A Winter Bloom
The next morning Buffy skipped down the stairs to the Ravenclaw common room, still floating on the high left over from the events of the previous evening. The excitement of their success in escaping had grown as more DA members made it back until all of her friends were there, safe, and they revelled in their achievements.
But that exuberance left her with what she found below.
She had known that things were going to be different after the raid on DA that they would have to stop meeting, be careful, but the level of despondence in the other students was unexpected. One of the portraits depicting an eminent Ravenclaw alumni was holding court, surrounded by a crowd that was absorbing every word.
“What happened?” Buffy asked Michael, the first person she recognised on the fringes of the group, unwilling to delve into the centre where she spotted Anthony and Padma.
“Umbridge staged a coup.”
“What?” she demanded, but even as she attempted to deny the possibility of it her eyes fell onto one of the many notices posted about the room proclaiming that ‘Delores Jane Umbridge (High Inquisitor) has replaced Albus Dumbledore as Head of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.’
“They caught Harry and somehow it was twisted so that Dumbledore was the one in trouble, but before they could arrest him he escaped! Right under the noses of two Aurors, Umbridge and Fudge.” Michael finished with a satisfied nod, proud of the man their army had been named for.
“He’s gone? But…” how will I find Faith now, Buffy couldn’t help but wonder before trying to shake off the thought. There were more things at stake here than her access to Dumbledore.
“Yup he’s definitely out of here.” Anthony agreed, having made his way out of the scrum to meet them.
Michael pointed at the portrait still answering questions for the surrounding students, “Professor Derwent has a painting in the Headmaster’s office, she saw it all.”
“And she’s telling everyone?” Buffy thought of all the things she’d revealed in that office, never thinking to be wary of the portraits who always looked on, with levels of interest varying between snoring and fixed attention.
“Well they don’t usually, the portraits of previous Heads are there to give advice to the current one and they’re prevented from passing on anything they learn by Confidentiality Charms. Dumbledore went to St Mungo’s where she has another portrait and told her to tell everyone what happened – they can break their silence with the permission of the current Head you see.”
“So he’s still the Headmaster?”
“On yeah. Whatever the Ministry says that-“
“Anthony!” Michael interrupted, pointing to the nearby corner where Cho Chang was being comforted by a group of girls. One of them, a fifth-year, Lisa, had turned to better hear their conversation, but returned her attention to Cho when her eavesdropping was spotted.
“What’s Cho upset about?” Buffy asked.
“Marietta’s in the hospital wing.” Anthony said without any trace of compassion, “She was the one who gave us up.”
“She betrayed us? Told the location to-“
Michael grabbed Buffy’s arm hard to silence her and pointedly looked back at the corner where Lisa was once again splitting her attention between them and Cho, “The new Headmistress created the Inquisitorial Squad. It’s made of all the students who ra-“ he stopped himself for a moment, “the students who have shown themselves to support her and the Ministry.”
The students who ratted out those going against Umbridge’s decrees, Buffy finished his initial sentence in her head as the girl in question got up and came across to the trio, her brand new silver ‘I’ badge flashing in the candlelight, “The Headmistress would like to speak to you in her office after breakfast.” Lisa told Buffy with a sneer, grabbing her as she began to move off, “Not the Headmas- Head’s office, she hasn’t yet moved from her old one.”
As she moved away from them Michael let out the snigger he’d been holding back, “Hasn’t moved… can’t move more like. I heard the gargoyle wouldn’t let her in.”
“Dumbledore escaped and she can’t get in his office? Great… I’d better get my breakfast quickly before something else happens to annoy her.”
When Buffy did reach Umbridge’s office, the new Headmistress was proudly placing a block on her desk that announced her promotion in gold letters. “Good morning Miss Summers, please take a seat.”
“Good morning Headmistress.” Buffy intoned at the pointed look given to her when she didn’t immediately respond.
Umbridge preened slightly at the title, shuffling the paperwork on her desk before meeting Buffy’s eyes “You are aware, no doubt, that the Minister of Magic imposed targets on your study?”
“Your recent work has shown that you have fallen behind in certain subjects, particularly in Defence Against the Dark Arts, I will not permit a failure that might reflect badly on my tenure as Professor, High Inquisitor and Headmistress.” A frown flickered across her features before the fixed smile returned, “To prevent this we will resume some of your weekly evening study sessions. Dumbledore should never have stopped them if he wanted you to succeed.”
“Yes, I was just getting to that.” She said, glancing down at the notes on her desk, “The lessons you seem to be particularly behind on are Potions, Herbology and, as I mentioned, DADA extra classes in these would not go against Madam Pomfrey’s recommendation that you do not do extra casting. Professor Snape has been holding remedial Potions classes already for an OWL student; speak to him about joining these. I will ask him to also cover the gaps in your knowledge of Defence in these classes, as my new responsibilities will make it impossible for me to spare the time.”
Umbridge inspected Buffy to ensure she understood, “Now, about your other classes…”
~ ~ ~
The looks that Ginny had been shooting her throughout Potions made Buffy inordinately glad that she had a reason to stay behind after class. In most lessons it wouldn’t have been an issue to remain without much cause, she could just ask the teacher a silly question to explain her reluctance to leave. Snape however had a reputation for punishing those who disturbed him without grounds, which worked in Buffy’s favour when it seemed as if the Gryffindor would wait with her. A snapped, “Can I help you Miss Weasley?” discouraged any thoughts of lingering and Ginny quickly exited the class.
“Yes, Miss Summers.” He prompted while walking about the classroom, flicking his wand to straighten the stools and vanish away spilt potions.
“The Headmistress told me I needed to join the remedial potions class you’re holding, sir.”
“The Headmistress told you that did she?” Snape asked with a sneer in his voice, “Very well then.” He turned from her, whipping his robes around as he continued his inspection of the room.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Buffy spoke quietly, wary of provoking him, “but I don’t know when it is.”
“After dinner tomorrow.” He snapped shortly, “I’ll be in my office but there will be work laid out for you.”
Not wanting to risk his ire by ignoring yet another dismissal, Buffy exited the classroom and, adjusting the bag on her shoulder, heavy with apparatus and ingredients, began the journey up to the Ravenclaw dormitories so that she could get rid of the now unnecessary burdens.
The dull clatter of a body tumbling onto a wooden floor caught Buffy’s attention as she was halfway up a staircase to the sixth floor. Rushing up the stairs in the direction the sound had come from, she followed muffled groans to the injured party, becoming disconcerted as she realised where she was headed.
“Don’t worry, I’m fine.” Ginny spoke without looking up, sitting on the floor nursing a bruised knee, “Just leave me to collect my stu-“ She finally looked up to find Buffy, breaking off mid sentence and colouring, “Oh.”
“Hi.” Buffy greeted her with fake cheer, holding out her arm to help Ginny up, “Is there any point asking what you’re up to?”
“I’m going to figure out the stairwell!”
“And how’s that working out for you?” she asked, taking in the girl’s rumpled appearance.
“I’m getting there… I’ve got the first step sorted.” Ginny defiantly replied.
“It looks like mostly what you’ve got are bruises.” Buffy commented as the girl took some stiff and from the looks of it painful steps towards the painting.
Ginny stabbed at the wolf with her knife, injuring it and leaving the creature limping around the painting emitting mournful whines. Taking pity on the creature, Buffy came up behind the Gryffindor and stabbed the werewolf in the heart; quickly ending it’s pain.
“So are you going to show me the secret?” she asked as she made her way through the opening door.
“What makes you think I know it?” Buffy asked with a smile.
Ginny scowled, “Fine… don’t then.”
A few minutes later she flew back through the door, landing with a groan, “Not the fifth stone…” she muttered.
“I must say I’m surprised its you here, not Harry and Ron.”
“They don’t know.” Ginny replied, slowly and painfully getting to her feet.
“I told them Hermione hid in the girls toilet… which she did before we met up.” She reasoned defensively. “I let them think I was there too.”
“And you think Hermione didn’t tell them?”
“I don’t know. With everything that’s been going on they weren’t that interested... and she mentioned something about cheating...” She frowned before shrugging off the confusion, “I just… for once I wanted to be the one to figure the secret out.” Ginny finished.
“You do realise it won’t be a secret for very long if you keep flying out through the door like that?”
“There aren’t many people about up here at lunch time…. I don’t think anyone will hear me.”
“I did.” Buffy commented.
“I suppose… but you already knew.” Ginny frowned, “If you’re not going to help me you should leave. Your being here will draw more attention.”
Buffy hesitated, unsure what to do about this girl’s quest to solve the secret that would lead her to Rowena’s study, about the risk of it further exposing her own secrets. Not that there was anything she could do, she had given up the privacy of the stairwell when she hid the other DA members there. Though it had been an impulsive action, preventing them being caught wasn’t something she regretted. Buffy would just have to accept the consequences of her actions.
She caught Ginny’s arm as she was about to stab the wolf again, “Don’t just stab at it… make sure you’ll kill him.” She redirected the blade in Ginny’s hand towards the werewolf’s jugular, “It’s not right to just injure it, werewolves aren’t just creatures… even if it is a painting.”
“Okay… thanks.” Ginny flushed; embarrassed by the thought that she had been harming a being until a spark of amusement flashed across her face, “I did better than Seamus at least, he tried to show Dean this morning and didn’t even know to hit the wolf.”
Buffy hid the wave of panic that washed over her at the thought of even more people knowing, trying to dismiss this as another outcome of having hidden her friends, “At least that lowers your competition.”
“Yeah,” Ginny grinned, “and it’s not something that Parvati’s likely to care about... What about Padma and Anthony?”
Buffy shrugged, “I’m not sure how interested they are in the secrets of the school… unless they thought it might help them win an argument.”
A whistling sound nearby made both girls jump, Ginny hid her Potions knife behind her back and both waited for someone to come upon them but they didn’t hear any footsteps, only the high pitched sound getting louder.
Buffy went to see what was going on, only to be met by a firework, which swerved around her before continuing. “What the-”
The rocket went to the end of the corridor and performed a complicated combination of loops and swirls, trying to find a way to go onwards before giving up and flying back past the girls.
“That looks like one of my brother’s designs…” Ginny murmured, looking along the disappearing trail left by the rocket. Smiling at her sibling’s revenge upon their new Headmistress, she began to gather her belongings.
“You’re giving up?” Buffy asked without much hope.
“On no,” Ginny reassured her, “I’ll be back. I just don’t think it would be sensible to be found in the corridors without a good reason right now.” The sound of a muted shriek of annoyance echoing through the school confirmed her words. “Might as well get some lunch before the next class starts.”
There were fireworks everywhere by the time Buffy made it back down to the Great Hall, with a slightly disheveled Headmistress chasing after them. They still hadn’t cleared when dinner was being served, a Catherine Wheel that followed some students into the room forcing the singed Umbridge to wearily leave her prime position at the Head table and deal with the enduring prank.
~ ~ ~
She stared at the parchment in her hand, trying yet again to make sense of the ambiguous question. No, unfortunately there was nothing else for it. However little she wanted to disturb Snape, hear him disparaging American grasp of the English language, his ire if she didn’t complete the assignment he’d set properly would be even worse.
Buffy knocked lightly on his door, surprised to find it slightly ajar, the door falling further open with her light tapping, “Professor Snape?” Her calls were met with no response, so she pushed the door fully open. At first she thought the office was empty, and was about to close the door when she noticed a faint glow coming from the open cupboard door and a figure leaning into it.
“Prof-“ she began again before realising that this person was wearing normal school robes, not the heavier ones that Snape favoured, and was far too slight to be a grown man. Buffy spotted a bag resting on the near side of the Potion’s professor’s desk, a bag she knew, that she had seen sitting at the front of the room they had used for DA too many times to not know it’s owner.
“Harry?” she called, but his own name garnered no more of a response than Snape’s had. Harry’s feud with the head of Slytherin was legendary in the school, and Buffy didn’t want to get caught in the line of fire, labeled accomplice, especially when the new Headteacher was salivating for anything she could pin on Harry. But then there was the fact that he’d told her as much as he could about Faith, he had let her into DA and despite his reservations, taught her the same as everyone else until… until her own housemate betrayed them all.
It shouldn’t have been her burden, and yet it somehow was, the shared glories of the house system bringing along with them shared penance.
“Harry…” she tried again, letting the office door fall closed behind her as she moved into the room, going over to the cupboard and grabbing onto his shoulder to yank him back. Instead of getting his attention, the moment Buffy touched Harry’s shoulder a strange force pulled her forwards, towards the basin his face was in, closer and closer until she was almost touching the contents.
A liquid cloud swirled before her, backlit by a silver light with flickers of images behind the mist, a group of teenagers- Harry! She lurched the last millimetre forwards to touch the silvery mass and fell through, out onto the grounds of Hogwarts near the lake. The sun poured down warmth that Buffy hadn’t felt in months, far brighter than it had been earlier that day. Students were out taking advantage of the weather, reading under a tree or laughing at her, no not at her but through her to…
There was a boy writhing on the ground behind her, coughing up soap bubbles and moving strangely as if, as if he was tied up, or had received the curse that imitates that action. Buffy immediately cast the counter curse to no avail, it didn’t change anything and… the boy kicked through her leg in his attempts to get free. The pink bubbles had began to dissipate with his struggles, no longer covering a face which was almost recognisable, his features making her wonder if Professor Snape had a son.
A yell caused Buffy to turn back to find two boys with their wands pulled. One of them looked so much like Harry that she almost called out his name before he mussed his hair, drawing attention to the lack of either a scar or glasses. He was arguing with a girl, their voices growing progressively louder.
“What’s he done to you?” the girl all but spat at the Harry look alike, facing off against the boy with distaste dripping from her voice.
“Well,” the cocky boy rejoined, “it’s more the fact that he exists, if you know what I mean…”
His comment was met with laughter from everyone but the girl, who turned for a moment towards a tree by the lake, revealing a profile that seemed oddly familiar, eyebrows furrowing for a moment at whatever she’d seen before readying herself to square off against the boy.
Under the tree that the girl had turned to Buffy found another Harry, this one looking far more like the lightly disheveled boy she was used to, his robes less well fitting or proudly warn than the other, and he was sporting the all important glasses.
“Harry” she yelled, startling him out of his observation of the group while the scene continued uninterrupted.
Harry dragged his gaze from the childhood version of his mother to find Buffy Summers staring straight at him. She moved towards him across the grass, a worried expression on her face.
“Do you know how to get out of here?” she asked without getting a response beyond a shrug as the scene before him repeatedly stole his attention. The tortured boy had shaken off his curse enough to crawl for his wand and seek retribution.
“Harry!” Buffy shook him slightly, “Come on, we can’t let Snape find us-“ she was distracted by yells of curses and cheers, a quick and lopsided duel ending in the boy who had been on the ground hanging upside down, flashing his underwear to the gathered crowd to the seemingly infinite enjoyment of the boys below and their vocal admirers.
Buffy frowned at their actions, looking about hopefully for a teacher to break up the fray, but it seemed that only one person here was willing or had any desire to stand up to these bullies. Following the girl’s demands, the Harry lookalike flicked his wand to send their victim tumbling to the ground, but his friend bound the boy before he could retaliate. At this her temper finally snapped, giving up on words that were only shrugged off, no matter how scathing, she took a step back and drew her own wand.
“Leave him alone!” she shouted, standing ready to curse the boy at his next move.
Her resolve made the boy hesitate, perhaps because of his less than subtle attempts to gain her affection, but Buffy couldn’t help but think that it was the slightly foreboding figure the girl struck despite her stature. Anger made her eyes flash and gave her hair a life of its own, flicking around her face, hard emeralds amidst a sea of flame.
The girl’s face, no longer blocked from view by the boys, was known to Buffy, but still she couldn’t place where from, unable to work out what it was about the face behind the striking hair and eyes that she recognised.
“Ah, Evans, don’t make me hex you.”
“Evans?” Buffy exclaimed staring at the girl more intently, all worries about Snape forgotten.