note: Connor's aversion to robes can SO be attributed to Karen (msgordo) and her fic "Freakazoid High".
*~* Hope Springs *~*
It was the beginning of the end. Or was that the end of the beginning? No matter. Things were being set into motion now that could no be un-set.
Albus Dumbledore paced the halls of his school. It was just before sunrise. The students had returned last night after their winter break, and classes resumed this morning. His spy was firmly planted into Slytherin house. Only Severus Snape knew her possible identity as her form had been altered. Well, he knew she wasn't a transfer student. He didn't know her true identity. Albus was keeping that all to himself for her own safety. The name given to her was Raven Hope.... but she couldn't be further from darkness in her looks with blonde curls and pale blue eyes. She had the looks of a cherub, but the bite of a poisonous viper.
The rumors were she was a distant relation to Bellatrix Lestrange. But if anyone did their name research, they'd know Raven was perfectly chosen for being a trickster name. To raven meant to plunder, and that's exactly what this spy was going to do. She was going to tear the junior sect of the Death Eaters inside out. The fight was now being taken to them.
Albus worried, but he knew his little Raven could handle herself. She had not failed him yet.
There was also the matter of Connor Angel... who had been sorted into Gryffindor. He'd protested it too. They'd sorted him upon his return. He'd been complaining about it ever since. So much so that when Anya had taken him to Diagon Alley on a special trip for his school supplies before classes resumed, she'd had to place a silencing charm on him just to have some peace.
Then there was what to do with his vampire prisoners. Spike was lucid at times, other times he spoke to nothing. Drusilla, not sane before she was turned, would likely never hold sanity. The one they called Alex who closely resembled one Xander Harris had not spoken much of anything that was coherent since his souling. The three of them were in a secluded part of the castle with charmed widows that didn't allow the sunlight to harm. Hagrid tended them. It broke Albus's heart to see how Spike's condition was upsetting the half giant. He had not realized how close Hagrid and Spike had gotten.
Amy was also helping Hagrid. She was progressing by leaps and bounds. McGonagall had taken her on as a project. Amy had been fitted with her own wizarding robes and was being tutored by Minerva. The Transfiguration professor had taken the young woman under her wing and was training Amy in areas of magic the witch had never been trained in before. The most startling thing was that McGonagall said Amy showed great aptitude for becoming an Animagus. Dumbledore suspected that might be because of her stint as a rat. She followed Minerva around like a little shadow. Albus was suspecting that his deputy headmistress would have an assistant soon. As it was, she seemed to have a very devoted minion.
There was also the matter of Faith. Albus had heard from Andromeda Tonks that the Watcher's Council was starting to figure out that Faith might be in Scotland. If they got too close, Albus knew he would have to out her under the Fidelius Charm and hide her away even further. He was very prepared to do that. Especially considering she had saved one of his professor's assistants and another was quite taken with her. Faith had a very strong personality. Albus just hoped that Oliver could withstand the hurricane that was her.
He was hoping the could end one school year with Harry Potter without disaster or horror. Hope was nice. Unrealistic, considering Harry's track record, but still nice to have.
Connor Angel was a bit miffed.
He was rooming with a bunch of boys who were younger than him. The only one he got along with was a boy named Colin Creevey, and even Colin could be a bit much a times. Did he have to take pictures of everything? And Connor was in classes with the first years. Little kids. It was embarrassing. Connor felt out of his element. The people he knew best at this school were Slytherins. Why had he been sorted into Gryffindor?
He was greeted warmly by Hermione upon making it down to the common room though.
"Ooooo! Connor!" She hugged him tightly. "I'm so pleased you were sorted into Gryffindor."
At least one of them was pleased about it.
Ron glared at them. Harry was grinning. Connor made a point to step out of Hermione's personal space very quickly after she stopped her hugging.
Neville waved at him. "We thought you might like to sit with us at breakfast."
Seamus and Dean nodded in agreement. Connor was confused. Weren't the Gryffindors and Slytherins at odds?
Just then someone bumped him from behind. Connor whipped around swiftly and grabbed for whomever. He had Ginny by the throat and off the floor before he even knew it was her.
"Oy!" Ron had his wand out.
But Connor set Ginny to back to her feet immediately and released her.
"I'm sorry, Ginny. You startled me."
"Mental note... do not startle Connor Angel."
Ginny took in his appearance. He was in all the Gryff uniform... though his tie was a bit loose and the top button of his white shirt was unbuttoned. He was missing his school robe.
"Connor, where's your robe?"
"I'm not wearing that."
"Go get it." Ginny argued.
"I'm not wearing it. It looks like a dress. I don't wear dresses."
Ginny's voice boomed. "Go get it!"
Connor blinked. He didn't know such a big sound could come from such a tiny woman.
"It's not a dress. Everyone wears one. You have to adhere to the dress code for classes, Connor. It's not a choice about that. You don't want to stick out any more than you already will, do you?"
Connor sighed. She had a point. He went and got the black school robe. Ginny situated it on him. Then she buttoned him up and fixed his tie. Well, at least he looked like everyone else.
Hermione gave Connor's arm a sympathetic pat. "If you need help with your studies, I will be more than happy to tutor you. Perhaps with help you could test out of the lower years and be with older students."
That gave him hope.
Draco, Dawn, and Lily were eyeing the new girl. As were most of the Slytherins. Just like most of the Gryffindors were eying Connor. Draco still couldn't believe Connor had been sorted into Gryffindor. This meant Draco was going to have to be friends with a Gryffindor. Because he honestly liked Connor Angel.
But the new girl in Slytherin had everyone buzzing. Supposedly she was related to Bellatrix Lestrange. That intrigued Draco because Lestrange was his aunt on his mother's side. Raven Hope, she was called. Draco's eyes narrowed at the riot of blonde curls that spilled from the girl's head. It was the exact shade of his mother's hair. She looked up and met his gaze with a cold blue-eyed stare. Draco started with shock. She was not who she said she was. He... knew her somehow. She was familiar to him. It was in her eyes.
Draco looked away quickly and tried to remember to breathe. He didn't want to give himself away, but when exactly was the last time he'd seen his mother? He had to wonder what sort of game she was playing here. Obviously no one knew. Well, Dumbledore would have. He would have been the one to put her here. Snape likely knew. After all, it was his house. But did any of the other professors know.
Suddenly two delicate-looking hands with silver nail polish slammed onto the table before him. Draco's eyes shot up, but Miss Raven Hope wasn't even looking at him. She was glaring at Dawn and Lily.
"What in the hell are the lot of you staring at?" She asked in a quiet and calm, yet dangerous tone.
It was all Draco could do not to tremble. She SOUNDED like his mother. This was trippy. He'd never thought of her as young. She'd always just been Mother. How had she de-aged herself to look all of seventeen? He could see what might have turned his father's head. She was a sight with those eyes flashing dangerously. Not that he was attracted to her. She was his mother, but Draco knew a beautiful thing when he saw it. Hell, he managed to get past his prejudices and really see Ginny Weasley, hadn't he? She was the loveliest thing in the world. He could see what Potter saw in Dawn because her strength was glorious. Dawn never gave up, and that was beautiful. Lily was lovely in her uniqueness. There was no one like her, and she was fearless. All that was raw and slightly wild about Lily made her beautiful.
"Don't bother with them." Pansy Parkinson said, drawing Draco away from his thoughts. "You wouldn't want to get caught hanging around the wrong sort, would you, Hope?"
"No. I would not." Raven replied in silky tones with a venomous grin on her pink lips. "Parkinson, correct? Pansy?"
"Yes. Pansy Parkinson."
"I know." Pansy said in a haughty tone.
Draco rolled his eyes. He couldn't help it.
"It's so good to meet another pureblood who doesn't hang about the rabble." Raven said.
Lily started to rise. Draco grabbed her arm and forced her back into her seat.
"Not now. Not here."
"What's the matter, Malfoy?" Raven spat. "Afraid the little freakish creature can't take me?"
Draco cocked his head to the side and smirked knowingly at her. "Absolutely not. Don't want Lily to get into trouble. Professor Snape's watching us."
The group turned. Sure enough, Professor Snape was watching the events unfold from the professors' table with a wary look.
"Now run along, Hope. And don't you ever refer to my Lily as a creature, freakish or otherwise, or I'll be forced to hex you. I'd hate to have to do that."
She snorted. "I'm sure you would."
Raven allowed Pansy to lead her off, but not before she and Draco exchanged a very meaningful look. The game was on. He'd let her know with one look that he knew of the game and would play his part with equal fervor.
"What was THAT?" Dawn asked.
"Fun" Draco replied.
Dawn exchanged a look with Lily. Both girls rolled their eyes.
You could take the boy out of Slytherin...
Snape was in a state of shock.
He knew who this Raven Hope was. He KNEW. Someone had obviously studied up on her potions since he'd last seen her in a class to brew one. But he knew the woman. Dumbledore had only told him that she was not who she appeared to be and to trust that she knew what she was doing. He knew Dumbledore was sending spies into the ranks. That had been a plan of the headmaster's for a long time. It mean also that someone was going into the Death Eaters as a spy... since he no longer could. Snape sighed heavily. He just hoped this would not backfire in their faces.
But Raven Hope was already doing her part. It seemed she and Pansy Parkinson were becoming fast friends. The two girls were seen gossiping as they walked the halls with Crabbe and Goyle trailing behind them like two obedient and overgrown puppies.
It had been a very trying day.
And not just because of the infiltrater. One of the first years had NOT been paying attention. His cauldron had overflowed and the goo in it had started melting everything it touched. Had it not been for Connor Angel kicking what was left of the table to the wall and grabbing a first year under each arm and doing some spectacular leaping away, Snape was certain they would have lost two first years to the infirmary today.
The most ironic part of it being the two students were first year Slytherins and had been making fun of him for having to be in class with them.
So he was a bit cranky. Naturally. He'd had to award points to a Gryffindor for thinking quickly in a tense situation. The house lines that had been so firm in his head before were starting to blur. They'd been blurring for a while. It was so gradual. Ever since Draco Malfoy had decided he fancied Ginny Weasley. Or had she started it by fancying him? It didn't matter. Or perhaps it was even before that... with the arrival of the Californians. They certainly didn't see houses. His Willow would certainly have been a Ravenclaw. Tara a Hufflepuff, most likely.
A mug of tea being plopped before him startled Severus from his thoughts.
He looked up at Tara. She smiled at him. He never thought he'd like having an assistant. Tara was proving quite excellent in that area. She was getting to where she could anticipate him rather well. The tea was proof of that. Strong, dark, steaming, and without sugar or anything else to cloud the flavor.
"Thought you could use that after today. I don't remember the first day back last year being this... chaotic. I'm going to make sure the stores are organized. The pop quizzes you gave the upperclassmen are sorted by year on the front desk on the far right instead... since the front on the far left is all melty."
Tara went into the storeroom. He could hear the clink of glass as she moved things about.
"How are you feeling, Maclay? Any morning sickness?"
"Not since you've been making that little potion for me."
"Thank you for that."
"Well, it IS easier to teach my morning classes if my assistant is not running out of the classroom to vomit."
"What about that Raven Hope girl?" Tara asked, changing the subject. "She's a nasty piece of work."
"Oh I think all with Miss Hope will come out in time. She is not what she seems."
Tara's head came around the door frame very slowly. "You saw it too?"
"Saw what?" He said taking a sip of the tea.
"Her aura's not right. It's disjointed. Like she's not in the right body or something."
"Well, I am not as perceptive as all that, Maclay. I just get the feeling Miss Hope is hiding something. Call it a hunch, if you will, but she has a few secrets."
"One of them being her true identity maybe?"
"Perhaps. Perhaps something more."
"Maybe we should do a little research?" She said, disappearing into the storeroom again.
"If it is the way I suspect, we won't find anything on her that isn't in her current identity."
"You've never seen Willow truly research. If there's a hole, she'll find it."
"Of that, I have no doubt. She's terribly good at finding the chinks in what appears to be solid armor." He said with a wry smile, remembering how Willow would never let him push her away. She'd found the chinks in his armor. Definitely.
Tara's head came back around the corner. "Are we still talking about Hope?"
He glared at her. Tara Maclay was too perceptive by half.
"Let's get Willow on it then." She suggested.
"No. Not yet. I'd like to observe Miss Hope a bit more."
Connor flopped on the couch by the fire next to Ginny. She closed her Charms text and regarded him with an amused grin.
Connor placed both hands over his face and yelled into them. This got several people looking at him. Ginny laughed out loud.
"You want to talk about it?"
Connor regarded her for a moment. Did he trust her? Well, she was Draco's girlfriend. Connor liked Draco despite himself. He decided to trust Ginny. She hadn't steered him wrong so far. She'd been right about the robe-dress-thing. He didn't exactly like it, but it allowed him to blend a bit more. That's what he wanted more than anything... to blend. He was tired of being a freak.
"This kid did his potion wrong, and it started eating through everything like it was acid. I had to save two people. I didn't like everybody looking at me like I was even more of a freak because I kicked that table across the room. I couldn't help it though. It needed to be away from the kids. Also, I'm not any good at Transfiguration. At all. Professor McGonagall got really frustrated with me. Herbology is sorta cool, I guess. There weren't a lot of plants that weren't poisonous or man-eating on Quor-toth. I'm not used to that. Having things grow from the dirt and not be some sort of threat is foreign. And I think maybe Ollivander gave me the wrong wand. I think it's supercharged or something because I kept blowing stuff up to the point of Professor Flitwick asking me to stop participating. The only class I seemed to be good at was Defense Against the Dark Arts. I get that class."
"Well, when you move beyond first and second year, Care of Magical Creatures is cool. Hagrid's not the best teacher, but his classes are always fun and never boring. And then there's History and Lore of Magical Creatures. That class is a blast. Professor Lupin really knows his stuff, and Assistant Professor Emerson's comments are REALLY funny sometimes."
"Look, don't get discouraged already. I'll help you."
"What do you mean why?"
"You barely even know me."
"Well, it seems like my boyfriend likes you, and he doesn't like hardly anybody. I think it would be nice for him to have friends that are guys again. Not that Lily and Dawn aren't great."
Just then, Harry, Ron, and Hermione joined them. Hermione took Connor's other side. Ron grabbed a chair, and Harry just flopped onto the floor with a groan.
"Rough day?" Ginny asked sweetly.
"Why do we have to get homework on the first day back?" Harry grumbled. "I wanted to spend some time with Dawn tonight, but I've got a mountain of work."
Ron leaned forward in his chair. "It true you saved a couple of first year Slytherins from a potion, Connor?"
"It sure is." Ginny replied proudly. "Snape even gave him POINTS for it."
Connor looked at her.
Ginny gave his leg a friendly pat. "Everyone's talking about it, sweetie."
"I think it's very nice." Hermione said. "Those kids could have gotten really hurt if you weren't there, Connor."
"How many points was it?" Ron asked.
"Fifty." Connor muttered. He wasn't sure if he liked all this attention.
"Fifty!" Harry sat up. "I reckon that darn near killed Snape to let go of fifty points to Gryffindor. Good work, Connor."
Connor just looked down at his hands. They seemed like ordinary hands to him, but he knew they held more strength than a boy his age ought to have. Why did he have to be such a freak? And why were the four people around him treating him so friendly and like he was not a freak?
"Connor's having Transfiguration and Charms issues, Hermione." Ginny said, changing the subject.
"Oooo. I can so help with that. We'll have you up to snuff in no time."
"I heard he doesn't have to be brought up to snuff in Defense Against the Dark Arts." Harry said casually. "Professor Giles was giving Professor McGonagall quite a glowing report when I happened to overhear them. It seems Professor Giles wants Connor to test out of the first few years and join us in sixth year."
Connor skin flushed red. He hoped that had been after Transfiguration. He so wanted Professor McGonagall to like him since she was head of his house. He needed her to think good things of him for some reason he could not understand.
"Don't worry about it, mate." Ron said. "Harry and I were rotten at Transfiguration at first too."
"Hey!" Harry said.
Hermione raised a brow. "Were?"
"I've come a long way."
Hermione snorted. "Long way? Ron, do let's be realistic."
"Are you saying I'm lousy at Transfiguration?"
"Well... you COULD use a little work in that area. Perhaps if you-"
"Let's not." Harry said interrupting. "Today's been stressful enough without you two bickering like little old ladies about stupid stuff."
"Harry, Transfiguration is not-"
"Hermione!" Harry snapped. "Please. You're right. Ron's Transfiguration could use some work, and-"
"Oy!" Ron snapped.
"AND..." Harry said loudly. "Ron you're right. Hermione's too critical."
Hermione folded her arms across her chest and looked pinched.
"Look, 'Mione. I don't mean to make you upset, but I'd just like a little peace. Just a little. We likely won't have it for long."
"Why? Did you have a vision or a dream? Harry, you need to tell us about these things. I mean, what if-"
"Slow down. I didn't have a vision or anything."
"I'm me. Magnet for trouble."
"Well, as evil wizards aren't gunning for us just yet." Ginny said with a smirk. "Perhaps we can help Connor with his more immediate problem. I promise we'll be tranquil about it, Harry. He's right you know. We likely won't have this much peace for long."
Harry grinned. Leave it to Ginny to put a lighter spin on things.
Connor smiled at them. This having friends thing was a little weird, but he was thinking he liked it.
Draco, Lily, and Dawn were at what was considered their section of the common room. Draco was stretched out on the green sofa with his socked feet on Dawn's lap. Gutterflower was lying on Draco's chest. His potions text was open and propped on his abdomen. Dawn had her transfiguration text propped on the arm of the sofa, reading. She also kept poking a finger in the hole that had worn itself in one of his socks. Draco had already kicked her in the thigh twice for this. Hard kicks too. Lily was spread out on the rug beside the fire. She had many books open and was scratching away on some parchment with her quill.
"You three are fairly solitary."
Draco looked up into the bright blue eyes of Raven Hope.
"Yes, we are. It's so nice for it to be just the three of us, so nice when no one bothers us."
She smirked and raised one blonde brow at him. "Not very subtle, are we?"
"I don't believe in wearing masks anymore, Hope."
This seemed to amuse her greatly. "Touché, Malfoy."
Draco did a mock salute at her.
"You're such a peasant now. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Slytherin prince. Ha! You should have been sorted into Hufflepuff, you little worm."
Lily was up and taking out her wand.
"Easy, Chameleon" Draco had a hand up to still her. Lily was good, but if Raven was who he thought she was, Lily was no match for her.
Dawn had removed his feet from her lap. Her eye was twitching. "You ever been in a fist fight, Hope?"
The blonde girl made a face, wrinkling her nose. "Certainly not."
"You keep insulting my boy Draco, and you're gonna be in one."
"Is that a threat, Summers?"
"You bet your ass it is."
Raven just smiled. "Nice set of bodyguards you have, Malfoy. Opting for brains not brawn this time?"
"Yes, why don't you run along back to Pansy, Hope. She's looking jealous. I'd hate for her to have to send Crabbe or Goyle over here to fetch you."
Her eyes narrowed. "This isn't over."
"I didn't suspect it was."
Raven spun on her heel and stalked off.
"Ok." Dawn said. "Seriously, what is with the two of you?"
"It's a game."
"Who's winning?" Lily asked.
"Can't tell just yet."
"Oh well that's great." Lily said sarcastically.
Draco glared at her.
"Hey, let's get out of here." Dawn said.
"And do what precisely?"
"Let's go find some Gryffindors to bug. Let's go see how Cassie's doing. Visit Willow. Go harass Giles. Anything. Anywhere but here. Something in here is letting off a foul stench." She glared in the direction of Raven Hope.
Draco smirked. Dawn was all brass and sass. It was too bad she wasted all of it on Potter, but that was her choice, and as her friend, Draco had to support that.
Because for some infuriating reason Potter made Dawn happy, and Draco finally had other people besides himself he wanted to see happy.... Dawn being one of those people. Dawn was like the sun after a rainy day. Draco felt quite lucky she had decided she was his friend no matter what.
She allowed him to hope.
Willow almost laughed when she finally made it into hers and Severus's chambers. Almost. Severus was already there and looking a bit haggard. She did not laugh though. She didn't want to provoke him, but he really looked like he needed a cuddle, but using the word cuddle with Severus Snape when he looked as if he needed one would only make the situation within him more tense.
She didn't even say anything.
Willow slipped out of her shoes and her over-robe then she curled up into his side on the comfy couch by the fire. She rubbed her cheek against his chest and wrapped one arm around his middle.
"Your presence is soothing." He murmured as he ran a hand through her hair, loosening the bun she'd put it in that morning.
"Were the brats mean to you today, Cranky Pants?" She asked while unbuttoning his waistcoat.
"Typical first years. Someone melted a cauldron. I was never so glad to have an oddity like Angel in my classroom."
"Angel? Oh you mean Connor. Really? You do know he's a Gryffindor."
"I know." He sighed. "He's the first idiotic Gryff besides Minerva or Ginny Weasley that I have even considered liking. He didn't even think. He didn't even consider that it was Slytherins he was getting from harm's way. He just... reacted."
"Why do you seem so glum about this?"
Her fingertips were trailing along the bare skin of his chest. When exactly had she opened his shirt?
"Because I felt pride that one of my students wasn't an idiot. He isn't even of my house, but I was pleased that he reacted so quickly. I'm never pleased with a Gryffindor."
Willow chuckled and placed a soft kiss on his collar bone. "The world as we know it is ending. Severus Snape felt pride for a Gryffindor. Hell has officially frozen over. Someone get Satan his ice skates."
"You are not humorous."
"Come on. It's a little funny. I mean, you not disliking a Gryffindor? Come on?"
"It does make it easier to swallow knowing both his parents are vampires."
"And what do we think about Raven Hope?"
It was becoming very difficult to concentrate on the conversation with her nibbling on his neck. "Your thoughts first, my little red."
"I don't think she's all that she seems."
"Most of us are not what we seem at first."
"You are definitely proof of that."
She didn't have to look at him to know he was scowling.
"Severus, is she dangerous?"
"Why ask me?"
"Because I know you. I know you see more than you say."
"She is. Raven Hope is VERY dangerous. But not to us. Not to the cause Albus Dumbledore has us defending. She's most dangerous to those who would snuff out Albus Dumbledore and all who support him."
"What are you not telling me."
"I know who she really is."
"I can not tell you that just yet."
"It could place her in even more danger than she already is... and I need to observe her a bit more to be certain of who she really is."
"You think she's in danger?"
"I know she is. She's playing a very dangerous game here."
"You hoping she wins?"
"I am just hoping she survives."
"She seems to have it in for Draco."
"All part of the game. Watch their bickering more closely. See if you see what I see."
Willow shivered against him. She didn't like this. It made her worried. It made her want to figure out who Raven Hope really was, but if Severus wanted her to let it go, she would. For now.
"Do you think we have time for a snuggle before supper?" Willow asked.
"If you keep kissing there, woman, there is going to be decidedly more occurring than snuggling."
"Is that a yes?"
"Consider it a promise."
"I like when you get all sexy pants."
"I really wish you would cease and desist with these ridiculous nicknames you seem to delight in using in reference to my person... sexy or otherwise."
"Does that mean you don't wanna cuddle?"
"As if I would turn down such an offer from my favorite annoyance."
"Was that a yes, bitchy britches?"
"Bloody hell, woman. Yes, that's yes. I will never understand why I tolerate you."
Willow giggled. "Because you love me."
"I must. Anyone whom I was not in love with would not be allowed to use the words cuddle or snuggle in reference to my person. I suspect it is my love for you that keeps me from hexing you no matter how annoying you become."
Willow giggled as she cupped the side of his face and kissed the corner of his mouth.
"And I normally despise people who giggle."
AN: Assume nothing. Because you are probably not right.