Buffy and Giles stood under umbrellas in the light rain falling in St. James Park. She looked around and saw Willow and Kennedy about fifty yards away, pretending to be tourists. There weren’t many real tourists in the park today: the cold rain was no doubt encouraging them to take in many of London’s indoor attractions. Buffy kept looking, wondering if there were any real tourists there today. She was sure that some of the people she could see were with the Knights of Byzantium, there to keep an eye on this meeting the way Willow and Kennedy were. Others no doubt belonged to MI-5, or whoever was responsible for the security of Buckingham Palace, which was just across the road from them. Buffy thought that many of the ‘tourists’ looked too young and fit to be genuine. The presence of so much security was one of the reasons that this location was chosen for the meeting. Both sides could be pretty sure that the other wouldn’t start something in a place under such heavy surveillance.
Giles spotted the people they were there to meet first. “Buffy.” He nodded toward two men, wearing trench coats and fedoras, walking along the path by the edge of the lake toward them. “I think our contacts are here.”
“Looks like,” said Buffy. “You think they could look more like they’re here for a clandestine meeting?”
The two men approached them. Buffy could see that their hats were partially concealing the tattoos on their foreheads. The man with the more elaborate tattoo nodded at Buffy. “Miss Summers.”
Buffy nodded back. “You have me at a disadvantage.”
“I am Captain General Nicholas. My companion is Brother Darius.”
“And this is Rupert Giles,” said Buffy.
Nicholas gave them a humourless smile. “I know.” He looked around. “So, Miss Summers…why do you seek us?”
“I want to know what you know about the Key.”
“I know that your sister is currently attending a rather…unusual…school in Scotland.”
“So you know.”
“We have known for some time.”
“And what do you plan to do about it?”
Nicholas looked surprised. “Nothing.”
“Nothing?” asked Buffy. “Your predecessor, Gregor, wasn’t nearly so…magnanimous.”
“The opening of the gates that the Beast wanted to perform can only be done once in a millennium,” said Nicholas. “We are not monsters. With that threat past, we can wait. We have waited for over a thousand years, we can wait a few more decades. When your sister’s natural life comes to an end, the Key will be released, and we have taken measures to ensure that it will return to us. Now I must ask you again, why do you seek us now?”
“One of your people was murdered on Halloween,” said Buffy.
Nicholas and Darius exchanged a look. “Brother Nathaniel?” asked Darius.
“I know nothing of any murder,” said Nicholas, “but Nathaniel has been missing since October.”
“And did Nathaniel know about the Key?” asked Buffy.
“He did,” said Nicholas. “And now I must ask you how you know of this.”
“The how isn’t important,” said Buffy. “I do know that one of your people was tortured to death by someone who is looking for the Key. He died without revealing its current…disposition, but he did reveal that it was at the school.”
“Who is seeking the Key?” asked Nicholas.
“Some guy called Voldemort,” said Buffy. Nicholas and Darius both hissed. “I see you’ve heard of him.”
“We have heard of him, Miss Summers,” said Nicholas.
“Why would he want the Key?” asked Buffy.
“Voldemort wants power. There is great power in the Key.”
Buffy watched Nicholas. He was frowning, not at all happy about the information that Buffy had given him. She wondered if he was reconsidering his position on Dawn. “Just so we’re clear: I wouldn’t sacrifice Dawn to keep Glory from getting the Key, and I’m not going to sacrifice her to keep the Key from Voldemort either. If you’re thinking about doing anything like that, think again. We can be allies, or enemies. Believe me: you don’t want me as an enemy.”
“I do not wish to be your enemy, Miss Summers,” said Nicholas, “but I think it is too early to talk of alliances.” He paused to consider a bit more, and to let a couple of joggers pass out of earshot. “The magic we have wrapped around your sister to return the Key to us on her death should still hold, if Voldemort does succeed in capturing her. Any attempt on his part to make use of the Key without her cooperation will encompass her death.”
“Glory’s bleeding didn’t need her cooperation,” said Buffy.
“But that bleeding could only be done at that time, and in that place,” said Nicholas. “It will be nearly a thousand years before it can be done again. While the Key is bound in its current form, with a conscious mind, that mind alone can wield its power.”
“And what sort of power does the Key have?” asked Buffy.
Nicholas frowned again. “I think we will have to consider things carefully before imparting that sort of information to you, Miss Summers.” He paused: the joggers were back. He waited until they had passed again. “I think it is time to end this meeting. We are attracting the attention of the DPG. If we learn anything we think you should know, we’ll be in touch. Good day.” He turned and walked away. Darius followed him, back along the path the way they had come. Buffy noticed that a couple of men who had seemed to be having a quiet conversation nearby started to follow them too. She and Giles started to leave in the opposite direction.
Buffy heard the joggers approaching from behind them. This time they seemed to be engrossed in some sort of discussion with each other, and not really paying attention to where they were going. So much so that they actually managed to run into Giles and Buffy.
The woman grabbed Buffy, seemingly to keep her from falling. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry! I wasn’t watching where I was going!” Her hands brushed across Buffy’s jacket, as if to rub off some dirt or something. “Are you all right?” The man was doing much the same thing with Giles.
“I’m fine,” said Buffy. “No need to apologize.”
“We really should have been paying more attention,” said the man. “I’m very sorry.”
“Quite all right,” said Giles. “No harm done.”
The joggers apologized again, and then continued on their way. Buffy smiled at them for a bit as she watched them depart. “I wonder if they’re on their way to frisk Nicholas and Darius too? Good thing you talked me out of bringing that short sword.”
Buffy, Giles, Willow and Kennedy arrived back at Grimmauld Place. Harry had offered its use to them while they were in London for their meeting with the Knights, and had Dumbledore add Willow, Kennedy and Xander to the people included in the Secret Keeper’s circle. Harry and Dawn were waiting for them, along with Tonks.
“Well?” asked Dawn.
Buffy looked around. There were too many people present who didn’t know about the Key. “Not here,” she said.
Harry shrugged in understanding. “You can talk in the kitchen. The Order of the Phoenix uses it for their meetings, and it’s warded against eavesdroppers. Just let me chase Kreacher out first.”
Dawn looked at him. “I’m sorry we can’t tell you about this, Harry.”
“It’s okay,” lied Harry. “I understand.”
Buffy looked around. “Where’s Xander?”
“Oh, he went out,” said Dawn. “He said he had an idea about how to deal with…” She pointed to the shuttered over picture of Sirius’s mother. “He got into a shouting match with her earlier. Said she was worse than most of his relatives, and then left to get some things.”
“What sort of things?” asked Buffy.
“Tools,” said Harry. “Asked if anyone knew anywhere nearby he could rent tools. We transfigured up a hammer and some other stuff for him, but we couldn’t manage a power saw…plus there’s no power here. He got this really wicked smile on his face, and left.”
Buffy frowned. “Okay…I guess. We don’t have to tell him right away.”
Harry led the way down to the kitchen. He knocked on the door to Kreacher’s cupboard. “Kreacher, come out please.”
The cupboard door opened, and Dawn saw Harry’s house-elf for the first time. He was a stooped and wizened version of Dobby, wearing a plain white pillow case with holes cut in it for his arms and head. “What does Master require?” he asked sullenly.
“We need to let my friends have a private talk,” said Harry. “Come with me.” He led Kreacher out of the kitchen, and closed the door behind them.
Dawn took a peek in Kreacher’s cupboard. It wasn’t what she had expected from what she had heard Ron say about it. It was quite neat and clean, with a small elf-sized bed, covered with a quilt. There were shelves on which several knick-knacks were arranged. Dawn knew that they were things that Kreacher had salvaged from the cleaning of the house. Harry’s godfather had tried to purge everything that reminded him of his family from it. The only surviving items were the portrait of Sirius’s mother in the entry hall, and the tapestry of the Black family tree in the upstairs sitting room. So far no one had managed to find a way to get rid of either of them. Harry had mentioned going through Kreacher’s stash of recovered items, and removing anything that had any touch of dark magic associated with it, but he let Kreacher keep most of the items he’d saved. Kreacher also had a list of daily chores that he had to perform. Number one on it was keeping his cupboard clean and tidy.
Dawn closed the cupboard door, feeling slightly embarrassed by her snooping. She turned back to Buffy, Giles and Willow. “So, what did you learn?”
“The main thing is that the Knights know about the current disposition of the Key,” said Buffy. Even with Harry’s assurance that they couldn’t be overheard, she felt it best to remain circumspect.
Dawn felt a wave of panic rising in her. “They know? But that means…”
“Relax!” said Buffy. “It’s okay…well, not okay exactly, but he said that they’ve known for some time, but without the threat of Glory, they’re willing to wait. It seems it will be another thousand years before anyone can use the Key to destroy the world, and Nick said they can wait a century or so before they take the Key back.”
“What do they know about Voldemort?” asked Dawn.
“Not much,” said Buffy. “They didn’t even know he was looking for the Key until we told them.”
“Will that make them change their minds about waiting a century?” asked Dawn.
“They said ‘no,’ but I’m not sure if I believe them,” said Buffy. “They seem to think that they have taken measures to ensure that Voldemort won’t be able to get his hands on the Key. They said that while you’re alive no one can do anything with the Key without your cooperation, and they’ve taken precautions to return the Key to them if you die.” Buffy turned her attention to Willow. “Will, he said that they had wrapped Dawn in magic to make the Key go back to them, if anything happened to her. Could you take a look at that? See if you can detect it? Find out if there are any holes in it?”
“You want me to break it?” asked Willow.
Buffy thought for a bit. Then she looked at Dawn. “It’s up to you. Do you want the Key to go to the Knights if anything happens to you?”
Dawn frowned as she thought about that. “I don’t know. I’ve got this deep down…fear of the Knights of Byzantium. It’s been there from the first time I laid eyes on them…and I don’t think it’s just because they were shooting arrows at me at the time. I mean I’ve been shot at lots, and I don’t really feel about the other things that were doing the shooting the way I feel about the Knights. It’s like everything I feel about them, and about the Key was programmed into me…which it was.”
“All of us have the same problem,” said Giles. “We all received extensive conditioning, but as far as I can tell, we still have our free will. Our reason is still intact. Our initial emotional response to anything regarding the Key may be something that the Order of Dagon conditioned us to feel, but we are intelligent, self aware people, capable of rising above our basic emotional responses to a situation.”
“And who’s to say our conditioned reactions are the wrong reactions,” said Buffy. “Maybe the Order of Dagon was right to want to protect the Key from the Knights of Byzantium. They strike me as awfully one track ‘we’re doing the will of God’ in their thinking.”
“I’m going to have to think about this some more,” said Dawn.
“Take your time,” said Willow. “It’s going to take me a while to figure out what the Knights have done, and find out if I can break it. If I can’t do anything about it, whatever you want will be purely academic.”
“Meanwhile the head Knight has also said he’s going to consider turning over whatever they know about the Key to us,” said Buffy, “but I’m not holding out much hope.”
“If they do trust us enough to tell us what they know, it’ll go a long way toward making me trust them with the Key,” said Dawn.
“True…but they may decide to just show us the stuff that makes it look like a really good idea to let them get control of it, while leaving out the stuff that makes them getting control of the Key look like a bad idea.”
“I’m afraid that we’re spending much too much time trying to second guess ourselves, when we don’t—” Giles was interrupted by what sounded like the growling whine of a small gasoline engine starting up. “Good lord, what is that noise?”
“I don’t know.” Buffy was already leading the way toward the kitchen door. She threw it open, and ran up the stairs with the others following her. They were all frozen by the sight that greeted them in the entry hall.
“Xander?” asked Dawn. “Everyone, it’s Xander! With a chainsaw!”
Xander smiled at her, his eye protected by a pair of goggles. “I’ve wanted to do this ever since that time we got stuck in the frat house with the fear demon.” He looked at Harry. “You’re sure about this?”
“I’m willing to try anything to get rid of that thing.” Harry was sitting beside Kennedy on the stairs. Tonks was sitting a little higher up, looking bemused. Kreacher was behind them all, looking very distressed.
“Okay, here goes.” Xander revved the motor on the chainsaw, and placed the tip of it against the wall, beside the shutters covering the portrait of Mrs. Black, who was shouting obscenities that could be heard even above the roar of the engine. The saw sank into the wall, and Xander cut a quick slice down along the side of the picture. He repeated the cut on the other side, and then made a third cut along the bottom.
Xander used a chair to stand on so he could get high enough to make the final cut along the top of the portrait. He killed the engine and stepped down off the chair. “You want to do the honours?” he asked Harry. He pulled the chair out of the way.
Harry stood up from the stairs and smiled. “My pleasure.” He planted a kick right in the centre of the shutters, knocking the chunk of wall Xander had cut loose right into the next room. The portrait’s shrieks had become completely unintelligible as its rage grew, and they reached a new level of stridency as it fell to the floor.
“This was why you had to go rent tools?” asked Buffy.
“Yep,” said Xander. “Sure, I could have done it with a hand saw, but this was so much more fun.”
“And it never occurred to anyone to just cut her out of the wall before?” asked Willow.
“We tried severing charms,” said Tonks, “but the wall is protected against those. It resists all forms of magical modification. But it seems it never occurred to my dear Aunt to protect her portrait from Muggle tools.”
“She was your aunt?” asked Dawn.
“Great aunt, actually, but she burned the Tonks out of her family tree. I could show you if you like?”
“Not necessary.” Dawn looked through the hole at the portrait on the floor. “So now what do we do with it?” She had enough experience with wizard paintings now to know that they were semi-sentient. Actually destroying one, even one as unpleasant as Mrs. Black, felt almost like murder to her.
“Crate it up, and stick it down in the basement,” said Harry. “With no one to interact with it will just go dormant.”
“What about the hole?” asked Kennedy.
“Oh, I can fix that,” said Xander. “No problem. Fixing holes in walls is one of my specialities.”
“He got lots of practice back at our old house.” Dawn leaned through the opening and looked around a bit. “I don’t know…maybe you might want to keep the hole. It really opens this space up. It doesn’t feel nearly as close in here now.”
“Or we could do that,” said Xander. “I could frame in a nice window here for you.”
“Why don’t we wait until after dinner before we worry about that.” Buffy looked around. “When I checked out the kitchen earlier, the cupboards seemed kinda bare.” She pulled out her phone. “Anyone know a takeout place that will deliver to an invisible house?”
“We could floo over to the Leaky Cauldron,” said Harry.
“No,” said Tonks. “You aren’t to leave this house until it’s time for you to go back to the Burrow.”
Buffy put her phone away. “And I don’t want to be flooing anywhere, either right before, or right after a meal.” She rubbed her stomach. “It totally ruins my appetite, and I don’t think I could keep a meal down if I flooed right after it.”
Tonks smiled. “Okay, why don’t I just collect everyone’s orders, and then I can floo to the Cauldron for takeout.”
|Chapter 42: The Burrow||Contents||Chapter 44: The New Year|