We commend to almighty God our sister, Joyce Summers...
...and we commit her body to the ground.
Earth to earth...
...ashes to ashes...
...and dust to dust.
The Lord bless her and keep her.
The Lord makes his face to shine upon her and be gracious to her.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon her...
...and give her peace.
Buffy stared at the coffin being lowered into the cold, wet ground. Her throat constricting, she found it difficult to look at anything else. The sound of the motor lowering her mother’s casket grated on her nerves. The whirring sound seems magnified and it felt like a hundred steel forks scratching on a blackboard.
She felt… nothing. She was numb, yet somehow overloaded with unfamiliar emotions. She could feel her senses flaring all around her, yet she remained oddly detached from the physical realm. She saw her friends surrounding her, heard the minister’s last words, smelled the dewy scent of wet grass, yet everything seemed surreal… ‘till the moment she felt something slide down her cold cheeks and suddenly tasted the salt in her tears.
The weather joined them in their moment of grief. As soon as the patch of earth was filled, the heavens opened and rain poured down on the solemn group. The sun hid its face, allowing a few minutes reprieve within the darkness.
Still, she did not move.
Acquaintances and friends slowly drifted off to different directions. It was getting dark, and it’s never advisable to stay in the cemetery well after sunset. The minister approached Buffy, murmuring parting words of comfort then turned to walk away with the crowd.
Loyal as always, Buffy’s friends stood by her side, like sentinels guarding a precious treasure. She couldn’t remember the last time she told them how much they meant to her…
Taking a slow, deep breath, Buffy closed her eyes and finally turned around and faced her friends. Her family. Her loss was their loss. Her grief was their grief. She slowly lifted her head, her wide-eyed stare moving from one beloved face to the next – Willow and Oz, Xander and Cordy, Giles and Jenny…
A slight movement in the shadows by the trees distracted her. Her eyes narrowed slightly, focusing on the solitary spot near a hanging branch where she saw something flash.
Willow followed her gaze curiously. “What is it?”
Buffy continued to stare at the hanging branch. “I don’t know…”
Her eyes, adjusting to the falling darkness, revealed a man standing a few feet away from their group, leaning casually on one of the trees.
He appeared tall, broad-shouldered, and … human. He was staring at them with an unreadable expression on his face, his dark robe-like clothes billowing with the night wind.
As their eyes met, a strange shiver ran down Buffy’s spine. A shiver of the intriguing kind. The moment they connected, she felt something wash over her. It was like the stranger was sending out waves of compassion and empathy.
Who was this guy?
Buffy’s eyes widened and broke the contact. She stared at the ground for a second before braving the stranger’s gaze once more. But he was already gone.
“Perhaps, we should go and rest for a while.” Giles advised, unaware of what just happened. “I believe it would be wise to take the night off. “
“Right. I wouldn’t say no to a nice dinner then a relaxing bath.” Jenny added, leaning comfortably at Giles side as they headed off from the rapidly darkening graveyard.
“I could bake cookies or – or brownies!” Willow offered eagerly. “Extra chocolate chips for chocolatey goodness.”
Oz seconded, “Brownies are known to be the balm of a wounded soul. All-around pick-me-uppers. ”
“How about videos? Nothing better than to immerse oneself in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
.” Xander grinned. Cordelia elbowed him and shot him a pointed glare. “Or not.”
Buffy gave a last sweeping look at the shadows, resigned to the fact that her mind was probably playing tricks on her. The stranger was nowhere to be seen. “Thanks guys. We could probably crash in our living room and have popcorn.” She smiled slightly. She felt her former self strangely restored, the numbing pain of her mother’s death not as paralyzing as before.
She felt their eyes staring in surprise at her almost-flippant offer. “Sorry. I haven’t been the jolly slayer lately, huh?”
“Buffy, you really don’t need to explain…” Willow protested.
“I… know it’s been difficult but somehow I’m getting this feeling that mom would like me to move on. Like starting a new chapter or… or something.” She frowned slightly.
Giles cleared his throat, “No, no. Don’t apologize. I think, it’s… I’m proud of you, Buffy.”
“Thanks, Giles. It scares me, but I think I can handle.” Buffy gave him a sad smile.
“Of – of course you can, Buffy.” Giles smiled reassuringly.
Xander threw his arm around her shoulders, “Of course you can. Especially with us scoobies to back you up…”
“Oh, puh-leeaze! Back you up?
With you screaming like a girl every time a vampire jumps at you?” Cordelia scoffed. “Oh, right. That’s totally impressive.”
Xander retorted, “I think you’re confusing your own screaming reaction to my manly surprised yell.”
Willow slid her arm around Buffy’s and whispered conspiratorially, “He does sound like a little girl when demons do a surprise attack…” Catching Xander’s glare, she babbled, “Of course, in a manly sort of way, a big burly manly scream that somehow resembles a little’s girl’s scream… or a high-pitched scream in a big burly manly – package that … that in no way resembles a…”
“Willow, you’re making everything worse.” Xander shook his head, amid the burst of laughter from the group. Even Buffy couldn’t help but giggle at Willow’s sheepish expression.
Giles took comfort in watching the round of banter and laughter that finally brought color to Buffy’s pale cheeks. This was what Buffy needed – this was where she draws her strength from. Her friends. The love binding their tight-knit band of misfits.
He gave Jenny a sidelong glance when he felt her link their fingers in a tight grip. Giles sighed in relief, reveling in the feeling that his slayer is going to be just fine.
“Do you need any help?”
Willow shouted from the bottom of the stairs. The redhead paused to listen, all the while hefting a heavy box of musty texts that Giles gave her for some additional reading. Being a witch wasn’t as exciting as she thought it would be. It was pretty much like High School… without the Mayor-turning-into-a-giant-snake thing. Or maybe it did, but she hasn’t reached that level yet. Not that she wanted to be a snake or anything…
Buffy’s strangled, “No.. no. I – I think I can deal” satisfied her for the moment, allowing her to dump the box near the back of the living room floor.
“Where’s Buff? We need help with these boxes. Really, Will. What have you got in here? Bricks or…?” Xander groaned as he heaved another box inside the room.
“Books.” Willow grinned. “Ancient Literature stuff and Anthropology volumes plus some witchy stuff that no, you’re not allowed to borrow because of the semi-naked pictures inside…” She lifted one of the exposed books titled Hidden Worlds and Dimensions
, “We really need to do a lot more research about Glory. Everything’s been quiet for a while now and I don’t like it.”
“Yeah, but Drama and Theater: Awakening the Passion
You know me… all with the learning and education.” Her grin faded a little. “I’ll be moving into Buffy’s old room and Buffy’s going to stay in her.. uh, mom’s… Oh, and Buffy’s in the… uh, her mom’s room. Packing stuff.” Biting a fingernail nervously, “I—I figured maybe she needed to do it alone. It could be like… a catharsis of sorts.”
Xander gazed at the ceiling in contemplative silence. “Yeah. I guess so.”
Upstairs, in her mom’s bedroom, Buffy stared at the piles of clothing that littered the bed. The impact of her decision washed over her, causing her to drop the box labeled CHARITY
Two weeks have passed since the funeral. Buffy decided, in order for her to move past this, she needed to let go of her mom’s things. The bed, her clothes, her books, all of it. She’s going to give it to one of those foundation groups, or probably the local foster home. Although, she was still keeping some of the more special stuff like her mom’s collection of silver brushes, the music box, her jewelry and the vanity.
Facing the mounds of clothes that needed to be packed as soon as possible, Buffy blinked back the tears that were threatening to fall. Her mom’s clothes. They may be lacking much in the fashion department, but still… these are proof that she had a mother.
Eventhough she knew her dad was still out there somewhere, Buffy couldn’t help but feel that she was now an orphan.
She continued staring into space when a soft rap on the window startled her from her reverie. Frowning slightly, she cautiously stepped toward the heavily curtained windows. The unfamiliar rapping sounds continued, causing her heart to pound in apprehension.
With a strong yank, almost ripping the curtains apart, Buffy gaped at the sight of a snowy owl just outside her window. Strange. There weren’t any owls in Sunnydale, or so she thought..
“Whoa… Hey guys? Come over here for a sec. You have got to see this!” Buffy called out, still staring at the big-eyed bird. She finally noticed the letter it was gripping on its beak, noting the embossed letter H on the flap.
The owl continued to rap its beak on the window glass, its eyes showing an impatient expression. Buffy opened the window and shrieked when the bird flew inside and dropped the letter right smack on her head.
Footsteps reverberated from the stairs. Willow and Xander burst in, eyes widening at the sight of the bird flitting about the room in what could be seen as… excitement. It settled on the back of a chair, its eyes trained on Buffy.
“Uh, Buff? You do know you’ve got an owl inside your house?” Xander asked nervously, eyes glued to the resting owl.
“Is it sending out demon vibes? Cause, if it does, we probably need to call Giles and tell him about…” Willow swallowed as she inched closer to Buffy’s side as she also stared at the large bird.
“No… I don’t think so.” Buffy frowned. She picked up the letter the bird threw at her. “It was… knocking
on the window.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I pulled it open, it flew straight in and dropped this letter on my head. It has my name and address on it.”
“This is so… medieval. I mean, ancient times medieval.” Willow breathed. “Owls normally don’t deliver mail… do they?”
“I’m pretty much sure they don’t, Will.” Xander replied firmly. He gestured at the letter, “I say we open it.”
“What if it’s a trap? What if it contains a vortex or – or wormhole to another dimension…” Willow’s voice was rising in panic. “It could suck us in and we’ll be trapped forever in that paper sucking prison…”
Buffy sighed. “Will, don’t be silly. It’s just probably a message from… uh, I don’t really know anybody who owns an owl.” She frowned again, breaking the wax seal and pulling out a parchment from inside. It said:
* * * * * * *
Dear Ms. Summers,
I hope this letter finds you well. We have received news that Joyce Summers has passed away. We sincerely express our deepest condolences to you in this difficult time.
At this point, it is of great importance that you understand how her death will affect your future. There is a great deal of information you need to know about your true lineage and it is best if we tell you this in person.
I have sent someone to speak with you with regard to this matter. He shall serve to answer whatever questions you might have. Rest assured that we shall respect whatever you may decide to do after the meeting.
We shall expect your reply before this week ends. My owl shall take care of bringing back your message.
Minister of Magic
* * * * * * *
“Okaaay…” Xander paced, looking mutinous. “I don’t like it.”
Buffy smiled weakly, “It does seems weird. I’m just not sure if it’s hellmouthy-weird or not.”
Willow reread the letter, her expression slightly confused. “I don’t know. It – it says this man is the Minister of Magic
. What’s a Minister of Magic
“I have absolutely no idea.” Buffy sighed. “This is like, Giles-stuff. Maybe we should just call him.”
“No. He’s working with Miss Calendar on a database for the Magic Box.” Willow supplied. "It's Giles' idea of dating."
Buffy's eyes widened, "That is just so
Xander frowned. “Maybe this is a prank. Some stupid college fratboy prank… to, I don't know... goad
Buffy into revealing her true identity?” He gave them a smug smile.
The two girls looked at each other and burst into laughter. “That's a stretch, even for you. Xander.” Buffy giggled.
"Hey, you never know. What if this is another plot hatched by Glory or her minions to bring you down?" He insisted.
Willow shook her head, "I don't think so. I'm not entirely sure but it just doesn't feel hell-goddessy-evil for me."
Buffy agreed, "Yeah. It's giving me the wiggins. But it's not tapping into my slayer sense."
"How about the owl? Do you think it's in on this Minister guy?" Xander asked, scratching his head.
Their discussion was suddenly interrupted by an unexpected sound.
The doorbell rang.
Buffy’s heart skipped a beat. With a sinking feeling, she automatically knew that the unknown person from the letter just arrived. However, denial lent its voice. “It’s probably just Giles. Or somebody selling something.” She hurried downstairs, her fist closing tightly on the mysterious letter.
“Why do I get the feeling that’s not the local Avon lady?” Xander muttered as he and Willow followed Buffy’s lead.
Willow merely shrugged, looking a bit apprehensive.
Buffy peeked from the small window beside the door and did a double take. It was the stranger from the cemetery!
Curiousity getting the best of her, she took a deep breath before opening the door. “Yes?”
The stranger smiled, “Hi, may I please speak with Ms. Buffy Summers?”
Gorgeous. The man was one gorgeous hunk. Or as Cordy would say, pure salty goodness
. Buffy gave herself a mental shake. Whoa, down girl
. “I’m Buffy Summers. And you are…?”
The stranger held out his hand, “Harry Potter. At your service, ma’am.”