AN: Finally writing this. Got a huge case of writer's block, and for that matter, I still have it. Can't get it out of my system. So I've been writing this chapter for months, a little bit at a time, and every time, I'm determined to make it even longer, so you guys have something good to get back to - if you get back to it, anyways.
Lots of detailed interaction between characters this chapter, and a little less forward motion of the story, but I hope it's still entertaining. The Dawn-Connor interaction here was the hardest for me to write, and the start could be slightly better, as I lost most of the dream sequence in a power outage, and had to start the chapter from scratch. But that's okay. I think it has slightly more impact, this way.
Ginny walked amongst the trees, swaying in a breeze she didn't feel, reflecting a soft light she didn't see. There was no moon. Not tonight. She knew where she had to go. She'd went there dozens of times already. She was going to see Tara. There was something important going on. She could feel it in the air.
Ginny looked down at her clothes. She was wearing black tonight. When she first came here and saw Tara for the first time, she was wearing white. She found the color she wore was suitable to the mood and situation that was happening. She mostly wore white. Not now. That further convinced her that something was going to happen.
As she walked, she saw a nearby pool and stopped by it. She looked down at her reflection, and stared into deep and dark eyes. Her own eyes. But different. They were darker than they usually would be. But this was how it was in the forest of her dreams. Her skin was pale here, her freckles gone. Her wavy hair was blood red, rather than the orange hair and pin straight style she sported in the waking world.. Her eyes, that used to be such a pale and soft chocolate brown, were now more red, and more black than before.
When she first looked upon the girl in the water, she asked herself who that was. After all, she had thought, it couldn't be me... But it was. And she had panicked. When she woke up, she tried to forget the dreams that she was having. She looked so real in this, but so different. Ginny was almost afraid of her reflection at the time. Afraid that she would look like that. Like she was haunted. It wasn't the different features she was afraid of, but the look in her reflection's eyes. They looked so dead. So hollow.
Ginny had accepted it over time though. She accepted that she looked like this in her dreams but not in the real world.
But then her dreams started to get more real. So real that they were burned into her memory for a long time afterwards. So real that they started to bleed into the real world. Or at least that's what she thought when her appearance started to be more and more like that of her dream self. A week ago, she looked in the mirror after she woke from one of these dreams and found her hair to be darker, and waves started to form. She had backed into the wall and shut her eyes tightly, hoping that when she opened them again, she would be back to normal. It was not so. When she went down for breakfast that day, her mum commented that she looked different. But she couldn't place it. But Draco knew immediately that something was wrong. That was the day she told him of her dreams, and of Tara. How she could tell if something big were to happen that day. She knew it sounded impossible, but Draco believed her.
She wondered when she started calling him Draco. Perhaps it was the day he told her he would like nothing more to kill his father for what he'd done to him, and to her. Maybe it was the time he said he would revoke the Malfoy name. But Ginny knew the moment he looked into her eyes on the first day he was here, that there was some form of understanding between them. She shared things with him that she was afraid to share with anyone else, even Harry. She shared her thoughts when she was being possessed in her first year, and when she was in the ministry. How when she was alone, she could sometimes feel the madness of the possession lingering inside her.
He listened to her, and at times she felt he understood. His life was a lot less pretty than hers. She believed that he really was sorry for all the things he'd done, and that he'd give up everything, even his own life, to take it all back. But that was impossible. So he had to settle for something else – to do some good in the world and make amends. Other than that though, he seemed dead. He rarely showed any sort of feeling, other than anger at the death eaters and Voldemort, and guilt at his actions. But he was merely a shell of his former self. No annoyance, no sarcastic retorts, no insults. Her temper got the best of her the first week he was at Grimmauld place, but it quickly died down with nothing to fuel it.
At last, Ginny made it to the clearing in the forest where Tara usually sat. She peeked around the fire. Tara wasn't here. That was odd. She was usually sitting across from her, the crackling fire between them, waiting for her to arrive. Now she was nowhere to be seen. Ginny looked up, over the flame, into the forest across from her. Just peering into it gave her the chills, and racked her with fear. There was a darkness in there, in that part of the woods. Ginny knew it represented her darkest impulses and memories. She tried to stay as far away from it as possible. Tara's light usually protected her from the sensation of her darkest fears emanating from the trees, but the soft-spoken witch wasn't here now.
Ginny got up, and, as if drawn, made her way to the deepest part of her mind. As she got closer, she could feel the darkness creep into her. Ginny walked past the first tree and felt the evils of this place. She wandered deeper and deeper into the dark recesses of her mind, until she heard the sound of running water. She strode purposefully towards the sound and stopped at the scene before her. A waterfall, the dark water dropping from what seemed an endless expanse of sky, coming from nowhere but the clouds. Behind it was a mountain, also too tall for her to see the peak. The young woman standing before the falls looked on in wonder, but also no small amount of fear. She found what looked to be a cave behind the torrent of water.
The youngest Weasley slowly reached a hand forward under the water, but snapped it back as it pained from the speed the water was falling, faster than normal gravity would allow. She backed up a bit, and determinedly ran through the cascading falls, emerging in the grim and bleak cave behind it. Her whole body trembled with dull pain, but she soon overcame it and walked on. She saw a dim shape in the distance, but couldn't make out what it was, with the only light source being the light of the stars and moon coming from the other side of the falls. She could see, however that it was also giving off some light. When she got closer, she saw it was a mirror, reflecting the light coming from the cave entrance.
The strange thing was, she thought as she stepped up to it, was that it didn't reflect her. It was like she didn't exist in the mirror. Then something happened when she stepped properly in front of the glass. Instead of seeing her own reflection, she was looking into the eyes of Tom Marvolo Riddle. Her eyes widened and she backed away quickly, stumbling on her own feet and falling onto her back.
“What's wrong Ginny,” he sneered coldly, “are you afraid?”
Ginny didn't answer, and backed away until she hit the wall. She then got up, her body plastered against the wall. She was shocked when the wall seemed to push her back towards the mirror. She was shaking, wanting nothing more than to turn around and run off, but something stopped her, and she wasn't able to look away from the person that was her deepest fear.
He smirked coldly down at her, “Do you know why you are so scared of me, Ginny?”
Ginny felt all the heat slip from her body, and she was terrified. But the unfeeling, detached part of her was wondering with some curiosity as to why. Why was she scared of him most of all? A person is not really something to be afraid of, unless he is a killer. But he is a killer, some part of her argued, He's killed hundreds! But another part said back, But then why am I more scared of him instead of his older self - Voldemort? This was him before he was a murderer, wasn't it? Was it...?
“Is it the possession, Ginny? Is it the murder?” His smirk twisted into a cruel smile. “No, I think it was the feelings and impulses, the loss of control. And the fact that a part of you liked it.” Ginny let out a small sound of fear and distress, and Tom knew he hit his mark.
Then something else appeared in the mirror. A woman, walking up to Tom, with hair and eyes as black as night, wearing jet clothing, veins protruding from her pale skin. She reached for Tom's shoulder, and Ginny felt a hand touch hers. She looked up and found Tara's soft eyes looking at her in concern.
“Come on,” she said quietly, “let's get you out of here.” She steered her by the shoulder through the cave entrance, and that detached part of Ginny noted that the waterfall parted to let them through this time. She was sure that it was Tara's doing, as she now noticed that while Ginny herself was wet, Tara was completely dry. A light seemed to be radiating off her, making the trees retract from them. Soon they found themselves in the clearing, the fire burning even higher than before.
Tara sat them down in front of the fire and hugged her close, whispering words of comfort. Ginny felt tears track down her face, and couldn't help a sob. After she calmed down, warm and dry from the heat of the flames, Tara spoke again.
“They're coming today, Ginny...”
“Who is?” Ginny asked quietly.
“My friends. Your secret keeper and his people,” Tara replied.
Ginny could not keep the surprise out of her voice, “You know the secret keeper? And the others with him? You were friends?”
“Yes,” Tara said sadly, “I was in love with one of them. Willow was her name. She was my soulmate. That is, until I died in front of her”
“That's horrible...” Ginny thought.
They shared a moment before Tara said, “It's time for you to wake up, Gin. And remember, we can all conquer the darkness in the end.”
And as Ginny woke up in her bed at Grimmauld place, she kept her eyes closed. Without Tara's comforting presence, she felt the darkness grip her again, and she couldn't help it when a tear flowed down her cheek and dropped onto the white sheets of her bed.
Draco, having got up from his bed, and gotten ready for the day in the clothes he wore when he appeared at the Order's doorstep. All black. It was only just past dawn, and he felt almost no one would be awake by now, which suited him just fine. He had rarely come out of his room except for meals, and Ginny was the only one who regularly visited him. The only others who'd visited him at all were McGonagall, Granger, and Potter, each only once. McGonagall wanted to know why Snape killed Dumbledore. He had told her of the Unbreakable Vow Snape had made. McGonagall seemed shocked at this, but asked no further questions. Granger had registered how he almost said Snape on his first day here and wanted to know why Snape would bring him here, of all places, after he did what he did. Draco once again told of the Unbreakable Vow and that Snape had figured that this was the safest place for him right now, as Voldemort had no idea he was still alive. She also wanted to know how he knew how to get to the secret keeper. He explained that the secret keeper was an old acquaintance with Snape. That had immediately set her on the defensive where the secret keeper was concerned, but did something to ease the suspicion on him, since he was telling the truth so freely.
Potter wanted to make sure he was really on their side. He asked numerous questions, the ones standing out most were “Why did you do it?” and “Why did you act like a pompous little shit the whole time?” To the first, he claimed he had no choice, that it was that or his life. He had only realized the entirety of what he was getting into when it was too late to back away. As for the second question, he had always acted like a pompous little shit. It was his nature. At least until he had started to think on the implications on what he had to do. Then he became less conceited and more drawn in. Even Potter had noticed when that happened. But his answers did little to ease his suspicion towards Draco.
He was about to make his way down to breakfast when he heard a noise on the way. It was a small sob. He realized he was in front of the door to Ginny's room, where the sound had come from. With a concerned look in his eyes, he quietly opened the door to her room and crept inside. Ginny took no notice of the sound. He closed the door behind him and looked at her. Her eyes were closed tightly, as if by opening them she let in her fears, but despite that, tears were leaking out, and she was trying to muffle her sobs with her hand.
She barely took notice when he sat down on her bed. She only opened her eyes after he gathered her up in his arms and started to softly stroke her hair. When she realized who it was that was comforting her now, almost exactly the way Tara had, she leaned into him some more and hugged him tightly, as though if she loosened her grip, he would disappear.
Draco was whispering small words of comfort in her ear and she started to calm down. Draco was amazed at himself at this act of compassion, a feeling he was prior convinced he didn't have. He had never done this before, to anyone, and yet she was in his arms hugging him as though she hoped he would never go away. Draco found he liked her there, in his arms, but not at these circumstances. Not when she was crying and afraid. He asked her what was wrong. She told him it was a nightmare. It started out as one of those dreams of Tara. After she went into the deeper part of the forest, though, it all went horribly wrong.
Draco had read a book on dreams once, and recalled that sometimes, a part of your dream could represent a part of your mind. Ginny was sure that was what happened here, and Draco was inclined to agree, much as he didn't want to. She told him of the cave, and the mirror, and of Riddle. He could tell she was distressed about that. It was her deepest fear to once more be possessed by Riddle. She feared it because Tom was right. Some part of her liked the loss of control, the darkness. She was sobbing so openly by that time that she couldn't continue. He soothed her again, hugging her as close as he could. When she calmed down once more, she told how Tara had got her out of that part of the forest and back to the clearing. Draco wanted to thank Tara for comforting her until she had to wake, but he knew he had no way of that happening, unless he conveyed the message through Ginny.
“Ginny,” he began, and when the redhead looked up at him, he was tempted to smile, “Tell Tara thank you for me.”
Ginny nodded before releasing him and sitting quietly next to him on the bed. “Draco, I-” she faltered slightly, but then seemed to gather herself back again. She pecked him on the cheek before saying “Thank you.”
Draco did smile then, and asked her if she wanted to come down for a meal before everyone woke. It was past 7 now, and some of the adults might be awake, but they should get some privacy before everyone else came rushing down in an hour or so. She agreed, got changed, and met Draco outside her door. He said he was in his room, but she had a suspicion he was waiting there all along.
“Oh, one more thing,” Ginny said as she closed the door behind her, “The secret keeper's coming today.”
Draco looked at her in some shock. The only person he'd told about that was McGonagall, the head of the Order, and she said she wasn't going to tell anyone until today.
Ginny looked at his features, frowned, and said, “You already knew about that didn't you?”
Draco nodded, “I only told McGonagall because she's the head of the order. Did Tara tell you?”
Ginny nodded back. The first time she told of her dreams of Tara, he thought she was slightly crazy, but he knew she believed it, and if she believed in him, then he would in her. But over time, he saw how select things she said came true, and he started believing her. This just reaffirmed his thoughts.
It was just one more thing that was extraordinary about her.
Harry was sitting in the lotus position in front of the fire in Number 12 Grimmauld Place, practicing his Occlumancy. Though it was first taught to him by Snape, it had proved a useful lesson after all. He held Snape's last words in mind now. Mind closed and mouth shut. Another useful lesson. He was also practicing more than ever to do spells without speaking the incantations aloud. He now recognized it as the only way to defeat Snape, or Voldemort.
He was then jerked out of his meditation by the quiet sound of someone coming down the steps. Odd. All the people that would normally be awake right now are already either downstairs or gone. He turned around to look to the stairs and was met with the sight of Malfoy helping Ginny down the stairs. He stood up and noticed they were holding hands. There was also something about Ginny's face, like she had been crying. That was it. He strode over there purposefully and wrenched their hands apart. Malfoy's stare was blank, and Ginny's was confused. She had definitely been crying earlier.
He gave a death glare to Malfoy and pulled out his wand. “May I have a word with you Malfoy?” He asked coldly, though his wand at Malfoy's chest made it less of a question and more of an order. Nevertheless, he complied quietly and went over to the fire, where Harry had been meditating.
“What did you do, Malfoy?” he asked.
“What?” he replied, his brow furrowing, after glaring at Harry at the use of his surname.
Harry had noticed this, and decided to call him by his last name more, as it clearly annoyed him. “Ginny, she's been crying. What did you do to her, Malfoy?”
Malfoy's grey eyes widened in realization before calmly stating, “Nothing Potter. I've done nothing to her that could make her cry like she was.”
Harry knew he was right. Nothing anyone here did could make Ginny let out tears. She didn't even cry when he left her. She took it all in stride, something that Harry admired her for. It was apparent anyway that they were not to be, even though it had felt like they were at the time. He took the edge off his voice when he spoke again, but it was laced with more concern.
“Then what was wrong?”
Malfoy stayed silent, looking him in the eye, then asked him “How do you do that?”
Harry was confused for some seconds before Malfoy spoke again, “How do you sound like you care about someone you've loved and lost?”
Anger flashed in Harry's mind. “Because I do care!” he hissed.
“I know you care, Potter. The hard part is letting it show after you've lost them. Everyone I know sounds bitter about anyone they've broken up with, even if they do still care deeply. Why aren't you?” He sounded honestly curious.
“Maybe I save my bitterness for others,” he commented scathingly. “Malfoy, some people are just not like that. Some will do anything to stay friends even if the breakup is the worst possible. Now what was wrong, Malfoy?”
The blond seemed determined not to talk about it, “She was really broken up, you know. After you left her. But she didn't let it show. It--”
“What was wrong, Malfoy?” Harry inquired with vehemence. It must have carried over to the other side because when he looked at Ginny, she was staring in their direction. Malfoy made an inquiring glance towards her, and she nodded softly.
“She had a nightmare,” Malfoy started and when Harry was about to scoff, he went on, “about Riddle.”
Harry's look changed to one of concern. “Is she all right? Was Voldemort contacting her?”
Malfoy glanced again at Ginny, “I think she'll be fine, after some comfort. It was the most real dream she's ever had of him.”
Harry felt his anger reach out once more, “It was your father that slipped her the diary in the first place, and caused the whole problem in the first place.”
“And I've never wanted to kill him more,” he said in a low murmur, so low that Harry almost didn't catch it, “I'm not my father, Potter. Remember that. As for Voldemort contacting her, I don't think so. I think it was a different power altogether that contacted her.” He shot an unreadable glance at Harry before taking Ginny's hand with a soft smile an heading to the kitchen.
Harry had never seen Malfoy smile. That sight was the only thing stopping him from breaking them apart once again. And the fact that Ginny seemed to need company right now.
Harry went back to Occlumancy training, although something told him he wouldn't have much luck right now.
Dawn lounged in her bed after breakfast (which she helped make), reading a book, but she found she couldn't concentrate enough. She was finally going to be meeting people from a real magical community. She knew Willow would be even more excited than her about it. Although Willow and Giles have already met two of them, even though they were both 'traitors'. Oh well. One of them is there, at least. Back on the side of good.
And what was even more exciting was that they would be teaching there. Well, Dawn herself probably wouldn't be teaching, just 'instructing', but still. It'll be beyond cool, living in a castle, (a magical castle to boot) and teaching students how to defend themselves against the nasties. That thought sobered Dawn up quite a bit. Another big-bad, another apocalypse.
With a sigh, Dawn got up from her bed, and headed towards the living room, where, in a few hours, they would be going to the HQ of the Order of the Phoenix by fire. By fire! She was still getting used to that idea. After they met up, Giles and Xander would go to the Cleveland Hellmouth to meet Robin Wood with a bunch of slayers that have already been somewhat trained. A good third of them were the survivors from the battle with the first. Giles was going because he thought it was a place where no death eater in their right mind would come for him. Magic was a lot harder to maintain in a Hellmouth, and plus it was all the way across the Atlantic. Willow wanted Xander to stay, but he wasn't having any of it. Xander was going there because he thought he didn't really have much to do in a magical community, and he said he wanted to help train the girls to fight vamps and demons head on.
Angel would meet up with them later, but he needed to take care of some stuff first. 'Stuff' probably meaning Illyria. After Cordelia died in a coma, even though it was wholly the PTB's doing, Angel decided he didn't want to take any chances with Illyria, who had gone into a perpetual state of unconsciousness since the last apocalypse. No one knew why, as she was a powerful demon to begin with, and something like this happening to someone that powerful was virtually unheard of. Angel thought she might have used her power reserves in the battle, and was gaining them back while unconscious. Spike was also wanted to stay with Illyria. They had become good friends, and even before Illyria took her over, Spike was friends with Fred. Mainly because she was the only one willing to try and understand him.
As Dawn was passing by the kitchen, she took a bag of chips with her to the living room, fully intending to set down her book and watch TV. Only the core group and some others were going to Phoenix HQ. Faith and Buffy, being the prime slayers, were teaching other slayers how to fight, and needed to take a look at the castle, where they will be teaching, and living. Willow was going to be teaching the older students wandless magic. At first she had protested, saying she didn't have enough control of her magic, but Giles had said that was nonsense, and that her control had increased exponentially since the last time she had lost it. This had calmed her down somewhat, and she agreed to the position. Everyone seemed to have faith in her, even Buffy, Giles and herself, and especially Xander. That had heartened her greatly.
Dawn was apparently doing to help instruct the non-slayers in fighting. And the person she was teaching them with was Spike. Spike was apparently fully human, although he retained his skills in fighting, even though he isn't as strong or fast as a vampire anymore. Angel was really broody about this, though he didn't admit it, even to himself. To defeat the senior partners, he had to sign the prophecy off of himself, therefore giving the capacity to be human to Spike. Although Spike didn't necessarily want to be human, he seemed to be enjoying it for now. His favorite pastime nowadays was just standing in the sun. Dawn enjoyed watching him. Spike was going with them to the Order. He, at first, volunteered to stay and watch Illyria, but Angel said he should stay, because if the fire didn't work, then Spike wouldn't get killed as easily as he would.
As Dawn reached the living room, she was met with the sight of Connor Angel sitting on the couch, watching television. Connor was also coming with them to the Order. He wanted to see the magic, and he was convinced he could help them at Hogwarts. No one had argued with him, as, because he was Angel's son, he was part of the core group – the actual Scoobies. Angel was considered by Buffy and Willow a Scooby, so his son was considered one too. Kind of. But no one had protested it, and Spike seemed to trust him, so Dawn trusted him too. Even though she hadn't actually talked to him. Dawn inwardly sighed and made to turn around, her thoughts of watching TV deflated slowly.
Suddenly, he called out, “Wait,” and turned the television off.
Dawn turned back around, surprised she had been heard. She thought she had been pretty quiet. Then she reminded herself this was Angel's son. Probably had vampire hearing.
He turned around and faced her. When he saw who it was he seemed lost for words. With a bit of fidgeting he pushed out the words, “I was done anyways.” He wrung his hands slightly before looking away.
Dawn sat down anyways, on the other couch, and he let out an audible gulp. She knew he was nervous, but she couldn't for the life of her figure out why. Maybe it was just talking to people in general? No, she had seen him talking to Spike and his father with ease. Though maybe it's just because he knew them well. But that can't be right. He talked to Willow and Faith without any nervousness whatsoever. Though he had met both of them as well. Hmm... He hadn't met Xander, though they got along fine. (Much to Angel's annoyance.) Dawn scratched that idea off the list. Maybe it was just talking to someone he hadn't talked to before that was making him fidget and lick his lips like that. That had to be it.
It couldn't be her that was making him nervous, could it?
Connor was far from calm. He was slowly turning into a nervous wreck. He saw her on the first day, when he was just back from LA with the others. She was hugging Spike. He found Spike a really cool guy, and she obviously liked him. It was then decided that he would try and be friends with her. Five minutes later, after the whole 'You're human?' thing had been sorted out, he made to approach her, but his feet decided they didn't want to move. He had instead stared at her from across the room. She didn't seem to notice.
She was lovely. Her dark brown hair almost reached her waist, and she was forever tugging on it when nervous. It made him want to run his hands through it, and he had to clasp his hands together to make sure the impulse went unheeded. She was as tall as he was, but it wasn't at all unattractive on her. Her lips were full, and had the quality that made you want to kiss them. He had seen her pout, and that only seemed to amplify his desire to capture her lips with his own. But he knew that wasn't gonna happen. It was actually kinda stalker-ish, considering he hadn't even talked to her yet.
He heard her ask him a question, and realized he was staring at her just as he had that first day. Except this time she had noticed it. He swore inwardly and came back to earth.
“What?” Connor asked.
“You were staring at me,” she replied, slightly flustered, “Do I have some goo on my face or something?”
“What? Um... no, not-- not really” Connor stuttered awkwardly. Dawn raised her eyebrow slightly and finally Connor snapped out of it. He tried to regain his composure. As long as he didn't concentrate too much on her and more on whatever she says, he'd be fine.
“So why were you staring at me?” Dawn asked him, slightly suspicious, “Were you checking me out?”
“I might have been,” replied Connor, suddenly playful. When she laughed at this, he felt all nervousness exit his body. The ice was officially broken.
“So you're Angel's son?” he heard her ask. At his nod she continued, “Well I don't think we've been introduced so...” she stuck out a hand, “Dawn Summers.”
Connor took the hand, and at the touch, his urge to yank her into his arms almost resurfaced, but he stamped it back down. “Connor Angel,” he introduced, “and I figured out who you were. I've seen you around.”
She snorted. “Well it is my house, you know,” She returned. Connor smiled. They sat like that for several seconds, in silence. Dawn's eyes flickered downwards towards their still clasped hands. Connor reluctantly dropped her hand.
“So how did you know I was there?” Dawn inquired.
“Just now? You were holding a bag of chips,” He pointed to the small bag of what they would call 'crisps' here in England, “They always make noise.”
She nodded her understanding. Connor suddenly felt uncomfortable again, and felt he should keep them talking. “So you excited?” he asked. He was of course referring to today.
“Yeah,” Dawn laughed, “We're off to see the wizards.”
Connor chuckled at the impromptu remark, and released all the tension in his muscles. It was a basic exercise, but it helped relieve his persisting uneasiness.
“So,” he asked, as he laid back on his couch. He pointed to her closed book. “What are you reading?”
Hermione yawned again as she came down for breakfast. She thought she came down pretty early, but there were some people already downstairs. Harry, of course, was there, and surprisingly, Malfoy with Ginny. That was odd. Malfoy didn't usually step out of his room. And with Ginny? Hermione knew she and Malfoy met with each other often, but she always thought Ginny was questioning him.
Maybe Hermione was just out of it these days, but she never saw Ginny give any sign of any friendship with him before. Ginny never showed anything she wanted to conceal. Maybe she didn't care anymore if anyone knew she was getting chummy with the ferret, but Hermione thought something was up. She let it lie, however, as Harry noticed her.
She softly called a greeting to him, and sat beside him by the roaring fireplace. She asked what he was doing here so early, though she knew the answer. It was just a conversation-starter to her.
“I'm practicing occlumancy,” Harry answered, and closed his eyes for a second, then glanced discreetly at Ginny and Malfoy having breakfast, clearly enjoying each other's company. “Or trying, at least,” he amended.
“What's going on there anyways?” Hermione asked, nodding her head at the table.
“Not sure exactly,” Harry said, eyes flickering towards Ginny. Hermione was sure he was lying. But he probably had a good reason for doing so. Harry only lied when he was trying to get out of trouble or was keeping a secret. And while Hermione was curious, getting this secret out of Harry wasn't too important. It would take too much effort, if Harry wanted to keep it. He would tell her later, she knew.
He changed the subject, “How's Ron? I hear you two had another fight. What happened?”
“It was nothing, really. I don't even remember what it was about.” That was a lie. She did remember, but she didn't want to worry Harry. She stated that Viktor Krum had sent her a letter, saying that he would be back in England in time for Bill's wedding. Ron was – well, there wasn't another word for it – jealous. Contrary to popular belief, she had known Ron held feelings for her for a long time. Years, probably. And she returned some of those feelings, but her mind always screamed at her that they weren't well matched. Not at all.
Harry raised his eyebrow at this, but let it slide. He sat with his eyes closed, facing the fire, for another minute, before evidently deciding that it was hopeless. Either that, or he was hungry.
They went over to the kitchen, got some cereal, and sat down at the table, at the opposite end from Ginny and Malfoy. They were talking softly, and every so often, Ginny let out a small giggle, and Malfoy smiled. Hermione's eyebrows raised at that. More so because when he wasn't sneering, or smirking obnoxiously, he wasn't all that bad looking. She shook that thought out of her head. She glaced at Harry. If he saw her staring, he gave no impression of it. He just sat there eating his cereal, looking deep in thought.
When they were halfway through their cereal, the rest of the people came down. Mrs. Weasley came, and already seeing Harry and Hermione downstairs, smiled. Though she pursed her lips at the sight of Ginny and Malfoy together and raised an eyebrow at her daughter. Malfoy took that as his cue to move away, giving Ginny's hand a comforting squeeze as he did so, which made Mrs. Weasley's eyebrow go even higher, and making Ginny blush.
It was wise he moved, however, as the rest of the Weasley family – minus Mr. Weasley, who was already at work – came down, moving towards the table eagerly. They didn't look at Malfoy besides a curious glance at what he was doing out of his room. Ron took a seat away from her, beside Fred and George. They were almost done breakfast when Remus and Professor McGonagall came towards the table, saying they had an announcement to make.
“Today,” she started, “the Secret Keeper is coming.”
Hushed whispers broke out at this from most of the Weasleys, and Hermione felt like whispering, herself. Harry didn't show any signs of surprise other than sitting straighter in his seat, and his face was impassive. He did, however, glance at Malfoy again, after which his gaze snapped back to McGonagall. Hmm. Malfoy must've been the one to tell McGonagall, as he was the only one who had direct contact with the Secret Keeper. He certainly didn't show surprise. Ginny didn't either. She supposed Malfoy probably told her too. The question of 'why' is something she would have to think about later.
“I expect all of you to be on your best behavior,” she continued. “Failure to do will result in strict punishment.” She looked pointedly at Fred and George, “any pranks will not be tolerated and will result in a even stricter punishment. Two months' worth, at the least,” she added when Fred and George, hiding their smirks, tried to nod. Now they exchanged resigned glances, sighing.
Hermione took the opportunity the pause presented, to ask a question. “When exactly are they coming, Professor?”
McGonagall's brow furrowed slightly and she glanced at Malfoy, who shrugged. “We do not know exactly, Granger,” she answered, “but they will be coming by floo, and we will be keeping a sharp lookout.”
Hermione nodded. That answered her unsaid question of 'how', at least.
Nymphadora Tonks – just Tonks, she always said. She hated her first name with a vengeance – stood in front of her mirror, changing her hair color slightly to get it her previous shade. It changed while she dreamed, and so she usually spent mornings getting it the same shade as before, or changing it completely. She sometimes left it the way it was, but it was usually a pretty bizarre color,so that seldom happened. Today, she was aiming for a chocolate brown.
When she was satisfied with it, she turned around – Only to have Remus apparate right in front of her, turning her hair, white.
“Damn it, Remus,” she growled, “you scared the hell out of me. Now I've got to fix this back up.”
“Well, hello to you too,” said Remus Lupin, obviously amused. “I think we've both had enough of brown hair, though, don't you think?”
“I suppose,” Tonks sighed, and turned her hair a bright red. “I could be a Weasley cousin with this, though, hmm?” she laughed, “Now what's up?”
Remus smiled, “Actually I came here to ask if you would call off work for today.”
Tonks walked into her closet, intent on finding a suitable coat. “You planning a date, Remus?” she asked from inside.
“As much as I would love to, no,” he started. “The secret keeper's coming today. He's bringing friends. I hear some of them are American, female, and your age. Thought you might want to come. Might be fun for you.”
Tonks poked her head out of the closet, and mulled it over for a second. “Sure,” she agreed, “it might be.” She came out of her closet wearing a short coat, not bothering with her robes quite yet.
“One thing though,” she started. Remus gave her a questioning tilt of the head. “If I take the day off, we are
going out for a date, later. Agreed?”
Giles was uncertain, to say the least. He was holding the pouch of floo powder he had obtained from one of Dumbledore's letters, along with a set of instructions on how to use it, and the address of the Order of the Phoenix's headquarters, charmed to let only those who already know it read it. And of course, you could only know it once the secret keeper tells you.
He had met Dumbledore once, months ago, where he passed along the title of the secret keeper to him. He had been a nice man, old and grandfatherly, and even Giles could feel his magic was very powerful, but he spoke to Giles as a complete equal. Willow had said she wished she could have met him. Giles shook himself back to the present. It would do no good to reminisce now.
Giles looked at the clock. It was mid afternoon. And time for them to go. He made sure the fireplace was going. The letter said that old fashioned fireplaces would work the best, or at least gas fireplaces. He had gotten Xander to take out the glass screen, and make the fireplace large enough to step into.
Giles shuddered. He didn't feel any inclination whatsoever to step into a roaring fire. That was why he was stalling. He made himself tune back into the conversation.
“Oh, come on, G-man,” Xander said, “You're just too afraid to go into the fireplace.”
“Well, I do admit I am a little uncertain. It is a fire, you know,” he replied dryly.
Buffy rolled her eyes and grabbed the pouch from his hand. “You big babies,” he heard her mutter under her breath. She took a bit of the powder and threw it into the fire, handing the still quite full pouch back to Giles.
“Right, so it's Number 12, Grim old place?” she asked, pausing before stepping into the now bright green flames.
Faith, leaning against the wall, snickered a bit. “It's Grimmauld, B,” she answered. Xander eyed her curiously, obviously surprised that she paid attention.
“Right,” Buffy said, and confidently stepped into the fire. Giles let out a small breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. “See?” Buffy said, “Doesn't burn.”
“Get on with it, slayer,” Spike called from the back.
“Alright,” Buffy started, “wish me luck. If this works, just come on after me. Okay.”She stepped into the blazing furnace, and shouted, “Number 12, Grimmauld Place!”
And as Buffy disappeared inside the emerald inferno, Giles and Willow exchanged a look, and Giles went towards the viridian flames.
Ginny, sitting in one of the numerous rooms in the Black house, watched her older brothers play Wizard's Chess. Harry was off to the side, waiting for a game to finish so he could step in and play against the winner. Hermione was also off to the side, reading a book, looking up once in a while, but studiously avoiding looking at Ron. Remus Lupin and Tonks were talking softly to each other, half-heartedly watching the games of chess.
Draco was sitting across the room, staring at her. When she noticed this, she gave a quick smile, and he smiled back. Only for a second though. If her brothers caught them staring at one another, they'd definitely want to know what was up. Harry had noticed them. He noticed a lot more than he let on, sometimes. She wouldn't be surprised if Hermione noticed, also. Ginny was focused on not letting her brothers know, but Harry and Hermione already knew, and she had no worries either of them would say anything to Ron.
Ginny just looked away from Draco's eyes, when the room went silent. Her eyes widened, thinking her brothers had caught her staring, but when she looked at them, they didn't move.
She stood up, and saw a figure leaning against the doorway. Who it was left her dumbstruck.
“Tara?” she asked breathlessly. “How can you be here? How did-”
Tara shushed her by putting a finger on her lips. “I'll answer that later,” she said, “but right now there's something a bit more important.”
Ginny blinked. “They're coming, aren't they?” she asked. Tara nodded serenely. “But that still doesn't answer my question. How...?”
“Oh, just using a little of your magic,” Tara said lightly.
“You mean I did this?” Ginny asked, looking around at the frozen room. “Or at least, I can
Tara made an affirmative sound, and lightly pushed Ginny back into her chair. She turned to leave, and paused. “One more thing,” she said. “Don't tell them about me. Not yet. Don't want anyone to do something reckless.” Ginny nodded, and as Tara disappeared, the room went back to normal speed.
Ginny realized she was breathing heavily, and saw Draco give her a questioning look. She stood up and beckoned for him to come, a gesture that didn't go unnoticed by Harry or Remus. As Remus and Tonks exchanged glances, she was already out of the room, with Draco behind her.
“What is it?” He asked.
“It's time. They're here.” she replied.
And as they stepped into the main sitting room, Harry, Remus, and Tonks following, the flames turned green, and a petite blonde woman stepped out casually, dusting soot off her top, not at all looking like she felt the dizziness that comes with first time flooing.
“Is this the place?”
AN: Finally, done. This took ages to write, and I'm finally going to release it on New Year's Eve. Not as good as releasing it on Christmas, but still. Hope you enjoyed it so far. Please review.