Giles drove one of the vans they’d rented for the trip—they didn’t own a vehicle large enough to accommodate all of them—down the narrow road leading south from Ottery St. Catchpole. Dawn consulted the map that Harry had owled to her, and pointed to a narrow opening in the hedge on their right. “I think that’s the place.” The opening would be missed by anyone who wasn’t looking for it.
Giles turned off the road onto a narrow track that was overgrown with weeds. The second van, being driven by Robin Wood, followed them. The track didn’t look like anyone had driven over it for years. It wound into an old orchard. “Are you sure this is the place?”
Someone flew out of the trees on their left, and vanished into the trees on their right. Giles stomped on the brakes, and the van lurched to a stop.
“I’m sure,” said Dawn. Two more people on broomsticks hurtled across the track, chasing after the first one. They all appeared and disappeared too quickly for Dawn to get a good look, but she thought that the second two were Fred and George. She tried to peer into the trees to get another look at them. She saw some movement.
Harry came flying out of the trees, moving much more slowly this time. He flew right up beside Dawn’s open window. “Hey! You made it! We weren’t expecting you for another half hour.”
“We made good time,” said Dawn. She saw Fred and George follow Harry out of the trees. “Hi guys!”
“Come on,” said Harry. “The Burrow is just a bit farther up the track.” He flew slowly ahead of them. Giles followed, with Fred and George falling in behind the second van. Dawn felt like they made a very strange formation, with the three broomsticks escorting them. A couple more brooms joined them a little farther along, being ridden by Ron and Ginny. Dawn started to regret that she’d left hers in her room back at Hogwarts. She hadn’t expected to get a chance to ride it over the Christmas break.
Half the people in the van had seen people riding on brooms before, but the others gawked at their escort in open mouthed wonder. “You know,” said Xander. “I was half convinced up until now that you had all conspired together in a colossal joke with the flying broom thing.”
“Right with ya, Xan,” said Rona. “This is freaky.”
They broke out of the trees, and saw a most peculiar house. It reminded Dawn in a strange way of some old farm houses she’d seen, which had started out as cabins and had extra rooms tacked on, more or less at random, over a hundred years or so. But instead of a horizontal sprawl, this house had grown up in a way that defied gravity.
The track ended by an old shed. Giles stopped the van, and everyone got out. Their escort had all landed, and Dawn went to give Harry a hug and a kiss before introducing him and the Weasleys to her friends.
Coolers full of beverages, and Tupperware containers with food were unpacked from the vans. Ron led everyone up toward the house. Ginny fell in amongst her sister Slayers, and started to get acquainted with Faith, Rona and Vi. Xander and Andrew flanked Fred and George. Dawn had told Xander about their joke shop, and he wanted to hear more about it. Dawn hadn’t let go of Harry since getting out of the van. Robin, Willow and Giles brought up the rear.
The noise of their arrival had alerted the people in the house. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came out to greet them, followed by Bill, and another young man that Buffy correctly surmised must be another one of Ginny’s brothers. Introductions were made all round again, and she learned that this one was Charlie.
“Just how many brothers do you have?” Faith asked Ginny.
“Six,” said Ginny.
“My condolences,” said Vi.
Kennedy had a quick look around, counting red-heads. “So there’s still one we haven’t met?”
Ginny didn’t look happy. “Yeah. Percy’s not here.”
“Slimy git,” muttered Ron.
He muttered a little too loudly. “Ronald Weasley!” shouted his mother. “Don’t talk about your brother that way!”
Ron hung his head. “Sorry Mum,” he said quietly.
There was a moment of awkward silence, with the visitors feeling like they were intruding on some long standing family squabble. Mrs. Weasley didn’t let it last more than a second. She turned away from Ron, and smiled brightly at everyone. “Why don’t you all come inside?”
Mrs. Weasley led them all into the living room of the house. It would have been cozy with all of the Weasleys in it, but with the addition of all the visitors, it was crowded, so people started moving out into the garden. It was a bright, sunny day, a little on the cool side—especially for the people from California—but there was shimmering golden dome over part of the garden that warmed everything inside it to a comfortable temperature.
There was a large table set up under the dome on which food started to appear. The Weasleys got to sample various Muggle beverages that the Sunnydale crew had brought with them, such as Pepsi, and 7 Up, while the Sunnydale crew sampled the butterbeer, and pumpkin juice.
They fragmented into several smaller groups after everyone had had lunch. Xander and Andrew found themselves talking with Charlie about his work on the Romanian Dragon Reservation. Kennedy and Willow took Fred and George aside for a bit of a private talk about new market possibilities for their Ton Tongue Toffees. Buffy showed Mr. Weasley how to work her cell phone. He took great delight in using it to call Dawn, and talk to her with it, even though she was only ten feet away.
Ron showed Dawn the pictures he had received that morning from Hermione. She was on a skiing holiday with her parents in Switzerland. “I don’t get it,” he said. “It seems that you put those funny things on your feet, and then just slide down a hill. What’s the fun in that?”
“I’ve never tried it myself,” said Dawn. “But I have friends who ski, and they say it’s a lot of fun. I’ve watched races on TV a few times, and those guys are almost flying down the hills. It looked scarier than Harry on his broom.”
“Speaking of flying,” said Faith from the other side of the table. “I bet flying on those brooms is a lotta fun.”
“You want to try it?” asked Ron.
“Anyone else want to try flying?” called Ron loudly.
Rona, Vi, Kennedy and Xander quickly volunteered. “What about you Andrew?” asked Dawn.
“Oh no!” said Andrew. “Warren talked me into flying once, and I wound up with a concussion. I don’t much like heights anyway.”
“You had brooms?” asked Harry.
“No, we had rocket packs,” said Andrew.
Fred and George volunteered to loan their brooms to the people taking the lessons, and there were more old brooms that used to belong to Ron, Ginny, Bill and Charlie in the shed, so they had a broom for everyone who wanted to learn, plus one that Dawn could borrow. Nearly everyone made their way down to the paddock where the Weasleys would play Quidditch. Even the visitors who weren’t participating wanted to watch.
Harry led them through the same lessons he had given Dawn and Buffy that summer, and they were soon flying around the paddock. It didn’t take long before the Slayers were ready for something more challenging, so Ron suggested that they resume the game that they had been playing in the orchard when the Sunnydale crew had arrived. It was a sort of combination of tag, and hide and seek among the trees. Xander didn’t trust his depth perception to dodging trees, so he let the others go play without him.
While the younger kids were playing among the trees, Mr. Weasley and his older sons were shown the vans. He had to be restrained from trying to take the engines apart to have a better look at how they worked, and to see how much Muggle automobiles had changed since he’d gotten his old Ford Anglia.
Mr. Weasley was full of questions about just how the cars worked. Strangely it was Bill who was able to answer many of them. He had spent a fair amount of time living among Muggles since leaving Hogwarts, and had learned quite a bit about the things that puzzled many wizards, but were so common to Muggles that they never gave much thought to them.
There were a couple of surprises waiting for Ginny when she returned to the garden after their game. The first was an iBook computer. Buffy told her that it was part of the standard equipment given to all Slayers. Ginny hadn’t gotten hers earlier because of the problems getting computers to work in magical environments, but now that that problem was licked, Ginny was getting one.
The second surprise was the Scythe. Ginny’s eyes went wide when she saw it. “Oh! May I try it?”
“That’s why I brought it,” said Buffy. “Give you a chance to work with it a bit.” She took the Scythe and moved to a flat patch of lawn near the garden pond with Ginny following her.
Everyone else followed them. They stood in a semi-circle around Buffy and Ginny while Buffy held the Scythe out for Ginny to take it from her. As soon as Ginny took it, Buffy stepped back to give her lots of room.
Ginny went through a sequence of drills she had practised with the replica Scythe. She started out moving slowly, concentrating on her control, and the smoothness of her motion, almost like she was doing Tai Chi. She slowly increased her tempo, moving faster and faster. Her parents, brothers, and Harry watched in open mouthed wonder as the Scythe became a blur of motion, slicing though the air. Ginny’s motion was like a ballet, accompanied by the singing of the blade.
Buffy put her fingers into her mouth and produced a sharp whistle after five minutes. Ginny stopped, looking flushed and exhilarated. She stood still, holding the Scythe, and breathing deeply. “I’m sorry. I got carried away a bit.”
Buffy stepped toward her. “Don’t be sorry.” She leaned closer and whispered in Ginny’s ear. “It’s almost as good as sex.” Most of the people watching wondered why Ginny blushed, and the other Slayers laughed.
Buffy held out her hand, and Ginny handed the Scythe back to her. Buffy took it, and removed a couple of items from her jacket pockets. One of them was a guard that she snapped over the blade, and the second was a cap that she put over the stake end of the Scythe. She handed it back to Ginny.
Buffy took off her jacket. “Faith!” She tossed the jacket back at the same time Faith tossed a short wooden staff to Buffy. Buffy caught the staff without looking. It was about the same length as the Scythe. Buffy swung the staff through the air between her and Ginny. “You ready to go again?”
Ginny held the Scythe and watched Buffy carefully. She nodded her head.
Buffy attacked. Ginny parried and riposted, jabbing the stake end of the Scythe toward Buffy’s heart. Buffy spun out of the way at the last instant and her staff swung at Ginny’s head. Ginny ducked below it, and the blade of the Scythe sliced toward Buffy.
If Ginny’s initial workout with the Scythe had been a ballet solo, this was a pas de deux. Buffy and Ginny danced together. Ginny felt the power of the Scythe filling her, making her better than she had ever been before. She saw for the first time just how much Buffy had been holding back when they had sparred before, but this time she could feel that Buffy was hardly holding back at all. For the first time Ginny felt like she could hold her own with the older Slayer.
To most of the watchers Ginny’s dance with Buffy was a blur of motion too fast to follow. The other Slayers were the only ones who could actually track what was happening between the combatants. Harry was wishing that he had his omnioculars, so he could slow down the motion enough to be able to appreciate it.
Mrs. Weasley had to be restrained from rushing forward to help Ginny the first time Buffy’s staff hit her in the ribs. Ginny grunted, and staggered back. She waved her mother away. “I’m okay, Mum!” She attacked Buffy with a quick combination that forced her to back away, and ended with the blunted end of the Scythe hitting Buffy’s chest, and knocking her off her feet.
Buffy stood up, rubbing her chest. She smiled at their audience. “And that’s why I never let my mom watch me sparring.”
The other Slayers took turns sparring with Ginny too, letting Ginny keep the Scythe the whole time. Ginny found that she could beat Kennedy for the first time in all the sparring matches that they’d had together.
Once Ginny had fought a round with each of the other Slayers, Buffy had her surrender the Scythe, and replaced it with another staff. They started to spar again. This time, without the power of the Scythe, Ginny found that she was overmatched by Buffy. Some of the Scythe’s power seemed to linger with her though, so she was still doing better than she ever had before.
The sun was setting, and the afternoon was getting cooler when Buffy called a halt. Everyone returned to the warmth of the golden dome over the table. As the daylight faded the dome also provided them with illumination.
Ginny sat with Buffy, Faith and Kennedy during dinner, talking with them, and hearing their stories about the vampires and demons they had faced in the past. She was so engrossed in her conversation with them that it took her a little while to notice that her own family was being unusually quiet.
Ron noticed the change before Ginny did. He was sitting down at the opposite end of the table, across from Fred and George. They weren’t telling jokes, and they hadn’t tried to slip anything into his dinner even once. They kept glancing down the table toward Ginny. It was less noticeable in Bill and Charlie, but they seemed more subdued than usual too. “What’s got you all wound up?” he asked them.
“Nothing,” said Fred.
“Everything’s fine,” said George.
“Then why hasn’t anyone turned into a giant canary?” asked Ron.
“You know everyone in the family knows what a Canary Cream looks like,” said Fred.
“I was kinda planning on giving one to Xander though,” said George.
“Not the point,” said Ron. “You guys haven’t pulled a single gag since the start of Ginny’s little sparring session with Buffy.”
George looked back down the table at his sister. “You know, until I saw that…I don’t think I really believed any of this Slayer stuff. It wasn’t…real. Ginny was our little sister, who needed our protection. She isn’t the same person any more.”
“She’s still Ginny,” said Ron. “She stopped being a little girl even before she became a Slayer. You didn’t see her in the Ministry.”
“But she wasn’t…”
“What?” asked Ron. “Able to pick both of you up and throw you into the pond next time you set off a dungbomb under her bed?”
“That isn’t what I meant,” said Fred.
“But now that you mention it…it is something to keep in mind,” said George.
“Don’t worry,” said Ron. “I’ve been watching her train. She won’t hurt you…not by accident anyway.”
“Oh, that makes me feel so much better,” said Fred.
Ginny had become very quiet at the other end of the table. Sometimes being able to hear things most people didn’t wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Buffy could see the look on Ginny’s face, and knew the cause of it. “Don’t worry about it,” she said quietly. “Ron’s right: you’re still Ginny, and the rest of your family will come to realize it too. It just takes a little time. At least your family didn’t find out about you because you staked a vampire right under their noses.”
Ginny smiled. “That’s what happened to you?”
“Yep,” said Dawn. “Right in the front yard. Mom caught Buffy coming home late with this strange guy, and Buffy was making up a totally lame excuse—I was eleven at the time and even I knew it was lame—and Mom wasn’t buying it at all, and then this vampire attacked out of nowhere, and Buffy and Spike beat it up, and then Buffy staked it, right there in front of Mom and me. It took Mom a few months to get over that shock, but she did.”
Ginny looked at Faith and Kennedy. “What about you guys?”
“Don’t have any family,” said Faith. Ginny looked at her, and saw the pain in her eyes, and knew that there was something more Faith wasn’t saying, but she didn’t press it. She looked at Kennedy.
“My parents have known I could become a Slayer since I was six,” said Kennedy. “I haven’t really talked to them much since I was called, other than to let them know I was okay. Family…isn’t something the old Watcher’s Council was big on.”
“That’s one of the things they were very wrong about,” said Buffy. “They thought that friends and family distracted Slayers from their duty, but when you come down to it, friends and family will keep you fighting longer and harder than some abstract duty. Knowing that what you are doing is protecting people you love is a better motivator than doing it to protect a bunch of strangers.”
Buffy looked back down the table at Fred and George. “Now what did they mean when they said they were going to turn Xander into a canary?”
Xander sat pulling yellow feathers out of his hair, and glaring around at the laughing people. “Ha ha. Very funny.”
“I’ve never seen a canary with an eye patch before Xander,” said Dawn. “You were like…a pirate canary.”
“Argh, ye scurvy knave!” said Xander. “Ye’d best be careful, or this here pirate’ll be making ye walk tha plank! Argh!”
Dawn’s reply was interrupted by the ringing of Buffy’s cell phone. She pulled it out, and frowned at the caller ID. “It’s Robson.” She pressed the ‘talk’ button, and lifted the phone to her ear. “Buffy Summers. … Hello Mr. Robson, what’s up? … You did? That’s great! … Okay, where and when? … Right, we’ll be there, thanks a lot. Good work! … Alright, talk to you later. Bye!”
“What’s up?” asked Dawn.
“Robson found the Knights of Byzantium,” said Buffy. “They want to talk to me.”
|Chapter 41: Christmas||Contents||Chapter 43: The Knights Who Say ‘Key’|