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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 > ActionDavidBMorrisFR1320112,33179834,8687 Apr 1120 Sep 12Yes

Chapter 15

Harry had no idea how long he'd been unconscious. For that matter, he wasn't sure where he was because even though his eyes were open, he still couldn't see or move. It looked and felt like he was enmeshed in cotton, but when he tried to move his hands, he found that they were tied behind his back. He had no idea what was happening, but whatever it was, he seriously doubted that any wizards were involved ---- no one on either side of the magical war would have entrusted their fate to that kind of technology.

"How do you think they feel? They're livid. That a fugitive of this magnitude was allowed to fraternize with the Slayer?"

"I'm not minimizing the gravity of the situation, but we didn't even receive confirmation from Rupert until a few hours ago." A different voice, this one somewhat more pliant.

"We've had doubts about Rupert's competence for quite some time," a different voice said. "But these actions go beyond sacking. He'll have to face our tribunal, and I'm not sure even that would satisfy the wizards."

There was a pause. "You're not seriously going to just hand him over to the Ministry?"

"There will have to be a scapegoat, Wesley, and I'll be damned if I let it be one of us. If you don't have the stomach for this, maybe we're wrong to entrust you with this kind of mission." Another pause. "Our guests finally seem to have regained consciousness. I think it's time we stopped playing around."

There was a long pause, a piece of cloth was lifted from his head, and he could see again. The first thought that passed through Harry's mind was I'm back in the damn warehouses!

For that is where they seemed to be. The only major difference was that this time he could see some sunlight dimly appearing through the windows. He looked around as best as he could to see that he was chained to a chair. When he managed to look to one side, he could see Faith; on his other, he could see Xander. Each of them were similarly bound, and in Faith's case, she was chained to a wall. Both of them looked about as angry as Harry felt right now.

Not surprisingly Faith was the first to react. "Let me out of these goddamn chains, motherfucker!"

The man she was directing her anger towards was wearing a black leather coat, and dark gloves, and was demonstrating very good judgment by staying well beyond the reach of the length of chain. There were two other men similarly outfitted in the room, along with a much younger man in a three-piece suit and vest.

Xander put it together first. "You idiots work for the Watchers, don't you?" he said slowly.

The man in the suit reacted first. "I realize that you probably consider these restraints over-the-top, but as you must be well aware, this situation requires that strong measures be taken."

"Yeah, with me," Faith shouted. "So let the others go."

"As you're well aware, Miss Lehane, we can't do that,." The speaker's fluster would have been amusing if they weren't in this extreme situation.

"I'm with Faith. Why the fuck not?!" Xander was starting to get loud too.

"Over the last few days, you have been fraternizing with an undesirable element of the magical community." The guy in the suit was actually a little smug about the situation. "This element is a known fugitive for illegal entry and disruption of the Ministry of Magic."

"The element is right in front of you," Harry spoke up for the first time, "and doesn't like being called that."

The man in the suit--- Harry thought he was the one called Wesley; he just looked a lot softer than the others--- continued to ignore him. "There is a set code for how the Watchers deal with traffickers in black magic. The fact that your previous Watcher felt no need to reveal this to the Council demonstrates he has lost perspective. Obviously, Mr. Giles has been relieved of his duties."

"He actually quit a week ago, but never mind that," Xander told him. "That explains why Harry's been tied up. Why Faith? Why me?"

"You're a civilian consorting with a Slayer. This is a major irregularity, and until we have assessed your capabilities, we felt it was best if you were..."

"Bound and gagged?" Faith replied. "You know I'm beginning to think that Post might not have had to fall that far if this is how you do business."

Wesley had the grace to look abashed at this. One of the other men had a different reaction. He socked Xander upside the head.

"First of all, ow!" Xander retaliated, "and second of all, what?!"

"I'd be wasting my time wailing on her," the attacker said. "I'm guessing you care more about their well being than your own."

"You're really not doing your best to win me over, cocksucker," Faith hissed.

"Your well-being is low on our level of priorities, Miss Lehane."

For the first time, Wesley began to look a little troubled. "Overby, I don't think we need----"

"This young woman needs to be schooled in the facts of life. Clearly, none of her previous Watchers have made an effort---"

"I knew how life worked long before I became a Slayer." Faith was actually starting to get a little quieter. "So why don't you just quit stalling, and say what you came here to say?"

Wesley managed to regain a little of his aplomb. "Operations in Sunnydale have been haphazard at best ever since Miss Summers was stationed here," he began. "Refusal to retain her secret identity. The involvement of civilians and at least one vampire, both of which have led to near disasters. And now this consorting with known criminals in the wizarding world. The entire situation has been crying out for review."

Faith took this all in for a moment, then began to yank so hard on the chains that Harry was pretty damn sure he saw one of the bolts start to loosen a bit. It clearly unnerved the men guarding her; they actually began to remove weapons from their coats.

Harry decided to put into words what Faith was demonstrating. "You're an even bigger group of fools than they have at the Ministry," he spat. "I'm amazed that you people have lasted as long as you have if this is standard procedure."

"You're in no position to dictate terms to us, boy," Overby countered.

"Really? What exactly is the Council's attitude towards the war with Voldemort?"

"The Council does not involve itself in internal power struggles within the magicking world," Wesley replied.

"Great strategy. Right up there with ducking under your desk to avoid nuclear fallout," Xander countered. "And before you pull that particular line of crap on me, I would remind you I've lived on this Hellmouth all my life. I know how bad things are a lot better than a lot of tweed suited amateurs."

Wesley had the good sense to at least look abashed at this. The three guys in coats-- who Harry figured were a lot more dangerous got even sterner.

"We're not going to be lectured to by a bunch of children," one of them replied in a much lower tone.

"That's what you consider Slayers? Children?" Faith's voice got quieter --- any lower and Harry wouldn't have been able to hear it all.

"Gentlemen, I think we may be straying far from the point," Wesley was starting to sound nervous, like an adult who was starting to realize the world was a lot less simple than it had looked during childhood.

"You say this is a review?" Faith replied. "Then why aren't Buffy and Giles here? This is their mess as much as it is ours."

"You were seen trafficking with three of the deadliest vampires in history. We need to monitor until we're sure you weren't compromised."

"Oh, give me a break!" Xander shouted. "If you can't tell what we look like when humans are turned---"

"THAT'S not the concern," Wesley told them hastily. "But if you were willing to negotiate with them over any issue, we are entitled to know what this is about before, um, proceeding."

"Why do I have the feeling that you're not going to release us anytime soon?" Harry demanded. "Even if we do answer all your questions?"

"You and your fellow undesirables will be returned to the proper authorities," Overby told them

There was a long pause, as none of them were quite sure that they could believe what they had just heard. "Do you idiots have any idea what is going on over there?" Harry demanded. "Do you even know how terrible things will get if we’re turned over to Voldemort?!"

"Internal matters are not our concern," Wesley started again.

"Even when they involve the end of the fucking world?!" Xander replied. "Man, you guys are even dumber than I gave you credit for being! "

"I'd almost be willing to go with it," Harry said slowly, "if only because I'm pretty sure they'd kill you first."

This time Wesley's face did twitch a little. Whatever was going on here, he didn't seem to be completely on board. Overby and the others, however, didn't so much as blink. "Make the call," he told Wesley.

"Maybe we're being a bit rash," Wesley told them. "There was nothing in the briefing about Voldemort being involved in ----"

"We have orders."

"Collins," Overby held up his hand. "If Wesley feels that we're exceeding our boundaries, then maybe we should let this pass. Pass it along the chain of command. And you know exactly who that is." He clapped his hand on Wesley's shoulder. "You really want your father to hear that you're listening to the hysteria of civilians?"

For a moment, it seemed like Wesley might put up an argument. Then, after a long pause, he pulled the phone out of his pocket, and walked into the other room.

"Save us the trouble of eavesdropping; what's going to happen to us?" Xander demanded.

"Mr. Potter will be turned over to representatives of the Ministry of Magic. Whatever they decide to do with you is their business," Overby told them. "Our major concern is what do with the Slayer."

These bastards were so blasé about condemning a person to death. Faith, however, didn't react at all.

The fact that these idiots were effectively willing to sign his death warrant suddenly seemed a secondary concern. "What are you going to do with Faith?" Harry demanded.

"Even the most casual observer can tell that Miss Lehane is beyond the reach of anything the Council can deal with," Collins replied smoothly. "Considering the fact that, for all intents and purposes, she is an extra Slayer, we intend to recommend, and the Council will no doubt authorize, that she is to be terminated."

There was a very long silence as the rank awfulness of this idea just resonated. "How the hell did Giles even agree to work with you assholes in the first place?" Xander finally answered.

"This is Council business. You're in no position to judge us," Overby told them.

"I'm so going to enjoy watching Buffy kick your ass up and down Main street," Xander told them with as much relish as he could muster.

"She's not going to get the chance."

Collins and Overby weren't idiots and before Faith had finished talking, they were pulling weapons from their coats. But they had clearly underestimated the capacity of an infuriated Slayer because before they could finish reacting, Faith ripped the chains from the wall and swung them into Collins's stomach. He fell backwards into to the third suited man.

Overby, who never stopped moving, had a gun out and trained on Xander before she could finish turning around. "I don't have a problem killing civilians," he told her. "I'm guessing you do."

"Maybe," Faith replied, "but thinking you could hold me wasn't your only mistake."

Before Overby could react to this, Faith knocked one of the crates behind her towards Harry, who saw an instant later that they had left his wand within reach.

"Accio wand!" Harry shouted, and the wand flew right at him. His reactions weren't as fast as Faith, but he managed to scream "Stupefy!" at Overby.

The Council operative fell to the floor paralyzed.

In the interim Faith had freed herself from the chains with an alacrity that would have done Houdini proud. She then ran over to Xander while Harry was freeing himself by magic.

"I think this pretty much makes us even," she told him.

"Honestly, I wasn't counting," Xander was decent enough to reply, then looked past him to see that Wesley had reentered the room, looking absolutely astounded.

Faith ran over to Wesley. "You don't seem cut out for this," she told him, "and you have to know that if we took out your friends, you don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of stopping us. So here's what's going to happen. When your friends are standing again, tell them that they can't fire me, I quit. Remind them that this is a Hellmouth, and right here, the Slayers call the shots. Tell them they've got their heads so far up their asses about wizards and magic, they obviously don't have any idea of how to deal with a crazy fugitive. And tell them that aside from Giles, nobody else from the Council ever sets foot on American soil. If they do, this will seem like a Christmas party compared to what happens. Got it?"

Wesley didn't even try to bluster at this, just nodded.

"Hope that remains clear when you get over this enormous headache you're gonna have," Again, before any one could react, Faith hit Wesley , and he hit the ground.

"Let's blow this shithole," Faith told them

It took Xander several seconds to wipe the goofy look off his face. Harry thought that there might be a similar one on his own, but he didn't have to be told twice that they needed to get the hell out.

It was not until they were a block away that Harry realized that with all the torture and threats, they had forgotten a couple of things.

"There was no sign of Angel or Spike there, right?" he asked Faith.

"The place was pretty much just one big room," she told him. "I didn't see any other place that they could have stashed them."

"And you didn't see the cup there, either,." Faith shook her head. "Fuck!"

"I realize how vital all of that stuff is, but could we possibly finish escaping with our lives before we look for the people we lost?" Xander replied. "Besides, I'm pretty sure Buffy and the others need to know that we've just suffered the less lovable part of the British Invasion."

Harry couldn't agree otherwise. "What are the odds that Buffy and my friends are searching for us by now?" he asked .

"It's enough to make me wish I could afford a cell phone," Xander admitted.

"We can't worry 'bout that. We told B and the others that we'd meet her at this Amy's house, so we're going there." Faith stopped. "Which means, we're going to have to follow you, Xander, as you're the only one who knows where she lives."

Xander agreed. "I guess there's one bright side to being waylaid. At least we can't be followed by any vamps now."

In their haste to find safety, they had forgotten that there were other people who could follow them.

It might not have encouraged any of the other Scoobies to know that Amy was living in the same house that her mother had held her captive in for nearly a month two years ago. It would have made Hermione very edgy to know just how thick the aura of dark magic was around that place. But ultimately beggars could not be choosers, and it did help make the place a bit more pliable to be a sanctuary.

Harry knew they wouldn't have been able to do as much to keep Amy's house off the radar --- it would have been very suspicious for a house to just disappear the way the Black family residence had. Still, the sight of the door--- fluctuating was the only word that came to mind--- when he reached for it made him wonder just what the others might have come up with.

There was a long hesitation and Harry was beginning to wonder what they would do when the door opened a crack. "Where the hell have you guys been?" Ron demanded.

"Being held hostage. You?" Faith replied.

It was still a long thirty seconds before the flickering around the door stopped. "Get in, quick!"

They needed no second bidding. As they entered the house, though, another bizarre sensation befell each of them. Harry would have likened it to Snape's attempts to infiltrate his mind. Faith and Xander thought it resembled going through a metal detector. Whatever it was, it was over very quickly, followed by the entrance of a greatly relieved Hermione and Amy.

"Buffy's been scouring town for the last two hours for you!" Hermione told them.

"Did any of you even try to stop her in her condition?" Xander demanded.

"She's Buffy. You really want to get into an argument with her?" Willow said resignedly. "And speaking of which---"

She whacked Xander on the shoulder. "What the heck were you thinking, sneaking out with Drusilla and Spike out there?" she said heatedly.

"I so wish that they were our biggest problems," Faith told them. "As it is, we've got another issue. Where's Giles?"

Giles emerged from the back room, with Ron a few steps before them. "It's good to see all of you," he told them. "We were all very worried."

"You've got a right to be." This wasn't going to be easy, even considering Giles' burning his bridges. "The Watcher's Council took us prisoner."

A look of anger and dull resignation appeared on Giles' face. "They what?"

"Oh, it gets better." Briefly Xander filled them all in on what had happened while they were in captivity. "Do your friends in London usually do things this stupid?"

"I've known them use anachronistic methods, and act with callous disregard to Slayers well-being, but this," Giles looked angrier then they'd ever seen him, "this is far below even their incompetence."

"Honestly, they'd fit right in with Umbridge and the rest of her bunch," Harry told them. "They think this is some kind of parochial business that'll blow over if they just follow the rules."

"It's worse than that," Giles told them. "The three men who carried out the majority of the violence--- they handle wet-works for the Watchers. They've practically got a blank check to kill with impunity."

"Even a Slayer?" Xander had been there, and he still wasn't sure he believed it.

Giles' looked like he was a step away from doing some damage on his own. "A year ago, I wouldn't have thought so. But in the last group of reports I sent out, the Council has made repeated inquiries as to their refusal to follow orders. I have heard that on occasion the Council has removed the less flexible elements among the Watchers, but I never for a moment---"

"You know what a Cruciamentum is," Hermione said slowly. "It's not much of a stretch to go from letting a Slayer die for being too weak to getting rid of one who's too strong."

"They're not going to stop with just me," Faith had been very quiet since the assault at the warehouse, but now she was starting to sound like her old self. "They're going to goddamn clean house. Which means that if B runs into them ---"

"I think we should worry more about what she would do to them," Xander argued.

"These people know what a Slayer's capable of," Faith reminded them. "And they won't hesitate to kill someone. We both know B will."

"Have we really come to this?" Willow asked sadly. "There's a war going on with a real bad guy, and the people who are supposed to be good are all trying to kill us?"

Harry felt sorry for Willow, and also worried. This was supposedly their trump card against the Dark Lord, and she seemed more fragile then ever. But this was not the time worry about their bigger problems with more immediate concerns at hand. "Did Buffy tell you where she was going?" he asked instead.

"She was going to start with Angel's and work her way south," Ron told them. "So I guess the question is, do we go after her or---"

"How do we do that without knowing where she is?" Harry reminded them.

"I could scry for her." Everybody looked at Amy, who seemed a little more grounded than the rest of them. "She left one of her stakes here. I can use that as a bond and put it over a map of town to figure out where she is."

"You know how to do that??" Willow sounded a little awed.

None of the Hogwarts students had the heart to tell Amy that scrying was a practice that had fallen out of favor with the wizarding community, and was considered archaic even by wandless wizards. Besides, if something worked., there wasn't much point in mocking it. "How long will it take you?" Hermione asked.

"I can be ready in five minutes," she told them. "Question is, once I find her, can you Apparate there?"

It was a legitimate question. Despite the fact that they had improved their Apparation skills, none of the wizards had the ability to appear somewhere they hadn't been--- hence the reason Harry had run with Faith and Xander to and from the waterfront. And they still no idea where Angel lived or even if he was still there.

"We'll worry about that when we get there," Ron replied. When Hermione and Harry just stared at him, he shrugged. "The issue is finding her before the Watchers do. From what Faith told us, they won't use sticks and swords to take out Buffy."

This much they could all agree on. So two minutes later, they were all standing around Amy, watching as she used a crystal over a block-by-block map of Sunnydale. And say what you will about scrying being a dead art form, but she was good at it. In less than a minute, she had a location for Buffy.

"The better section of town. Not that far from that mansion," Xander looked like he was trying not to roll his eyes.

"Is that where Angel, um, resides?" Hermione asked.

Xander nodded. "Glad to see she's got her priorities in order," he added sarcastically.

"Like it or not, we'd probably have to visit him anyway," Harry reminded them. "Last I checked, he's still probably our best lead to the Horcrux."

"If they didn't kill him last night," When they all looked at Faith, she added: "Not saying they'd have a snowball's chance against him, but if they are cleaning house..."

"Again begging the question: what's the quickest way there?" Giles put forth.

Harry wasn't that surprised when Hermione stepped forward. "I have been studying to get my Auror's license early, after all," she reminded them.

But I think I'm going to need someone's help."

"What now?" Faith asked.

"I need to be outside when I do this. If I don't Apparate precisely, I could end up ten feet above the place, or right in the middle of one of the walls." Hermione paused. "Of course, the hard part is going to come when I try to bring her back."

"Forget that," Harry told her. "All we need to do is warn Buffy and Angel. I think the two of them can take care of themselves against even the worst of these boys."

Not even Giles could argue with that. "Just go, tell them, and come back," he agreed. "Lord knows we've got enough to deal with other than that."

"And while you're there, ask Angel who has the Horcrux," Ron demanded. "Cause if the Watchers have it..." He didn't have to finish the sentence.

Hermione walked outside. Harry was about to follow her out when all of a sudden his scar started to ache.

"Crap, not now," he muttered in a voice too low for anyone to hear. Of course, he had forgotten Faith.

"HP, what's going on?" she said, sounding concerned.

He shook his head, which was beginning to feel like it weighed a ton. "Get Hermione outside," he muttered. "She has to get to Buffy and Angel."

Faith, bless her, decided not to argue. "Be very careful, especially if this thing of his does work both ways."

Harry was about to agreed, when he suddenly he was bent over by another bolt of pain. Suddenly----

"He risks a great amount by keeping me waiting." Once again, Voldemort seemed to be resisting a very strong urge to start ripping the head off subordinates. And considering that Bellatrix appeared to be the only one nearby, one could argue that it wouldn't affect her sanity that much.

"Now that's not a very nice thing to say!"

It took Harry several seconds to place the speaker, mainly because he seemed so out of place in these surroundings. He looked to be a tall man in his late forties, neat brown hair, and dressed in a suit in tie. He sounded far too cheerful for a meeting with the Dark Lord.

"Remember, a kind word will get you a lot further than a blow to the head. Of course, a kind word and a blow to the head will probably get you even further." The man actually chuckled, and the laugh sounded genuinely amused instead of criminally insane. "That Groucho. Man, what a character he was."

"I didn't come here to be lectured about Muggle humor," Voldemort again took a tone that was not to be trifled with.

But, just like everybody else that Voldemort seemed to be dealing with whenever Harry had one of these visions, the speaker didn't seem to care about Voldemort's feelings at all. "That's the problem with all you evil bosses. You need to laugh more. It's one of the reasons I've lasted as long as I have." Another smile. "Well, not the only reason---"

"Could we get to the point, Richard?" Voldemort seemed to be exercising both patience and deference, not qualities Harry associated with the Dark Lord at all.

"The point, Tom, is several years ago, you asked for me to hold on to a certain item for you." Suddenly the man was all seriousness. "I didn't ask about it's nature or its worth, and I continued to hold on to it, even after you went on to assume your, shall we say, previous condition. When you made your grand reappearance a few years back--- and by the way, as someone who played a not inconsiderable role in keeping certain people off your back, it wasn't very gracious of you to return, and not inform me of what's going on-"

"I had more considerable concerns at home."

"Just as I do." All bonhomie vanished from the man's voice. "You're not the only one with plans and timetables. This could have been a major inconvenience to me."

"Which is why we’re talking now."

"No, we're talking now, because last night, one of my warehouses was broken into. Several illegal magicks were let loose in my city. Death Eaters have been running around, half cocked, blasting my people for no reason. It's only then I learn what exactly it is I've been carrying for the past twenty years."

Now Voldemort actually seemed a bit nervous. "You know?"

"Didn't fall off the turnip truck, Tom. You're not the first person to try this particular brand of magic, though--- and please do bear this in mind---- you may well be the last."

"You'd best be very careful about what you say, Your Honor. " Bellatrix sounded different than she had a few minutes earlier. The last phrase didn't sound sarcastic or insane.

"Miss Lestrange, I'm willing to be understanding of your situation, but the youngsters, they have this term: you're on my turf, you obey my rules." Who the hell was this guy?

"You don't want to test me, Richard."

"On the contrary. The Tom Riddle I knew was never afraid of challenging authority, which is the reason you've been giving me the fisheye since I walked in." Richard smiled. "By the way, that's a lovely snake you're wearing."

Did Voldemort seem the slightest bit wary before he responded? "Watch what you say."

Another smile, much bigger. "Very poor choice of words."

There was a sound that was a mixture of a snarl and a hiss. Before anyone seemed to realize that Richard had just spoken Parseltongue, Nagini struck forward.

"Don't!" Voldemort yelled.

But Nagini paid him no mind and stuck her fangs into the man's neck

Richard hadn't done anything.: Whisper, try to dodge or fight back. And before Harry could realize that Richard had ordered Nagini to attack, the snake slithered away, revealing two large holes in the man's neck.

Which seconds later seemed to fill themselves in.

Even Bellatrix was struck dumb by what she had seen. Voldemort was unnerved too, but he managed to hide it a little better. "You did it, didn't you?"

"I would think that would be obvious. And really, that was probably the most insensitive side effect of your little excursion. You know how complicated these incantations are. And I was in such a desperate need of a haircut, too. Now I won't be able to get one until..." He trailed off. "Well, I guess by then I really won't need one anymore. My bad."

Voldemort swallowed for a moment. Harry was pretty sure he felt a single drop of sweat trail down his forehead. By his standards, this was tantamount to wetting his pants in fear. "So we're at an impasse."

"So it would seem." The silence seemed to stretch out intolerably. "I'll make this simple. You are here under a flag of truce. I will honor that for another twenty-four hours, long enough for your associates to obtain the item and whatever other unpleasant elements might be attached. You will then leave my town, and never come back. "

"The same dark magicks that protect you also protect me."

"I'm fully aware that I can't kill you, Tom, just as you're aware that I can just as easily make the next few months very unpleasant. And considering the precariousness of your position, I don't think you can afford to lose any further status." Richard looked at Voldemort with the kind of look that he had administered on the unworthy so many time before. "We clear, boy?"

Voldemort clearly wanted to say much more. All that came from his mouth was: "Yes."

And just as Harry wondered who it was who had just obtained a hold over the Dark Lord, the vision began to fade, and he was looking up at the faces of his friends. It probably said something for his condition that he was most grateful to see Faith.

"How's your head?" she asked, concerned.

"I'm beginning to long for the days when Dementors caused me the most trouble," he said, only half in jest.

"I'm almost afraid to ask who Voldemort was visiting now," Ron replied.

"Another guy in a suit," Harry told them.

"Another trip to the evil lawyers?" By now Xander and Giles had been briefed on all of the visions Harry had been having.

"Just one. Apparently on his own. And this one had enough power to have Voldemort and Bellatrix cowed." Harry then related what he had seen in as much detail as he could.

"His body it just--- reformed?" Willow seemed to be having trouble with this. "What kind of magic do you need to do that?"

"I don't know," Harry admitted. "But Voldemort didn't seem that surprised by what was he seeing. Just that this---- Richard had it now."

"And just to make things extra fun, he knows what a Horcrux is." Ron replied. "Which means he'll probably be scouring Sunnydale for it, too."

Hermione chose that moment to Apparate back in, struggling under the weight of an unconscious Buffy.

"Not that we're not glad to see both of you, but was knocking her out strictly necessary?" Xander demanded.

"Trust me, she wasn't going anywhere otherwise," Hermione told them grimly. "I had to stupefy her twice as it was. She's not going to be happy when she wakes up."

"Join the club," Xander told them. "While you were out, so was Harry."

Hermione nearly dropped Buffy. "What happened this time?"

"Short answer, Voldemort's is within shouting distance of Sunnydale, if he's isn't in the city already." After everybody had stiffened at that, Harry added: "And that is the good news. The bad news is, there's someone else in Sunnydale with at least as much power as him, who knows about the Horcrux, and who appears to be indestructible. And just for fun, I still have no idea who he is."

"He referred to this place as his town?" Giles asked.

"So does every dime-store villain who tries to take up house in Sunnydale," Xander said resignedly. "For all we know, he's just leasing, with an option to take over."

By now, Hermione had placed Buffy down in the hall, and had returned to them. "His town? Those were his exact words?"

"What are you thinking?" Ron asked.

"When I caught up with Buffy, she was sneaking around Angel's residence. It had been cordoned off, with police tape and barriers," Hermione told them. "She clearly wasn't going to let a little thing like that stand in her way, even though she'd been held in custody more than once--- hence the double stupefy."

"I'm with Ron. What are you getting at?" Faith demanded.

"Who would know about what's kept in all the warehouses and museums in Sunnydale? Who would be privy to using the police in key areas of this town? Who has been keeping tabs on everything in Sunnydale for God knows how long, and who by the way, has the first name of Richard?"

There was a long hesitation, then Willow saw the copy of the newspaper that was lying in the hall. On it was a picture of a City Council meeting being overseen by a man in his forties with a kind smile. "Wait a minute. You're saying that the Mayor of Sunnydale is the one that Voldemort has met and is terrified of?" she said in utter disbelief.

"My uncle Rory was right. All of the evil people in the world are in local politics.," Xander replied.

Harry didn't have to answer that retort. The man in the photo was the same one that he had just seen with Voldemort. Every time he had these visions he was seeing Voldemort's enemies; why couldn't one of them be someone with some character?

"Voldemort's here, which means he could be knocking on our door any minute," Ron replied. "What do we do?"

It wasn't a hard decision at all. "Exactly what we came here to do," Harry replied. "We find the Horcrux and destroy it. Then we get the hell out of here."

"So all we have to do is scour the town of Sunnydale and hope we find a magical cup ahead of the vampires, wizards, Spike, the police, and the deadliest creature on earth," Xander replied. "And I thought this would be difficult."

"First comes the hard part," Hermione replied. "We have to wake Buffy and tell her that Angel might be in danger."

"That might actually help." Everyone looked at Faith. "Only thing in this town meaner than B? B when she finds out someone's going after her boyfriend."
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