Chapter 18

Ron gripped the letter from Percy tightly in his fist, wrinkling the parchment. There were marks on the parchment where it had been repaired – he'd torn it up in a fit of anger once he had read it, but after everyone had gone to bed he'd gone back down to the common room and cast a quick Reparo charm on it. Not so that he could keep it, no, but so that he had some documented proof to show Buffy when he went down to see her.

He stood in front of Buffy's office, debating whether or not to knock. He'd never really thought about seeing Buffy outside of classes before – he'd always had Hermione or Harry to talk to. And Ginny. And sometimes Dawn, but if he were honest with himself, the tall American girl kind of frightened him a little bit, with her talk of hellmouths and demons and having a vampire for a babysitter.

Sighing to himself, he tapped on Buffy's door. He didn't have to worry about missing classes – his last lesson had ended and there was time before dinner. He just hoped Buffy was there; he didn't want to do this again.

Buffy knew that there was someone out in the hallway, probably debating whether or not to knock. She'd had a couple of people like that; she supposed that many of the students weren't used to the idea of having someone to talk to who wasn't their head of house, their parents or their friends. They almost always knocked, though, and Buffy always let them in.

She was surprised, this time, to see Ron Weasley standing on the other side of her door. He looked uncomfortable, shifting his weight from foot to foot.

"Are you going to come in, or do you want to stand there and wait a little while longer?" Buffy asked. Ron looked down the hallway a couple of times before he entered the office. She gestured to the seats in front of the fire. "Go on, take a seat and we can start whenever you're ready."

"O-okay," Ron said, still clutching the lengthy letter. He sat down in a cushy armchair, leaving Buffy to curl up in the love seat. They sat there in silence for a few moments, Ron staring at the crumpled up letter in his hand and Buffy looking at Ron.

"How are you doing?" Buffy asked, breaking the ice.

"Okay," Ron replied with a shrug, looking up. "I've been better."

"Well, how about you tell me what's wrong?" Buffy suggested. That was all that Ron needed to get going.

"It's about Percy. He sent me a letter," Ron replied, before launching into everything. How he looked up to all of his brothers, even Percy. Especially Percy, sometimes. How it hurt that Fred and George made fun of Percy, and how powerless Ron felt, because he knew that if he stood up for Percy, Fred and George would round on him. "It really stung when he left, you know? And now this."

He brandished the letter in his hand, uncrumpling it so that he could wave it around. Buffy wanted to read it now, but knew that letting Ron tell her what was in it was the best course of action.

"What did he say?" Buffy asked.

"That Harry's crazy and violent, always looking for attention, and that I should drop him and Dumbledore and start sucking up to Umbridge and be loyal to the Ministry," Ron spat. He sighed, deflated. "Why does this have to be so complicated?"

"War is always complicated," Buffy replied.

"Is that was this is, war?" Ron asked.

"Cusp of it," Buffy replied. "It's not clear cut and pretty like you read in the history books. It's messy and it's bloody. There are lies and deception, and it's a lot more complicated than one side winning and one side losing. It tears families apart and sometimes it's difficult to bring them back together."

"Why do I get the feeling you're speaking from experience?" Ron asked.

"Because I am," Buffy replied. "But this isn't about me, it's about you. What do you want to do?"

"Harry's been my best mate since we were eleven – he was the first to see me as Ron, not "Arthur's son" or "Charlie's little brother" or anything like that," Ron replied. "There's so many of us Weasleys that some people don't even bother keeping track anymore. My own relatives get me confused with my brothers. Mind you, most of them are ancient, so it's understandable."

"My grandmother used to get me mixed up with my mom sometimes," Buffy said with a bit of a laugh. Ron cracked a small smile and Buffy was satisfied – her attempt at humour had worked. "But here's the million dollar question – do you think Percy is right?"

"No," Ron replied immediately. "Well, not really. I mean, Harry's angry because no one was telling him anything. I could understand that. But he's been going off on us a fair bit. Every little thing we say or do, even if it has nothing to do with him, has him snapping at us. Even Dawn isn't safe now, and she gives as good as she gets. I reckon there'll be a screaming match in the common room soon, worse than anything me and Hermione could ever come up with. Things will be thrown and no one is going to be safe. The twins are already collecting bets. Then again, Percy's a pompous windbag. I love him because he's my brother, but sometimes I really don't like him."

As much as Buffy wanted to ask about Harry and Dawn, she knew she had to keep the discussion on Ron and Ron's issues with Percy. She would have to find out the information some other way.

"Is there anything else bothering you?" Buffy asked.

"The usual. Schoolwork, living in your best friends' shadows, Quidditch," Ron replied with a shrug. "Nervous about exams, but that's understandable."

"I remember my OWLs," Buffy replied. "I did pretty well, all things considered. I'm sure you'll be fine – you've had almost five years to practice everything."

"How can you remember that far back?" Ron asked. "Wasn't that nearly a hundred years ago?"

"I'm going ignore the fact that you just basically called me old. And FYI, it wasn't a hundred. Closer to sixty," Buffy retorted. Ron's ears were beginning to turn pink. "As for remembering, it's only been a few years for me. A lot of stuff has happened between then and now, but hardly enough for me to forget learning magic in a thousand year old castle."

"Did you really know... him?" Ron asked, his voice a little timid.

"Him? Him who?" Buffy asked. She was sure she knew who Ron was talking about, but she really hoped he wasn't. She really couldn't talk about him right now, even if Ron didn't know all of the details.

"He... You Know Who," Ron said, his voice a whisper. Buffy sighed, knowing that she was going to have to answer this question eventually. She had just hoped that she would have to tell everyone at once so that she wouldn't have to keep repeating herself.

"Yes, I knew him," Buffy replied. "We were in the same year. When I arrived, he was one of the first students I met – Professor Dippet had him show me around until Dumbledore asked Minerva to do it. Thank goodness he did – even though Tom was charming, there was something about him that was... off. I thought that would have been the end of it, but then Professor Slughorn asked him to be my Potions tutor. Tom was the best student in the class and I really needed the help."

"Didn't Slughorn know he was evil?" Ron asked. "Didn't you? Aren't you supposed to, y'know, sense that kind of stuff?"

"He wasn't evil, not at that time," Buffy replied.

"But he's V-Voldemort," Ron replied, stuttering a little. "He must have been born evil."

"Good and evil isn't as clear cut as you might think," Buffy said with a sigh, sometimes wishing that she wasn't so entrenched in the grey areas. "But we weren't talking about me and what happened when I was in school. We're talking about you, your brother and your problems."

"I think I've got a pretty good handle on this now," Ron said, folding up the letter and shoving it into his pocket. "Thanks for everything, Miss Summers."

"But I didn't do anything," Buffy said after Ron had left and closed the door behind himself.

XOXOXO

The next morning Buffy was seated at the Head Table, sipping her coffee when Mercury swooped in, a letter tied to his leg. Buffy took it from him and was about to open it when she caught sight of Minerva's copy of the Daily Prophet, which had arrived moments before.

"High Inquisitor?" Buffy asked, leaning over so that she could get a better look. Minerva tilted the paper slightly so that Buffy could get a better look, and they both scanned the article.

"So, that's Ron's brother," Buffy said, reading over the passage where Percy had been interviewed. "Sounds like a pompous ass, if you ask me."

"He was very bright," Minerva said with a sigh. "Very book smart. It's a wonder he didn't end up in Ravenclaw. But, I guess being a bookworm when your younger brothers are Fred and George Weasley is a fairly brave undertaking in and of itself."

"I suppose so," Buffy replied, remembering the brief conversation she had had with Ron the previous evening. She looked back at the paper. "She's going to be evaluating us? How in the world is she going to do that?"

"Well, I doubt she's going to be evaluating you," Minerva said. "You're not exactly designated as a teacher here – she wouldn't have anything to evaluate."

"There's the counselling thing," Buffy replied. "I'd love to see her try and get around the student/counsellor confidentiality thing."

"Don't let her hear you say that. She might actually give it a try," Minerva whispered, glancing around. Umbridge was at the other end of the table, handing out pink envelopes to all of the teachers.

"I hope to see you both at the staff meeting this afternoon," Umbridge said when she reached them, handing them both a pink, embossed envelope sealed with sparkly purple wax. Buffy waited until Umbridge was gone before she broke the seal on the envelope and took the folded up parchment (also pink) out.

"Is this woman for real?" Buffy asked, scanning the note. Flowy, loopy, girly handwriting was scrawled on the paper in purple ink, like a party invitation.

YOU'RE INVITED

What: Staff Meeting

When: 4:30 p.m.

Where: Staff Lounge

Topics to be discussed: My new position and what it means for you.

Please arrive promptly at 4:30 p.m. I do not appreciate tardiness!

The signature was just as loopy and girly as the rest of the invitation. If she hadn't been in the middle of the Great Hall, she might have started laughing. As it was, Minerva was trying very hard to keep her giggles in.

"Can she do this? Call a staff meeting, that is? I thought Dumbledore was the only person who could do that," Buffy said as she folded up the parchment and slipped it into her pocket.

"I suspect she can do whatever she damn well pleases, now that the Ministry has given her full run of the place," Minerva replied with a sniff, taking out her wand and Vanishing the invitation. "I need to prepare for my classes. I'll see you at lunch."

Minerva got up and left, leaving Buffy to finish off her breakfast alone. She scanned the Head Table to see how everyone else was reacting to their invitations – everyone seemed to have mostly incredulous reactions to it. Snape sneered at his before he set it on fire. Buffy giggled until he glared at her, causing her to cover her giggles with a cough.

Breakfast was passed with no more fanfare, and Buffy was soon back in her office, keeping busy with scheduling follow-up appointments and keeping up with her reading. She had finished all of the books she could find on Voldemort and Tom Riddle – she was planning on asking Dumbledore if he had anything else on him – and had started going through psychology and parenting books. It was nearly lunch time when she remembered the letter from Giles she had tucked into her pocket. Taking it out, she smoothed the slightly rumpled piece of paper over the surface of her desk and began to read, Giles' precise script filling the page.

Dear Buffy,

I must admit I was a little shocked to see a barn owl tapping on my window while I enjoyed my morning tea. It took me a moment to remember that your other world communicates via owl post.

I'm glad to hear you and Dawn are settling in nicely – after Sunnydale, the both of you need some kind of settling. We all do. I'm glad that you seem to have found your niche.

It's certainly perplexing to hear that others knew about Willow's episode. I am curious if the Council also knew of the wizarding world. I'll have a look in the archives – what's left of them, anyway – and ask some of the retired Watchers who were nowhere near the blast when it happened. Obviously, I don't recall any knowledge of the wizarding world from my studies.

Willow and Xander are both doing well, checking in regularly. Both have been asking after you, but I have not revealed to them where you are. I thought it best that the news came from you, when you were ready to tell them. I would do it soon, though – they seem anxious to know your whereabouts. I wouldn't put it past Willow to perform a locating spell soon, if she hasn't already.

I'm glad to hear that the books will be helpful. If you ever need anything more, please let me know. I'll be happy to help. Possibly as a guest speaker, if you would be amenable to it and if you can get me in to Hogwarts.

It may be a good idea to see if I could be connected to this Floo Network. Hopefully Professor Dumbledore will be able to put this in motion.

I have included both Willow's address and the camp where Xander is based out of so that you can contact them when you are ready. I would suggest soon – they are getting anxious. Perhaps you could buy yourself more time by agreeing to see everyone at Christmas and telling them about where you've been at that time.

Send Dawn my love. If you need anything, don't ever hesitate to ask.

Yours,

Giles

Buffy had suspected that Willow and Xander would find out that she wasn't with Giles, but she thought that she would have more time without having to tell them about the wizarding world. Wit having this as just her secret. She knew both Willow and Xander would feel betrayed because she had kept this secret for so long. Especially Willow because of the magic thing. It wouldn't matter that Buffy's magic and Willow's magic were two completely separate entities. Buffy was sure that Willow would only see that Buffy practised magic and had kept it a secret for years. She wasn't sure what she should do, but she knew that she would have to make a decision fairly soon.

However, it could wait. Right now, she had to concentrate on Umbridge's meeting and getting through it without smacking that smug, toad-like smirk from her face.

XOXOXO

Buffy was walking briskly down the hallway. Not running, never running – running down the corridors was undignified for a member of the staff, even if said member of the staff wasn't much older than the seventh years.

She was running late to Umbridge's meeting. It wasn't entirely her fault – a little Hufflepuff second year had come to her office right before she was going to leave, in tears, because some Slytherins in her year had been making fun of her. Buffy couldn't just turn the little girl away, so she sat and listened attentively as the girl cried about how mean the boys had been. By the time the girl was calm enough to head back to her common room with one of the cookies Minerva had told her would be a good idea to keep in her office, she was fifteen minutes late to Umbridge's meeting and was sorely tempted to just blow it off entirely. However, she also knew that there would be hell to pay later if she gave in to her urge now that she decided being late would be better than not showing up at all.

"So nice of you to join us," Umbridge said, her voice cool as Buffy burst into the office. "Although I was under the impression that when I said the meeting started at four-thirty, it would start promptly at four-thirty and not whenever you decided to show up."

"I'm sorry, but when a twelve-year-old girl comes to my office in tears and considering leaving Hogwarts because she's being bullied so badly by the Slytherins in her year, I can't really tell her that I can't see her because I had a meeting to go to," Buffy shot back.

"Well, if someone is being continuously told that they do not belong here, maybe we should examine precisely why that is," Umbridge replied sweetly. Buffy was about to claw the smirk off of the woman's face when Minerva placed a calming hand on her arm. A quick shake of the older woman's head had Buffy standing down, but just barely.

"Buffy is here now," Minerva said pointedly. "Why don't we start over? The sooner we finish this, the sooner we can leave."

"Of course," Umbridge replied. She shot a look at Buffy, a smirk that Buffy really didn't like, before she launched into her speech.

It wasn't difficult to decipher the gist from the waffle – Umbridge really liked to hear herself talk for some reason. What could have been summed up in a few painless minutes – even written in a quick note – apparently needed over half an hour of explanation. Buffy, and she was sure everyone else in the room, didn't really need to know how proud Umbridge was to have this position and that she would do everything in her power to make sure Hogwarts became a better, safer place.

The sugary sweet way she said it was enough to make Buffy vomit.

They were let out just before five-thirty, and by that time Buffy didn't want to head down to dinner if it meant spending any more time with Umbridge. Minerva seemed to feel the same way.

"Why don't we go back to the office, have a spot of tea?" she suggested, leading Buffy away from the staff room. Buffy thought that sounded wonderful, especially the addition after they were out of earshot. "Perhaps something a little stronger."

"That sounds like an excellent idea," Buffy said. "Well, the tea. Not really the something stronger. Buffy and alcohol are usually non-mixy things. That, and I still have to teach tonight."

"Why do I sense there's a story behind that?" Minerva asked with a smirk as they headed up to Minerva's office.

"Because with me, there usually is?" Buffy suggested. She caught the expression on Minerva's face. "I don't like that look on your face. Why don't I like that look on your face?"

"Oh, probably because you know I'm going to get you to reveal every deep, dark secret you have," Minerva replied. "Eventually."

"Do your students think you're evil too, or is that experience just unique to me?" Buffy asked.

"They do after fifth year," Minerva replied. "All of the exam preparation I give them."

"Yes, I remember Dumbledore doing that," Buffy said as Minerva opened her office door and waved her in before following, closing the door behind them. As they settled in for a cup of tea, there was a knock on the door.

"Who could that be?" Minerva asked as she got up. She opened the door only to find Dawn standing there.

"Um, hi Professor," she greeted. "Is my sister here?"

"She is, Miss Summers," Minerva replied, stepping out of the way so that the younger Summers girl could see her older sister.

"Hey, Buffy," Dawn greeted. "Can I talk to you?" She looked at Minerva, warily. "No offence Professor, but alone?"

"Sure," Buffy replied with a shrug. She turned to Minerva. "Raincheck?"

"I'll be here for when you want to redeem it," Minerva replied. "Have a good evening, Buffy, Dawn."

"Thanks," Buffy said with a grateful smile before she was bodily dragged from Minerva's office, not stopping until they were in front of Buffy's office. Buffy unlocked the door and waved Dawn in before closing the door. She turned her attention to her younger sister, who was settling herself in the squishy chair by the fire. "So, what's the what, Dawn?"

"I can't just come and see my sister?" Dawn asked.

"If you only wanted to see me, you wouldn't have hunted me down," Buffy replied. "Something's wrong. If you tell me what it is, I'll give you a cookie."

"Bribing me with sugar?" Dawn asked. "You know me so well."

"I know," Buffy replied. "So, problems that need sisterly advice. Spillage would be of the good right about now."

"I just wanted to talk," Dawn said. "About anything. Nothing. I don't know." She sighed, looking at the rug covering the stone floor, her voice lowered when she spoke again. "This is harder than I thought."

"Dawn, can I ask you a question?" Buffy asked.

"Sure," Dawn replied, looking up. "What is it?"

"Is Harry hurting you at all?" Buffy asked. "Physically, I mean."

"Harry?" Dawn asked. "No, of course not! What the hell gave you that idea?"

"Ron came to talk to me last night and the screaming matches you and Harry get into slipped out," Buffy asked. "I didn't ask any further than that because he was there to talk about him, not about you guys, but it had me concerned. So, he's not hurting you?"

"No," Dawn said, shaking her head. "I don't think he's used to his friends telling him off when he's being an unreasonable asshat. I think up until now everyone just went along with what he was doing and just rolled with it. It's getting worse and I don't know how much longer I can take him snapping at me every ten minutes. It's exhausting, fighting all the time. We fight more than Ron and Hermione, and those two argue a lot."

"Don't remind me," Buffy said, wrinkling her nose, remembering Spike. "Maybe you two are better off as friends."

"Maybe," Dawn said. She sighed, before she got up. "I'm not really looking for advice. I just wanted someone to talk to about it who wasn't Ron or Hermione. I think Ron's scared of me and I'm kind of scared of Hermione. She's like a cross between Willow and a drill sergeant when it comes to schoolwork."

"Well, I'm glad I could help," Buffy said. She gestured to Dawn's hand. "How's your hand?"

"All healed up," Dawn replied, holding it up. There was no sign of any words on her hand, and the faintly pink skin there would disappear in no time. "There's this stuff, called Murtlap essence, that keeps you from scarring. I could have used that a while ago." She gestured to her sides, and Buffy grimaced.

"I remember that stuff," Buffy replied. She'd gone on patrol once when she was at Hogwarts and had come back with some bruises and scratches. Professor Giles had patched her up with some Murtlap because there was no way in hell Buffy was going to go to the hospital wing if she didn't have to.

"Are you coming to dinner?" Dawn asked. "I think there's roast beef on the menu tonight."

"The roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is almost worth putting up with Umbridge," Buffy said. She remembered that dinner, so long ago, when Quentin had filled her plate and drenched everything in gravy.

"You don't like her either, huh?" Dawn asked.

"No. No, I don't," Buffy replied, shaking her head. "I think I'll get the house elves to send some dinner up. I need to go through my lesson plan for tonight. Make sure I'm not doing anything too advanced for the kiddies."

"All right, have fun with that," Dawn said, getting up. "Wish me luck. Dealing with Harry the Hormone Bomb tonight."

"Good luck," Buffy replied. Dawn waved before turning and leaving while Buffy grabbed her lesson notes, going over the topics and skills she was planning on covering that evening.

XOXOXO

I know it's going slow, but it should be picking up soon. As I'm sure you all know, Order of the Phoenix moved slow as molasses on a cold day. I'm trying to pick up the pace. As always, reviews are appreciated.

I should also mention, because it's come up more than once. I am not being paid to do this. This is a hobby. The only deadlines I work towards are my own. Polite requests for me to update are fine, as they do encourage me. However I don't appreciate demands and orders to update. I have a job, other hobbies, other projects and a life outside of fanfiction. I think I'm updating pretty regularly, all things considered.