An Act Amended
Despite the widespread reading of an article she had banned, Umbridge only grew progressively happier in the fortnight that followed Educational Decree #27, setting both staff and students on alert for any indications of her plans. Of course her reaction may have been helped by the current subject of study in DADA, one which she enjoyed enough to actually attempt to teach herself instead of relying on the pages of her beloved text book; the laws that govern certain dark creatures. She took a disturbing amount of pleasure in explaining the updated restrictions provided in legislation that was too recent to be included in the text.
Her particular focus on the laws that regulated werewolves’ lives and the recent changes to those surrounding the employment of these creatures couldn’t help but make Buffy think of Remus, of the state of his wardrobe and the wary, hunted way he looked at the world. It hadn’t been enough that they could be fired at a moments notice with only their condition as a cause, the woman proudly related how now they were required to reveal themselves immediately to employers, allowing the students to reach the conclusion that this left most werewolves unemployed.
Enthusing on a subject she knew so well, Umbridge bemoaned the liberal members of the Wizengamot who had prevented them from also changing the sections on safety and family. She hinted at the dangers of allowing creatures to regulate their own transformations and have any contact with children all the while mocking the idea that, “Any self respecting witch or wizard would want to have any contact with an animal, let alone a child.”
Accordingly, she dismissed the necessity of any marriage regulations besides ones permitting annulment and sneered at the idea that any ‘experimental breeding’ would occur with or without the 1965 amendment, a sentiment shared by the wizarding children, many of whom seemed rather sickened by the idea. It was clear that the pure-blood ideals which Tom had explained over breakfast one morning during her first stay at The Leaky Cauldron weren’t confined to interactions with Muggles and Muggleborns, every aspect of their legislation attempted to subdue those who weren’t within the favoured few. At least those not born to wizards couldn’t be counted as inferior beings.
Perhaps it was these regular reminders of the prejudiced nature of wizarding law, or it may just that there had been that there had been so many educational decrees that Buffy no longer noticed when a new parchment was attached to the notice board in the Ravenclaw Common room. Either way, when Buffy got to breakfast and found a large proportion of the students studying their copies of the Daily Prophet with concern and Professor Umbridge proudly residing over the meal, with a smile that was large even for her, Buffy knew that this was one proclamation she should have paid attention to. That the Defence teacher’s slowly rising mood since Wesley had left shouldn’t have been explained away by her enjoyment of lessons. It had been a warning that she was about to announce something big.
~ ~ ~
It wasn’t until lunch time that Buffy was able to find out what she had missed. Having arrived late she had found herself relegated to the first-year’s end of the table for her rushed breakfast, and the fragments of discussions she caught between lessons weren’t enough to make sense of what had happened. It wasn’t until she convinced Anthony to stop complaining about the stinkweed he had somehow managed to cover himself in that she finally got an answer.
“You mean you don’t know?” He asked through his mouthful, somehow able to ignore his smell better than those seated around him who were picking reluctantly at their food.
“Oh…um…” he swallowed, realising her that her exasperation had nothing to do with the mishap in Herbology and yelled down the table, “Michael, you have a Prophet don’t you?”
The boy rummaged in his bag and came up with a rumpled paper, which he handed along to Anthony, who folded it back to the front page and thrust the article over Buffy’s plate forcing her to read.HOGWARTS HIGH INQUISITOR ACTS!
It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything big from Delores Umbridge, this year given the newly created position of Hogwarts High Inquisitor. Earlier this year she got into trouble when a misunderstanding surrounding an Educational Decree caused the Hogwarts Houses to be disbanded, but there’s no confusion over the current changes she’s implementing – aimed at making the environment at school safe for all.
Buffy glanced up at Anthony, getting slowly more annoyed by the drivel she was reading, “Can’t you just-“
His mouth too full to speak around, Anthony gestured with his knife for her to continue, splattering the paper slightly with gravy. Before she could complain, Padma laid a hand on her arm and backed up her fellow prefect, “It really does explain it all well.”
With a threatening look at Anthony that he only sniggered at, Buffy continued reading, skimming past the sections praising the Ministry and it’s appointed official.An addition to the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery is expected to be ratified by the Wizengamot today, restricting the use of underage magic in schools to spells authorised by teachers. The faculty at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will, under the new legislation, provide lists of the acceptable spells for each year group and any student found to be violating the new restrictions may be given a warning or called to a hearing depending on the nature of their actions.
Percy Weasley, 19, Junior Assistant to the Minister for Magic, spoke to The Daily Prophet exclusively about this new law, “This is what Delores Umbridge [Hogwarts High Inquisitor] had meant by Decree #24. There is very little monitoring of what spells students practice at Hogwarts outside lessons, and this is what she had hoped to regulate by ensuring that school clubs were properly sanctioned. Due to a little misunderstanding the decree was repealed, but now we have implemented a law which encompasses all that had been intended to come from that - adequate control of the magic used by underage pupils."
Lucius Malfoy, 41, agreed with Mr Weasley’s comments, stating on behalf of the Hogwarts Governors that the, "decree had not intended to impede social interaction, merely ensure that groups do not collect to study magic in a dangerous manner. All the governors agreed with the sentiment that some monitoring of students was needed, but saw that it had been taken the wrong way." He went onto explain that a recent inspection by the Department of Muggleborns and Squibs had highlighted the difficulties faced by those joining Hogwarts from outside the wizarding world, “That’s what gave Delores this idea to even the playing field and prevent students from endangering themselves and others by attempting spells beyond their current training. While there are school rules that restrict casting within the grounds, these are underused and rarely enforced, allowing students free reign to attempt complex and often dangerous spells outside lessons."
Buffy stopped reading, too shocked at what had come so far to continue and already beginning to calculate what this might mean for her. She wouldn’t be able to heal herself of any bruises and DA wouldn’t be able to… she looked up from the paper in horror.
At her expression, Anthony grunted something that sounded like, “I know” through a mouthful.
“Can they really enforce this?” She finally asked Padma when it became evident Anthony wouldn't be able to speak any time soon.
“What do you mean?”
“Can they detect what spells are being cast… who is casting them?”
“Well… no, not really.” Padma replied, but didn’t return the relieved grin that Buffy gave her, “They wouldn’t be able to detect particular spell signatures with all the magic around Hogwarts, but there’s nothing to stop Umbridge casting Prior Incantato
until she finds a spell you weren’t allowed to use.”
There was no doubt in any of their minds of who would be targeted for that type of spot-check.
~ ~ ~
“We need to decide what we’re going to do.” Harry stated as the last members of DA filtered into their practice room. The papers that morning had, unsurprisingly, announced that the new law had been passed by a strong majority in the Wizengamot and would come into effect immediately.
“Why do we need to do anything?” One of the Weasley twins asked.
“It’s not as if she can prove if we cast a spell today or yesterday.” His brother agreed.
The tension that had been growing since she read the paper dissipated slightly, could Padma be wrong, was there actually not a way to enforce the new rule.
“It’s alright for you guys, you’re 17.” Anthony complained, scowling at Buffy as well as the twins. She started slightly, not having considered that the law wouldn’t even cover her.
“Buffy might be 18 but since she hasn’t taken her OWLs she still counts as underage.” Padma commented.
“Fred and George barely managed to scrape their way into overage!” Ron joked, ducking the swipe one of his brothers took at him.
“Take care little brother,” the twin who had missed hitting Ron cautioned as his sibling escaped to the other side of the room, “by the end of the summer you’ll be cherishing every P counting towards your magical competency.”
“It covers all of us” Hermione silenced any retaliation her friend might have made.
“But…” one of the Weasley twins began to complain but was stopped by a glare from the girl.
“Have you read the changes to the Decree, Fred? Not the Prophet article but the actual amendment.” Hermione asked pointedly, “No, okay then.” She nodded her head forcefully and turned back to the group.
“Um… Hermione?” a Gryffindor fourth-year warily raised his hand.
“How does it affect us all?”
“Has no one else…” She trailed off looking around the room, “No,” Hermione grumbled under her breath, “Of course no one else read the thing, why worry about the laws you have to follow.”
“Hermione?” Harry tentatively prompted.
“The Act states that not only will underage wizards attempting spells not on the lists be violating the law, but also anyone who encourages, enables, or conceals those that do so, with additional stricter punishments for someone teaching underage wizards spells they shouldn’t know.”
“So we’d be done for aiding and abetting?” the twin she’d called Fred cried, delighted by the idea.
“I guess this is over then…” an intelligible voice in the crowd murmured, full of disappointment.
“Over?” the twins exclaimed together before staring at one another and bursting out laughing.
“There’s actually still a lot that we can do within the rules,” Hermione began, “we’ve already covered most of the spells but there are bits of the theory in Slinkhard that’s contradicted in other texts and it might be a good idea…”
“No, no, no.” George interrupted as the room began to change around them, practice areas turning into workspaces with desks and chairs, the bookshelves against the wall expanding into a sizeable library. “You’re not going to turn this into a study session.”
“We’re an Army
!” Fred reminded Hermione, extending the final word to make his point. Ron, followed by many of the others, voiced agreement with his brother’s statement and the room snapped back to the environment they were used to. None of them had come here to study, it wasn’t really about passing exams; it was about preparing for war.
“Fine!” She exclaimed, finally losing her temper, “What do you propose we do?”
The twins retreated into a whispered conference before turning and, with a quick glance at one another, announcing in tandem, “Share wands.”
Their grins widened at Hermione’s confusion and George elaborated, “Six of us are ‘overage’” he scowled at Ron despite using his term, “and allowed to cast whatever we like. If we take turns we can all still practice.”
“It’s not like they can tell who cast the spell, just which wand.” Fred added.
“Don't be stupid” Zacharias retorted, “We’d be lucky to get your wands to do anything useful, and I doubt anyone is willing to hand over their wand.”
“Not to you anyway.” Buffy overheard Fred mummer, setting the twins off laughing again.
“Actually,” Harry contradicted the Hufflepuff’s point, “it might be a good idea. Lots of books mention that it’s useful to practice with other’s wands. If yours gets captured or damaged in combat you might need to use whatever wand you can get your hands on.”
“We would have to go back to basics” Hermione mused, “Zacharias is right that it’s hard to control another’s wand, but it is considered a useful skill to have. Using another’s wand forces the user to strengthen their own control to counteract-“
“Great! That’s decided then.” Fred interrupted what had begun to sound like a segue into magical theory, “If no one objects to sharing their wands…” he and George pointedly looked at each of the Gryffindor seventh years until they indicated their agreement, “Well then, let’s get on with it.”
“Okay, so if there’s six wands-“ Hermione began only to be stopped once more.
“Seven” Cho corrected, “I turned 17 last week, and Marietta will be 17 in a fortnight which will make eight.”
“All right then, seven wands,” she ground out, becoming annoyed with all the interruptions, “Lets stick to five groups of six to keep it simple, but the extra wand will be useful. It will be easier if there’s a choice of wands as it is best to start at something close to your own… Now,” Hermione asked as she rummaged in her bag for a piece of parchment and a quill, “what’s your wand made of?”
~ ~ ~
Just how the High Inquisitor intended to enforce her law became evident the next morning. The fifth-year Ravenclaw students were asked to form a queue as they reached the Charms classroom and one by one Umbridge inspected their wands before allowing them to enter. Buffy sent Padma a grateful look when she took her seat, relieved the girl had told her that despite her age, she would count among the underage wizards.
When the class was all seated, Umbridge turned her sickening smile onto the Charms Master, “What is it you’ll be teaching today?”
“We’re continuing with Silencing Charms at the moment, but-“
“Are you sure that’s wise?”
“Excuse me?” He squeaked.
“I wouldn’t want to tell you how to teach your subject,” Umbridge simpered, “but there have been questions raised about the potential for some of the spells you teach to be… misused…”
The small man peered up at the woman, “As any good duelist knows, there’s potential for almost any spell to be used in combat if the caster is imaginative enough.”
She visibly flinched at the word ‘combat’ but managed to rally herself to respond, “Yes… well, I wouldn’t say any spell, but certainly a number of those on the lists you’ve provided-”
“Madam! My syllabi closely follow the guidelines given by the International Confederaton of Wizards, and the spells listed for fifth-years does not include any outside the OWL syllabus they set.” He glared up at Umbridge, suddenly showing evidence of the world-class duelist he was rumoured to be, his eyes flashing in defiance to the woman who challenged his integrity.
“M-my apologies,” the Defence teacher stuttered, retreating in the face of Flitwick’s statement, “of course you should follow the OWL syllabus…” she paused and plastered a grin back onto her face, “Excuse me Professor.”
The class watched her march out of the room with barely contained grins before turning to their teacher, who had once again become the kindly man they were so used to.
“Well, now that’s over let’s-The cold wind propelled the snow towards her. It prevented her from seeing anything more than a foot ahead, got into her coat through any join of her clothing. She should be running but couldn’t see anywhere to run to, couldn't run away from the whispers in her head that only grew louder.
The change in reality hit her like all these new glimpses into Faith’s psyche, like a battering ram that destroyed every wall she put up, on both the way in and out, leaving her shaken. She heard the wail of wind outside the castle and started at the sound, so familiar to the one in her vision. Buffy stared out at the driving rain glancing off the windows and shook her head, no; Faith had been in the snow, she wasn’t here. She was somewhere further north where another bitter wind sent the snow swirling around her.
She must be on a mission, Buffy reflected, hoping for more clues, more fragments to interrupt her thoughts. They came too infrequently while her sister slayer was within the wizards lair, close to the power that fuelled her possession. Not that those infrequent visions of his hideaway helped, that was the one place they couldn’t reach her. What Buffy needed was something, anything she could take to Dumbledore to locate Faith outside it, something she hadn’t yet been able to do but was unable to give up hope in.
“Miss Summers.” Professor Flitwick’s voice intruded on her thoughts. He gestured to her loudly squawking raven when she looked up and smiled encouragingly until she picked up her wand.
~ ~ ~
Even as the teachers added pressure, increasing their assignments and reminding them of the exams that still seemed so long away, the DA became slowly more complacent. Two weeks had passed since the new law had been announced and the High Inquisitor was no closer to destroying their group than she had ever been. They laughingly noted that it was, more often than not, the classes containing DA members that happened to be selected by the High Inquisitor for inspection, Harry in particular enjoyed relating the look of fury that took over her face when she was forced once more to let him pass.
It was this complacency that held them all rigid for a moment when they heard the house elf’s fearful words to Harry, no one moving a muscle until their leader spoke, told them to run.
And run they did.
“Split up.” Was shouted by someone over the clatter of feet, and they scattered, sprinting away from their pursuers along corridors only to gather and pause at corners, catching their breath for a moment before someone signalled the all clear and they continued, slowly cutting down into smaller groups that might be excused wandering the corridors after dinner. Getting away from the room as fast as they could, trying to think where to hide.
Buffy rounded a corner followed by a couple of Gryffindors and Anthony who had all been making their way with her towards their dormitories and came face to face with Hermione, leading a similar group.
“They’re behind me.” Buffy whispered just as Hermione warned her to, “Go back”
The two girls looked at one another in shock before each tried to calculate anywhere they could escape to.
The Gryffindors, from what Buffy could guess by the directions they generally took to their dormitories, would have to go down two floors and across the castle before climbing back up and from Hermione’s fearful glances behind the way to the Ravenclaw dormitories was blocked by those hunting them but that meant…
Buffy looked about to get her bearings and pulled Hermione down a corridor to their left, “This way.” She whispered at the group, encouraging them to follow.
“This is a dead end.” Hermione hissed, “You don’t think they’ll check the classrooms?”
“Trust me.” She asked, pausing in a sparse section of corridor to rummage through her bag before cursing under her breath, “Does anyone have their Potions knife on them?”
The rest of the students began to search through their belongings, but Hermione was the first to hand a knife to Buffy.
“Is it silver?” Buffy checked
“Of course.” She replied slightly affronted that Buffy would imply she used inferior apparatus, but that was nothing compared to her shock when Buffy turned in a fluid movement to stab the painting behind them.
Hermione was frozen in place, whispering something about vandalism of school property when a shout behind them reminded her why they were running and she allowed Buffy to gently push her through the open doorway. Buffy grabbed the girl’s knife from the floor and slipped through the closing painting as the chasing Slytherins neared.
Torches burst into light as the door clicked shut behind them and Buffy met just over half a dozen terrified pairs of eyes. She raised her finger to her lips when Hermione opened her mouth, glad that they followed her instruction when, just outside the door they heard the sound of their pursuers.
“Where are they?” that grumbling sound had to come from Crabbe or Goyle.
“Quiet!” a female voice silenced him, “I’m sure they came this way. Check the classrooms at the end of the corridor, we’ve got them trapped.”
Five breathless minutes later they heard the group stomp back past, the female voice loudly blaming the others for their prey’s escape.
After waiting for any sound to diminish, Hermione turned to Buffy and asked, “Where are we?”
Buffy shrugged, trying to dispel the uncomfortable feeling at having people she didn’t entirely trust so close to her private space, even one person she didn’t even vaguely know in the case of Seamus, the Gryffindor who had only recently joined the group, “It’s a secret stairwell.” She stated rather unnecessarily.
“Well that was pretty obvious ten minutes ago.” Ginny commented, earning herself a glare from Hermione, “Where does it…”
“What about the painting you ruined!” Hermione interrupted her, unable to move on from Buffy’s act of vandalism. “And are we allowed to be here?”
“The painting is magical, it’ll be fine now.”
“Oh… well…” Hermione flushed, realising that she should have known that a painting which opened when it was stabbed would recover from the damage, “Of course… How did you…” This place wasn’t on the Marauder’s Map, of that she was certain. A hidden stairwell would have been too useful to the boys for them to ignore, but how did this newcomer know more about the school than its most enthusiastic tricksters.
“Isn’t it amazing what you discover with months alone to wander the corridors.” Buffy commented, seemingly reading Hermione’s thoughts.
“It’s crazy how well Buffy knows her way around.” Anthony agreed, inadvertently rescuing her from further questions by confirming her point, “She took us round in circles evading those snakes! I had no idea that classroom had a second exit…”
Buffy smiled at him, at least Anthony and Padma she could rely on, and even based on nothing more than familial or house loyalty, she felt she should trust Pavarti and Cho. Ginny and Hermione she wasn’t so sure of, they had always given off a ghost of the vague distrust she got from Harry, making Buffy wary about trusting them in return despite their recent truce.
Before she could make that final leap to trust, to lead them to the one place they would all be safe from discovery, she noticed that a few of the group had stepped down from the crowded landing.
“Don't!” Buffy shouted out just as Ginny took the step down onto the third step down and the stairwell was triggered, taking the decision of where to go away from her as all those on the steps hurtled down to the fifth floor and the torches guttered out.
” Hermione whispered, lighting the tip of her wand and holding it up to cast a faint glow over the four who remained.
She gave another shrug in response to her questioning gaze and grinned cheekily, “There’s some trick steps in the secret stairwell.”
“You don’t say.” Hermione responded sarcastically, a disapproving frown on her face, “I suppose that’s a no for being allowed here.”
Buffy raised her eyebrow, “The Headmaster told me these places are here for someone to...”
At the mention of Dumbledore the frown cleared, leaving behind curiosity, but a grumbling voice prevented any further questions, “I’m sure I heard something…”
Buffy waved to get the other’s attention and pointed to the stone slide that wound down away from their pursuit, at Hermione’s nod the Patil twins shrugged in agreement, although Parvati grimaced slightly at the dust before setting off down to reunite with their group.
“It sounds like we’ve lost them.” Seamus commented as the portrait of a vampire slammed shut behind Buffy.
She extended her hearing, trying to pick up any sound of those following them and found that he was right; they had gotten away. The relief that washed over them prompted open grins, but Buffy wasn’t surprised that Ginny quickly overcame it, turning to her with a question on her lips.
Her question died before it could be spoken, Hermione rested a hand upon her arm, “We should probably all make our way back to our dormitories.”
“But-“ Ginny complained, only to be silenced again.
“There’s no use waiting around, and we should check on the others.”
Hermione’s reminder that Harry and her brothers were still unaccounted for quieted her, although the curious look she sent back to the doorway showed Buffy that she wasn’t going to forget about this place.
She found herself walking next to Hermione as the group made their way back through the school. “Dumbledore knows about those stairs? That you know?”
“Yes,” Buffy confirmed what she had already implied, smiling slightly at Hermione’s curiosity, “He seemed to view the castle's hidden areas as tests.”
“To see if students could uncover the secret.”