Giant crimson canvasses adorned with golden lions swathed the walls and tables of the dining hall. Every plate was full of delicious treats and the air rattled with the sound of joyous laughter and banging cutlery. At the head table, Grey and McGonagall had each donned maroon dress robes trimmed in gold; Willow and Tara followed suit. Near Spike's chair, Sirius lay in dog form, watching the festivities. A red and gold ribbon had been tied around his leg.

            The final banquet of the year was in full swing.

            "… Still can't believe you guys did that," Ginny said to Harry over the din. "I've never seen anybody play like that."

            "Don't give me credit for it. Your brother came up with it; I just chased the Snitch down."

            "A helluva job, that," Ron added. "And in the first playoff game ever, too."

            "Ron, language?"

            "But it was, 'Mione. Harry ran the thing down like nobody's business."

            "'Course," Harry said, "you hadn't set that pick on Malfoy, I'd have been beaten for sure."

            "Can you lot just admit you play well together and stop with the goin' on," George said from several seats away. "Been hearin' this for a week."

            "Aw, you're just bitter 'cos we've got more Quidditch to play and you're all old an' done," Ron retorted.

            Fred and George both glared at him with sour faces.

            "So," Willow said, leaning over, her voice slightly anxious, "you still haven't told me what you're doing for the summer."

            Grey smiled. He hadn't meant to keep it secret, but he had been waiting for her to ask. "I hear California's pretty nice. If only I knew somebody to stay with … Hey! You're from there, right? I could stay with you!" She punched him on the arm. "What was that for?"

            "You didn't tell me you were coming back to Sunnydale with me."

            "Guess not. Must've, I dunno, wanted to surprise you or something. Besides, what else would I do? My grand quest is over. I'm a free man."

            Her eyes narrowed. "Grrr. I was all nervous about what you were doing. You're gonna pay for that, mister."

            "Promise?"

            Giles watched as Grey kissed her lightly on the mouth, a small smile on his face.

            "I suppose this has worked out for the best, hasn't it? They go quite well together."

            "I agree, Minerva. I most certainly agree."

            "Tell me Rupert," she said, having overheard Willow and Grey, "what are your summer plans?"

            "Undecided, as of yet. I should think I'll make at least one trip to Sunnydale, strictly in a visiting capacity, but otherwise I intend to relax a bit. I've given some thought to re-reading some literature that I haven't read in ages. The other day Willow returned my copy of Pride and Prejudice, which seems as good a place to start as any. Yourself?"

            "I have an assignment from Albus that I could use some help with. I think it might be something that requires your deft research touch."

            "I do appreciate the compliment, but would you mind telling me what we'd be looking for before I sign my summer away?"

            McGonagall offered a pinch smile. "You Know Who has his allies. He's been recruiting them from all over. Albus thought it might be useful to find some of our own, and I want to know where to look. Interested?"

            "H-hey," Tara said. The evening was warm, and the light breeze ruffled her hair. "N-n-not hungry?"

            "Not much, no," Jess replied. She had her back resting against one of the walls facing the courtyard and her robes tucked under her legs. "You?"

            "Finished already. I th-thought you might feel like talking."

            "Not just now. But thanks."

            They waded through a few minutes of awkward silence before it got to be too much and Jess spoke again.

            "So you headed back to the States for the holiday?"

            "Uh uh. I'm staying here this summer."

            "Really?" Jess canted her head. "God, girl, why are you doin' that?"

            "Remember a few weeks ago? Wh-when my eyes went all white?" Jess nodded. "I want to know why. And maybe more about what happened when we did that spell on the grass? Why it worked so well? Professor Dumbledore said he'd help me figure it out."

            "Huh," she said thoughtfully. Jess was curious about that as well. "Y'know, with you an' me an' Willow, pretty soon it's not gonna be Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It'll be the Albus Dumbledore Center for the Rehabilitation of the Magically Bent."

            Tara laughed.

            "Speakin' of things we can't believe," Ron said to Harry and Ginny, "how 'bout 'Mione's O.W.L.'s?" A small round of applause went up from the others.

            Hermione blushed as Ron's hand caressed her back. "Oh come on, it isn't such a big deal."

            "Not a big deal?" Ron's voice overflowed with pride. "Are you kidding? I don't think you could possibly have gotten more."

            "Not in the time she had," Harry said, tongue-in-cheek. The irony of Ron's pride in his girlfriend's know-it-all status never failed to amuse Harry. "Really, Hermione, it's great."

            "You guys did well, too."

            "We survived. I'll take that. Even with Snape."

            "I sort of think Tara helped with that, Ron." The older witch had hinted to Neville that she had held Snape off of failing them all. "But it's a good thing, sure. Hey, d'you guys have plans for the summer yet?"

            "It's the Dursley's for me." Harry's eyes fell.

            "Don't worry, Harry. If you're not at the train this fall, we'll come straight away."

            Hermione grimaced, but nodded her agreement, as did Ginny and Neville.

            "My mum said you could come stay with us for the last few weeks," Ginny said through a smile, which Harry then returned. "I think I'll be getting a talk before it though." Ron blanched; Ginny smiled innocently at him. "Don't know why."

            "My parents are taking me to America for a week, right before the start of school. They want us to go to Diagon Alley with your parents again afterwards, though, Ron. Will that be okay?"

            Ron nodded, happy to have the subject changed. "Sure. Gotta go anyway. Harry? Neville?"

            "If I'm out at your place anyway, why not?"

            "Sure, I can do that."

            At the dais, Spike watched the rejoicing throng blankly, his mind adrift with thoughts of Buffy.

"So you're not riding the Willow express home?" Buffy had asked right before her departure for Sunnydale weeks before. She was unable to keep all of the hope from her voice. "Okay, that sounded bad. But you know what I mean."

            He had looked her over, soaking in the gorgeous sight of her under the waning moonlight. They had been dancing around each other for days, neither asking any serious questions nor wanting any serious answers.

            "No, I haven't changed my mind in the last two days, Slayer."

            "No?"

            "Got some things to take care of, pet." Smoke from his cigarette curled between them, the haze blurring the sharp lines of her face. He stamped it out, wanting to see her clearly. "Got some things to take care of," he muttered again.

            "So that's it? You're just gone, off to who knows where?"

            "I'll be back, Slayer. Jus' not for a bit is all."

            She hadn't liked that much, he remembered, but hadn't stormed off, either. They had just sort of … drifted into a goodbye that wasn't final or fleeting. It certainly wasn't satisfying. But he had been right. He had things to take care of.

            Good a time as any, he thought, rising from the table.

            He stepped off the dais and strode down the center aisle. With his black duster streaming behind, he attracted a fair amount of attention as he passed. He paused next to Neville.

            "'Ey, Boy Wonder."

            "Spike?"

            "Listen, I'm takin' off. Got things ta do. You all square with what you need to practice?" He nodded. "Right then. You take care." He turned to go, but Neville's voice spun him back for a brief second.

            "Spike?"

            "Yeah?"

            "Thanks."

            "You're welcome." Spike whisked himself out of the hall.

            Grey and Sirius caught up with him in his dungeon.

            "You're leaving tonight?" Sirius asked.

            "Have to. They gotta get the train back for the little kiddies in the morning. Too much sun's bad for my skin, y'know?"

            "Where?"

            "Dunno, Jedi. Thinkin' maybe I'll start in Cairo. Heard about this guy, demon fella in Africa, supposedly does miracles for the right price. Thought I might hunt him down."

            "If that doesn't pan out?"

            "Guess I'll find somethin' else," Spike replied, thinking of the Don's offer. "Tryin' to get the best deal I can."

            "Makes sense." Grey extended his hand; surprised, Spike shook it. "Good luck."

            "Thanks, mate. 'Preciate it." Grey nodded and left, knowing Sirius wanted to speak with Spike alone.

            "So you're off to see the wizard," Sirius said once Grey had gone.

            "Thought you didn't know about movies?"

            "I heard Willow say it to Grey the other day. I don't know what it means."

Spike thought about explaining, but didn't bother. "Yeah. I'm off."

"You really think you can find a soul?"

"How'd you know?"

"Dumbledore told me, asked me if I had heard of anything that might help."

            "Great man, Dumbledore. Offered to help, but didn't know much useful."

            "I don't either. I'm sorry."

            "Are ya, then, Puddles?"

            "I'm hoping a soul will make you less annoying."

            "Fat chance o'that."

            "I suppose not." Sirius reached into the pocket of his robe and clutched something in his fist. "I've been thinking about L.A. What the Don said to you, and that Cassandra woman. Prince of Lust?" Spike nodded. "Ups the ante right quick, doesn't it? That plus Buffy means you've got a lot at stake here. No pun intended."

            "What of it?"

            "Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that you're a pillock, I'd rather not see you miss out on that stuff." His fingers unfurled, revealing a small metal talisman on a short chain. "If you're dust, I've got no one to pub crawl with but Hagrid, and I can't keep up with him." He looked the vampire straight in the eye. "You need help, give me a shout. I'll be around."

            Spike took the talisman; he had no idea what to say.

            "You're welcome," Sirius said as the door closed behind him.

            From the hill next to the Quidditch pitch, Grey and Willow watched Spike board the train. With the station so empty, it looked like a scene from a ghost town in an old western.

            "It's … he looks so lonely," Willow said. She burrowed deeper into Grey's arms; he brushed the hair off her neck and kissed it softly.

            "He'll get his happy ending, Will."

            "What if he doesn't?"

            "You care that much?"

            "You sound so surprised. I like Spike. He's not like anybody else I've ever met. And he's … well, he's one of the gang, now. I worry about them. Plus, Buffy's really in love with him, I think. I'm gonna haveta get her to spill when we get back to Sunnydale."

            "She'll tell you. Ply her with ice cream." Willow giggled, knowing it would work. "I like him, too. If he doesn't get his happy ending, we'll get it for him."

            "Good." She turned her head, looking up into his dark brown eyes. He kissed her forehead.

"Did I mention that I'm really in love with you?"

            She feigned shock. "You are?"

            "I am." He kissed her neck again, rocking her back and forth in his arms. "Really a lot."

            "This year was kinda crazy, huh?"

            "Very crazy. Worked out though, didn't it?"

            "Well, sure it did, 'cuz, you know, we stopped the Big Bad and saved your friend, and we fixed things with me and Tara, which was so good. I never thought we'd do it."

            "Plus, I got the girl."

            "Plus, you got the girl." She kissed him lightly with her smile. "And Spike and Buffy are at least closer to fixing their mess, and I made all those new friends, and we helped the kids get together, and now I can control my magic better so I'm not as afraid of evil Willow appearing, though I kinda still am, but …"

            He cut her off with a finger to her lips.

"Will?"

"Yeah?"

            "You're babbling."

            "Oh! Sorry! I hate when …"

            "I love it."

            "You do?" She smiled shyly. "What about me? Do you love me?"

            "You know I do. Now shut up and kiss me again."

            So she did.

~End~

********************************************************************

Author's Afterward: Behind the Scenes of Fighting the Good Fight

            So it's done. Four months later. Oy. This wasn't s'posed to be a long piece, you know? Not long at all. But there it is. They don't get much longer. Think of this part as the liner notes for it – you certainly don't need to read it, like watching the Behind the Scenes feature on a DVD, but I personally like glancing behind the curtain. If you don't, let me say real quickly: thanks for reading. I appreciate it. If you want to peek backstage, read on. This was supposed to be Chapter 91, but I'll just stick it here.

            So you've read the whole thing. 300 frickin' pages. Spike's off to Africa, Harry's off to the Dursley's. They've had Last Call, the bar lights are flashing, and Hagrid's calling the cab.

But wait, you say. It can't end here. Spike doesn't have a soul. Things with him and Buffy aren't resolved. And who the f&*#%#g heck is the Prince of Lust? Oh yeah, what about Sirius? Will he stay or go? Plus, as some suggested earlier, what's up with Snape and Tara? Was I hinting at something between Jess and Xander? Will Malfoy's dad kill him? What's Voldemort up to? Will Fudge fire Dumbledore? And of course, the Final Jeopardy, Big Whammy Question: Are Fred and George gonna open their joke shop?

            You all probly guessed from the questions above, plus my earlier message that 90 chapters was it, but …

::DRUMROLL::

            Sequel. Yep. Already in the works, ink (electrons?) on paper (disk?) and everything. It's called A Dark and Deadly Valley, which is a much cooler title than Fighting the Good Fight. Figure the first bits will be out for consumption on FF.net by, say, May 1, 2003. This doesn't mean not earlier, but very definitely not later. As for the rate at which new bits will arrive, probly the same time frame we saw later on in FTGF: a few chapters every 5-10 days. Best I can do, and it's set in stone. My brain won't always work. It's a bummer, but I won't post crap, and I need at least 5 days between postings to make sure I'm on track – generally stuff is done being written 10 days before posting, even if posts are closer together. I'm a binge writer. I'm sorry if it's too slow for y'all, but it's how it works.

             As for what happens in DADV, well, no {major} hints here. I know some of it. Not all. Some. I know how it ends, and a little bit in between, and how it begins. I get an evil laugh and steepled fingers just thinking about it (Mwua ha ha). Expect to see some old friends, and a little more of Hagrid, who I kinda gave short shrift too (I actually only added the thing with the imps to give him more screen time – came in handy later, though, eh?). There'll be more Spike, much more Xander and Dawn and Buffy (just 'cuz it's a BTVS/HP doesn't mean all things happen at Hogwarts, does it?), and less Willow/Grey (though not too much less Willow, since the point of this was to write a Willow story, and I like writing her most – Spike's a close second, and Neville, Hermione, and Ron are tied for third). More on the Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione relationships (the course of true love never did run smooth, or some such nonsense). Actually, it'll probly be a lot more Hogwarts, and also a lot less. What does that mean? More school-type things I didn't do here, but overall less of the story will occur at Hogwarts.

            That's all. No more hints for you.

Now, that said, a few words about FTGF: Hoofnagel. Vincente. Albion. Flux.

            Just kidding. I'm a little giddy about finishing something so massive. I want to, of course, thank everyone who was a part of this process, meaning those of you who read and reviewed and emailed with me about it; those of you who read and reviewed; and those of you who simply slogged through and read this far. It's been a way fun diversion from the wackiness of life. The reviewers, especially, I want to thank. I have a bunch of 'em tacked up at my desk (reviews, not reviewers – what's wrong with you?!?); they batter the hell out of writer's block and writer's fatigue (which is when you're too tired to hit the keyboard, so you turn on the Playstation). And thanks again to everyone who heard my plea post-NWAF and reviewed then, too. Those were stunning in their praise, and I'm most appreciative.

            I'd repeat my plea to review again, but honestly, I don't have the energy to do so at length. If you're this deep in, please do review, even if you're way lazy and never do. It'll be your good deed for the day, and after 300 pages, you must've thought something. It will aid me as I recharge to start this all over again.

            Anyway, back to my few words about FTGF. Hmm. You probly don't know, but there wasn't s'posed to be any romance in this. It was so very not going to be a Willow/Grey romance. I swore it wouldn't, b/c I don't like reading Willow/Other stories. I'm a Willow/Spike or Willow/Xander guy, and actually I kind of think W/O is lame, which is totally bizarre, I know – I see Grey as part Xander, part Spike, part Skywalker (the Skywalker who marched into Jabba's Palace, not the moisture-farming, whiny pansy from the first movie), so it's okay. I also think I've made his insecurities mesh well with Willow's, which makes it more of a real relationship (read: not always completely at ease with each other despite how they know they feel, because they perceive something to be afraid of, even if there's nothing there). And yes, I developed him that way on purpose once I realized that I had found my story's center in their relationship. It just made me grouchy for a while to break my own rule.

            For those of you who are maybe wondering about the Mary Sue-ishness of Grey, as some reviewers have, let me state for the record: his baldness and his choice in books are mine. Otherwise, the dude is nothing like me, and who he is was (thankfully) dictated by the story. I think he's a character who fits well in the story and well with Willow (like I said before, I scooped the parts I like about Xander and Spike, mixed with a dash of insecurity because he got hurt badly by his first love, just like Willow).

The truth is, and this is why I added anyone at all, that Voldemort's return would affect the wider world of wizards as much or more than Hogwarts. I wanted to be able to include that element in the story going forward, especially when already widening it beyond the school with BTVS, and Grey, as a former auror and all-around badass, gives legit entrée to that. The bad guys have Lucius Malfoy and a score of others running around in that part of the world doing mischief; I thought it only fair that the good guys get someone besides Arthur Weasley and Sirius (Fudge doesn't count - he's neutral at best and obstructive at worst – and neither does Dumbledore, since he's bound to Hogwarts) to do the same, and they do in his father. Toss in his grandfather and aunt to interface with the PTB, which I did (though their role will never be extensive) and his ex-fiancee as a loose cannon rolling around on the deck, and now things are interesting. I'm hoping you agree, if you've gotten to this point. Also keep in mind that you don't know everything about Grey yet … and yes, those are ominous bells tolling in the background for thee.

            Plus, how cool is it to have a Jedi in the mix? I couldn't resist.

            I think, too, that when I started with this my perceptions were all boxed in by the books, the show, and other HP/BTVS stuff I'd read. I didn't really have my own voice with these characters (if you write a lot, you know what I mean), which I hated, and trying to find it was one of the reasons I pushed so hard, so fast at the beginning (those of you who were there saw me updating almost nightly). I've got it now, and using the Grey/Willow/Jess triangle really spurred that on. I don't regret it at all. Things started to click 'round about the time I put the Halloween sequence together and got Ron and Hermione paired off, then spiraled from there. I'm really excited about DADV because it's almost a clean slate, and I've got some more ideas that I think are gonna be seriously wacky and fun (in a good way) – stuff I couldn't fit into FTGF but that has been turning over in my head for months. You'll see what I mean almost right away.

Best moment of writing this, though (besides the first reviews, which got me all fired up) was the day I rode home on the subway and the whole Halloween story came into my head all at once. I planned it out in ten minutes, and I still think it's the coolest part of the whole thing when Grey asks Jess to dance (except maybe Ginny/Harry's second kiss, which leaves me all smiley. I'm kind of a sap). My other personal favorite moment is when Willow touches Grey's cheek and says, "I really like you." Makes me all teary, which is weird with something that's my own work.

Same subway epiphany happened with the last two chapters of Not Without a Fight, but the Halloween stuff felt cooler. The subway – it's an under-appreciated writing tool.

            Also there wasn't supposed to be any Tara, but she showed up (and I have more fun writing her than I thought. I can't wait to dig into her and Snape – and that does not mean they're getting together, so don't read it that way. Of course, it doesn't mean they aren't, either…). You may not have guessed, but I have a hard time writing Harry for some reason. I like how it came out, but it was more of a struggle than a lot of the rest. Probly stems from me being a BTVS guy (though I love HP, obviously).

A few words on chapter titles: for those who might wonder (maybe no one?) I started with the Roman-numbered episodes after a resurgence in my comic book reading (which I hadn't done in years – I think it was a little Grey-inspired and a little inspired by some of the Season 7 Andrew-Xander exchanges on BTVS). I just think it's a neat way to break it up, and that's how comics do it. It looks better in Word than on FF.net, though. Jaws of the Hellmouth is one of my favorites, just because I think it sounds cool. Neville the Boy Wonder …hmm, obvious Robin reference. More will be said about Neville's training in the sequel. Much more. Idle Hands refers to the old saying about idle hands being the devil's plaything (or something like that – also a not so good Seth Green movie). The subtitle Avengers Assemble is obvious; it was originally titled Assembly, which is a reference to an issue by the same title from Batman's No Man's Land storyline that I absolutely love. It inspired that whole chapter, which I wrote, erased, and rewrote before deciding it was right for the story. Questing, though not original or unique, was Monty Python and the Holy Grail-inspired in its name, and bad action movie inspired in its plot. Every story needs one of those ultra-cliché bust-up scenes in someone's office, followed by an ambush. I couldn't resist. The Aerosmith song Cass plays for Spike is Flesh off of Get a Grip, which I was listening to randomly one day. I'm not really a big Aerosmith fan, despite the two references to it (see below for the other). They just kind of worked.

Really might be the most apt chapter title, and one of the few I took from the text. That exchange was the first part of that chapter I wrote; the rest went unwritten for days. Reassessment is possibly the worst title in the whole lot. I was plumb out of ideas, and never thought that chapter would make it in. I had this whole other idea about Willow teaching a Dark Arts class and Snape subbing for Giles and them fighting … but I wrote it and it really sucked. Plus I felt Tara was underused, so I moved it around a bit. Countdown came about as an accidental adjunct to that. I hadn't planned on Curly being an assassin, but suddenly I had no way to get from the end of Questing to the opening of Not Without a Fight and boom, it appeared. Not Without a Fight is a phrase I lifted from the Aerosmith tune Shut Up and Dance. I just liked how it sounded – it seemed to fit what I saw happening. All Along the Watchtower is a double reference. The Dave Matthews live version was on when I was writing this, plus the Justice League of America has their base on the moon, the Watchtower, and the Hogwarts people are sort of waiting for Voldemort to appear. For those of you who don't know, when Grey says "We're paying you, aren't we?" and Jess responds with "You can keep the five bucks, I've had it," that's from Ghostbusters – the opening scene where Bill Murray is conducting bogus psych tests. "It IS a star." I love that bit, though it's kind of obscure.

I'm a pop culture fiend, I tell you.

All Around the Afterlife is a reference to Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey ("We've been to the future. We've been to the past. We've been all around the afterlife."). Seemed appropriate, since they don't have a Circle K at Hogwarts. This was another piece I wrote, cut, and put back in. I thought (and sort of still think) it fits a little oddly there, but I know where it's leading and eventually it'll fit better. Finally, Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax and Of Cabbages and Kings are from the poem The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll. I hate that poem but love those lines ("The time has come, the Walrus said/To talk of many things/Of shoes and ships and sealing wax/Of cabbages and kings/And why the sea is boiling hot/And whether pigs have wings."). Those two chapters were really about talking out all the leftover stuff, so it seemed appropriate to me. Chapter 89 went through about 8 versions over three weeks, all of which sucked; people were put in and removed from the meeting. Buffy hit Fudge at one point. Fudge did in fact fire Dumbledore in another. Early on, I had not written the Afterlife chapter and had Grey wake up when Fudge arrived. I had Sir Robert Grey arrive first and fight it out with Fudge.

It worked out much better the way I actually did it, in the end. You could (and I have thought about it long and hard – agonized over it, you could rightly say) argue that Fudge might not cave, but the spin reflected in the Daily Prophet article is the one that a political operator like Fudge would pursue, since it casts him in the best light, and even an unreasonable person would finally admit that Voldemort had returned. FYI, that's the longest chapter of the story, because I couldn't find a suitable place to split it up. It's about 8 times as long as the shortest chapter (The Vampire and the Geek), which was way too short.

Okay, I'm about out of things to say. I hope it was a nice peek into the process for you. I always like that stuff; I figure someone else does too.

If you're curious about anything, drop me an email (dgise@yahoo.com); I'm happy to respond, and I'll try and be prompt. I was thinking that since this is ongoing, I might crack open one of those Yahoo Groups thingies as a sort of discussion forum for it (and, I guess, HP/BTVS generally, though there are others of those), but I don't know if that's worth it. If you have a feeling on that one way or another, email me.

If email's not your bag, or you have nothing to say, hey, that's cool. Glad you enjoyed FTGF. I'll be eagerly awaiting hearing what you think of the sequel. Thanks again. - 40