After the Wind
They watched the fire for innumerable silent minutes after it had gone dim, each wishing that there was a way for Harry to send a sign that he was safe. As time wore on and the lack of anything within the flames proved that his actions at least had not been discovered, their thoughts wandered back to the strange conversation which had been thrust upon them so suddenly.
It was Sirius who broke the silence first, “Buffy… why does that name ring a bell”
“She was the girl that Dumbledore invited me to help train at the beginning of the year.” Remus responded shortly, his mind still elsewhere as he stared into the flames.
The man beside him sat quietly at that response, knowing his friend well enough to understand Remus’ need for time to consider what they had found out, but Sirius had never been good at awkward silences and was soon unable to resist the urge to ask, “So she’s…”
“What do you think?” Remus bit out angrily, the wolf lurking dangerously close to the surface.
Sirius looked up sharply at his tone, noticing how affected his friend was by what they had been told, “Well…” he responded in an easy manner, seeking to calm the beast, “I thought that she died.”
That finally drew Remus’ eyes away from the fire, letting him see the hurt in his companion at this betrayal of friendship, the lies which had been told by omission in every direction. Sirius had thought the baby died, Remus had thought Sirius was their friend’s secret keeper. How many secrets had these boys turned men kept from one another? The layers of small doubts in each other, of hidden actions, failures to trust, which had built up into something so terribly fatal.
“I’m sorry…” he began, his tension draining away, but Sirius wouldn’t let him finish, laying a hand on his arm and minutely shaking his head. Letting him know it was okay, that he was forgiven before even asking for it.
“She’s alive.” Sirius said to himself, his voice filled with wonder. Then all his solemnity left as he met Remus’ gaze head on with a grin spreading over his face, reminding his friend that this discovery was a good thing, an amazing thing, not something to be worried about the logistics of. Remus could only grin back, bask for a minute in the joy of the moment.
“How long have you known?”
“I suspected when I last saw her at Hogwarts, Ron mentioned some rumours about her arrival that made me look at her again… I wanted to confirm it, to speak to her before discussing it with anyone else. But then…”
“But then Dumbledore sent you off chasing werewolves the whole winter and now Umbridge, with all her prejudices, has taken over the school.” Sirius paused, a vulnerable expression tingeing his features, “Does Dumbledore know?”
“No. You are the first to learn of this, my friend.” They shared a look of understanding, reaffirming their friendship, which was broken when Remus turned back to the fire with a resigned sigh, “Dumbledore needs me to go back. To try and find out more about this girl they captured. What can we do? I'm not sure it's something she should be told through a letter, if one could even get past that woman.”
Sirius watched his friend watch the fire, wanting to offer some comfort, to help him in some way, but there was a question which had to be asked, however little either of them wished to think about it, “Does this mean she might be a…”
“No!” Remus cut him off with a glare, not letting Sirius say the word that would be so damning, his eyes seemingly still filled with the reflection of the blaze. He took a deep breath and emitted all that outrage with a sigh, “I don’t know. I hope not.” he sighed again, unable to hold in the fears that matched his friend’s, fears that had been eating away at him for months, “It’s not something I would wish upon anyone.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“She deserves to know.“
“So does he.” Sirius sharply retorted, unable to help prioritising one of Lily’s children over the other, to forget how much he had to make up to Harry. What ever happened to Buffy had been beyond his control, but Harry's grief could have been prevented. His childhood would have been so different if only Sirius had remained secret keeper.
“Yes, but…” he hesitated, glancing at Sirius with concern, worried he might take matters into his own hands, “you don’t agree with what I told him?”
“He has a sister damn it! Yes, I think Harry deserves to know that.”
“Before she knows what happened to her? Before she…”
“If I thought that I wouldn’t have let you say what you did, would I?” he said with a rueful smile, “Just… this needs to be done soon. He’s frustrated by all this uncertainty, Harry will only get angrier.”
“Don’t you think I know that? If I… if either of us could speak to her, to both of them properly but…”
“Neither of us is in a position to reach them.” Sirius finished for him.
They sat quietly together, each lost in their own thoughts, unable to get past those last indisputable words. There was no way to get access to those at the school while it remained under Delores Umbridge’s jurisdiction.
"That's enough to make you give up?" Remus heard Sirius ask after so long a break that he’d almost forgotten there was someone else there. It had been so many years since he’d had a friend to turn to, to rely on, that he wasn’t sure he knew how to anymore. He turned to find a familiar expression of resolve emerging on his friend’s features, "Harry managed to reach us despite the obstacles."
~ ~ ~
"I still can't believe Snape forgot to take points from you." Michael said as Buffy joined him and Anthony in the Entrance Hall where they were waiting for her beside the huge hourglasses which calculated House points, "I mean you destroyed his lab and only-"
"Can it, Michael." Anthony spoke before Buffy could comment, "You've been going on about it all week. It's not as if she didn't get a detention - for the whole of Saturday!"
Michael's continual comments had been annoying Anthony more each time they were repeated, and the boy had finally snapped, "Do you want us to lose points, to give up any chance at the Cup?"
"Of course not!" the boy exclaimed, shocked that Anthony would even suggest such a thing.
"Then for Merlin's sake stop mentioning it where a snake might overhear you and remind
Buffy laughed along with her friend at Michael's shocked reaction to that potential ramification of his comments, grateful that she hadn't been forced again to try and hide her thoughts on the topic. She suspected the reason no points had been taken; because it would be unfair to punish her and her house for a crime she didn't commit. The detention had been a necessary means of gaining time alone to discuss what Faith had done, anything more wasn't needed.
It wasn't fair to take house points for something he'd done, so Snape hadn't taken any. That, more than anything else he had said or done made Buffy reluctantly trust the Potions teacher, believe in Dumbledore's assurances that the man was on their side. Not that he'd had any qualms about having taken points when she'd been the one to contrive a reason to meet, but then Buffy had deliberately disrupted one of his classes. That was not something he was likely to forgive anyone else.
Before they could enter the Great Hall, the sound of running feet and yells drew their attention. The Entrance Ball began to fill up with panting students, most bearing either the new 'I' badge of the Inquisitorial Squad, or some strange kind of ooze on their robes.
"Just wait," A chunky Slytherin prefect bellowed as she attempted to catch her breath, "They'll be coming this way any moment."
As the crowd in the entrance regained their composure, a similar sound grew louder above, filtering down the marble staircase. Buffy looked up to see two figures running before a mob of angry students.
"What have those two done this time?" She heard muttered in slightly amused annoyance and turned to find Professor McGonagall attempting to hide the twinkle of humour in her eyes, flanked by most of the faculty of the school. The Entrance Hall was filling up now, bustling with not just those out to aid capture, but other students on their way to dinner who had been distracted by the commotion.
"We've got you now!"
The shout from the stairs drew her attention back up to where the two being hunted, the Weasley twins, were poised at the edge of a landing, the stair they needed being held by other students at the other side of the stairwell. As a perfect mirror of one another, they turned to face each other and shrugged before diving off the landing, wands outstretched. It was only when they hit the floor that she saw what they had done, casting cushioning charms ahead of them to break their fall, allowing their magic to work together to turn their simple spells into a soft spot big enough to save them.
They rolled to their feet just as the Slytherin prefect took a step forward and, with the assistance of other members of the Inquisitorial Squad, created a human barrier, blocking their only escape.
Except the twins never went with just a Plan A, or even limited themselves to a Plan B, they were quite happy if the situation required it to fall back onto Plan J, to summon their brooms and make a final exit from the school which would turn them into legends.
“Did you see, Michael?" Anthony commented as they belatedly took their seats at the Ravenclaw table, "She didn’t even get a chance to take points.”
~ ~ ~
“Buffy!” The whisper echoed through the Entrance Hall, though the furtive manner in which Hagrid was beckoning her to the door implied that he believed he was being subtle. “I’ve gotta speak ter yeh.”
“What do you need?”
“Not ‘ere.” he squinted out through an eye half shut by a bruise marring his face at the students milling past, drawing attention with his misguided attempt at subtlety, “The clearin’, t’night.” Buffy nodded and was about to move on when he stopped her and bellowed in a more usual tone, “Don’ forget, Professor Snape’s lesson t’morrow nigh.’”
He patted Buffy on the shoulder as he turned to limp past her through the door into the rain, missing the interested looks still aimed their way by members of the Inquisitorial Squad.
The woods were quiet when she entered them, the creatures still hiding out after a heavy downpour earlier, and Buffy hurried through the trees to Grawp's clearing. She spotted a large figure lurking on the edge of the tree line, beyond the reach of the creature’s wrath, but before she could let out a greeting he shook his head and beckoned her over.
“He’s sleepin’.” he said softly, pointing over at a huge lump on the muddy ground which slowly rose and sank along with a steady rumbling. Hagrid pulled her away until the sound of the giant’s snores were no longer so clear, and then started to pace.
"Righ'" he finally began as he stopped too-ing and fro-ing before Buffy, "see... the thing is..." Hagrid awkwardly tried to begin again, fidgeting with his hands before finally blurting out, "Well, there's a good chance I'm goin' ter be gettin' the sack any day now."
"Why? What reason could Umbridge..." Buffy trailed off as she remembered the High Inquisitor's reaction to Hagrid's return. It had been brought into a new light after seen for herself the woman's dislike of werewolves and centaurs, her distrust of anything not wholly human, and the gleeful way Umbridge used the law against the creatures she hated. She looked up at the towering man, his figure might be diminutive in comparison to the giant sleeping nearby, but there was no doubt the two shared some common heritage. The rumours of him being a half-giant were true, and that alone might have caused Umbridge to seek his removal. Perhaps she would have done so even without the questions about his teaching which seemed to routinely circle about the Ravenclaw common room, or the frequent and vicious injuries he received at the hands of the giant, which added valid reasons behind which the bigotry could be hidden.
"Tha' woman n’ver liked me" Hagrid replied, confirming Buffy's suspicions, "an’ she needs to do somethin'. 'specially since th' twins went." he shrugged, "It doesn' help tha' she thinks I put a Niffler in her office today."
"A Niffler?" She vaguely wondered if this was what had the school so excited at dinner, Buffy had been too busy focused on eating quickly before an early escape to pay attention.
The twin's departure hadn't caused a decrease in the pranks being used to undermine the new headmistress, though the inventiveness of the disruptions had taken a hit. The week that followed had seen corridors filled with so many foul odours that Professor Flitwick hadn't had any complaint when he extended his permitted spells to include Bubble-Head Charms for all age groups.
"Yeah. Wen' after 'er jewellery. Anythin' ter do with magical creatures an' she thinks it's got somethin' ter do with me."
"I don't see what I can do to stop her firing you." Buffy trailed off, even more uncertain why she was here than she had been before the conversation began. "Do you think it's a Ravenclaw that..."
"Nah, 'm not worried 'bout tha'. Once I'm outta 'ere I can go an' help Dumbledore. I'd leave righ' now, before she gets a chance ter put on a show, if it wasn' fer..." He glanced back towards the clearing where faint rumblings indicated the giant was still asleep and Buffy finally understood.
"You want me to... feed it?"
"Nah, Grawp can get his own food, no problem." Hagrid seemed almost proud of that fact, "He just needs company, someone to talk to. I've bin tryin' ter teach him English." he finished sheepishly.
"You... want me to talk to him?"
"He already respects you. If yeh talk ter 'im an' show tha' we want 'im ter stay."
"He wants to go? That's why he's tied up?" Buffy clarified, beginning to realise why the centaurs had such a problem with the giant's presence. Having such a dangerous creature there was one thing, there were many dangerous beasts in the forest, but keeping him there against his will was another thing entirely. She had thought the restraints were more to protect others than keep him trapped, vaguely assumed that Hagrid was healing him and needed to prevent movement, but instead they held him here against his will, no wonder the giant lashed out at anyone who came near him.
"He jus' doesn' understand." Hagrid protested, "He's small - on'y sixteen foot - so he was bein' bullied, had bin kicked aroun' by all o' them. I couldn' leave 'im ter get hurt again - he's my brother."
Regularly bumping into one another in the forest had caused some measure of respect to grow between Buffy and the half-giant over the previous months, sparked from that initial leap of faith each made, trusting the other to keep their secret. With Hagrid so open where she was unwilling to discuss her life, it was inevitable that she knew things about him; knew that despite his size he was caring and loyal, never using his magnitude as a weapon against others. She knew that his father had been a single parent and died when he was young, how much he craved family, evident in the almost brotherly friendship he shared with Harry Potter, proudly recounting his accomplishments.
No wonder he had been unable to leave his brother in a place he would be harmed.
"Hagrid," Buffy began gently, "You can't keep him here forever."
"If I can teach 'im a few manners, I'll be able ter take him outside an' show ev'ryone he's harmless." He was as oblivious to the incredulous look that adorned Buffy's face as he had been to the interest of the students earlier. "I don' wan' yeh ter put yerself out too much... jus' ter nip down an' have a little chat if yer in th' forest. I'll wake 'im up - introduce yeh prop'ly."
Buffy pulled on his arm as he began to move back towards the clearing. "I don't think he likes me-"
"Nah, like I said, he respects yeh. You beat 'im, an' that means a lot ter giants."
What Hagrid didn't seem to consider was that when respect was won through combat, a sore loser or one who believes himself unfairly beaten, will just keep demanding a rematch. He picked up a long branch on the way to the clearing and poked the slumbering lump in the back with it, causing him to wake with a start, pulling at the ropes that bound him and shaking the trees they were tied to.
Nesting birds flew, startled, out of the trees at the ruckus and he reached out, trying to catch them out of the air, looking surreally like a huge toddler grasping at dandelion seeds as they float on the wind. One of his attempts was successful and he shoved the bird into his mouth whole, fragile bones crunching between his teeth.
"Grawpy!" Hagrid bellowed up at him, "I've brought a friend ter meet yeh." The giant blearily looked their way as he munched on the eagle he had caught, not seeming to take in what Hagrid was saying. "Remember, I told yer I might? Remember, when I said I might have ter go on a trip an' leave her ter look after yeh for a bit? Remember that, Grawpy?"
That seemed to elicit some reaction, or perhaps Grawp had just finished his snack and see what was making the noise. The sight of Buffy caused an immediate reaction, a huge hand darting out to grab her with a speed that was so surprising for a creature of his size that Buffy would have been caught had she not experienced it before. She dove out of the way and rolled to avoid the second attempt to get her, an unnecessary action as Hagrid stood in the way. "GRAWPY NO!" he stood directly between them, stupidly facing down the giant, "This is Buffy. Yeh remember her don' yer?"
The low roar he responded with sounded angry enough that Buffy began to wonder if he had understood, if he was saying just how well he did remember her. Or then again it could just be his reaction to seeing her again. She warily stood up at Hagrid's urging and came up beside him to face the giant.
"Buffy's goin' ter... Bad boy, Grawpy" he finished in a cut off yell as, with a lighting fast back hand, the giant knocked Hagrid aside and lunged once again at Buffy.
Buffy realised she needed to do something to justify the respect Hagrid believed this giant held her in. She couldn’t just tamely move out of the way. His head was near to the ground and, with a running leap, she climbed on top of it dancing about on his moving shoulders as he attempted to get her. He misjudged one grab, managing to hit the side of his head with his own fist, and slumped down to the ground, giving Buffy a chance to jump down and away.
"Tha's better." Hagrid shouted out with a grin despite his newly split lip, "Buffy'll come fer a chat when I'm gone. Yeh can play more then."
Grawp rumbled in response and began to play with one of the pine trees ringing his clearing, apparently dismissing them. From a sitting position he half heartedly pulled on a rope attached to his foot, making the tree it was attached to bend back with a creak before releasing a shower of leaves. This demonstration of his strength made Buffy think back to her initial encounter with the giant, uncertain how much playing she could survive. She glanced over at Hagrid as they moved away, not sure how to broach the subject, how to look into that thankful gaze and tell him the assumption she could help was wrong.
"Are you sure that..." She trailed off as figures emerged from the foliage around them, bow strings twanging as they were drawn to point at the man beside her whose huge crossbow was raised in retaliation.
"Were we not clear, Hagrid, when we said you were not welcome here?" one of the centaurs stepped forward and scowled at Hagrid before turing his attention to her, "You too should take heed, we will not allow meddling in our affairs, those from the school will no longer be tolerated in the Forest."
"Excuse me?" Buffy asked, the centaurs had been vaguely hostile when she had been granted their help getting to London, but none of them had outright threatened her except... she looked closer at the centaur, remembering him from that night, the then vague threats he had issued which had quickly been overridden.
"Why am I again forced to remind you, Magorian, even without the debt we owe her, the Slayer cannot be denied access to the Forest." A deep voice came out of the shadows, less bitter and more calm than the other centaur's, preventing Hagrid from voicing his anger.
"That debt was repaid." Another of the Centaur's spoke up, the dark haired Bane who had been so keen to kill the giant on the night that she saved the foal.
"Is that the price you put on our young?" Chrixon repeated his cautions, stepping forward and directing his comments as much to their spokesman as to Bane. Somehow the older centaur seemed to have lost his prime position within the warrior group, "That once reciprocated the actions that save them can be forgotten, our treatment of their saviour descend into threats?"
"It is those actions you claim I have forgotten that stayed my hand tonight, protected her friend.” Magorian waved aside the two centaur’s arguments, and glared at Hagrid meaningfully, “I will not allow him amnesty another night, irrespective of his company. He knew when he protected the traitor Firenze what the consequence of going against us would be."
“And he knew that creature would not be ignored indefinitely." Bane added, "The giant is a menace to all who live here.”
“Yer don’ get ter say who...”
"The Forest tolerates only so much change to its balance, something that threatens that will always be rectified. You have been told this before, Human, consider this the last warning for both yourself and your charge." As Magorian spoke his comrades had followed some indiscernible signal and faded back into the trees, leaving him only flanked by Bane and Chrixon as he nodded with an air of finality and turned to leave himself.
Buffy grabbed hold of Hagrid, stopping him from lunging forward, "The Forest nothin'. He's got as much righ' ter be here as anyone." he yelled after them, held back only by the grip Buffy had on his arm.
"Acromantula, dragons, giants... What will that man get next?" Even without seeing it, Buffy could hear the scowl in Bane's voice.
“At least he had the sense to keep the dragon out of the forest.” they heard Chrixon respond with his customary calm before even the sound of their hooves disappeared amongst the trees.
Hagrid was still trying to pull away from her, his finger on the trigger twitching. All his worries over his job, his brother ready to be taken out on the only solid threat, anything to think about something other than the trouble coming, "You had a dragon?"
"Norbert?" He said distractedly, "Got 'im as an egg. Hatched it m'self."
"Isn't that dangerous?"
"Dangerous?" He turned to her, finally lowering the crossbow, "Nah. It's wha' the wizards who rode dragons used ter do. Built a connection, and 'sides Norbert wouldn' hurt anyone."
"Wizards can ride dragons?" She hurried after Hagrid who had begun to stomp back towards the school, not limiting his stride to one so much smaller than her. Buffy tried to fit this information in with what she had been told about the events the previous year, of Harry's famous flight eluding the Horntail.
"No' recently, but they used to. We don' know how ter bond 'em like that anymore. 'parently some were so closely linked ter their dragon, th' wizard could breathe fire!"
An image of Hagrid astride a dragon with a singed beard flickered through her mind, the thought oddly amusing rather than terrifying. The huge man was too good natured to be seen as a threat, despite his somewhat naive approach to the creatures in his care.
“Oh, I f’got.” He started rummaging through the pockets in his huge coat pulling out a bizarre collection of objects each of which were quickly returned before finally he found a thick envelope. “Fer you.”
“What...” she trailed off as she noticed writing scrawled on the white envelope, new enough to maintain a crisp feel despite the slight scuffs on the corners from his pocket.I understand you have discovered certain truths. Your mother left this with me before she went into hiding. I hope it may help you understand what happened.
“You okay?” The gruff words shocked her out of the stupor she hadn’t noticed entering. Staring at the words that promised everything she didn’t want, confirmation of what had happened to her, excuses she has no desire to receive. “He thought yer would...”
“Want this?” Buffy interrupted whatever he had wanted to say, explain the good intentions of the person that was preventing her from putting this behind her, trying to force her to confront the very thing she was trying so hard to forget.
“Buffy...” Hagrid trailed off whatever he had been planning to say, uncertain how to respond to her cutting tone. “He didn’ mean ter...”
“It doesn’t matter.” Buffy cut him off again, “Thanks for passing it along. I’ll see you around.”
She stuffed the envelope in her back pocket and turned back to the forest, taking off at a run into the thickest part of the trees, towards something that might help her release the anger those words had caused. That they had thought they deserved a chance to explain.
Any rights they might have had were given up the moment she was abandoned.
~ ~ ~
Hours later, after washing the remains of her encounters in the woods from bloodied hands, Buffy pulled the now crumpled paper out and sat down before the common room fire, staring again at the words on it before reaching within. Inside the envelope she found another, this one wasn’t new, the paper browned and ink faded by time. This writing was in a different, clearer hand. Addressing what was within to someone whose existence Buffy had tried so hard to deny.Anne Silvia Evans