They didn't find the bank they were looking for, but as they would soon realize, there was a very good reason they couldn't.
Once again, it was Hermione who led the way. While exploring the area of the dingier section of downtown, she had come across a place that looked like a club of some kind. What had drawn her attention to it was a creature that resembled a Cyclops walking in broad daylight. (After more than a month in this city, she was beginning to think she could walk around in dress robes, wand held in front of her, and wouldn't even merit a second glance from the natives.) It wasn't so much the one eye, as the fact that he was wearing blue jeans and a tank top.
He opened the door, and was embraced by a woman who didn't seem put off by either his dress or appearance. It would have taken a less curious person than Hermione to just walk away from this, and when she got to the window, she saw something even stranger. There appeared to be a group of bizarre creatures of which the Cyclops seemed the most normal of the bunch. They sat down around a giant table and, after a bit of discussion, began to play cards. What's more, they didn't seem to be playing for money or chips, but rather for kittens.
When she’d related this part of the story, Ron had begun to wonder if Hermione had finally lost her mind after all the effort they had been expending for this trip.
"I won't deny that this is bizarre," Harry remarked tactfully, "but what does any of this have to do with us?"
"The name of the establishment," Hermione replied. "'Caritas'. That's the Latin word for 'mercy'.
Suddenly, the clue from Dumbledore ---- that they had all but forgotten in the cycle of events of the last four months---- returned to Harry's mind. "Did you see a man with horns?" he demanded.
Hermione nodded. "Green, scaly skin, crimson red eyes. He just stood there, and kept passing out drinks."
This was too big a coincidence. "Can you find this place again?" Harry asked.
"Wouldn't have to try that hard," Hermione replied. "I did some checking. It's in the bloody phone book. It's a nightclub."
Ron looked like he was about to explode. "Why couldn't Dumbledore just have left a better hint?" He shook his head. "How quickly can we get there?"
"You really want to go there in the middle of the night?" Hermione replied. "He had monsters there in broad daylight. I'm not sure I want to see what comes out after sunset."
"We'll go at dawn," Harry replied. "Hopefully, we can get some answers at last."
The sun was just starting to rise over the horizon when the three of them approached Caritas.
Hermione hadn't been kidding about the menagerie that was there. Magical creatures, demons that they had only read about at Hogwarts, and ---- for some reason Harry found this the queerest of all--- a fair amount of average men and women began to emerge from the front of the building. Neither man nor beast seem alarmed at what they were seeing; Harry could've sworn that he saw a creature with three eyes and two noses being propped up by a couple of unsteady women who weren't much older than he was.
"What the hell kind of nightclub is this?" Ron whispered, as the masses began to thin out a bit.
"We're about to find out," Harry replied. "Let's try and get inside while there's still a bit of chaos."
Very slowly, the three of them made their way to the entrance. No one, man or demon, seem to pay them any mind; Harry found himself wondering what it took to get a demon drunk.
"Hey watch out, I'm walking here, I'm walking here," a skinny creature with yellow, slimy skin mumbled. The demon was twice the size of Harry; nevertheless, apart from mumbling he made no effort to halt any of their progress.
"Calm down, Ratso," a much larger demon wearing--- Harry had to blink a couple of times--- a ten-gallon hat and a pair of cowboy boots. "We're still going to make it to Malibu."
It took a considerable amount of effort for them not to stare at every creature that went by them. Somehow, they managed to make it to the door, only to find a much smaller man.
"Sorry, kids. We're putting up the closed sign for a reason," he told them gently.
This was a problem they honestly hadn't foreseen, and Harry wasn't sure how to proceed. "We need a moment with the man in charge," he began awkwardly.
The man laughed. "If you think he's a man, you definitely don't have any business here," he replied. "Now I realize you may think it's cool to drink at your age, but I gotta tell you there are easier places to try, and frankly----"
"Albus Dumbledore sent us," Harry found himself saying before he could stop himself.
At first it seemed like he'd wasted his breath. The man just chuckled and began to push the door closed again. Then a strange voice, which sounded like nothing Harry could remember hearing, responded.
"Raoul, it's either a little too early or a little too late for me to be sure of these things, so rewind a bit. Did someone mention the name Dumbledore?"
"Yeah," Raoul replied. "Who the hell is he?"
There was a pause. "Let them come in. Quietly."
For a moment, it seemed that Raoul was just going to ignore his boss. Finally, he shrugged, and held the door open.
Harry got to the front first, and therefore got the first glance at the---- whatever--- who had invited them in. Admittedly, he hadn't seen a huge number of demons in his life, so he wasn't sure whether this one was particularly unusual. Still, he wasn't sure what was more astonishing ---- the creature’s scaly skin, crimson eyes, and horns---- or the fact that he was dressed in one of the most ostentatious jacket and ties combination he'd ever seen.
The demon refrained from commenting until the three of them were inside. He then looked at Raoul. "Why don't you leave me the keys and I'll finish locking up?" he said.
Considering the array of fabulous creatures that had just left the place, Harry thought this guy was unusually concerned about the safety of his boss, if he considered them a threat. But Raoul looked at them for a few moments before he finally did what he was told.
"Now that he's gone, you can stop staring at me like I'm about to disappear," the demon replied.
"I'm sorry," Harry replied. "It's just that I've---- I've---"
Suddenly, the three of them didn't know what to say. They were all wishing that there had been some course at Hogwarts involving the proper demon etiquette.
"Never seen anybody pull off green with black?" the demon jested. Then he got a look at the worn out faces of the three youths, and sobered up a bit. "I'm sorry, kids, I should know better. It's obvious you traveled a long way to find me, and here I am making myself the center of attention. So let me see if I've got my facts straight."
He looked at the three of them. "You're Harry Potter, right?"
Harry was nodding before he realized that the tone of the man’s voice had indicated that he was a bit unsure. He didn't recognize him, like everyone else in the magical world seemed to.
"Where are my manners? I'm The Host," the demon replied. "Obviously, that's not the name I was spawned with, but I'm guessing that you have enough problems on your plate then having to know my story."
"But you knew we were coming," Hermione seemed to have recovered from her slight shock, and was back to business. "How? Are you a friend of Dumbledore's?"
"That would be a slight exaggeration. I mean, I'm a friendly cat and all, but we only met once six months ago, and even then it couldn't have been for more than ten minutes," The Host hesitated. "I'll tell you something though; he certainly knew who I was, and he shook me up quite a bit."
"He was here," Hermione needed to get every i dotted.
"It was a busy night. Of course all nights at the club are pretty busy, but we had a pretty big crowd gathered. Then this old guy, decked out like Merlin's much better dressed twin brother, finds his way to the bar, and orders a butterbeer." The Host shook his head. "Raoul gets some pretty weird orders, but we only get call for wizarding beverages every couple of weeks. He asked me about it, so I decide to handle this particular customer myself."
"While I'm mixing him his drink, the wizard introduces himself as Albus Dumbledore. Now I haven't been in these parts as long as he has, but I know the name. So my first question is, what's a classy guy like you doing in a joint like this?"
'"' I've come for a reading.'"
"Now even though I’ve got a little reputation, being one of the better empath demons on the West Coast, I'm thinking this guy came a long way, and, frankly, some diviners in the wizarding community are much better at this than I am. I tell him as much, and the guy lights up.'"
"'I'm not going to get read. You are.'"
"Well, I nearly dropped his drink. Most wizards wouldn't be caught within fifty feet of my bar, much less offer me a reading.
"He tells me he's just had a long talk with one of the bigger seers in LA. The name is ultimately irrelevant. According to her, I've got a great and powerful destiny ahead of me. I'm going to be a mover and shaker in the supernatural community, especially among the undead. And in order to achieve this great destiny, I have to stay exactly where I am for the next couple of years."
"Now I like LA, it's my kind of town in my kind of dimension, so I'm beginning to wonder why this guy thinks I'm going to up and move."
"'Because you're the type who keeps his ear to the ground,' he tells me. 'And even if you didn't, you know the world’s going to be a very dangerous place for the next several months, maybe even the next couple of years. Lots of magical creatures have been emigrating; you'd be a fool to not consider it.'”
“'What is it that you want me to do?'“
“'He tells me he's willing to perform a little spell on my club, and turn it into a sanctuary. A place where all magical characters can chill together, get a Seabreeze, and enjoy the house band.'"
"'And what do I have to do in return?' I ask."
"Then he gives me a real surprise and ask me if the lockers from the bus station are still around. This place was a bus depot for a line that got cancelled. Now this isn't common knowledge, but I know better than to ask him how he knows it. When I answer yes, he tells me that he needs to use one of them for a few minutes. Again, I know better than to ask why."
Harry suddenly cut the Host off. "There are lockers here." He reached for the key that had not left his side for the last four months. "Will this open one of them?"
The Host looked at him. "That's the thing about heroes," he said with a chuckle. "They always need someone to tell them a question they already have an answer to."
Harry felt a lightness in his chest that he hadn't felt in months, maybe not since he'd seen Dumbledore die at Snape's hand. "Where are they?"
"Inside the kitchen, there's a trap door," the Host told them. "You go under there, and walk about ten feet, you'll be where you need to be. I suggest you do that little sparkler action spell at the end of your wand--- electricity has been spotty down there ever since I got the place."
If it had been possible to fly down to that particular area, Harry would've done it.
Ron looked at the Host. "Do you have any idea why Dumbledore chose you and Caritas out of everywhere else in this city?"
"Admittedly, I haven't had much time to dwell on it," the Host admitted. "My best guess? Caritas has always supposed to be a safe haven, free from the troubles of the outside world. And ever since Dumbledore's little visit, it's become exactly that. This may be, physically and spiritually, the safest place for demons and mystics in the city. No Death Eater could cross the threshold with the purpose of causing violence."
That was good enough for Ron. Hermione looked up. "We should probably see what's down there," she asked. "Do you mind----"
"Don't worry about it," the Host assured them. "As you say across the pond, all's safe as houses."
It had taken Harry two minutes to locate the place and another ninety seconds for him to find the locker that the key opened. By that time, Ron was already there, and Hermione was just a few steps behind them.
"There had better not be another one of those damn riddles in there," Ron said as he looked at Harry.
The thought had crossed Harry's mind. In fact, now that they'd finally found what the key opened, he realized that in all these months he hadn't given a thought as to what might be inside the box. He took a deep breath as the door opened to reveal----
Of all the things that Harry had expected to see, a large cache of what appeared to American ten and twenty dollar bills was at the very bottom of the list, if it had been there at all.
"What -- ?" Hermione said. "Is this all?"
It wasn't, but it took a lot of sorting to find out what else was there – a giant envelope with FOR HARRY written on it. By now, the three of them could recognize Dumbledore's scrawl from nearly ten feet away. Harry had a feeling that this was what he had gone to such a great effort to keep secret for all these months.
Harry very carefully removed a giant pile of papers ---- it was clearly a letter. Dumbledore had found a way to reach him even from beyond the grave.
"You ready for this?" Hermione asked.
"What else have we been waiting for?" Still, Harry was a little surprised to find that one of his hands was trembling a bit as he opened the letter.
If you are reading this, three separate things have happened: I am dead, Remus has told you about the trip I took to America earlier this year, and most importantly Voldemort has completed the first steps of his seizure of power.
I apologize for using such Byzantine methods to make sure that you read this letter rather than simply telling you directly, or for that matter, hiding this in England. But circumstances have become so grave over the past two years that I believe that there is no truly safe place for a wizard, probably not even Hogwarts. You may even resent me for leading you away from the quest you and I began earlier this year, trying to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes.
Therefore, I will be honest. I believe one of those very Horcruxes is in America, perhaps even within Los Angeles itself. Yet even knowing this, I must tell you that locating it may be far less important then the real reason I came to the States, and perhaps even more important to the war.
However, since you have no doubt been on a long search by now, I will tell you about the Horcrux in question.
Ever since you and I learned the truth about Slugworth’s lesson to young Tom Riddle decades ago, I have spent as much time as my duties would avail me trying to identify and locate the remaining Horcruxes. Needless to say, the search has been very frustrating --- trying to figure out what Voldemort may have cared about is extremely challenging, and survivors of that era are few and far between.
One thing that some of the survivors agree on, and have been unable to explain, was that nineteen years ago, when the war was nearing its height, Voldemort and several Death Eaters made a sojourn to the states. The common belief was that Voldemort was trying to shore up his forces by recruiting American wizards who then, like now, were neutral. Since Voldemort never asked when he could demand, I find this unlikely. A more accurate guess is that he may have paid a visit to one of the Hellmouths on this continent in an effort to gain magical energy.
In either case, while retracing his itinerary, I found from a reliable source that he made a side trip to California. It is my belief that he took this opportunity to conceal one of the Horcruxes out of the reach of any British wizard. I believe Muggles would refer to this as a “fail-safe”.
One week ago, I learned of an exhibition of antique artifacts at a gallery in Sunnydale. From what little I've been able to glean from Muggle publications, 'antique' is often a code word for 'supernatural'. However, my one source in Sunnydale with this information was found drained of his blood around that same period. I cannot state with certainty whether he fell victim to an ally of Voldemort or whether he was merely the casualty of one of the vampires that patrol the Hellmouth. His last communication with me indicated that among the archived materials were various artifacts including a set of goblets, each of which bore one of the insignias of the four founders of Hogwarts.
I believe one of those cups to be another Horcrux, though I cannot confirm which one it might be. When I made an attempt to retrieve them, I found that they had been put out of my reach by one of the wizards in the states. Had I more time, I would've been able to locate them, but circumstances dictated that I change my priorities and time was of the essence.
Harry frowned at this. Dumbledore had been the most powerful wizard they had ever known. He couldn't imagine anybody, even aided by the Hellmouth, who could have beat him in a fair fight. He was hinting at something, but none of them were prepared to guess at what.
Now I realize how important it is to find and destroy this Horcrux, but the truth us, I was only alerted to its existence by pure chance. I went to California to face a far greater threat.
Less than a week ago, I was contacted by someone within the Ministry to alert me of a situation that only the most powerful wizard could resolve. I have no doubt that you would consider this a betrayal, especially after all of the abuse they have directed at you and I. I would have you remember two things. One, not everybody in the Ministry is like Fudge and Scrimgeour. Second, despite everything they have done, there are threats of such consequence, that they can make wizard conflicts child's play. This was one such occasion.
A few days prior, an archaeological dig in Sunnydale had revealed the body of the demon Acathla. If this demon were ever awakened, he would in a matter of minutes swallow this entire dimension. What is more, the only possible creature capable of waking Acathla was the vampire Angelus, and there had already been news of his reappearance in Sunnydale. The consequences of this were so horrific that we decided we could not let the Slayer handle it on her own. I boarded the next flight to Los Angeles.
I have lived a long life, Harry, far longer than even the average wizard, and I have seen many horrible and extraordinary things within it,. Despite all that, I am still having trouble putting exactly what happened into terms that you'll be able to understand.
When I landed in California, the first thing I did was to utilize a technique that only the most advanced wizards practice. I attempted to sense the magical auras that surrounded Sunnydale for any influx of power. This is not an easy task even for advanced wizards, and it is far more difficult to do within shouting distance of a Hellmouth. Any Hellmouth has the effect of creating the magical equivalent of a great black cloud around the surrounding areas. This is one of the reasons that so few wizards have been recruited from those areas --- the cloud makes it difficult for fledgling auras to penetrate that darkness.
I sensed a great influx of magic not long thereafter. It was of such an ancient nature and so strong that it could only have been connected with the rituals that led to the awakening of Acathla. Even though it was extremely risky, I Apparated to Sunnydale as quickly as I dared.
The sun was coming up just as I arrived. And then---- something happened. A bright concentration of magic, new and powerful, burst forth in a intensity so great it broke through the darkness surrounding the Hellmouth. It didn't last long --- less than two minutes---- but when it was over, I knew, somehow, that the threat had been neutralized.
When I arrived, Acathla had been rendered dormant, and there was no sign of Angelus anywhere. I don't know what has become of Angelus, but he has not been seen since. Whether he was staked or whether he fled to fight another day was not an issue.
I spent the next day trying to figure out who might be the source of the magic, but as bright and as fast as the magic had exploded, that is how quickly it disappeared. By the end of the day, the town was as close to normal as any town on a Hellmouth can be. Had I more time to spend in Sunnydale, I would have narrowed it down still further, but I received an emergency owl from the Order telling me of problems in England. I will leave on the late flight out.
Harry, as someone who has spent his life observing and instructing wizards, I know when someone powerful is around. Whoever this wizard or witch was -- and I believe it to be the latter; females are more common magic users around Hellmouths---- she had the potential to be incredibly strong. Obviously, she hasn’t had any formal training, or someone in the Wizarding world would have located her already. She has the potential to be a great wizard, but whether that magic will be used for good or evil depends entirely on who gets to her first.
And Voldemort has to be aware of what has happened. Even a continent away, this magic will be detectable, and he is too powerful a wizard to not notice it. I don't know if she is powerful enough to help us win the war, but she might be the critical factor.
With the death of Jenny Calendar two months ago, there is only one real candidate. Two years ago, a powerful witch named Catherine Madison was known to be active in America. She has since disappeared. Her daughter Amy, however, is still attending Sunnydale High.
If you are reading this letter, Harry, you have traveled a great distance already. Yet I know that the road ahead of you is even longer than that. I wish that I could be there to see the end of this journey. However, to prepare for it, I have taken one last measure.
On the day of your birth, your parents did what so many parents do when they have children --- they set some money aside for your future, with the intention of making more deposits on each succeeding birthday until you were of age. Voldemort stopped them from making any additions to that account. But over a period of seventeen years, the rates of interest still compound. As one of the two living trustees to that account, I withdrew the money, and deposited it here, changed into muggle currency where it might do you the most good (and the exchange rate is higher). I am taking precautions to make sure it will be in the one place Voldemort would not look, and if he did, could do nothing to gain entry.
The road ahead of you doesn't end at Sunnydale any more than it began at Godric's Hollow. Harry (and Hermione and Ron, I know that the two of you are there, as you have been ever since first year), the task ahead of you is no less difficult then it was when we started down the path at Voldemort's resurrection, but the forces of light will prevail. You may not believe that you are powerful enough to stand, but I believe in all of you. No father could be prouder than I have been of you.
As much as Harry had tried to prepare himself, the voice of Albus Dumbledore from beyond the grave caused his eyes to mist. His headmaster had not forsaken them at their hour of need.
Ron was moved a bit too, mainly because after what seemed like months of futility, they finally had something concrete to focus their energy on. "They have to know how to destroy these things in Sunnydale," he said. "God help me, I'll chuck them in the Hellmouth itself if I have to."
"Wonderful, Ron. For all we know, that will cause Voldemort to resurrect as the Master himself," Hermione replied.
"Herm, we have a solid lead on a Horcrux. We know about a witch who might be able to turn the tide. Why is this not good news?"
"I know all that, and believe me I am glad for that. It's just..." Hermione trailed off. "This was never about asking the Slayer for help. Dumbledore just wanted us to follow a different lead. "
"Hermione, you can't---"
"Buffy Summers had to be within shouting distance of Dumbledore," Hermione replied. "She was trying to stop an Apocalypse, not moments after being expelled and charged with murder. The most powerful wizard we know in town, and he couldn't be bothered because something magical happened!"
There was a trace of Hermione's old fury over the Slayer in this rant, and Ron and Harry might have ignored it under other circumstances. But given what they had learned about Buffy second-hand---- and Harry was sure that was just the tip of the iceberg--- she had a valid point. Dumbledore was a very particular and compassionate man, but there was nothing in this letter about even checking to see if Buffy had even been alive. And even if he had, he'd been pretty cavalier about mentioning it to Remus.
Ron, for once, was tactful. "Maybe Dumbledore didn't come here for the reasons we thought," Ron replied. "That doesn't mean we can't follow through with the right ones. You came here in part because you wanted to help the Slayer. And that's exactly what we're going to do. Right, Harry?"
"As soon as possible," Harry asked. "How much money is here?" Hermione had been organizing the sheathes of bills while they'd been talking
"A little more than eleven thousand dollars," Hermione replied, a little surprised. "What are you thinking?"
"That we get on the next bus to Sunnydale and find Buffy and her friends as soon as we can," Harry told them.
"You sure, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"This may be my inheritance, but it's also blood money," Harry replied. "I can't think of a more fitting way to spend it then to find a way to stop Voldemort once and for all."
"Give me a minute to make this a bit inconspicuous," Hermione replied. "There are people on the streets of LA who aren't magical that would kill for this kind of money."
Harry then allowed himself to feel something he hadn't dared feel in months, even though it was cloaked in darkness.
It took Hermione several minutes to camouflage and reduce the amount of money so that they could hide it in the valise they were carrying their things in. Considering the revelations that had come from the last few minutes, Harry was a little surprised that they'd spent less than an hour in the secret room.
When the three of them finally emerged the Host was sitting at the head of the stage, singing to himself. Harry admitted to being surprised that this creature had such a lovely baritone.
"You get what you need?" he asked casually as the three emerged.
Harry walked up to the front of the room, and shook the Host's hand heartily. "I don't know how to thank you," he said.
"For what? Using my place of business as a baggage claim? Think nothing of it, Harry my man," the Host replied. "It looks like the three of you have miles to go before you can sleep. I consider it a privilege just to be a stop along your journey."
All of a sudden, Harry came crashing back to earth. If the demon world knew about what he and his friends were up to, all their secrecy might well be for naught. He didn't want to ask the next question. "Um, the three of us," he began slowly. "you knew who we were. Did you know that right now we're not exactly----"
"---- high on the Dark Lord's Christmas card list?" the Host finished for them. "I try to take all gossip with a grain of salt, but you have a position like mine, you can't help but hear idle chatter."
Hermione was now concerned. "If that's the case, why hasn't someone from the Ministry snatched us off the street by now?" she demanded. "I mean, we've tried to be secretive, but we must have left a trail by now."
The demon was fixing them with a wary eye. "What have you kids been doing that has you in such a state?" He didn't sound demanding, just curious. "Look, I won't pretend to understand what’s going on in the supernatural community in your part of the atlas. Though from what I've heard this Voldemort cat is trying to build his own Rainbow Coalition of the demonic world."
The three of them didn't get the phrasing, but the implication was clear enough. "So answer the question," Hermione replied.
"Right now, the magical community here is playing Switzerland," the Host told them. "And most of the demons in America, they're taking a wait-and-see approach. I understand that you wizards can live a long time, but to a lot of the major players in my neck of the woods, that's a drop in the bucket. Some don't think that your Dark Lord has the staying power to last in this particular sandbox."
To hear the threat that had been hanging over their heads for the last two years dismissed in two sentences made the three of them a little pissed. "They don't think he's a threat?" Ron said incredulously.
"You ever been in a demon dimension. I came from one of the worst. Demons treating humans like they were no better than livestock. No music or love to liven the mood. A lot of bloodshed and cruelty. I was lucky to get out. And the sad part? Pylea actually rated pretty low on the Zagat's Guide in terms of general unpleasantness. " The demon looked at them. "I've heard how horrible a place Azkaban is, but there are some creatures in this city who could do a couple of decades there, standing on their heads."
This wasn't the picture of the supernatural world they had been getting from Hogwarts. Harry decided that since they had a literal font of mystical information, they might as well tap it. "Does the name Wolfram & Hart mean anything to you?"
It was very hard to tell with someone with skin that green, but Harry thought he momentarily paled. "So you've heard of our Resident Evil?" the demon replied.
"What are they?" Hermione demanded.
"The only people on this earth more ruthless than the Dark Lord," the Host told them. "Lawyers."
Harry's first reaction was to laugh; it sounded like one of those Muggle jokes he might hear at the Dursleys. But the demon had said it with what appeared to be total seriousness.
"They can't be that bad," Ron replied. "I mean, the worst attorney is still just a muggle."
"Someone missed the Trial of the Century," The Host seemed to be joking. "Look, all I can tell you is what I hear on the street. And the word is that these people are seriously bad news. And have been for a very, very long time. So, whatever you do, stay well clear of them."
Harry thought this demon was trustworthy. Nevertheless, he made two abrupt decisions.: not to tell him any more of his business, and to get out of Los Angeles as fast as possible (as if he needed a better reason).
"Good luck to you," Harry replied.
"Same to you, young man," the demon replied. "And try to put on a happy face. You have more friends then you realize."
For the first time, Harry was beginning to think that might be true.