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This story is No. 2 in the series "Waifs and strays". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The second (much longer) installment in the Waifs and Strays AU. Covers season 1. Please READ THE SERIES INTRODUCTION!

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Joyce-Centered(Current Donor)vidiconFR1598780,0851591497402,24728 May 115 Jul 14No

Homes of dreams and nightmares

Author’s Note:

Thanks very much to my Beta’s, Letomo and EllandrahSylver.

The following ways of notation may be found in this story. This is excluding whatever I need to represent chatting, texting and stuff like that. And you can thank Twilightwanderer for the Abbott and Costello.

Speech: “Who’s on first.”

Thought: *What’s on second.*

Vision: #I-don’t-know’s on third.#

Greek: ^Who cares?^

Ancient Egyptian: »Who’s that?«

Latin: ~Who’s who?~

Telepathy: %Who’s that in my mind?%

We are now very, very close to the crossover. Just a little more patience… Please leave a review, critical or otherwise. (Constructive criticism is of course more appreciated than flaming.)

Chapter 74 Homes of dreams and nightmares

22nd of December, after the ritual Halliwell Manor San Francisco

Piper Halliwell let out a squeal. So did Phoebe and then Prue whooped.

Penelope watched them, slightly glassy eyed. “How do you three have so much energy?”

“The Power of Three,” a soft male voice replied from the side. “Hello, Penelope.”

“Leo? What are you doing here? I thought you had other duties? And disagreed with what we were doing?” Penelope asked the Whitelighter.

Leo shrugged. “Two reasons. I got visited by a group of Elders who disagree with the majority. They asked me to convince you to allow me to be your Whitelighter again as well as that of the Chosen Ones. And Allen told me to get my butt down here to make sure everyone was all right,” he added rather sheepishly.

“Allen… And where is Allen himself?” Penelope asked with an odd tone in her voice.

“Healing people. A few witches overtaxed themselves. He can’t visit you here, it would draw too much attention,” Leo told her regretfully.

Penelope nodded. “I know.”

Leo grinned. “He did tell me to give you a message,” the Whitelighter leaned in and whispered. “When you go to New York, wear The Boots…” 

Penny blinked and then smiled, shaking her head in exasperation. “Only Allen.”

There was another whoop and Piper jumped at Leo, who instinctively swung her around to keep his balance. Piper laughed, kissed his cheek and dropped out of his arms, jumping at her sisters. Leo looked at her, a rather stunned expression on his face.

Penelope looked at the three young women in bemusement. “I haven’t seen her like this since she got into the sugar coated cookies when she was three.”

“They’ll all be a bit high for a while. The first time they merged as the Three added to a major, worldwide merge?” Leo shook his head in awe. “If I hadn’t seen it… that had to have been the most audacious thing in history. I didn’t even know it was possible.”

“Simon was sure he could do it, with the Mana point to help him. He wanted these people destroyed. And unlike the Elders, he has no trouble destroying evil men. Isn’t that why you asked me to make certain he became Grand Magister?” Penelope asked sharply. “I seem to recall a certain Whitelighter standing not so far away from me pressing me quite hard to make sure Simon succeeded his father. Oh, there were good reasons, but I know that you wanted a hatchet man. You got one. Don’t start complaining when he used the axe.”

Leo winced. “That didn’t quite work out like the Elders wanted.”

“Yes, he told me. How many did he get?” Penelope asked, her voice curious – as well as slightly malicious, as she watched her granddaughters chase each other around the garden like frolicking preteens.

“Seven, including three elders, over the past twenty-four years. And eleven powerful witches declined our protection and aid unless we swore never ever to act like we did to him. Danielle Moritz kicked her Whitelighter out of her house even after she was struck by a stroke. It was, to some of us, a very harsh warning of what we were becoming. It changed a great deal, but we have a lot of work to do before we are trusted like we once were,” Leo answered soberly. “The elders I spoke of are trying to regain trust.”

“True. Leo…” Penelope paused thoughtfully, eyeing the young looking man.

“Yes?” Leo asked, bracing himself for another tough question.

“That handyman cover of yours… How are you at plumbing? The downstairs toilet is making the strangest noises.”

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22nd of December, after the ritual, Maryland main coven circle

Tara blinked at her mother. “Is it always like that?”

Eileen looked at her mother who was looking very tired but also was smiling broadly. “You mean like you’re wrung out like a washcloth, and tired as anything, but still feel better than ever? Yes. Merging is better than drugs, especially with people you love. A significant other will make it even better,” she winked and Tara blushed.

“And how do you know it’s better than drugs?” Mary looked at her eldest daughter sternly, who squirmed. “Which Tara will not be using, will you, young lady?” 

Tara gulped at the tone of Mary’s voice. “N-no, Ma’am! No d-drugs!”

“Very good,” Mary nodded in satisfaction, her stern eye roving from Eileen to Janet, both of whom looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“G-grandmother? What happened there, at the end?” Tara asked as she started to help douse some of the candles and torches.

“A powerful witch entered the merge. She was very frightened. It may have been more than one. They felt very young,” Mary shook her head. “I hope Cecilia or someone closer to the main merge can tell me more.”

“I-I think I could feel some really powerful people way over that way…” Tara gestured to the west.

Mary exchanged glances with Eileen. “We felt that too. I could feel at least one merge within the merge, that would be the Charmed ones.”

Eileen shivered. “And there was someone in the central merge who has tremendous potential.”

“That probably was Willow,” Mary observed. “I’m really very glad that Simon is teaching her. I shudder to think what would have happened if that girl did not receive careful training and supervision. Too powerful to be so curious, and far too cocky.”

Tara smiled. “I like her.”

Eileen and Mary exchanged looks, then gazed at the girl thoughtfully but kindly. “We noticed, dear,” Mary smiled.

Tara blushed.

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Winter Tor, Dartmoor, Devon, after the Ritual

Althenea was giggling and Aphrodite was doing a jig with her sister Theresa. That was a highly uncharacteristic behaviour, at least in public. All four girls were usually quite reserved. Beatrice Witheringham-Thomas sat on her little folding chair and watched the scene with a smile. A hand, a hand a good deal younger than her own but by no means young, touched her shoulder. Beatrice looked round to meet a pair of frank grey blue eyes studying her carefully. The older Jane got, Beatrice decided, the more Ashby-like she became. Longheaded, small boned with fine, thin, long-fingered hands. “Hello, Bee. They look happy.” As always there was a slightly wistful tone in Jane's voice as she observed the twins.

“They do,” Beatrice laid a hand on Jane's. Jane was fifty-five, going on sixty now. She had never married, dedicating her life to the memory of her sister and fighting evil in all its forms.

There was a squeal and then the two younger twins stampeded towards Jane, the older set following at a slightly more sedate pace. “Auntie Jane!” Two pairs of arms went around her and then Althenea and Aphrodite where there, too. Jane stiffened for a second and then relaxed into the hugs.

“Hello, girls. Good to see you too.” She smiled at the huddle around her.

Althenea looks a trifle peeved. “I didn't sense you! Why can't I ever sense you?”

Jane chuckled. “Ah, that is a talent I learned from someone in the Colonies. I'll teach you when you're a little older.”

“Really, Aunt Jane, we're eighteen!” Aphrodite complained.

“And too young to learn this yet,” Jane told them sternly. “Now come on. It's cold here and it's a long walk.”

Caroline looked down her nose in an arch fashion. “We are going by car with Daddy. He's picking us up.”

Beatrice winced. That same look had often been on Ruth's face.  Jane looked at the little girl. “I see.”

“Jane?” Priss walked up. “I thought I sensed you in the merge. Where were you?”

Jane looked at Priss with emotionless eyes. “I wasn't on time, so I sat on another Tor and joined from there.”

Priss nodded, studying her older cousin. “Jane... The Council of Thirteen was almost completely destroyed, and Quentin was the senior survivor, as well as the only one opposed to the actions that led to their destruction. He's the Augustus now.”

Jane's eyes, expressionless before, hardened now. “I see,” she repeated.

“And that meant that he has access to information he didn't before. He was honest when he made that promise, Jane,” Priss assured her. 

Jane's arms tightened around Caroline. “Really? So when can I expect to hear from him? He made that promise fifteen years ago, so let’s say thirty?”

“He was hoping to see you. He's found out what happened to her, and where she should be, where she's buried,” Priss replied softly. “He has everything with him to talk over with you, including a proposal on how to retrieve her remains, and her re-interment.”

Jane gulped. “F-found her? He-he knows where she is?”

Beatrice let out a gasp. “Why didn't you tell me, Priss?”

Priss looked rather anxious. “I wanted to tell you, but Quentin said it would be better to tell Jane first. Don't be too upset with him, he really thought it was best.”

Bee looked at her daughter-in-law and nodded. “He's right. Jane deserved to hear it first.”

Jane was hugging Caroline to her as if the girl was her only link to reality. “Aunt Bee?” Jane's voice trembled as she reverted to the form of address she had used as a child. “He-he's found her, Aunt Bee. And he's going to make sure she comes back to us. What do I do now, Aunt Bee?”

Bee looked at the strained faces around her. Both sets of Twins were trying to control their emotions but both sets also wondered how they would react if their sister was Chosen and callously used, and not even her body returned to the family to mourn over.

Bee smiled. “Well my old bones demand one of those soft beds that Quentin reserved. And for the rest, we can discuss it tomorrow over breakfast.”

Priss let out a sigh. Theresa, Althenea and Aphrodite suddenly moved in on Jane more closely, hugging and comforting the older woman. Jane wallowed in their embraces and soothing words and touches in a way she’d never done before.      

Bee blinked away some tears. “We need to tell Nell and Brat and the children.”

Jane smiled through her tears. “Yes. We can finally have the tablet finished. We can bury her, we can put her with Mum and Dad and… Simon, she always wanted that.”

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22nd of December, after the ritual, Marigold base in the Rocky Mountains

“We have lost all the souls we gathered since we started Operation Harvest Darkness, except those taken from adults, or traded for with the so called Lord Voldemort,” the Director stated with a sneer. “That leaves us with exactly five.”

The blond man shuddered at the name. “I would appreciate if you didn’t mention him by name,” Lockhart told the Director primly.

The Director smiled. “Of course, let’s by all means protect your sensibilities. Mr. Lockhart, we need those soulgems. We currently have three mobile gems and two incorporated within our technology to safeguard our computer systems. Our agents have no protection and the covens are on guard against further attempts at harvesting. Not to mention that we only have a very limited number of people left who can actually perform the ritual to harvest the souls.”

Lockhart smirked. “How many, Mr. Director?”

“Not important now, Mr. Lockhart. What is important is that you can use the spell taught to you by Voldemort’s second in command to harvest what we need with far greater facility. And that you know the location of, and can get into, at least one of the largest concentrations of young, powerful magical souls in the world. And nobody important will miss them.”

Lockhart blinked. “You want me to go to Hogwarts and take the souls of the pupils? Are you mad? They’ll catch me and lynch me in seconds!”

“No, Mr. Lockhart. You will go there and prepare for an invasion,” the Director smiled. “You will scout, remaining hidden. We will move in once the school is back in session, eliminating the adults and then we’ll process the children, starting with the youngest. The world, this country, must be protected. Madmen like Voldemort cannot be allowed to threaten the integrity of the Unites States. Men like the Grand Magister can not be allowed to cast aside the institutions of this great nation just when they fancy it. And to achieve that goal, to be safe from magical interference and to be able to project American values onto the world, Mr. Lockhart, we will take the souls of the children of Hogwarts. And once we have them, those of Beauxbatons, Mahoutokoro, the Brazilian Academy and Durmstrang and if necessary, Salem! We will be back, stronger than ever!”

Lockhart noted the slightly manic gleam in the Director’s eye and decided not to protest too much. “Such an operation will be dangerous. What, to put it bluntly, is in it for me?”

The Director smiled grimly. “Mr. Lockhart, knowing your proclivities, I’m sure you can think of some things to do with a school full of children. It will take time to process them all and not all will be… suitable.”

Lockhart smiled. “That is true. That is very true.”    

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22nd of December, a Lear jet over California, after the ritual

It was quiet on the plane. The bedroom at the rear was occupied by Joyce and the two youngest, who were finally sleeping again. The middle part was occupied by sleeping teens and adults. Sleeping except for Buffy, who was amazingly able to cope without sleep, and Willow and Rowan, who were comparing notes and yawning.

Up at the front of the plane a small group was talking. It was quite clear that Danielle was furious about what she heard.

“You- you idiot!” she hissed, her flashing green eyes on Simon’s rather embarrassed face. “We talked about this before!”

Simon’s face hardened from its embarrassment. “Yes, I remember it well. I admit I made a mistake, and pushed too hard, but I’m not a child-”

“You’re going to have one! Do you want the baby to grow up without a father?” Danielle demanded harshly.

Simon winced. James cleared his throat, his face drawn and tired. “Danielle, he made a decision. I think it was the right one. Considering the fact he was so severely drained it means that the number of those indoctrinated, and therefore the threat was considerable. And that last remark was beyond the pale. I think you should apologize.”

Danielle nodded and took a deep breath, gathering herself. Then she rose and knelt by Simon, taking his face in her hands. “Simon, look at me. Can you understand why I am so upset? Your habit of nearly killing yourself is not conducive to my emotional stability.”

Simon smiled wanly, still not quite meeting her eyes. “I noticed.”

“You did what you had to, Simon. I know that, in my head. In my heart…” Danielle took a deep breath. “My daughter is lost to me, if I ever had her. And I almost lost my son, again. I really wish you weren’t so profligate with your own life, Simmy. I love you. And I’m sorry,” she hugged him fiercely.

Cecilia exchanged a look with James. “Simmy?”

Simon flushed slightly as he hugged Danielle back. “A childhood nickname. Thank you, Nanny, for revealing that,” he added dryly as he helped her back to her feet.

Danielle grinned. “I consider it my duty to embarrass you dreadfully with childhood tales. Delores Landingham and I agreed long ago that you and Jed needed that deflating action on occasion.”

Simon’s eyebrows lifted. “On occasion?”

Danielle smiled impishly. “Every occasion when we can?”

Cecilia smiled. “Well. Now maybe we can get down to business. I called Penny and she could feel Willow all the way in Frisco. So could Mary, over on the East Coast. That rather demonstrates her power. We could feel the merge of the P’s. Everybody could feel Dawn and Kit at the end, the entire merge.”

James nodded. “And despite the fact that Buffy was barely able to contribute, everybody felt the Slayer reverberate through the merge.”

Danielle shook her head. “I never realised quite how much power the Slayer lineage harbours. Or that it might be tapped by a merge. You and Rupert were right, Simon. Every Slayer has a small amount of magical talent, but only in the strongest can it overcome the Slayer and emerge instead of merely being suborned.”

James nodded. “Too many people forget that the Slayer line is older than even the oldest of the Great Spirit lines. All of the past, the present and the future is in it. Add to that the strength of a Warren witch…”

“She was latent when she was born,” Cecilia mused. “Her power as a witch was awakened and then subsumed by the Slayer power, and now it’s struggling to emerge from behind the Slayer.”

“And the Slayer essence obviously doesn’t want it to. So do we train her or don’t we? Do we trust that whoever or whatever Chose Buffy knew what it was doing? Or do we train her?” Danielle asked.

“I don’t know. The Slayer is an ancient and powerful thing. It also seems rather animalistic, primitive. No one precisely knows where it came from-” Cecilia began.

“Nikki Wood told me. Her watcher showed her. A group of adepts, in a time even before there were Wizards forced the essence, the power, of a powerful demon, possibly even an Old One or something similar into an unwilling girl, and created the spell to send it to another once she died,” Simon interrupted her. “Nikki wasn’t pleased, to say the least.”

James looked at him aghast. “An Old One’s essence? By the Great Spirit, why?”

Simon shrugged. “They were desperate, frightened. They had the essence, without the consciousness attached. And the ability. Proud men have done terrible things before.”

“Have you told her?” Cecilia asked after a moment’s silence.

“No. I sent a letter to Bernard Crowley and asked him to send me the materials Nikki mentioned, but he hasn’t replied yet,” Simon ran a hand through his hair. “Then I understand that he was kidnapped and nearly killed when the Watchers were attacked, so that’s not really surprising.”

“Why a girl?” James pulled his lip. “Why not a man, a warrior?”

Simon shrugged. “I don’t know. I know people say that it is because pretty young girls are a target for demons, but so are pretty young men, all people are but prey to them.”

Jon tilted his head. “Hmmm, a girl. An innocent, yet a girl holds the promise of the race, children, the possibility of motherhood, renewal. Whereas the male holds death, destruction…”

James nodded. “That makes sense to me. The Female Mystery.”

Cecilia snorted. “All very interesting, but do we train Buffy?”

Jon pulled his lip. “I say she should be trained, or at least we should find out what she can do and then we must see if training is possible. At the very least she can receive guidance from Arlene in managing and interpreting her Slayer dreams.”

Cecilia nodded. “I dislike allowing that power to control her. That aura around her was not what I call friendly. I vote for training, too.”

James nodded. “Every possible edge. I vote for training.”

Simon raised an eyebrow. “I’ll talk to her. I agree, in principle, but the choice should be Buffy’s,” he smiled a little ruefully. “More training. She’s unhappy enough with the training she has to do already. We’ll have to see where we can shave off some of it to accommodate her social life, or she won’t be fit to live with. She’s grouchy enough now as it is.”

“I’d scold you for that, except that I know what Buffy can be like,” Cecilia admitted.

“Can you see what her talent is? In her aura or in the merge?” Simon asked, curiously.

“No,” Cecilia frowned. “But now we know she has it and it is active, we should be able to find out and help her control it and overcome the resistance of the Slayer, with the training.” 

“Well that is one good thing, though I think I’ll let Joyce break the news to her.” Simon ran a hand through his hair. “What about the others?”

“Amy is a solid, powerful witch. Celia as well, they are in about the same category, as is Evy. Jenny in any other company would have the power necessary to be an excellent candidate for Coven or even High Magister. She and Rupert form a merge together, you all noticed that?”

Simon nodded a slight smirk on his face. “I did. Then again, a Seer of the People would form a bond with her chosen mate almost immediately. It would have been worrying if they hadn't formed one.”

Danielle nodded her agreement.

“Willow…” Cecilia shook her head. “Willow and Rowan are in a near permanent merge. When Willow collapsed, Rowan – in her own elegant phrasing – 'totally freaked'.”

“Not a completely stable merge. Even with Willow’s incomplete training she should have been able to control the flow of her power better,” Jon mused.

“Hmmm, a merge between a conscious soul in a machine and a living witch is bound to be unstable,” Simon shook his head. “And they both have a habit of taking short cuts and not paying enough attention to the basics.”

Danielle looked at her hands. “And there should have been three, remember? It is an incomplete merge, just like Penelope’s girls would not be the Charmed Ones if there were only two of them.”

Simon nodded soberly. “I must admit the greatest surprise for me was the merge of Kit and Dawn.”

“What, you weren’t expecting them to stay up?” James asked, amused. “Considering what was happening and that we were flying out right after the ritual…”

“You can’t merge like that! Merging between blood relationships or those who know what they are participating in is hard enough and despite Joyce’s talent and everything they’ve been through and no matter how close they’ve become, a unconscious merge like that just shouldn’t have been possible! Not between two preteens, one of whom is latent!” Simon argued.

Cecilia nodded. “Kit is still latent, yet somehow Dawn tapped into her power, and even some of Xander’s.”

James nodded. “Which would throw things off even worse, an untrained Heyoka? Playing with Chaos.”

“Dawn’s potential has got to be enormous. She reinvigorated all of us because she was afraid we were hurt,” Cecilia mused.

“Her aura doesn’t bear that out. And there was more than a touch of darkness to that boost, so I doubt she got it all from herself, she must have drawn upon the Hellmouth,” Danielle warned. “So something will need to be done about that.”

“Another cleansing ritual?” James asked, smiling. “They’ll like that. Make them feel part of things.”

“So, panic reactions all round. At any rate they weren’t injured and they’ve calmed down a lot. They really are alright?” Cecilia sounded anxious.

“Dawn bit through her lip and Kit’s got a bruise on her butt from where she fell of the bed but other than that they’re fine,” Simon assured her. “You saw them sleeping yourself.” 

“What about the results?” Cecilia asked.

“We’re still getting reports, but the even the serious newspapers are reporting a lot of spontaneous combustions, acid spills and other weird accidents. The less serious ones are having a field day. And Aloysius sent a rather satisfied report that half his coven council is now suffering the torments of hell,” Simon noted.

Danielle shuddered. “I don’t understand how anyone can take so much pleasure in the pain of others. Aloysius really enjoys that sort of thing far too much.”

“Only when they deserve it,” Simon asserted, before he yawned widely.

Danielle grabbed his hand. “Come on, you’re going to bed. And so are we.”

Cecilia nodded. “I haven’t been this tired since I gave birth to Joyce and Charlotte.”

James grinned. “I just hope you don’t curse as much. I’m pretty sure that is where Arlene picked up her vocabulary.” Then he ducked as Cecilia tried to swat his arm.

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Airplane approaching London, December 23rd

The flight attendant felt almost guilty about waking the couple sleeping in the First Class seats. But the direct flight from LA to London Heathrow was landing and they needed to buckle up, to disentangle from each other. The man was older than the woman, his brown hair very lightly speckled with grey. He wore a very good suit of tweed and a worn and battered leather shoulder bag stood by his chair. The woman was gorgeous, a dark haired, bold eyed beauty in a simple but elegant business suit. At first the attendant had thought she was his secretary, but that thought went out of the window when he had gently unbuckled her from her seatbelt after take off. She had fallen asleep almost before she had sat down. The man, obviously unused to and unhappy with flying, had lasted until just after he had unbuckled them. The seats could be joined together, and the moment it had been, the woman had curled into the man in a way so loving and trusting that it had been all the various people who saw it could do not to ‘Aaaawww’ out loud. 

Rupert Giles woke to the face of a rather amused looking attendant. “Sir? We’re approaching Heathrow. You may want to wake your…”

“Fiancée,” Giles supplied with a soft smile at the dark brown head on his shoulder. “Jenny? Jenny love, wake up, we’re landing.”

Jenny murmured something before her eyes shot open in a near panic. “Landing? Already? Oh my God, I’m meeting your parents!” Unlike her husband to be, she had an American accent.

The attendant, a woman who had seen much in her years dealing with first class passengers, smiled. “They’ll be delighted to welcome you, I’m sure. Would you mind buckling up?”

Jenny nodded and buckled. Then she closed her eyes. “Who’s meeting us again?”

“Esther flew back earlier, much to Father’s disgust, so it will probably be her, just to get out of the house. He doesn’t believe a Watcher should leave his Slayer or Potential, ever,” Giles smiled.

“Esther. Right. I can deal with Esther for a bit,” Jenny nodded.

“Then we drive to Failand, that’s in Somerset. And there we meet the rest of the family. Father’s invited Uncle Sebastian and Anna, my cousin. I hope she’s bringing a boyfriend,” Giles added fervently.

“Sorry? Is she after you or something?” there was a slight threatening note in Jenny’s voice.

“Hah, no. But if she marries and has a son, he’ll inherit the title. Otherwise I’m for it,” Giles grimaced. “I can do very well without being the Earl of Banbury.”

Jenny looked thoughtful. “Would that make me Lady Banbury?”

“Or Countess Banbury, or Lady Giles, possibly Grey-Giles if we follow convention,” Giles answered morosely.

“Is there any jewelry?” Jenny asked.

“Jenny!” Giles glared until he saw her smirk. “Oh, stop that.”

“Sorry. You just get so delightfully fussy when you think too hard about it.”

Giles sighed. “Hush, we’re landing. I need to pray now.”

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LaGuardia Airport, New York, December 22nd

“I can’t believe we’re here. I really can’t believe it,” Prue looked around First class lounge of LaGuardia airport. “We’re in New York. We’re actually in New York. And First Class too!”

“And Piper kissed Leo, I can't believe that!” Phoebe teased.

Piper growled. “It was just a peck, okay? And it's not like you haven't kissed boys, and worse, while drunk! And that ritual definitely had us all high!”

“Hmm-hmmm, of course,” Phoebe grinned like a loon. “Don’t deny it was fun!”

Penelope shook her head. “Girls, behave. Oh, and Phoebe? We'll be talking later.”

Phoebe winced.

Prue smiled at the banter. “So, who's here to pick us up?”

“I don't know, Simon just said someone would be waiting here for us... Dear me.” Penelope's eyes widened. “Well. Dear me.”

“Dear what, Grams?” Phoebe asked.

“I hope ‘Dear Dad’, Phoebe,” a soft, deep male voice said.

All three girls whirled round. In the doorway stood a stocky man with a rather rueful yet hopeful expression on his face.

“D-dad?” Phoebe gasped. “What? How?”

Victor Bennett shrugged. “I got a visit at the office from a lady who works for the Meier Foundation. A very high ranking one apparently, because one of the senior partners wanted to know what she was doing there. So I told him that she was there to talk to me about my daughters. And if I wanted to meet them again.”

Prue glared at him and held back her sisters from rushing at him. “And what did you say?”

Victor glanced at Penelope. Then he reached into his pocket and got out a wallet. Flipping it open he showed his oldest daughter the old, faded pictures inside. “I've got them on my desk as well. I didn’t leave because I wanted to, Prue.”

“Really? Why did you then?” Prue asked rather nastily.

“Because Victor and I kept fighting, especially after your mother died, if you would be raised magically or not.” Penelope intervened. “I shut him out of raising you and practically drove him away. Don't blame him too much, Prue. It was as much my fault, and yes, Patricia's too, as his.”

Victor blinked at the unexpected defense. “Thank you.”

Phoebe shook off Prue's hands and then ran towards Victor “Dad.”

Victor hugged her, his eyes wet. “Phoebe. My little Phoebe.”

Piper very pointedly removed Prue's hand and walked purposefully towards Victor and Phoebe, insinuating herself into the hug. Penelope looked at Prue. Prue bit her lip, shrugged and then followed her sisters, rather sheepishly.

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LaGuardia Airport, New York

The Lear jet had landed at LaGuardia. The sleeping children had been awakened and the baggage gathered up. The waiting attendants swiftly guided the family, including the luggage, outside to where a number of cars stood waiting. The cars were quickly loaded with the Family and the baggage and then drove off quickly.

The cars moved through traffic like oil over water, practiced New York drivers choosing the best possible route for the date, time and target. The children goggled at the snow-strewn city as they passed landmarks familiar only from movies.

Willow and Rowan kept whispering and pointing and Xander just looked around, open-mouthed. Buffy looked wistfully and longingly at the shops, as did Dawn and Kit. Kendra seemed to assess each street, building and alley for its dangers and tactical uses.

The motorcade passed though a large wrought iron gate that opened before their approach, and closed immediately after the last car cleared it. Before them rose a huge mansion. A number of men and women strode towards the cars to open the doors, but the children beat them to it and emerged into the cold New York air.

“Wow, it's cold,” Willow shivered and drew her coat closer.

“Yeah. And this is snow. I've never seen snow...” Dawn scuffed the snow with her fur-lined boot.

“This is Park Water, the largest of our family's houses in New York City. Next door is the old Carnegie mansion and there are some excellent views of Central Park.” Simon pointed at a huge dark fir tree that rose up next to a pond in the garden. “And that is the Christmas tree. This land has been in the family for almost three hundred years and that tree has been here for at least a hundred. And it appears that it has been decorated?” he looked around, spotting Miller. “Miller?”

Miller coughed. “I thought you might want Miss Dawn to light it, sir. It is a good tradition.”

Simon smiled. “There is that. Where's the switch?”

Miller proffered a small box. “Here you are Sir.”

Simon gave the box to Dawn. Buffy looked slightly jealous. “Now you can turn it on the first time, but it will be turned off tonight and then relit every sunset, so I think everybody gets to work the switch. And there are other years of course.”

Dawn took the box and pressed the button. A string of lights came on, and then another and another until the entire seventy foot silver pine was lit up, a few scattered glass and crystal ornaments catching the light.

“Wow,” Buffy breathed, looking stunned.

Simon smiled. “Tomorrow we go to Vlughwater. I suggest we select our rooms, drop the luggage and head into town. I must admit this would be the last time on earth I'd normally want to go shopping in New York, but I think I might be the only one...”     

The squeals were deafening. And Simon noted happily that Evy, Kendra and Kit were as loud as the others.

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Saks, Fifth Avenue, Ninth floor

Kit and Dawn were giggling at the displays when there was a soft cough behind them. A woman of about forty-five, attractive and well dressed looked at them disapprovingly. “Now my daughters are somewhat older than you two but I wouldn’t want them in here. Would your mother?”

The girls exchanged looks. “Don’t know, never asked,” Dawn shrugged.

“Well just to be on the safe side, why don’t you go two floors down and look at some clothing slightly more age appropriate, hmmm?” the lady told them kindly, but very firmly.

Dawn and Kit exchanged another look and Dawn opened her mouth to protest but the woman spoke before she could. “Let me put it this way, you can leave now, or I'll have to call Customer Services and ask the parents of the two darling young girls wandering on the ninth floor to be picked up…,” she told them warningly.

Kit and Dawn glared but left.

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Saks Fifth Avenue, Ninth floor, twenty minutes later

Buffy stormed onto the floor eyes flashing and headed straight for the middle aged sales woman who was adjusting one of the displays. “Hey, you! Did you send my sisters away from this floor?”

The lady turned and blinked. “Indeed I did, Miss,” the lady’s voice carried slight disapproval.

“Why? They have as much right to be here as anyone! Okay, their allowance doesn’t cover the really expensive dresses, but they can still window shop!” Buffy bristled.

Lois Benchford, trailing the Slayer, grinned as the saleslady straightened. “My dear young lady, if you think for one instant that I’ll let two such young children wander about my department unaccompanied, you have another think coming! And I doubt that your parents would agree either! For that matter, you yourself seem a trifle young to be in this particular area of the floor.” 

Buffy glared back but for the first time looked round and took in exactly where she was. The display the lady had been working on was very simple, very tiny and very lacy. A slow blush mounted Buffy’s face. “I’m gonna kill those little pests!” she muttered, looking away very hard from the displays.

The lady smiled at Lois. “Are you their mother?”

Lois shook her head. “No, Ma’am, bodyguard. Miss Kit and Miss Dawn slipped theirs. Which will be a whole interesting conversation in and of itself later.”

The saleslady looked at Buffy who, thinking herself unobserved, was sneaking peaks at some of the more risqué items on display. “Still not old enough despite the minutes that have passed, my dear.”

“Not old enough until at least two more years have passed,” came Joyce’s voice from quite nearby.

Buffy cringed. “Hey Mom!” she took one look at her mother’s face and took off hastily towards the escalators. “Bye Mom!” Lois grinned, winked at Joyce and followed quickly.

The lady shook her head. “Well, there are some things here that might have suited her,” She followed Joyce’s gaze to the very revealing and alluring set Buffy had been looking at. “Though that is not one of them,” then she blinked. “Simo- Dr. Meier?”

Simon smiled. “Hello Olive. Olive, this is Joyce Summers, my fiancée. Joyce, this is Olive Hurley.”

Joyce studied the woman for a moment. “Mrs. Hurley. Old flame?” she asked.

Olive gave Simon an uncomfortable look. “Yes. I do apologize for my unprofessional greeting.”

Joyce chuckled. “Don’t be ridiculous, considering the numbers he went through before he dropped out of the dating game it would be impossible to avoid all his old girlfriends,” she looked around at the displays. “As a matter of fact I think there might be something you can help me with.”

Olive gave Simon a glance and then looked around at the displays. “Yes, I think that is certainly possible. What were you looking for, exactly?”

Joyce tapped her chin. “What would you suggest? From your experience… as a seller of lingerie?”

Simon let out a small whimper. Joyce grinned at him. “Why don’t you go help Xander pick some clothes, dear? I’ll be busy for a while, talking and buying.”

Simon fled. Olive smiled. “Good to see him human again. It was so very rare that he showed this side of himself.”

Joyce shuddered. “He still has episodes,” she gave the older woman a measuring look. “But I was quite serious you know. I do need a bit of advice on this sort of attire and any you can give me would be welcome.”

Olive smirked. “I’ve got just the sort of thing that will drive Simon barmy,” she he promised.      

Joyce bit her lip. “Do-do you have something that would still make me look good in a few months time?”

Olive’s eyes narrowed. “He called you his fiancée. If he calls you that he’s not going to dump you in a few months time! He is not that sort of man. He was always very clear and upfront with me, very generous and kind, just... distant. If he told you he will marry you, he will.”

Joyce smiled and nodded. “No, no that’s not what I meant. I meant,” she held her hands in front of her stomach a ways. “In a few months time.”

Olive’s carefully friendly sales mask fell away in a wide grin. “Well, I’ll be. But yes, I certainly have some things that should make you feel better about yourself. Though Simon is certainly not going be less attracted to you because you are pregnant.”

Joyce bit her lip. “You’re probably right. It’s just… I always feel like a whale when I’m pregnant…”

“Don’t worry, he I know for a fact he loves whales, he gives money to save them,” Olive told her dryly.

Joyce laughed a trifle wanly. “Doesn’t mean he wants to snuggle up with one at night…”

Olive smiled. “Well, anyway, I was thinking something in blue, to match your eyes and something in red to show passion and maybe a light purple too…”

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Parkwater, Fifth Avenue, New York

“So, you got everybody presents?” Buffy asked Dawn.

“Yeah,” Dawn looked up from the book she was reading, then back down again.

“So what did you get Simon?” Buffy asked, casually.

Dawn smirked at her book. “Can’t think of anything?”

Buffy flopped onto the couch by her sister. “No. I mean, he’s got everything! Have you seen this house?”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “Duh! Got the tour, same as you.”

“That was what we intelligent, more mature people call a rhetorical question, Dawn,” Buffy sniped.

Dawn wrinkled her forehead and nose in thought. “Old you mean?”

Buffy growled and leaned in to tickle. Afterwards, she helped a giggling Dawn sit up and then looked at her hopefully. “But seriously, I want to give him something nice. Something to help, you know, make him feel better about being here for Christmas.”

Dawn blinked, then sighed. “Okay. I’ll tell you, but you’ve got to keep it quiet, okay? Remember what we talked about at Sinterklaas?”

Buffy nodded and leaned in to listen.

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New York, Fifth Avenue, CarnegieMansion

Meier Watch was not exactly exile. The reporters of the New York Times who were assigned to reporting about the reclusive philanthropist tended to get the job because of transgressions against journalism, an editor, other journalists or by generally being annoying.

Stephen 'Skive off' Lipschitz was very good at doing all those things. Therefore he was the NYT most experienced Meier Watcher. With the possible exception of Tim Gallagher, who'd written extensively about the man when he was still a playboy and when he had first inherited his family's wealth.

And as Skive Off was living up to his name, it was Gallagher, drinking coffee in the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum after a special lecture he had given there, who first realized what he was seeing and dragged out his phone to call the paper.

“Yeah?” the dark, whiskey stained voice of Harry Belton, City Editor, barked through the phone.

“There's husbandry in heaven, their candles are all lit,” Gallagher told him.

“Stop with the damned literary allusions, Gallagher. Why are you calling?” Belton growled.

“Meier's home. Or going to be. Get this: The Tree is lit.”

There was as spluttering noise. “WHAT? Where the hell is Lipschitz?” Belton demanded.

“I don't know. Do I have permission to follow this up?” Gallagher demanded.

“Sure. Just stay alive. Everybody who's been going after a Meier story the past few months has died or been committed. If Meier wasn’t such a straight shooter I'd start believing that he was behind it.” Belton told him.

“Very good. Do you think you can find out where he’s landing?” Gallagher asked.

“I'll do my best. Get me a mood piece at any rate. And see if you can get an interview. Remember, no pictures.”

“No pictures?” Gallagher sounded disappointed.

“Meier's an extremely private person. His marriage may be newsworthy, but if we take pictures of him or anyone close to him, without permission, he'll sue the socks off us.”

“Check.”

“Got your mobile?”

“Yes.”

“I'll let you know where they’re landing, or if they have already. The tree is lit? Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think...?”

“If he lit the tree at the Mansion, chances are that the other traditions will be revived as well.”

“Write a piece about that too.”

“Check. Catch you later,” Gallagher said.

“Gallagher! If you see Lipschitz, tell him he's fired,” Belton called out before the reporter hung up

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Park Water, MeierMansion, 2 East 94th Street at Fifth Avenue in Manhattan

Buffy stood behind one of the huge windows overlooking the gardens sipping hot cocoa with little floating marshmallows. Willow was beside her, Rowan on her shoulder and looking glum. Both girls were dressed warmly. The house had been fitted with excellent heating by Simon XIV, but being California born and bred both Willow and Buffy felt the cold badly.

“You miss him? Dave?” Buffy asked quietly as Willow sipped her own chocolate.

“Yeah. We’ve been in each others pockets a lot. And what with Xander getting used to the idea of really being an orphan and beating up on sandbags and Bottley and talking to Dad about, well, I’m sorta-kinda lonely.” Willow sighed.

Rowan let out a wistful sigh. “I want a boyfriend to kiss and cuddle.”

Buffy snorted. “So do I. Angel’s frightened the Virgin alarm will go off if he so much as pecks me on the lips and Mom will skin him and hang him out for the dawn to get him. And he’s not all that much into the cuddle-age anyway.”

“Hey, guys!” Celia called out as she joined them. “What are you two talking about?”

“Boys,” Buffy supplied succinctly. 

“Ooohhh, my favourite subject. Sooo… How far has Dave gotten since last we spoke, fair cousin Willow? Has he made it beyond first base? Stolen to second?” Celia teased.

Willow blushed. “Hey! No talking bases! N-not unless there is an exchange of game-play information!”

Celia sighed. “You mean me and a boyfriend? As if! Mom and Dad won’t let me out of the house, almost. And all the guys at school just think I’m a nerd,” she pushed her glasses back up her nose.

Willow smiled encouragingly. “Well, I was considered a geek and a nerd and I landed Dave…”

“So unless there’s a guy who’s been in love with me since age six out there, I’m doomed?” Celia replied dryly.

Buffy grinned. “And is gonna change into a winged demon you can explore and document… and talk out of his shirt.”

Willow blushed and Celia happily returned to her questioning about bases.

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How the Grinch got back his Christmas

Very few people in New York have not been touched by the beneficence of Simon Meier or the Meier family. From cheap but good rental housing provided to nurses, junior doctors, firemen, policemen, and other public servants with limited incomes, to orphanages and deprived children. Schools receive money for food and milk; inner city kids get music lessons, books and toys. The small, simple things that mean the difference between a good life and hardship, the little things that make kids smile.

When in 1971 Simon Meier XV inherited his family’s wealth he shocked America by ending his donations to religious charities. At that time people feared that the mold was broken, that there would be no more Meier Houses, no more milk, no more presents under the Christmas trees in the orphanages.

For some reason, nobody knows why, six months later the money returned to some of the religious charities. And in the time between, more private ones were set up. But unlike his father, who liked being in the public eye when it suited him, nobody ever saw Simon Meier XV if he could help it. And those who did all described him the same way: sad and lonely. The great tree that had lit up the back garden of the mansion on Fifth Avenue every Christmas since it was built stayed dark. The presents, once distributed by a Meier hand were given by others. In the Army they called him Old Bloodybones, and japed that he never smiled. But they admitted he did when he saved one of their lives.

Since the death of Simon XIV it has become known that ‘America’s Benefactor’ had a very dark side. And one has to wonder how much of that darkness affected his son. I was one of the first of the Press to speak to him after he came into his inheritance. And every time I spoke to him since then he was the same: polite, urbane, witty, but with a deep underlying sadness.

Today I saw him, in the garden, with a woman he is going to marry and a slew of children he is going to adopt and a large number of relatives and watched how one of those children turned on the lights in a tree that has been dark since 1971. And I saw him smile.

Tim Gallagher, The New York Times

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Vlughwater Park, Dutchess County, New York State, December 24, afternoon  

“Oh dear God.” Clarice swallowed and burrowed into Patrick as they turned into the driveway between two rows of huge beech trees. The house itself was at least two miles away and stood, stark and solitary and covered in snow on the rise of a slight hill.

Pat looked at the huge building, the vast parkland surrounding it and then at Clarice. “Wow. Some family digs.”

From the front seat, which she had claimed as soon as she got out of bed that morning, Amy giggled. “Oh come on! Haven’t you heard Willow and Rowan talk about this place? The largest inhabited private home in the USA, the park was designed by Olmsted and the house by Hunt. And we could have two bedrooms each and still there’d be plenty left over!”

“And one will be enough. You can barely keep clean the one you have at home,” Clarice scolded Amy with a smile.

“Hey! Dad!” Amy complained.

Patrick gave Clarice a serious look. “You can’t tell her things like that, Clare,” Amy preened just a little but then Pat went on. “It’s lying; she can’t keep up with keeping it clean. I know she can only see the floor on days when she knows you are coming by and wants to make a slightly better than horrible impression.”

“DA-AD!” Amy whined.

Clarice laughed and leaned over to ruffle the girl’s hair. “It’s fine, sweetie. Three more days under Simon’s roof and you’ll either clean your room or have to buy a new toothbrush…”

Amy glared and shook her head. “All you Meiers are just neat freaks.”

Patrick smiled as he drew Clarice closer. “It’s just an adult thing.”

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‘Fort Frozen Water’, VlughwaterPark

Willow’s teeth chattered and her cheeks were rosy with cold as she carefully formed a snowball with her mittened hands.

The epic battle had erupted quite accidentally when the kids had noticed how the driveway was ploughed and the snow from it heaped below the terrace. Three of the heaps had been proclaimed as forts and were being held by three groups. The P’s, aided by the Pipsqueaks, as Buffy had teasingly, and daringly, called Kit and Dawn, held ‘Fort P’.

Xander, Evy and Amy held ‘Fort AXE!’, named by Xander, which had earned him two snowballs to the face, but they had kept the name. This left her, Buffy and Kendra, with help from Rowan in a tiny little remote controlled plane, to hold Fort Frozen Water. She’d claimed her heritage as a Meier entitled her to using the Water bit.

Willow placed the snowball on the pile she was making. She made them, Buffy and Kendra threw them, both of whom had far better aim and agility than Willow did. And Rowan was their sneaky ace in the hole, pinpointing their enemies and telling Willow where they were through the mic in her ear.

Willow grinned. “Incoming, ten o’clock, two squeaks and a P!”  

Buffy and Kendra rose from the hollowed white mound and let loose the snowballs of war.

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Victor Bennett stood looking at his daughters play in the snow while he sipped coffee. He felt rather uncomfortable in the huge house, with these people he had never met and who treated him like family. He barely had his own back. He had left when his girls were just little girls. He had left on Piper’s fifth birthday. Of all the days he could have chosen.

“You know what the irony is, Victor?” Penelope’s voice came from the door. She joined him at the window and sipped her own coffee. Victor could smell a dash of brandy in it and wondered if he could ask for some himself.

“No, what?”

“I had to seal off their powers and hide their heritage from them not long after you left. All our fights about raising them magical or not, came to naught. And I did it to protect them, because they were in danger, just like you feared.” She gave him a bitter smile. “I still wish you hadn’t left when you did. You hurt Prue and Piper very much. But I understand why you did it.”

Victor sipped his coffee. “I know. Even if they do, I’ll never forgive myself. I should have been there for them,” he sipped again. “You seem to have mellowed somewhat and you’re looking remarkably well.”

Penelope snorted. “I had a heart attack and Simon did a ritual that might have killed me to save my life and that of Danielle. And I got my sister back and I talked to Joyce a lot. The girls had a choice in what they do, Victor. In the end, they chose to embrace their powers. We can train them in their use. You’ll see Cecilia train Piper and me train Prue and Arlene will talk with Phoebe about the burden of their gift. But we all made the choice to use our power. Buffy didn’t choose, she was chosen. Joyce was unaware of her heritage and it cost her and her daughters dearly. I realized that the best thing to do is to strive for a middle way.”

Victor blinked. “A lot of things happened.” He looked out the window and saw Phoebe being pelted with snowballs by Evy and Celia. His eyes narrowed. “What was that I heard Piper say about Phoebe getting drunk and doing stuff with boys?”

Penelope grinned. “Ah, heard that did you? I think maybe we should gang up on her and tell her exactly why that is a bad idea?”

Victor smiled and nodded. “I wonder why I have this sudden urge to buy a shotgun and polish it?”

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After the Battle for Fort Frozen Water

“Hot chocolate is good,” Xander asserted as he sat, clad in dry and warm clothes in the room that they’d been herded into after the epic snowball fight, that had degraded into becoming an epic free for all and eventually an epic ‘everyone against Buffy’ fight. Which they had all lost, even with the P’s cheating outrageously with their magic. Telekinetic snowballs, snowballs stopping in mid air. Xander grinned at where the three sisters were fussing over Dawn and Kit. Especially their hair.

Kendra had been cornered by Buffy and Celia and was undergoing a very thorough interrogation about clothes and hair. Buffy had been trying to get Kendra to be more fashionable, but the younger girl had resisted. Willow tended to feel nervous about clothes still and could offer little support and Joyce wanted her to develop her own taste in her own time. Celia did not have Willow’s nervousness and like Buffy, lacked Joyce’s patience. Kendra had a slightly hunted look in her eyes. Willow was taking notes.

Evy, to whom the remark had been addressed, sipped her own chocolate and smiled. “Family is better.”

Xander smiled back and held out his mug. Evy clinked it in a toast. “To family.”

“To family.”

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Christmas Morning, the Tree in the Family Dining room, Vlughwater

The pile of presents under the tree was considerable, but no larger than might be expected for such gathering. And it looked quite normal in size, really, until you looked up and realized how big that tree really was. Jon sat down next to Charles in a chair by the huge fireplace where roaring fire burned. They were drinking coffee and obviously would have preferred it to be something stronger. Charles wore a deep purple velvet dressing gown and Jon a much lighter khaki one. They were watching the scene under the tree with amusement and a great deal of satisfaction.

There was a squeal from Buffy. “You got me a new bike!”

Simon looked over at Joyce and his eyes were hooded. “Two. One for everyday use. And one for… nights.”

Joyce winced and looked down, quickly hugging her nearest child, who happened to be Xander. Xander hugged her back and then turned his attention to the presents under the tree.

There was a gasp and then Willow rose, a paper in her hand, face white and pale. “You did it! You really did it!” she jumped at Simon and hugged him and then at Joyce and hugged her as well. “You did it!”

Simon gave her a fond, amused look. “We told you we would.”

“But how? You’re not even married yet!”

“The ‘yet’ is important. All this-” Simon gestured around the room and its expensive furniture, “Certainly helps as well.”

Xander in the meantime was sitting under the tree, a sheet of paper like Willow’s in his hand, tears running down his face. Dawn moved to sit by him and he hugged her and cried some more.

“We left room for you to pick your own names, that is, you can add some. Unless you want to remain in the ‘Club for the middle name impaired’, Xander?” Joyce teased, trying to lighten the mood. 

Dawn perked up at that. “Hey, do I get to get rid of Florence?”

Joyce sighed.

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Joyce very carefully took Kendra’s hand and led her away from the tree. She saw Simon do the same with Kit, just like they had agreed before. Xander had recovered a little. It had helped that no one there had commented on his tears, at least not adversely. Jon had talked about the car accident in Egypt that had killed his parents. Charles had quietly filled in Victor about Xander’s background. He was laughing and joking about what name, or names, he would pick to replace Lavelle.

“Kendra I need you to understand something,” Joyce told the girl who was even more quiet and withdrawn than usual.

“I understand. You need not explain,” Kendra replied softly and with dignity. “You do not wish for one such as me to be your daughter.”

Joyce rolled her eyes. “In Buffy’s phraseology, melodramatic much. No. You might not have picked up on this when we spoke before, but there is a limit to how fast an adoption can come through. We started with Xander and Willow as soon as, even before really, they moved in with us. And with you being Jamaican it might take a bit longer still-”

She was interrupted by Kendra’s hug and the most radiant smile Joyce had ever seen on her serious young face. The happy squeal from the other side of the room showed that Simon’s message to Kit had done its work as well. Joyce smiled and looked around, taking in her family.

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Simon looked at the envelope and then opened it. It held a card. It was a horrible, gaudy thing, with Santa and his reindeer, the sort of thing a nine year old would buy. He was slightly disappointed when he saw Dawn’s hopeful look. He’d hoped for something slightly more personal. A drawing. One of those horrible handmade ashtrays they made in school, even if he didn’t smoke. Something unique.

He opened the card. To Papa, with love, Dawn and Buffy. He read. And read it again. And again. And then he rose on shaky legs and went over to hug his daughters.

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Tyntesfield Estate, Failand, Somerset, 22nd of December

Esther Giles was a good driver. That was what she told Jenny anyway and Jenny had no time in between praying, hiding her face in Rupert’s coat and screaming to disagree with her. The sight of the three story gabled Gothic revival house at the end of the driveway did not help put her at ease. At all. As they got nearer the winter sun shone down upon the white stone and lit up the stained glass windows, showing family arms and historical scenes. “Oh shit,” Jenny murmured and then lightly slapped Giles’ chest as she heard and felt his chuckle. Then Esther swerved as she let go off the wheel with one hand to point out a Haha and Jenny screamed again. 

When she shakily got out of the car and onto the thankfully solid, unmoving ground she was met by a tall, dignified looking woman. “Really, Rupert, you let Esther drive?”

Giles shrugged. “I haven’t driven on the left for a bit,” He shrugged ruefully. “And I forgot how terror inspiring Esther’s driving is to those unused to it. Hello Mum,” he gently kissed her cheek. “This is Jennifer Nadia Calendar. Jenny, this is my mother, Lady Lillian Giles.”

Lillian made a face at him and then turned to Jenny. “He calls me that just to embarrass me. Call me Lillian or Lily.”

Jenny nodded. And then she vomited all over the front of Lily’s coat.

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Failand, Somerset, Rupert Giles’ bedroom 

Jenny lay on the wide, king-size bed in Rupert’s room, a wet flannel over her eyes and groaned as she heard the door open. “Kill me now, please! I threw up on your mother! Oh God, Rupert, I’m never going to live this down!”

There was a soft chuckle. “I’m more worried about why you threw up than that you did, my dear,” Lillian’s voice assured her.

Jenny shot up from the pillow, the flannel and then promptly had to lean over the edge to vomit into the bucket beside it. “Ugh.”

Lillian wrinkled her brow. “And that makes me even more worried. I’ve called Anna, my niece. She’s a doctor and will be here soon.”

Jenny smiled rather wanly. “Not the local GP?”

Lillian made a moue. “Considering the ritual you went through, that Rupert described, I’m rather unwilling to call in someone who’s unaware of magic.”

Jenny blinked. “Oh. Yeah. Didn’t think of that.”

“You’re ill, dear. From what Ru tells me you’re usually a very collected individual,” Lillian smiled.

“Huh. Actually I was more worried about meeting you than about the ritual,” Jenny mumbled. “I wanted to do Ru proud, be all calm and collected, show my best behaviour…”

Lillian laughed. “Oh dear. And then you vomit all over me? Don’t worry dear, it was an old coat I use to walk the dogs in, and work in the garden, and I have been vomited upon before,” the older woman sat down on the bed and felt Jenny’s forehead. “No fever. And you’re just ill?”

“Not just. I’ve not felt this bad, like ever!” Jenny whined. “And to think I made fun of Mo- Ms. Summers…”

Lillian’s eyes narrowed. “Mom? I thought you were an orphan? And Summers? That’s the Slayer’s last name.”

Jenny winced. “I am. Ms. Summers sorta adopted me.”

“Oh. That’s good. Well, it would serve you right if you were ill a good long time for teasing the poor woman for being ill.”

“She’s not ill, she’s pregnant. And it wasn’t like that. Just telling her to make sure the wastebasket was nearby,” Jenny rather weakly defended herself.

There was a very thoughtful look on Lillian’s face. “Jenny… Did you and Rupert… were you intimate before this ritual?”

Jenny blushed. “What? What do you mean? We’re both adults, I mean I’m not that innocent. Were we supposed to wait?!” she ended defensively.

Lillian chuckled. “Heavens no. No, the Solstices and equinoxes are powerful times of the year, for fertility and magic.”

“F-fertility?” Jenny stammered out, all the blood draining from her face. “B-but anyway, we used protection!”

“Magic has a nasty habit of overcoming that. I know of at least one couple where the woman’s latent magic burst into flowering upon her late marriage and produced a son,” Lillian explained. “But then again, it might just be the airplane food and Esther’s driving.”

Jenny groaned. “I never thought I’d say it, but she drives worse than Ru. As soon as I’ve got some left-side driving experience, I’m not letting either of them behind the wheel, ever again!”

Lillian smiled. “Well, Anna will be here soon and I’ll leave you alone to be sick in peace. If you need anything, just ring.”

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Rupert Giles’ Bathroom, Tyntesfield

Jenny looked at the little strip. She let out a relieved sigh. “Negative.”

The other woman in the old fashioned bathroom gave her a sharp glance. “Don’t want children?”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Yes, I do. But not like this, with me always wondering, and when I’m not yet ready, or married.”

Anna chuckled. “Sorry. That was rude and none of my business. And you’re right. But what did you mean, wondering?”

Jenny threw the test away and washed her hands. “Magic, fertility magic. When I have a baby, I want it to be my choice, not the result of some spell, or the side-effect of some ritual. I never want my child, or myself, to even have to think that.”

Anna nodded. “True. Very wise. But you do want children?”

Jenny snorted. “I can wait a few years.”

“Not if you want Rupert to be able to help you. He’s not getting any younger,” Anna teased.

Jenny grinned. “Sure feels young enough to me…”

Anna winced. “Ouch. Okay, I really do not want to think about Ru that way.”

“I do,” Jenny leered. And then she threw up again.

Anna grinned, not entirely sympathetically. “Serves you right. And I think it’s probably the airplane food and dear cousin Esther’s driving.”

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December 25th, Vlughwater

Simon was reading a catalogue of Vlughwater’s treasures and smiled as the sounds of yet another snowball battle came in from outside even through the closed window. Joyce came in, carrying a tray with tea.

“Hello love. Who’s battling who this time?” Simon asked, kissing her as she put down the tray.

“A free for all. Harry and Mom and Dad and Aunt Penny are part of it too, and Victor just got snowballed by the P’s. Kendra took Dawn and Kit into the stables-”

“Oh dear,” Simon winced and nearly spilled his tea.

“What? Is there something dangerous in there?” Joyce asked anxiously.

“Just the sleds. And the sledges. And the sleighs. Not to mention the carriages and the looseboxes,” Simon sighed.

“Looseboxes?” Joyce asked.

“Box stalls. And knowing Miller, they have-”   

The door burst open and two excited little girls nearly flew in. “PAPA!” “DADDY!” Kendra followed, looking rather more demure and ever so slightly smug.

Simon looked at them and sighed. “You can use the sleigh with proper adult supervision. Ask Mr. Hurst which of the bodyguards can handle one.”

Dawn pouted. “You can’t?”

“I haven’t in years. I think Bchenka is an expert…” Simon tried.

Joyce smiled. “Go out with them, dear. I want to have a word or two with Kendra.”

Simon rose, muttering something about the cold and the snow and led the two youngest out.

Joyce lifted an eyebrow at Kendra. After about a minute of silent staring Kendra wilted. “Sorry. I just thought it would be funny to make him go out in the snow.”

Joyce beckoned her closer. “Kendra… This house, that sleigh, all of it, hold some very bad memories for him. I’m not entirely sure if making him face those fears and replacing those memories with new ones isn’t the best idea. But you really do need to look less smug while manipulating men.”

Kendra blushed. “I shall apologize.”

“Oh, it will do him good and work up his appetite. And Kit and Dawn will love it. No the question is, why aren’t you out there throwing snowballs?”

Kendra shivered sharply at the memory. “After how cold and wet I got last time? I never imagined snow could be so cold!”

Joyce just laughed and hugged her. 

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The door to Simon’s study opened and a young voice called out. “Daddy? What’re you doin’?” Kit asked as Simon was once again bent over an old catalogue of the great house’s contents.

“Looking for some things. I want to open this box, I think they may be in here,” Simon replied, tapping a page describing and depicting a wooden, ivory inlaid box.

“Okay. Can I see?” Kit edged over to the large desk, after closing the door.

Simon smiled. “I was younger than you are now when my grandfather showed them to me, so yes,” he studied the lock once more and then pulled open a drawer. From it he took a ring of keys, walked over to one of the paintings, and flipped it aside, revealing a safe.

Kit giggled. “That’s so cliché!”

Simon smiled again. “Not when it was built. And I doubt most safes would kill an unauthorized person.”

Kit gulped, her eyes going wide and her hand, reaching for the picture frame, snatched back. “I-it would kill me?”

“You? No. You’re family. But if you tried to open it? I would know. And hand you over to Aunt Joyce…” Simon told her seriously. “Now, look away, I need to open this and I don’t want to have to change the combination.”

Kit pouted. “I could promise not to look in the safe.”

Simon lifted an eyebrow. “You and Dawn have managed to lift the power of curiosity to a whole new level. You’d find a way to get someone to open it and just show you the contents.”

Kit’s slight flush told him her fertile young mind had already framed one or two plans of such a nature. Then she sighed and turned away. She heard the tumbler whirl and the keys in the lock.

“Dad? When Buffy and Dawn called you Papa, you were happy?” She asked as she heard him remove something from the safe.

“Yes. Very,” Simon replied.

“Happier then when I called you Dad?” Kit asked with a tremor in her voice. “You didn’t cry then…”

Simon laughed softly and placed the ivory inlaid wooden box from the catalogue on the desk and an arm around Kit’s shoulders. “Ask Miss Matthews and Mr. Duncan about that one day. Now do me a favour and go and get your brother and sisters and Aunt Joyce.”

Kit nodded. “No one else?”

“No, not yet. I might show them later,” Simon explained.

Kit nodded again, cast a longing glance at the box and then ran out.

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When the family had been gathered in the study Kit made her way to the desk and gave Simon her biggest, widest puppy dog eyes. Dawn, seeing the ivory inlaid wooden box that sat on his desk, joined her.

Simon laughed. “Stop that, you two. I’m opening it already. It hasn’t been opened in years, decades probably. At least since my father died. So… questions?”

“What’s in it?” Xander asked, almost as curious as his little sisters.

Simon smiled. “Magical things. Things related to the world we will be visiting. My grandfather and father trained me on how to behave in that society. That means that when I take you there, you’ll have to be on your best behaviour.”

“That means you can’t come, Dawn,” Buffy teased.

Simon grinned as Dawn looked at him to deny her sister’s words. “Actually it would mean none of you could. But I want to shake up their society anyway and you’ll do nicely. Now this box can only be opened by someone of the family.” He took off his ring, opened a smaller box he’d taken from the safe at the same time and removed a small, silvery cylinder.

Joyce leant over. “That looks like a seal roll. Whose is it?”

“It was created about seven thousand years ago for a man called Djet, the second Pharaoh of Egypt. He was also known as the Bringer of Ma’at, Anubis, Anhur the Liberator and the Closer of Gates. Translated to modern English, that would be Death. He was old then, I don’t know if he is still alive, but supposedly the Meiers have been his vicars since about five hundred and fifty years before the current era, so about two and a half thousand years.” Simon very gently touched the simple metal cylinder. “It is made from a metal harder than steel. And since we can reliably say it has been in our family for at least fifteen hundred years I’m inclined to believe in the reality of the myth.”

Willow gulped, her eyes very wide. “Oh. I didn’t realize we were quite that old,” then she got a calculating look in her eye. “You are gonna explain all that later, right? I mean, isn’t Ma’at female?”

Simon smiled. “That’s why you’re my apprentice, aren’t you? At any rate we’re descendants of a Wizard. A real one. A man called Simonides of Ephesos, who became a wizard in 612 BCE. He lived for a very, very long time, which was rare for a wizard. They tried to die before they lost the empathy needed for their work, and all their joy in life. They had a saying, ‘May you live happily, and not too long.’ He lived so long people thought he was Death himself. He outlived dozens of generations of his descendants. He… was not a happy man when he died.”

Xander put an arm around Willow who was staring at the box and the seal as if they were frogs.

Simon picked up the seal and touched it to one of the plates on top of the box. There was a sliding noise and five panels in the sides opened. He took five keys from the ring that had been in the desk and fitted them to the locks, then opened them in order. Most of the lid came up when he pulled it, revealing a matte, black stone surface.

Buffy snorted. “Isn’t that a little over the top?”

Simon shook his head. “There are things in here that can kill, or are worth a lot of money.” Then he put his hand on the stone and watched as it disappeared. “We think that Simonides may have made this box. It is far beyond what anyone can craft today,” he smiled at Clarice. “Even Patrick.”

Very gently he lifted out a thin, white object that looked like a stick. A small bag that clinked. A ring box with that opened to reveal several rings. And a key ring with three keys on it, each with a card attached on which numbers had been written in Roman numerals.

“Three, Seven and Nine? Mystical keys?” Danielle asked.

“Vault keys. Some inherited from other branches of the family. The three is the main line,” Simon explained. “The pouch holds some emergency money for the world we’re traveling to. It should have enough for us to reach the bank at any rate.”

Buffy prodded the white stick. “And this?”

Simon glared at the thing. “A wand, a focus. I have to have one if I’m to be taken seriously by the upper crust of snot that rules the wizarding world.”

“Ah. So how does it work?” Dawn asked, curiously.

“You need to know the specific incantations. I don’t have enough power to use them, so I can’t tell you. And I wouldn’t want you to become a focus user, it’s far more limiting than Channeling, less freedom,” Simon explained, picking up the wand. “And like all things to do with focus users it’s highly melodramatic. Supposedly this wand was cut by Djet from his own arm bone and given to my ancestor, who made it into one of the most powerful foci ever made.”

Willow shivered and leaned away. “I don’t like it. It feels nasty.”

Buffy growled. Then she blinked. “Wow. Slayer doesn’t like it either.”

Simon laid the wand down again, dislike on his face. “Neither do I. No matter how you look at it, it is not an item of white magic. It’s a reminder that not all the things the family has had to do have been nice.”

Danielle looked at the wand. “If it got that way from what we did, there have been some very nasty things in our family’s past.”

“Very nasty,” Simon affirmed. “Now, I’ll give you all a quick rundown on what to expect when we get to the Wizarding world. I have never been there but my father on the occasion he talked about it, told me they hadn’t changed from what his father described. Considering their natural bent towards conservatism, I think we can assume that the description will be quite valid.”

End note:

Aphrodite and Althenea Witheringham-Thomas are the creation of Cordyfan. Beatrice Witheringham-Thomas (Bee Ashby) is the property of Josephine Tey and appears, rather younger, in Brat Farrar, as does Jane Ashby. They won’t be making many appearances, don’t worry, It’s just a cameo.
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