Racing With Destiny: Chapter 31
Legalese: See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.
"What we do does not define who we are. What defines us is how we rise after falling."
-Maid in Manhattan-
For Madam Poppy Pomfrey, the great battle that was being forged outside was whittled down to an enlargened infirmary with far too many patients and not nearly enough people to help her see to their needs. She supposed that she should have been grateful for Headmaster Dumbledore's foresight to grant her the assistance of the youngest of the students that still walked the halls of Hogwarts, and even though they heeded to her strict word, it still wasn't nearly enough. She had no idea how the battle fared, and in her haste, she found little time to care. All that mattered was the steady influx of wounded witches and wizards, suffering from nasty curses and hexes to the after-effects of the cruel Cruciatus Curse. From sanguine potion to pepper-up to some of the more exotic potions that Professor Snape had procured for her, Poppy saw each patient as they came in and then directed the student who aided her as to which potion should be administered in which order. It was frantic, worrying, but it was all something that she could handle. She could do this. She could-
Startled, the mediwitch nearly dropped her wand in surprise at her bellowed name as she turned away from the young student that assisted her, her eyes snapping to the doors to the Great Hall. "What-" she began, her angry tirade dying as Sirius Black and Rupert Giles raced into the room, two unmoving forms carried in their arms. "Here," she ordered, directing the men towards two empty cots as her eyes took in the figures that they held. How terribly unsurprising. Sighing, she kneaded her lip as her gaze rested upon two of the infirmary's most frequent visitors: one Mister Harry Potter and one Miss Buffy Summers. Shaking her head curtly, she watched as each of the men moved to opposing sides of their wards' beds, facing each other and allowing her to move in the space between them. Frowning, a critical eye took in both unmoving forms - forms that were so pale and drawn, and in the slayer's case, bloody and broken, that they seemed to have no life in them at all.
Torn from her musings, Madam Pomfrey watched as others began filtering in the room - others that didn't appear to be injured. Realizing that the battle must be over, she watched as young Granger and Weasley broke from the crowd and raced for their friend's bed even as the dark-haired muggle and the red-haired Wiccan hurried to the slayer's side - all four teens stopped by Remus Lupin and the dark-haired muggle man, a former watcher, if she remembered correctly. Nodding her thanks at the two men, she once more directed her eyes back to her patients as both shifted, twin moans of pain issuing from both and spurring her to action.
Without another thought to the injured slayer, the aging mediwitch hurried to the Potter boy's side. She had learned the hard way that there would be nothing that she could do for the small slayer and idly wondered why the Watcher had even brought her there for attention. He would have been better to find a way to bring her to a muggle hospital somewhere. But then even those thoughts were turned aside as she lifted her wand and waved it over the air above Harry Potter, muttering a revealing spell beneath her breath as she quickly took stock of his injuries. Not good. Frowning at what she found, she turned back to the student that had been hovering behind her, the poor girl's eyes locked on Harry's unmoving form. Not that she could blame the girl for already a part of her was wondering what on earth could have happened to do this to the boy - not a Death Eater, that was for sure.
"Send for Professor Snape," she ordered, knowing instinctually that the kind of potions that she needed were potions that the potions master would need to brew from scratch - and quickly. Even now she could see the boy was slipping. The student, having been given a task she could fulfill, was already scampering away as Poppy hurried to a nearby table and began collecting the various potions herself, all the while muttering beneath her breath as she hurried back to the boy's side. "Sirius, give him this potion followed by this," she ordered, listing off her instructions as she handed the man the bottles. Then, satisfied that she had done all that she could for the moment, she was about to turn away and return to her other patients when the watcher seemed to finally understand her intentions.
"Damnit Poppy! Won't you even see to her?" Giles roared, his voice breaking as both Willow and Xander drew away at his harsh words. He didn't need to look behind him to see the tears in Willow's eyes or the naked fear in Xander's. Buffy's state was too obvious for them both to see. He didn't think that he had ever seen his slayer worse, and he knew in his heart that there wasn't time to bring her anywhere else. If Buffy couldn't find aid here, she would find it nowhere... for in the end, he didn't think that the muggles would be able to save her.
For a moment, with her patience already stretched by the long night that she had endured, Poppy almost retorted in furious kind, wanting nothing more than to demand what the point was while pointing out that there were others in the room that she still could help. But common sense reigned as she took a good, pitiable look at the man and recognized his fear for what it was. He loved this girl and he understood what she knew just by looking at her. This man could do nothing for her and Poppy knew from experience that she would be powerless to do aught else. Nonetheless, she forced a silent nod as she moved to the girl's bedside, sighing audibly as she lifted her wand and performed the usual revealing spell over the girl - and then faltered at what she found.
Stumbling back a few paces, Madam Pomfrey lifted wide eyes to the man before her as she quickly returned to the bedside, lifting her wand and doing it again, and again - always with the same result. Confused, she quickly returned to the potions table, gathering numerous bottles against her chest and hurrying back to the bed. "Quickly, give her these in the same order to which I give them to you," she stated, her voice clipped as her eyes remained fixed on the girl's pale face.
Confused, Willow watched all of this through watery green eyes. "But I thought that the magic potion stuff didn't work on Buffy except on the Hellmouth," she whispered, feeling Xander's arm fall reassuringly over her shoulders as she clung to her best friend's side.
"What does this mean?" Hermione asked, slowly drawing towards the slayer's bed as she voiced the question that was on everyone's mind.
"Better not mean that the Hellmouth has changed locations," Xander grumbled, his eyes dark with worry.
But whatever response anyone was bound to give was forgotten as Dumbledore joined their small circle, sad blue eyes lighting first on Harry's still form before moving to the small, blonde slayer. With a heavy heart, he closed his blue eyes and shook his head, white hair trailing over his shoulders. "The reason," he began, his soft voice even softer, "that our magical aid has never worked on Buffy was because her internal slayer core - her own breed of magic, so different than our own... it interfered. But now... now there is nothing to interfere with."
"-and the magic just kind of was there and we just took it and shaped it and channeled it through us and if you could only feel the kind of magic back in Sunnydale then you could just see that this stuff was pure and normal and good and it just kind of let us take it and push it and we thought of happy things like flowers and kittens and Oz and werewolf puppies and it all just kind of went out in one big rush of light and it was like light and it was light and it was beautiful and it was powerful and-"
Sighing softly, Buffy listened to Willow's ramblings with far less attention then her friend warranted, her mind wandering far and wide. It had been ten days since the battle at Hogwarts that had changed the course of the wizarding world in the best way possible. Word of Voldemort and his followers' defeat had spread like wildfire and soon wizards and witches had come by the hundreds to give their own personal thanks to the mere handful that had openly taken up the mantle and fought to free them all. The Ministry was in chaos as Voldemort's moles were unearthed and those under the Imperius Curse looked back at months, and in some cases, years of service to the Dark Lord with shock and shame. And of course in such absences those good and steadfastly loyal to Dumbledore were quietly stepping in to take their places and to help ease the transition from such dark times into a new hope for their world. Already word was spreading of the reopening of Hogwarts in a few days time where a summer session would take place for those many students who had been pulled from the school. They had close to eight months of missed lessons to make up in a matter of three months before the regular session would open again in September. Muggle-born witches and wizards were slowly receiving the call to return from their foreign hideaways and peace was returning to their world - and one Buffy Summers and one Harry Potter continued to remain sequestered in the infirmary at Hogwarts, confined to bed and completely missing out on the almost continuous party that the rest of the wizarding world seemed to be busily partaking in. At least they weren't alone.
"-and I told Tara that we just had to concentrate and it was so strong that it was almost intoxicating like a drug but not because I really wouldn't know what a drug was like because I've never done drugs but if I had then I imagine it would have been something like that because it was just so strong and powerful and-"
Smiling, Buffy settled back in her hospital bed as her eyes traced over her friend's tired features. The complex spell that Tara and Willow had performed would have drained them no matter where they had cast it, but when combined with the amount of strong magic that the two girls had channeled... Xander had told her of the deep sleep that the two girls had fallen into, only to awaken several days later. It worried her to know that they had exerted themselves so, but just by looking at her babbling friend beside her, Buffy was assured that there would be no ill effects to any of them... well, at least not to her friends. The same couldn't, of course, be said for others and for the many sacrifices that had been made that fateful night. Some sacrifices far greater than others.
"-I just don't know how I'm going to be able to go back to pulling on the icky polluted stuff that the Hellmouth puts out after experiencing the rush of the magic here because it's just so strong and unbelievable and I felt like I could keep doing it forever and Tara just held my hand and it was like it was there and even though my thoughts were on that it was like I could sense what was happening elsewhere like with Oz and the others and sometimes even you even though it was harder and there was more-"
From home, only Xander, Willow and Giles remained at her side. Angel, Cordelia, and Wesley had only taken their return portkey yesterday, unable to justify leaving their city unprotected for any longer. With a smile, Buffy realized that the goodbye had been hard and so easy at the same time. Cordy had been eager to go, Wesley rather indifferent, but Angel... Buffy realized that a part of her would never be over the immortal vampire, even as another greater part of her knew that they couldn't have ended it any other way.
"Thank you for doing this," she murmured as Angel parted from the others and bent before her, pressing a cool kiss against her forehead.
"You know that you only need to ask and I'll always be there to help," he stated, a small smile lifting his lips as he pulled away.
"I know," Buffy returned, smiling softly at the vampire, knowing that no other words need be spoken. They had said everything that needed to be said that night at the hospital in Sunnydale. He knew her heart just as she knew his.
Openly gagging, Cordelia made a show of rolling her eyes before glaring at Buffy. "If he goes into one of his brooding trips when we get home, I'm holding you personally responsible," she warned as Angel scowled at her.
"I don't brood."
"Sure you don't," Cordy agreed, rolling her eyes before tapping her foot impatiently against the floor, indicating her readiness to leave.
"Now, now, Cordy, please play nice," Wesley chided as he had tilted his head towards Buffy in an uncustomary show of respect. "Just take care of yourself - and Giles, as well," he ordered as he rather awkwardly patted her pale hand.
"I'll do my best," Buffy vowed before the small group disappeared.
It had only been a few hours later when word had come from Sunnydale that the new kid, as Faith liked to refer to the newest slayer, was already finding herself over her head. Within minutes it was decided that Faith, Oz and Tara would return home, and with little fanfare, they, too, had departed. Only those closest to her heart had remained and only those because they wouldn't dream of being anywhere else. And after the scare that she had given them, Buffy felt that she could understand why. After all, Willow and Tara hadn't been the only ones to sleep for far too long after the battle had ended. As the others seemed fond of pointing out, Buffy and Harry's condition had been precarious as the two lingered somewhere between the land of the living and the world of the dead while Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape toiled day and night to hold them to where their loved one's waited. Their diligence had paid off for only a few days before, both had awoken within minutes of one another, and much to the relief of everyone - a relief that seemed short-lived, now.
"-and I kept thinking that it was going to go on forever but when it ended we just picked up some of Xander's stuff and started helping to take out the guys in the black robes and what's with the black robes anyway because they're really not cool and way out of-"
"Willow, good Lord, will you please cease with your incessant babblings?"
Sufficiently startled, Willow paused long enough for Xander to get in his first word in what felt like years. "G-Man, your timing couldn't have been better!" the teen greeted as he lifted his head from where it had dropped onto Buffy's bed. Sighing, he ignored his best friend's indignant glare from her seat in the chair beside him and turned towards the door - and froze as not only Giles, but a whole parade of adults entered the infirmary and moved to stand before the only two occupied beds in the ward.
"Well this can't be good," Harry muttered, voicing Buffy's thoughts as his green eyes swept over the serious countenances of Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape, Remus, Sirius and Giles - the last two of which looked pale and more than a little unhappy at being there. Unsure why, Harry found himself straightening in his bed as his green eyes darted to where Ron and Hermione sat beside him before skipping over to Buffy and her friends. He had seen very little of the adults, outside of Sirius, Remus, and Giles, since he had awoken, and certainly not all of them gathered together. Such a thing only caused his heart to begin to hammer, even more so when Madam Pomfrey appeared to join their small group.
Noting the mediwitch's presence, Buffy felt a frown pull at her lips. Her earlier amusement at listening to Willow prattle, and the incredulous looks from her Hogwarts friends that such a long discourse could be done in the same breath of air, quickly disappeared under a wave of cold. Then again, she and Harry had been expecting something like this from the moment that they had awoken. How could they not after what had happened? After what they had experienced? "So... what's up, doc?" she asked, finally breaking the oppressive silence that had fallen over the room as her eyes skipped over the faces of the adults.
"W-we bring news, both good and bad," Giles stammered, his voice failing him as he quickly whipped off his glasses and began polishing them on the hem of his shirt. Never a good sign - something that even the Hogwarts trio had come to realize over the past three months. "W-we have been able to confirm that Voldemort is indeed dead-"
"Well I could have told you that," Harry muttered, interrupting the watcher's explanation and earning himself a glare from the other adults and a snicker from his friends.
"And I'm going to hazard a guess that that's the good news," Buffy added as her watcher struggled with what to say next. "So what's the bad, then?" she asked, pointedly turning her eyes away from the others until they settled on the frowning face of one Madam Pomfrey. From the way that the witch kept looking at her and Harry ever since they awoke, Buffy knew that her answers could come from this woman - at least, a part of the answer.
"I'm not quite sure how," Poppy stated, accepting the role that she had been handed as her eyes glanced down to the hands she had clasped before her, "but all of my tests indicate that all of your magic, the both of you, has somehow been spent."
Buffy slowly closed her eyes, her head falling back against her pillow. Okay, so far the mediwitch wasn't telling her anything she didn't know. It was impossible for the slayer not to feel that truth with every breath she took. She felt different. She felt odd. And it only took one look at Harry's face to know that he felt the same. "So... when's it coming back? 'Cause our batteries are rechargeable, right?" she asked, green eyes blinking open to lock on the mediwitch - eyes that slowly slid along the line until they fell upon Dumbledore's grim countenance.
"It will most likely never be coming back," the headmaster replied, his words falling with a finality that rocked the room into silence.
As Buffy felt the tears burn at her eyes, she felt the headmaster's words echo in her mind. Never coming back. She now understood the saddened expressions on the faces of the adults, for they knew this, had discussed it.. and apparently only felt the need to disclose this information to her and Harry now. She watched as Sirius and Remus parted from the others and gathered around Harry's bed, crowding close to the teen as tears ran openly down Hermione's cheek. Likewise, she could feel Giles draw close as Willow settled on a corner of the bed beside her. She even thought she felt the girl's long fingers trail through her hair as Buffy sat, her green eyes seeing nothing as she tried to absorb the headmaster's grim proclamation. Never coming back. It took Harry's quiet words to finally break her from her stupor.
"That's... that's why I can't do any magic," Harry whispered, dull green eyes lifting to look into his godfather's pained features. "There's nothing left because... because I'm a muggle now," he murmured, not quite able to believe what he was hearing as his senses strained, searching desperately for a hint of the great power he had felt within himself only days before. He had touched that power, fueled it, used it... and drained it.
"And that's why all the potion stuff is working on me now," Buffy added, her voice hollow as she lifted her eyes to her watcher. "I used up everything that makes me the slayer... I... I'm not the slayer anymore, am I?" she asked, her voice wavering as Giles helplessly shook his head.
"You both had to give everything that you had in order to defeat Voldemort," Dumbledore stated, his eyes kind and so sad. "The wizarding world owes you both more than they can ever pay for your sacrifice.
Breath hitching in her chest, Buffy slowly shook her head as she felt her tears burn at her eyes. She felt mute. She felt dumb. She felt like the world was spinning around her and she didn't quite know what to make of it. She was aware of Xander settling on the bed opposite of Willow and beside Giles, the teen's hand finding her own and squeezing it gently as Giles began to whisper soft words into her ears. But she couldn't hear him. She couldn't hear any of them. She couldn't think past that single word. Sacrifice.
And unfortunately, Harry wasn't doing much better as his mind spun around him, totally out of control and losing him in its vicious tilt. Sacrifice? A sacrifice? Is THAT what they were calling it? Confused, he lifted bleary green eyes and tried to focus on Sirius, on Remus, on any of them. He could hear Hermione crying somewhere beside him, and he was vaguely aware of Ron's hand gripping his shoulder so tightly that he thought it may be bruising him. He thought that he heard Remus' reassurances and felt Sirius' strong, familiar presence - but at this point, he couldn't be sure of anything. Sacrifice?
"I know that we deliver grave news for you both," Dumbledore murmured, his sad eyes watching as two sets of pain-filled eyes lifted to meet with his own. "And for now, I think it best that we should leave you both to work through what this means," he added, his tone indicating that he wasn't merely suggesting for the others to clear out, but he was ordering them to. And from the identical glares that were directed at him from Buffy and Harry's friends and family, the headmaster knew that his words weren't likely to be heeded. Then again, one glare was all it took to convince them all that as headmaster of this school, if they didn't leave the infirmary of their own power, he would remove them himself.
"I'll be right outside," Sirius sighed, recognizing the headmaster's look all to well as he gently patted Harry's shoulder, feeling totally and completely inept in the face of his godson's haunted expression. Sadly, he noted that his words seemed to barely register with the teen as he received only the smallest of nods in return. "Right outside," he repeated as he met with Giles before the door, hearing similar words escaping from the watcher's mouth. And then, with twin glares that were directed at the headmaster, they and the rest of the room's occupants departed and left the two patients in silence.
As the tears slowly trickled down Buffy's pale cheeks, she felt the numbness begin to dissolve under a fierce emptiness that clawed at her soul. Soon, her body began to tremble and Buffy felt the beginnings of an emotion unlike anything she had ever experienced begin to overtake her. And as some distant part of her mind noted that she was experiencing the beginnings of a panic attack, a larger part of her was already desperately fighting it as she angrily threw back the covers and slipped from her bed for the first time since the battle. On wobbly, weakened legs she stumbled the small distance to Harry's bed before collapsing in an ungraceful heap beside him. Then, without a word she quickly curled up beside him, feeling his arms wrap around her as she clung to him with all of the strength that she could muster, small sobs wracking her shoulders as together they cried for their loss.
With time, Buffy's sobs eventually began to lessen until the small hiccups that always followed such a crying-jag were the only things to shake her small form. With the release of her flood of tears came a small measure of calm in the sea of her disjointed emotions. Buffy had forgotten what it was to cry - the emotional release that it had provided. If only she had allowed herself to do so when things had been so bad before... but never this kind of bad.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered, his words serving the dual purpose of reminding her of his presence and pulling her from her own muddled thoughts. "This is all my fault," he added as she slowly lifted her blonde head and readjusted herself until her cheek was resting on his chest.
Sighing, Buffy didn't even need to ask what he was apologizing for. Even though they had really only met a few months before, she already knew him far too well to have to question his words. Were their positions reversed, she knew the words would have been coming from her instead. "No," she whispered, her arms tightening around his waist as her head tilted back, her red-rimmed eyes locking with his haunted green, "it was destiny." Sighing, Buffy slowly arched up and planted a small kiss against his lips before pulling away. "I knew what you were doing and I could have stopped you if I had wanted," she continued, her mind drifting back and focusing on the pain that had literally torn them both apart. "I let you in because it had to be done," she whispered before the irony of the situation fully hit her, pulling a very un-Buffy-like sound from her lips.
"Did you just snort?" Harry asked, a ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of his lips as his tired eyes looked down at her.
"I was just thinking that it was funny," she explained, ignoring his question as her eyes turned away. "For so long after I was called I wanted nothing more than to have it all go away," she murmured, her words quiet. "I just wanted to be normal again," she added before a sad smile pulled at her lips. "But now I would give anything to have it back."
Pulling Buffy closer, Harry slowly closed his eyes and rested his chin on the crown of her head, her soft blonde locks tickling his skin. "I never had that problem," he admitted with a soft sigh, his breath fanning against her hair. "The day that I found out that I was a wizard was the best day of my life," he added as his eyes drifted open. "My aunt and uncle, and especially my cousin Dudley, had always hated me and even at school I never felt like I belonged. But when I came here... everything suddenly made sense and it was like I had finally found my way home after being lost for a long, long time. And now... what do we do now?" he whispered, voicing the question that was on both their minds.
"Harry, I tried to be Buffy for so long, but that wasn't what the world needed. They needed the Slayer and so I became the slayer," she murmured, tears beginning to leak from her tightly closed eyes once more. "Now I don't remember how to be anyone else. If I'm not the slayer, who am I?"
But Harry didn't have an answer for her... he didn't even have answers for himself. Hogwarts was the only home that Harry had ever known - certainly more than the Dursley's. And while he had known for quite a while that eventually he would have to leave the school and make a place for himself somewhere else in the wizarding world, that had been when he was a wizard... but he was a muggle now. Muggles didn't belong in the wizarding world and that meant that he didn't belong. He wouldn't even be able to get into Diagon Alley from muggle London as he was. He had spent the past seven years training to be a wizard and now... and now he had nothing and no longer belonged in the only place he had ever felt like he had belonged. Both he and Buffy had their identities stripped from them in a matter of minutes and now both were adrift... lost.
Who were they?
Where would they go?
And most importantly of all. Who would help to see them through this? Harry knew the answer to that just as well as Buffy. The answer was lying in his arms, cradled against him. Somehow, they would get each other through this. Neither of them knew how to quit or stop... neither one of them knew how to give in and die. Together they would have to find the answers to their questions. There was simply no other option.
"You're sure about this?"
With a small, confident smile Buffy's eyes moved around the bustling airport before finally settling on Xander's worried face. "We're sure," she murmured, responding for both her and Harry as she gently squeezed his hand.
"We both need some time to work this out," Harry added as his eyes moved from Ron, to Hermione and Remus, before finally settling on his godfather's saddened features. Smiling softly, he gently released Buffy's hands and stepped over the backpacks that were lying at their feet until he was standing before his family. "We need to find out what this all means," he continued, trying his best to make them understand.
"And it's not like we're saying goodbye forever, or anything," Buffy quickly added as she wiped at Willow's tears, and then laughed as her friend pulled her into a tight embrace. "I promise to come visit, it's just that... there's nothing binding me to the Hellmouth anymore," she whispered, trying to comfort her as Xander wrapped his arms around them both, squeezing them so hard - like he always used to - that it hurt.
"And I very well can't stay in the wizarding world now," Harry injected as Hermione's tears intensified, even as Ron seemed resigned to his friend's decision. "I don't belong there anymore," he whispered, smiling despite the pain in his heart as Hermione fell into his arms, her tears quickly soaking his shirt as Ron threw aside all pretenses, his long arms encircling them both.
Both teens remained in such similar embraces with their two best friends before both finally, and reluctantly pulled away as their flight was called. "Where will you go?" Remus asked as both teens turned to the adults, ignoring Heathrow's bustle around them.
"New Zealand, to start," Harry said, shrugging slightly as his eyes drifted from his 'uncle' to his godfather - trying his best to see past the stark pain in his blue eyes. "From there... who knows? I think we're going to make this up as we go."
"Harry's parents and my mom left us quite a bit of money," Buffy added as Giles' eyes never quite left her own. "We don't really have any plans besides going," she explained with a small smile at Harry. "We're going to see the world and decide what the future holds - together."
"If we can't be the Boy Who Lived or the Slayer anymore," Harry added, taking up the mantle of explanation, "then it's time to figure out what it means to be Harry and Buffy again."
Their words sounded rehearsed to her own ears, but it couldn't be helped. Their words and explanations were rehearsed as this had been a decision that was long in the making. Despite the magical aid of different potions and spells, their recovery had been slow and with the added news that both were powerless and would remain that way... well, it certainly hadn't sped up the process any. And despite the love that their friends and guardians had smothered them with, the harsh facts of their situation couldn't be ignored. Harry was no longer a wizard and Buffy was no longer the Slayer.
In Harry's case, the wizarding world wasn't kind to muggles or squibs, and seeing as how the Dursleys were dead and Harry had graduated Hogwarts, the only two places he had ever called home were lost to him. And while it was true that Sirius had insisted that Harry come to live with him (as soon as he found a place to live himself), it would still be in a world that he no longer belonged to. With the end of the battle everyone that Harry knew and loved were inevitably scattering. Remus was once more teaching DADA at the newly reopened school and Sirius had talked about rejoining the Auror ranks for the newly reformed Ministry of Magic. In addition, Hermione and Ron were about to start their lives... which left Harry unavoidably adrift.
Unfortunately, Buffy's case wasn't much different. As the slayer she had been bound to fight the bad stuff on the Hellmouth in Sunnydale, but now... now she was free to go where she pleased - a thought that was as frightening as it was exciting. Like Harry, she didn't really have a home to return to. Mr. Lyle had seen to destroying the only home she had ever known in Sunnydale over a year ago, and with her dad out of the picture and effectively out of her life, it wasn't as though she was bound to wherever he now lived. While she could still return to the Hellmouth with her friends, it wasn't as though they didn't already have their own lives to see to. Willow was still in school and Xander was still doing whatever it is that a Xander did. And without a Slayer, Giles was finally free to follow his own pursuits as well, following them wherever he desired. Buffy had nothing holding her in Sunnydale any longer, and nothing tying her anywhere else as well. She was as adrift in a world that was suddenly so large, just as much as Harry.
"It's been so long since we've just been that, just Harry and Buffy... we need to find ourselves again," Buffy whispered, knowing how much this was hurting her friends, but hoping that they loved her enough to see why she needed to do this. Why they needed to do this. Together.
And they did understand, some better than others. For Xander, Willow and Giles, it was easier because Buffy had been lost before. She had been lost when she had sent Angel to Hell and the slayer had needed to run then. They hadn't understood that and because of that, they had lost her - even if only for a short while. After everything that had happened with the Centre, Buffy had lost herself again, and so that time they had let her go... and by letting her go, they had allowed her to find herself at Hogwarts. Now.. now they would let her go and trust that, like always, Buffy would find herself and return to them. For the others, though, it was that much harder.
Ron and Hermione had barely been separated from Harry's side in the past seven years and to be forced to go in different directions now... it wasn't anything that either had really anticipated. Not fully. And even though Remus and Sirius knew that Harry was getting older and would some day go on his own, neither had been expecting for that time to come so soon. Yet it took only one look into Harry's eyes, and just one look at how he looked at Buffy, for them to understand that Harry, too, would eventually be coming back to them. It wasn't goodbye forever. Just for a little while.
As the last call for the teens' flight was announced, hugs were exchanged all around. No more words needed to be said for everything had already been spoken. There were no loose ends - only hopes for the future and what it would bring. With final waves, both Buffy and Harry disappeared down the tarmac and left the seven people that loved the two more than anything standing alone in a place filled with so many.
"I hope that they'll be okay," Willow whispered as Xander draped an arm around her shoulder.
Sighing, Ron pulled Hermione close to his side, her muffled sobs shaking her shoulders as he stared hard at the door that had swallowed his best friend. Then, with a smile that transformed his face, he shrugged his broad shoulders before grinning at the others. "With Harry to keep Buffy out of trouble, I'm sure that they'll be smashing!"
"Smashing?" Xander asked, arching a brow at the teen as they began to lead the way to the exit, the girls falling into step beside them as the adults brought up the rear. "No, no, no - you mean cool. They're going to be cool," he explained as he rolled his eyes at the redhead. "And what do you mean, with Harry to keep Buffy out of trouble? I think that you're forgetting that he's in the company of a slayer: the savior of our world at least six times over!"
"Cool?" Ron asked, a frown pulling at his lips. "No, actually I think they'll most likely be quite warm. Isn't New Zealand supposed to have a more temperate climate than England? And you mean former slayer," he corrected with a knowing smile. "Now Harry, on the other hand..."
Ignoring the teens' banter, Remus cast a knowing glance at the men that stood on either side of him. Both wore matching anguished expressions and he found himself shaking his head ruefully at them both. After all, Harry wasn't Sirius' son and Buffy wasn't Giles' daughter, but both acted as though they had just lost their only child. Empty-nest syndrome, he was quite sure. Shaking his head, he quickly dropped an arm over both of their shoulders. "Somehow, my friends, I have a feeling that they both will be just fine."
A few months later...
Sighing contentedly, the sound of the nearby surf lulled Buffy into a state that was somewhere between waking and dreams, the hot sun beating down on her skin and making her want to purr like a kitten. Smiling, she rolled over on the soft blanket that was spread over the crystalline sand, hazel eyes dancing over to the boy that sat beside her, a look of firm concentration on his face. Curious, she pushed herself up until she was leaning on her elbow, pushing a golden wave of hair from her face as she looked at the pineapple that sat before him. A pineapple that lurched before it slowly lifted into the air and hovered a few inches above their blanket. "You're getting better," she murmured, breaking his concentration and sending the hard fruit thudding back to the blanket before him.
"I am," Harry agreed, adjusting his glasses as he smiled warmly at the girl that lay before him. She looked beautiful on their little deserted tropical beach, her skin bronzed by the sun's warmth and her smile serene. He didn't think that he had ever seen her look so relaxed or so... unburdened. Before, Buffy had always carried a weight on her shoulders, but now... "How do you feel?" he asked as he slowly stretched out, muscles rippling on his back as he moved beside her, propping his elbow so that they were lying side by side, faces nearly touching.
"Stronger, faster," Buffy murmured, a small smile playing at her lips as she gently lifted her free hand to trail it lightly over his face, dropping feather light caresses on his high cheeks and smooth brow. "Not as strong as before, but I'm getting there, day by day," she added before a playful frown pulled at her lips. "Although this time, no touchy-feely-gropey with my inner core," she stated, trying to look stern and failing miserably. "Last time I felt like we were trying to fry my synapses again, and I just know that Jarod would kick my butt if I did that again."
Attempting to school his features into one of solemn acceptance, Harry slowly nodded his head. "I promise. No more 'touchy-feely-gropey' with your inner slayer core... unless there's a dark, evil wizard that needs to be conquered," he amended as his hand easily caught hers before she could smack him for his words. Smiling, he gently pulled her hand to his lips and pressed a soft kiss against her skin. She tasted of salt. Green eyes meeting, Harry slowly pulled her hand away and allowed his smile to slip. "Should we go back?" he asked, knowing that the question needed to be asked. "The others miss us and I'm sure that someone somewhere could use our-"
"Not yet," Buffy broke in, silencing him with a few slender fingers pressed against his lips. "It's been my experience that the apocalypses tend to come on a yearly rotation, and since we've already fulfilled this year's quotient, we should be good to go for at least another six months," she said, her face so serious before a small smile lifted her lips. "Besides... let's just be Buffy and Harry for a little bit longer," she added as she closed the distance between them, sealing her softly spoken words with a kiss.