This work of fiction, along with all other rights available under the law, belongs to the author and may not be reproduced without the author’s express written permission. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Inc., and 20th Century Fox. The Harry Potter
Universe belongs to J.K Rowling, Scholastic Press, and Warner Bros. No copyright infringement is intended. Copyright December 2003.
Warnings for bad language, adult situations, and sexual innuendo.
Many thanks to Jessica Newman on her beta work. Many thanks to Alison Hopkins for her assistance with proper Brit-speak.~ ~ ~ The Gauntlet
Xander picked up an old iron gauntlet from off the cemetery ground, but he didn’t stop to wonder where it had come from or how it had gotten there. Nor did he wonder where the rest of the knight’s armor had gone. The Scooby had more pressing concerns on his mind, like the vamp currently trying to beat his brains out. Xander wasn’t worried; didn’t the vamp know he’d all but blackmailed his teachers into letting him graduate?
Nor did he worry about the Slayer slaying or the witches doing their mojo. He did
worry about Spike, but only in terms of the vamp causing trouble to or for his girls. Xander could care less about Deadboy Junior.
That gauntlet, though, it made a good projectile. Oooh, a Giles word. It was almost enough to make Xander laugh out loud. When the iron fist smacked the attacking vamp in the nose, causing it to fall backwards onto a tree-branch-cum-stake like a Hellmouthy version of the Three Stooges, well, that was a different story. He did laugh out loud, long and thoroughly.
And why not? He had a job interview in the morning, one that might actually get him out of the Basement o’Doom. Xander was so excited he could barely stand it. His relationship with Anya was on solid ground - or, at least, as stable as any other of his relationships with women - even though that wasn’t saying a great deal. Best of all, Sunnydale was relatively quiet on the Slaying Front, though you wouldn’t know it by tonight.
As far as he was concerned, it was just as well.
The Slayer, Buffy Summers, was not
a happy camper these days. She and her now-ex-boyfriend Riley Finn had gotten into a discussion over something that had turned into a yelling match that had then led to a breakup of apocalyptic proportions. It had been a very public breakup, too, from the University campus to right in the middle of the Magic Box. Xander had tried to ignore most of it by hiding under or behind whatever or whoever he thought would provide the best cover. He might not be a genius like his Willow, but he was no fool.
No way was he getting in the middle of that, not this time. He had hated Deadboy and, hey, it saved the world, so the whole ‘Willow said kick his ass’ thing was totally justifiable. And he’d been right about the bastard the whole time, even if the Slayer would never admit it. So there
At least Riley had a pulse, which Xander supposed was a plus in his favor. Still, there was something about Cornfed he just didn’t trust, and he hadn’t figured out what it was yet. Of course, Finn underestimated him - just like O’Toole had done - and which of them was still walking around, huh?
Xander stood back and watched the others fight. He’d done his job - be the bait, distract the vamp, and get smacked around - so now he was going to let the others do theirs. Buffy was taking out her fury on the vamps and demons left and right; bits of demon and vamp dust flew everywhere as the Slayer pounded her post-breakup rage into the hapless creatures that she caught out on her patrols. Word was at Willy’s that everybody with the slightest bit of sense was laying low until the Slayer got laid.
Personally, Xander hoped Buffy never heard that comment. He also hoped that he wasn’t present if Buffy ever caught up with the soon-to-be-slowly-slain being that came up with the witticism. It wouldn’t be pretty.
Buffy wasn’t real happy about her mom dating Giles, either. That Xander didn’t understand. Okay, it was Giles. Tweed-wearing, tea-drinking, British-speaking, research-doing, Watcher Giles. It wasn’t like he wasn’t already a Dad figure to Buffy, and to all the rest of them too. They certainly all treated him that way to some extent. Xander would bet a box of Twinkies that Giles thought of them as his kids, but would never admit it to them.
And Mrs. S., she was a prize! Xander had so wanted to slap Buffy in the mouth sometimes during high school when she’d whined about how strict her mom was. At least her mom gave a damn. She could and would cook for her only child; Xander doubted that the woman who allegedly gave birth to him even knew how to turn on
the stove, let alone how to use it. What he wouldn’t give to have a mom like Mrs. S. He couldn’t understand how Buffy treated her mom so badly. All in all, Giles and Mrs. S. weren’t perfect - no one was - but they were a hell of a lot better than the drunks Xander had for parental units.
So he didn’t grok why Buffy was so annoyed.
Giles was on top of the moon, so to speak. After the whole we-defeated-an-Ascension-thing, the Watchers’ Council had demanded that he prepare some kind of major report covering the past three years for them. Giles had refused, Travers had insisted, Giles said the British equivalent of ‘make me’, and the Council hadn’t replied with anything equally childish as yet. Xander frowned a moment at that, then shrugged. Giles hadn’t given any sign that he was concerned. The G-Man had bought a magic store, filled it with real stuff for practitioners and pretty stuff for the poseurs, and named it the Magic Box. That his reputation from the old days helped the business, Xander didn’t doubt at all.
One thing Xander did have doubts about - and he used the term ‘thing’ loosely since it was more appropriate than ‘person’ - was Spike. The bleached-blond vampire had been chipped by a military-like organization calling itself the Initiative so he couldn’t hurt humans, but he’d recently learned that demons and other vampires were fair game. Since Spike had all the loyalty of your average soulless vampire - that is to say, none at all - he’d eagerly begun patrolling with the Scooby Gang and slaying in exchange for blood and shelter. Spike was now pretty much considered a traitor by his own kind, worse than Angel had been.
The blood, Giles paid for. The shelter, Xander unfortunately had to provide. Buffy and Willow couldn’t keep Spike in their dorm room for obvious reasons. Nor could Tara. Buffy wasn’t comfortable with the idea of having the vampire at her mom’s house, and no one else liked that idea either. Giles had managed to cope with having the vamp chained in his bathtub or elsewhere for the first few months, but eventually something more long-term had to be found, which was how Spike had wound up kicked into Xander’s basement. Actually, Giles had dragged Spike by the hair into the basement, which had been pretty damn funny until Xander realized he’d soon be stuck with Fangless as a permanent roomie.
They didn’t quite trust Spike yet, even if they didn’t keep him tied up all the time anymore. At least Xander didn’t. Just like he’d never trusted a word that came out of Deadboy’s mouth. At least Spike had the decency to freely admit that he planned to kill them all after he got the chip out, in spite of everything.
Exactly the kind of behavior he expected.
It was the kind of behavior he could prepare for.
So they settled for keeping Fangless supervised, most of the time. After all, he has a life. Or do I? Do I have a life, when it partially involves supervising an undead vamp?
He was still thinking that one over when Buffy finally put the vampire she was torturing - not
Spike, damn it - out of its misery and dusted it. Xander figured she was pretending it was Riley; there was no other reason for her to have, er … given the vamp a sex change in such a bloody way.
Better it than him.
Willow and Tara were huddled together in a way that meant they weren’t doing-spells-together, but were talking about spells. Lately, where Willow was concerned, that might or might not be a good thing. The mojo wasn’t really his problem, or at least it wasn’t supposed to be; Giles was the one who was supposed to be watching her. Xander hadn’t forgotten the whole demon-magnet thing, thank you very much, like he really needed the help. Buffy still hadn’t forgotten that whole Spike-and-Buffy-are-getting-married spell. Spike certainly hadn’t forgotten; the vamp took every opportunity to hum the melody to ‘Wind Beneath My Wings.’ Xander would have liked to forget, to be honest.
The whole Buffy and Spike deal made him hurl.
But the witchy duo were muttering and twitching in a way that made him want to cackle like the cartoon witches did. Xander suspected Willow would be only too happy to turn him into a toad if he did that in her presence. Or worse, a rat, so he could share a habitrail with Amy Madison.That
was shudder-worthy. What was even worse, in his opinion, than the muttering and twitching was that Xander could feel them staring at him. Okay, people, let’s do the math: witchy duo plus mojo plus angry slayer equals an unhappy Xander.
It was time to go home. He had to figure out how to land that perfect job tomorrow anyway.
“Damn it!” Buffy Summers stomped her feet on the grass, and threw a Slayer-sized tantrum. He knew that wasn’t very nice, but sometimes she wasn’t very nice either. Xander called ‘em like he saw ‘em. “Where the hell are all the vamps! I need someone to kill!”
Spike cleared his throat. “I’ll just be off then, ducks.”
That figured. Xander tried not to laugh. After all, he was going to leave, too, and now was as good a time as any. “I’m heading home, guys.”
Xander did just that, and ignored the vampire walking next to him the whole way there. He was busy trying to remember if he had a clean shirt suitable to wear to a job interview.***
The next morning found Rupert Giles, Watcher and former librarian of Sunnydale High School, at his place of business. In the six months since it had been open, the Magic Box had become a well-known and well-warded business for both human and non-human magic users. Not that his Slayer knew that, of course. Rupert understood that the vast majority of demons weren’t interested in causing trouble; they just wanted to live their lives and raise their families like any other species. He had no intention of discriminating against anyone, not within the magical community. His reputation, in spite of the guilt, has come in handy over the years. Anya had proven to be an able assistant, even though there were times he wanted to gag her.
All in all, Rupert was pleased. If only he could get Buffy to dress more appropriately for patrol. He didn’t understand why she felt the need to wear as little as possible or shoes that couldn’t possibly be either comfortable or helpful. Rupert shook his head, sipped his tea, and supposed it was one of the trials of having an American Slayer.
On the other hand, if not for Buffy, he would have never met Joyce, so there was that. He was considering if he’d be able to discuss Buffy’s wardrobe with her after he and Joyce married without sounding like too much of a prat when a tap came at the outside of the window.
Rupert Giles hadn’t gotten this far in his career by being stupid.
When he ran through the possibilities, he couldn’t think of anything or any person that could, would, or might attack him in broad daylight in his own shop. When he looked to see what it might be, out of the few possibilities, what Rupert saw was not one of them.
There was a snowy owl sitting on the ground outside the window of the store.
A rather large female snowy owl, Rupert judged, from the barring over the soft white feathers. The bird gave a questioning cry at him, which was when he noticed the letter on the ground. It was almost obscured by the owl’s heavily-feathered slipper-like talons.Amazing.
Rupert couldn’t believe his eyes. He called the owl in, accepted the letter, barely noticing that it was addressed to him, and offered the bird a bowl of water. At least he thought that was customary. The owl didn’t seem to mind, at any rate. It was unheard of. The Watchers’ Council and the Ministry of Magic didn’t even acknowledge each other’s existence.
The letter was written in ink on parchment, a kind he’d heard of but never seen, an exquisite color, a delicate white tone with just a hint of cream for warmth. He rubbed the envelope between two fingers and marveled at how soft it felt.
As the owl sipped at its water, Rupert sat behind his desk and opened his letter with some sense of trepidation. It was just like the damned Council not to even have the decency to warn him. It read:
'Dear Mr. Giles:
First, please allow me to offer my congratulations to you, your Slayer, and your support team. Very ingenious, that. Please convey my sincere thanks to them for their hard work and courage.
Recent events on the American Hellmouth have convinced us here at the Ministry of Magic that a change in the status quo has become necessary. Namely, if I might be so bold, the fact that a first-level Ascension was prevented by a Watcher, his Slayer and her team, and a group of students with little or no formal training - even with such a level of casualties - is a great victory.
It is painfully clear that the Hellmouth requires a close eye. As you know, the United States makes no provisions for wizarding folk or for magical protections of any kind. After several weeks of negotiations with the Watchers’ Council on this matter, it has been decided that Aurors from the United Kingdom will be sent to Sunnydale where they will investigate and liaise with you.
As the Senior Official on site, of course, you will be in charge. We simply ask that the Aurors sent be provided access and information so that all of our jobs may be made easier. One day we might even find a way to eradicate the Hellmouth. We can dream, can’t we?
I do hope to meet you for tea.
Minister of Magic
Rupert Giles had to think about what he’d just read, to take a few moments to absorb the implications of it all, before he was able to begin analyzing any of what he’d been told. At least the other shoe had finally dropped from Travers, the bastard. He’d certainly found a way to get that cursed report done one way or the other, hadn’t he?
This would be interesting, though.
He had heard of Aurors, but had never worked with any in the past. Of course, it was for the same reason why he’d never worked with anyone from the Ministry of Magic. As a rule, the Watchers’ Council distrusted magic and magic users; they preferred their Watchers, regardless of whether or not they were in the field, not to use magic as a defense.
Sometimes that was foolish. Vampires and demons had no compunctions about using magic if they had the ability or could pay or force someone who did and if it suited their plans to do so. On the other hand, Rupert could all too well recall his own early experiences with the darker side of magic and knew how seductive the power could be. Watchers tended to be power-seekers, anyway. It had happened more than once in the organization’s history, even once here in Sunnydale. The thought of Quentin Travers on a dark magic high was terrifying.
It was nice of the Minister of Magic to congratulate them. Quite nice. Rupert had heard of Albus Dumbledore, even in Watcher circles. The elderly wizard had quite a reputation for practicality, sensible behavior, and courage, as well as many rumors about his fierce intelligence and a crafty sense of planning. Rupert had also heard stories, rumors mostly, about the head of the Auror organization: a man named Sirius Black. They mostly centered around his past as an ex-convict, a murderer. But that couldn’t be true, could it?
It was, however, correct that the United States had no magical overseers within its borders whatsoever. In his opinion, this was one reason why America was such a chaotic place. People like Ethan Rayne could go to America and do whatever they bloody well liked, because there were no magical police forces there to prevent people like him from doing things like that. The only policed area in the whole United States was Sunnydale, and Los Angeles, to a lesser extent. Rupert thought it very sad. Hopefully, now, things could change.
Perhaps, if things went well, an American Auror program could be begun. God knew the country needed all the help it could get. He would have to speak to the children, though, about this, so that they would know what was happening. Those phone calls didn’t take long, luckily.
Rupert watched the snowy owl fly out the window and into the sky. It headed in a northerly direction, toward what he supposed was a transfer point in Canada. It was unreasonable to expect even magical creatures to fly all around the world without some form of rest-stop, and he couldn’t imagine how long this letter had taken, coming from England by owl post. Nevertheless, he had research to do, some investigating of his own into these matters. Rupert Giles disliked not knowing the entire story. He would have the truth from his sources, and some of it, well … some of it might not be in the children’s best interests for them to know.
After several hours of hearing from his sources - most of whom his Slayer didn’t and wouldn’t ever know about, not if he had any say in the matter - Rupert was not entirely pleased with what he had learned. The news had been interesting if unsettling, but he didn’t doubt its veracity. It did mean that the Scooby Gang would have to watch its collective step.
Later that evening, Rupert Giles found himself holding court at the Magic Box to a group of four ordinary-looking teenagers, Joyce Summers, and a vampire. Of the teenagers, one was a Slayer, two were witches, and one was Xander. He considered himself lucky that a twinning curse had never hit the boy; Rupert didn’t think the world could handle more than one Xander.
“So, Giles, what’s the what?”
Buffy still seemed rather agitated. He would speak with her later tonight. He hadn’t quite trusted the Finn boy, and had been pleased when she had broken off the relationship. Exactly what the couple had fought over, he didn’t know. Rupert wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He did know, however, that all this excessive anger being funneled into Slaying - while productive in that area - was not exactly an accepted form of anger management. “The ‘what’, as you say, is that the Watchers’ Council has negotiated an alliance with the Ministry of Magic.”
“That sounds like a definite ‘uh-oh,’” decided Xander. “Who’s with me?”
“What do you mean, ‘Ministry of Magic’?” Willow sounded worried, excited, and upset all at the same time. Rupert had heard the same tone in her voice when she’d been poring over the college class schedules, unable to decide what to take and when and where or to get it all to her satisfaction.
Buffy hadn’t said anything yet, which was worrisome. He hoped she wouldn’t -
“Do they think they can control me, too? Who the hell do they think they are?”
-- Explode. Rupert sighed. There were times in his life when he wondered whom he had brassed off in order to have gotten his position. Then he remembered it had probably all gone back to the Eyghon matter, something he’d be paying for in triplicate for the rest of his days.
“Buffy, the Ministry of Magic is not interested in controlling you. Quite the opposite.” He took his glasses off and began cleaning them, not because they needed it but because watching his Slayer fume was making his head throb. “In fact, the minister has extended his congratulations to all of us - except you, Spike -“ with a glance in the vampire’s direction, “for our roles in preventing certain events of the recent past.”
“The Mayor.” Buffy’s voice was calm.
“The Ascension that we stopped at Graduation was specifically mentioned, yes.” Rupert decided it was time to take back control of the conversation now, while he had the chance. “The Ministry is merely sending a team of Aurors -“
“Who?” Everyone else said at once.
Spike just sat there and laughed at him. Of course, he’d fed the bastard already, so that threat was no good. Well, he would ignore it for now and save the threats for when he really needed them. Besides, Joyce was present. What she saw in the wastrel he didn’t understand.
“The Aurors,” Rupert began, “is an organization within the Ministry of Magic. Think of them as a kind of police force for magic users.”
“Oh!” Willow looked surprised. “So they would track down witches who got in trouble or who did magic they weren’t supposed to do?”
“Yes, Willow, that and quite a bit more.”
Buffy cut in, her tone sarcastic. “So why haven’t they locked up your buddy Ethan yet?”
Rupert had thought of that already. “I expect they’ve certainly tried in the past. We know all too well how difficult it can be to keep Ethan locked up or even to figure out where he is at any given time, since he tends to slip away so easily.” That shut her up. Good. The subject of Ethan Rayne was a complicated one and private.
He decided to change the subject back to the problem at hand. “The Aurors will be here to investigate the situation here on the Hellmouth, and while they’re here, they will liaise with me as the Senior Official on site.”
Rupert ignored the infernal nickname and continued speaking before he gave into the urge to turn Xander into a rat. “The United States has no facilities at all for magic users; Britain, however, has an entire community of witches and wizards for whom magic is as natural as breathing. There are schools and universities of magic overseas, but not here.”
Willow had an expression on her face that he imagined was akin to outrage. “Why didn’t you tell
He sighed and broke the news to her as gently as possible. “For the simple reason that a person cannot simply apply for entry to a school of magic, Willow. The school chooses you.” Rupert had simply dreaded this conversation. His dear girl so valued knowledge that the idea that any place would forbid her a chance to learn was anathema to her.
And, if he was being honest, to him also.
Even if he could understand the reasoning behind the rule. These schools didn’t want people like Ethan Rayne to just be able to waltz in and out with new information with which they could wreak chaos and destruction on the world.
And there were people who were even worse.
“So, if these Auror guys are the magical version of the FBI, that must make the Watchers’ Interpol.” Xander grinned. “And that, of course, makes this,” he waved a hand around at the shelves of books and magical items, “the X-Files basement.” He eyed Willow with a grin. “And you know what that means, Scully….”
The redheaded witch heard her cue. “I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for everything, Mulder.”
Buffy laughed at the woebegone expression on Xander-Mulder’s face. Rupert couldn’t decide if the pair of them had planned it somehow, or if they had simply known each other so long that they could read each other’s thoughts. Of course, both Xander and Willow had been born on the Hellmouth, so that was a distinct possibility.
Nevertheless, he was glad they were all still able to laugh, even after what they’d been through. And damned if there wasn’t some truth to what Xander had said, despite the joking way he’d put it. Aurors handled many kinds of magical problems, ranging from the general and mundane to the bizarre, but the British Aurors were generally restricted to the United Kingdom and no further. Watchers ranged all over the world, but their business was more specialized to a particular purpose. They dealt with Slayers, potential Slayers, vampires, demons, the paranormal, and prophecies. Here on the Hellmouth, well, anything was possible, just like on that television program.
He supposed they would eventually encounter aliens at some point.
But it was time to get serious, no matter how much he hated the idea of making them stop their much-needed laughter. “While the Aurors are here,” Rupert announced in his most Watcher-like voice, “I want all of you to behave in a professional manner.” He glanced at the vampire. “That includes you.”
“What’s innit fer me, then?”
Rupert leveled a glare at the vampire that could freeze hydrogen. “You’ll do as I say, or find yourself reduced to your individual atoms with a decimation spell. That will only happen after I make certain that you’ll never die and that you’ll never regain full structure again.” He paused, and leaned down until he was face to face with Spike, to better threaten the vampire. “I’ll make certain you spend the rest of your unlife, floating along in space as individual atoms for eternity.” When the vampire said nothing further, he decided that was almost as good as an agreement. He didn’t expect to receive an actual ‘yes’, anyway.
“What do you mean, Giles?”
Now he had to explain what he meant to Buffy. Rupert wanted to sigh again, but instead he straightened up and fixed himself a cup of tea before answering her. He needed the extra time to formulate a tactful way to put what needed to be said. “I mean, Buffy, that I expect you - all of you - to act professionally when it comes to slaying.” He eyed everyone in the room.
“Don’t we always?”
Rupert raised an eyebrow at his Slayer. “Do you practice every day like you’re supposed to do?”
“I rest my case.”
Joyce Summers spoke for the first time. “So by ‘professional behavior’, you expect Buffy to do what she’s supposed to do, to be the best Slayer she can be.”
“Precisely. Just like I expect Willow and Tara to be practicing their magic skills every day. Spike and Xander will be working either with me or with Buffy.” This time Rupert did sigh. He’d wanted to put this decision off as long as possible and had hoped Xander might settle on some other career that didn’t
involve death and destruction. As the only member of the group without magic ability or a special destiny, Xander had a chance to escape the Hellmouth, to live a normal life. “I will begin working with Xander to upgrade his fighting skills.”
Xander cheered that announcement, Spike looked disgusted, but no one else seemed particularly thrilled with the idea. He would deal with that fallout another time. Now, though….
“There are a few points we should discuss, however. First, Spike.” Rupert looked at where the bleached-blond vampire was insolently lounging and smoking a cigarette. “I doubt the Aurors will much care about the chip, or that it renders you helpless and harmless to humans. Their reaction will likely be to just stake you and move on.”
“I like these guys already,” Xander announced. Tara smiled at him.
Rupert ignored the comment and continued to speak. “I suggest you be on your best behavior, because they classify vampires as the enemy. Period. Whether or not they have souls.” He made a point to not
look at Buffy.
“Second, we will not discuss Angel until it becomes necessary. Should a problem arise in which he needs our help or we need his, then I will discuss the matter with the Aurors.” Rupert didn’t add that he prayed the topic never occurred. Of all the idiotic things his Slayer had done, the relationship with Angel had been probably the most foolish. It had led to so much tragedy, so much of which could have been prevented if things had been different. If Angel had only been honest about his vampirism from the start, regardless of his good intentions. If Buffy had been smart enough to break off the relationship once she learned the truth about his condition. If he had been strong enough to make his Slayer see that a Slayer-Vampire relationship could only end badly.
Vampires weren’t meant to have souls.
“Third,” Giles changed the subject, “do try to keep magic use to important matters. Slaying and the like. That would mean, Willow,” eyeing her carefully, “no using magic to float pencils across the room. Doing it to practice your levitation skills and control is one thing; doing it because you’re too lazy to get up and get a pencil is another thing entirely.”
Her blush didn’t fool him. Willow was far too intelligent not
to be manipulative, but he was determined to make this work. Having to watch what she did would be good for Willow. Somehow the magic had changed her, how he wasn’t entirely certain, but sometimes it seemed a stranger looked back at him from behind Willow’s green eyes. It was a stranger who hungered for power, a stranger who reminded him uncomfortably of himself so long ago.
“The people in this magic community use their abilities everywhere, as a part of their daily lives. The difference is that their society uses magic to make their lives better or easier, or in some cases, just plain different from ours. Magic isn’t just something they do so they don’t have to get up off the couch. They do, however, practice their skills regularly. Many of their higher-level abilities - shape changing and the like - requires a special license and a passing score on a test.”
Willow looked so downcast that Rupert relented a fraction. “If
things go well, we might
be able to get special permissions from the Aurors for some courses for the two of you.” When she brightened and looked over at Tara with a smile, he added, “But I make no promises. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Th-that would be nice.” Tara sounded excited at the idea of learning a new kind of magic. He knew Willow was thrilled.
“It would be so cool!”
“So when do these Aurors get here?”
Rupert gave a mental groan when he saw that Buffy had settled into Quiz-The-Watcher mode. She wanted more information, she’d decided he had it, and she’d decided he wasn’t telling her everything. Well, he wasn’t, but she wasn’t supposed to know that. He began to clean his glasses again. “Soon, but nothing was said about when exactly.” It was going to be a long night.***
“Excuse me, I’m going where
Ronald Weasley had to have heard wrong. There was no way what he’d just been told could be the truth. It just wasn’t possible. To make matters worse, his supervisor just sat behind the desk grinning like a hyena.
“It’s a very important and very prestigious assignment,” Sirius Black told him with a straight face. He had been an Auror when accused of murder and treason all those years ago. After everything else, after having been cleared of those crimes, Black had simply returned to doing the job he loved. He’d told Ron once that having been in prison gave him a unique perspective and made him more determined to make sure that he caught the right person. Now, Black was the man in charge, the Chief Auror.
“It’s on the bloody Hellmouth!”
Black raised an eyebrow at him in surprise. “After Voldemort, you’re worried about that?”Bastard.
Ron seethed. He did not
like being reminded of the war with Voldemort, no one did, true enough, but Black had no reason to throw it in his face. “I’m not worried,” he said in his best measured tone, “I’m concerned. That area is notoriously unstable, magically and otherwise, and technically it’s not even in our jurisdiction.”
“We have an alliance with the Watchers’ Council.”
“It’s not in their jurisdiction, either.” Ron was annoyed. “The Hellmouth is in the United States, and that country doesn’t have any magical anything in place.”
“Which is why the Watchers are handling it,” Black pointed out. “They have a Watcher and a Slayer on the Hellmouth right now.”
That was interesting. “Oh?”
“Called at fourteen -“
Ron winced. Imagining his sister Ginny having to fight vampires and demons at that age made his stomach turn. He thanked every god he’d ever read about that Ginny’d never been Called as a Slayer. It would have killed Mum.
Then Black continued, “-And still slaying today, at eighteen years old.”
“Holy Merlin,” muttered Ron.
“She’s the oldest surviving Slayer on record and still going strong.” Black took a large file-envelope out of his desk and pushed it over to where Ron sat. “That’s the case file. Be ready to leave in a week. You’ll be gone indefinitely.”
“And my team?”
the team, Mr. Weasely.”
Ron stiffened. “I’m being sent in alone
“You won’t be alone,” Black said in what he probably thought was a reassuring way. “Read the file, and you’ll understand what I mean.”
Ron took that as the dismissal it was, hauled up the heavy file-envelope, and got as far away from the office with it as he could manage before Apparating home. His flat was small, but he didn’t need much. A single bedroom with a living area and a spare room in the back: it was good and cheap and suited Ron’s unexciting bachelorhood.
The file made for interesting reading, but it also set off some unfortunate memories of his own. He hadn’t known it at the time, but the minute he’d sat down next to the dark-haired boy with the glasses and the famous scar, Ron had sealed his own destiny in spirit wax. Made his soul all sticky so it soiled everything it touched.
Not that any of it was Harry’s fault. Harry’s destiny had been decided the day he was born, probably, and Harry knew it all too well. That was why, after six years, Hermione still hadn’t got an engagement ring out of him. That was why, when it came to safe sex, no one was more careful than Harry Potter (despite Hermione’s attempts to be … how had she put it … 'inventive'?). He had told Ron last year that he feared having a child of his own, simply because he feared the Dark might transfer their attentions from him to the helpless infant. But Harry and Hermione were still together.
So Harry played quidditch for the Chudley Cannons - something that cheered Ron immensely - and although the team had improved its record somewhat and its popularity had soared, the team loved him. Ron was especially thrilled about the fact that Harry now played for a team that he had made all those snide remarks about back when they were in school. He had their old schoolbooks to prove it. Hermione studied potions at the University of Magic in London. She figured that eventually Professor Snape would get that Dark Arts position he so coveted, and she would be able to apply for his old job. After all, when the Headmaster had been convinced to take the Minister of Magic position - and according to what his Dad had said, it had taken a lot of convincing - Professor MacGonagall had become Headmistress of Hogwarts.
He had been an Auror for the past six years. Ron had applied as an Auror-in-training, right after the disaster that had passed for their graduation ceremony. He shook his head, not wanting to think about any of that or about what had happened afterwards, but the memories came anyway. It had taken five years to destroy Voldemort and to root out his minions - not long in the scheme of things - but it had felt like an eternity while Ron was working undercover.
Ron had been a spy, a double agent. The one person whose loyalty had always been so unswerving that no one could believe he’d turn on his friends. They’d believed it, all right, Ron thought bitterly, he’d made damn certain of that. It had been his job.
And so was going to the Hellmouth.
It had taken Ron a year to put his life back together after everything was done. Things were finally starting to get back to something like what they had been back in the old days. Back before so much bad stuff had happened to the three of them and twisted them up inside.
But what choice did he have, really? Ron snorted. The same one he’d always had.
None at all.