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Harry Potter and the Mouth of Hell

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Summary: The Ministry has fallen, and Harry and his friends are on the run. In a desperate attempt to stop Voldemort and find the remaining Horcruxes, the bedeviled trio is led to track down the help of the Slayer

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > General > ActionDavidBMorrisFR1320112,33179834,7487 Apr 1120 Sep 12Yes

Chapter 10

It took Xander and Giles less than twenty minutes to get to Buffy's ---- long enough for them to move Willow into the living room and put her on the couch. Unfortunately, she hadn't said another word, nor had she moved an inch under her own power.

It took them less than five minutes to explain who had attacked them and why. However, when Buffy had demanded to know how Willow had managed to cast a spell of her own volition, Harry and his friends still had no answer to give them. They had done so warily, because though she spoke calmly, Buffy looked like she was ready to beat the crap out of someone, and, absent any other target, the contingent from Hogwarts would do.

The mood didn't lighten much when Xander and Giles got there. Xander went to her side and began saying comforting things, all the while looking daggers at Harry. Giles was a bit calmer, but it was evident even to those who had met him the previous night, that he was very disturbed.

"So, she cast a spell without any wand at all?" he asked again.

"None of us were looking at her when she..." Ron trailed off. "No, she wasn't using a wand."

"And she told you she'd been working on her magic for the last few months, but had been mostly unsuccessful?"

"That's about all we got out of her before the shooting started," Faith replied.

Buffy seemed to refocus her energy. "Oz, Will told me a couple of weeks ago that's she's been practicing her Wicca with some friends. Any idea who they were?"

Oz looked up from his girlfriend. "That really matter?"

"Maybe they can explain how this happened,." Buffy reminded him. "Maybe they can tell us a way to fix her."

"Amy," Oz answered

Hermione blinked a couple of times when she heard that. "Amy Madison?"

"You know her?" Buffy then answered her own question. "Of course you do. I imagine you've got an entry on her in the latest edition of Who's Who in Magic."

"Actually, Dumbledore was almost certain she was the one who cast the spell that restored Angel's soul," Hermione replied.

"Let's hope not," Xander finally looked up from his best friend for a moment. "That girl's a few sticks short of a bundle."

"Then why did you go to her to cast your little love spell on Cordelia?" Buffy countered.

"Because I wasn't thinking very clearly at the time," Xander replied. "Besides, you saw what happens when she gets pissed off."

"Would someone mind filling us in?"

Reluctantly Buffy told them about Amy's mother, a practicing witch who had never gotten over her glory days as a high school cheerleader, and had used her own daughter as a way to relive her lost youth. They were deliberately vague when they revealed her final fate.

Given how horribly her mother had used magic to abuse her, Harry was surprised to learn that Amy had started going down that same road less than a year ago. Nor were they at all encouraged when they learned Amy had cast a love spell that had backfired with nearly disastrous consequences on Xander, and had led to Buffy being briefly turned into a rat. This didn't sound like someone who should be dabbling in the dark arts at all, much less instructing a witch as potentially powerful as Willow.

Giles clearly felt the same way. "Buffy, I realize how desperately we want to get Willow back to herself, but the truth of the matter is, no magic may be able to do what we need." He hesitated before plunging ahead. "Willow killed a man, without malice or even intent, but the fact is someone has died because of her actions. She may need help that transcends the physical."

"So what are saying we do?" Xander's voice sounded a lot harder than they'd expected. "Turn her over to the Sunnydale hospital? The police? They're not equipped to deal with the kind of thing, and we all know it."

"He's right," Hermione spoke up. "The normal authorities wouldn't be able to handle this situation. Besides, considering how non-existent they were when we got attacked in broad daylight, I don't want them anywhere near us."

"First, we have to get Willow out of this... coma, or whatever the hell this is," Buffy replied. "Is Amy even still in town?"

"I'll get her," Xander replied.

"What makes you think she'll listen to you?" Ron asked.

"You heard what she did. The witch owes me one." With that Xander stormed out.

"Shouldn't one of us go with him?" Hermione asked.

"It's the middle of the day," Faith pointed out. "Whoever these people are, they're not going to run the exact same play twice. They're not that dumb."

Buffy seemed about to disagree, but at that moment, Willow finally began to stir, uttering something between a moan and a howl. Instantly, Buffy was kneeling by her best friend. "Will?"

For a long time, it seemed like that was all they were going to get. "Darkness," she finally said in the same disconnected tone that she had spoken in earlier.

Giles suddenly seemed to have more control over the situation. "Where, Willow? Where is it?"

"Everywhere," Willow whispered. "The earth screams with it. The rivers run red with blood. The mountains howl his name."

The Slayers were baffled by this. So were Hermione and Ron. Harry, however, thought he might have an idea as to what was happening. "Did you sense him?" he asked carefully.

Willow took another one of those deathly pauses before answering. "It's hard. "So much fire and madness in the way."

"Is she talking about Voldemort?" Ron asked.

Harry was certain that she was. However, Willow reacted to this for the first time by shaking her head violently.

"He is much darker, much greater. Has been around longer." Willow was speaking in jerks now.

"Who the hell is she talking about?" Faith demanded. "Angelus, Spike?"

"Easy," Giles instructed. But Willow seemed to respond to the invocation.

"This land is his. Has always been his. His hour on the stage has come. After decades of waiting, he is ready to rise." Willow blinked several times. "Demons have followed him for years and will follow him now."

"Follow him where?" Harry asked.

"Here," Willow now started to chuckle, but it was the kind of laugh that Harry had always associated with Bellatrix. "When he comes into power, nothing, not even the greatest darkness, will be able to strike him down. The wicked will be triumphant, and the champions shall serve as fodder to his powers. The dead will envy the living, and the gods will look down and laugh."

Ron looked at Hermione. "She's not talking about Voldemort, is she?" she replied.

For once, their friend didn't have a ready answer. Giles, however, seemed to. "We've heard this talk before," he said to Buffy. "This smacks of prophecy. The religious talk that the followers of the Master and others of his ilk used to swear by."

"But Buffy already killed him," Hermione pointed out.

"And ground his bones into dirt," Giles agreed. "But that doesn't mean there aren't other creatures like him, and that they might have set up roots on the Hellmouth."

"Never mind that. How did Willow learn this? What does any of this have to do with her?" Buffy was starting to lose her cool.

"The Hellmouth possesses huge amounts of dark energy and magic," Giles replied. "Maybe when Willow cast that spell she found a way to tap into somehow. It shouldn't be possible, especially not in someone as inexperienced in magic as she is, but," Giles looked at Harry and sighed. "if what Dumbledore believed of her is true, then it's very possible."

"Are you saying she absorbed some of the Hellmouth?" Hermione asked.

"That's an inelegant way of putting, but yes."

"So how do we get it out of her?" Buffy insisted. "Can't we perform some kind of exorcism?"

"It's not as simple as that," Giles argued.

"Only in our world would you call an exorcism 'simple'." Faith smiled, but none of the others seemed to appreciate her humor.

"Removing a lost spirit can be done in a couple of rituals. But Willow absorbed dark energy." Giles removed his glasses and began to polish them. "Unless you have some other kind of vessel that you can use to contain it, it could just as easily return to Willow --- or any of us."

This sounded extremely dangerous even for Harry's tolerance. Buffy didn't think about it twice. "We have to try," she said decisively. "We can't just wait here and hope."

Harry was sure that Giles would argue the point --- reigning in your Slayer was what a Watcher was supposed to do. But Giles apparently had meant what he said when they had talked the previous night. He turned to Hermione. "How well read are you in Ancient Languages?"

"Latin, Greek, Etruscan, some Sumerian, and enough Arabic to get by." Hermione actually sounded apologetic for being at a level most wizards her age weren't even close to approaching.

Giles only nodded. "In my library, there are some texts from the Pythian that detail these kinds of rituals."

"I didn't see any of those at the school," Hermione replied.

"Some of the more important texts are in my home."

Hermione tried to hide her astonishment that a curator of one of the greatest magic libraries any of them had ever seen apparently had a restricted section. "Wouldn't you be able to translate them?" she asked instead.

"I have to find them. My personal collection isn't quite as organized as the one at the school."

Buffy looked at her Watcher in disbelief, and Harry couldn't blame her --- Giles seemed to be the type who would alphabetize his soups. Then she shrugged it off. "Go. And hurry. Sunset's just a couple of hours away."

The next hour just seemed to drag. Harry had honestly expected that Mrs. Summers would have more questions when strangers showed up on her doorstep with one of her daughter's best friends in a virtual coma, but the only question that she asked was whether she should call Willow's parents.

Buffy didn't have to think that long. "Last thing she told me was that was that her parents are in Sweden for another one of their lectures," she replied. "They don't need to hear is this, especially when it'll be fixed by the time that they get back."

This was the first sign that Buffy had shown that her friend would recover, but as the hour passed and Willow showed no sign of coming out of her shock, Harry began to wonder if this was more Slayer bravado. The lighter-haired Slayer seemed a lot less capable of dealing with what she was seeing --- and this was a woman who'd thwarted at least two apocalypses and the second time had to send her boyfriend to hell doing it.

At the end of the hour, they were treated to the spectacle of Xander returning, practically hauling a red-brown haired girl around the same age as everyone else. Given the look on her face, and what little they knew about her, Harry smelled trouble.

"I know you and your little gang of intrepids are fighting the good fight," Amy started. "I just thought you had the sense to avoid using civilians."

"Hey, you've been training with her the past three months," Buffy retaliated. "You should know by now she's capable of a lot more than we give her credit for."

"Last thing we need is another fight," Harry jumped in. "You're Amy Madison, right?"

"And who are you?"

I guess my infamy hasn't spread to even young magicians in this country. Harry shrugged it off, and moved on. "Let's just say my friends and I are fellow concerned wizards."

Amy raised an eyebrow, but said nothing more. "All right then, " She took out a device that looked remarkably close to a Pensieve. Harry could only assume that they were designed differently in America. "You know what this does?"

Seeing that Buffy and Faith would need an explanation, Harry told them what a penseive was for. Ron then asked the question that had occurred to Harry when he saw it: "Where'd you get one of those?"

Amy at least had the good grace to a little abashed. "I found it when I was going through some of my Mom's stuff. Based on the carvings, I think it's American in origin. This model has the ability to tap into the subconscious in a certain way. I can use it hopefully to get a picture of what's going on in her head."

Under other circumstances, Harry might have protested. Going into a person's memory when it was given willingly was ethically sketchy enough; doing it to someone who wasn't going to be an agreeable participant seemed a little close to what Voldemort was considering. But right now, he didn't think they had much of a choice.

"How do you want to proceed?" he asked.

"Well, this is where things get awkward," Amy admitted. "Based on everything that I know about this device, in order to get this thing to work properly, the person has to voluntarily give you access to their thoughts." She looked at Willow and her vacant stare. "Something I'm guessing we're not going to get."

"You've never had any trouble manipulating people's minds before," Xander countered.

"And as you'll recall, doing that led to some pretty terrible consequences," Amy reminded them hotly. "You may think that I'm just one step above a bitch, but I happen to like Willow. Causing her brain damage is not something I would want."

Buffy seemed to want to contradict this, but this time she was the one who exercised discretion. "Is there another way that you can figure out what's wrong with her?" she asked.

"You know Willow better than anybody here," Amy replied. "She killed a man. The fact that she didn't mean to do it, that it was defensible, if not excusable, doesn't make a difference to her. Now I can maybe form some kind of psychic connection with her, find out what's going on in her head. But as to getting her to come out of it...." She shook her head. "I'm a good witch, but I'm not a miracle worker."

Buffy looked even more pained by this than seeing Willow in this state. "I'm the one who's supposed to deal with the heavy stuff, not her," she whispered.

Just then, Hermione and Giles reappeared, both laden with books. "We may be able to help..." Giles abruptly came to a stop when he noticed that the mood was even direr than it had been when he'd left.

Just then, Buffy turned to Hermione. "Were you serious about my having access to magical abilities?" she demanded.

"I'm sure of it," Hermione replied.

"Including the ability to do psychic links between two magicians?"

Giles’s' and Amy's faces both looked very alarmed all of a sudden. Amy was less tactful. "Are you out of your mind?" she exclaimed.

"Someone's got to get Willow out of her head," Buffy reminded them. "I'm her best friend, I have magical abilities, and I'm the only one who's had to deal with this kind of weight. I am going."

Her tone brooked no argument. Giles, however, had one. "Buffy, this isn't a monster that you put a stake in and it'll go away. There are endless ways that this can go wrong, and it could do as much damage to you as to Willow."

"Not if she has an anchor," Harry came to a decision that until a moment ago he hadn't realized that he'd been making. "One of us has to go in with her."

Now Ron looked concerned, but he turned to Hermione instead. "Is what they're talking about even possible?" he asked.

Hermione already looked worried, now she seemed like her brow was going to get a permanent furrow. "It's probably dangerous as well, but yes."

"Then it has to be me who does it," Ron didn't look any happier suggesting this idea that Harry had been hearing it. "Look, we all know you're smart enough to figure out a way to fix things if they go wrong. And Harry has other obligations that he has to fulfill. That leaves me."

Hermione looked like she wanted to hit Ron. Then she ran over what he had just said. "When did you become so logical?" she said slowly.

"It is logical," Harry replied. "Unfortunately, he's wrong."

"Harry," Ron started.

"She's about to go inside another person's head, right?" Harry replied. "And what particular skill is useful at that?"

"Occlumency," Hermione replied resignedly.

Ron shook his head. "I was really hoping you wouldn't figure that out," he told his best friend.

Personally, Harry was wishing he didn't have to be so damn intuitive.

Buffy was doing her best to keep up a stolid front, but she clearly was nervous about doing this --- making psychic field trips wasn't in the Slayer handbooks. Assurances from Hermione (who seemed to be the Willow of her group) and Giles aside, this struck her as the kind of thing that could go wrong fast.

'"How close is this Occlumency to what we need to do to?" Buffy asked her.

Hermione decided not to waste time correcting her. "Essentially, you have to form the magical equivalent of a psychic bond. Now I think I can talk Harry through this. It's going to be a lot more difficult with you."

"I thought you said..."

"This is difficult for someone who's been studying this their entire lives," Hermione replied. "Harry has only been trained at it the past few years, and Occlumency is basically learning how to prevent someone from getting in your mind. We haven't had much experience at doing it the other way around."

"Don't sugarcoat it for us; tell us the truth," Xander replied in that faux cheerful tone he tended to use when he was nervous.

"Bottom line, Buffy," Hermione finally told her. "We can probably make this work, but once you and Harry get in, you're going to be on your own."

"Then I think we'd better just get started," Harry replied in a tone that clearly indicated he rather be performing root canal by going in through the stomach.

"Focus on Willow's eyes," Hermione told them.

This was harder than it looked because Willow's eyes kept wandering away. Eventually, Oz gripped her hand and gently whispered her ear. When that did nothing, he very carefully held her head in place. "Hurry up, I'm not wild about doing this," he told them.

"Keep focusing, very deeply. Try to pierce the veil that keeps Willow's thoughts from yours," Hermione whispered. "Focus on the magical bonds that link you and her together."

Considering how much trouble they'd been having getting into her using normal means, Harry clearly expected that he would be having greater difficulty doing this. But apparently, he'd learned something from Snape's effort at getting into his head, because less than a minute after he'd started, Willow began to blink.

Buffy, if anything, seemed even less happy than Harry did. "Is this normal?"

"There's no baseline for this," Giles replied. "All minds are different. And I can't imagine Willow putting up much resist----"

And, of course, at that moment, everything changed. The air suddenly filled with electricity. The temperature dropped several degrees. And Willow's eyes seemed to turn black.

Even Faith seemed a little nervous. "Um, is this normal?" she asked in a tone that seemed jumpier then anything Harry had associated with the Slayer.

At that moment, that charge of electricity seemed to fill Harry. He felt Buffy grabbed his hand a split second before it felt like a bomb exploded.... inside him.

When Harry regained consciousness, his first thought was that he was still asleep. His friends and hers, Buffy's house, hell, all of the Sunnydale appeared to be gone. The landscape --- if that was what you could call it --- more closely resembled the moors of England then anything else, but Willow had never seen them, so why on earth would she come here?

"Willow!" he shouted. "Buffy!" There was no response to either cry. To be fair, he would have been surprised if there had been.

Suddenly, the landscape seemed to shift ---- there was no better word for it. When it finished, he was inside. He wasn't sure, but it looked like the interior of Sunnydale High --- only it, too, was equally deserted.

Then a figure appeared at the end of the hallway---- a young boy with dark hair, most likely a school-chum of Willow's.

With nowhere else to go, Harry began to walk towards him. "Have you seen Willow?" It was an inane question --- talking to a figment of her imagination--- but, at this point, he needed guidance.

"Her?" The boy shrugged. "She's in the computer lab. That girl seriously needs to get out more."

The boy's face changed to that of a vampire. "Course, whenever she does that, things like this happen."

Harry was about to reach for his wand, when he found that he didn't have it anymore. He couldn't figure out why, and a few moments later, the question was rendered moot when the boy turned to dust. He didn't explode, like the vampires Faith had killed; rather, he turned into a pile and slowly blew away.

Not sure what he was supposed to make of this, Harry continued walking but found he wasn't moving. Rather, the hallways seemed to be moving. Shrugging this off as something that Willow was doing, he just kept --- walking.

Eventually, he reached a room labeled TECH LAB on the top. There was only one person inside, but Harry blinked several times because for a moment he thought he was looking at Ginny. Even knowing this was impossible did not dispel the illusion. It was Willow, but her hair was much longer and she was wearing a skirt-and-pinafore combination that would have been more fitting at Hogwarts then on anybody in California.

"Willow, are all you right?"

"I'm busy." She didn't even look up from her computer.

Harry was a little unsure of himself. Not only was this foreign territory for him, he didn't have the slightest idea of how to talk with Willow. Nevertheless, he decided to try. "Everybody's worried about you," he started.

"No, they're not," she countered.

"We need you to come out," he asked.

"I gotta finish my homework," was all she said.

There wasn't a gentlemanly way to respond to this, so Harry tried direct. "No one blames you for anything."

The moment the last word was out he knew he'd said the wrong thing. Willow looked up from the screen, but it wasn't the Willow he recognized even from this morning. Her hair was jet black and her eyes were completely dark. "Why? Everything that happens is my fault!"

Suddenly, there was a gust of wind with the force of a hurricane. Harry stood against it as long as he could, but eventually the sheer force blew him back down the hall --- until he was no longer in the school or in the moors.

He was in the abandoned ruins of what looked like a factory of some kind. And again, he was not alone. He could hear the sounds of fighting going on somewhere in the distance.

"Buffy!" he shouted. Again, he didn't expect an answer. If Buffy were brawling with--- whatever figment of Willow's subconscious there was--- she wouldn't have breath to waste. Besides, she was the Slayer.

Which is why it came as a shock to hear her cry. "Little help, here!"

He started to run. Again the sensation of remaining stationary while the scenery moved, but this time he ignored it.

However, he couldn't conceal his surprise when he got there and saw whom Buffy was fighting.

Angelus. Or maybe it was Angel. Harry assumed it was the latter considering that Buffy didn't seem to have her heart in the fight.

"You gonna do anything or not?" Buffy asked.

Harry was considering what exactly she wanted him to do, when he saw that his wand was by his side again. Only it wasn't the one he'd used all his life, but rather one longer, thinner, and capped. He knew enough about TV to know this was probably an American's perception of a wand rather than an actual one.

He was about to take it out--- hell, it was Willow's head, it would probably work just as well--- when Angel's face shifted from that of the vampire to that of his human guise

"Buffy?" he said, in a voice that sounded like a former drunkard trying to regain sobriety. Then a hole emerged, literally out of thin air. It grew till it was roughly the size of a desk. Angel fell backwards and was sucked in, his eyes filled with pain.

Buffy fell back for a moment, as she seemed to realize what was going on. "Damn it, I've done this already," she whispered. "Why is Willow's subconscious giving me an instant replay?"

Harry was at a loss, and then two separate conversations re-played in his head. "The spell ensouling Angel again, when did it kick in?"

This was clearly a subject Buffy had hoped she had put behind her. "Just after he summoned Acathla. But it was too late. I had to send him to hell in order to keep the demon from swallowing the world."

"So Angel ended up spending an eternity in hell completely souled and conscious," It was now dawning on him. "Willow clearly blames herself for that."

Buffy's expression seemed to be at war. It was pretty clear that this had been a major issue for her as well, and she didn't want to have to go through something she had put to bed.

"Where's Willow?" she asked instead.

Harry was about to gesture down the hall, only to find that the tech lab was suddenly behind them. He shrugged it off ---- who was he to argue with the way Willow's head was arranged? "She's in here," he told her.

"I think I'll go first," Buffy walked in the door. Harry walked in behind her, and was only slightly surprised to see that the scenery had changed yet again.

This time they were back outside near the motel. There was fighting going on, but all seemed a lot dimmer than the action before--- background noise, which is probably what it was to Willow at the time.

Buffy assumed a defensive position, but Harry put his hand on her shoulder. "It's just her head; I don't think that there's anything in it that can hurt us."

Buffy raised an eyebrow. "You really believe that?"

And a split second later, one of the demons that had attacked Faith took a swing at Harry, taking a chunk out of s his arm. Buffy instantly tried to kick it --- and her attack went right through it. "Oh, crap,.".

"And now I think we run," Harry told her.

Buffy probably would have agreed with that, but then they both saw Willow. She was cornered in one section of the lot, looking paler than she had when they had brought her into Buffy's house.

The wizard who had her cornered was casting spells, but for the life of him, Harry couldn't understand anything that was coming out of the wizard's mouth. He began running over to her, but before he and Buffy could get there, Willow found her feet, and shouted at the top of her lungs: "FLAME ON!"

Everything then started to decelerate. The ball of fire just flew from Willow's finger, and hit the wizard. When he asked Buffy about it later, she told him that it was like watching a movie where the action has slowed down to frame-by-frame. In real life, it had probably taken less than half a minute for the wizard to die; here, it just seemed to go on forever. And every detail---- the clothing slowly burning, the fleshing reddening, browning, like a steak on a barbecue, the screaming amplifying every second--- seemed to be ingrained inside like she had memorized them.

Harry didn’t want to watch, but he wasn't surprised that he couldn't immediately turn his head away --- Willow wasn't going to spare any detail in her mind. Using an effort he was never able to explain to the others later, he managed to fix his gaze on her.

He was horrified to see that Willow was now dressed in garb that would have been fit on the oldest type of American witches, complete with a pointed hat, and that she was tied to a real stake, complete with a pile of dry wood at the bottom.

All of the fight that had been in her eyes moments ago was completely gone; she now looked resigned to her fate.

By now, the wizard had finished burning to death, and Buffy had managed to avert her eyes. She was therefore nearly as shocked as Harry to see that there were now a group of women standing around the stake, holding torches.

"Willow," Buffy told her friend. "Don't do this."

"Why shouldn't she?" Harry didn't recognize the speaker--- she was a tall, attractive girl around his age, with long brown hair. For some reason, there was a gaping, bloody wound in her torso. "She's been judged by a jury of her peers."

A chorus of 'Guilty" began to spring up. Harry was only mildly surprised to see that all of the women had Willow's face. "Burn the witch!" followed, and each of the Willow's began to light the pile of sticks afire.

"Can't you do anything?" Buffy demanded of Harry.

"This is Willow's head. She's the only person who can change her mind." Harry turned to Buffy. "You wanted to save her? I think our only chance is for you to persuade her that she doesn't deserve this."

Buffy needed no second bidding, and even though the flames were starting to rise, she ran until she was virtually on top of the Willows.

"This isn't your fault, Will," she began. "Someone was going to die if you didn't act."

"Someone's always going to die," the Willow chorus said. "That doesn't mean that we need to give them a push."

"Willow, it was an accident," Buffy tried again.

"Accidents are just lies we tell ourselves to protect us from the truth," the chorus replied. "A way of avoiding responsibility."

"Yeah, but you don't have the take all of the blame on your shoulders," Buffy was starting to sound frantic.

"You do. Giles does. Angel does. Why should she be any different?" The chorus seemed even less concerned about this.

Now she was getting angry. "Because she's not a damn Slayer!" Buffy shouted .

"Potato, po-tat-oh," All the Willows turned towards the stake where the flames were getting higher. "Bored now."

Buffy realized she wasn't going to get anywhere trying to get past the false Willows, so she focused all her energy on the real one.

"I've known you for awhile now," she started again. "We've grown a lot, power-wise and emotion-wise, but, at your core, you're the same person. You're the most good-hearted person that I know. Now you may think that because of what you just did that you're a monster. As someone who has seen them, human and otherwise, you are nothing like them. Because you still see the good in everybody."

By now, the flames were touching Willow's feet. She wasn't screaming--- which might have been a good sign--- but the flames were still climbing.

"Even after all the horrible things Angelus did, you still wanted to save him. Even after you learned what Oz was, you still wanted to be his girlfriend. Even after you learned that I'd been lying to you about Angel being back, you still didn't want to raise a lynch mob. You see the good in everybody." Buffy was all but begging now. "Why can't you see it in yourself?"

The flames were frozen where they were. However, for the first time, Willow spoke instead of the chorus that was watching her burn.

"I didn't even think about what I was doing," she said slowly. "I just reacted. And if I can do something that powerful without even thinking twice, what am I going to be like if I ever get control of the magic? What if I become this weapon that this Voldemort wants to use?"

Harry had decided that he'd better step in. "I know that it's frightening that you have this potential for darkness in you," he told her. "I know you think this is something you have to run away from. But this magic is only one part of you. It doesn't change who you are. "

"We can help you fight the darkness," Buffy added. "You've stuck with me through all of the hard times. What makes you think I'd desert you now that you need my help?"

There was a very long pause. Then suddenly, even though the sky in this realm was still clear, rain began to fall. In less than a minute, the fires that had been climbing, were completely extinguished. The group of Willows had melted into the ether as well, and Buffy ran to the stake and frantically got Willow down.

Willow was weeping as Buffy embraced her. "It's all right, Will, it's all gonna be all right."

There was a sound like a huge balloon deflating, and suddenly the three of them were back in Buffy's living room. Suddenly the room seemed a lot more crowded than it had before.

"You all right?" Hermione directed her question at Harry.

"What was it like on your end?" Harry countered.

"The three of you were in the room corporeally, but it was like you were all--- somewhere else," Ron told them. "You'd been out long enough that we were starting to consider having to follow you in. Not something we were looking forward to trying."

"How long were we in there?"

"Thirty minutes, give or take," Hermione replied.

Harry could've sworn they'd been in there for longer, but considering that his sense of time had pretty much turned to water, he decided that he was better off not trying to analyze this.

Instead, he looked over at Giles and Xander who were now standing around Willow and Buffy. Their positions hadn't changed since they had come out of whatever netherworld they'd been trapped in. "We got her out," he told them. "I think she'll be okay physically. But I think it's going to be awhile before she even tries to use magic again."

"Maybe that's not such a bad thing."

The three looked up to see that Faith had been standing apart from the Slayer and her friends. Harry thought that this was rather sad ---- for all the things she had done in the last couple hours, she still considered herself an outsider.

"Willow just went on a major head trip and all she did was a spell that, according to you, is one of the first things you get taught at Hogwarts," Faith reminded them. "And judging how she reacted when she was trying to defend herself, I hate to think what'll happen when they start trying to kill her properly. She's not ready for this."

Given what Harry had just played witness to, he couldn't argue with Faith's arguments. The problem was, time was a luxury they couldn't afford. Death Eaters knew that Harry and his friends were on the Hellmouth. Even if the still unknown assailant had finished wiping out the group at the motel, somebody in the chain of command had to know about it, which meant that within days at the most, Voldemort would know about it if he didn't already. Harry had some nightmarish fantasies, but the idea of the Dark Lord let loose on a Hellmouth was not one that he wanted to see played out

"What we want and what has to happen are two different things," Harry reminded them. "War is coming, Faith, and unless we get prepared and act fast, a lot of good people are going to die."

Harry didn't add that even if that happened, the bad guys might still end up winning.

Mainly because there were certain alternatives he refused to accept.
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