Act Four


"I'm telling you, Giles. It was a technicolor, "the hills are alive" surround sound sort of dream," she said emphatically. "That guy tortured her to death."

Giles nodded as he put the assorted ingredients for the spell into order. The early afternoon sun streamed in through the windows, giving a cheerful aura to his work.

"I don't doubt you, Buffy," he assured her as he worked. She put her hands on her hips impatiently.

"Giles, we have to do something," she said plaintively. "I have enough issues interrupting my beauty sleep without having to relieve someone else's horrors."

He looked up swiftly, piercing her with his gaze.

"What else are you dreaming about?" he demanded sharply. Buffy blushed and dropped her gaze. Mentally, she cursed herself for mentioning anything that even hinted that she still had nightmares. Giles would press her until she told him, and the last thing she wanted to do was talk about Spike with him.

"It doesn't matter," she mumbled. Giles moved away from the counter, and walked toward her.

"Buffy," he said warningly. She shook her head.

"Not now, Giles. Really, it's ok," she rushed to assure him. "I mean, we all have nightmares about what happened."

Giles put his hand on her shoulder, causing her to look up at him.

"It's ok to mourn him, Buffy," he said softly. "The two of you had a relationship." He was amazed at his ability to keep the bitterness out of his voice as he spoke. "It's not easy to just forget and move on from what happened." Sighing, Buffy wondered if she could tell him how she really felt about what happened, that while she was sorry Spike died, she hadn't felt about him the way everyone thought she had. Everything had just become too complicated, and she didn't have the words to explain. It had just been easier to let everyone believe what they wanted to believe.

"We're home," Willow called, breezing into the room. Dawn trailed eagerly after her, dropping her backpack on the floor. Buffy and Giles sprang apart. "I'm ready to do the spell if you are."

Giles nodded and turned back towards the spell ingredients on the kitchen counter and picked up a piece of paper.

"Deborah and Jo have assured me that this spell should do the trick," he said, handing Willow the paper. She looked it over and nodded.

"Easy enough, but I'll have to be in the attic to do it."

Dawn perked up.

"Oh, cool. Can I watch?" she asked brightly. Buffy, Willow and Giles turned to face her.

"No!" they said in unison. Dawn pouted, crossing her arms over her chest.

"You guys never let me have any fun," she sulked. Buffy looked at Giles.

"I'm going up with Willow, just in case," she told him. Giles nodded his agreement.

"That would probably be wise," he concurred.

"Ready?" Buffy asked Willow. The redhead nodded and they gathered up the ingredients, trooping through the living room and up the stairs to the attic stairs. They met Xander in the hallway.

"Oh, are we exorcising now?" he asked gleefully, rubbing his hands together. The girls rolled their eyes.

"Just help Giles with the stairs," Buffy ordered. With a shrug, Xander turned and grabbed the rope. Together, with much grunting and groaning, the men managed to pull the steps down.

Buffy climbed the stairs first, watchful for any flying objects. Her body was tense and prepared to duck. Willow crept up cautiously behind her, arms filled with ingredients. Seeing nothing amiss, Buffy began prowling the room as Willow began to set up the candles.

"This is a cool room," Dawn said, poking her head into the attic space. "Can I have it once the ghost is gone?"

Buffy whirled to face her sister.

"Dawn!" Giles yelled up. "Get back down here!" At the sound of his voice, Hedwig's ghost appeared in the corner almost as if he'd called her. Dawn gave a small scream and scurried back down the stairs. Willow gasped in horror as she stared at the ghost. Hedwig's face was bleeding, the blood dripping on her dress.

"Go away!" Hedwig screamed. "I'm innocent." Boxes began to shake as they were levitated from the floor.

"Damn it," Buffy cursed, taking a fighting stance and preparing to knock them away. "Willow, get moving," she ordered. Willow began lighting the candles and chanting in Latin.

Suddenly, Buffy felt a force grab her and fling her across the room as it had before. Slamming into the wall, she staggered as her head banged against the wooden planks. She dropped to her knees in a daze. Shaking her head, she tried to stand, but instead, found herself sliding across the floor through the dirt and grime as some unseen hand dragged her across the room. She clawed at the floor, trying to stop her slide.

Willow chanted frantically, ducking as a box whizzed past her head, narrowly missing her. She couldn't stop to call for help, because it would break the spell. She could only watch helplessly as Buffy was pinned to the wall.

Buffy fought against the influence that held her in place. She gasped in horror as chains materialized around her wrists, holding her captive. Suddenly she realized that they were the chains from her dream. Looking around wildly, she began struggling against them.

Buffy could see Willow chanting, trying to quell the storm that was brewing in the attic. Boxes, trunks and broken furniture swirled through the air, banging into walls and the floor. Wind rushed around them, tousling the girls' hair.

"Forget the spell, Will!" Buffy yelled at her friend. Breaking off mid-chant, Willow held up her hand as a chair tumbled toward her head.

"Statuo," she commanded, her voice reverberating with power. The chair seemingly froze in place, suspended in the air.

"Can you make it stop?" Buffy called, still struggling with her chains.

"I'll try," Willow yelled back over the din. She spoke several more words in Latin, only to have nothing happen. As she spoke, Hedwig turned toward her. "The ghost is too strong, Buffy!" Willow gave a small scream as Hedwig appeared before her, bloody face twisted in anger.

"You're helping him!" she shouted at Willow. A blast of angry energy sent Willow flying backwards. Her arms and legs pinwheeled as she was launched across the room. A heavy black trunk was hurled after her. She managed to toss up a magical force field just as it reached her. It dropped to the floor with a crash. Incensed, Hedwig turned back toward Buffy who struggled in vain against her bonds.

"Giles, help!" she screamed as the ghost floated toward her. Buffy tugged on the ghostly chains, trying to pull them from the wall. She froze in horror as a knife suddenly materialized in front of her. It was a thick heavy hunting knife, and the blade glinted in the dim light. She threw herself to the side as it slashed down and she hissed in pain as it caught her shoulder.

"Buffy!" Giles and Xander rushed up the stairs, skidding to a halt as they realized that Hedwig was blocking their way to Buffy. Giles stared past the transparent figure to Buffy, his eyes wide with concern as blood seeped from her shoulder.

"I'll never confess!" the ghost shouted at them. "Never. I'm innocent!"

"We know." he said quickly, trying to calm the angry spirit. He continued speaking soothingly. "You were wrongfully accused. We know you never would've hurt Phillip."

Hedwig stared at him for a moment.

"It's a trick," she hissed. She lunged for Giles, her claw-like hands reaching for his throat. He and Xander dove out of the way. Giles crashed into the wall next to Willow and landed in a heap on the floor. Willow screamed as Hedwig leapt towards them.

"No!" Buffy shouted. "Leave them alone." Her voice brought Hedwig up short, causing her to swing back to the Slayer. Buffy twisted sideways as the hovering knife sliced at her. She heard the whistle of the blade as it just missed her. Rotating her body, she managed to turn in time to catch the blade as it passed her hands. Using its own momentum, she drove the knife deep into the wooden wall.

Giles groaned as he stood, Willow helping him up. Hedwig hissed as she swung back towards them. Xander cursed from the corner where he landed, knocking over a box as he clambered to his feet. The ghost turned about the attic, unsure where to direct her attention. The knife no longer a threat and Hedwig's concentration divided, Buffy focused on the chains binding her.

Twisting herself around, Buffy turned to face the wall. She planted her feet against it, and pushed with all her strength. She felt the shackles bite into her wrists, blood dripping down her hands as she pulled on the chains. Grunting, her leg muscles shook with exertion. Suddenly, there was a cracking sound and Buffy fell backwards as the wooden wall gave way. Pieces of wood splintered from the wall, flying past her head. She gasped in horror.

Behind the wall was a hidden compartment. Inside was a desiccated skeleton, dressed in a bloody dress. Wisps of pale blonde hair still clung to the skull. Hedwig turned, staring at the gaping hole.

"Free," she whispered. Slowly, she walked over to her skeleton. Reaching out, Hedwig's transparent hand passed through the remains. "You've freed me," she said to Buffy, her voice filled with awe. Buffy stood as the chains disappeared from her wrists.

Giles rushed to Buffy, Willow in tow. Xander limped as he joined the group, still cursing under his breath.

Carefully, Giles examined Buffy's injuries, his fingers probing the knife wound on her shoulder. Much to his relief, it was a shallow cut, although it concerned him that her right wrist was still bleeding freely. With his handkerchief, he quickly bound her wounds to stem the blood. Satisfied that she didn't require a trip to the emergency room, he peered into the dark gap.

"There's something else inside," he said, moving forward. Giles leaned down to scoop up a battered and worn book. He turned it over to examine it, dirt and cobwebs covering his hands. The leather cover creaked as he opened it carefully, paging through it. "It's the diary of Hiram Scobie," he told the group as they gathered around him. Giles flipped to the last entry.

" 'She died screaming her innocence,' " he read. " 'She is dead, at long last, by my hand, and at my will. In some long-confused part of my mind I seemed to feel sure if Hedwig died, Philip would live again.' " He looked up at the solemn faces of his friends before speaking thoughtfully. "Scobie killed Hedwig, but obviously Hedwig did not kill Philip. Only an innocent spirit would have been able to generate enough mystical force to stay bound to this room for so long. If she had been guilty, her spirit would have left when she died. Her very existence here as a ghost proves her innocence."

The attic was silent for a moment. Finally, the peace was broken by Hedwig's sobs. The gang turned to stare at her. Slowly, as they watched, her skin began to heal, the wounds closing up and the blood disappearing from her clothing. The wisps of knotted hair smoothed once again into golden silk. Her eyes cleared and they were bright with tears as she looked at the group. Buffy could see the relief and gratitude in them.

"Tell them. I would have never hurt Phillip. Tell them I was innocent," she said, gesturing at the book. Buffy nodded.

"We'll them what happened," Buffy said solemnly. "We promise."

Hedwig nodded.

"Thank you," she whispered as she began to fade from view. As the group watched, Hedwig disappeared completely. Silence reigned once more for a moment. Finally, Buffy turned to Giles, who still held the diary open.

"Think that reporter who interviewed us would be interested in that diary?"

Buffy climbed down the ladder and stepped back to admire her handiwork. She cocked her head as she stared at the wall. Unsatisfied, she moved to make an adjustment.

"I can't wait to see what the G-man has to say about that," Xander said from the doorway of the living room. Buffy grinned at him from over her shoulder and hopped down from the stepladder.

"I know exactly what he'll say," she told him. "He'll say that it's completely improper to hang an ancient mystical weapon over the fireplace." Buffy turned and gazed at her handiwork. The axe that she'd used to defeat the First glinted in the sunlight. "It's my axe, I'll do whatever I damn well please with it," she said defiantly. Xander grinned as he moved into the room, standing next to her to gaze at the weapon.

"I like it," he said after a moment. "It gives the place character."

Buffy grinned. She noticed that he held something in his hand.

"What's that?" she asked curiously. Xander looked down in surprise. He'd forgotten about the paper in his hand.

"Oh, Jo stopped by and dropped off our mail," he said. "I'm pretty sure she was looking for Giles. She was really disappointed that he wasn't here."

Buffy scowled at the floor, her good mood gone at the mention of the witch's name. She wished she knew why Jo rubbed her the wrong way. She should be happy that someone was interested in Giles.

"What did we get?" she asked sharply. Used to Buffy's swift mood swings, Xander was unfazed.

"We got a postcard from Andrew. Seems he enjoyed the Star Trek convention so much, he got a job working at the Star Trek ride at the Las Vegas Hilton. He's a waiter at Quark's Bar."

Buffy stared at Xander for a moment before bursting into laughter.

"Only Andrew," she said. Buffy turned and began walking to the kitchen, skirting around the newly delivered furniture. She couldn't wait to sleep in her new bed. The minute it had arrived and been assembled, she'd put on the sheets and just lay on it, reveling in the feeling of an actual mattress beneath her.

"So, where is Giles?" Xander asked, following her.

"Oh, he went to town to pick up a check from the real estate agent," she said absently. "After the whole thing with Hedwig, we went in and told them that we'd better get some money or we'd sue them." Buffy cocked her head at the memory, smiling. Between Giles' Ripper stare and her Slayer glare, Kylie had practically been shaking in her high-heeled shoes. "Although, Giles used way bigger words than that," she said.

"Of course he did," Xander agreed. Buffy glanced at her watch.

"He'll be back for our First Family Dinner With Furniture. He said he was just going to run into town, pick up the check and come right back."

Dawn looked up as they came into the kitchen, Willow turning from the stove where she was cooking.

"Did you see the paper?" Dawn asked excitedly, waving a copy of the Whispering Pines Gazette in the air. "Hedwig's on the front page."

Willow laughed as she stirred the contents of a large silver pot.

"She's been bouncing about this since the paper came," she told Buffy and Xander. "She so proud about the comment about her 'remarkably philosophic attitude.'"

Dawn ignored the comment as she smoothed out the newspaper on the new kitchen table. " 'Founding Father's Dark Secret,' " she read. " 'Residents were shocked this week when evidence was discovered that Hiram Scobie, possibly the most revered of Whispering Pines' founders, may well have murdered a young girl in 1888. Newcomers to Whispering Pines who recently moved into the long-abandoned Scobie Manor discovered the evidence.' And I love how they talk about me and my room. Liz will have to agree now that lilac's cool. It's in the paper after all. But oh, I like this part best: 'As much as it pains me to believe it, it seems that Scobie went temporarily insane after his son's death.' " Dawn looked up and gazed around the kitchen. "Did you hear that Hedwig?" she called out.

Above the kitchen table, a baby rattle materialized. It shook back and forth a few times before disappearing again. Dawn grinned at Buffy, smartly refolding the paper.

"I'm going to go do my homework," she informed the group. "Call me when dinner's ready," she said to Willow, scooping up her backpack and heading up to her room.

On the second floor, Dawn bypassed all the bedrooms until she reached the attic stairs. Reaching up, she pulled on the new, longer rope Xander had installed and pulled. He'd also fixed the steps so that they pulled down easily.

In the attic, she looked around, pleased. Her new bed sat on one side, a desk and chair on the other. Xander had installed some lights and Buffy had come up and painted the walls the lilac she had liked so much. She figured that with a few posters here and there, it would be like home.

Flopping onto the bed, Dawn leaned down and pulled her journal from its hiding place between the mattress and box spring. She opened it to a blank page and began writing about her day. It took her some time to chronicle the recent events, pausing once in awhile to think. Movement by one of the windows caught her eye, but when she looked, there was nothing to be seen.

After she finished the entry, Dawn slid the book back between the mattresses and tugged her English book out of the backpack. Opening it to her assigned story, she settled on the bed, lying on her stomach as she started reading. After a few minutes, the day caught up with her, and she nodded off, her head resting on the open book.

In the corner of the room, Hedwig materialized, her uniform pressed, blonde hair up in a neat bun. She glided across the room to the sleeping figure and carefully tugged the book out from under the girl's head. Hedwig pulled the blanket up over Dawn and leaning down, pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead.

Buffy moved restlessly around the kitchen, peering out the window at the dark sky. She thought it might rain soon, but she wasn't sure because the weather in Whispering Pines was so changeable. Giles had been gone for a long time. Dinner was almost ready, the table set for five. Willow had told him they would be eating about now, and he'd promised to be back in time for their first family dinner in their new home.

A sense of unease settled over Buffy. Giles knew how important this meal was to them. He wouldn't break his promise. Not unless he had to, and only for something very important.

"Where is he?" she asked Xander, a note of worry in her voice. "He should've been back by now."

"He probably got delayed at the real estate office or something," he said reassuringly as he looked up from the newspaper. "Giles'll be back any minute now."

Giles climbed out of the Suburban and shut the door. He glanced at his watch and realized that he had about ten minutes to get to the real estate office before they closed. Whistling, he started down the sidewalk. Night had fallen and most of the town folk were home having dinner with their families, where he'd be shortly. Their first family dinner. He smiled at the thought. They really had become a family, he realized. It would be hard to leave them again.

Giles looked at his watch again. He was running late. He'd stopped by the bookstore and gotten distracted by some of the used books they had. There had been several volumes on demons that he thought would be useful in the future and had asked the owner to set them aside until the next day.

A sudden noise startled him. He tensed, prepared for danger. Laughter filled the air around him, vaguely familiar. He tried to place it, its familiarity nagging at him. Distracted, he was caught off-guard as strong hands grabbed him roughly from behind. He grunted as a heavy fist slammed into the back of his head. The blow knocked him off balance and he would have fallen if the hands holding him captive hadn't kept him upright.

Giles struggled vainly against his captors, his head spinning. He looked up just in time to see a green fist flying toward him. It caught him squarely on the jaw, the force of the blow knocking him unconscious. He collapsed, his limp body held in place by large grayish-green hands.

"Now, now." said a voice Giles would've found chillingly familiar. "We mustn't break Mummy's new toy." Drusilla stepped from the shadows into the light of a nearby street lamp. She stared down at the unconscious Watcher. She shook her head. "No, we don't want to break my new toy."

Cocking her head, she tapped a fingernail against her pursed lips. "Not until I've had a chance to play with him for awhile," she amended. Leaning down, Drusilla put her lips next to Giles' ear. "We'll have lots of fun, you and me," she whispered, uncaring that he couldn't hear her. "And she'll cry and cry and cry."

Pleased with herself, she looked up at her henchmen. "Bring him," she ordered, her voice hard as she slunk back into the shadows. Grunting, the quill demon hoisted Giles over his shoulder, following Drusilla's mad laughter as she moved down the street.

Act 3   End Credits

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