After a stop back at their hostel, they went to the nearest bus depot, and got tickets for the next bus to Sunnydale. However, they ran into one final obstacle, which only demonstrated that they had gotten used to the temperate climate.
"What do you mean the roads are closed?" Hermione sounded genuinely exasperated.
"Hey, you're not the only one being put out," the clerk told them. "But they've got reports of a heavy snowfall all through the area."
"It's eighty degrees here," Harry pointed out.
"Hey, I don't cause the weather; I just deal with the consequences," the irritated agent replied. "It's like Sunnydale's under a big black cloud of crazy. They've had earthquakes, toads fell from the sky, and now an extreme cold front seems to have localized itself entirely over the town. Not that anyone in their right mind would want to go to that shit-burg, but it's like they're not exactly welcoming the tourists."
"We finally get ready to go, and the Hellmouth starts hiccuping," Ron was sounding a little exasperated. "Hermione, you've done the research; what kind of apocalyptic event is proceeded by a giant snowfall?"
For once, Hermione didn't have a ready answer. "Maybe this is some primitive way to keep out intruders," she replied. "It would explain why it's so localized, but I can't imagine it lasting in a place this warm."
Harry was quiet for a moment , then went back to the clerk. "Radio have any idea how long it'll be before the roads are traversable again?"
"They're not exactly prepared for this kind of thing here," the clerk admitted. "Add to the fact that probably half the road crews are on vacation, maybe another day."
"How close could we get to Sunnydale? What's the nearest town?"
"Um, Tustin, It's about ten miles away from the town." The clerk checked the schedule. "Next bus leaves in an hour."
Harry went back to the others looked "If this is magic, the Hellmouth or whatever, I don't think we can afford to wait any longer. Hell, walking to Sunnydale from there wouldn't take that long"I'm with you," Ron replied.
Hermione just asked for the price of three tickets. If the clerk was at all surprised to be paid four hundred dollars in cash, he didn't let on. "There'll be a boarding call in thirty minutes, tell you where to go," he said. "By the way, Merry Christmas."
They'd been paying attention to the calendar ever since they got here, but none of them had wanted to acknowledge that this was the first Christmas in six years that they weren’t spending with their loved ones. They'd all managed to regulate their emotions about being in hiding, but this still hurt. Harry had never been more aware of how much he missed Hogwarts than this moment
They dealt with this the same way they'd been handling everything else that made them homesick ---- they compartmentalized it to deal with on another day. When that other day was going to come, none of them could clearly see, but right now, they had to worry about the present. Otherwise, they wouldn't have a future.
The bus to Tustin was only about a third full, and none of the other passengers seemed even modestly concerned about the three teenagers in the corner. Nevertheless, they put up more than a few Mufflato charms to make sure they weren't heard.
"Even if there is a fair amount of inclement weather, we'll probably be at Sunnydale by the end of the day," Harry told them.
"You sure coming in at night is our best option?" When Harry and Hermione looked at him, Ron soldiered on. "Hey, I like the idea of sneaking in under the cover of darkness as much as anyone, but we've just spent the last two months getting briefed on what living on a Hellmouth is like. I don't want to have spent so much time on this, only to end up getting bitten the minute we walk in the door."
Even though Harry was pretty sure the three of them could handle things, he had to admit that there was some logic to this. What's more, there was another legitimate point to consider. Buffy and her friends would be celebrating the Christmas holidays as well, and given that they seemed to be fighting a war, they'd probably jump at any excuse to get off the Hellmouth, even for a few days. They might get to Sunnydale to find they'd have to wait another few weeks just to talk to them, a prospect Harry found nearly intolerable.
Hermione had two counter-arguments. "First of all, American have much briefer school recesses then we do. They'd probably be back for classes just after New Year's. Second of all, considering the level of threat from the Hellmouth, I seriously doubt her Watcher would allow her to leave for that long."
There was enough frustration and resentment in that last statement that Harry had felt that he had to ask. "Hermione, are we going to have a problem with you with her Watcher?"
"Harry, we need Buffy's help, and probably the assistance of her friends--- though I do have real concerns about getting Muggles involved with our problems no matter how great the threat," Hermione deliberately paused. "But the bottom line is, I don't trust the Watcher's Council, and if this Rupert Giles tows the party line, then yes, we're going to have a problem with him."
Harry looked towards Ron, but for once, he was in total accord with Hermione. "These people were perfectly willing to let Buffy die in order to save the world," Ron reminded him. "They toy with girls’ lives like they're just pieces on a chessboard. And I seriously doubt this Giles is any different."
"It's actually worse than that," Hermione replied. "When we meet up with Buffy either tonight or tomorrow, I'm going to find out whether my theories on the Slayer have any backing. If they do..." She trailed off for a moment "I realize that this isn't the time or place for it, but at some point there's going to be a reckoning due to what these Watchers have been doing for thousands of years, and considering what we've already witnessed because of the Ministry's bungling, I actually think these crimes might be even worse."
Harry had a vague idea what these crimes might be, but when he and Ron again pressed Hermione to explain, she demurred. "You're going to get the answers very soon," she reminded them. "Probably by tomorrow night at the latest. Until then, I want to make sure that Buffy knows first."
"Can't you at least tell us why?" Ron demanded.
"According to all the articles I read in the Prophet, Buffy has saved her Watcher's life at least four times," Hermione reminded them. "Despite everything connected with being a Slayer, she's probably very close to Rupert Giles. Telling her this kind of news will be devastating, and I don't know about you, but I'm not happy about maybe having to destroy one of the few things she thought she could count on. There's just as much a chance she'll come at me then at Giles."
"Hermione, we can protect you---" Ron started.
"I'm not afraid of an angry Buffy Summers," Harry could tell she was lying because there was the mildest of tremors in Hermione's voice. "But there's a very good chance that she's not going to want to do me any favors after this. If you and Ron don't know, you'll have what Muggles call 'plausible deniability'. You'll at least have a chance of dealing with her."
Harry began to wonder if Hermione was really talking out of the other side of her mouth, but decided to let this go, at least for now. They spent the remainder of the bus ride trying to hash out ways to find Buffy and her friends when they got there.
Hermione thought that it would be much easier than their searches during the last two months ---- in comparison to LA, or for that matter, Tustin, Sunnydale was little more than a hamlet. All they'd have to do was find a phone book, and Buffy, hell, all of the wrecking crew, would be reachable in a matter of minutes. Hermione did, however, recommend that they stay together for as long as possible. In that much, she agreed with Harry.
One thing that Remus had made clear was, even given six years of training in Defense Against the Dark Arts, nothing prepared you for life on a Hellmouth.
It was just a little after three when they got off the bus in Tustin. By Harry's calculations, even if they walked the remaining distance, they could be on the outskirts of Sunnydale by five-thirty.
According to the Prophet, that was ten minutes after sunset, and, even from second-hand information, a lot of vampires didn't even wait that long to start business as usual. Hermione was surprised there wasn't some kind of curfew in place given how high the death rate was. Instead, there seemed to be some kind of group-think that allowed everybody to keep operating under the impression that Sunnydale was 'normal'.
The road map they purchased from the Tustin bus station revealed that there were some motels on the outskirts of Sunnydale proper. Harry knew that even the cheapest place to live would very quickly eat into the money that his parents had left him, but they needed somewhere to serve as a base, at least until they’d had a better look at the lay of the land. They could cast some charms to ensure that neither vampire nor demon could enter, and grant them relative safety, while they narrowed down the location of Buffy and her schoolmates.
They considered getting a taxi to take them the rest of the way but they couldn't find a single cabbie who wanted to drive to Sunnydale. Maybe all the Muggles weren't as obtuse about the dangers as they seemed.
"What do you say, friends?" Ron told them, with flicker of the Weasley wit. "Undead to the left of us, undead to the right of us; Into the mouth of hell walk ---- well, I seriously doubt we could get another six hundred people to go on this little journey."
Harry and Hermione were impressed. "I didn't think you paid that much attention to poetry," Hermione responded. "When did you read Tennyson?"
Ron shrugged. "I had to find something constructive to do when that toad Umbridge was teaching us," he replied. "There were some times I actually wanted her to catch me. To tell her that Muggle poetry was more valuable than DADA..." He shook his head. "Then Fred and George told me that there were easier ways to get to her. I guess I had to stay true to the Weasley tradition."
He gave a small bow. "Maybe I'll give the stuff another try when we get through saving Buffy," he told her. "Anyway, we've got a bit of a walk ahead of us if we want to get to Sunnydale before dark."
The final leg of the trip to Sunnydale was surprisingly tame. Harry wasn't sure what he'd been expecting now that they were almost there ----- fences with barbed wires, armed guards marching the streets, but the roads to Sunnydale were almost completely empty. They passed an occasional vehicle going in the opposite direction, but that was about it. The reasonable explanation was that everybody who wanted to leave had gone on holiday or that perhaps they were still dealing with clearing up the snowfall that appeared when they got within a few miles of the town.
In retrospect, Harry was grateful for this minor respite. He didn't know it, but this was to be the last real patch of uneventful activity that any of them would have for a very long time.
Despite its name, the John C. Fremont Motor Court was little better than the Shrieking Shack. The walls were thin, the beds were hard, the furniture little more than vinyl. The Hyperion seemed safe by comparison.
It did, however, serve two purposes. The rates were inexpensive, and it had a Yellow Pages for Sunnydale. While Hermione and Ron worked on various spells to make sure the place was relatively demon proof, Harry followed the tagline he'd heard, and let his fingers do the walking.
Joyce Summers still lived in Sunnydale on 1630 Revello Drive. Harry had no intention of calling her home, only to have to have one of the most awkward conversations ever about whether her daughter knew what was going on. Still, he took the number down.
Rupert Giles was still in the book as well. There was also only one Rosenberg in the book, so Willow's parents were still there. Nailing down the Harrises and the Chases would probably take a process of elimination, but there weren't a lot of possibilities. The town was actually smaller than they had thought.
"Well, the good news is, no vampires or demons can now invade these rooms," Hermione said as she finished her chanting. "I wouldn't want to lay the same odds about us being taken down by, say, termites."
"I'm not convinced we wouldn't be better off sleeping outside," Ron argued. "I hope this is temporary even for temporary accommodations."
Harry hoped that they wouldn't be staying here long, either, but he didn't think that the Slayer and her friends had stayed alive as long as they had by letting complete strangers stay with them. He wasn't even ruling out the possibility that they might still tell them to get lost.
Ron looked at his watch. "Seven o'clock," he replied. "Well, right now our options are either see what's on the telly, or do what we came here to do, and track down Buffy Summers."
Harry was a little surprised Ron was even suggesting this idea, considering his ambivalence yesterday. "Why the sudden change of mind?"
"Because I've spent the last half-hour getting a good look and listen to where we are," Ron told them. "There aren't a lot of people walking the streets considering how early it is. And I'm pretty sure that I heard at least one person scream, and nothing happened. I mean, I don't know if the police would be able to help in case of a supernatural attack, but these people are acting like it's normal."
"If they've lived here for even a little while, they have to know how dangerous it can get," Hermione pointed out. "But Ron's right. If there's one thing that was just below the surface of everything I read in the Prophet, it's that everybody in Sunnydale just seems let these horrible things happen, without so much as a whimper. Children are the most common victim of these undead, and this town just tends to let that stand as status quo. That's got to be what gets Buffy out of bed in morning." Hermione paused. "Assuming she sleeps at all."
Harry had begun to realize that while for the last three years he had felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders, in Buffy Summers' case, it might actually be true. If nothing else, he hoped that meeting her might bring about some way to bring relief for both of them. Which was probably the reason he was even considering this idea even though it was borderline lunacy.
"You really want to do this?" he said to his friends.
"Hell," Ron said. "for the last two months we've done little more than chase our tails. I don't even want to think how bad things have gotten back at Hogwarts by now, and we've got next to sod-all to show for it. This is actually a place where we can do some good, even if Buffy tells us she's too busy to leave the Hellmouth. I need to feel like I'm doing something useful."
Harry looked at Hermione, expecting an argument. "We're more likely to run into Buffy at night," she said instead. "She makes the rounds of the Hellmouth's darkest corners, as they put it. Our best chance of finding her, and proving our good faith comes if we wander the streets of Sunnydale until we find her. And, you have to admit, we're at far less risk than anyone else in the town."
Harry felt much the same way. Even though he hadn't had a vision of Voldemort since they had come to America, it had done little to improve his overall mood. He was beginning to feel that he was going native--- that the distance was separating him from a battle he should be engaged in. He wanted to pick a fight, even if it was with a vampire, which was why he let his gut overrule his head
"Where should we start?" he asked.
Considering everything that they'd been through, it was a little odd that Hermione was skittish about answering. "Cemeteries," she finally told them. "Most vampires emerge from their graves. She'd have to patrol them just to keep up with the traffic."
Harry understood then her hesitation, but considering all the funerals he'd had to attend over the past couple of years, remembering the place where Voldemort had literally been reborn seemed trivial in comparison to the battle they were waging now.
"All right," he said. "But we don't take any stupid risks. We travel in a group at all times. "
"You do know that there are eighteen cemeteries in Sunnydale?" Ron said, taking out the map.
"The odds don't get much better if we start dividing them up," Harry reminded them. "Besides, we need to be safe."
"And as to finding her?"
"Maybe we'll get lucky."
More than four hours later, Harry was beginning to wish that he'd never been so cocky. They had walked the length of half of the town's graveyards, and there had been no sign of the Slayer or any of her friends. Of course, that didn't mean that things had been quiet.
It was one thing to know that vampires burrowed out from under their graves; it was another to actually see it. The first time that it happened had come as a huge shock to all of them, and had been enough to paralyze them ---- for about fifteen seconds. Then all the lessons that years of DADA had taught them had kicked in, and all three of them had cast an Incendio spell on the poor undead. He didn't so much ignite as vaporize.
Harry had been sure that a noise like that had to raise attention, even in the middle of a veritable necropolis, but nary a soul stirred, in or out. It was, however, only the first of their experiences with the undead population of Sunnydale. And even though they’d never seen a silent movie, it was beginning to take on the appearance of something out of one of those comedies.
Vampire emerges from beneath their tombstone. Vampire spots three strangely dressed but still presumably delicious teenagers. Vampire comes running at them, only to face a horrible flaming death, at the hands of one, two or all three of self-same teenagers.
While this was doing them a great deal of good when it came to relieving some of their stress, it wasn't getting them any closer to finding the Slayer. What they didn't know was that while the human population of Sunnydale didn't seem to give a tinker's cuss about what was happening, rumors were already starting to spread among the undead residents. A couple of vampires looking for fresh meat saw what was happening, and began to carefully make for safer ground. By the time Harry and his friends had finished with their patrol of the seventh cemetery, they had been reported to some of the other higher-echelon demons in Sunnydale, who understandably (from their perspective, in any case) were rather pissed that a bunch of teenage magicians was apparently making, a power play. And by the time the eighth graveyard had been dealt with, they had a plan.
Another thing the trio didn't know was that they’d also been spotted by one of Trick's lackeys, who had an idea of who held the real power in Sunnydale, and that they might be interested, but for completely different reasons. He therefore elected not to get involved, which probably extended his life by a few days.
"Not that I'm ungrateful for the exercise," Hermione was saying, "but we're not here to do Buffy's job for her. She finds out that there's no activity in her usual haunts, and she might be inclined to call it an early night."
"You don't really believe that, do you?" Harry asked quizzically.
Hermione thought this over for a couple of seconds. "Not really," she admitted. "If she really is on holiday, she won't have as much of a problem staying out past curfew. The chances are probably better that we'll run into her."
"So what's the problem?" Ron asked.
"We've got to at least pretend that we're keeping a low profile," Hermione reminded them. "A group of teenagers going around roasting vampires like they were marshmallows might attract the wrong type of attention."
Ron looked around. "Right now, the score in this particular battle is: Hogwarts, thirteen, Sunnydale Undead, zero," he reminded her. "In order for gossip to spread, that requires a survivor, and so far we've left none behind. Maybe the Sunnydale undead are even thicker than the average live Sunnydaler."
"So far, we've just been dealing with the freshly turned," Hermione reminded him. "Vampires that have survived more than a few years may present more of a problem. And we'd better hope that Angelus and William the Bloody really have departed for a warmer climate. I don't fancy facing them in a dark alley, and trust me, this town is full of them."
"You got that right!"
The three of them all stiffened. That was a new voice. Given where they were, nothing good could come from this.
Harry was about to casting his Lumos spell, when he saw the speaker get up from behind his tombstone rather than from beneath it.
"You know we vampires may be a particularly thick lot," this vampire told them, "but this town does have a particularly high learning curve. You might be able to send one, or two, shit, maybe even a dozen of us, to a fiery end. But eventually, we do catch on."
The three of them looked straight ahead. More than a dozen vampires were emerging from among the mausoleums and other brick-a-brac that decorated the graveyard. And they looked particularly angry.
"How many do you think we can take before one gets through?" Harry whispered.
"Not really sure," Hermione's voice remained steady, but her hand displayed the most minuscule of tremors. She was afraid. "But I have a feeling we're going to find out very quickly."
"Harry, the next time I say we should wander through a graveyard looking for a Slayer, stupefy me, and lock the doors," Ron whispered.
"Next time." Harry acknowledged.
"Thirteen against three doesn't seem quite fair."
Everybody, heart beating or not, looked around for the speaker. It was a woman, and she seemed almost amused by the situation that Harry and his friends had gotten themselves into.
Harry wasn't quite sure, but he thought his jaw had drooped a few inches. The speaker was a short, dark-haired, shabbily clothed girl. Three thoughts crossed his mind at the same time. This isn't Buffy Summers. This is a Slayer. And holy crap, she's gorgeous!
"Try thirteen against one instead. I'll even spot you guys the first four."
Were all Slayers this arrogant? Harry couldn't even tell if she was armed. But he could definitely sense a mood shift in the vampires that were threatening them. They now seemed a little unsure.
The leader, however, gave no sign of this. "Come on, damn it," he said. "We can take her. Just don't go for her one at a time."
"Someone's been watching his Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, he forgets that these stories all end the same way," The dark-haired girl removed a stake from her jacket. "With a giant pile of ash from sea to shining sea."
Even though they were involved in it, what happened next took place at such lightning speed that none of the wizards were quite sure what the order of events was. What they could agree on was that two of the vampires made the first move, and inexplicably (at least from Harry's point of view) they went for the Slayer.
It was one thing to be taught that there is a girl who has been bestowed with superhuman speed and strength; it was another to actually see it. She moved with the rapidity that Harry was pretty sure that no wizard could match, delivering a series of jabs and kicks that had the vampires on their heels before they could begin to mount a proper defense. One of them then slashed at the Slayer's throat, while the other tried to trip her from behind. She ducked these blows, and retaliated by slamming her stake into the chest of one of them. Before he had time to watch the vampire explode in a cloud of dust, she did a back somersault and kicked the other vamp in the noggin.
That was about the only observation Harry could make because right then two things happened nearly simultaneously: the vampires remembered that they had prisoners, and Harry and his friends remembered they had been doing a pretty decent job of destroying vampires before the new Slayer had arrived. Seven began to move in on the wizards, while the other four ran to aide their comrade.
Up until now, none of the vampires that the wizards had attacked had put up much resistance. But these undead were a lot cagier than the group they'd been slaughtering. When Ron threw an Incendio spell right at one, he managed to almost completely dodge it, and when his leather jacket caught on fire as a result, he had the good sense to cast it off.
"That was Armani, you son of a bitch!" the vamp shouted, and then made another attack from his right flank.
"Stupefy!" Ron yelled, and stopped one attacker in his tracks. He then cast an Incendio spell, and just barely touched it with his wand. He had no time to celebrate, however, because the second vamp managed to kick his wand out of his hands.
"Ron! Duck!" Hermione yelled, as she cast a lightning spell on the same vamp who was about to rip Ron's throat out. Ron's life was saved, but it looked as if Hermione was about to pay for that with her own.
Ron then did something that made no sense--- he ran in front of the vampire while shouting "Accio wand!" His wand then began to fly at him, but in order to do so, it had to go through the attacker---- which is what it literally did. Essentially, Ron had just thrown his wand through the vampire's heart nearly as effectively as any Slayer could have thrown a stake.
They had now taken out three vampires, and the dark-haired girl had managed to take out another two simultaneously. That still left seven, and none of these creatures had been holding still during this particular round of attacks. Realizing the wands were apparently their source of power, the undead now hit upon a different plan of attack.
One of them removed a switchblade knife from his pocket ---- practically long enough to stand in for a bayonet---- and began to slash at Hermione's hand, almost as if he was swinging a sword. Hermione tried to cast a spell, but the art of dodging the thrusting was making it difficult for her to complete her chant. Finally, she did and managed to incinerate it, but she paid a definite price for it. She had backed right into another vampire, and, he grabbed her in a choke-hold, strong enough for her to drop her wand
"All right!" he shouted. "Drop your wands or I snap your friend's neck!"
Harry swore. He hadn't exactly been idle during all this---- he'd managed to take out one of the other vamps, and he had another one the verge of being dusted--- but that still left five, all of whom seemed to have intuited that the wizards were the greater threat then the Slayer, and had now managed to form a box around them.
"And why should we trust you?" Ron managed to shout without his voice trembling. "You're not exactly considered the most honest of creatures."
"We're not exactly known for our patience, either!" The vamp took a tighter grip around Hermione.
Harry and Ron were both fast on their wands, but neither of them had any illusions they could incinerate the creature holding Hermione without at least hurting her. The Slayer might be able to help them, but----
They looked around to find that the other girl seemed to have disappeared while this last exchange had been going on. Harry didn't think that the Slayer had abandoned them (she might not be Buffy Summers, but she hadn't blanched at taking on a dozen vampires, so she didn't scare) but he had no idea what her plan was ----- assuming that she had one.
"How about a trade?" he shouted instead. "You let her go, and we all walk away from this!" As the creature considered this, he added (hoping Hermione didn't mistake the meaning): "You know how many of your kind we've already killed! Five more isn't exactly any sweat off our brows!"
"Really?" The vamp raised an eyebrow. "Then why are you sweating?"
Damn these vamps have good eyesight. Harry was about to make an attempt to incinerate this one. It would be a hell of a final exam in a subject he had never studied, but he had to save Hermione. However, before he could get a word out, he heard a swish, and then the vamp got a very perplexed look on his face.
Which lasted until he exploded into dust.
Harry didn't know how the Slayer had gotten the drop on them, but he had no intention of letting the edge get away. Before two of the other vampires could react, both he and Ron cast an Incendio spell on them.
Now seeing that the numbers were finally against them, the remaining undead made their wisest move and started to run off. They didn't get much further before there were two more swishes, followed by the remaining vamps disintegrating.
Hermione reached for her wand.
"If I were you, I'd stay very still!"
All three of them located the sound of her voice. At the crest of a hill, the vampire slayer was crouched in a sniper's position, with what looked to be a crossbow. And from the look on her face, Harry thought that she seemed more than willing to remove any threat without thinking twice.
Hermione didn't move a muscle. "We're not your enemy," she told her.
"No, but you ain't exactly harmless either," the Slayer replied. "How about you explain what three innocent kids are doing in the most dangerous place on earth?"
There was no easy way to go about this, so Hermione tried: "We were looking for you."
"Congratulations. You found me. Care to explain why?"
"There's a major crisis that requires the Slayer's help," Ron tried.
"Take a number. Now explain how you know who I am."
Hermione figured that nothing but total honesty was going to get them out of this situation intact. "We didn't. We came looking for Buffy Summers, and seeing how you fought I can only assume she's dead, and that you've taken her place."
Harry wasn't sure, but he thought he saw a flash of pain on the woman's face. When she spoke, though, a lighter tone infused her voice. "Man, word travels slow outside Sunnydale. B's still alive."
This was a response not even Hermione was prepared for. "But--but, you're also a Slayer?" she managed to get out.
"What can I say? Buy one Slayer, get the second free." She might have been amused by these proceedings, but she wasn't taking her finger off the trigger.
They had to get out of this situation. "Look, can't we talk reasonably about this?" Harry asked.
"Of course, you Brits always want to be civilized." The Slayer's voice got hard. "The last people with accents who took that approach tried to kill me, so you're going to have to do better."
Harry realized that he was going to have to make an offering of sorts, so very carefully and showily, he placed his wand on the ground. Ron got what he was doing, sighed and did likewise.
"This enough trust for you?" he asked.
The Slayer hesitated for a very long moment, then finally put the crossbow over her shoulder. "All right," she said slowly. "Now how 'bout you answer some questions? Starting with, you're obviously not from around here, so how did you know what a Slayer is?"
Hermione answered this question. "You've probably figured out that we're wizards, right?"
"Haven't seen any honest-to-God magic wands before," the Slayer replied. "But since I don't know anyone else who can make flamethrowers out of sticks, I'll give you that."
"The wizarding world pays a great deal of attention to what's going on Hellmouths," Hermione replied. "We're well aware of that the Slayer---"
"Buffy." There was definite pain in her voice this time. "You came looking for her, and you found me. And it clearly was a shock to the system to think she was dead. So your information's clearly a bit out of date."
Ron finally seemed to come out of the stupor he'd been in eve since the crossbow had been trained on him. "Look, Miss-um---"
"The name is Faith," the Slayer finally replied after Ron went on like this for a few seconds.
"We'll answer any questions you want, if we can get out of this bloody graveyard before more vampires come looking for us."
"Vamp's in this town are dumb, but they ain't that dumb." Nevertheless, Faith apparently seemed to agree that this wasn't the most private place in the world to have a conversation. She let them pick up their wands, and began to scan the horizon.
"Faith," Hermione seemed to struggle with this for a few seconds, then plunged ahead. "Where is Buffy?"
"She's out patrolling the other half of town," Faith managed a smile. "She got a bit concerned about gossip that someone was in town barbecuing vampires." She looked at them. "And people say I need to hold back a bit."
"We were looking for her on a matter of some urgency. We're willing to explain, but is there anyway that you could make contact with your Watcher and any of your friends?"
Once again, a look of pain briefly flashed across Faith's face. "You mean the Scoobies? They're her friends, not mine." She looked at them for a moment. "And why should I lead you to them?"
"Because it's a very long explanation," Harry told her. "And it would be easier to tell it only once."
Faith considered this for a few moments, then shrugged. "What the hell. It'll be fun seeing Red's face when you make your wand explode."
She began walking off. The three of them followed, having a fair amount of trouble matching her pace.
None of them knew that they were being observed by a young black vampire in a fancy suit.
"Looks like there's a new player in town," Trick muttered to his two accomplices. "And they've just hooked up with Public Enemy Number Two. The Boss is not going to be happy."
He took out his cell, and hit speed-dial. "Yeah, it's me. We may have a problem." He hesitated. "That timetable you mentioned a few days ago? You may want to accelerate it."
Thank you all for your reviews and patience.
Next chapter, the Golden Trio meets the Scoobies, finally. Just don't expect everything to be hearts and flowers.