Disclaimers, et al., can be found at the beginning of Part One



Ron blinked and stared at his girlfriend for several seconds before blurting out: "Harry was rescued by a WHAT?"

"A Slayer, Ron—and one who isn't Buffy Summers." Hermione sipped her pumpkin juice as she glanced over at Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick—who had been brought into the circle of those in the know at McGonagall's request and with Harry's blessing—to gauge their reactions. Both remained silent, though Hermione could see Flitwick's eyes dancing with fascination as she continued, "I spoke with her for some time while waiting for Harry to recover: Harry rescued her from some Death Eaters in California, and has been instructing her in the ways of our world—including taking her to New York to obtain a wand compatible with a Slayer's magical energy. She used that wand to protect Harry—killing half a squad of Death Eaters in the process—until Fawkes showed up and extracted them both from the scene." McGonagall's eyes widened, and Hermione nodded as she added, "Yes—Fawkes confirmed it, and so did Dobby in his own way."

"What does Dobby have to do with it, Hermione?" Ron sounded dazed—he had heard stories about Slayers from when he was very young, but the thought of one of them suddenly appearing in the life of his best friend seemed far-fetched at best.

Hermione smiled and called out, "Dobby!" The house elf appeared an instant later, and Hermione apologized, "I'm sorry if you were in the middle of something."

"Dobby was cleaning, but Harry Potter's house is already very clean—supper will not be for another two hours." Dobby turned to acknowledge the others in the room, and he bowed as he asked, "What can Dobby do for Harry Potter's friends and teachers?"

Hermione smiled, noticing that Dobby said "Harry Potter's friends and teachers" as someone might speak of royalty or a Quidditch star. She looked at the house elf with a gentle expression and explained, "I was telling the others about Harry's guest, Dobby—will you tell them what you think about Faith?"

Dobby straightened up and his huge eyes widened as he exclaimed, "Miss Faith is a kind and mighty Slayer who helped save Harry Potter! She is a friend of the goblins and has killed wicked demons and Death Eaters! Dobby has spoken to other house elves about Miss Faith, and they will protect her secrets as they protect Harry Potter's!" Ron, McGonagall, and Flitwick all blinked, and Dobby looked a bit bashful as he whispered, "Dobby is sorry for shouting."

"That's all right, Dobby—we're glad that Harry has a new friend who's helping him" Ron spoke quietly, inwardly shaking his head at the situations that Harry managed to get himself into. Dobby nodded eagerly, and Ron added, "What are they up to now?"

Dobby's expression changed, and the others had to look carefully to recognize the emotion on the house elf's face: mild amusement. "Miss Faith was. . .annoyed at Harry Potter for not telling her that he was Mr. Special Operative—said that it could have gotten them both killed. Harry Potter apologized over and over again and explained that he and you here were doing a very important thing that no one else could know about, and that he had to be careful that You-Know-Who wouldn't find out about it. Miss Faith scowled at Harry Potter, then told him that she'd figure out a way for him to make it up to her. Dobby does not know what she meant, but Harry Potter looked relieved."

Hermione frowned slightly, and Ron caught it immediately: "What did she mean by that, Hermione?"

Hermione sighed, then muttered: "Let's just say that we'd better not tell Ginny about Harry's house guest, unless you want the Bat Bogey Hexes to start flying." Ron paled, and Hermione turned back to the professors as she added, "But that's a problem I'm sure Harry can handle—right now I'd like to deal with the little crossfire that Harry seems to be caught in. Harry has enough Voldemort troubles on his own—he'll have even more now that Faith is in the Death Eaters' crosshairs."

McGonagall smiled slightly. "I received an interesting letter just before this meeting began—Remus is in Sunnydale with Rupert Giles and Buffy Summers. Apparently, Harry told him about what was going on before he left for New York. He was planning on staying there for some time—perhaps we could fill in an old friend on some details and have him compare notes with them."

Hermione smiled in return, and waited for the Headmistress to continue.

"So—you only lose one night a month? Cool."

Oz was sitting across from Remus in Giles' living room, and his eyes were uncommonly bright as he addressed the older man. Willow was sitting next to Oz, holding his arm supportively as she listened to the conversation between the two werewolves. Buffy, Giles, and Xander were in the kitchen, arguing over the finer points of Sunnydale takeout cuisine.

"Yes, but I gather that the transformation process is far less wearing on muggles than on wizards, Oz." Remus frowned, and continued: "Our magic holds down the change longer, but the days before and after the change leave us weak and sick, with or without wolvesbane."

Oz was about to ask another question when a loud knock came from the door. Remus looked at the couple on the couch and smiled as he called out, "I'll get it, Rupert!" He stood up and walked over to the door and opened it. His eyes widened and he exclaimed: "This is unexpected—please co-"

"Lupin—if you finish that sentence, I will hex you into next week!" Alastor Moody snarled, causing Remus to involuntarily give ground. Moody shook his head in disgust and walked in without invitation, shutting the door after him and turning on the visibly shaken younger man as he added, "Have you forgotten everything you know about this sort of place? I could have been a vampire and you were about to invite me in!"

"Um, you were standing in direct sunlight on the porch, sir." Willow called out from the couch. "That tends to make vampires go kind of flamey."

Moody scowled and turned to face Willow as he replied, "There are ways around that sort of thing, you know—suppose I was a vampire who found the Gem of Amara?"

"That Gem got toasted last week—Buffy took it away from Spike and sent it to Angel. Funny how keeping a thingie around that makes vampires unkillable makes vampires try to kill you and take it. He smashed it with a brick and sent Buffy the chunks as a souvenir." Xander had come in and was looking at the newcomer with a grin as he added, "I had to admit, that was pretty cool even if it was Deadboy doing it."

Buffy smacked Xander on the arm as she moved next to him and addressed the battered figure in the entry hall: "OK, fun story time over—who are you and why are you yelling at Mr. Lupin?"

"Good Lord—Master Auror Moody."

Giles' voice was a shocked whisper, and his young friends turned to see an equally shocked expression on his face. Moody looked over at Giles, and Remus was startled to see a smile on the ruined face as he replied, "Rupert, I know you're a bit long in the tooth to be calling me 'Uncle Alastor' these days, but I'm retired and have no patience for titles. Alastor or Mad-Eye will do just fine." Giles nodded, and Moody walked forward with surprising speed for a man with a pegleg until he was standing in front of Giles. He extended his hand, concluding: "It's good to see you, son."

Giles clasped arms with Moody, and Buffy had the distinct impression that Giles might have hugged the man if there had been fewer witnesses. She forced down a feeling of having intruded and cleared her throat loudly. Giles blinked, then turned back to the others with a mildly embarrassed expression as he said, "My apologies—this is Alastor Moody: Master Auror from the British Ministry of Magic—retired. He's an old family friend. . .my mother used to work for him."

Buffy blinked—she knew that Giles' mother had died some time back, and he had never been willing to talk about the circumstances. Moody seemed to divine Buffy's thoughts and gave Giles a pointed look; after a moment, Giles nodded once. Moody looked directly at Buffy and said, "Carolyn was the finest Auror I've ever trained—I recruited her directly into my personal team after her training was complete. We worked together for almost twenty years." He paused, and a look of sadness appeared on his face that somehow seemed to bypass the horrific scars as he continued, "We were on a patrol one night—we'd gotten reports of Dark Wizard activity in Hogsmeade, and we thought we were ready for trouble. We didn't expect that bastard Voldemort and twenty of his nastiest followers to come out of the shadows at us. We lost three Aurors to Killing Curses in the first ten seconds, and the rest of us retreated to cover. I had taken a curse to the leg--" he pointed to the pegleg, then added, "--and I was slowed down quite a bit. Carolyn took charge, just as I had trained her to—and she was magnificent. She brought walls down atop the bastards—she used Summoning charms to distract them as her teammates attacked—she saved two of our own with quick Healing spells that a Master Healer would be proud to have managed. Fifteen Death Eaters were dead before Voldemort decided to fight another day—but before he did he hit Carolyn with a terrible curse. . .one that slowly drained the life from her body in spite of everything the best healers at St. Mungo's could do." He swallowed hard and concluded, "I sent word to Rupert and his father, and they came quickly. . .just in time to say their farewells before she passed on. I gained many of these scars that day, but losing Carolyn has been the worst of them."

Giles shifted uncomfortably before murmuring, " I should have contacted you later, or spoken to you after the funeral. It wasn't one of my finer moments."

Moody snorted, "A teenager whose mother has just been murdered isn't supposed to be particularly rational, Rupert—he'd probably be less than human if he was. No, I should have contacted you, before your dire mood addled your judgment and you got into that mess with Eyghon." Giles flinched, and Alastor nodded grimly as he added, "Squib or not, if you had continued down that path we would have been dealing with each other on a far less friendly basis—glad to hear that problem was dealt with."

Giles managed a brief nod, then looked at the old wizard and asked, "Now that we've covered the past—what has you here in the present? This place isn't safe for wizards, even wizards of your caliber."

"There are recent developments regarding a certain Slayer that have caused certain persons I am in contact with--" Moody looked pointedly at Lupin, who nodded before the retired Auror continued: "--to wish to have your advice regarding how to proceed. Of course, the subject matter of this meeting is to be held completely confidential and not disclosed to anyone outside this room."

Giles blinked, then looked at the others one at a time—each of them nodded. Giles looked back at Moody and replied, "It seems we are all in agreement—I'll bring out more refreshments, and we can begin at your convenience, Alastor."

Moody nodded as Giles retreated to the kitchen, then noticed the dark-haired young man standing near him and peering at him curiously. He raised an eyebrow and commented, "Mr. Harris, isn't it? You've managed to make quite a name for yourself in the Wizarding World for a muggle with no hint of magical powers or formal training." Buffy stared in surprise, Willow beamed with pride for her old friend. . .and Oz studied the whole scene with a faint smile on his face as Alastor added, "You'd have made a fine Auror if you had magic—with a little more discipline than you get around here, anyway."

"Um, thank you, Mr. Moody." Xander was startled into politeness for a moment, then the whirling blue eye caught his attention again. "What can you see with that thing, anyway?"

Willow winced at Xander's blunt question, but Moody barked out a laugh and replied, "Quite a bit, actually. Losing an eye isn't pleasant, but this replacement has been more than adequate. If you ever find the need for one, let me know—there are charms that will hide one so that it can be used among muggles without drawing attention."

Xander smiled politely and replied, "Thanks, Mr. Moody—but if anything around here gets a good grip on me I'll probably lose a lot more than an eye anyway."

Buffy and Willow were in the process of opening their mouths to object to Xander's fatalism, but were interrupted by Giles' return with the refreshments.

Voldemort stirred and opened his eyes. The room he was in was dimly lit, and it took a moment for him to recognize that he was in the master bedroom of the secondary base that he had set up along with the one he had just been in. He quickly cast a silent, wandless lighting spell and illuminated the room. His body ached, and it took a substantial amount of effort to get out of bed and walk to the nearest mirror. He winced involuntarily: he could see burns and slashes that had been partially healed by potions, healing spells, and his own ritually enhanced regenerative abilities. He concentrated, using his hard-won sense of his magical state of being to evaluate his condition—and was appalled at the low level his power was at. I'm still more than a match for most wizards, but I'm going to need months of rest to get back up to full strength—what happened?

As if in answer to his silent question, a cloaked and hooded figure moved in the corner of Voldemort's vision. He whirled and hesitated only the moment he needed to make sure he would project the proper menace in his voice before snarling, "What am I doing here? What happened? Report immediately!"

The cloaked figure raised its hood, and Voldemort saw Draco Malfoy: his expression was absolutely still and he stood stiffly at attention. Voldemort masked his surprise at who his guardian was, and glared at the boy before whispering, "I'm waiting."

Draco swallowed once, and began: "My Lord, the stronghold in West London was destroyed thirty-six hours ago by a massive magical attack that blasted through the wards without warning. Potions Master Snape and Aunt Bellatrix were outside when it happened, and they brought you to safety here before the Fidelius Charm failed and revealed the wreckage."

Draco blinked nervously as the Dark Lord seemed to pause to take in the news for a moment before asking, "And why was I left here alone with only you as a guardian?"

"My Lord, Potions Master Snape and Aunt Bellatrix believed it would be wise to immediately gather the others until the source of the attack was determined." Draco was still visibly nervous, but he managed to keep his voice level as he continued, "Potions Master Snape was inclined to wait until you had awakened for further instructions, but Aunt Bellatrix overruled him—she said that I was well-suited to give you the news."

Voldemort suppressed a derisive snort. I just bet she did. Bella is too ambitious not to be here if she saw some advantage to it—the news must be bad indeed if she's leaving the boy to bear the brunt of my reaction to it. I will have to have a talk with her later about childish attempts to manipulate me. He thought for a moment, and a chill went through him as he asked, "How many died at the mansion?"

Draco shivered, but forced himself to answer: "Ten Death Eaters. . .and your snake, My Lord. The debris from the explosion killed them all instantly and wounded you gravely."

Voldemort's eyes widened, and he started to reach for his wand before realizing that it was not there. Draco flinched, but held his ground as the Dark Lord clenched his fists and bit his lip to prevent himself from screaming in rage. Another Horcrux gone! He stood there--breathing deeply and keeping his fists clenched—for fully twenty seconds before he locked eyes with Draco and whispered, "Your report is. . .appreciated for its accuracy if not its tidings. I hope that you never have to lose a cherished pet, as I lost Nagini in this incident." Draco nodded in acknowledgment, and Voldemort added in an apparent change of subject, "Is there any word of an incident at Hogwarts?"

Draco frowned at the seemingly odd question, then replied, "The Daily Prophet mentioned that the scheduled Quidditch match was interrupted by something that caused them to postpone the conclusion of the match—that's almost unheard of. There was a reporter on the scene, but he was rather vague on the details."

Yes—I'm sure he was. McGonagall would have been sure to keep word of the exact circumstances quiet if she could possibly have managed it. . .meaning that the spell failed to breach the shield, and the disaster at the mansion was almost certainly due to backlash. I will have to study the implications of this before trying again. Voldemort blinked, realizing that Draco had been standing quietly while the Dark Lord had been pondering recent events, and he smiled slightly as he decided to put off deep consideration of the failure of his plan until later. He considered the young wizard waiting for his command, and another thought occurred to him. No use wasting time I can't use for anything else. He locked eyes with the young wizard and ordered softly: "Draco, summon that chair over there and sit down." Draco blinked in surprise, but hastened to follow the instructions. When he was sitting in silence and looking at Voldemort with confusion visible on his face, Voldemort continued, "Draco, you were a capable student at Hogwarts—your inability to out-perform the irritating Miss Granger aside." Draco looked ashamed, and Voldemort dismissed the reaction with the wave of a hand: "Never mind that now—what is your personal theory about what happened at the mansion?"

Draco stared at the Dark Lord and replied immediately, "It seems very unlikely that it was an intentional attack by the Ministry or the Order of the Phoenix, my Lord. If our enemies had the ability to locate the stronghold in spite of the Fidelius Charm, they would have stationed Aurors in the general area of the mansion, so as to spot any known Death Eaters near the scene and apprehend them with overwhelming numbers. Potions Master Snape and Aunt Bellatrix would have been captured, and you would have been found unconscious in the ruins along with the bodies."

"That would have been. . .inconvenient." Voldemort commented dryly, as he realized that would have been his fate in any event had Snape and Bellatrix Lestrange been inside the mansion. Fortune favors the bold—even when the bold overreach now and again. He nodded at Draco and added, "If it was not an attack, what could have caused such a destructive effect?"

Draco frowned—his consideration of the puzzle outweighing his terror for the moment—and it was fully twenty seconds before he replied, "The power of the effect—blasting through some of the most powerful wards in existence without pause and pulverizing a reinforced mansion—could only be the result of a ritual spell conducted by a large number of wizards. . .or one wizard of inconceivable power. Professor Dumbledore probably could have done it, if he still lived—but he would have had to know where the stronghold was. That leaves--" He blinked again, and stopped in mid-sentence, suddenly too terrified to continue.

"Top marks, Mr. Malfoy." Voldemort smirked, then looked away from Draco as he continued, "I was conducting a ritual of enormous power, with the goal of penetrating the wards of Hogwarts and striking down Harry Potter before a large number of witnesses. For reasons I have not yet determined, it failed, and I believe one of the results of that failure was the destruction of the stronghold." Draco flinched, and Voldemort sensed the reaction and turned on him, whispering, "Are you shocked that I would admit failure, Draco? I spent over a decade as a wraith after failing to kill Harry Potter—he escaped my grasp on two other occasions since my return. And after each failure I have grown more powerful than I have ever been before. Failure is an opportunity to learn, for those who have the wit and patience to understand it—and it makes the inevitable final success all the sweeter." Draco swallowed hard and nodded in understanding, and Voldemort studied the young wizard as he continued, "Draco—I ordered you to kill Dumbledore expecting you to fail: I was displeased with your father, and I was unconvinced of your value to the cause. I expected you would be captured and sentenced to Azkaban—I believed the time you spent there before our inevitable triumph resulted in your release would have toughened you up, as it did your aunt."

Draco remained silent, and Voldemort nodded once before continuing, "And yet, you succeeded in the only part of the task that truly mattered—leaving Dumbledore helpless before his enemies. While Severus disregarded my direct instructions to you in finishing the old fool off, he furthered my interests and exploited your unexpected success. While your inability to deliver the killing spell yourself reflects a weakness in you, your ingenuity in bringing about Dumbledore's vulnerability makes it clear you have a future here, Draco. I have a mission for you."

Draco stared at Voldemort, and managed to stammer, "I—I--am at your disposal, as always, my Lord."

Voldemort grunted in approval and elaborated, "I believe that the destruction of the mansion was not the only manifestation of the failed ritual—I want you to use our contacts in the Wizarding media to examine the news of the past two days. Look for any incident—no matter how minor—that might suggest a destructive release of magical energy. . .and note in particular any individuals harmed by those releases. I have my own theories about what happened, but it is crucial that you investigate without any specific suggestions from me other than what I have told you up to now: the effects could be subtle and I need you to look for them with an unprejudiced approach. Do you understand me?"

Draco stood, then knelt in front of Voldemort as he replied, "Yes, my Lord."

Voldemort nodded. "Good lad. Now bring me a vial of essence of newt from your godfather's potions supplies, then get to work."

Draco darted away, and returned moments later with the vial and placed it on the nightstand by the bed. He hesitated, and Voldemort inclined his head at the door. Draco left quickly, trying not to look as if he was fleeing as he closed the door behind him.

Voldemort picked up the vial and downed its contents, grimacing slightly at the taste. The shock of the magical blast and the shrapnel from the explosion had damaged his regenerative abilities—the essence of newt combined with a few days rest would have him on the mend. His magic would take far longer to recover fully. Time to worry about that problem later—and young Draco will serve me well during my recovery. He settled back down into his bed, and closed his eyes. One last thought crossed his mind before he drifted back into sleep:

You're up to something, Potter—and when I figure out what I'll use this setback to beat you once and for all.

. .to be continued

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.