Note to Reader's, The Full Title is:
When It's Time to Change, You've Got to Re-Arrange, Who You Are and What You're Gonna Be
(The title also end's with a lot of Sha na na's, and if you understand this, you've must be as old as I am. LOL)
A/N: I suck…that's it…I just suck. Feel free to flog me for taking so long.
Revelations Don't Necessarily Mean the End of the World
A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold. Ogden Nash (1902 - 1971)
Be sure that it is not you that is mortal, but only your body. For that man whom your outward form reveals is not yourself; the spirit is the true self, not that physical figure which can be pointed out by your finger. Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)
Elizabeth sat quietly reading her second year Potions book, occasionally referencing an Herbology book that lay next to her on the couch. She knew that Severus was a little disappointed at her progress in his chosen profession, especially when compared to the other subjects she was studying; though he was pleased she was making an effort to understand it more fully than the majority of his students – especially one disaster by the name of Neville Longbottom.
She smiled at the memory of the young boy's latest catastrophe, one which had not only exploded in a spectacularly bright orange fashion, but crept around the room and up the walls, driving the students from the area. As he had gently escorted her from the room, Severus commented that it was like being inside a particularly revolting pumpkin, before promptly removing 50 points from Griffyndor.
With a laugh, Elizabeth went back to her studies.
Not a few minutes later, an eerie feeling flowed over her, followed quickly by images from the castle bombarding her mind. She gasped, dropping the book from her lap as she stood.
Summoning her cloak and veil, she quickly donned them and left the room running. Her friends were here to get her back…violently if necessary…and Severus just lit the fuse.
As she ran towards the Great Hall, she frantically called out to Dobby, who appeared immediately and began to follow her as best he could.
"Dobby! Can you take me to the Great Hall? Where the teacher's are sitting?" she asked quickly.
"Yes, Mistress Elizabeth," the small elf panted out.
Coming to a quick stop, Elizabeth scooped him up in her arms.
"As soon as you get me there, take yourself back to the kitchens," the young woman said.
"But…" the house-elf began to interrupt.
"There's nothing you can do to help, Dobby. This power is beyond you," Elizabeth explained gently. "Please hurry, Dobby!"
The small elf quickly complied, apparating them to the private entrance behind the teachers table, then quickly disappearing as instructed.
Elizabeth quickly ran through the entrance, only to see a ball of dark energy heading straight for the dark haired potions master.
"No!" she whispered harshly.
Without pausing in her stride, she pushed off and flipped over the table, landing in front of the immobile potions master, extending her hands outwards as if to block the swiftly moving object.
"Elizabeth, NO!" Snape shouted in a panicked voice, but it was too late – the ball of dark magic had already reached her, and he could only watch helplessly as it hit.
"Rupert? The ambulance is here…what are we going to tell them?" David asked softly, seeing the pained expression on his friend's face.
Giles pushed himself away from the wall then, running a hand down his face, he let out a tired breath.
"We'll just say that I lost something…my keys…and that the last time I knew I had them was when I had gotten off the train. We came back to look for them, and came across the unconscious bobby," Giles said swiftly, though his voice was strained.
After telling their fabricated story to the medics, they were quickly left alone as the ambulance rushed off to take their patient to the nearest hospice.
"Bloody hell, you're good," David said chuckling, though his face was a little pinched. "It must come from having lived on the Hellmouth for so long, and needing to explain things away to the locals."
"Mmmm," Giles said distractedly.
Giving his friend an intense look, David said softly, "I do hope you will explain this all to me, Rupert?"
"If I do, this cannot get back to the Council, David," Giles said harshly, pinning David with a fierce gaze.
"I'm retired, Rupert – I have no ties to the Council anymore, other than my daughter Lydia."
"And that may be one too many. Given what little information Xander gave me, no one at the Council must know, not even your daughter…not until I know exactly what's going on," Giles said seriously.
"You forget Rupert, Lydia met your Slayer when she still lived. We haven't had a chance to speak of it, so it may surprise you that her views of the Council and their autonomy have drastically changed – all due to that one brief encounter," David responded softly. "When she found out you had left Sunnydale, she did everything she could to be sent as your replacement. Lydia now only stays with the Council in hopes of eventually changing their archaic views of treating Slayers as only tools to be used however they please – an opinion I was never able to convince her to forgo prior to her meeting your Buffy."
Giles looked down at the ground in silence, his friend waiting patiently for him to respond. He took a deep breath before turning his gaze towards his friend, eyes fraught with turmoil.
"Buffy's alive, David."
"Elizabeth, NO!" Snape shouted in a panicked voice, but it was too late – the ball of dark magic had already reached her, and he could only watch helplessly as it hit…
…and stopped, after pushing the young woman back a couple of feet. Her body was held tensely as the ball swirled and twisted between her hands, trying to complete its trajectory…but she held fast.
Elizabeth turned to the armed group standing in the middle of the room, her gaze focused on one figure.
"Black magic, Willow?" she asked softly.
"Buffy?" Dawn whispered as she swayed in shock at recognizing the voice of her sister.
The hidden face turned towards the young brunette.
"Hello Dawnie," the cloaked woman said gently with a smile in her voice, before turning back to the black-haired woman who was glaring angrily at her. "This magic does not suit you Willow Rosenburg."
Elizabeth turned her face to the dark ball of magic that was spinning between her hands. Leaning her face forwards, she blew on it. A luminescent vapor flowed through her veil and onto the malevolent magic she held. The glow entered the dark swirling mist, rolling around its murky depths, mixing and changing the magic until it glowed with a radiant light.
"I release you from it," Elizabeth whispered, shoving the ball back to where it had originally come from.
The bright sphere hit the dark-haired woman, throwing her back several feet. As she hit the ground, a dark mist rose from her sprawled form, coalescing above her unconscious body into a dark, demonic shape.
There were screams from several children as the dense cloud opened its maws and let out a howl of rage before dissipating.
As the last bit of dark magic disappeared, a clamor of panicked voices broke out among the tables.
Xander dropped to his knees by the unconscious woman's side, whose hair was now red, and quickly placed his fingers on her neck. He breathed a sigh of relief when he felt her pulse beating strongly.
"Buffy?" Dawn choked out as she tentatively took a step forward, only to stop as the cloaked figure of her sister held up a hand.
Taking advantage of the children's distraction, Elizabeth turned towards the dark-haired potions master.
"Severus, could you to take my friends to where we can speak in private?" she asked quietly.
Snape swiftly moved around the table and approached her.
"Are you all right, Elizabeth? You're not hurt?" he asked fervently, gently grasping her shoulders. He peered into her eyes with a look of concern on his face.
"I am unharmed, Severus," she answered, placing a hand over one of his and giving it a squeeze. "Could you take my friends out of here? They won't harm anyone now. I'll join you shortly – I have to…do something first."
"Something?" Snape asked, an eyebrow rising in question.
"They must not…remember," Elizabeth responded reluctantly.
"Can you do that? All of them?!" he asked incredulously.
"Yes. Now go, Severus, before any of the children try to leave," she urged.
He hesitated a moment before giving her a sharp nod.
"I'll take them to the potions classroom," he said, then spun away and strode towards the small group who had invaded Hogwarts in search of their friend.
After he briefly spoke to them, the group reluctantly followed the dark-haired man who had levitated and taken their unconscious friend with him, but not without looking one last time towards Elizabeth.
Dawn was the last to leave, and only after the young woman reassured her that she would join them shortly.
While the other occupants of the Great Hall were busy gawking at the unknown group of people, Elizabeth had been busy asking the castle to block all the entrances from any others trying to leave, which was a good thing, as a few students had tried to slip out to contact their parents about what had just happened.
As they made their displeasure known in an extremely vocal manner, Elizabeth turned towards the Headmaster and gave him a small curtsey.
"It is almost time for us to meet, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, but this…this you must not know yet," Elizabeth said, her voice tinged with regret.
She lifted her wand, which she had subtly drawn from her cloak, above her head. A glow quickly surrounded her, almost blinding those who watched. With a whispered 'Obliviate', a massive light burst from the tip of her wand and swiftly spread across the room.
Dumbledore quickly said the counter-curse, but was stunned when it was gently swept aside by the young woman's spell. His last thoughts before the spell affected him, was amazement at the shear power Elizabeth held…and a spark of hope.
After quietly slipping through the opening the castle had created for her in one of the Great Hall's walls, Elizabeth quickly made her way towards the potions classroom. With the short-cuts the castle was creating for her, she knew she would easily catch up.
The last door she went through opened a short ways from the door to the potions classroom. But before she even turned towards it, she heard voices coming from down the hallway, in the direction the potions master and her friends would come from.
"What are these Muggles doing here, Snape?! Don't you know this violates several Ministry rules?" a gruff voice said sharply. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't report you to the Auror division."
"It's none of your concern, Moody, and you would be wise to forget their presence here," Snape snapped back.
"If you won't give me any answers, then I'll have to take them in to custody and get them myself," Moody growled. "Even as an ex-auror, I still hold the power to protect the wizarding world as I see fit, Snape!"
Elizabeth hurried towards where the voices were coming from.
"You'd regret it, Moody. These children are protected by someone you wouldn't want to mess with!"
"And who would that be, Snape? Dumbledore?" Moody drawled. "In matters of security, I hold more power than him. You may as well hand them over now, and save yourself the trouble."
"No, not the Headmaster," Snape smirked.
"Me," Elizabeth said firmly as she rounded the corner that had hidden the group from her eyes.
With a quick 'Stupify', Elizabeth knocked the odd-looking man unconscious.
After he had fallen to the floor, she quickly obliviated him, then called up a house-elf. Dobby personally answered.
"Great Googally Moogally!" Xander squawked, throwing himself back against a wall.
Elizabeth whispered instructions to the small creature, who nodded, then grabbed hold of the unconscious man and disappeared.
"Dobby's taking him to his quarters, and will leave him there to let the spell wear off," Elizabeth said to Snape, then gestured him to continue heading towards the potions room.
"Bu…," Dawn began, but was interrupted by the cloaked woman.
She gestured the group to follow.
Once they entered the potions room, they saw that the dark-haired man had placed their unconscious friend on a conjured mattress. Elizabeth quickly joined him as he was checking on the woman's condition.
"Will she be all right?" Snape asked.
"She will be unconscious for several hours, Severus – she had a considerable amount of power running through her, which was then ripped out. When I sent the magic back at her, it was to remove the dark power from her, and drive it away before it could harm anyone else. Her body is in quite a bit of shock, but she'll recover."
Snape nodded his head in understanding, and stood to face the quiet group who was halfway down the aisle of desks, looking at the young woman with hopeful expressions.
"Is it really you, Buffy?" Dawn whispered tearfully, taking a step towards the young woman.
Elizabeth removed her veil and pushed back the hood of her cloak.
"Hi Dawnie," she said softly, giving her sister a gentle smile.
"Buffy!" she sobbed, running towards her sister.
"No!" Buffy shouted, holding her hands out to stop the young teen from barreling into her. "Don't!"
Snape stepped in front of her, blocking the young teen from approaching his charge.
"Buffy?" the young brunette stopped in her tracks, a hurt look on her face. "Why won't you let me…we thought you were dead…we just found you…why can't I touch you? Why didn't you call us? Didn't you want to be with us anymore? With me?"
"I couldn't Dawnie…" Buffy began, but was interrupted by the upset young teen.
"You didn't, did you?! That's why you never called us, isn't it? You were given a new life away from the Hellmouth, and didn't want to come back…even for me," she sobbed as she ran back up the stairs towards the door of the room.
"Dawnie! I couldn't come back…not at first. I wasn't here!" Buffy called out desperately to her sister's fleeing back.
Her words made the young teen stop in her tracks, and she swung back to face her angrily.
"We thought you were dead! We had a body and everything!!" Dawn yelled. "Where were you that you couldn't let us know you were alive?! Where?!!"
While her sister was yelling at her, Buffy had maneuvered herself around Snape's protective form, and was struggling with the clasp of her cloak.
The dark-haired man, seeing her difficulty, helped her remove it, then stepped back with the cloak firmly in his hands. A sad look momentarily crossed his face before it went back to its normal bland expression.
"I was in a place where I had no way of contacting you, Dawnie," Buffy whispered painfully as she took a step towards her.
With that, her body began to glow and she unfurled her wings, stretching them out to their full width.
Dawn dropped to her knees, stunned.
"Oh God…" Xander choked out.
Giles sat quietly as David drove them back to his flat.
When they were finally ensconced in the small den, with well-filled snifters in hand, Giles broke his silence.
"She's alive, David…somehow she's alive."
"How is that possible? You saw her die…you had a body to bury," the man replied, confused.
"I-I don't know," Giles stuttered.
"Are you sure? Could your friend be wrong?"
Giles set his glass on the side table next to his chair and stood abruptly.
"…but we can find out. Do you have any maps, David?"
David stood and swiftly made his way to the other side of the desk in the mid-sized room. Setting his tumbler down, he quickly began opening drawers and pulling out the requested items.
The two men opened them up and spread them on the floor, moving furniture out of the way when necessary.
"Do you have anything that belonged to her? To use as the focus?"
"No, I don't," Giles looked crestfallen.
He sat heavily in one of the chairs, dropping his hands into his lap. As his head bent down in defeat, his eyes fell onto an onyx ring encircling the pinky finger of his right hand. His eyes widened, and he jumped up.
"We can use this!"
"But that belongs to you, Rupert…I don't think it will work."
"Yes, it will! The ring represents my duty towards her and, in a way, states that I belong to her!" Giles said as he twisted the ring off his finger with some difficulty.
Quickly tying the band to a length of twine, the two men began the process of elimination, unknowingly mirroring the actions of the Scooby gang. Though they had the advantage of knowing that Buffy was possibly in the UK, they still went through each map to confirm it.
"This doesn't make any sense!" Giles growled, running a hand through his hair. "They said she was here, the dousing confirms it…but why won't it pin her down to an exact location?! Xander said something about a hidden magical community…do you think that might have something to do with it?"
David was quiet, looking slightly uncomfortable.
Having caught his friend's expression, Giles pinned him with a fierce gaze. "You know something! Tell me!"
"Tell me, dammit! She's my Slayer, David!" the younger man shouted.
"The Council extracted my promise to not speak of it when I accidentally found out, Rupert…"
"You said you don't have any more ties with them!" he growled, before continuing with a fierce whisper, "She's like a daughter to me, David…please…"
Seeing the pained expression on his friend's face, the ex-Watcher sighed, shaking his head. "Very well…but it goes no further than this room, understand?"
Giles gave him a sharp nod.
David took a moment to gather his thoughts, then began to speak.
"There is a magical community, one with which the Watcher's Council was once aligned…"
The older man told what he knew, but considering that the Watcher's Council no longer had any contact with said magical community, the information was both old and sparse.
"That's all I know…I swear, Rupert. It's been a very long time since there was any contact between our two organizations – I don't think anyone even knows how to reach them anymore…I'm sorry."
Giles wiped a hand down his face. "Then I suppose we can only wait for the children to contact us again."
David shook his head sadly. "If they survive."
"What do you mean?!" Giles said fiercely, his head whipping up to glare his friend.
"They forced their way in, Rupert…using dark magic…how do you think their Ministry will react?"
"Oh God…" Xander choked out.
"Not quite, Xander," Buffy said with a small smile before turning back to her sister. "Dawnie…I'm sorry."
Dawn sobbed, sitting back and pulling her legs up in front of her. She wrapped her arms around them, her tears falling onto the denim to leave dark wet stains.
"You died…you really did – I thought…you were here…we found you…I thought you left…but you really did die," the young teen whispered brokenly into her lap.
"Oh Dawnie," Buffy whispered gently, moving up the steps to where her sister sat crying softly.
As the blonde woman passed a silent and, for once, subdued Spike, he could smell her unique scent…and something else...something that caused a deep yearning within his demon. He swallowed past a lump in his throat as he realized that it really was her…and that she was now even further from his already far reach.
Buffy knelt on the step below the one her sister sat on.
"It's really me, Dawn…though I didn't know it until almost two weeks ago," the blonde woman said gently. "But explanations can wait…I think you need something else right now."
Dawn looked up to see Buffy reaching out a glowing hand to her. As the teen desperately went to grasp it, her sister pulled back a little.
"Gently, Dawn...I'll explain later, but my sense of touch is a little tender right now."
The young brunette tentatively reached out again, and softly grasped her sister's outstretched hand – her eyes closed in pain as she sobbed again, finally being able to physically confirm that Buffy was really there.
Buffy moved up to the same step, and gently wrapped her arms around the stricken teen. The younger girl clung to her hand like it was a life-line, and dropped her head into Buffy's lap. The gossamer wings curled to engulf the two girls in a warm glowing embrace, as Buffy stroked Dawn's hair, making soothing noises to the crying teen.
Xander scrubbed at his eyes with his sleeve, sniffling at the highly emotional scene. Yeah, he was a guy…but who wouldn't cry when they found out their friend…their family was still alive. His world felt right again.
Dawn's weeping eventually tapered down, allowing Buffy to finally greet her best friend…someone who was also in need of reassurance. The two girls rose from their place on the steps, and descended to where Xander stood shuffling uncertainly, hands shoved in his pockets.
"Hey Buff," the dark-haired young man said with a rough voice, giving her a longing look.
"I won't break, Xand…just be gentle," Buffy said, holding out her arms to him.
With a muffled sob, Xander stepped into her embrace, gently clinging to her in desperation. Even though everything had pointed to her being alive…even seeing her with his own eyes...he still had had his doubts – doubts which were finally driven away in the warmth of her arms. He sobbed again.
"Shhhh…it's OK, Xand…I'm really here," Buffy said soothingly, stroking his back.
"I thought I lost you for good, Buff...we…I…why didn't you come back?" Xander asked, his voice choked with emotion.
"In a minute, Xand," Buffy said as she stepped back, releasing her best-friend from her embrace. Holding his hand, she continued, "There's someone else who needs me right now."
Buffy looked over at the quiet blonde man sitting on a stool at one of the desks in the front of the room. Xander's expression hardened slightly.
The blonde woman reached out a hand and placed her fingers over his mouth, silencing him.
"Look at what I am, Xander, and know that I see who he truly is…what he has become. His past is filled with pain and violence – but his present and future can be different…if we help him. He has changed, Xand…and in him, you can find another friend, but only if you allow yourself to," Buffy said softly as she touched the young man's cheek. "Help him, Xander…for me."
Xander hesitated a moment before he slowly nodded his head. "I'll try."
Buffy smiled at him as she dropped her hand. She turned to the blonde vampire who sat with hunched shoulders, silently withdrawn from the close-knit group. Smiling slightly, she quietly walked over to him.
"Hey, pet…see you got some new accessories," the blonde haired man blithely said, waving at her still-present wings. He was kind of surprised that her presence didn't hurt him, much less kill him…especially given what he was.
"Of course my presence won't hurt or kill you, Spike," Buffy said knowingly.
"Wha…?" Spike said, a surprised expression crossing his face.
Buffy leaned forward, her face just inches from his, and captured his eyes with her own.
"Because I accept who and what you have become. Know this…if you continue on the path you have chosen freely…you will one day be welcomed among us."
Spike looked stunned at her words.
The blonde woman reached out and cupped his cheek.
"Your journey will be a long one, my friend, but I have been allowed to bestow a gift upon you," Buffy said softly as she raised herself up on her toes to place a kiss on his forehead. "You are welcomed you back into the light."
The blonde woman reached out to remove the large cloak Spike was still wrapped up in. Turning towards the front of the room, she captured Severus' attention and gestured him to uncover one of the windows. The dark-haired man nodded sharply and, pulling out his wand, spoke a word as he gestured at a window. The drapes pulled back and the window opened, spilling the bright afternoon sun into the dark, dank room.
Buffy gently grasped Spike's hands and drew him up off the stool and towards the beam of light. He reluctantly let her draw him closer to something that was a major anathema to his kind. He hesitated at the edge of the brightness, giving her an uncertain look.
"Trust me, Spike," she said gently, capturing his eyes with her calm gaze.
Never letting his eyes wander from hers, he took a step forward…into the light.
He looked down at their clasped hands. Upon seeing the light flowing over his fingers and causing no harm, his body began to slightly shake. He closed his eyes and lifted his head to let the sunlight grace his features.
A tear leaked out from under his lids as he spoke.
"How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen,
What old December's bareness everywhere!"
Buffy watched as the vampire struggled to regain control of his runaway emotions. She cupped his cheek and smiled at him when he opened his eyes again.
"In the beginning there was nothing. God said, 'Let there be light!' And there was light," she said gently, then gave him a quirky grin. "There was still nothing, but you could see it a whole lot better.
Spike barked out a laugh. Using his free hand, he swiped away the moisture from his eyes.
"You may be all winged and glowy now, but you still have your sense of humor, eh pet?" he said, giving her a grateful look.
"I'm still me, Spike, just a little…different now," Buffy responded smilingly.
Dawn and Xander approached the two – the young teen was beaming at Spike through her tears.
"Sunlight looks good on you, Spike," Dawn grinned at him.
"Feels good too, nibblet."
Xander stuck his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet. He gave the vampire a fleeting smile, "Figures you'd get sunlight-friendly in a country where it rains all the time."
Spike snorted in amusement. "Actually…it's fitting. This is the same country where sunlight was taken away from me – well, at least the same continent."
"Well…welcome back to the Land of Light," the younger man said with a quirky grin.
"Someone's been watchin' too much Stargate," Spike said, giving him a slight smile as he shook his head. "Am I gonna hafta take away your DVD's?"
"You can try, Deadboy Junior," Xander responded, giving him a slightly challenging look.
"Nah…it's better than the Star Trek quotes."
Xander hesitated a moment then tentatively stuck out his right hand. "In any case, it'll be good to have another guy on the team who can watch out for Dawnie during the daytime."
"It'll be good to be there, Whel…Xander," Spike responded solemnly as he took the younger man's hand.
As the two men shook hands, Buffy looked around for the last member from Sunnydale. She caught sight of Anya a few feet away from the silent potions master – her arms were wrapped around her waist as she stared at the ground, a sad expression on her face.
"Anya," Buffy called out to her softly.
The young woman cringed, but didn't look up. Buffy walked over to her, briefly detouring to the expressionless potions master.
Placing a hand on his arm, she asked him, "Severus, would you please make a little sitting area for us here? I don't think Spike is quite ready to leave the sunlight yet, and I have a lot of explaining to do."
"Of course, Elizabe…Bu…" Snape stumbled over what name to use for his charge.
Buffy smiled at him as she raised her hand to touch his cheek. "I'm still your Elizabeth, Severus."
Severus' gave her a small smile. He nodded his head and moved to where the group from Sunnydale was standing, taking a moment to check on the unconscious woman first.
Buffy moved to stand in front of the ex-Vengeance Demon.
"Anya," she said softly. When the older woman didn't respond, Buffy sighed softly. "Oh Anya…I have wronged you in so many ways."
Anya's head shot up as she gave the blonde woman an incredulous look. "Wha…?"
"I've closed you out for so long that you don't feel like you belong with us…that you aren't part of our group. I'm so sorry."
"I-it's OK…" the woman began.
"No it's not, Anya. You've changed so much over the last year, and I refused to see it. I can only hope you can forgive me for not being more open with you…more welcoming," Buffy said softly.
Anya gave her an uncertain smile.
"I hope we can change that in the future…become friends," the blonde woman said quietly.
"I-I'd like that, Buffy," Anya said hopefully.
Buffy stepped a little closer to the woman, and gave her a tentative hug, which was returned just as hesitantly.
When they stepped back from the hug, they exchanged smiles.
Buffy lowered her voice so that Anya was the only one to hear her next words.
"It will be some time before we can strengthen our friendship Anya…I won't be going back yet."
"I'll be explaining to everyone in a few minutes, Anya, but I need you to promise me something," Buffy said as she grasped the other woman's hand. "I need you to take care of Dawnie for me – not as a guardian, I'll be asking someone else to do that. I just need you to…be her friend…the other female of the group – I don't think Willow's going to be able to be there for her…she has too many problems to take care of. Can you do that for me?"
Anya hesitantly answered, "I-I don't think I'd be that good…"
"Yes you can…don't be afraid of your human side, Anya. Give her a hug when she looks like she needs one…let her know that she can talk to you…just be there for her."
Buffy gave her another hug, then drew her towards the rest of the group who were now sitting on couches that Severus had transfigured. The potions master, himself, stood a couple of feet away from the area.
When she drew close enough to him, Snape said, "I'll leave you and your friends to your…discussion, Elizabeth."
She placed a hand on his arm to stop him from moving away. "Please stay, Severus."
He hesitated a moment, then gave her a reluctant nod, then watched in silent awe as she allowed her wings to retract into her body, and the glow surrounding her dim – he may have seen it happen before, but it was a sight that no one…no human…could ever get used to.
Buffy pulled him to the couch that was more in the shadows, knowing that he preferred the darkness that allowed him to hide himself to some degree…something she hoped would change in him some day. Buffy sat next to him, and Dawn quickly took the space next to her, and carefully curled up to her, grasping her sister's hand.
On the couch opposite, Spike sat in the sunniest spot, watching in fascination as the light played over his body, leaving Anya and Xander to take the other two places next to him.
Tearing his gaze from his sunlit hands, Spike quirked an eyebrow at the blonde woman across from him and asked, "Care to let us in on what's the what, Slay…Buffy?"
"He knows everything, Spike…you don't have to watch what you say," Buffy responded, giving the vampire a smile. "I guess introductions should be the first order of business."
The young blonde quickly introduced everyone.
"So can I call ya Sev?" Xander quipped.
Buffy lightly smacked the potions master on the arm. "Be nice, Severus."
Snape rolled his eyes, causing Dawn to snicker.
With a small smile of her own, Buffy said, "Xander, calling him 'Sev' is like one of us calling you 'Alex'…it's Severus' preference to be addressed by his full name."
"Got it. Note to self…do not shorten the name of someone who can turn me into a really small animal that can be stepped on," Xander joked, flashing a small grin in the dark-haired man's direction.
Snape returned the gesture with an amused nod.
"So Slayer…care to tell us why you were sent here instead of back to Sunnyhell?" Spike asked, his curiosity overriding his patience.
Buffy's amusement fell away as a solemn expression took its place.
"I think…I think we need to explain how it happened first, Spike, and Severus is the only one here who knows that. Severus?"
The potions master hesitated a moment, then began to tell the tale of just how Elizabeth had arrived in the Wizarding world, carrying the story through until the young woman had regained consciousness. Buffy picked up the story at that point and, with a few interjections by Snape, finished it through the Scoobies' appearance at Hogwarts.
Everyone was silent for a moment as they let the information soak in.
"So…" Xander began slowly, "…you're telling me that we buried a bench."
Spike let out a snort of amusement. "Out of everything, that's the first thing you came up with?"
"I'm just having a hard time getting over the fact that we had a funeral for Pinocchio-etta," Xander said, floundering.
The blonde vampire rolled his eyes before turning back to Buffy, "So…why here, Slayer?"
"Because they need me," Buffy responded softly. "And before you ask…I don't know what for yet."
"Then you're not coming home yet, are you?" Dawn asked tearfully.
"I'm afraid not, Dawnie," the blonde haired woman replied regretfully as she stroked her sister's hair softly. "To be honest, I don't know how long I'll be here."
"Can I stay too?" the young teen looked up at her with a hopeful expression.
"I'm afraid that's not possible, Dawnie. Other than Severus and the house-elves, no one else knows who or what I am…your being here would cause too many question to be asked, and make me more vulnerable than I already am."
"But what about the Hellmouth, Buff…you're needed there too – the Buffybot was trashed, and the bad guys now know that Sunnydale is unprotected," Xander said in a worried tone.
"He's telling the truth, pet…only Red's use of dark mojo kept the city from becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet a few days ago – we try to do what we can, but a Slayer's needed to keep a lid on things," Spike interjected.
"Elizabeth is still too vulnerable – if she returned with you, she would only go back to die…again," Snape said flatly.
The Scoobies stared at him in disbelief.
"He's telling the truth – at the moment, I couldn't fight off a fluffy kitten if I wanted too," Buffy said ruefully.
"But you're getting better, right?" Xander asked anxiously. "And as soon as you do, you can come back…"
What part of 'she's needed here' don't you understand?" Snape bit out.
"But she's needed back in Sunnydale too!" Xander countered angrily. "Buffy's the only person who can keep the vampires and demons under control, not to mention the fact that she has a little sister to take care of – and we're her friends…we need her too. You're practically asking us to cut off our right arm…"
"You need…they need…everyone needs!" Snape snapped out. "What about what Elizabeth needs!"
"Buffy needs to be with us!" the dark-haired man shouted back.
"So she can die for you again?! Your words speak deeply of your selfishness!"
Xander jumped up from the couch, fists clenched as he glared at the other man.
"And you're not?! The only reason Buffy would be needed here, is as the Slayer – and you're asking her to die for a world that she has no ties to!" he countered scathingly.
Snape swiftly stood, towering over the younger man as he bit out, "I did not ask that she be sent here! She was placed in our care by a higher power! The only thing I ask of her is to get well…and to allow me to protect her as she asked me to do!"
The two men broke off their glares and turned to where the shout came from. They quickly took a step backward at the fury emanating from the small blonde – the glow surrounding her pulsed in time with her anger.
"Buffy…" Xander began hesitantly.
"Sit down, Xander," Buffy responded firmly.
"You too, Severus."
The smirk was wiped from his face as a look of uncertainty flashed through his eye. Buffy laid a calming hand on his forearm and gave him a slight smile.
When the two men reclaimed their seats, Buffy moved to stand at the end of the couches in the space between the two.
She took a moment to gather her thoughts, then began to speak.
"I was allowed to be brought back for several reasons…some I know, some I have yet to find out. If those reasons didn't exist, I would have stayed where I was… at least until Willow's spell ripped me from there," Buffy pinned the younger man with a knowing gaze, "Could you have lived with that, Xander? Knowing you took me from my peace?"
"You can't have everything your way, Xand. I am needed here…much more than I am back in Sunnydale. And, as far as I know…it's not to die for anyone."
"But what about the people you're supposed to protect there? It's going to end up a slaughterhouse!"
"And what about the people here? Did you even see the room full of children when you burst in? They are the future of this world, and I was sent here to help protect that future."
"The Powers are not asking me to exchange one life for another, Xander…you forget, I'm not the only Slayer," Buffy interrupted softly.
"Wha…? Oh no…nonononono!" Xander said frantically waving his hands in front of him. "And can I say an elephant-sized NO! She's majorly wacked! And you want her to take your place?"
"People change, Xander."
"She's had nothing to do but think for the past two years…and decide how she would change when she gets out. It's time for her to put her thoughts into actions."
"I'll help her," Anya said quietly.
"Ahn?" Xander said, looking at his girlfriend in surprise.
"I think I'm the only one here that would really understand how hard it is to change…" Anya responded, ducking her head shyly.
Buffy smiled softly in the ex-Vengeance Demon's direction.
"And she can live with me," Dawn offered.
"Are you sure, Dawnie?" Buffy asked, surprised that her sister would offer something like that, considering that the last time she was around, the dark-haired Slayer had threatened their mother.
"She'd be much better than Willow is now," the brunette teen scowled in the direction of the unconscious red-head. "And Spike can stay there too…we'll have a house full of second-chancers."
"And Giles," the blonde woman said smilingly as she re-took her seat.
"Giles? But he moved back to England, Buff…after you…" Xander trailed off.
"I know," Buffy responded with a grimace. "But who else can get everyone started on the right track. Besides, it'll only be temporary…just until Dawnie can pass her GED so she can come out here in the summer."
"Really?!" Dawn squealed.
"Yeah, brainiac…you're already taking some Junior-level courses, so it should be a cinch for you to graduate early. You're going to have to study hard in a short period of time, you know, but I'm sure Spike and Giles will get you through it. Think you can do it?"
Dawn got a stubborn look on her face as she nodded emphatically. "If it gets me here sooner, you know I will."
Buffy stroked her sister's cheek as she smiled at her. Turning back to her best-friend, she gave him a serious look.
"Can you give Faith a chance, Xan? She's going to need all the support she can get."
Xander let out a heavy sigh as he said, "Yeah, I can…God knows we all had our moments when we needed a second chance – myself included. How's she going to get sprung, though? Her term isn't exactly up, Buff."
"Her age, and the fact that she was put into an adult facility without a trial or legal counsel," Buffy stated confidently. "I'm sure the Watcher's Council has some really aggressive lawyers who can use that to their advantage."
They all looked agog at her.
"What? I can use my brain when I need too."
Dawn snorted, causing Buffy to smack her in the arm.
"Be nice, Dawn…I'm learning magic, you know."
The brunette teen gulped.
Snape chuckled, "Magic usually runs in the family, Elizabeth – considering she is made from you, it is highly likely she is a witch also…and, if your sister is as intelligent as you say, she may quickly surpass you in that regard."
Dawn perked up. "I have magic too?"
The dark-haired potions master pulled out his wand. Quickly muttering a spell, he pointed it at the young teen. A soft red glow lit the end of the wand, then sputtered out after Snape ended the spell.
"Cool!" Dawn grinned before turning a sly smile towards her sister. "You were saying?"
"I was saying that, if you aren't nice, I'll turn you into a frog before you even have a chance to pick up a wand, much less learn any magic," Buffy countered with a smug smile.
"No, I only do that when I want to call on a Vengeance Demon."
Snape looked at the people on the other couch, "Are they always like this?"
Xander gave him a rueful smile, "No…they're usually much worse."
"Hey!" Buffy and Dawn yelped.
"Just for that, I'm gonna start butchering the English language whenever I talk to you, buster," Buffy scowled at the man at her side, poking a finger into his chest.
Gently grabbing her offending appendage, Snape smoothly replied, "Not if your vocal cords are missing, my dear Elizabeth."
Buffy gaped at him as everyone laughed.
"Hey Buff…did you know you've got a slight British accent now? Should we start giving you tea for your birthday?" Xander said with a grin.
"Spike could teach you how to say 'Bloody Hell' properly," Dawn giggled.
"And we could even ask the Watcher to send you some tweed outfits, pet," Spike chuckled evilly.
"You guuuuys!" Buffy pouted. "This is all your fault, Severus!"
"Isn't payback a lovely thing, Elizabeth?" Snape arched an eyebrow at her, as his lips twitched.
Buffy glared at him.
"Speaking of ol' Rupes, Buffy…what do you want us to tell him?" Spike asked, turning the conversation back to their original topic. "He knows you're alive…I had the Whel…Xander call him when Red was distracted."
The blonde woman sighed heavily. "Everything is going to depend on him, Spike. I need him…I need all of you…to continue on as if I was still…gone. The Council can't know I'm back, or they'll expect me to pick up right where I left off…I can't do that – and right now, the Council is high up on my 'to destroy' list."
"What did they do now?" Xander asked grimly.
"Slayers come from wizarding families, Xander, and for the past thousand years, the Council has denied all the potentials their rightful place in this world, not to mention magic as another weapon to fight with."
"What?!" all the Scoobies said in shock.
Buffy nodded her head. "And not just the potentials, but hundreds of Watcher's too. Severus put together a list of students, within the last fifty years, who had their Hogwarts letters rejected by someone connected to the Council of Watchers…I recognized several names of my predecessors from the Watcher's diaries I've read. I'm assuming that, even though there's a school in the U.S. now, potential Slayers receive their letters from Hogwarts, due to the Watcher's Council being located in England, and the fact that they're still in charge of the Slayer line."
"But how do you know that Watchers got the shaft too?" Xander asked, his face pinched as an ugly thought niggled in the back of his mind.
Buffy gave him a pained look.
"Rupert was listed, wasn't he, pet?" Spike asked softly.
The Scoobies sat there silently for a moment, each of them thinking about the wonderful man they knew, and how he was denied a part of his heritage.
"How could they do that?" Dawn said as she sniffed tearfully.
"Power, nibblet," Spike responded, exchanging a knowing glance with Buffy. "It's all about the power – who has it, and who will be denied it. I bet you anything that only those who are highest up in the Council…and those who are being molded to take their place…have been allowed to attend this school. Rupes told me he was considered a 'bad seed' from the start – it's only natural that they would have kept kicking him down…denying him the means to gain any power that could threaten their methods. Hell…they sent him to Sunnydale with the thought that he'd die quickly, right alongside the Slayer here – that should tell you something."
"He needs to know," Xander said softly.
"Yeah," Buffy said softly. "Which is why I'm only going to ask him to stay in Sunnydale temporarily…both he and Dawn can come back here and learn together. I need him to help Dawnie finish High School, in case she wants to attend a regular university at some point."
"After learning magic, I doubt it," Dawn replied emphatically.
"It's not an option, Dawn…you graduate, and take the SATs, or you don't get to come this summer," Buffy responded firmly.
Dawn whined. "But I've only got a little over two months, Buffy!"
"Don't worry, nibblet…I'll help. Took 'em myself about a decade ago, and got a 1430…not too shabby as I hear it," Spike offered.
Everyone stared at him.
"What? So I was bored one weekend," the blonde vampire muttered, slightly blushing.
"Didn't you get a 1430 too, Buffy?" Dawn asked, a giggle bubbling up from her throat.
"Does that mean you're going to be a vampire when you grow up?" Xander snickered, also finding the humor in the situation.
"Funny, guys…funny," Buffy said as shook her head in amusement. A moment later, she stiffened.
"Elizabeth?" Snape asked in a worried tone.
"They've been found," she whispered. "The aurors were looking for them, and followed their trail here."
"Your friends?" the dark-haired man asked swiftly.
At her nod, Snape abruptly stood. "You must leave now! Your friend must have triggered the alarms when she opened the door to the Wizarding world."
"Uh…it might have something to do with hijacking the Hogwarts Express, too," Xander said uncomfortably.
Snape stared at him agog for a moment, then shook himself out of his surprise. "You must tell me that story some day, Mr. Harris. But, if you don't want to place Elizabe…Buffy in danger, you cannot be found here."
"I'm all for not getting arrested by the magic bobbies, but where can we go…Willow's the one that got us here."
The potions master stalked over to his desk and grabbed a blank piece of parchment.
Turning back to the nervous group, he barked out, "Where did you enter from?"
"Um…a place called Kings Cross at the train station in London."
Nodding his head, Snape quickly spoke a spell over the parchment, then rolled it up and tucked it into his robes.
"Come! Say your good-byes quickly!" the older man barked out.
"Buffy?" Dawn whispered.
"It's time for you to go, Dawnie…it'll only be for a couple of months. I'll try and write to you, OK?" the blonde woman answered softly as she hugged her sister.
Buffy and Xander quickly exchanged a tearful hug.
"Xand, just let Giles know what about what happened with me, OK? I'll send him a letter in a few hours and tell him about…" Buffy trailed off.
"Got it, Buff…wasn't looking forward to explaining that one, myself." Xander said, relieved.
She gave him another quick hug before turning to the potions master.
"Can you find out where they are, Elizabeth? I need to take your friends outside the wards surrounding Hogwarts for the portkey to work, preferably into the forest on the east side, where they won't be seen."
Buffy nodded and closed her eyes. After several seconds, she spoke, "A few are on the main floor at the south entrance, some are on the second floor, north…the rest are in the Headmaster's office…which faces east."
"Can we go west?" Xander asked, giving a confused look at Buffy as he wondered how she knew all that.
"Lake," Buffy and Snape said at the same time.
"Most of the Headmaster's windows are too high, Elizabeth…the only one they could possibly see out of is the one on the observation level," the potions master said.
"I'll take care of it," Buffy said calmly.
Snape nodded sharply, then grabbed some robes hanging inside the door of his office. He handed them to Scoobies.
"Put these on…you should be able to pass for some of the older students," the dark-haired man said shortly before heading over to the unconscious red-head with the last robe.
He covered her as best he could, then whispered the charm to levitate her, following Buffy as she stepped through an opening that the castle had made for her – the others quickly followed.
It only took a few turns and one flight of stairs for the group to reach the castle-made exit on the east side. Snape strode through immediately, but the Scoobies paused for one last good-bye to Buffy, until only Xander was left.
"Xand…tell Giles that Willow opened up a door she won't be able to close completely again," Buffy said solemnly.
"Will she be OK?" he asked worriedly.
"She'll be fine…if she guards that door and doesn't allow the dark magic to enter again."
"OK…that made the kind of sense that's not."
"Giles will understand, Xander…now go."
"I love you, Buff…you know that, right?" Xander said softly.
"And I love you right back, Xand-man," Buffy said tearfully.
She gave him one last hug, then pushed him outside, watching as he trotted to catch up with the rest of the group.
"The trail leads here, I tell you!" Fudge growled.
Headmaster Dumbledore paused for a long moment, as if thinking.
"I assure you, Minister, there is no one currently within the castle walls that isn't supposed to be here…I do have a connection with Hogwarts, you understand, as have all Headmasters before me," Albus said calmly.
"You're positive?" one of the aurors asked.
"What about this Miss Elizabeth I've heard about?" Fudge interrupted before the Headmaster could answer the auror's question.
"Miss Elizabeth has been given permission to stay here due to medical necessity, Minister. As you know, as Headmaster, I am allowed to grant permission for someone to stay within the confines of Hogwarts, regardless of their lack of association to the educational premise of this castle."
"Just who is she, Albus…you have to admit her presence here is unusual."
"Miss Elizabeth's identity is for her alone to reveal if she wishes, Minister, and that is all I can say on the subject. She is causing no harm, has very little interaction with the students, and, as far as I am aware, has nothing to do with whoever you are looking for," Albus stated firmly.
Fudge felt like he was getting the run-around, but there was nothing to be done. Other than approaching the Board of Governors, more than half of which were Dumbledore supporters, his hands were tied. Even if he could somehow prod them into action, it was likely that the mysterious woman would be long gone by then…it was a known fact that the school's governors were notoriously slow-acting, unless someone was in immediate danger, such as the situation with the Basilisk almost two years ago.
"Very well, Albus…but I hope you don't mind if my people take a look around?"
"As you wish, Minister, but I would suggest you stay away from the North Tower if possible," Dumbledore said.
"Trouble?" one of the aurors asked.
"No, no…but I'm afraid Sibyll is in one of her frightful moods. You are welcome to search the tower, though you should be prepared to have your death predicted quite…colorfully."
One of the younger aurors must have been a recent graduate who had taken Divinations, because he chuckled before covering it up with a cough at the curious looks from his older co-workers.
"I'll…keep that in mind, Albus," Fudge said confusedly before he gestured for the aurors to follow.
Once they closed the door behind them, Albus let out a soft chuckle – he'd have to remember to ask Sibyll of her predictions about the Minister and his people…it should prove to be an entertaining topic that would last through supper.
"Oh my God…remind me never to take that mode of transportation again! I think I'm gonna hurl every meal I've had in the last week," Xander moaned.
"And that, alone, tells me you are very much a Muggle, Mr. Harris," Snape said in mild amusement. "Though it surprises me that Ms. Emerson and Mr…Spike had no adverse effects – which leads me to believe that there is something unusual about them."
"Vampire here…though recently modified," Spike said offhandedly.
"Ah, yes – a magical creature, then. And Ms. Emerson?"
The woman gave him a nervous smile as she said, "Ex-Vengeance Demon."
Snape stared at her in surprise. "We haven't seen one of your kind in a thousand years."
"I said Ex…Ex-Vengeance Demon. I'm human now…a fertile, pretty, PMS-prone female human who is capable of having lots of sex," Anya babbled anxiously.
The dark-haired man's mouth dropped slightly open in shock at her words.
"Yes, yes…my previous co-workers stopped coming to your world because you kept turning them into strange animals," she continued prattling.
"I think he gets the idea that you're no longer a Vengeance Demon, Ahn," Xander said soothingly as he wrapped an arm around his nervous girlfriend.
Dawn giggled, as she leaned towards the potions master. "Mouth closed is more dignified, Professor Snape."
Snape's mouth snapped shut as he turned towards the teen. "Is she always so…"
"Blunt? Yeah, but we've all kinda gotten used to it. She's still adjusting to being a human again after 1100 years of being in the Vengeance business," Dawn said with a fond smile at the older woman.
"1100…" Snape trailed off in surprise.
"She looks good for her age," Dan giggled.
"Apparently so," he responded ruefully. "I must return to Hogwarts. Will you be able to find your way from here?"
"Yeah…we'll call Giles and let him know we're OK, and take it from there," Xander said. "Can you just…um…put Willow over there?"
Xander waved a hand at a nearby bench in the remote section of the train depot they had appeared in.
Snape gently lowered the red-head onto the flat surface before removing the robe from around her. The other Scoobies handed them their own robes.
An awkward moment followed before Xander broke the uncomfortable silence.
"Take care of her, OK? Buffy's…special – not only in her calling, but to many people."
"You have my word, Mr. Harris," Snape said sincerely.
Xander nodded his head at the older man, and watched him disappear into thin air.
"Right then…who's got some change so we can call the Watcher?" Spike said, ready to get going.
Everyone busied themselves by digging into their pockets.
The ringing of Giles' cell-phone broke the two men out of their reverie – they had been anxiously waiting to hear from the children they had spent the past several hours worrying about.
Fumbling the small mobile phone with shaking hands, Giles was finally able to press the correct button to accept the call. He lifted it unsteadily to his ear.
"H-hello?" Giles stuttered.
"Oh, thank God, Xander! Where are you? Are all of you OK? Is…is Buffy…is she s-still…" the Watcher broke off, dreading to hear a negative answer.
"In order, Kings Cross station again…yes, kinda….and…and…" Xander broke off as he choked on a lump in his throat before finally whispering, "yes."
His face crumpling, the phone slipped from Giles' nerveless fingers as he dropped his head into his hands, letting out a sob.
A faint 'Giles? Giles?' could be heard as David picked the phone up from the floor. "Xander? Xander Harris? This is David, a friend of Rupert's – he's a little…caught up in his emotions right now. But I can't tell whether or not you found out good information."
"Yeah…yeah, we did," a young male voice came over the line. "We need to see him…Giles. Where are you?"
David quickly gave him his address, repeating it a few times to make sure the young man had it down correctly. Once they had hung up, he turned to the man who was one of his oldest friends.
"Rupert? Rupert…the children will be here in less than a half-an-hour. Why don't you go upstairs – take a shower, and get into some fresh clothes."
Giles lifted up his head, swiping roughly at his tears as he said in a tremulous voice, "She's alive, David…alive."
"I heard, and if you don't want to look like hell when your children arrive, you'll do as I suggest."
Rising on shaky legs, Giles moved towards the stairs. Before he began his ascent, he turned and said, "Not a word to them, David…promise me."
"You have my promise, Rupert…it's apparent that there are greater powers at work here, and there must be a very, very important reason, if the Council was not made aware of her return."
With a sharp nod, Giles climbed upwards with renewed strength.
A short while later, he returned to the main level, looking much better, if you managed to ignore the strain around his eyes.
The two men waited quietly, listening to the hall clock tick away the seconds…then the minutes.
At the sound of a car pulling up into the driveway, the two men shot to their feet, and hurried to the door. Giles pulled it open so roughly, it shuddered in its hinges. Both men stepped out onto the porch to watch the people exiting the black cab.
Giles quickly counted heads and realized that, if you discounted Spike, he was still one person short of his usual number – not to mention the fact that one of them was unconscious, and being carried by Spike. The late afternoon sun shone off her red hair…Willow.
The sun…sun! Spike…in the sun! Giles stood there in shock as he watched the blonde vampire stroll easily up to where the two men were gaping at the vampire standing in the sun and not being burnt to a crisp.
Too many thoughts were turning over in Giles' head, and he felt faint.
"Giles!" Dawn shouted with a sob as she threw herself at the British man.
Giles' arms automatically wrapped around the young girl as she sobbed into his chest.
"Dawn," he whispered, bowing to place a cheek on the top of her head.
"Care to invite us in, Watcher? Red's appearance is deceptive…she's not exactly as light as she looks, you know," Spike said flippantly.
The Watcher looked up, surprised again to see sunlight playing over the blonde man's features.
He loosened his hold on the young teen, but didn't let go as he said, "How…? Are you still…?"
"A vampire? Chipped? Yes to both, if it makes any difference."
"All in good time, Watcher…now, the invite? Or do I just drop her right here on the doorstep and let you drag her in?"
"Is she OK?" Giles finally shook himself from his shock, surprise, and generally overwhelmed feelings to take in the fact that one of his children was unconscious.
"Red'll be fine…just in a little shock over havin' the dark mojo bitch-slapped from her system. She should wake up soon – at least according to Bu…"
"Not here!" David said sharply. "Inside, where other ears cannot hear."
"Is that an invite?"
"Yes, yes…come in Spike. I've heard enough about you to know you are quite different than you used to be," David said waving him in.
"Much obliged," Spike said as he nodded his head at the other gentleman before hefting Willow up higher in his arms and walking into the flat.
Before Giles could even think of moving, Xander and Anya grabbed him in a hug from both sides. He could feel them trembling.
"Getting squished here!" Dawn squeaked from the center of the group hug.
Chuckling, the others broke apart, allowing the teen to breath easier.
"We've missed you G-man…Giles…it isn't the same without you," Xander said, sniffing away his tears.
Even Anya wasn't dry-eyed as she said, "Yes…I miss you saying 'Oh for Heaven's sake' every time I talked about Xander and I having sex."
Giles laughed at that, grabbing the young woman into another quick hug before shooing them all into the flat, and closing the door behind him.
He directed them to a room on the right, the pocket doors pushed fully into their compartments to leave a large opening for them to step through.
As they entered the room, they could see that Spike had laid the wicca on one of the couches, and was now settling himself into one of the side-chairs near her.
Seeing as how Dawn didn't want to let him go, Giles settled himself into the other couch, letting the young girl curl up to him.
For the moment, it was enough to know that Buffy was still alive, so he held off his questions as he gestured the others to take the remaining seats.
Once they were settled, he finally said, "I believe you all have a long story to tell me, but let me introduce you to your host first. This is David Merrick…one of the few useful Watchers that helped to train me."
"Merrick? As in Merrick Merrick? The name of Buffy's first Watcher?" Xander asked in surprise.
"He was my brother…his death was one of the main reasons I retired from the Council and no longer have any ties to them. Anything you say here will stay here, if that worries you."
"The name Merrick holds a lot of weight with Buffy…which, in turn holds a lot of weight with us. We're cool," the dark-haired young man responded seriously.
David nodded his head at that.
"You must be Xander Harris…Giles spoke very highly of you…of all of you," the older man said before turning to each Scooby member, "You are Dawn, sister to Buffy, and, if you don't mind my saying so, previously the Key. The red-head on the couch is Willow, a practicing wicca, and, if I remember correctly, a very talented computer genius. Spike I have heard many tales about, the most recent of which are highly irregular for any vampire, much less a former member of the Scourge of Europe. And last, but certainly not least, Anya Emerson, the Vengeance Demon that joined your group a couple of years ago."
"Ex-Vengeance Demon," the Scoobies said at the same time before laughing.
"My apologies, Ms. Emerson…Ex-Vengeance Demon…one who makes a lovely human, I must say," David said smilingly.
"Did you hear him, Xander? He called me lovely," Anya said happily as she tugged on Xander's sleeve.
"And you are, Ahn…you are," Xander responded, kissing her temple gently.
Giles cleared his throat. "Not to rush you lot, but…"
At Giles' look of hesitant longing, Xander hurriedly said, "I know, G-man…you need to know what's the what, not just that Buffy's…"
When Xander trailed off, Dawn picked the line of conversation up, giving Giles a tighter hug. "She's alive Giles…she really is."
The tension left Giles' body, and he raised a hand to rub at his eyes underneath his glasses.
"Tell me how…why…"
"Should start at the beginning Xander…the Watcher needs to know everything," Spike said waving a hand at Willow.
Xander paled and nodded shakily. Hugging Anya closer to him, he began from where he knew the beginning to be…shortly after Buffy's death.
The male Scooby left nothing out, even when it didn't paint a good picture of himself or the others. Giles had to know the depth of their involvement, especially when it came to what the ramifications of their actions would have been, if it had worked – the Watcher would make the connection…and Xander knew he'd be angry.
When Xander got to where Buffy had revealed where she had been, he saw Giles pale and knew the Watcher had connected the dots to their earlier actions. The older man's face hardened as he looked over at the unconscious red-head, then dropped his gaze into his lap has he hugged Dawn closer to him.
Xander finally finished. While ecstatic that his best-friends was still alive, he was ashamed at his own actions in trying to get her back. He should have talked to Giles before he had left to England, and couldn't help but think of himself as weak.
Seeing the young man's look of shame, Giles hurried to reassure him. "You mustn't blame yourself, Xander…I know how stubborn Willow can be in certain situations."
"That's just it, Giles. I couldn't stand up to her…didn't want to. I couldn't even go to you…I-I wanted it too badly…wanted Buffy back. I'm as much to blame as she is."
"Don't kick yourself too hard, mate…Red kept a lot from you, including the type of spell she used – not your fault she started playing around with blood magic," Spike said as he played with his lighter. "That type o' mojo messes with the head."
Giles' head whipped up as he stared aghast at the blond vampire. "Blood magic?!"
"What other kind did ya think, Watcher? You may be more savvy with the magics but, barring a few rare spells, even I know blood magic is the only thing that would bring back the dead without makin' 'em a zombie. Why'd you think Red kept it from me…from you – we'd have stopped her, and she knew it."
"Xander?" Giles whispered.
"I didn't know, Giles! She never exactly told us what spell she was using…not even Tara…"
"'Course not. Glinda's into the Earth magics…too white for what Red needed to do. Not surprised that she ran afterwards, if ya ask me," Spike said with a smirk.
"Tell me Xander! Tell me everything you know about the spell!" Giles whispered fiercely.
"I-I don't know much, Giles…just that she needed the Urn of Osiris, and-and something called the Wine of the Mother," Xander said in an unsteady voice.
Giles swore. Abruptly standing up, he strode to the lone window in the room and leaned against the sill as he looked out, not really seeing anything. "Tell me everything you can remember about the spell itself, Xander."
"Sh-she called out to Osiris, put marks on her face with whatever was in the urn – it was too dark to see – then cuts appeared on her arms. Tara said she was being tested. Some ugly bumpy things were moving under her skin, then up to her neck. She says something about letting Buffy cross over, and the next thing I know, she's puking a snake," Xander said shakily, hugging Anya to him. "That's when the guy, Snape, appeared, making his own claim."
Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes as he shook his head.
Spike whistled. "That's gonna cost her, Watcher. Bad enough it was blood magic, but to call on one of the old Gods? 'Specially the one who watches over the Dead? Price is gonna be high."
"How could she be so foolish!" the Watcher said, turning to glare at the still unconscious red-head in fury.
"That's Red for you, Watcher…too busy lookin' at the prize to read the fine print."
"What's going to happen, Giles?" Dawn said fearfully.
Giles sighed as he walked back over to the couch and pulled the young teen back into a hug.
"To be honest, I don't know, Dawn. Calling upon the favor of an old God requires an exchange. Regardless of the fact that the spell was not completed, Willow still used Osiris' power. It may be tomorrow, or it may be 30 years from now, but…she will have to repay him. And the old God's are fickle – payment may be in the form of something small, or it may be the most important thing to the petitioner. Only time will tell."
"Buffy said something else to me before we left, Giles," Xander said softly. He gave the older man a pained look. "She said that Willow opened up a door she won't be able to close completely again, but that she'll be OK if she guards it and doesn't allow the dark magic to enter again. I hope you know what that means, 'cuz I sure don't."
"I was afraid of that," Giles sighed. "It means that because of Willow's use of dark magic, she's opened herself up to the dangers of being seduced by it…overcome by it. Buffy is right in saying that she will need to guard herself. Willow was lucky that, because of what Buffy has become – whatever that may be – the dark magic was removed without any adverse damage. But should Willow even let a little slip in again, it will tempt her, and it will be extremely difficult for her to come back from the precipice it will inevitably take her to."
"So dark magic is kinda like heroin? A little bit will make you crave more?" Xander asked slowly, trying to put Giles' words into an analogy he could understand.
Everyone was silent as they thought that over, until Dawn yawned widely.
"Oh Heavens! You must all be tired after your ordeal, not to mention the jetlag you must be feeling," David exclaimed.
"If you're talking about that limp as a noodle, wet dishrag, brain implosion feeling, then I'd have to go with a resounding 'yes' to that," Xander said with a faint smile before turning a serious look towards Giles. "But there's still stuff that we need to talk about, Giles."
"There is?" the Watcher looked a little startled.
"Yeah, like the fact that Sunnydale is lookin' to become the next vacation-spot for every single demon and vampire around…you know, free food, run of the town, evil vibes from your friendly neighborhood Hellmouth, etc. – the Slayer suggested springin' the other one…says she's been shinin' her goody-two-shoes for when she gets out," Spike said off-handedly.
"Faith? She wants Faith to take over?!" Giles asked, shocked.
"Surprised me too, G-Man. But considering that Buffy's all glowy-winged and everything, it's kinda hard to think she's lying about Faith having changed," Xander said with a slight smile. "Buffy suggests that the Council lawyers use Faith's age and her being put into an adult facility without a trial or legal counsel as a bargaining chip."
"Buffy suggested that?"
"Are you sure she isn't possessed by a Knowledge Demon?" Giles asked with a smirk.
"I can't guarantee that, G-Man, but I doubt anything with the word 'demon' attached to it would make you want to happily fall on your knees and start singing hymns," Xander said as he gave the Watcher a sad smile.
Everyone fell silent at that.
"Not to break up the 'Glory Be to God' moment, Watcher, but I suggest you spring the other Slayer right quick. The bots trashed, and the bad guys know Sunnyhell's a free-for-all," Spike said seriously. "We took the chance that things would be quiet after Red's killing spree to come here, but things are gonna get nasty soon."
"Very well…I'll call the Council this evening and see if I can make arrangements to have her released as soon as possible," Giles said with a sigh, and couldn't help but wonder if Faith's release was going to be a bad idea all around. "I don't believe there will be a Watcher who would be willing to work with her, though."
"Useless buggers anyway…" Spike muttered.
Dawn gave the older man a hesitant look as she said, "Buffy wants you to come back with us."
"I-I don't know, Dawn…" Giles started reluctantly.
"Just temporarily, Giles…for a couple of months…to help me finish school early, and to get Faith settled in, that's all," Dawn rushed on. "Buffy thinks she's going to be here for a while, so she wants both of us to come back afterwards, to…um…"
The young teen trailed off uncertainly.
"To what, Dawn?" Giles asked curiously.
Xander quickly stepped in at Dawn's flailing look.
"It's something that Buffy wants to explain to you herself, Giles…she said she's going to be sending you a letter in a few hours that will explain anything. I don't know how she plans to get it here that quickly, but with the things we saw, I'd have to say it will be a weird delivery."
Giles raised an eyebrow at that. "Would you care to give me an idea on what to expect, Xander?"
Waving his hands in front of him the male Scooby quickly said, "No way am I touching the subject with a ten-foot pole, G-Man. All you need to know is that it's BIG…and you'll probably end up more pissed-off than you've ever been."
The Watcher looked intrigued.
"I'm tired, Xander," Anya whined.
"Ditto," Dawn said with another yawn.
"I think that's our cue to head back to the hotel for some quality pillow-time," Xander said ruefully. He gave the older man a hesitant look. "Can we…can we see you again tomorrow, Giles?"
"Of course, Xander!" Giles rushed to reassure the younger man of his welcome. "I think that will be a good idea, as there will probably be a lot more to speak of, come morning."
"Will you be coming home with us, Giles?" Dawn asked in a small voice.
"We'll see, Dawn. Let me see what Buffy has to say, and we'll take it from there, OK?"
"Uh…Giles?" Xander said as he gave the older man another uncertain look. "What should we do about Willow?"
The two men looked over at the unconscious red-head…one with anger, and the other with a little fear.
"Leave her here, Xander…I think I will be the only one able to deal with her once she wakes up."
Xander looked relieved, and gave the Watcher a thankful look.
While Xander and Giles were speaking, David had called for a cab, which arrived shortly.
The Sunnydalers piled into the black vehicle, and the two men watched as it drove off.
Turning to his friend, Giles said, "I hope you don't mind an additional guest, David. I'm afraid Willow won't be in the best frame of mind when she awakens, and I may be the only one who can keep her from running off half-cocked back into the magical world."
"Of course not, Rupert. Will you need anything for her beside a room?"
"Magical restraints?" Giles asked, giving him a rueful smile.
"I'm afraid I can't help you there, Rupert…my abilities in the field of magic end at the barrier around my home that stops magical eavesdropping," David said apologetically.
"I know, David – it's quite possible there wouldn't be anything that could restrain Willow, given the level of magic she is apparently able to do now. It frightens me, David…I don't wish to go through the loss of another one of my children," the Watcher said with a look of pain.
David clapped a hand onto his friends' shoulder, and moved to guide him back into the flat.
"Then we will have to hope Willow has the strength to let go of the power herself."
The two men re-entered the flat, Giles immediately going to the couch to lift Willow into his arms. David directed him to a room just off the top landing of the stairs and held open the door for his friend, then followed him in, moving ahead to pull back the covers of the bed.
Tucking the blankets around the young red-head, Giles gently smoothed her hair back from her face. With a last worried look, he left the room and closed the door behind him.
David led the way back to the den, but came up short. Giles almost crashed into him.
"If I'm not mistaken, I think Buffy's letter has arrived, Rupert."
Giles looked over his shoulder and gave a start. There, sitting on the back of one of the chairs, was a crimson bird the size of a swan – its claws, beak, and tail-feathers gleamed a bright gold.
"My word! Is that a phoenix?!" Giles breathed out in wonder. "I thought they were extinct?"
"Apparently not," David said reverently. "They must be hiding within the magical world, since they are magical creatures.
Giles maneuvered himself around his friend, speaking tentatively to the colorful animal. "Hello? Where you sent by…by Buffy?"
The phoenix trilled a lovely sound in response, and held out one of his legs. The Watcher noticed an envelope tied to it.
"For me?" Giles asked hesitantly.
Again the phoenix trilled, bobbing its head up and down.
Giles slowly approached the beautiful bird, and reached out a hand to the envelope. He carefully untied it, making sure none of the string accidentally wrapped around the claw.
"Um…thank you," he said as he clutched the envelope to his chest.
The phoenix trilled a gentle song, and both Giles and David gasped at the feeling of hope and strength that washed over them. Then, unfurling its wings, the phoenix flapped them twice, lifting itself a few inches from the chair, and disappeared in burst of flame.
"My word!" David breathed out.
His words were met with silence, and he turned in time to see Giles sit heavily onto one of the couches as he stared at the envelope in his hands.
Lifting a pale face, Giles' eyes filled with tears as he replied, "I-it's from Buffy…even after hearing that she's still alive, I couldn't truly believe it until now. Seeing her writing with my own eyes…"
The emotional Watcher broke off as he held tightly to the only proof he had of Buffy's continued existence.
Seeing the condition of his friend, David made a quick decision.
"I believe I shall give you some privacy for this, Rupert. Should you need me, let me know."
So saying, the older Ex-Watcher exited the room. As he pulled the pocket doors closed, the last thing he saw was his friend wiping the tears from his eyes before turning the envelope over to open it.
Good enough? Worth the wait?
What the hell is up with this site? I tried 20 different symbols, including punctuation marks, but it won't let me use them as scene separators anymore. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Sorry about all the zeros, but numbers were the only thing I could use.