Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 9
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
Grimacing as another icy chunk slid down the back of her heavy, down-filled jacket, Buffy led the way into the open stone foyer of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry amidst the quiet snickers of one Harry Potter. "This isn't over, and you know it," she muttered, green eyes lifting to glare at her boyfriend as Harry trailed in behind her, two large black duffels falling to his snow-covered feet.
"I'm sure you'll try," Harry agreed amiably as he shook the wet, sticky snow from his wind-blown black hair, his eyes dancing as he unzipped his heavy muggle jacket and used the hem of his sweater to clean the lenses of his black, wire-rimmed glasses.
"Oh, there's not going to be any 'try' about it," Buffy returned as she slid out of her heavy jacket and threw it at Harry - smiling smartly as the wet material nearly took him off his feet. Their journey from the bitter north of Russia had been thankfully short thanks to the portkey that Samuel had provided a few days earlier, instantly transporting them to the center of Hogsmede where they had been able to do a little bit of shopping before the two then made the snowy trek to Hogwarts. What Buffy hadn't been counting on was the magically-inclined volley of cold, wet snowballs that had assaulted her from all sides during the last few minutes of the journey. The one that, judging by the smirk that even now twisted Harry's lips, had been all his doing.
"I'll show him
a little wandless magic," Buffy grumbled, just loud enough for Harry to catch every syllable as she finally turned her eyes to the massive stone foyer, her previous bad mood melting beneath the warm memories that the ancient stonework brought to mind. "Welcome ho-" the small slayer began as she turned towards Harry, a bright smile on her face that froze as a small popping noise announced the arrival of four more people to the large room. Turning, Buffy felt her smile slip a little bit more as her eyes swept over the new group. The tall, dark-skinned guy that looked around her age was a stranger, while the voluptuous dark-haired beauty, the stately looking man with the glasses, and the tall, broad-shouldered vampire with the soulful eyes were all too recognizable.
"Buffy," Angel murmured, his brown eyes instantly falling upon Buffy's slender figure as Cordelia, Wesley, and the stranger grappled with each other after the instantaneous mode of travel.
"Angel," Buffy returned, a small, timid smile lifting her lips as her eyes locked with his. "You took a portkey?"
"A bit sunny outside," Angel returned evenly with a small nod to the outside world.
"Nope - blizzard," Buffy countered, memories of their first and last snow storm running through her mind. That morning, the falling snow had saved Angel from taking his own life while beneath the First Evil's influence. That morning, someone had been watching out for the vampire... most likely that same someone that had decided that Buffy and Angel were never meant to be. Sighing, Buffy quickly willed away the thoughts of that time, so long ago, and instead turned to Harry, trying once more to fill the awkward silence. "I'm sure you all must remember Harry," she stated as she gestured to her boyfriend, smiling softly at him as he nodded his head at the group. "And Harry, you remember Angel, Cordelia, Wesley and..." pausing, Buffy once more took in the stranger that accompanied her old friends. "And I don't know you," she added, as blunt as ever.
"Charles Gunn," the guy replied as he stepped forward with a warm smile, holding his hand out to both. "But everyone just calls me Gunn."
"Gunn's been working with us for the past few months," Angel supplied, his eyes never quite leaving Buffy's. "He's a good friend."
"Then it's nice to meet you," Buffy returned, smiling warmly at the new addition to the LA group. But as the hands fell to their sides and the introductions were concluded, the awkward silence that seemed to plague such reunions quickly returned. An awkward silence that was, of course, focused around the fact that Angel couldn't quite take his eyes from the small slayer and Buffy seemed to be able to look just about everywhere but at Angel himself.
Rolling his eyes, Harry took it upon himself to break the silence and to hopefully rid them of it for the duration of the holidays. "Well," he began as he cleared his throat, pointedly forcing everyone to stop staring at the former couple. "I'm sure that you both have some catching up to do. And if you'd like, I can show the rest to the Great Hall and we can see if any of the others have arrived yet," he offered, smiling at the other three as he lifted both his and Buffy's duffels.
"Here, let me help you," Wesley offered as he took one of Harry's duffels while the others split the baggage between the other two.
Smiling her thanks, Buffy quickly squeezed Harry's hand before watching the four disappear down the side hall. Turning, she finally allowed her gaze to rest on her former lover, a small smile playing at her lips. "Would you like to go for a walk? I can show you a bit of the castle," she offered as she gestured to the grand staircase that swept up before them.
"I'd like that," Angel agreed, nodding his head and indicating for her to lead the way.
For a few minutes, the two moved as such, silently roaming the cold stone halls as the occasional student swept past them in their black wizarding robes, all eyeing them with open curiosity. Smiling wryly, Buffy couldn't help but be reminded of the same curious looks she had drawn close to a year ago when she had been a resident of Hogwarts. Even in the midst of a war-torn community, her muggle clothing had still been a sharp contrast to the clothing of the wizarding folk that had populated the castle. It seemed that in some ways, times hadn't changed.
"Why is everyone staring at us?" Angel finally asked, breaking the heavy silence that had fallen between them as yet another student swept past, wide eyes devouring the mismatched couple.
"Because we're dressed like muggles," Buffy returned evenly, a small grin lifting her lips as she turned critical eyes to her stylish black cargos and her heavy red sweater - and then rolled her eyes at Angel's typical ensemble of dark pants, a dark shirt, and a black duster that trailed behind his lean form. "Some more fashionably than others," she added as she pointedly nodded at the vampire's dark clothing.
"Don't start," Angel cut in as he sighed heavily. "I already hear it enough from Cordelia," he added before turning gentle brown eyes towards the small slayer. "How have you been?" he asked, his hands quickly becoming buried in the deep pockets of his jacket as he allowed his feet to carry him to a snow-covered window that looked out into a darkened grounds.
"Oh, you know," Buffy began nonchalantly as she followed Angel to the window and reclined back against the cool glass. "Attacked by monks, turned into a mystical Key-thingie, avoiding a pair of Hell Gods, and working for the Watcher's Council with Harry. You?"
Smiling wryly at Buffy's glib passing of her roller coaster few months, Angel quickly waved away her question as he replied in kind. "The same," he said, shrugging lightly as a small smile lifted his lips. "I've just been tag-teamed by Darla, Drusilla, and Spike. Trying to drive me crazy - although it probably would have worked a lot better if they hadn't had Spike along. He never was one for mind games," he added with a slight smile.
"Yeah - he always was more for the kill and be killed," Buffy agreed before frowning thoughtfully. "And I thought Darla was dead."
"She was," Angel agreed, a flash of pain visible behind his weary brown eyes as he turned to the snowy world outside. "Wolfram and Hart, an evil law firm, brought her back as a human and then Drusilla turned her... again," he explained, realizing for the first time just how ridiculous most of their exploits sounded when a person wasn't there to live through them.
"Oh... neat," Buffy deadpanned even as Angel sighed heavily beside her.
"The others called a few months ago," he began, trying and failing to hide his hurt as Buffy reluctantly met his eyes, "to let us know what was going on, and to let us know that you had turned up." And as a pregnant pause built and gathered strength between them, Angel took the final plunge that explained the real reason behind the awkward silences that had built between them just after making things right that night in Sunnydale over six months ago. "Why didn't you come to me? I would have-"
"I couldn't," Buffy cut in as she rested one hand on his arm. "Harry and I only found out that we were running from something a few months ago, and since then everything's been happening so fast..."
"I was worried about you," Angel murmured as he lifted his hands and cupped her face between his palms. "I'm still worried about you," he admitted seriously as his gaze bore into her own, searching for something and finding himself both relieved and disappointed when he couldn't see it.
Smiling, Buffy lifted one hand and laid it against his, leaning into his familiar touch. "Angel, I'm alright," she assured. "I'm strong again, and besides, Harry's been watching my back," she added, knowing that she had to even as the pain flashed through Angel's eyes.
Angel's hands dropped back to his sides as he nodded slowly, forcing a smile past the pain that her words brought. "He's taking good care of you," he murmured, more statement than question.
"We're taking good care of each other," Buffy corrected, a warm smile lifting her lips as she thought of her many adventures with the young wizard.
"And he takes you into the sun," Angel added, remembering his long-ago hopes for the small slayer.
Smiling sadly, Buffy slowly nodded her head. "He does," she whispered, her eyes slipping away to the snow-covered grounds that were hidden behind a blanket of white outside the narrow window.
"You know that I'll never stop loving you, right?"
"I do," Buffy agreed, pulling her eyes away from the window as she craned her head back and looked up into Angel's beautiful brown eyes. "Just as, in my own way, I'll never stop loving you. That hasn't changed, Angel, and it never will," she promised as he gently pulled her close, strong arms wrapping around her small frame as Buffy put her head gently against his chest, his familiar scent filling her nose.
Sighing, Angel relished in the feel of the small slayer in his embrace before slowly bending down to drop a cool, chaste kiss on her forehead. Reluctantly, he pulled away, a small, genuine smile lifting his lips as he nodded back in the direction that they had wandered. "We should probably get back to the others," he stated, waiting for Buffy's nod before the two began retracing their steps.
"Worried about them?" Buffy teased as she linked arms with her old friend.
"More worried about how many people Cordelia has already insulted," Angel returned with a small, knowing smile.
Pausing for a moment, Buffy quickly thought over the vampire's words before increasing their pace. "Good point," she conceded, wincing at the thought of all of the damage that could have already been inflicted. While some things were bound to change with the passage of time, others, sadly, never stood a chance.O o O o O o O
As Buffy and Angel swept through the massive doors to the castle's Great Hall, the small slayer couldn't help her small sigh of relief as her eyes fell upon the group from Los Angeles who were harmlessly ensconced in the Sunnydale contingent. "Catastrophe averted," she sighed, weakly lifting her hand in a quick wave to Willow and Xander as Angel broke away and headed towards their friends. Smiling, Buffy was about to do the same when the doors opened behind her, admitting some more guests to the Great Hall.
Turning, the slayer barely had time to open her arms before she was swept up in a tight hug that left her toes brushing the ground. Grinning, Buffy felt her feet touch ground again as she tilted her head back to take in Jarod's excited brown eyes. "Jarod!" Buffy returned, impulsively hugging him once more before turning to smile warmly at the tall, leggy brunette and the older, sandy-haired man beside her. "And Miss Parker and Sydney," she continued, disentangling herself from the tall Pretender to briefly hug the older woman and the psychiatrist that accompanied them. "I didn't know if you were going to be able to make it," she added, grinning as she took in the tasteful pair of dark pants that seemed sewn onto Miss Parker's incredibly long legs. With both Miss Parker and Faith around for the holidays, it was guaranteed that the students that had
chosen to remain at Hogwarts would certainly have a few stories to tell when their fellow classmates returned.
Eyes narrowing suspiciously upon the candles that floated above their heads and illuminated the ceiling towering stories above them, mirroring the snow-strewn world outside the castle walls, Miss Parker couldn't help but snort at Buffy's words. "And miss out on a chance to see an enchanted castle?" she asked wryly as she nodded pointedly at the Pretender who was obviously as captivated by the magic that filled the room as his mentor who stood gawking beside him. "Jarod wouldn't let us."
"Well where's Broots?" Buffy asked, searching for the gangly computer technician who always shadowed Miss Parker's movements.
"Spending the holidays with his daughter, Debbie," Sydney supplied in his softly accented voice, eyes flickering past the small girl to take in the adults that swept into the room behind them. The adults that were garbed in the strangest clothing that the psychiatrist had ever seen - which was saying quite a bit. Trying to hide his shock, Sydney allowed his eyes to sweep over a tall, wizened man in long, magenta robes and a tall pointed hat with a tangled white beard that swept the stone floors before him. Beside him stood a tall, slender woman cloaked in dark robes and with a tall, pointed hat sitting atop her graying hair, small beady eyes staring out above thin lips that were turned in a stern line. Next to the woman stood a man that caused the psychiatrist to take a small step back as he took in the man's fierce scowl, dark eyes, hooked nose and greasy black hair that was parted before a pale face, robes the color of the deepest night flaring around his tall frame. And lastly stood the person that seemed the greatest contradiction to all three - and the one that Buffy quickly threw herself at.
"Hagrid!" she cried, a broad smile lifting her lips as the small slayer barrelled into the open arms of the half-giant.
"Buffy," Hagrid greeted with a bright smile as she disentangled herself from the hairy man before embracing Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore - and freezing, arms extended before her, as she came face to face with Professor Snape and a glare that would have deterred even a basilisk.
"Right," Buffy stated, arms dropping to her side as she turned to beam at the others.
"Welcome back to Hogwarts, Miss Summers," Professor Dumbledore said, smiling warmly at the small slayer, his blue eyes twinkling as he turned to take in the muggles that stood behind her. "And welcome to those who are visiting our castle for the first time."
"You must be Headmaster Dumbledore," Jarod quickly stated, his grin broadening as he eagerly took in the wizard's eccentric clothing.
"And you must be the Jarod of so many last names," Dumbledore returned with a small smile as he took in the man's childlike wonder. "I have heard many wonderful things about you, your colleagues, and your work from both Buffy and Mister Fellows with the Council of Watchers." Smiling, he turned and nodded his head to his companions. "I would like to introduce my Deputy Headmistress and Professor of Transfiguration, Professor McGonagall, our groundskeeper and Professor of Care of Magical Creatures, Professor Hagrid, and our esteemed Potions Master and Professor, Professor Snape."
Shaking everyone's hand in turn, save Professor Snape, Jarod quickly turned to begin his introductions, and, seeing that they seemed in good hands, Buffy took that opportunity to quietly excuse herself - only to be accosted by the room's newest additions. Grinning despite herself, Buffy soon found herself wrapped in the arms of her watcher as the long-awaited, and seemingly never-ending, reunion continued.O o O o O o O
Shaking his head wryly, Harry closed the portrait door to a chorus of high-pitched goodbyes and the loud, sobbing wails of another as he simultaneously tried to juggle the many different treats that had been shoved into his protesting hands. Apparently Dobby hadn't truly expected Harry to stick to his promise to drop by the kitchens for a quick visit during his next trip to Hogwarts, and upon seeing that the famed wizard would actually take the time to visit him and the other house elves, the short elf had quickly burst into a torrent of wet, sopping tears as his overwhelmed friends forced Harry's favorite treats upon him.
"Never again," he vowed, his eyes falling upon the painted pear that marked the hidden entrance to the castle's large kitchen and home to the house elves. Sighing, he stared at the mounds of treats that were piled in his leather-clad arms as he slowly made his way back to the foyer and the Great Hall beyond. To think that only a short six months ago he would have been delighted by the generosity of the house elves as he, Ron, and Hermione paid the kitchens an almost weekly visit. Today, however, he had far too many other things on his mind and treats happened to be far from the list. Then again, it had been far too long since he had been able to indulge in his favorite treacle tart that was wrapped somewhere in the pile, or in the frothy pumpkin juice that was bottled somewhere close to his left hand, or the-
With a thunderous clatter, Harry's thoughts were scattered as he crashed into someone before him, the many assorted treats raining down around them. Grunting, Harry staggered back, barely remaining on his feet as he quickly adjusted his glasses, wide green eyes lifting to take in the army of redheads that he had unwittingly walked right into. "Percy!" he cried, mouth falling open as he took in the treacle tart that had been smeared across the older boy's otherwise immaculate, pressed robes.
"Harry!" Mrs. Weasley returned for the family, a bright smile lifting her lips as she ignored her middle child's indignant sputtering and stepped over the mess to encase Harry in a smothering embrace. "How have you been, dear?" she questioned as she released her strangle hold long enough to hold him at arm's length, her eyes scouring over his tall form and a small, puzzled frown pulling at her lips as she took in his loose jeans, heavy sweater and leather jacket that hung open around his lean frame. "Why Harry dear, whatever are you wearing?" she murmured, obviously unsure whether she should smile or frown at the boy's odd clothing.
"Mum, it's only muggle dress," another voice quickly cut in as Bill nudged his mother aside long enough to clap Harry on the shoulder, his freckled face lifted in a large grin as he jerked his head towards his younger brother. "And it seems as though Harry's been to the kitchens already."
"I was visiting Dobby," Harry admitted as Mr. Weasley stepped beside them, another baked good squishing beneath his shoes as he lifted a pointed wizards hat and scratched at his balding head.
"Dobby, you say?"
"Malfoy's house elf that Harry liberated from the bonds of slavery," Charlie explained with a roll of his eyes as he rescued the miraculously unbroken bottle of butterbeer from the wreckage.
"Which is a lot more than can be said for the rest of the house elves that are even now suffering the injustice of discrimination in this-"
"Nice going, Charlie," Ron sighed as he pushed past his brothers, his eyes darting back over his shoulders at something that was hidden behind the large family. "Way to get her-"
"And I heard that, Ronald Weasley," Hermione cut in as she rudely shoved her boyfriend to the side, her cheeks tinged pink - either from the cold weather outside or anger, Harry couldn't tell - before her eyes fell on her best friend. "Harry, you made it!" she cried out, nimbly jumping a small pound cake as she threw her arms around the taller teen, her eyes shining happily. "How long have you been here? Where's Buffy?"
"Only a few minutes," Harry returned as he gently squeezed the tall girl. "I've been down to the kitchens-"
"I thought that we already established that," Percy interrupted, a small scowl twisting his freckled features as he continued to wipe dismally at the confections that stained his dark robes.
"-to visit Dobby," Harry continued as Ron, Bill, and Charlie each broke out into a round of quiet snickering, much to Percy's anger and their mother's fierce scowl. "I think everyone else is already in the Great Hall."
"Well then," Mrs. Weasley promptly cut in, her eyes daring any of the children to continue to tease their brother, "why don't you three go and fetch Ginny from Gryffindor Tower while we get this mess cleaned up?" she asked, somehow doing it in a way that revealed that it was more of an order than a request.
Nodding quickly, Harry, Ron and Hermione took the avenue of escape when it was offered and vaulted and slid through the remaining mess and made for the grand stairs that would lead into the familiar halls of the castle. Within minutes Percy's loud complaints and Molly's rebukes were muffled by the thick stone and a comfortable silence fell over the infamous trio as they walked through the quiet halls.
"Seems kind of weird being back, doesn't it?" Hermione finally asked, a small, sad smile twisting her lips as she ran a hand through her long auburn hair. "I keep thinking that I should find my school robes, or something," she added as she cast her gaze down to the long muggle skirt and sweater that she wore.
"I'm just waiting for Filch to come around the corner with that stupid cat of his in hopes of pinning something
on us," Ron agreed, shuddering slightly as they deftly made their way through the quiet halls.
"Or even worse, Snape," Harry argued, grinning as Ron blanched beside him.
"Oy! But it's the holidays! We're not going to have to see that greasy-"
"Ron, Professor Snape is a professor at this school-"
professor," Ron quickly cut in with a bright grin. "I've already got my new best memory picked out for the next time that I have to cast a patronus charm: the day that I realized that I would never have to see the slimy git again!" he stated proudly as he quickly ducked to Harry's other side, swiftly avoiding Hermione's half-hearted swipe.
"Oh yes, because I'm so sure that a Dementor will be paying Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes a visit in the near future," the bright ex-Gryffindor promptly retorted as she rolled her eyes dramatically.
Grinning at the familiar routine that the friends had already fallen into, Harry interrupted the little argument as he turned down another twisting hallway. "How has business been?" he asked, turning to his taller friend as Ron beamed at the question.
"Booming, actually," Ron admitted with a small grin as he waved casually to the dark robes that he sported - the dark robes that, as Harry noticed for the first time, looked to be of extremely high quality and, even more amazing, seemed custom tailored to his friend's height. "Fred and George were many things, but I'll be the first to admit that brilliant was never a word that I associated with the two. Yet they really knew what they were doing."
"He, Bill and Charlie have made the store such a success that they can barely keep up with the demand of the customers," Hermione added proudly as she draped an arm over her boyfriend's shoulders.
"It's not us," Ron quickly denied as he cast his eyes over the castle with suspiciously bright eyes. "We can't take credit for the Twins' work - we're just keeping it going. Besides, according to Ginny, they've become legendary here at Hogwarts."
"And you remember Lee, right?"
"Lee Jordan?" Harry clarified as he thought back to the older Gryffindor that had been inseparable from the twins.
"He's the Quidditch announcer for the home stadium of the Puddlemere United team," Ron explained, grinning unabashedly at his friend. "And Lee never starts a match without first mentioning Fred and George and the shop. He says that it's his way of keeping the legend alive," he added with a small shrug.
Smiling, Harry was about to respond when a couple of familiar voices drifted down the hallway that they had just entered. Freezing, Harry's eyes swept the long hall, feeling a wave of deja vu as they settled on his godfather's lean form and the shorter, more bent form of his best friend as the two swept out of the infirmary and then froze as they noticed the three teens further down the hall. Without a word, Harry quickly bolted forward, his feet eating up the distance in seconds as he threw himself at his godfather, his arms wrapping around his shoulders as the older man returned the tight embrace. For a moment, the rest of the world disappeared as Harry reveled in Sirius' fierce, comforting grip - assuring himself that his godfather was really there before him, in one piece and no longer playing the deadly game of cat and mouse with the hell gods that Harry had been forced to avoid.
Harry was no longer a child, that was true, but that didn't mean that he didn't need his godfather and guardian any less - that he didn't spend many sleepless hours each night worrying about the danger that his godfather had placed himself in in order to keep him and Buffy safe. No matter what comforting words Buffy or the others spoke, they did little to dispel the cloud of uncertainty and danger that constantly surrounded his godfather.
"This seems strangely familiar somehow," Ron commented as he and Hermione joined Remus as Sirius and Harry slowly, and reluctantly pulled away.
"Yes, whatever were you doing in the infirmary this
time?" Hermione added, her eyes narrowing slightly as Sirius turned to scowl at the girl. Nonplussed, Hermione smiled primly at the older man as she entwined fingers with Ron. "Well?"
Sighing, Sirius absently rubbed his neck, cursing the fact that Hermione had always been just a little too bright for her own good. "I let the hell gods get a little too close the other day, that's all," he stated, purposely avoiding Harry's eyes as Remus smiled at him sympathetically. Even if the smile showed his sympathy to his friend's plight, the fact still remained that Remus was staying safely out of this one.
"Are you alright?" Harry asked, frowning as his eyes scoured his godfather and sighing softly as he realized that whatever damage had been done, Madam Pomfrey had obviously already done her job and erased any outward sign. And while Sirius had regained his lost weight from his time in Azkaban, his godfather had always been more wiry than anything and always garbed in robes that were loose enough to hide his thinness - even then. However, Harry had to admit that at least Sirius actually looked
like Sirius at the moment. For some reason, he couldn't help but think that the reunion would have been at least the slightest bit soured when his favored godfather instead resembled one of the men that had attacked him and Buffy in Switzerland almost four months ago. "Are you alright?" he finally repeated when it looked as though Sirius wasn't going to answer.
"Harry, I'm fine," Sirius reassured as he ruffled his godson's hair, a small, genuine smile lifting his lips. "Don't worry so much," he added as he turned and casually glanced at a small wristwatch that was flashing all sorts of bright colors. "And we better get back to the Great Hall before they start dinner without us," he added as he began ambling down the hall in the direction that the trio had just come from.
"You guys go on without us," Hermione offered as she linked arms with Ron and began pulling him in the other direction. "We'll fetch Ginny and then meet you down there," she added before dragging the taller teen away.
Rolling his eyes in defeat, Harry watched the two disappear around a corner before turning to watch Sirius casually stroll away, before finally turning back to his old DADA professor and favored 'uncle.' "How do you do it?" he asked as he nodded towards his godfather's retreating back.
"How do you?" Remus returned with a small smile as he inclined his head in the direction that Ron and Hermione had just taken.
For a moment, Harry considered the question before shaking his head. "Good point," he conceded before stepping forward and wrapping his arms around his old professor in a loose hug. "I've missed my family," he whispered, knowing the werewolf could hear him as he squeezed the man's thin shoulders before slowly stepping back. And then, before Remus could comment he quickly grinned at the older man and nodded towards Sirius' disappearing back. "Now let's get going before Buffy finishes off the entire feast without us."
"You know, for someone so small, it's hard to imagine that she could possibly eat a great deal," Remus returned casually as their long strides quickly ate up the distance between them and Sirius.
"That's what I keep telling her," Harry sighed as he shook his head with a fond smile. "But you try standing between a slayer and a tub of Cookie Dough Fudge Mint Chip ice cream and then try telling me that."O o O o O o O
Sighing contentedly, Buffy patted her flat stomach as she leaned back in one of the cushioned chairs that Professor McGonagall had transfigured specifically for the Christmas feast, the slayer's dirty dishes disappearing from the table before her. "Now that's what I call all kinds of yum," she stated as her eyes drifted down the crowded table that was filled with students, teachers, witches, wizards, wiccans, slayers, watchers, muggles, and the lone vampire. Smiling at the odd mixture, she couldn't help but realize once more how much this Christmas must differed from past holidays for the castle's usual inhabitants.
"You could say that again," Xander added with a soft groan as he eyed his half-eaten dish of Christmas pudding. "I don't think I've ever seen so much food!"
"Or eaten that much, I'd imagine," Remus offered as he pointedly looked at the swollen middle that Xander was now cradling, a small sheen of sweat breaking out on the young man's forehead.
"Blame it on my mom," the Californian groaned as he began waving away the remnants of his dessert, his face beginning to turn a bit green. "She never let me leave the table until my plate was cleaned and my natural off switch was effectively demolished nearly fifteen years ago."
"Which does explain the new padding," Buffy added, grinning as Xander scowled in her direction.
"Well I still think it's some wacked shit when all this food just pops outta nowhere," Gunn commented as his empty plate disappeared from the table. Frowning, he bent low and ran a hand on the smooth wood beneath the table.
"It's called magic, Einstein," Cordelia stated, smiling smugly at her friend as she slapped at the hand that was trying to make away with her last bite of turkey - and yelping at the head that suddenly floated up and through the table before her. "I hate it when they do that," she muttered, crossly eyeing the ghost of Sir Nicholas as he floated through the table and then straight through the new slayer, Celeste, who was sitting opposite of her.
As the slayer tried to repress a scream, Gunn quickly shook his head as he turned back to the odd assortment of people that filled the large room. "So you're saying that you don't find any of this a bit... unnatural?" he pressed, grimacing as the blonde slayer and her raven-haired boyfriend both dove towards a chocolate frog that was busy hopping down the middle of the table, the two bumping heads and allowing the chocolate creation to hop free - and straight into Angel's goblet of blood, the crimson drops spraying Xander and a slender, red-haired witch that was sitting on his other side.
"Ah man!" Xander whined as he fell out of his chair. "I got Dead Boy's dinner all over me!"
"I-i-is that blood?" Ginny Weasley asked from beside him, her face draining of all color and her dark freckles becoming a stark contrast on her white cheeks.
"Unnatural?" Jarod asked from his place opposite of the dark-skinned young man. "I find it fascinating!" he said, his brown eyes shining eagerly as he continued to twist back and forth in his seat while the beautiful brunette beside him merely sighed at his behavior. "It's as though the laws of physics have no bounds-"
"Besides," Hermione added smartly as she leaned closer to the on-going discussion, "wizarding magic is no more unnatural to a muggle than muggle technology is to a wizard."
"Yo Bright Eyes," Faith cut in, grinning as Hermione raised startled, confused eyes towards her. "Was that English you just spoke?"
"The Queen's English, yes," Wesley replied for the young woman as he sniffed disdainfully at the dark-haired slayer. "And let me just say what a relief it is to hear it once more. It is much more civilized than that drabble that you Americans pretend to-"
"Oui, and I have found that British English is very... ah, how do you say... structured? - than that which is spoken in America," Celeste offered with a small smile as the former watcher continued with his rambling diatribe to whoever would listen, which, oddly enough, consisted solely of a rather attentive Percy Weasley, a polite French watcher, and a few ghosts.
"Who wants structure?" Buffy interrupted as she leaned across Willow to wave Harry's drumstick at the younger slayer.
"Well certainly not you," Giles retorted as he quickly snatched the bone from his slayer's small hands and placed it back on the table with a small sigh.
"Hey, I'm good with structure," Buffy exclaimed, trying and failing to look indignantly at her watcher. "Maybe," she amended with a small, wicked smile. "I mean, you can't be the Slayer for five years and not have some kind of... structure."
"Can destruction be a type of structure?" Sirius asked innocently as he pointedly patted his chest over the ribs that Buffy had accidentally broken upon their first meeting.
"Or how about drugging?" Harry added helpfully as Buffy glared balefully at him while Giles choked on the tea that he had been sipping.
"Or there's always snogging," Ron threw in even as he effectively dodged the assorted desserts that both Buffy and Harry lobbed in his direction.
"Or maybe this ends now before I show you all what a slayer is really capable of," Buffy broke in, her frown doing little to hide her amusement as she glared at the table at large.
For a moment, it almost looked as though Buffy had gotten her wish when Gunn threw the small slayer a grin. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd sure like to see that." And as Cordelia turned to him with an incredulous glare, he shrugged his tee-shirt clad shoulders. "What?" he asked, his dark eyes turning back to the others. "I've been hearing a lot about what a slayer can do, but so far, I haven't seen any of the three
slayers do jack shit. So how 'bout a little demonstration for the curious?"
It only took Buffy a moment to think through his request before a bright grin lifted her lips. It had been far too long since she had had the opportunity to fight beside a fellow slayer - months, really. And secretly, no matter how much of a work out the various demons from around the world provided to her on a nightly basis, she still always longed for the feeling of fighting someone that came close to matching the true prowess of a slayer. During the first years of her calling, Angel had stepped up to be her sparring partner. Later it was Faith. And now... and now she was being presented the opportunity to spar against not only one slayer, but two. "How 'bout it?" she asked, turning to her sister slayers with a mischievous grin. "No holds barred, no sides?"
Smiling slyly, Faith cast a quick glance down the table and inclined her head to the youngest slayer, waiting for her tentative nod before clapping her hands together and pushing back from the long table. "Why not?" she asked, spreading her arms wide as she turned back to the first slayer. "Have I ever turned down the chance to publicly wipe the floor with your ass, B? And if I don't, the Kid may very well do the work for me," she added as she nodded to where the youngest slayer was quickly climbing to her feet.
Laughing, Buffy turned and, seeing that they had the entire hall's attention anyway, quickly searched out the headmaster from the sea of faces, finally locating him towards the end of the long table, his twinkling blue eyes locked on the three slayers. "Professor Dumbledore, is there somewhere in the castle where we can... well, you know," she finished as she gestured at herself and her fellow slayers as they gathered beside her.
Smiling benignly at the three girls, the aged wizard cast his eyes to the professors that were seated beside him before slowly climbing to his feet, his festive red and green robes falling around his long frame. "While I had hoped for a bit of caroling to finish off the evening, a good match between slayers could be a more lively bit of entertainment," he said as he winked at the girls.
"Albus, I must-"
"Consider it an educational experience for the students," Dumbledore interrupted as McGonagall's lips drew in a thin, disapproving line, his blue eyes turning to the handful of students that had remained for the holidays and who were staring at the three girls in wide-eyed amazement. Turning, the headmaster cast his gaze around the large room that had been emptied save the long table that they all occupied. "And where better to watch the evening's entertainment than here?" he asked as he lifted his wand from the voluminous sleeves of his robe and muttered a quick incantation. Seconds later a large mat the size of a small classroom fell to the floor a few feet to the left of the table, torches along that wall flaring to life and brightly illuminating the area with their flickering fires.
Instantly the remnants of dinner were forgotten as the students and younger guests scrambled from their chairs and hurried to find a spot in the circle that encased the large mats, the teachers and older guests following at a much more leisurely pace. Grinning, Buffy led her fellow slayers through the mass, the people parting before them as they stepped onto the hard mat and worked their way into the center. Forming a triangle, Buffy slowly stretched out her arms above her head as she critically eyed the two girls that had joined her, nodding in approval at what she saw. In true slayer fashion, both Faith and Celeste wore casual clothes that would give them room to spar, Faith's usual dark denim topped with a deep burgundy long-sleeve cotton shirt, while the youngest slayer sported a pair of loose cotton pants and a sweater that she quickly slipped free of and tossed to the side, revealing a small tee beneath. Following the younger girl's lead, Buffy stripped off her own heavy sweater and threw it carelessly to the side as her bared skin prickled in the cold of the Great Hall.
"Well, they wanted a show," Buffy finally stated as she stilled before them, noting that while Faith topped her by a few inches, Celeste dwarfed them both by many more - the tall and slender girl falling back into a familiar defensive crouch.
"Let's give it to them," Faith returned, her lips curved into a feral smile as she bypassed any sort of fighting stance and spun in a high kick that caught Celeste unaware and threw her to the side as Buffy caught the foot aimed in her direction and twisted Faith mid-air and sent her crashing to the mats.
"Let's do it," Buffy agreed, flashing a bright grin at the dark-haired slayer before turning to engage the youngest slayer, the girl flying at her in a flurry of well-placed kicks and punches. Suitably impressed by her strength and skill, Buffy concentrated on her opponent, blocking the blows that she could and taking the ones that she couldn't with an unwavering expression before flipping to the side as Faith reclaimed her feet and joined the fight. Soon, the three began trading blows, each working for herself and attacking whoever left an opening, and all moving with the same ease and precision.
To those watching, it seemed as though the slayers moved almost languidly, the sharp, taunting remarks rolling off of Buffy and Faith's lips while the younger girl rolled her eyes at the display. Then, as they became more comfortable with each other, their capabilities, and the audience that watched their moves, the pace of the sparring slowly increased as the slayers attacked, kicked, defended, dove, rolled, and vaulted around the space of the mats - all unafraid to give a little, yet determined to take back just as much as they gave. Yet the thing that became the most noticeable were the differences in the girls' fighting styles. While Celeste fought with a determined precision and Faith with a wild abandon, Buffy fought with a grace that made her efforts seem beautiful in the deadliest way imaginable.
Taking a powerful kick against her braced arms, Buffy stumbled a few paces away from the fight as both Faith and Celeste adapted to her absence and focused more intently on each other. Recovering her balance once more, Buffy took a moment to wipe the sweat from her forehead before throwing an impish grin at her otherwise occupied opponents. Then, with a determined set of her lips she quickly launched herself forward, reintroducing herself to the fight as she leapt in a powerful spin, the heel of each foot catching a slayer and throwing them back to the far end of the mat in a splay of limbs. Grinning, Buffy landed lightly on her feet and watched as her fellow slayers attempted to reclaim their feet, her attention focused solely on her comrades - which was when her feet were swept out from beneath her from behind. Grunting as her back slammed against the hard mats, Buffy lay still for a moment, her chin tilting back to take in her opponent - and frowning as she took in Angel's upside down smirk.
"Ooh, you asked for it," she muttered, Faith and Celeste forgotten as she easily flipped to her feet and spun quickly, her kick knocked to the side and traded for a fist that she caught and spun away.
Confused, Celeste watched this new battle through wide eyes as Faith quietly pulled her off the mat, the two girls joining the amazed onlookers as everyone's eyes became trained on the new match. Together, the vampire and slayer, opposing forces of nature, moved as though they had always been fighting together, their attacks, feints, and hits a beautiful arc that spanned the area of the large mat. As Buffy would spin forward in a graceful kick, Angel would duck the move and then retaliate with a punch that Buffy would sidestep and return with a sweep of her legs that Angel would dance over. "What..." the slayer murmured, her wide eyes locked on Buffy's small frame.
"Buffy and Angel have history," Faith explained quietly, a small smile lifting her lips as she watched her sister slayer move. It had been a while since she had last sparred with Buffy, and even longer since she had seen Buffy and Angel in action, but even she could see that not only did Buffy obviously have her slayer strength back, but it seemed that she was getting stronger and faster - better. Idly, Faith couldn't help but wonder if the same could be said for her. Was the increase in strength and speed something that came with time as a part of the whole slayer package, or was it something more?
"But I thought that she was with the wizard," Celeste returned, her eyes searching out Harry from the crowd of onlookers and surprised to see neither anger nor jealousy in his green eyes, but instead a fierce pride and even love as he watched the fighting duo.
"Oh, this isn't about love, or even sex," Faith quickly countered with a sly smile as she finally turned away, nodding slowly as she took in the girl's star-struck expression. "What you're seeing right now? That, Kid, is what the dance is truly all about."