A Different Type of School Inspection
"Feels weird, huh?"
The soft voice broke Buffy out of her staring match with the fire, and she waved a hand to invite the speaker to join her. Remus settled into the armchair opposite her, taking in the worn sweat pants and hoody, and the very curled up position of his old friend.
"More than weird, Ree. It feels wrong – us three here, without them. Even without Peter," Buffy answered, one hand playing with her ponytail.
Remus sighed, scratching the back of his head. "It does. It still seems insane – how could we not have seen it? How did we not notice one of our best friends switching sides?"
"We were all too wrapped up in ourselves, I guess. Lily and James were in their own little bubble with Harry, I was always thinking about the next fight and tracking some new demon that might join Voldemort, you were busy with your father's bookstore, and looking after Dawnie – God, you probably spent more time with her that year than James or I, what with his job and his 'little Pronglet', and me and the Slaying. And Sirius had the Auror department, and playing with the kids. We just never noticed that all our lives had moved on, and Peter hadn't," Buffy finished, eyes faraway.
"We should have, though," Remus argued quietly, sadly. "He was our friend. Did we drive him to it, do you think? We all moved on without him, and he lost it? We stopped protecting him from the bullies, and he found a new protector, whatever the cost?"
The Slayer was silent for a moment, before looking over at Remus, saying, "You've been sitting on this for a while, haven't you?"
"Who was there to talk to?" the werewolf countered, somewhat bitterly, "James and Lily were gone, Sirius was in Azkaban, supposedly the traitor, and Peter was supposedly dead at his hand. You and Dawn had disappeared, and Harry was just a baby, and no matter what the Ministry weren't going to let a werewolf look after the Boy-Who-Lived, even just occasionally. I asked all these questions when I thought it had been Sirius, and since knowing it was Peter, I've asked myself them all over again."
"You couldn't have known, Moony," Sirius broke in from the doorway, and both heads swiveled to look at him. The canine Animagus stretched out on a sofa, and continued, "He played us all for fools."
"Dawnie never liked him. Cried every time he picked her up, or even went too near to her," Remus contradicted.
"And how were we to know that she was going to be the world's best character judge?" Sirius argued. "We just thought he was bad with kids!"
"We couldn't have known, Ree," Buffy soothed, adding self-depreciatingly, "I'm supposed to have evil radar, remember? I didn't sense a thing from him. Or maybe I did, and I overlooked it. Either way, if anyone should have realised, it was me."
"I was the one who told Prongs to switch Secret Keeper," Sirius muttered, sounding thoroughly guilty.
"And you've paid for that. Twelve years in Azkaban sounds worse than any of the hell dimensions I've heard of, or visited," Buffy countered, "We can't change the past, guys. I wish we could but, if the last few years have taught me anything, it's that you shouldn't mess with love spells, resurrection spells, and time. All we can do is deal with the hand we're dealt."
"You're right," Remus sighed, visibly wilting. "We can only do the best we can for Harry, and for Dawn. It's what they would have wanted. Which means no crazy missions to hunt down Peter, Sirius. Harry needs you here."
"Alright," the Animagus muttered, obviously having been planning to do exactly that.
"Anyway, I have the latest from our insiders," Buffy changed the subject, steering them away from the murky waters of the past and towards the here and now. "Apparently, Umbridge is snooping around for information as to people heralding Voldemort's return, and trying to weasel details on the Council and their backgrounds out of anyone who may have a clue."
"Do we know if she's found anything interesting?" Sirius asked, a dark look crossing his face.
"Well, she doesn't seem to be putting much stock in the Prophet article, which can only be a good thing," Buffy commented idly, adding, "which means anything that relates to the truth printed will be passed over as rumour."
"And the Council?"
"The Watcher's Council has survived for centuries as a shadowy organization with little known of our doings. One nosy Ministry worker turned teacher is not about to change that."
"Which means what, precisely?" Remus questioned, raising an amused eyebrow.
"Misdirection. Conflicting rumours. Glossing over the truth. The usual. Besides, it's not as if the Council is famed for honesty, and everyone we deal with knows it. We could announce our plans to Fudge himself, and he'd probably treat it as a pile of lies," Buffy snorted, rolling her eyes.
"Well, let's not test that theory if we can help it," Remus replied, leaning back in his chair.
"You ruin all my fun," Sirius mumbled, scowling. The three old friends descended into laughter, feeling just for a moment, as if it really could be just like old times.
Hogwarts Castle, Staff Room, Same Time.
"Welcome, dear friends, to our first meeting of the year," Dumbledore announced, settling himself in his usual overstuffed armchair. He smiled benevolently round at his staff. He ignored the scowl that passed over the face of his Potions Master, and the look of bemusement that coloured the rather unwelcome face of Delores Umbridge. He didn't even noticed the exasperated eye roll from his Deputy Headmistress, or the complete absence of the Divination teacher. After all, new staff were always faintly bemused by his staff meetings, and the rest were simply par for the course, and happened every year without fail. It was one of the reasons Dumbledore hadn't changed his method of conducting a meeting in all his years as Headmaster.
"Now, the first years. How are they settling in? Minerva?"
"Admirably, Albus. The usual testing of boundaries won't start for another week or so, and the older students seem to be looking after them a little more than usual."
"The new Ravenclaws are much the same," Filius Flitwick added, from his cushion-stacked chair, "adhering well to the House schedule, and listening to the prefects as always."
"My Hufflepuffs are settling well," Professor Sprout put in, nodding happily, "Not that we ever have any problems."
"I delivered the normal speech, and my prefects did as well. They are cowed, but will doubtlessly push the limits sooner or later," Snape finished, rounding up the Heads of Houses' reports.
"Good, good," Dumbledore replied, before looking over his half-moon glasses and asking, "And the older students? Any disruptions there?"
"Nothing unmanageable, Headmaster," Umbridge simpered, forcing herself to hold her sickly smile in place. After all, if she glossed over her troubles with the Potter boy – and she had dealt with the brat, make no mistake – then Minerva wouldn't bring it up. She needed to seem entirely proficient as a teacher and disciplinarian, if the Minister's plans were to come to frutition.
"Excellent, excellent," Dumbledore nodded, almost seeming not to pay any attention what-so-ever. In fact, he was already considering exactly how to introduce the next topic, without inciting a mutiny from his staff. It really was a shame he had to tell them, the aged headmaster mused, but with the new level of ministry scrutiny in the school, he couldn't just authorize students to sneak out in the middle of the night to protect the school and its occupants without telling anyone else. Never mind that Severus and Delores would both be searching for any reason to catch a Potter breaking the rules.
"Now, the new seventh years – " he started, eyes twinkling at full force.
"Albus, you cannot be serious," Minerva interrupted, looking at him in disbelief.
"It was part of the agreement that meant they would attend," he countered softly, turning to focus on her.
"They are barely more than children!" the Deputy Headmistress argued.
"I do not believe they have been children for a very long time, Minerva," Dumbledore answered, and the sadness in his eyes made her lose the protest that had worked its way to her lips. He turned to face the staff as a whole, and began again, "As you may or may not be aware, all three new seventh years are also employees, and in Miss Potter's case a member, of the Watchers' Council. In the course of their year here, they are also under orders to protect the school and its occupants from any of the threats they are trained to deal with. While the threat to the school is small, it is seen as good practice for them to balance a normal life against their own duties. Therefore, we are not to cut them any slack in terms of attendance or work, except in cases of extended stays in the hospital wing, or a serious crisis, which I will notify you of. They are however, exempt from curfews and boundaries, as is necessary for them to go about their business."
"Mere students, protecting the school?" Snape sneered.
"They are well-trained, Severus," Dumbledore reminded.
"So we are to allow the endangerment of children?" Umbridge asked, with a look of entirely fake concern. McGonagall rolled her eyes covertly, while the rest of the non-Order staff also looked (truthfully) concerned. Even Hagrid, who had full knowledge (or as full as any of the Order did) of the teenagers past, looked uneasy.
"We have little choice, my dear," Dumbledore sighed. "The Council edict overrules any and all other rules and laws we could try to counter with. All three are legal adults, and as such took up their places with the Council willingly and I do not believe they would ignore their duty for any reason. We have, however, been invited to shadow them tonight, - under Disillusionment charms, of course – and I expect there will be time to question them ourselves as to the wisdom of their endeavour."
Same time, The Room of Requirement, Training Room form.
"This is pointless."
"It's politics, man. Always ridiculous, always annoying – but always necessary," Nix replied lazily to Connor's statement, leaning back in this chair. The two boys were sat in the newly appeared lounge area of their Room of Requirement training session.
"The Council already has jurisdiction. We know it, they know it. Why do we need it all nice and above board?" Connor half-growled, scowling up at the ceiling.
"I get that you don't like too many people in the know – "
"The entire Order of the Pheonix was too many. The school staff, too? It's just excessive. Knowing too much could get them killed."
"They'd find out the second anyone tried testing us with any kind of force, skill or plan. We're good, but I'm not sure we can defend a castle without anyone in it noticing the fight. Us being here is going to attract attention, Connor. Better they know to shut the hell up and listen when the time comes," Nix argued, running a hand through his already messy hair and glancing towards the door that joined their sanctuary to the school.
"So we risk them getting hurt on patrol, just so we don't have to argue with them later?" Connor sighed, appearing resigned.
"Yes. They're all fully trained, experienced wand users. They know that at least some of the things that go bump in the night aren't just fairytales to scare the kiddies with. If they're dumb enough to get in the way, we try and save them, but not at the expense of someone else, or the failure of the mission. Chances are they can take a little roughing up, anyway. Magical medicine and all that," Nix answered calmly. The two boys lapsed into silence, letting each other adjust to the concept of taking their teachers on patrol.
"Approach by group! Arrival in T minus one minute!" the magical radar over the door announced after a few minutes, and the two boys straightened, both casting critical eyes over the training room, though for different reasons. Nix was seeing if they looked professional and trustworthy, without weapons strewn about carelessly or anything bloodstained in sight, Connor was looking to make sure the best of their arsenal was locked away in the weapons chest and not on display. Not point giving away just how much of an armoury they had tucked away in Hogwarts.
"T minus 30 seconds! T minus 20 seconds! T minus 10 seconds!"
The door opened, and the staff entered, greeting the boys with varying amounts of warmth (Dumbledore, primarily) and civility (or lack of). The Room provided refreshments, and just as Nix was trying to decide how to start, a side door swung open, and Dawn stepped out, in full patrol gear, hair still slightly damp.
"Sorry about that," she said easily, dropping with innate grace onto the last free armchair. "I take rather longer than the boys after training, and I wanted to be nice and presentable. Now, to business?"
A few of the teachers looked rather taken aback by the casual approach, a fact Connor noted with satisfaction. The sooner the staff realised where the power lay, the better. At a nod from Professor Dumbledore, Dawn continued.
"The three of us are active agents of the Watchers Council. That means that alongside our school work, we will be required to keep up with our paid positions, namely with patrolling, training, research, and possible missions outside of the school in certain situations. Of course, some of these obligations cannot be carried out during the day – there is a reason people say the 'things that go bump in the night'. Patrolling, for instance, can only be done after sunset, and depending on activity, could take literally all night – "
"Leaving you unable to stay awake next morning. Headmaster, there is no way we can educate people who stay out all night, they will be entirely unable to concentrate. I refuse to do it," Snape interrupted, sneering.
"On the contrary, Professor, we were patrolling until three this morning, and roughly that for the past week. Have we seemed asleep to you? Judging by our progress in classes, I can't imagine we slept through them," Connor responded softly.
"We do, of course, have means to rectify tiredness, Professor. The absolute last thing we would desired would be to endanger students or staff as a result of giving them our protection," Nix added, carefully skirting round the 'superhuman' issue – given Umbridge's previous actions in government, they did not want her trying to class them a sub-human.
"We are also well used to coping with school life alongside our other duties. And with three of us on campus – sorry, on site, too used to the American vernacular – we will be able to give anyone suffering a break. Pick up the slack, you know?" Dawn finished smoothly.
"And you say you are skilled? What situation gives rise to teenagers being ready to fight against demons?" Madam Umbridge asked, drawing herself up to her full, entirely insignificant, height.
"Hell goddess after you."
"Selva, that's pathetic. Come up with something more specific than living on a Hellmouth! There's three we know of, all under towns or cities!" Connor mock-complained.
"Technically two active and one blocked, after Sunnydale went kablooey," Dawn put in, grinning. The older members of staff, and Snape, looked momentarily terrified – the mischeivious grin and casual talk of things exploding had been far too reminiscent of a Potter who'd terrorized Hogwarts roughly twenty years ago.
"Classified information, I'm afraid," Dawn answered wryly.
"Luckily for you, I doubt they'd let you in knowing the family history with schools," Connor muttered, grinning.
"Only new Sunnydale High got destroyed when I was enrolled! I had absolutely no direct connection with old Sunnydale or Hemery!" Dawn hissed defensively.
"Except for your sister being behind both unscheduled demolitions…" Nix murmured. Luckily, the jibes had been below the level of hearing for normal humans, so no explanation or official defense was necessary.
"Anyway, we'd better grab our gear, boys!" Dawn exclaimed, somewhat hurriedly. "After all, sunset was half an hour ago, more than enough time for the monsters to have come out to play!"
Both boys rolled their eyes, and began moving to different wardrobe-like cupboards, opening them and considering the weaponry. Dawn kicked open a chest, and secured holster belt around her slim hips. She dropped a gun into one side, and stowed her wand in the much thinner pocket on the right. A few knives were slid into the belt hidden below the waistband of her jeans, and a stake tucked into the back. A thin bobble struggled to hold all her curls back in a high pony, and in true Slayer style, she slicked on a top up of her favourite gloss. Another stake and knife found homes inside her boots, and she stood, surveying the group of still seated teachers before crossing the room to the bookshelves, running a finger along the spines until she tapped a nail against a folder that looked rather at odds with the older books around it, and slid it out of the line.
"Nix?" she called, making both boys look up instantly, before Connor went back to securing an axe against his back.
The two raven-haired teens murmured to each other as they pored the lime-green ringbinder, and then looked up in eerie synchronization to the staff.
"This patrol is meant to show you that we are a well trained, almost entirely self-sufficient unit: fighting, training, research, knowledge, field medicine, the works. That means our fighting cannot be altered by the presence of civilian observers. To that end, we'd like to put an S.E.P. field on you all," Nix started, using all his princely training to remain firm, but polite.
"An S.E.P. field works like a much more powerful Notice-Me-Not charm, but with the exception that people needing be aware of you, will be. So, we'll be able to communicate and see you, but none of the nasties will," Dawn finished with a grin.
"S.E.P.?" Flitwick asked, frowning – he had, after all, heard of no modified Notice-Me-nots.
Both teens smirked a little, before Dawn answered:
"Somebody Else's Problem. Willow created it, and when she was telling us about it, Andrew linked it to Hitchhiker's Guide, and the name kind of stuck."
The staff looked more confused, but after a brief explanation of the process and mechanics, agreed. Once the spell was set, the three supernatural teenagers shared a nod, and led the way into the night.