See Chapter one for full Summery and BTVS/HP Timelines.
All Comes Tumbling Down
They're weren't a lot of people about as Buffy made her way back to Grimmauld Place later that evening. The slowly setting sun shone brightly in the sky, hurting her eyes and making her already pounding head throb.
The walk seemed to be taking a lot longer then she remembered it to. But that might have had something to do with the fact that her limbs felt heavy and sore. Her legs trembled slightly under her weight as she trudged down the sidewalk. If she hadn't been asleep for almost 12 hours she would have sworn what she was feeling was exhaustion.
But slept she had. And for the 12 hours she'd slept, Giles and Xander had kept watch.
But she was so tired. Her eyes were itching and her head nodded as her eye lids drooped closed, just to snap open a moment later. And spending the afternoon with a bunch of semi hostile friends would have been trying even on the best of days.
But that wasn't really fair; she was just tired and bitchy. It wasn't as bad as all that… not really.
Buffy trudged into the kitchen of Scooby central, glancing around without really seeing anything. The room still sported the same flowered wallpaper. The same faux-wood counter tops and cupboards. The same spread of ordered chaos; cups, plates, papers and other various nic-nacks spread every which way.
The same, it was all the same.
Xander moved in behind her, setting a bronze kettle on the stove. It was a sizable kitchen done all in earthy tones except for the bright yellow flowers on the ageing wallpaper. A small wooden table sat in the center of the room. There were four chairs around it, also wood. It was homey kitchen but Buffy had never felt less 'at home' in her entire life.
Warmth wasn't something that the Scooby Central lacked, but she'd never felt it herself. Her insides maintained a slight chill that lingered from a time long past. Home wasn't something she could have anymore. She lived in houses, but they would never feel like home again. They would never feel like they were her Home.
The whistling of the kettle snapped her out of her thoughts.
"Nickel for your thoughts."
Buffy glanced at Xander, her lips twitching.
"Isn't that supposed to be penny for your thoughts?"
He grinned at her. "You looked like you had a lot of thoughts."
Buffy sighed "Yup, thoughts. I've got lots of those."
He placed a cup for her on the table and sat comfortably across from her.
"Okay, say it."
Xander blinked. "Say what?"
"It… It- It! That I was irresponsible and selfish and stupid and now Angelica is dead and Markus is dead and it's my fault."
Tears filled her eyes as Xander leaned forward and took her hand. "You're stupid." Xander told her gently. Buffy winced. He gripped her hand tighter. "Stupid for thinking that their deaths, tragic as they were, had anything to do with you; even if you had been here, it still would have happened, Buff. It's not your fault. You had the right to go."
Her throat closed and she fought a desperate battle against her tears.
"How… How can you be so… so…okay with this?"
Xander sighed shaking his head. "I love you, Buffy. I've loved you since I was 16."
Buffy smiled at him, her heart warming. "I love you to Xan."
He dropped her hand and stood. "I'm sorry Buffy." He said. "Dawn once told me I could see things, but I didn't see you. I didn't see how unhappy you were; I didn't see it back then and I didn't see it in the here and now. I didn't see how wrong we all were."
"No, listen." He said. Neither noticed the kitchen door swing in slightly, or the pair of bespectacled eyes taking in the scene.
"Were supposed to be friends-"
"We are friends!" Buffy said quickly.
"But we didn't act like it. We took each other for granted, I… We took you for granted, that you would be here, that you enjoyed it like we did, that you would want the same things. We shouldn't have expected so much of you. I should have seen what was happening to us."
Buffy stood and hugged the man tightly, her emotions threatening to overwhelm her.
"I didn't say anything Xander and you are not a mind reader."
Buffy laughed at her grinning friend.
"I forgive you Xander." She whispered softly. "Do you forgive me?"
"Always," he returned into her hair.
Laughing uncertainly at their own foolishness the two friends claimed their chairs again. The mood was still stilted by sadness, Angelicas death hung over the room like a cloud, but their laughter had been genuine.
A rough cough introduced Giles into the room, his face oddly blank. In his arms he carried an assortment of tomes and volumes that would have sent Remus into a nerdy fit.
"What'cha got there, Giles?" Buffy asked.
Giles placed the Books onto the counter and took a seat. A look sent Xander scurrying off to get the aging Watcher a cup of tea as well. Buffy laughed hesitantly.
What was it about the sight of Giles leaning over an open book that caused Buffy to smile? Whatever it was, it never failed.
Leaning her forearms against the gleaming table top Buffy studied the older mans profile. He had changed a great deal from the stuffy librarian come Watcher from their first encounter way back when, circa the Sunnydale High era. But all that seemed like a million years ago.
He hadn't brought up the fight once, but it was obviously on his mind. His demeanour was stiff, as if there was something on his mind he was not sharing. She wasn't sure if she even wanted to know.
How long had it been since she'd been able to look her Watcher in the eye? Since she'd wanted to? It disturbed her that she couldn't remember.
But tensions were running high in Scooby central and things had gotten bad when Kennedy and Willow had made a sudden appearance.
The three had been talking-shop for approximately 20 minutes when the Kitchen door swung open. Instantly the temperature in the room seemed to drop like a stone. Willow and Kennedy stood on the thresh hold for a full 30 seconds, their expressions stunned.
"Hey," Buffy murmured, trying to ignore the dark haired girl beside her best friend. The red head snapped out of her daze and her countenance darkened.
"Buffy." She said coolly in greeting.
Uh oh. Not good.
Willow and her girlfriend stepped over the threshold. Kennedy walked over the kettle, rattling it around before taking it over to the sink to re-fill. Willow sat down in one on the chairs, the farthest from the Slayer, between Giles and Xander.
"So, Buffy. What brings you back?"
Double 'uh oh'
Xander glanced between the two friends, his body tense.
"Buffy was attacked by the invisible Vampire last night.
The statement had a surprising effect on her wiccan friend.
Willows eyes widened and she stood quickly, making her way around the table in a few long strides. She stopped at Buffy's side, dropping to her haunches.
"Are you alright?" Buffy blinked. She'd never seen Willow react quite like that before.
"Yeah, Wills, I'm okay." Willow let out a slow breath.
Buffy glanced around at all the dark faces.
"Okay, I must be missing something here. What's with the doom?"
Buffy winced, and interrupted before Willow could finish.
"I know about… Giles and Xander told me- I meant, why are you so worried about me all of a sudden, you know I can take care of myself."
Willow glanced and Xander, who glanced at Giles who took off his glasses and began to clean them.
"Kennedy told us about the Spol'tic." Xander said gently.
Buffy gaped at him, glancing at the dark haired Slayer.
"She did, did she? And what exactly did she say?"
Willow coughed uncomfortably.
Xander glanced between Willow, Kennedy and Buffy uncomfortably.
"Everyone has there off days, Buffy. There's no shame in needing a little backup."
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "huh?"
"She told us about the fight, she said you took quite a beating before she showed up-"
Buffy turned in her chair and stared hard at Willow's still silent girlfriend.
"Really, she saved me? Funny, that's not how I remember it happening." She said "Looks like she's not telling you everything. I'm sure she also didn't tell you that she was the one out of bounds… and without backup I might add." She said stiffly, "and that she was in serious danger of being swatted by said demon before I showed up!"
"Or that I was forced to put two lives on the line to save her ass."
Kennedy finally snapped.
"Oh, get off your high horse! I had it under control!"
"Please," Buffy scoffed. "If Remus, Sirius and I hadn't shown up when we did, you would have been little more then a grease spot."
"That's not true, I was doing fine-"
"You shouldn't have been out there!"
"You can't tell me what to do; you're not in charge anymore. I'm the ranking Slayer now, it is my choice-"
"You have got to be kidding me!" Buffy glanced at Giles, her eyes wide. "You've put Kennedy in charge!"
Giles sighed. "She is the ranking Slayer…"
"Then call Faith! The Cleveland Hellmouth is more then amply protected, and you need someone here who knows the difference between taking an acceptable risk and taking a risk for the sake of her own stubborn pride."
"You can't do that!" Kennedy screeched. "You don't have any say, you've gone rogue! You can't-"
Buffy's breath caught and she stood abruptly. "I'm sorry, I've gone what now!"
"You- you've-" Kennedy stuttered.
"It was you." Buffy yelled. "You were the one that told everyone that I'd gone rogue, how dare you!"
"But it's the truth! You left. You choice those freaks over your own-"
"Hey, leave them out of-"
"Now you walk back in here thinking you can boss us around, but you're wrong. You can't! Your not one of us anymore."
"I'm not one of you, that's for damn sure." Buffy growled at her. "One day, Kennedy, your anger, you're pride, is going to get you dead, and the only person you'll have to blame is you."
Kennedy snarled at her, she seemed to be at a loss for words, and took off, letting the back door slam behind her. Willow jumped up, sending Buffy a last look, and ran after her girlfriend.
Buffy slumped back into her seat looking both beaten and tired.
Xander and Giles exchanged looks but remained silent.
Buffy gave her head a shake when she realized she was home. Home? Was Grimmauld place suddenly home? No. Hell no. Even less then Scooby central was.
Buffy paused on the dilapidated stoop. Why, then, was the sight of Grimmauld Place even remotely comforting to the emotionally unstable Slayer?
Remus was pacing back and forth. Back and forth, back and forth. Five long paces to the fireplace. Turn. Five long paces to the chair. Turn. Repeat.
Sirius Black scrunched up his eyes, watching the now blurred form of his friend ware a path into the floor. He'd counted a total of 10 circuits- no make that 11. There and back. There and back. He was starting to get a bloody crick in his neck.
The black haired man sighed and glanced at the clock. It was approaching 5:30 and there was still no sign of the blonde Slayer. She'd left the night before and still had yet to return. They were all worried. Remus especially.
Remus obviously had a thing for her. Which was okay with Sirius, he'd decided that his friend could have her. He was just generous that way. Not that he didn't like the spit fire little woman, he did, very much so. But she was too… too… well, too like him. She was too opinionated, too teasing, too… what was the word he was looking for?
Sirius wouldn't have thought she was so much Remus's type either, actually, but he was obviously wrong about that. He'd seen the looks that the lycan sent her way, and had even caught a few heading Remus's way from Buffy. At first Sirius hadn't been sure what to think about all that. True, he wasn't interested in anything serious with the Blond, but that didn't necessarily have to exclude something 'non' serious, but still potentially fun, from happening.
Cause, let's face it. She was bloody hot. And Sirius had been in prison a long time.
But all that went down the drain when the two of them started making moon eyes at each other. So he'd sulked for a few days, gotten all grumpy when she'd gone and invited the bugger on one of 'his' patrols, but he'd eventually gotten over it.
Leaving Buffy to stay with Remus during to full-moons had been a necessary evil. Snape had gone back 'under cover' and hadn't been able to make the Wolfsbane potion for the lycanthrope this month and without the potion Remus was liable to hurt himself quite badly when restrained in the shrieking shack. So Sirius had volunteered to stay with him. But he'd somehow hoped that Buffy would take the three nights off. No such luck.
To watch her fight, you'd think she was invincible. It was unlike anything that he had ever seen before in his life. She was like a hurricane of death, striking down her enemies in waves, moving with a strength and skill that stunned him to silence.
But that night with Remus, as they watched a demon try to throttle her, the truth of her existence had blindsided them. Sure they remembered what their old DADA had told them way back in their seventh year, but it hadn't seemed applicable in this case, with this Slayer. This was Buffy. The greatest Slayer ever to have lived. The oldest, the fastest. She couldn't be beaten. She couldn't die! It was ludicrous. The Slayer of myth, who defied death time and again, dead? Unlikely, unbelievable, unconceivable! But it had almost happened.
Watching her lips turn blue and her eyes begin to dim, they'd finally understood. Buffy could very well die. She wasn't invincible. She wasn't unbreakable. She was human and all too fragile. Brittle bones to break. Delicate skin to bruise and bleed. She was mortal, and every night she fought, her very flimsy hold on life was put to the test.
For the two wizards, who had come to care so much for Buffy, it had scared them badly.
Mortality was something that Sirius understood. He'd gotten a taste of his own while locked away in Azkaban prison; re-living and re-visiting his worst memories over and over and over again, never able to forget his guilt, or his innocence. How many times had he wished for death to come? How many times had he begged for the breaking of his own mortal coil?
Twelve years in Azkaban had changed nothing, and everything. He was still the same man as he had been all those years ago. Selfish, stubborn, prideful, reckless. Still the same 20 something year-old man inside, even if his body and mind had withered away.
Still the same, but irrevocably changed. The darkness inside scared him. It swallowed him, chased him until the old walls of Grimmauld Place became the stone walls of an ancient fortress. Until his room became a cell he couldn't stand. His moods shifted as easily as the wind. One moment up. The next down. Happy to sad. Angry to passive. It was so hard for him to control.
But he tried. He really did. For Harry's sake he tried to keep himself level.
Harry Potter. His godson. James Potter, the Man that had once been his best friend, had asked him to look after Harry, if ever the worst should happen.
'He's my boy' James had said, tears swimming in his eyes as he gazed upon his newborn son. 'If anything should ever happen, you'll take care him, wont you, Padfoot, You'll take care of my boy, Sirius, my Harry?'
And what a lousy job he'd done so far. Harry had been forced to grow up with those miserable Dursleys. But he'd turned out great in spite of it all. He was so much like James was, or had been... He looked so much like him. James, his friend. His brother.
If it hadn't been for that traitorous rat, Peter, then James would still be alive. Him and Lily both. And Harry wouldn't have had to grow up with people that hated him. And Sirius wouldn't have had to go to that horrible place.
It always came back to Peter. Little Wormtail. Harmless. Talent-less. Traitor! Voldemort was back because of him. Back, and out to kill his Godson… again. If he could only get his hands around scrawny Peters treacherous neck…
Sirius felt like the walls were going to close in on him half the time. Grimmauld Place was worse then any prison could be. Everywhere he looked was a reminder of a painful past he would rather forget. On the run, in the wild, he could loose himself. His thoughts would slow, and his mind would clear. The patrols with Buffy helped, but it wasn't the same. Nothing could completely erase the horrible feelings that this house invoked in him. Bitterness and anger tightened and shivered though his body. His moods would swing wildly and he would find himself sobbing brokenly into Buckbeaks soft down feathers…
A sudden noise brought him out of his rapidly degenerating thoughts. Remus had snapped his head up. Across the room Ron and Hermione looked towards the front hall where the front door had just been opened by Molly Weasley.
"Buffy, dear," They heard her utter faintly.
The occupants of the room who were seated scrambled out of their seats. Remus, not surprisingly, beat the lot of them out the door. Sirius made it into the hall second, only because he was not above pushing Ron out of the way. Buffy stood in the entrance hall.
"Buffy," Remus said. "Are you alright?"
Her face lined and tired, Buffy stared at him a moment too long before answering.
"Yeah, fine. I'm going to bed." She turned to leave, leaving the gob smacked lot of them to gape after her.
"Whoa! Buffy," Remus stepped forward and took her arm. "What is going on? Where were you!" Remus's face was grey from his recent transformation, and added to that was a day of worrying about Buffy when she didn't return.
Buffy sighed. "Home… I was home." Buffy blinked sleepily. "Kind of."
"What?" Remus asked confusedly.
"Can we- can we just not do this right now?"
Sirius saw that Buffy was on the verge of something. Some emotion was swirling in her eyes, ready to burst. Remus's eyes narrowed. "We've been worried sick about you, Buffy."
Buffy rolled her shoulders, "Oh, Sorry," she said tonelessly.
She turned to leave again only to have Remus roughly turn her back around.
"We contacted Dumbledore, we've had people out looking for you. We thought you'd been-" He stopped short, seeming to chock on the word. "You could at least have the decency to pretend to care that you've caused all this commotion. I thought you were better then this? How could you teat the people in this house like-" Buffy suddenly pulled away, shoving the werewolf roughly away from her, her eyes blazing.
Oh, not good. Sirius thought with a wince.
"Oh, well excuse me!" Buffy sneered at the wide eyed man. "I'm so sorry my little nap caused you distress!" Buffy pushed a finger into his chest, poking him hard. She didn't see Molly, Sirius, Ron or Hermione take an involuntary step back at her outburst
"But I am not required to check in with anyone." She all but yelled. "I'll do as I damn well please, if you like it a not!"
Mrs Black erupted on the wall.
"Shut up!" Buffy roared angrily.
Sirius, who was trying to shove the curtains closed on the portrait, was pushed violently out of the way as Buffy took hold of Mrs. Blacks frame and pulled. It's awful screaming ringing in the Slayers ears.
"Shut up you- you- you HAG! Shut up!" She screamed back at it. Everything that had happened boiled up inside of her, choking her with the unfairness of it all. Poor little Angelica, her friend Marcus, Willow and Kennedy, Giles, Dawn, the coldness inside, the guilt she felt for blowing up at Remus, Sirius's haunted eyes and this horrible house that sometimes felt like a tomb.
With everything she had, with everything that made her the Slayer, she pulled. But the Painting wouldn't come free of the wall. So the wall would have to come free as well. She pulled harder, panting. Tears raced down her cheeks, her sobs wracking her chest.
What she wouldn't give to see her own mother again… but this horrible woman was Sirius's mother. And she was awful, to see her withered and bitter, spitting out insults at her son, haunting him even from the grave. It just wasn't fair!
The wall cracked, bits of drywall began flaking off. There was a shout behind her. She scrunched up her face against the tears and pulled still harder.
The crack turned into something more. It widened and split, the wall coming free of it anchor. More bits flaked away, and with a last mighty heave Buffy ripped the painting, wall and all, away, leaving a gaping hole in its wake. Threw the hole Fred and George Weasley's stunned faces peered.
Buffy's chest heaved, tears still making their pathways down her cheeks.
It didn't matter who said it, she turned and ran.
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