count. That said, tangling with a cursed wolf was not on the young wolf’s list of things he loved to do.

  Life with his human had so far been pretty quiet, quiet enough that the wolf had to admit that he was becoming... domesticated.

  That explained why the tussle had gone on as long as it had, and Fenrir decided that it was time to maybe consider a little exploration of his wolven roots. Later. Like when he wasn’t fighting off the dripping maw of a cursed wolf.

  Ignorant mongrel.

  Fenrir twisted, rolling them along the ground as he got his teeth dug into the cursed wolf’s flank and growled out a statement of dominance.

  MY turf, lapdog!

  The Cursed Wolf wasn’t one to give up, however, and Fenrir felt its claws rake along his own flank, drawing blood as his flesh was sliced open. Its mangled howl filled the night air as it responded in badly accented wolven.

  Me Alpha!

  Fenrir snorted through the tainted blood filling his mouth. That would be the day. The damned Curse Born couldn’t even speak the language, and it wanted to be Alpha? Fat chance.

  In the words of my Human, Bring it on Mutt.

****

  “A... are they ok?” Hermione asked, chilled both in spirit and flesh.

  They were flying above the Dementor wave, unnoticed by the creatures, and while Hermione wanted to rush down to save Harry and the others, Wednesday refused. The Addams girl knew that while she may be able to stand off a single Dementor, even her father would have difficulties with the massive wave of them below.

  “I do not know.”

  “We have to help them!”

  “We will. When we can.” Wednesday responded, “At this time, we cannot. We don’t know where they are, but then... neither do the Dementors, from what I can tell.”

  “Then... they’re ok.”

  “There are more dangers below than Dementors.”

  Hermione looked down again and swallowed as she finally noticed how close they had strayed to the Forbidden Forest.

****

  “Difindo!”

  The spell lashed out, cutting an Acromantula in twain as Sirius spun around and looked for more targets. “Bloody hell! Where did these things come from?”

  “Aragog’s nest,” Harry replied. “He’s a friend of Hagrid’s.”

  Sirius stared for a moment, then barked out in laughter, “That just figures. I don’t remember them being here when I was in school.”

  “They were probably smaller in number then,” Harry shrugged. “And Aragog was younger, more in control. Their nest is a long way east of here, that was probably just a scout.”

  “Sorry if I killed a friend of yours,” Sirius said, half seriously as he wondered just what the hell his godson had been getting into.

  “Don’t worry about it,” Harry sighed, “without Aragog around we couldn’t reason with them, and even with him it would be touch and go at best.”

  “We need to keep moving,” Xander said, feeling a little twitchy without his wand. He would have to start carrying backups, he decided.

  “Right.” The others agreed.

  Sirius sighed; he had to get Harry and this other boy... Xander... back to safety before he could leave. With Peter escaped, he was still a wanted man with no way to prove his innocence. The dishevelled man ground his teeth at the thought of his onetime friend. Peter would get his comeuppance that was destined like the rising of the sun. If he had to hunt his old friend from this life to the next, he would make him pay.

  “We’re almost through,” Xander said suddenly.

  The three broke out into the open and looked up to see the lights of Hogwarts in the distance, only to be blinded when a score of Lumos spells erupted around them and they looked to see men and women in Auror’s robes approaching.

  “Sirius Black, you’re captured. Give it up!”

  Sirius looked around slowly, grimacing.

  “He has hostages!”

  “No!” Harry screamed, jumping in front of Sirius, “He’s innocent! He’s...”

  “Stupefy!”

  The red bolt dropped Harry in his place, causing Sirius to snarl and start to flick his wand outward. A hand locked on it, plucking the wand from his grip at the last second and he looked back to see Xander shaking his head as he gripped the wand in a ready grip.

  Sirius looked down at Harry, then sighed and lifted his hands.

  “I surrender.”

****

  The trudging walk up to the castle was a grim one as the Aurors kept Sirius under wand point the entire way and refused to enervate Harry on the belief that Sirius had confounded the boy. Xander kept his peace, knowing that he wouldn’t be believed anyway.

  At the castle they were met by an entourage of people that included the Minister for Magic, Lucius Malfoy, and the Headmaster among others. The Minister was puffed out, immensely proud of having captured Sirius Black, while Malfoy merely smiled an oily sort of smile that was filled with satisfaction. A blond woman behind them looked sick, but she was alone in that as even Dumbledore was more focused on Harry’s state and gave no indication that he had even noticed Sirius’ presence.

  “Black! You’ll have the Kiss for the trouble you’ve caused us.” Fudge announced pompously.

  Sirius just glared at him, then looked back to Harry, but said nothing. What was there to say? They hadn’t listened to him after he was incarcerated, why would they begin now?

  “Hey Black,” A younger voice spoke up, one that Sirius would pay attention to; “I need to know something, before you get what’s coming to you.”

  “What is it, Xander?” Sirius asked.

  “You really kill all those people?”

  “Of course he did, boy.” Fudge blasted out.

  Xander and Sirius ignored him, just looking at each other.

  “No.” Sirius said finally. “I didn’t.”

  “Liar!”

  Xander just nodded, hand reaching up to scratch his collar. “When you get where you’re going, Black... Take some advice. Ask them for asylum.”

  Black looked confused, as did everyone else but Albus Dumbledore who looked up in alarm and started to move toward Xander. “My boy, don’t...!”

  Xander snapped his hand out, throwing something at Black, who caught it on reflex. His eyes widened as he felt a tug at his navel and was suddenly yanked away by port key.

  Everyone gaped for a moment, then the place exploded into chaos.

  “What have you done!?” Fudge roared, “Aurors arrest that boy!”

  “Where did he go!?”

  “What happened!?”

  “My God! Black escaped!”

  Xander didn’t say anything for a moment as the Aurors turned on him with their wands. Then he let his clatter to the floor and slowly interlaced his hands behind his head.

  “My name is Alexander Harris and I am a citizen of the American Ministry of Magic. As I am a minor please contact my embassy or my legal guardian, Professor Hardy from the Salem Institute.”

  “Embassy!?” Fudge sputtered, “You’ll get Azkaban for this!”

  “You can’t, Minister.” Dumbledore said, eyes blazing. “He’s a minor; all you can do is kick him out of the country.”

  “But... but...!”

  “Minister, if I may,” Dumbledore said slowly, “I think that the boy may be safely ignored for the moment.”

  “But he let Black escape!”

  “He sent Sirius Black to the American Embassy in London, Minister.” Dumbledore told him, “Even now, Black is being taken into custody by the Americans. The faster you demand extradition, the faster this is ended.”

  Cornelius Fudge blinked, “Are you certain?”

  “I made that port key myself, Minister. The Americans were rightly concerned after you let the Dementors barge onto the grounds the last time.”

  Fudge reddened, “Ah, well... nothing to be done now then. I have to get to London!”

  Fudge turned and rushed out, Aurors following along with Lucius Malfoy. The blond woman stayed behind for a moment and nodded at Xander. Then she too was gone.

*****

  Jennifer Simmons sighed when her secretary informed her that the British Minister for Magic was in the waiting area outside. She’d been expecting him, but that didn’t make dealing with the idiot any easier. Officially, Jennifer was assigned to the American Embassy in London as a senior secretary who, for some reason no one not in the know could figure out, didn’t actually work for any of the ambassador’s people.

  In truth she was the Ambassador for the American Ministry of Magic, and represented the rights of any Canadian, American, Cuban, or Mexican Witches and Wizards visiting England. Oh, and a smattering of Caribbean nations as well.

  For the most part it was a dull job. London was a reasonably safe destination for American Witches and Wizards, and that translated to the rest of England. Compared to Bulgaria and other Eastern European nations Britain was a free thinker’s paradise.

  And then, earlier in the evening, one Alexander Harris’ emergency port key tripped. The Marines on station had been told that a couple kids had been issued those, but it was no kid who showed up. A rather confused looking Sirius Black had landed, roughly, in the middle of the Magical Receiving Zone and been greeted by a half dozen M-16s and eight very burly Squib Marines who wanted to know where their kid was.

  All things considered they hadn’t roughed him up too badly; at least he’d been able to speak in order to ask for asylum with the American Ministry. She almost wished that they’d broken his jaw, however, because this was looking to be an international incident.

  “Send him in.” She said, pressing the button on the intercom.

  Minister Fudge bustled in the door, followed by an aristocratic looking blond, which was in turn followed by another aristocratic looking blond. Jennifer sighed as softly and unobtrusively as she could.

  Purebloods.

  It was worse than she’d feared.

  “Ah, Minister Fudge.” She forced herself to smile, rising from behind her desk to offer her hand. “Please take a seat, I’ve been expecting you.”

  “I should hope you have,” Fudge blustered. “We’ve come for Black. Release him at once; we have Dementors waiting to administer the Kiss.”

  Jennifer stiffened, her smile vanishing. “Minister, surely you are aware of American legislation concerning ‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment’?”

  “What does that have to do with anything?”

  “The American Ministry ruled that the use of demonic entities as punishment for crimes qualifies, Minister.”

  “This is London, Woman! Not the back woods of the colonies!”

  “This is American Soil, by treaty agreement,” She returned coldly. “This means we have a problem.”

  Fudge was about to blow when the blond man stepped smoothly in, “Perhaps, Minister, if we were to guarantee that Black would merely be returned to Azkaban?”

  The Minister looked between them for a moment, then back at Jennifer, who shrugged. No need to remind them that the mere presence of Azkaban guards qualified. So long as they guaranteed not to administer a death penalty, it would make things smoother on the legal side of things.

  “That would simplify matters on a legal level; in that case we merely need to begin extradition processes.”

  “Finally.” Fudge muttered.

  “Now, I’ll need the court records of Mr Black’s trial,” She began, only to trail off when the Minister went a very ugly shade of white. “Minister? Are you alright?”

  “F... fine. Why do you need those?” Fudge stammered out, “Everyone knows Black was the right hand man of the Dark Lord.”

  “Aside from the fact that it’s required for my paperwork, Mr Black claims otherwise.”

  “Of course he would!”

  “He has also volunteered to undergo Veritaserum questioning.”

  “Which can be beaten by a skilled occlumens,” the blond man said smoothly.

  “This is why we have Master Legilimens on call to perform interrogations.” She countered, rolling her eyes.

  What was it with these people, trying to tell her how to do her job? Despite public belief, Veritaserum wasn’t some infallible source of truth. There were many ways to spoof it, including Occlumency and Judicious use of Obliviates. Either of those could be detected by a skilled interrogator, however, and she had a few names in her rolodex that were known to be VERY good at what they did.

  “That being established, we’ll need to see the court documents of his trial as part of your request for extradition.” She repeated herself, “Access to any evidence you still have, his wand in particular, would also be highly useful to your case.”

  Fudge, still that pasty white, stammered again, “H... His wand was snapped.”

  Jennifer grimaced, but wasn’t particularly surprised. That was standard procedure in Britain, as well as many of the old world ministries. The Pride would be screaming right about then, since American LEOs didn’t believe in destroying evidence. Old World Aurors, however, operated on the other side of the debate, believing that separating a wand from its wizard permanently would significantly affect the wizard’s ability to use magic on any level.

  It was even true, in the short term. That was a well researched effect, for several hours to days after the snapping of a bonded wand, a magic user’s powers were severely reduced. American LEOs didn’t believe it was worth destroying evidence of spells cast for most cases, however.

  “Very well,” She said calmly, “The court documents, then?”

  When the minister continued to pale and didn’t answer, an ugly thought crossed her mind.

  “Minister, there WAS a trial, correct?”

****

  Xander let out a long slow breath as he sat on the stone wall just outside the front gates, thinking about what had just happened. He was very possibly in deep, deep crud but honestly he was more worried about Wednesday.

  Hermione had shown up shortly after the fireworks calmed down, but had immediately been hustled into the infirmary to see Harry so he couldn’t ask her where Wednesday was. Most everyone involved in the mess was back, everyone except Lupin and Fenrir. Xander hoped his dog was ok.

  “Well Mr Harris, an eventful evening I dare say.”

  Xander started, then glanced back to see Albus Dumbledore coming up behind him. “Yeah. So, am I to be booted out of the country?”

  The headmaster chuckled, “I think we can avoid that outcome, though I dare say you may want to avoid the Minister for a while.”

  “I doubt that’ll be a problem.”

  “Indeed. I thought I would inform you that Miss Granger and Mr Potter are both fine.”

  “I know. Harry was just stunned by the Aurors.” Xander shrugged, “He’s lucky they were competent. Cops in LA might have shot him dead for doing that, you’ve got to be touched in the head to jump in front of twitchy people with guns... err... wands. Whatever.”

  The headmaster chuckled again, “True, true. I will, in fact, try to impress that on young Harry.”

  “Good luck.” Xander said dryly.

  That brought a sharper laugh from the old man, “I see that you hold the same confidence I have in his ability to learn that particular lesson.”

  Xander just snorted.

  The Headmaster sighed after a moment, “May I ask if you too support the story that Mr Potter has told me?”

  “What? About Black being innocent?” Xander shrugged, “Don’t know.”

  “I see.”

  “What I do know is this,” Xander paused, frowning for a moment. “Peter Pettigrew is alive. Sirius had Harry and his friends under wand point several times last night, and not only did he not attack them, he defended Harry. I also know that the ministry snapped Hagrid’s wand for something he didn’t do, then later threw him in Azkaban for something he, again, didn’t do. You do the Arithmancy, Headmaster, what answer do you get?”

  “You make very cogent points, Mr Harris. This is why you gave Mr Black your port key?”

  “The guy deserves a chance to be heard. I don’t know if he’ll get it at the embassy, but he sure as hell wasn’t getting it here.”

  Dumbledore nodded, then frowned slightly as movement on the grounds caught his eye. “What is...?”

  “Fenrir!” Xander grinned, jumping up and rushing out.

  He and the Headmaster rushed out to meet the wolf, noting that Fenrir was dragging the battered and bloody body of the school’s defence teacher. As they arrived the wolf dropped Lupin’s arm and barked at Xander.

  “Boy... is that really you?” Xander whispered, kneeling as he looked the huge wolf in the eyes. “God... you look... big.”

  The wolf seemed to grin, teeth glistening in the lights from the school behind them and Xander grinned back as he lunged in and hugged the big wolf just as it shrank and reverted back to the puppy he knew.

  “Most fascinating.” Dumbledore said, looking over from where he had examined Lupin. “I don’t believe I have ever seen a more complete familiar bond, Mr Harris. Save perhaps... well, another time. Come now, I must get Mr Lupin back to the infirmary, and you can’t stay out here alone.”

  Xander nodded and got up, carrying Fenrir back to the school as the headmaster floated Remus Lupin along with them.

****

  By morning, when most of the school was just learning of the excitement, Xander was well down off the adrenaline rush and mostly ignored the rush of questions. There were a couple, however, that he couldn’t avoid.

  “What did you do with him?” Harry was angry as he approached his wand in hand and clenched tightly. “No one will tell me anything except that you did something.”

  Xander blinked, then looked down at the wand in Harry’s hand. “You planning on using that, Harry? Don’t miss.”

  Harry looked down himself, then flushed. “What happened to Sirius!?”

  “I sent him to the American Embassy in London.” Xander shrugged, “It was that or the kiss. He’ll get a chance there, I figure.”

  “A chance? A Chance!?”

  “Harry!” Xander snapped, “What else was I going to do?”

  Harry slumped, but nodded. “I know. I... I’m sorry.”

  “Yeah. Don’t worry about it. I get it, ok. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know as quickly as I can.”

  Harry nodded, “thanks.”

  That was the first encounter Xander couldn’t ignore. The second, well that came from a different place.

  “What were you THINKING you traitor!?”

  “Gee, Draco,” Xander didn’t look up from his food. “I didn’t realize that I was in any kind of alliance with you.”

  “You’re a Slytherin! You can’t go helping Gryffindors!”

  Xander glanced around the table, noting that everyone was listening. “Dude, you’re raving. You’re also spitting in my food, cut it out.”

  Draco turned an alarming shade of puce, then slowly ground out, “Why would you help them??”

  “Hermione’s my friend.”

  “She’s a mudblood!” Draco hissed, glaring at him.

  “Wouldn’t matter if she were a House elf or a Goblin, or anything else.”

  “What are you talking about??”

  “Think about it, it’ll come to you eventually, Draco.” Xander sighed as he pushed his food away and got up.

  “Don’t you walk away from me!”

  Xander ignored him, or at least appeared to. In fact he kept one eye and both ears on the people around him. When a firstie gasped, Xander stopped.

  “I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Potter, Draco. Don’t miss.”

  When nothing happened for a moment, Xander kept on walking.

  Behind him, Draco was gripping his wand tightly as everyone in the Great Hall stared at him.

  Xander, for his part, was just glad to be going home. It had been a long year.

****

  Xander packed up his things, thinking again about how Wednesday was. He’d gotten the story out of Hermione, and figured she’d be fine, but just the same he was a little worried. There was, however, not a thing he could do about it. He didn’t even have a way to call Gomez to let the family know.

  Xander paused; frowning for a moment, then dropped the armful of stuff into his trunk and changed it over to a different compartment. He pulled out a wood covered sketchbook and flipped it open, quickly drawing out some lines and then made some notes.

  “Could work.” Xander mumbled before dropping the heavy book back into the case.

  The train was due to leave shortly, so he hurried things up and with a flick of his wand levitated his trunk, telling it to follow him.

  He really loved magic.

****

  “I’d say that Harris won the year.” Daphne said idly to Tracy as they settled into their compartment on the express.

  “If he’s allowed back in the country.” Tracy countered dryly. “The Minister was distinctly displeased.”

  Daphne nodded, conceding the point. The Davis family was closer to the Minister than the Greengrass’, but it didn’t take a genius to realize that the Minister was going to be unhappy if the rumours were true. Of course, the question was which rumours were true exactly. Still, Xander had managed to annoy the Malfoy’s, the Minister, and at first it seemed Potter and his faction as well.

  Now THAT must have taken some fancy footwork, Daphne half snickered. You had to do something really bad to annoy all three of those groups.

  The rumour mill ranged from helping Sirius Black escape to assaulting the Defence professor, though no one was entirely certain why either of those scenarios would so annoy all of the above groups.

  One firstie had suggested he did both, but that was so stupid he got laughed at.

  “Still,” Daphne said out loud, “assuming he returns, I think Xander has the edge now.”

  Tracy considered, then nodded. “Agreed. Daring Draco to curse him in the back was brilliant... well, that or insane.”

  Daphne laughed, “Too true. Still, it was in front of everyone, including the teachers. Draco couldn’t do much, or even Snape wouldn’t be able to get him out of it.”

  “Brilliant then. For timing and location, if not actual action.” Tracy conceded. “You’re right; I think that Harris has control of almost a third of the house now. Draco’s cabal is... a fifth?”

  “If that.” Daphne shrugged, “Probably only that high if you count the fence sitters as being on his side.”

  “They may as well be,” Tracy countered, “You know they’ll come down in his favour at the slightest prompting.”

  Daphne nodded, accepting the point.

  The two girls continued to offer point and counter point as the train shook and left Hogsmeade. It was something they did every year, for each house. When they got home, they would be quizzed by their parents and evaluated. Such was the life of a pure-blooded scion of a political family in England.

  This year would show some upsets, however. Slytherin especially, but Potter seemed to be moving into the lead in Gryffindor a little earlier than they’d expected, given his last couple years. For a celebrity, that boy was downright antisocial, and it had made them wonder if maybe he’d just skulk through his school years largely unnoticed.

  This year he’d started to come out a bit, though, and both girls knew that control of Gryffindor was Potter’s for the asking. All he had to do was stand up and take it.

  Diggory was undisputed now in Hufflepuff, which was entirely expected. The Puff’s were solid like that, rarely was there ever a real power struggle in that house. Ravenclaw was... confusing.

  “So what do you think is happening in the Claws?” Tracy asked, finally bring up that house.

  Daphne grimaced, “I have no idea.”

  That wasn’t going to go over well, the two knew. Their fathers would be distinctly unhappy with the confused information they had on the Claws. Until this year it had been fairly clear that Cho Chang was heading the up and coming power, while the sitting power was the prefect, Clearwater.

  Something had changed, though, and for the life of them they couldn’t figure out what it was. The Claws were shifty suddenly, nervous. Paranoid one might say, particularly Chang and her group. The problem was, no one seemed to know why.

  It was damnably annoying.

****

  The train arrived at Platform 9 and 3/4s on schedule, and the platform was soon swamped in kids anxious to get home.

  After watching Harry being hauled off by the overweight guy he met every year, Xander quickly found Professor Hardy where the man was waiting and greeted him as he moved over.

  “Uh... Wednesday is...” Xander grimaced.

  “She’s fine,” Hardy said dryly, “I was contacted yesterday. She shouldn’t have left without telling anyone, but that’s neither of our problems at the moment. You, however, have some questions to answer about your port key.”

  “Yeah... about that...” Xander grimaced for the second time.

  “Causing an international incident is NOT something we encourage our students to do, Mr Harris.” Hardy sighed, “Still, judging by what the Ambassador told me, you probably didn’t have many palatable options.”

  “Couldn’t let them suck the guys soul out, not if he was innocent.”

  Hardy nodded tiredly, “I know. Come on, you have some interviews to do before we can get you home.”

****

  The interviews turned out to be fairly friendly, Xander found, but long and pretty dull. Mostly just retelling his story over and over, omitting a few details to protect... well, himself. He didn’t feel like letting them in on the map, it was his. Ditto for the Grimoire.

  They let him talk to Sirius, perhaps surprisingly, and Xander found the guy to be in good spirits and looking better than he had a few days earlier.

  “So you found the Grimoire, huh?” The man asked with a crooked smile.

  Xander nodded, “it’s got me through school.”

  “That’s what they made it for,” Sirius nodded, then smiled, “Well that and teaching the art of counter-pranking. Lilly was scary good at that.”

  “Yeah, well I’ve done a few things,” Xander admitted with a half smile. “But mostly I use it for study.”

  “I’m having a hard time accepting that a Slytherin was helping Harry,” Sirius admitted, sighing as he sat back.

  “As I tell people, I’m a yank remember?” Xander said easily, “I don’t have any house prejudices. Neither does Harry, not too many anyway. But I didn’t help him for him, I helped him because Hermione is my friend, and she’s his friend.”

  “I don’t know her.” Sirius admitted, “What’s she like?”

  “Scary smart, her parents are dentists,” Xander said, shrugging, “She’s a girl, what do you want?”

  “Your girlfriend or Harry’s?” Sirius asked, smirking.

  Xander threw up his hands, “Whoa, friend. Not girlfriend. Don’t know about Harry, but I think the same. She helps me study; I help her with what I can.”

  “Right.”

  “Yeah, your Sirius Black alright.” Xander rolled his eyes, “You know, your damn mongrel avatar destroyed half my notes in the Grimoire? Rewrote most of the other half. Since they let you loose, I’ve had to keep my notes in other places.”

  “Bet you don’t leave em lying around anymore, though?”

  “Mutt.” Xander growled, shaking his head. He sighed, then half smiled again, “You know what’s going to happen with you?”

  “Weeks of red tape,” Sirius admitted, “After that... don’t know.”

  “Well, if they let you out to play, I’m from Sunnydale. California, that is.” Xander said, “Look me up. Chances are I can get word to Harry for you.”

  “Thanks.”

  Xander nodded, then got up. “I’ve got to go. See you around.

Sirius nodded soberly and watched as Xander left, knocking on the door to have the guard unlock it and let him out.

  Outside, Xander glanced back through the glass, and was surprised to realize that he kinda liked the annoying bugger. He’d lived with him for nearly a year, in a manner of speaking, and had long since gotten used to the mutt.

****

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Author Notes:

Year four is in the works now, a little over the halfway mark. Things start to change for Harry more and more in the coming year, stay tuned and I'll get it along to you as soon as possible.

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