by Marcus L. Rowland
"Have there been any developments?" Miss Fritton asked three days later, when she happened to meet Buffy in a deserted corridor.
"Not really," said Buffy. "Willow hasn't found anything that gives us a clue, and I'm pretty sure that the sixth form really are all about seventeen or eighteen."
"What about Roberta? Have you eliminated her?"
"No. Willow checked the letter for fingerprints, but there's nothing clear enough for identification. We've both mentioned Kelly to Roberta but she kinda dodged the question. I'm beginning to wonder if it's maybe something personal, nothing to do with the inspection. Uh... Willow kinda thinks they both might be gay."
"Roberta certainly is, I didn't see enough of Kelly. I'd imagine that Miss Rosenberg is a good judge?"
"I guess," said Buffy, without saying why. She had a feeling that Miss Fritton had already worked that one out. "If Roberta is her spy she's keeping a low profile."
"Well, nothing much has happened since then, maybe they're waiting for another incident. We'll just have to see what happens." Miss Fritton seemed to shift gear as a group of girls came down the corridor and added "I see we're playing Roedean on Saturday. Is the hockey team ready for the match?"
"This Saturday?" Buffy said faintly.
"Yes, of course. Why, is there a problem?"
"Umm..." said Buffy. "How good are Roedean?"
"Probably the best in the country."
"Ah... maybe we need a little more practice then. Can I arrange one after classes, say on Thursday?"
"Of course, though I doubt the girls will be very keen."
"Pity indeed. I'd imagine there's quite a lot of money riding on the match."
"You let the kids bet on the matches?"
"I doubt we could stop them. I've bet fifty myself."
"Fifty pounds? That's nearly a hundred dollars!"
"Yes, but if we win by five points or more I'll pocket five hundred. That ought to pay the deposit on the next stage of the repairs."
"Holy... Is there any way you can cancel the bet? I think it might be kinda optimistic."
"Not really. But don't worry, I'm sure that the girls won't let you down."
"I wish I was."
"Oh, I do have a little good news," said Miss Fritton. "The hospital tells me that Cathy and Agnes definitely aren't contagious. They want to keep them for a few more days of observation, but the boils do seem to be clearing up gradually."
"They must have been allergic to wicker or something," said Buffy. In her head she spelled it 'Wicca'.
"No," Willow said a couple of hours later. "I'm not gonna work any mojo on Roedean."
"Just a little? For me? They're gonna trample our team into the dust."
"Mud. British spring weather, remember?"
"Whatever. You're not gonna help?" said Buffy, noticing with annoyance that there was a hint of a whine in her voice. "I know you're trying not to over-do things, but this is important."
"Don't need to," said Willow, grinning. "You'll see."
"You turning into a seer or something?"
"Nope... but I've got a feeling that someone's gonna work some magic of their own."
"Magic as in Wicca?"
"Nope." She grinned again.
"C’mon," said Buffy. "Give. You know you're gonna tell me eventually."
"That depends," said Willow. "Let's say... just hypothetically... that I had an idea that someone from the school was gonna try to rig the match. Do you really want to know the details? It'd kinda make you an accessory. Me too, if I really knew for sure."
"When you put it that way... um... is there anything I shouldn't be noticing? Or doing?"
"You might want to stay out of the changing room Roedean are using before the match. Oh, and don't look too carefully at our own team."
"I'm not gonna have to confiscate more knives, am I? No guns or explosives?"
"Nope. Hope not, anyway."
"I'll have to check, I guess."
"Maybe not a bad idea. But apart from that don't look too close."
"Willow... do you think there's some sort of evil influence at work here? You know, it feels odd to be talking about rigging a hockey match, it's the kinda thing Faith might have done in the old days."
"Nah... screwed the team, maybe, if they'd been guys."
“What worries me,” said Willow, “is that all this stuff is distracting us from the Moloch business. That was a deliberate attempt to release a demon, and we still have no idea who it was that put the book there.”
“I’m still betting on Post,” said Buffy. “She’s the only one around that might know about that kinda thing, apart from us.”
“There are still stairs outside the computer room, and she’s still in a wheelchair. And I hacked her medical records, no way is she walking again. If you need a suspect, what about Harry?”
“Harry?” said Buffy, surprised. “Umm… I guess it’s possible, never really thought about it. He’s more a utility guy, kinda mercenary version of Xander. But where would he get the book?”
“Where would he get a truck-load of free gymnasium equipment in a day or so?” asked Willow. “He’s got connections, maybe some of them are in the supernatural community.”
“Maybe, but if he had wouldn’t he have known how to contact us a couple of years ago?”
“Maybe… or, I know, maybe they were trying to keep a low profile until they realised who you were. Perhaps he thought you’d know he’d worked for the Watchers, decided to bluff it out.”
“That kinda makes sense…”
“But you’re not buying it,” said Willow.
“It doesn’t feel right, somehow. Why would he put the book there in the first place? We didn’t have any clue he’d worked for the Watchers, and we certainly weren’t looking for supernatural trouble."
"Thing is," said Willow, "you only need to read a page or so to invoke Moloch. We got lucky that Cathy and Agnes scanned the book without trying to understand it, if they'd just read a little more and understood what they read they'd have been possessed. And if I'd read it I would have been possessed. If I was careless and had my shields down, of course."
"If it was aimed at you," said Buffy, "whoever left it underestimated you."
"Or maybe it was meant to fail, a.. a warning shot kinda thing."
"I'd go with underestimated," said Buffy, "or maybe it was someone who knew you'd fallen for Moloch before. Someone like Gwendolyn Post, for example."
"I thought you were heading back there," said Willow, with an annoyed look in her eyes. "Are you sure it isn't just because you don't like her?"
"I honestly don't know. I just think that the new fluffy librarian version's a little too good to be true."
"Can't argue with that. But we've really got no evidence against her, and at least one reason to think it isn't her."
"Okay... so, what about the match?"
"I've bet ten pounds on St. Trinians to win by five points."
"Not too late to place a bet, Buffy."
"I'll think about it."
"It's nice to see the girls making the Roedean team so welcome," said Miss Fritton, looking around the dining hall, watching the St. Trinian's and Roedean teams eat a light lunch. Fourth-form girls waited on the tables, serving salad, cold meats, and soft drinks.
"It's creepy," said Buffy, "I thought that by now there'd be blood spilled."
"Ah, my dear, that comes later."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"I can't believe it," said Buffy, "Roedean's three players down and we're not even halfway through the match."
On the field stretcher-bearers removed one of the girls who was clutching her abdomen.
"I guess it must be something they ate," said Willow. Buffy looked at her suspiciously, and said "Such as?"
"I'm wondering if there was something a little off... say the salmon mousse."
"Not the salmon mousse," said Miss Fritton, "I had some of that myself."
"Besides," said Willow, "food poisoning doesn't work that fast." The referee (from a third, neutral school) blew her whistle and the game began again.
"I say," said Evadne, about twenty seconds later, "wasn't that a foul?" One of the St. Trinian's players had the ball, one of the Roedean players was sprawled in the mud. And as Buffy watched, was trampled by four more of the St. Trinian's players.
"Referee hasn't blown her whistle," Buffy said gleefully, as the school cheered. "And that's another point for us."
"Puts us three up," said Willow. "And it must be nearly half time."
The referee blew her whistle again, and the teams went off to the changing rooms, two of the Roedean girls supporting the girl who'd been trampled. Buffy went into the St. Trinian's changing room and tried to talk tactics, the girls ignored her while chanting "Three up! Three UP!"
"Don't worry," said one of the players - Hermione, one of the stars of the wrestling squad - "Stinks put the boot in for us good and proper. We're going to walk it."
"Stinks?" said Buffy.
Before Hermione could answer there was a loud scream from the adjoining changing room, and Buffy looked out to see the Roedean girls running out, panic-stricken, with an angry and somehow familiar boa constrictor in pursuit. Buffy sighed and went out to catch it before somebody got hurt.
"Five up," said Miss Fritton. "Are you sure you're all right in there?"
"I'm fine," said Buffy, trying to pretend that there was nothing unusual about sitting with several yards of constrictor wrapped around her. Because some of the Roedean teachers were in earshot she added "She's as gentle as a kitten anyway. I can't think what the girls were afraid of."
"She does seem to be squeezing awfully hard," said Evadne White.
"Maybe she's a little upset, but it isn't doing me any harm. Anyway, I'm glad I found her, it'd be horrible if our mascot got hurt."
"Mascot?" asked one of the Roedean teachers.
"Sure," said Buffy. "She must have got out of our changing room during the first half."
A few minutes later, with Roedean six down and minus another two players, Buffy turned to Miss Fritton and quietly said "By the way, what does stinks mean?"
"Yeah, one of the girls said that 'Stinks put the boot in for us,' I didn't have time to ask what she meant."
"Oh... Well, my dear, 'Stinks' is schoolgirl slang for chemistry, or for a science teacher."
"Okaay. After the match I think Willow and I need to have a little talk."
"Well," Willow said reluctantly, when Buffy had removed the snake and they were safely clear of the playing field. "I suppose I might have given some of the girls a little hand with their botany project."
"They wanted to classify all the wild fungi in the area, I gave them some help with identification keys, and... um... the toxicological side of things."
"The mushroom pate?"
"Well... I don't know that for sure. But if I'm right it was more of a toadstool pate. Just as well that the plate got dropped before it reached our table."
"It's not like there's anything really lethal around here, unless someone has a stomach ulcer or something. And we won the game, didn't we? By eleven points!"
"And the snake?"
"Oh, that was Abigail's contribution, I think. She must have gotten her father to send it to her."
"With a little help from Harry, maybe. Thought I didn't see him during the first half."
"Maybe. I wasn't planning to ask."
"And the dye in the showers?"
"Damned if I know. Bit silly, really, they didn't shower until after the game. I'm sure it'll scrub off in a week or so."
"We're supposed to be setting a good example, Willow!"
"Right now, Buffy, I think I'll settle for surviving to the end of the term."
"Okay, fine," said Buffy, in a way that made it clear that it wasn't.
"Look at it this way, Buffy. You just coached your first team to a record-breaking victory. They may have cheated, but you didn't. Come to that, the team actually played pretty well, it was their supporters that cheated. No blood was spilled, and everyone'll be okay in a day or two. It's the cleanest game St. Trinian's have ever played."
Buffy thought about it, and slowly started to smile.
"What's got you so cheerful all of a sudden?" asked the relieved Willow.
"The thought of the chocolates you're gonna buy me with your winnings."
"Belgian. At least a half pound."
"You'd better believe it."
"Anyway," said Willow, "Now that you're feeling better, let's get down to the dining hall, there's gonna be a victory feast. With fireworks afterwards."
"Fireworks? I hope you didn't make them, remember what happened when the last science teacher tried that."
"I'm not Gandalf, Buffy, and I've got more sense than that. Harry got them cheap from one of his contacts."
"Riiight... Do I really want to think about the things that could go wrong with cheap fireworks?"
"Nope. But don't worry, the place is insured."
Comments please before I post to archives.
Oh, if anyone was wondering, the icon is Sabrina, from Blue Murder at St. Trinian's. Here's a link to the full-size picture: http://nylon.net/sabrina/index.html then go to Pictures and page 17
If anyone is reading this for the first time, I'd better mention that I started it early in Angel S5 and it is slightly AU for the latter part of that series, though that isn't an important part of the plot.