Brown says: I disclaim any ownership of the rights to the Buffy or Harry Potter material. This story is something of a prologue for The Hunt (coming soon).
Buffy sighed. She had a night off from training slayers and leading hunts, a night to patrol the dirty, demon-infested parts of London. Crack some heads, stake some vamps, lose herself in the old routine. She liked the new deal fine; teaching slayers before throwing them at the vamps, help with the research, backup and medicine no more than a phone call away. But sometimes she missed the feeling, stalking through a graveyard by herself and stretching her senses out for her prey. No slayers to worry about, no backup to co-ordinate with, just the hunt and the kill. She wouldn’t want to go back, but being the Prime Slayer was very different to just being the Slayer.
She was one of the few people on Earth, she mused, who would be made nostalgic by the Demon Quarter of London. The atmosphere was certainly right, every cracked cobblestone and worn brick in the area exuding age and dark secrets. But her plans had been ruined, totally messed up! This time, though, it wasn’t the Powers, or some self-important bad guy. This time it was all the calendar’s fault.
It was Halloween, and just like in America the night of Samhain – as Willow called it – was a dead night, supernatural-wise. Not a sniff, not a tingle. All she’d seen were a few drunk people who’d wandered down the wrong street, on this night not looking askance at a blonde girl with a sword strapped to her back. She’d been following a drunk woman for six blocks now, half-hoping that something would jump out and try to eat the staggering woman.
She was considering heading back to Tweed Central when she felt a slight brush against her senses. A vampire! And not one of the bloodline vamps that were legal now, but a proper demonic vamp. And close, too. She followed the tingles down an alley, and leaned around the corner to see a leather-clad form skulking down the street. The vamp peered down every side street, and turned to check behidn it every few seconds. Buffy frowned from her hiding place. Was the vamp being hunted? Something killing vampires was probably also bad news for humans. She decided to ask some questions before staking.
The vampire had stopped at a door, and looked around again before putting its key in the lock. Buffy rolled her eyes as it completely failed to notice her bottle-blond hair in the faint moonlight. Moving on silent feet, she drew a stake from her sleeve and padded up behind the vamp. As it swung the door open and went to move inside, she yanked it backwards and slammed it against the wall beside the door.
It snarled at her, demon-face distorting the features of what had been a handsome young man. She was ready for it to push off the wall and go for her neck, but the vamp didn’t bother. It just leant its head back against the rough bricks.
“Aww, come on, I was almost home!” Its voice was resigned. The vamp raised its head. “Look, uh, sir, I promise I haven’t…” The pleading trailed off as the vamp took in its captor, short blonde with her stake poised over its heart.
“A slayer. Just my shitty luck! If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
Buffy frowned. The vamp had definitely expected something other than a slayer. What else would a vamp expect to be killed by? She prodded it with her stake, doubly curious, and put on her best stupidly-fake British accent. “Who did you think I was, the taxman? Spill it, chum, what’s got you so wigged?”
The vamp stared at her. “What, are you stupid? It’s Halloween! Bad news for us here in London, Halloween.”
“Why? What’s after you?” A creature that only hunted once a year? No, he’d tried to negotiate with whatever he’d thought she was, so it must have a brain. Some kind of ritual killing?
The vamp choked out a response, obviously frustrated by her ignorance. “Well, it’s Halloween. He goes on a rampage every year, doesn’t he? Some anniversary or something.”
“Who? A demon hunter?”
The vamp snorts, even as it eyes the stake. “Something like that. A killer, I’d call him. You want to meet him, be my guest. He’ll show up at the Slaughtered Goat at midnight, like always.”
Buffy frowned. She’d heard about the Goat, sort of the demon place to be in London. A hunter walking into a demon bar, that sounded like a recipe for trouble. Maybe this night wouldn’t be a total loss after all.
“So, can I go or--”
Buffy brushed dust off her shirt as she tried to remember Giles’s directions to the Slaughtered Goat.
She found it eventually, marked by a bleeding goat carved into the side of a building. Giles had said the door was hidden by magic, so she used a trick Willow had taught her to pierce illusions. Buffy half-turned away, and caught a glimpse of a door from the corner of her eye. That made it easier to focus on the truth of the situation, and after a few more turns and glances the illusion collapsed. The door looked ancient, some kind of gnarled wood now scarred with age.
Buffy glanced at her watch. Four past midnight. This mysterious demon hunter should be inside, if the vamp had been scared enough to tell her the truth. She could get information on a possible ally, or a threat if they were psycho like some hunters she’d met. That would show Giles that she could do things besides slay! What was that he’d said after that time in Mexico? ‘Subtlety is not your forte, Buffy’, oh-so-dry and British. She’d show him!
Aware that she was stirring herself up more than necessary, Buffy yanked the door open and strode inside. The Goat didn’t look evil and disreputable; it looked like a British pub from the sixteenth century, but it was clean and well-lit, with anachronistic electric lights swinging overhead. The floor was granite with straw scattered over the top, tables dotted around the room. A single slab of age-weathered oak served as the bar, currently occupied by a man wearing black. Yep, stereotypical demon hunter wardrobe. The barman drying a glass looked human, as well as nervous. His eyes flicked to her sword, and he vanished into the rear of the pub.
The hunter glanced at Buffy, and she blinked. He was really young, maybe younger than Dawn, off at Oxford these days. A pair of wire-rimmed glasses that could have been stolen from Giles framed bright green eyes underneath a mess of wild black hair. The boy shrugged, and turned back to the bar.
A bit nonplussed, Buffy walked over to sit next to him, stepping around several piles of dust. Someone had been a busy boy earlier. She eased herself onto a stool, positioning herself for a quick disarm if he pulled a weapon. He didn’t seem likely to, though; he was staring into a tumbler of brown liquid, blocking out not just Buffy’s presence but the whole world.
Buffy was at a loss. Everyone she met knew who she was, the Prime Slayer, and had one of two reactions; either they tried to test her skill, or (less frequently) they came over all awestruck. Well, she got rid of that reaction as soon as she opened her mouth! She frowned. Was that a good thing? Well, the point was that she hadn’t talked to a perfect stranger for years, not since Sunnydale. God, was she that socially challenged? Well, she was going to prove that she could talk to people! Right now!
She smiled as genuinely as she could, leaned towards him a little, eyelids slightly lowered. “Hi, I’m Buffy. What are you drinking?”
He didn’t respond, just kept staring at his glass. Buffy frowned. Well, others might have called her expression a pout, but as far as she was concerned pouts and badass slayers were opposites. Like night and day, fire and water, Dawn and safety. She fixed the boy with a glare, hoping that it was more admonishing than threatening.
“It’s not polite to ignore a lady, you know.” He didn’t react for long moments, and she was considering giving him a sharp prod when he lifted his head, sitting upright and turning to look at her. Up close she could see a jagged scar on his forehead, pale and faded. His eyes were gorgeous, even brighter than she’d thought from the door, but there was no life in them. He looked like a man facing his execution, not having a celebratory drink after dusting some vamps.
“Ogden’s Finest Firewhiskey.” His accent was upper-class British, like Giles but not quite as crisp, raspy from either smoke or drink.
Buffy searched for a way to continue the newborn conversation. “Sounds expensive.”
He snorted. “I suppose. Might as well get drunk in style.”
“How’s it taste?”
He raised his eyebrows, lips quirking slightly. “A little like dragonfire.” He reached into the sleeve of his button-up black shirt, and Buffy tensed. He drew out a slim stick of wood, and tapped his glass with it. The air above the bar rippled, and something like smoke gathered there, curled around on itself and coalesced into a half-full glass that the boy snatched out of the air and plonked in front of Buffy.
“Have a taste.”
She stared at him. Willow had problems with conjuring solid objects, said she had to draw more power than she’d like, and here was this kid waving a stick and making her a drink! She stared at the glass for a while, amazed at its solidity, at the subtle gleams of orange and red that danced in the brown liquid. Wait, magic stick?
“Ha!” The boy jumped at Buffy’s sudden exclamation, eyeing her pointed finger warily. “I know what you are! You’re a wand-wizard!”
Giles had told her about them, a different kind of witch. They used wands for everything, apparently; the magic came from inside them rather than external sources. Apparently they were very secretive, and Giles had mentioned something about a war, but she hadn’t really been listening. The boy was staring at her. That was a step up from ignoring her, at least.
“I am. Was the wand a giveaway?” His voice was toneless, but Buffy thought he might have been surprised.
“Little bit, yes.”
“I’ll watch out for that in the future. Anyway, what’s a slayer doing out on Halloween? Nothing happens on Halloween.” The boy tossed back the rest of his drink, and turned to her for an answer. He tapped his glass absentmindedly, and it filled back up with the brown liquid – firewhiskey, he’d called it?
Buffy suddenly realised he had given her an opening. “Well, I heard that it’s even quieter in London; that you make it extra-dead-quiet. So I thought I’d come see the big bad demon hunter.” She swept her gaze over him, pasting a critical look on her face. He did look cute, but cute teenage boys shouldn’t be out hunting vampires. Hypocrisy, yes, but she didn’t want others to go through the hell she’d had. Teenagers should be worrying about homework and the opposite gender, not demons.
He was staring at her, face still blank. Then he smiled, a little curl of his lip that made his pale, tired face look even more boyish.
“I’m hardly a demon hunter. I do what I can when I come across them, but mostly I leave demons to the professionals.” He gave her a formal bow of the head, making Buffy pout. She didn’t like being teased.
“But you do have some fun on Halloween?”
He shrugged. “I go for a walk, hit a few bars. If I encounter demons or cursed vampires, well, that’s entirely coincidental.”
Buffy shook her head. He sounded young and cocky, but his eyes were sad and his smile seemed bitter. The brash kid was all an act. If there was one thing the Hellmouth had taught Buffy, it was how to hide pain, and this boy was carrying a load of it. Another self-destructive loner, gee, there should be a club. She and Faith could be the co-presidents, and the kid could be treasurer. She sighed. He reminded her of herself a few years ago, only male, and British.
“I get that, you know.” She looked away from him, remembering some of her patrols in Sunnydale after coming back to life. “The hunt. Focusing in on what you’re fighting until nothing else exists. And then you don’t have to think about anything at all, because there’s no thinking, just reacting. You’re so busy being a part of the world that you forget how much it hurts, just for a little while.” Wow, that was a little more than she’d meant to share. Trying not to look at the complete stranger, she took a tiny sip of the firewhiskey, hoping it wasn’t too foul.
She gasped. The liquid burned as it trickled down her throat, settling down to a glowing warmth as the molten fire curled around her stomach. It was totally unlike any other alcohol she’d had, not that she’d had much. Fierce and warm at the same time, and good god he’d been drinking that stuff like water. No wonder he hadn’t tried anything with her, he must be about to fall over.
“You’re right.” His voice was unsteady, not with drink but emotion. “That’s why. Oh, I do it because it’s good work, hunting ghouls and kelpies and all kinds of bloody things. I wouldn’t be able to just walk away. But that’s not why I look for them. I just need to get out of my own head, to…not forget, but keep myself from remembering.”
He turned his head to look at her, so slowly that she realised he was totally plastered. “It’s worse on Halloween. So much worse.”
“Why?” Buffy kept her voice low and steady, careful not to spook him.
“I remember. Every year, it’s the same memory. Four years and I can’t forget.” He was looking down at his glass again, and it took her a few moments to realise that he was crying. No noise, no change in expression, but his cheeks glistened in the harsh overhead light.
“It’s not fair.” His voice was still controlled, ever so upper-class and British, but the words were the broken plea of a child. “It’s not fair, I’ve lost so many, why couldn’t she stay…Just one thing, something bright, in my life of total shit.” His forehead slowly descended to the bar, cushioned by his forearms. “Just one thing.” He mumbled, and then a single word she would have missed if not for slayer hearing. “Ginny.”
Buffy stared at the young demon hunter for a few moments, then prodded him sharply in the ribs. No reaction. He was definitely asleep, and probably too drunk to wake up soon. She sighed. This was supposed to be her night of alone-time slaying, and she got a London empty of vamps and an inebriated kid who would be eaten if she left him behind. Great, this was San Francisco all over again.
She rolled him over so he was leaning against the bar with his back, then took hold and slung him over her shoulder in one smooth movement, tilting him away from the sword hilt. Cab drivers weren’t stupid enough to come into this area, so she had quite a walk ahead of her. Well, he wasn’t heavy – kind of light for his size, actually – but it was still awkward. If anything attacked her, she was going to drop him on his head to free up her hands, and see how it helped his hangover.
Harry Potter was a dangerous man. Well, some might have argued the man part; he was only twenty, after all. But then in the wizarding world he’d been an adult for three years. Few could contest the dangerous part, though. He had, after all, fought Voldemort and survived any number of times, before and during the war. He had won the Triwizard Tournament at fourteen, outflown a dragon, slain a basilisk. And, of course, he had faced Voldemort wand-to-wand in Hogsmeade and killed the Dark Lord, after Voldemort had proclaimed Harry’s death. Yes, Harry Potter was dangerous, both as an enemy and as a friend.
But he still woke up bleary-eyed and confused. Harry groaned as the comfort of sleep fled. He hadn’t dreamed, which was unusual. That was the last thought he managed before his hangover hit like a sledgehammer. His head throbbed, and every faint rustle as he shifted on the couch sent shooting pains through his skull. Merlin, he hated waking up like this. Why did he even touch alcohol?
Then he remembered what day it was, or had been, and wished he’d drunk a little more. No dreams, though, that was good. And no injuries, apparently, although the pain might not be registering through the fog of sleep and hangover. Last Halloween he’d woken up with several nasty slashes from a knife-wielding vampire, and a welt across his cheek that had defied explanation. No dreams, no injuries, time to stumble out of bed and quietly, oh so quietly, summon Kreacher and ask for a hangover potion.
Wait. Harry didn’t dare open his eyes for fear of the morning light, but his back was telling him that he was curled up on a couch, not in his bed at Number Twelve. Was he on someone’s couch? Merlin, he could just imagine that scenario. Find a teenage boy passed out in the street, put him on the couch to sleep it off. God, this was going to be embarassing. His wand!
He sat up on the couch in a jerk, all his muscles protesting, and clapped his left hand against his right inner forearm. His wand was still there, thank Merlin. It would have been a total disaster, losing his wand because he got drunk. He concentrated around the ache in his head, trying to remember what had happened last night. There had been a few demons and vampires out on the streets, which had let him work off a little of the grief, take the edge off. Then he had walked into the Goat, and as usual been jumped by a few vamps.
Then he’d conjured some firewhiskey, not quite as good as the real thing, started drinking and…someone had walked into the Goat. A girl with a sword? Oh, a slayer. Short, blonde, but he’d recognised what she was instantly. He’d seen a slayer once before, from a distance, and the blonde girl had moved the same way. Like a tiger, a predator secure in its power, walking its domain.
He vaguely remembered drinking, talking to her. And she had understood, she’d seen right past his flippant replies and known what he was doing there. Hunting the darkness, to forget everything else. Was he in the slayer’s home? He cracked open his eyes, wincing at the sudden rush of light. He was in the living room of what he thought was an apartment. Furnishings were scarce, and Harry had the impression that no one really lived here.
He smelt fresh coffee, and turned to see the blonde slayer – what had been her name again? Something unusual – watching him, a steaming mug clasped between her hands. He coughed, tried not to blush. He really had been drunk, to tell her all those things. The truths that he told no one, that he avoided even with Ron and Hermione. Say something, Harry, or she’ll just keep staring at you.
“Er-” He broke off, shocked at the rasping growl that his voice had become. He coughed a few times, and tried again. “Thanks for the, ah, help.”
She waved a hand. “No big deal. But next time you get drunk, don’t do it in a demon bar. There won’t always be a slayer around to play taxi.” She laughed it off, but her eyes were intent and serious.
“I won’t.” Harry promised reflexively. The slayer had such a presence, he found himself agreeing without thinking. “I only drink on Halloween, anyway.” He went on, then stopped abruptly. Whining in front of a stranger, how much more pathetic can you get, Harry? Leave, before you make a bigger fool out of yourself.
“I, er, have to go.” He suddenly thought of Ron and Hermione, how they always came round for lunch the day after Halloween. “My friends will checking on me, and if I’m not home they’ll…”
“Freak out?” The blonde slayer smiled. “I know how that is. You want to have breakfast first? Not much of a cook, but I can handle toast. Probably.”
Maybe it was the fact that she was a pretty woman, or her calm, centred presence, but Harry found himself agreeing. Minutes later he was sitting at a table in the cramped kitchen, munching on a piece of toast. The slayer was rummaging through cupboards.
He’d asked if there was tea, and she’d laughed.
“If Giles has ever slept here, there’s tea. Give me a sec.” She found a jar full of teabags, dropped one into a mug and filled it from the kettle. “It’s probably not very good, but there you go. Tea.” She set it in front of him, flourishing her hands like a magician extracting a particularly recalcitrant rabbit. The slayer sat down opposite Harry, and under her amused stare he tried desperately to remember her name. He finished his toast, still trying to piece together his memories of the previous night.
“I’m Buffy Summers.” He flinched, and she just smiled. “You looked so confused, I thought you might not remember. Anyway, you never got around to introducing yourself.”
“I’m Harry.” He weighed up the decision. Would a slayer have heard about the wand-wizards’ war? Probably not. “Harry Potter.”
“So, Harry.” Buffy said, smiling. “Do you hunt vampires a lot?”
“No.” He said bluntly. It was too early for evasion. “I deal with dark creatures, not demonic ones. Ghouls, zombies, kelpies, that sort of thing. And I keep an ear out for dark wizards, try and turn them in before anyone gets hurt.” He shrugged.
“Don’t the wand-wizards have, I don’t know, magic police or something?”
Harry briefly considered the Statute of Secrecy, but sod it, she already knew about wizards. “They’re called Aurors.”
“Let me guess, they’re totally incompetent and in denial?”
“No, far from it.” He sighed. “They’re good at their jobs, but there aren’t many of them.” Especially now that they have to be moral as well as dangerous with a wand. “There’s a lot of work for them, and they can’t hare off after every report of a monster. It’s just not practical.”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, I remember the first time we had to do that – the Council, I mean.” Her voice grew wistful. “Sometimes you’re too busy saving the world to save everyone.”
Harry nodded. Both of them sat quietly, lost in their memories. Everyone they hadn’t saved, those they’d left behind for that elusive end, the greater good. Harry ran a finger around the lip of his mug, then lifted it for a tentative sip. The tea tasted rough and cheap, but it felt warm and comforting against the back of his throat. Eventually he found himself staring at the bottom of the mug. Time to go home.
“Well, I should be off.” He half-expected Buffy to try and stall him, but she just nodded cheerfully.
“Okay.” The slayer walked into the living room, and rummaged in the breast pocket of a jacket hanging over an armchair. She turned back to Harry, offering a small piece of card. “This is the Council’s phone number, answered round the clock by semi-trained amateurs.” Her voice turned serious. “If you run into demony trouble and need a hand, call us. Dying in a macho fashion does no one any good, trust me.”
Harry accepted the business card. “Thank you. I’ll make sure to do that.” He turned to go, was stopped by a half-raised hand.
“Can you find your way home?”
Harry smiled. He loved being a wizard. “I don’t have to. I’ll just apparate.”
Harry groped for the right words. “Just…jump from here to there.”
“Oh, teleport. Right.”
Harry tapped the card against his thigh. “So…I’ll go now. Thanks for the help, the card.”
“No problem.” Buffy looked at him, her eyes assessing but a little distant, like she was seeing something superimposed on him. “It’ll always hurt, Harry. But you’ll learn to think about it less.”
He apparated away.