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This story is No. 7 in the series "Red Raider". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: What it takes to get to Cleveland (A follow-up to 'Girl in a Bar')

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > Buffy-Centered > Pairing: Ginny Weasley(Moderator)acsFR15414,6470710,1693 Apr 043 Apr 04Yes

Witch Hunt

Disclaimer:This is a derivative work using characters and intellectual property belonging to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox Television, JK Rowling, her publishers and probably others.
When/Spoilers:Post BtVS Season 7/ HP -OotP
Pairings: Buffy/Ginny implied
Rating: Potential Adult situations. Mostly subtext. No violence. No wardrobe malfunctions.
AN[1]: Takes place after Part 7 of Girl in a Bar but before the epilogue. It'll be a little confusing if you don't read that one first.
AN[2]:Wiccan (and Druidic) beliefs as depicted in this series of fics are completely fictional and are not at all intended to resemble any real pagan religions in the real world.
AN[3]: Feedback appreciated as always.

--- --- ---
[Late December]

Hermione struggled into her winter coat as she hurried down the hall, on her way to lunch. It had been a long week for Ginny's office. Pranksters seemed to be out in force this year, doing their best to wreak havoc on the holiday going muggle masses with all sorts of magicked items lying in wait for the unsuspecting. To get away from the madhouse the Ministry became at this time of year Hermione had suggested that they meet at their favorite muggle chip shop where they could vent without offending senior Ministry staff.

As she tried to slip past the Minister's office he called her in. "Hermione ? Could you come here for a minute?" She couldn't really refuse his summons. Even if he did insist that everyone keep a towel in their desk, he was very easy to work for and all of his subordinates made an extra effort to please him when he actually needed something from them. And Ginny would understand.

Walking into his office, Hermione noticed a tall, gangly woman, dressed in muggle clothes that reminded her of pictures her parents had shown her of the late sixties. She gave off an impression of stillness, like the depths of an old forest, while also trembling slightly as if something in her was telling her to get as far away as possible.

"Miss Greenwoode is here from the Wiccan Rede. They've asked for our help with a small problem. Could you assist her please?" he asked. "It sounds like an interesting challenge for our office."

"I was on my way to lunch," Hermione said, pointing out the obvious. "Can we meet this afternoon?"

"Do you mind if I join you?" Miss Greenwoode asked.

"I'm meeting my flatmate for lunch down the street but I'm sure she wouldn't mind. You can explain what you need on our way there."

"Okay."

"I'll leave you to it then," said the Minister. "Let me know if you need me for anything."

Hermione raised an eyebrow at this and led Miss Greenwoode out of the building.

--- --- ---

Miss Greenwoode explained the problem as they walked. "I don't know how much you know about Wiccans...?" she began.

"Not a lot, to be frank. You're the first Wiccan I've met."

"I'm sure you are aware that it is a very different kind of magic than your Ministry normally deals with?" Hermione nodded. "Your magic comes from a different source, and yes, I know about wizarding magic. I had a younger brother who went to Hogwarts a number of years ago. Which is why I'm the person the coven sends to work with the Ministry when it is necessary.

Unlike what you probably refer to as wand magic, which comes from within the magic user, Wiccan magic is external to the practitioner. We get our magic from the world around us. You've probably heard it referred to as elemental or nature magic. In theory, an experienced wiccan could access almost limitless power."

"Why 'in theory' ?" asked a curious Hermione, dodging a signpost.

"There are several things controlling the amount of magic a wiccan can access. Almost anyone can perform small amounts of nature magic which is really just influencing nature more than forcing things to happen. However, the ability to perform real elemental magic, on the scale you are familiar with in wand magic, even for a Wiccan, is something you are born with. It seems to run in families though not always."

"So, is this inborn ability to use elemental magic that common?"

"No, it's actually rarer than wizarding magic. Most Wiccans spend decades learning how to do simple things like basic healing spells. Which leads us to another thing that controls wiccan magic. It isn't just some power that can be used with training. Wiccan is very close to what you would call a religion. A lot of our magic involves requesting help from the higher powers and nature spirits. Someone who can't get along with them or has a hard time believing in a higher power can't perform wiccan magic very well, if at all."

"So if I started believing in elemental spirits and gods I can do wiccan magic?"

"If you were to believe all of the books written about wiccan magic by wizards, the simple answer is no. But the real answer is much more complex."

"Why do they say it isn't possible?"

"It's a matter of energy. A witch such as yourself can become a wiccan, following our beliefs to the letter, and spend years learning as much as possible about elemental magic and not become proficient in it for a very simple reason. Magic follows the path of least resistance. A wizarding witch has so much internal power available that they find it very hard to channel external magic instead. It can take years of training just to learn to channel external magic instead of your internal power. So very few have ever tried."

"Why not?" asked Hermione.

"If you already had access to magic, why would you even bother learning a completely different kind of magic? And you probably won't even find out until you've studied for years whether you can do more than simple spells. So you might spend decades and never be able to do more than light a candle or heal simple wounds."

"Oh." Hermione thought about that for a few minutes as they walked. "You said a powerful wiccan is rare. How rare are they? That is if you can tell me?" Hermione questioned.

"Well, we aren't as secretive as some but I can't give you an exact answer. Most natural wiccans don't brag about their power. There have been only five in the last century who are well known by all of us."

"If they don't brag, how did they become well known?"

"Because of something they did or because of something that happened to them." She glanced sadly at Hermione. "And very few survive the kind of attention becoming known as a powerful wiccan generates."

"Attention?"

"Yes. Elemental magic is neither good nor evil. It is the intent that matters. A powerful wiccan can be sensed by evil creatures or by magic users with evil intentions and it doesn't usually end well for the wiccan."

"So that is why they don't brag about their power?"

"One of the reasons, yes."

"Have you met any of these powerful wiccans personally?"

"One. She stayed with my coven for a little while one summer recovering from the death of her soul-mate."

"That's horrible," Hermione exclaimed. "What happened?"

"Yes it was. She was murdered right in front of her. She'd taken it very badly. I'm not sure she ever really got over it. They were each one of the five I mentioned. They magnified each other's ability to channel magic. Some believe that if the one hadn't died they both had the potential to be more powerful than any wiccan seen for the last five centuries. Unfortunately, now we'll never know."

At this point they arrived at the chip shop to find Ginny patiently waiting for them. She raised an eyebrow at Hermione's introduction of Miss Greenwoode as just someone she was working with today but said nothing. They spent lunch pleasantly discussing trivial topics such as the weather.

The walk back to the Ministry was quiet, interrupted only by the sound of passing cars. Hermione noticed Miss Greenwoode surreptitiously studying Ginny as they walked. It was the gaze of someone trying to figure out what to do with a puzzle piece they'd found in an unusual place.

With a quick "Let's talk tonight." Ginny headed towards her office in the Ministry and Miss Greenwoode followed Hermione to hers.

"You haven't explained yet what you needed our help with." said Hermione with an encouraging smile as she shut her office door. "You didn't come by just to explain wiccan magic to me."

"No. As enjoyable as today has been, I didn't." Miss Greenwoode sighed. "You'll recall that I mentioned how rare real elemental power is in a wiccan. When we find someone who looks like they could develop into a very powerful witch we have traditionally sent them on a pilgrimage to one of our holy shrines. This can take several months. Once they get there they are often sent on a quest by the guardians of the shrine."

"Okay. How does the Ministry fit into this."

"Well... the wiccan in question works for an organization we have a special agreement with. Similar in spirit to our agreement with your Ministry. If we need their wiccan we need to supply someone to take her place for as long as she is gone." She grimaced. "Unfortunately, we really don't have anyone willing to take her place. She works with a number of very volatile people and most wiccans can't tolerate more than a week or two in their presence."

"Can't you just tell them this?" Hermione asked.

"No. They are actually doing necessary work, even if we can't approve of their methods. They need a magic user who can work with them for a long time without being affected by the forces around them. We think your Ministry can help us find someone."

"How long? And is there anything special about the type of person you need?" Hermione was sure she wasn't getting the whole story but she knew interrogating the wiccan wouldn't solve anything.

"Our seers are predicting a journey that could last anywhere from six to nine months." She shrugged at the implied vagueness. "The Ministry is giving us permission to send a wizarding witch if we can find one who can agree to the Ministry's conditions."

"Conditions?"

"Yes. As far as the Ministry knows these people don't know anything about the wizarding world. Most of the magic they work with is elemental. Whomever we send has to know enough about wiccan magic to understand the things they need done, even if they do magic differently. She has to appear to be wiccan to anyone who can detect magic.

She will also have to follow the same rules that the Ministry imposes on the few of us in the wiccan community who are aware of the wizarding world. She can't tell them about it. Not even the head of this organization can be told where this witch really comes from without Ministry approval."

"Okay, not the sanest idea the Ministry has ever had but I can understand why." Hermione shook her head. "And why a witch? Wouldn't a wizard be more appropriate?" asked a puzzled Hermione.

"For two reasons. All wiccans are women. Men with the same affinity with elemental magic usually end up as Druids. And the group this person works with is primarily female. Whomever we send needs to fit in."

"Understood. When do you need this person?"

"We would need them to spend the next month or so with us to learn enough to convince people she is wiccan," she said apologetically. "She would then have about a month to learn everything she can from the wiccan she would be replacing."

"That isn't a lot of time. Does this wiccan have a name? And what is the name of this organization?"

"We know it's rushed but we don't have any real control over the timetable. Nature gods and elementals don't really care about things like time." She sighed again. "As for who it is, I can't really say without permission. Which I don't have. But they work for an organization called the Council of Watchers."

"Oh!" Hermione's eyes widened.

"You've heard of them?" she asked in a surprised tone.

"Yes. We met with them several months ago. They're one of our chartered groups. From what little we know of them I can understand how they don't really work well with your covens. They are very confrontational."

"That isn't quite the only reason why. The old council was very different than the current one. They had their own trained magic users and didn't encourage them mingling with us. They were very hostile to our covens because our approach to dealing with evil differs so much from theirs. The new Council isn't as hostile but their methods are similar."

"I'll have to take your word for it. Did you want us to contact them when we find someone?"

"No. We still need to train them and would prefer to do so without the Council's interference, however well meaning it might be. We'll let them know we've found someone."

"Okay. I'll see what I can find. Do you need to personally check out our recommendations?"

"Yes. Thank you." As she stood up to leave she quietly said "Your friend Ginny would be perfect actually."

"She what?" Hermione was aghast at the idea. She would never hear the end of it from Ron if she sent his sister off to work with the Council of Watchers, though she probably couldn't even tell him that was were she was going.

"Yes. I would need to get someone to double check but her aura fits. Or if you know someone like her?"

"You can read auras?"

"Yes. And she has one that matches what the seers said to look for." She paused at the door. "I can see myself out. If you could keep me updated as you find suitable candidates?"

"Yes. I'll start looking immediately."

"Thank you." and she quietly walked off down the hall.

--- --- ---

It wasn't until several hours after her conversation with Miss Greenwoode that Hermione was able to corner the Minister in his office to discuss what he wanted done for her.

"Do you know how much more difficult this is because we can't work with them directly?" she started in exasperation. "Instead, whomever we find to send to them will have to have a story that explains how they happened to be able to do magic, and where they learned to do it with a wand no less, without mentioning anything having to do with the wizarding world they live in. Or getting in trouble with the Ministry for saying too much. And then they have to pretend to be wiccan for anyone they can't tell even that to."

"Yes, but it's nothing new. But I'm sure you can manage it." He looked at her hopefully.

"And if I don't? Who gets exiled to Tibet or locked away in Azkaban? Or forgets everything they've done since they were eleven?" Hermione looked at him in disbelief.

"It isn't that bad. We already have the authority to work with both the Wiccans and Watchers and to solve their problem. We don't need anyone's permission. And the Office of Misinformation was happy to have us come up with a believable reason. If it's good enough they'll even let other departments use it." he said proudly.

Hermione just groaned. There were times when he was just that bit more certain of his authority than he could justify or prove. She was going to need a long vacation after this one.

"You do realize that these people specialize in taking obscure facts and prophecies and finding out the truth? Give them enough clues and time and they'll know more about how the wizarding world works than a seventh year Hogwarts student." Hermione continued. "They aren't stupid. And we can't just point the Obliviators at them when this is all over. It would be too dangerous."

"Okay, then you need to find someone to send them that you really trust. And your fake history needs to be very good. Do we actually know where this person who works for the Council of Watchers lives?"

"No. We don't even know their name yet. But where they are doesn't really matter. All of their active employees travel constantly."

"Then we'll need to talk with someone over at International Magical Cooperation." He looked at her hopefully. "Don't you know someone over there?"

"Y..e..s... Percy Weasley is an assistant to the Assistant Minister." she answered reluctantly.

"Good. Make sure you talk with him as soon as you can. They really like their paperwork over there. The sooner we get started the better."

"Yes sir."

"Great." He rubbed his hands together enthusiastically. "Let's talk about the story you think up tomorrow after lunch." and he shooed her from his office and shut the door.

--- --- ---

They ate together most nights. Most nights being those times when neither Ginny nor Hermione were working late, Ron wasn't in town, or Ginny wasn't out clubbing with friends from work. Or the occasional weekend spent out of town with family. It was a time to talk about their day, to decompress from work.

Sometimes they ordered out. Sometimes one of them cooked. The year Ginny took a muggle cooking class they ate well. For months after Hermione found a bookshop that sold only cookbooks they worked their way through the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks, much to the dismay of Ron and Harry Potter when they visited.

It was a Thursday and for once dinner wasn't a complicated affair. Just a simple green salad, several cheeses, a loaf of fresh bread, and a bottle of wine. Something Ginny was able to throw together quickly while waiting for a late Hermione. Her brothers would have sneered at such fare but Ginny considered it perfect. It was food that encouraged conversation, not conflict and she felt a need to talk about more than the weather. Lunch with Hermione and a guest hadn't been the place to really talk.

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief when she saw dinner. The end of her day had not ended successfully. She had no idea who she was going to get to help Miss Greenwoode and she hadn't had much luck with making up a magical background for whomever she did find that would pass muster with Minister Dent or anyone else at the Ministry. Hopefully, as indicated by Ginny's choice of meal, whatever was on her mind would either inspire her or take her mind off the problem. Either would be welcome at this point.

It wasn't until her second glass of wine that Ginny broke the companionable silence. "I'm not really sure if I can do it much longer." she said with a sigh.

"Do what?" a puzzled Hermione asked.

"Work at the Ministry."

"The Ministry or just your department?"

"Does it really matter which? Either. Both. It just isn't working. They are never going to let me out of the office." she said with a touch of disgust. "I could be there for twenty years and I'll be doing paperwork, no matter what office I'm in."

Hermione tried to encourage her, "It can't be that bad."

"Probably not but it feels like that more than not. There is no way anyone there is going to let Arthur Weasley's daughter or Percy Weasley's sister risk more than a paper-cut. They would be hexed into next week."

"Aren't you being a little unreasonable?"

"No! You know half the Ministry thinks my father walks on water for his part in defeating Voldemort and the other half expects Percy to be the next Minister. Either way I'm doomed to boredom." she groused.

"Why don't you take a long vacation? Go do something fun for a few months. You never spend money on anything. You must have quite a bit saved up." Hermione suggested. "You'll feel better when you get back."

"I was thinking of just quitting." she said in a slightly calmer tone. "Packing a bag and travelling to places I've never been. Rome, Paris, the Grand Canyon..."

"Cleveland?" Hermione suggested with a smile.

"Maybe." she blushed. "Though she's going to be in Tokyo until the middle of February and then off to Moscow for a month. She doesn't know where after that. So I wouldn't get much of a chance to see her if I just showed up in Cleveland. I'd probably see more of her if I stayed in London."

"Maybe you can go with her?" Hermione suggested, thinking about Miss Greenwoode's problem. "If you payed your own way?"

"No. From the descriptions of her last two trips it doesn't sound like she has any time to herself." Ginny said sadly. "I think her trip here last October was unusual. She doesn't normally have any free time."

"Oh. When is she finding time to send you e-mail?"

"I really don't know. But I've gotten something, even if it was just a hello, almost every day since you showed me how to do e-mail. She must be getting up very early."

"Any pictures yet?" Hermione asked. They were both curious about Buffy's friends and family and Ginny had requested pictures weeks ago.

"No. The last time I asked her about it she said she would get someone to show her how to do that when she gets back from her Tokyo trip." Ginny smiled at the thought. She was really curious about Buffy's sister and her friends Willow and Xander. She'd heard so much about them in the past few months that she really wanted to know what they looked like.

Hermione really hadn't planned on asking Ginny but from their current conversation it sounded like she might actually welcome the idea. Granted, even if she said yes, her family might object but it was worth a try.

"Ginny? Have you thought of taking a sabbatical?" Hermione suggested. "Including your Auror training, you've been working at the Ministry long enough to take a short one."

"No... doesn't that have to be work related? Going back to school for a few months or doing an exchange with someone in another country?"

"Yes. It's supposed to be one of those 'get a fresh perspective on your job' kinds of things. I think you can justify it easily."

"Okay..." She wasn't quite hooked but the idea was intriguing. "Wouldn't I have to have something lined up before asking for it?"

"I have an idea. Something came up today in my office. Something like an exchange. But you would have to say yes before I could even tell you what it was. And the people involved would have to agree also before you could be told anything," Hermione suggested hesitantly.

"Is it something exciting? Or dangerous?" Ginny asked, fishing for clues. "What would my parents or my brothers think?"

"I really don't know how they'll react. You wouldn't be able to tell them much about it anyway. But it couldn't possibly be any more dangerous than being an Auror, and they agreed to you doing that."

"Well, they really couldn't say no to that. We were in the middle of fighting Voldemort and my father thought Auror training was a good way to learn real self defense. I don't think he really thought I would ever become one. And he was correct." She paused to think for a moment. "Can I let you know in the morning?"

"Sure. That would be great." She didn't think Ginny would say yes but at least that would eliminate her from Miss Greenwoode's list.

Hermione cleaned up after dinner while Ginny checked her e-mail for anything new. The rest of the evening was spent discussing the coming weekend, another Burrow weekend for both of them, and their plans to celebrate the new year before they both headed to bed.

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