The next day was very unpleasant for so many people, but for Harry and his friends, it could've been a lot worse.
Willow, who Harry had been sure would rat out the little deal that he and Ron had made with Spike, didn't reveal any of the details of their little rendezvous. He'd been sure that one of the Slayers would've been curious as to how they'd gotten Spike to basically trade for their lives, but there had been so much going on that neither seemed to care.
For starters, there had been the encounter with the Watchers, who hadn't been torn to pieces by their foolhardy assault. Both Buffy and Giles had to be held back from doing grievous bodily harm to them for their moronic moves that had nearly given the game away.
But much like the Ministry had in the days when Fudge was in charge, the Council had refused to admit that they were in error. Incredibly, a right prat named Travers, was claiming that if they'd entrusted them with their plans in the first place, they wouldn't have had to intervene.
"If what you did was considered help, I'd hate to see what happens if we were ever enemies," Xander argued. "And you know, I've got a feeling that's going to happen soon."
Travers then did exactly Umbridge had done whenever she had heard something derogatory; ignored it, and continued talking to the people he considered important. In this case, however, he got no help from Giles.
"You've already relieved me of my duties," he told them. "There's no force on this earth that could persuade me to take your side now."
"And in case your boys didn't deliver the message I gave," Faith started, "I think you and your friends have helped us enough. The days that we took orders from you are finished, right B?"
Buffy seemed to need to think this over - for all of five seconds. "I never understood how Giles could have fallen in with such idiots. Now I find out that you've been lying to me since day one. And if you really think the wizarding world is involved in a civil war that'll just blow over, then I don't know how you got your jobs in the first place."
"This is outright insubordination. You have no right-"
Buffy got about as close to Travers as she could without physically hurting him, though Harry actually would have paid to see her do it. "Have you really forgotten what an angry Slayer is capable of?" she said in a voice so low they could barely hear it. "Because I really want to kick someone's ass, and you're as good a candidate as any."
"And they say I'm the one who needs reining in," Faith smiled. "Get out as fast as possible. 'Cause I'm still pissed at being held hostage the first time."
Travers apparently knew when he was beaten. Though the son of a bitch actually had the gall to say that they would be back in Britain, ready to help "when you are more inclined to see reason." Which would be around the time pigs started flying, as far as they were concerned.
Before they could savor the moment, Buffy promptly got into another argument. The difference was this time, she was alone.
"Buffy, I understand your concern for Angel," Giles' tone indicated that despite that, he couldn't personally give a crap what had happened to the vampire. "but the fact is, there are far larger problems at hand."
"Don't you dare pull that 'sacred duty' bullshit," Buffy said hotly. "I quit the Council. You were there."
"That's as maybe, but the Mayor has just begun a plan of some magnitude. We have no idea as to the details of it save that it's fast approaching, and that in order to prepare for it, he became invulnerable," Giles replied. "You can't honestly tell me that isn't a far greater matter."
Buffy looked like she wanted to say the hell with it, but kept her mouth shut.
"Besides, our vacation ends tomorrow," Willow pointed out. "You really don't want to get into any more trouble with your Mom, do you?"
Buffy looked at her friend as if this was the last thing she wanted to be dealing with. "We've got multiple threats on two supernatural fronts, and you want me to be concerned with my grade point average?"
"Actually, it might well behoove you keep that in mind," Giles pointed out. "After two years of saying you wanted a future outside of slaying, I would think you'd like to make sure that you still have one."
Buffy looked towards the Hogwarts trio. "The three of them dropped out of wizarding school to save the world."
"Yes, but after we find the Horcruxes, we're going back," Hermione didn't seem prepared to give Buffy any latitude. "Besides, it's not like we gave up testing in order to come here. The three of us took our NEWTs while the whole world was denying Voldemort was alive."
"Really? And how exactly do you expect to find the three that are left?" Buffy countered. "Not to mention the huge headache you're going to be going through to destroy the one we liberated."
This was in fact a significant problem. Harry had been reluctant to broach it, given how volatile Buffy was at the moment. Nevertheless, he figured he owed Buffy that much.
"It is far more likely that the remaining Horcruxes are back in England-," he began.
"You don't know that. For all you know, Voldemort scattered them all over the world," Buffy pointed out.
"Voldemort took a huge risk leaving one of them outside Britain. Given everything I saw when I was in his head, any place outside of the wizarding world, he's at a huge disadvantage," Harry argued "He wouldn't dare risk that. Besides, he wants to make sure that whatever Horcruxes are left are as close to him as possible."
"You're just guessing,." Buffy now seemed to be grasping at straws.
"He has to know that we've destroyed three of them. He definitely knows that we have the fourth," Ron reminded them. "He'll be sending every Death Eater and their auntie after us now."
"Which is why you need a Slayer's protection."
"And they're going to get one."
Everybody looked up at Faith, who'd been surprisingly quiet until now.
"Wait a minute. It's one thing for the three of them to go. You can't leave too." Buffy demanded.
"There's nothing keeping me here any more," Faith pointed out, "I cut my ties with the Council same as you. Besides," she gave a sad smile that Harry would not really have associated with her, "Sunnydale's always been a one-Slayer town, and you know it."
For the first time when it came to Faith, Buffy and the Scoobies looked a little guilty. Maybe she'd been right about how they'd always treated her like she was a second-class citizen.
Giles, however, took a different approach. "Obviously, I can't order you to stay, and, your complaints to the contrary, you're obviously free to do as you please, but are you sure that this is really in your best interest?"
Faith didn't answer immediately, turning to Harry instead. "Moldyshorts, he looked scared when he was facing off against us?"
"Scared, no," Harry paused. "But you definitely caught him by surprise. That almost never happens."
"They came here saying that they needed a Slayer's help in their fight," Faith reminded them. "And goddamnit, that's what they're going to get. Besides, I need someone to train me in the ways of the Force."
"That's not quite what we came here to do, but right," Ron replied.
A genuine smile crossed Faith's face. "And they desperately need someone to train them in the ways of pop culture. I'm willing to lay any odds that they have no idea what the Scoobies is supposed to refer to."
"He's a cartoon dog. That one that's always depressed?" Ron asked.
The three Hellmouth residents shook their heads almost in unison. "You guys must really stick out when you're in this country," Xander replied sadly. "You do get TV in your part of England, don't you?"
"When the pictures in your photographs move around from place to place, TV seems a little pedestrian," Hermione argued.
Willow spoke up. "Not that I want to make your lives more difficult, but a week ago, you were convinced that I was the key to winning the whole war." It took her a lot of effort to say the next sentence. "Please tell me that you're wrong."
"You survived two separate Death Eaters attacks," Harry reminded her. "And you didn't seem to be even trying when you were using your magic."
"Then why didn't Voldemort take her out then and there?" Xander demanded.
"He might not have known what you were before," Hermione replied. "And he probably doesn't now. But if he finishes consolidating his power, and if the Mayor no longer seems to be a factor-"
"Those are a couple of very big 'ifs', Buffy tried to cheer up her friend.
"He'll want to look to into you. He wants to control anything he can't understand."
This didn't cheer Willow up. "And I'm guessing that going back to Hogwarts to complete my training would be a huge mistake."
"It would be like sticking your head into the lion's mouth." Harry told her. "Willow, I'm not the best one to make judgments, so I'll ask you flat out. You heard what our life was like the last few months. It's probably going to be exactly like that for God knows how much longer. Helping you reach your full potential, I don't think it's something we're equipped for. Knowing that, do you still want to come with us?"
Willow gave the question a great deal of thought. "I don't think that what I want really matters," she said finally. "I am an untapped reservoir of magical energy. Voldemort's going to come after me some time. Maybe you need me."
The sad part was that Willow was probably right, but the reality of the situation was, they couldn't protect Willow. The Golden Trio of Hogwarts could barely protect themselves, even if they were accompanied by a Slayer. And it would be so easy for even a fledgling Death Eater to take her out of the picture.
"You've got a decent set of people who can train you here," Hermione was now trying to soften the blow. "And whatever the hell Mayor Wilkins has planned, Buffy is definitely going to need your help."
"Besides, you're the one who lectured on how she needed to prepare for her future," Buffy tried to argue.
"Yeah, but your mother would miss you. Mine-" Willow shut up, clearly not wanting to finish that particular sentence.
'We would miss you," Xander assured her. This clearly helped.
"Alright, but something has to be done about Angel." Buffy argued. "Everybody from the cops to Spike had a chance to take him out, and nobody did it. You can't expect to believe they took him just to invite him for tea."
"Why do you care so much about him?" Xander finally exploded. "Didn't last year teach you that you and Deadboy have no future together? I realize he matters to you, maybe he even matters to the world somehow, but that doesn't mean everything that happens to him is your responsibility!"
At this point, Faith wisely interceded. "I will find him, B," she swore. "And I'll make sure that he comes back home. But you gotta promise me something."
"Name it," Buffy told them.
"Once he comes back, you have to get out of his life. For good."
Buffy blinked several times. "W- what are you- we're just-"
"Please Buffy," Xander wasn't going to stand for this. "You're willing to throw your entire life away again. Don't lie to us and say you're over him."
An internal war seemed to be going on within Buffy.
"Buffy, at some point, you are going to have to face this." Giles was trying to sound compassionate, which considering that he was Angel's greatest victim, had to be taking a tremendous effort. "I've been trying to be understanding, but realistically you have no future with him. Even if you resigned from being a Slayer, there's no good way your relationship plays out. None."
For a long moment, she seemed to agonize over this before speaking. "I've got too many things to worry about when school starts up again," she told them. "Not to mention wizards possibly coming here. So what I'm going to do is focus on stopping the Mayor, keeping the Hellmouth closed, and getting into college. But until I hear from Angel himself that we have no future, no one- no one- is going to lecture me on my love life."
And with that Buffy walked away.
From the expressions that crossed the remainder of the Scoobies faces, they realized that this was a battle that they weren't going to win.
"We'll keep working on her," Willow replied. "That's more than we usually got from her."
Faith shook her head. "She's got it bad." Then she briefly looked at Harry. "But someone's gotta convince her not to be love's bitch, or it'll kill her faster than her night job."
Giles clearly didn't want to dwell on this. "How are you going to get back to England?"
Hermione perked up a little. "While we were in LA, I got wind of a couple of Portkey centers that are nearby. It's probably our safest bet."
"We'll catch the next bus to LA. After that, we'll try and figure out our next move," Harry replied. "Which starts with figuring out how to schedule a meeting with the Order."
Hermione and Ron looked a little surprised. "Sure you want to do that?" Hermione asked
"The four of us can't kill Voldemort by ourselves," Harry admitted. "If there's one thing our little stay on the Hellmouth has taught me, it's that we're stronger when we're together than apart. We need a plan, and the fact is, three wizards and one Slayer can't defeat Voldemort's army. We need numbers, maybe less than we thought, but we still need them. But first things first."
"Then let's get moving," Faith told them.
"Sure you don't want to pick up anything from your motel?" Harry asked.
Faith shrugged. "I came to town with nothing, I got no problems leaving with that."
There was a moment of awkwardness before Giles filled it. "Harry, Ron, Hermione, it has been a privilege working with the three of you, and I have a feeling that this isn't the last I'll be seeing of any of you."
"I've got the same feeling," Harry replied. "I just hope its under better circumstances."
"So do I, Harry, so do I." Xander and Willow were starting to make their goodbyes when Giles addressed Faith.
"I realize we haven't seen eye to eye on a lot," he told her. "But don't consider yourself second to anybody anywhere."
Faith tried not to show it, but she did manage to glow a little at this.
"Hellmouth won't be the same without you," Willow told her. "I'd hug you, but you never really liked that."
"Thanks for that, Red," Faith looked more grateful.
"Kick Voldy's ass," Xander told her. "Just try not to enjoy it too much."
She actually chuckled at this.
"Faith," Buffy spoke for the first time. "Don't die."
This was the least of the compliments Faith had been paid, but she seemed to take the most pleasure out of it. "Catch you later, B. Kick that smiling suit's ass."
And with that the four of them began to walk.
"Not that I'm not grateful that you're coming," Harry asked Faith as soon as they were out of earshot, "but you're going in almost blind against a big enemy. Doesn't that worry you?"
"A little," Faith admitted, "but let's just say I had a better reason to leave than I did to stay."
Despite himself, Harry couldn't stop a goofy grin from briefly crossing his face. It lasted until he realized that there was a chance- albeit a remote one- that Faith was going to encounter Ginny. Even then, it didn't quite dissipate.
There were still Horcruxes out there, and they had no idea where and what they were, there were armies of Death Eaters roaming the night, and Voldemort knew what they were planning now. Yet for the first time, an emotion Harry hadn't dared feel was rising in his heart.
END OF PART I