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The Staircase Chat

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Upon her first meeting of the Weasley family, Nymphadora Tonks resolved that she hated the lot of them.

At that time she had been seven years old, and they had just been a group of rowdy boys who, aside from being outright irritating, had taken up the most unwelcome habit of calling her "Nymphie".

She had never been fond of her first name, but this had been the straw to break the camel's back. From then on, she demanded that everyone refer to her by her surname only. Even her parents were forced to follow this practice, unless they wanted their daughter to launch into an earsplitting tirade concerning their thoughtlessness when it came to naming her.

Her mother, who had always loved her own eccentric first name (it was the only good thing her parents gave her, she often said), could not understand why Nymphadora disliked hers so much.

'Perhaps it's because of those infernal Weasley brats?' would have been her daughter's vehement suggestion, had she been stupid enough to voice it out loud. Well, and had she ever used the word "infernal". Because despite her efforts to be known only as "Tonks," the Weasley boys persisted in calling her by the horrendous nickname.

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"Nymphie!" the oldest Weasley greeted her gleefully as he wrenched open the front door.

Tonks scowled at him from behind her mother. Three years! It had been three years since he'd started calling her that, and he still found it as amusing as ever.

Along with her parents, she sullenly entered the Weasley house, stumbling as she crossed the threshold. She refused to look at Bill, who was holding the door open for them. Out of the corner of her eye, however, she saw that his face had split into a wide grin. Lovely to know that her misfortune could bring someone so much joy.

"How was your first year at Hogwarts, son?" her father asked Bill genially, clapping him on the shoulder.

Tonks didn't wait to find out. Instead, she followed her mother into the kitchen, hoping that sticking close by her side would increase her chances of avoiding the Weasley boys.

Her subjection to the Weasley brothers' annoyingness was all her mother's fault, Tonks reflected. After all, it was she who organized their monthly dinners…and it was all really just an excuse for her to get together and chat with Mrs. Weasley, who had been her best friend in school.

Why they couldn't have just gone out to lunch like normal people was beyond Tonks. It would have been a much better plan, in her opinion. But no, they had to turn it into a whole affair, and one that she had to be a part of, at that.

Maybe she could have put up with it if the boys had been less of idiots. Or, really, they could have been just as much of idiots if only there were less of them. Even Percy, who kindly did refrain from calling her "Nymphie," made up for this bit of considerateness by being the most stuck-up six year old she had ever met.

Dinner, as it nearly always did, passed without consequence. The Weasley brothers weren't too keen to try anything when their mother was watching.

However, after eating, the adults would move into the living room to talk and would turn the kids (with the exception of Ron and Ginny, who were too young) loose. Somehow or another Tonks always got pulled into playing whatever game they fancied playing, and although she didn't like it, it was better than talking. How boring.

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"Hide and seek!" one of the twins cried happily, clapping his hands.

"Come off it," Charlie snapped for about the tenth time. "That game's for little kids."

Charlie, who had just turned ten, did not realize that most people would consider him a little kid. He also didn't care that the twins, who were four, most certainly were little kids.

"Hide and seek!" the other twin yelled, more forcefully than his counterpart had.

"I don't want to play anything! I just want to read!" Percy whined from behind his book, If You Give a Knarl a Cookie. For Muggles familiar with the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, I will note that the plot of Percy's book was strikingly different. This is of course because a knarl, far from asking for a glass of milk to go along with his cookie, would instead think he was being poisoned if given one.

At any rate, Percy seemed to realize he couldn't concentrate on his book when the twins began to chant "Hide and seek!" as they simultaneously pounded their fists on the floor.

"Oh, all right, all right!" Bill shouted, holding his hands over his ears. For being so small, Fred and George really could make quite a racket.

"Pushover," Charlie muttered, glowering at Bill for giving in to the twins' choice of game.

Meanwhile, Tonks glowered at Bill for merely existing. He had always been her least favorite out of all of them, mainly because he made fun of her the most relentlessly.

Bill paid no heed to the glares he was receiving. "Well, then, who wants to hide first?" he asked, surveying them all lazily.

The twins immediately started jumping up and down, their pudgy little hands raised as high as they would go. Bill pretended to ignore them; he evidentially found their antics entertaining. He kept looking around at everyone with a big, stupid smile plastered on his face. "How about you, Nymphie?"

"I'm sorry, who? I don't see anyone here who goes by that name," she replied coldly. Tonks normally had a very warm, bubbly disposition, but when in the company of the Weasley boys her temperament became frigid.

"I'll take that as a no," Bill said brightly, his blue eyes sparkling with a ridiculous amount of mirth.

Fred and George took this as their cue to hop even higher and more enthusiastically, and began wave their arms around even more wildly.

"Me! I want to!" one of them (Tonks was pretty sure this one was Fred) wailed.

"No, not him, I raised my hand first!" the other howled.

"Liar! Liar, liar, pants on fire!" Fred shot back, shoving his twin with his free hand.

"Hey, ow! Take that!" George cried, hitting Fred in the shoulder.

The twins became engaged in a one-handed fistfight of sorts over who would get to hide first. One of their hands always remained firmly raised in the air, while their eyes remained fixed on Bill, who apparently would be the one to make the decision.

"Hey, hey, settle down," Bill said calmingly, watching his brothers with a smile. "Why don't you both hide?" he suggested.

The twins gasped and abruptly ceased fighting, astounded at this brilliant idea.

Most any observer of this scene would have noted what a wonderful, sweet big brother Bill was. Tonks, however, did not care to observe anything positive about him, so she did not notice this.

The twins had now moved to the fore of the group, and took this opportunity to address them all.

"So, the rules are - " George began.

"- that you must count to one hundred - " Fred continued.

" – and even though we can't count that high yet, you can't cheat - "

" – and be sure to keep your eyes closed - "

" – oh, and no peeking. That all, Fred?"

"Quite so, George," Fred responded, nodding, and identical grins spread across their faces. Slowly, they began to creep backwards, still facing the group. "You can start counting-g-g-g…" Fred said, drawing out the last syllable and holding it…

"Now!" George suddenly yelled, and the two of them spun around and sprinted the rest of the way out of the room.

In unison, Tonks and the others covered their eyes with their hands and began to count; Tonks joined in rather half-heartedly. As she murmured, "twenty," however, she parted her fingers slightly, and a sliver of light became visible. She knew quite well that she was cheating, but breaking rules was something that always brought her joy.

Tonks blinked twice, and the image of Charlie, who was standing right across from her, became clear. His eyes were squeezed so tightly shut that it actually looked like it was painful.

A snort escaped Tonks, the product of a smothered giggle. The expression on Charlie's face was just priceless!

An unexpected nudge in the side caused her to gasp and instinctively snap her eyes shut.

"Not cheating, are you?" Bill whispered next to her, obviously amused. He sounded as though he were certain that she actually was, even though there was no way for him to really know.

"Eighty-four," said Tonks, ignoring him.

The sounds of Bill snickering even as he resumed counting reached her ears. What did he find so humorous about her?

Four voices chorused, "One hundred!" and the first thing Tonks saw upon opening her eyes was that annoyingly wide grin. It took every ounce of self-control that she possessed not to knock Bill's absolutely contemptible smile right off his face.

For some reason, Tonks found that she could hardly control herself in Bill Weasley's presence. She couldn't talk to him, she couldn't look at him, she couldn't be in the same room as him without that terrible feeling he gave her bubbling up in the pit of her stomach. Yet Tonks felt virtually powerless to stop it, not to mention the other uncontrollable urges to do things she really oughtn't, when in his presence.

It must have been because of the hate.

A wood paneled wall was what Tonks had forced her eyes to focus on after the brief glimpse of Bill's face. She had no problem with confrontations, really, but she always avoided the oldest Weasley like the plague. She just couldn't stand to be near him, not at all!

And, though it wasn't as if she realized it at the time, she couldn't stand to be near him in more ways than one.

Tonks' eyes remained fixed determinedly on the wall for little more than a second. They drifted toward Bill, as if attracted by some magnetic force, and she stalked hurriedly past him to prevent herself from having any chance of looking at him.

She didn't even know where she was heading, only that wherever it was did not include Bill. After all, she knew which room he currently occupied, and she most certainly wasn't in it anymore.

Maybe she actually would search for the twins.

Then again, maybe she'd just wander around the Burrow aimlessly, hoping that she didn't run into anyone. Especially anyone she'd just deliberately set out to avoid.

Even if Tonks had tried to find Fred and George, chances were she wouldn't have been able to find them. Her knowledge of the layout of the Weasley house was limited, and as it turned out even those who had lived there all their lives were having trouble figuring out what little known nook or cranny the twins had managed to disappear into.

After a bit, Tonks found that she was tired of meandering around, while the others continued seeking the twins to no avail. She figured that she'd rest for a while, and took a seat on the uppermost step of the flight of stairs that she'd just climbed.

Bill chose that moment to make an appearance at the bottom of the steps. Although it was clear that he had not known that she was there in advance, her presence evidently made him all the more intent to climb the staircase.

He did so, smirking (naturally), and plopped down next to her when he reached the top. "Hello, there!" he greeted her cheerfully.

"Wotcher," she returned unenthusiastically, sullenly hugging her knees to her chest. "What d'you want, anyway?" she questioned him, giving him a withering look.

"Well, I was thinking that this seems to be the prefect opportunity to do something we've never done before, Nymphie: have a pleasant chat!" he beamed.

Tonks was sure that he always exuded that overwhelming exuberance simply to spite her. The nickname alone was sufficient for infuriating her, though. Both in combination made her doubly mad, and having had enough of it for the day, she snapped. "Stop that! I hate that name, I hate it!" she cried, sounding a slight bit hysterical.

His smile flickered momentarily, and he cocked his head at her. "You mean you really don't like it? Not at all?" he asked, bewildered.

"Why would I? And what ever gave you the idea that I did?" she replied, equally confused.

Bill shrugged. "I thought you were just pretending that it bothered you. I mean, I thought you knew that it was just a joke…and that you really did find it funny. Er, deep down, you know." With a little (yes, little, as opposed to outrageously huge) lopsided grin on his face, he actually appeared to be sorry.

And for some reason, Tonks found herself unable to reject Bill's explanation. Or was it an apology? Either way, she couldn't help forgiving him some, as well. "Yeah, well…ugh, what kind of a name is Nymphadora, anyway?" she muttered, sighing.

"The same kind as Bilius?" Bill suggested wryly.

Tonks couldn't conceal the surprise she felt upon finding out what "Bill" was actually short for. She'd always figured it was William, probably.

"Didn't know that was my full name, eh?" Bill asked, with a smile much softer than the sort he usually directed at her. "Heh, yeah, now there's one worth hating."

"Yeah, well," Tonks said, not sure what to say now that she felt less justified in her reaction to all the fuss made over her name. The major perpetrator was in the same boat as she was, really. "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," she accused mildly.

"Hmm, what's that mean?" Bill asked, nose crinkling in confusion. Tonks felt sure that she had never before been able to discern emotion from a nose before, and found it unnerving.

"Oh, it's just an expression. My dad says it a lot," she explained with a wave of her hand.

Bill raised one vividly red eyebrow. Tonks had always marveled at people who could do that; whenever she tried that her other eyebrow always ended up following. "Oh, I see, it's an expression!" he exclaimed. "Thanks for clearing that up, I now know precisely what you meant."

He was being sarcastic. Sarcasm was rude. She liked it. Tonks mentally kicked herself for finding this blatant impoliteness amusing. Especially when it was coming from someone she had outright detested not more than two minutes ago. 'Stupid sudden change of heart,' she thought sullenly. Not to mention unfounded. And stupid.

While she berated herself, he was still looking at her expectantly for an answer. "You shouldn't go making fun of others over something that could just as easily be turned around at you," she clarified. Granted, until just a moment ago she had had a distinct lack of knowledge of his mock-worthy first name, so she really couldn't have taunted him with it in return, but that wasn't the point.

"Well, I'll make you a deal, then. I call you 'Nymphie,' and you're well within your rights to call me 'Bilius,'" he grinned, picking a bit of lint off the green, threadbare carpet and tossing it at her.

"I accept that offer, my dear Bilius," she replied, returning his smile (what had come over her?). She picked the fuzz he'd thrown at her out of her hair and unceremoniously flicked it right back in his face.

Bill let out a gasp, pretending to sound wounded. "What was that for? A piece of fuzz in the eye, I can't believe you think I deserved that!" he wailed. "And that color green really complemented your hair, can't think why you'd have wanted to remove it," he added, sounding much less affected.

"Oh, you think puke green's a really becoming hair color for me?" she joked mischievously. Screwing up her eyes in concentration, Tonks focused very hard on the shade of the carpeting. She opened her eyes to Bill's shocked expression. "Like it, do you?" she asked, fingering one of her newly green locks.

Bill reached out in awe, grabbing hold of the piece of hair she was fiddling with and held it to his eye to examine it. "Wicked," he breathed. "How'd you do that?"

Tonks couldn't resist smirking. "I'm a Metamorphagas," she revealed proudly. She allowed her hair to return to its natural light brown, and the tress Bill had been studying dropped back to hover over her shoulder as he let go.

"You're kidding!" Bill shouted with an uproarious laugh, clearly impressed and amazed. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Mostly because I hated you," Tonks replied lightly.

Bill's smile suddenly transformed from completely astonished to downright impish. "You've used the past tense, of 'hate,'" he observed. "Like me now, I take it?"

Tonks merely harrumphed and declined to respond, which was her way of giving an affirmative answer to his question.

She went back to deliberately avoiding his gaze again; he reverted to looking at her quite intently. "Hey, how old are you?" he asked after a moment of silence.

"Ten," she responded, holding up all of her fingers for amplification. She couldn't suppress a grin, seeing as she was immensely proud of her age being in the double digits.

Bill evidently found this information to his liking, as he also grinned (although that admittedly wasn't an unusual thing for him to do). "I'm twelve," he told her, apparently unaware that she already knew that. "So that's only two years of difference between us," he pointed out.

Tonks didn't see what this had to do with anything, and further didn't understand why Bill was mentioning something so obvious to her. "I know; I can do simple math," she said, giving him a funny look.

"What I mean is," he said, blushing for some reason, "that's not a very big age gap…you know, my parents are two years apart. They're two years apart and they got married. So, you know, it could be the same for us, someday." He fidgeted, a full-fledged flush in his cheeks now, and then reached over and shyly took her hand.

Suddenly it all made sense to Tonks. Bill Weasley had a crush on her. Well, that explained everything.

Now that she realized it, Tonks found that she wasn't at all opposed to Bill's crush. In fact, it seemed that she had finally developed one of her own. She squeezed the hand that was holding hers.

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They sat in comfortable, companionable silence on the top step of that staircase, hand in hand. It felt very familiar to Tonks, like she'd done this before.

A pink ball of fluff from the carpet found its way into her hair. "Well, what do you know? It matches!" a voice next to her cheerfully observed. Tonks lifted her gaze from their clasped hands to look at Bill, a roguish grin spread across his face.

With her free hand, Tonks extracted the fuzz from her hair and tossed it forcefully at Bill. The missile lost strength halfway to him, however, and floated down to land on their intertwined knuckles.

"Nice shot," Bill commented, with only a hint of sarcasm. He lifted their hands off of the stair on which they were resting, and pulled Tonks gently toward him.

Tonks allowed herself to lean into him, and burrowed her head snuggly against his chest. "How old are you?" Bill asked her.

"Ten," Tonks whispered hazily into his robes, momentarily not sure if that was true or not.

"I'm twelve," he replied softly. "So that makes only two years difference between us. It's not very much. My parents are two years apart. They got married. We could get married someday, too."

But wait: Nymphadora Tonks wasn't ten years old anymore. In fact, she wasn't even Nymphadora Tonks anymore. Vaguely, the Auror wondered what she would force people to call her now.

Then, with a giggle, she snapped back to reality. "Isn't that what the ceremony was for?"

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A/N: Okay, so this version of hide and seek appears to be more along the lines of sardines, but I couldn't bring myself to change the name of the game. "Hide and seek" just has a much better ring to it, and was especially necessary seeing as I had the twins chanting it. Chants require three syllables. They just do!

Anyway, I based this fic VERY loosely on a conversation I remembered having seven long years ago and thought would make a good premise for a plot. Even though I really only remember about five lines of this conversation, they were just begging to have an incredibly fluffy fic written around them. I'll note, of course, that my own ending is NOTHING like the one in this fic. Nor do I want it to be…the boy in question and I are still friends, though.

I say these things as if anyone actually cares about my life. Ah, whatever, I enjoy strolling down memory lane. I'm well within my rights to drag you along with me!

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this…let me know, and review!