The tiny café

Whee hee! Would'ya look at this! Another series! Woop dee do da. I'm having a break from my other stories (as you may have guessed) just because I need to plan them a little more, and I want them to be good anyway, not rushed. This was an idea that popped into my head and so I wrote it down and so here we go.

Want to say thanks to Eve, for beta reading-- fab-oo-lous, darling.

Queen of Hearts

"Even on the blackest night, the stars still shine. Even in times of great despair, a glimmer of hope exists. Even in death, life will continue on its unwavering course. There is always light within the darkness."

The tiny café smelt of old cigarettes, beer, and that odd smell that hovers in the air when people are continually pressed together in a crowded space. The room was musty with smoke and the sound of glass clinking against wooden tables rung out loudly over the dull murmur of people chatting and arguing over their drinks. It was called The Wooden Leak, and not even the owners could quite figure out how it had been named.

The bell at the door tinkled as a short figure entered, arms wrapped around a shivering chest as the small shape hurried in out of the biting December wind. The waitress at the counter watched the newcomer suspiciously, but was distracted as an old warlock complained about the quality of wine, God knows how he could afford it in the first place. The warlock shuffled off after a few minutes, muttering to himself crossly and the waitress scanned the crowded room for a sign of the person she had been waiting impatiently for.

She caught sight of the slight figure huddled up at a single table, black scarf pulled up over white cheeks and mouth, watching the regulars with sharp, brown eyes. Leaving the counter hastily before a drunken wizard could interrupt, the waitress pulled out her quill and walked briskly over to the stranger, trying very hard not to run- being caught would lose everything and more.

'What can I get for you?' She said, smiling cheerfully, checking to make sure no one else was watching. The stranger lowered the scarf, revealing a pale face and very red lips. She glanced at the nametag pinned to the green regulation shirt of the waitress- Lavender, it said in bold black writing, useful for tipsy customers whose eyesight had gone shoddy.

'Just a coffee, thanks.' She grinned, but Lavender ignored this and pretended to be writing down a long list of items. The stranger adjusted her hood, tucking some loose strands of hair behind her ears, and waited for Lavender to speak. She did, after taking a few deep breaths to calm herself.

'Any news?' Her voice was low and careful, and she did not look at the short woman she was addressing.

'No. I came to check up on you, that's all.'

'None at all?' Lavender sounded somewhat desperate, but the stranger shook her head slowly, thinking. She was not smiling any more.

'No…' She said, then, changing her mind, she nodded. 'But I can't tell you now…meet me at Ron's place, 6 o'clock- you'll be off work then?'

Lavender nodded, then turned as a long finger poked her on the shoulder. 'Yer gonna gimme me drink or not? I've bin waitin' fer hours!'

'I'm coming, I'm coming.' She glanced over at the woman, rolling her eyes. 'Get me out of here,' Lavender said quietly out of the corner of her mouth. Before she could answer Lavender had rushed off, shoes clicking against the cracked tiles on the floor as she went.

The woman leaned back in her chair and surveyed the scene before her. She couldn't help but feel sorry for Lavender- but she was grateful it hadn't been her stuck with the job of waiting, always waiting. Being messenger was more thrilling. More dangerous, yes, but she wasn't sure she'd be able to stand the waiting without going insane.

Her coffee came half an hour later, delivered by a hassled wizard who was obviously not cut out for a job in a café, no matter how small. Probably just wanted the money, she thought, eyeing him. He waited impatiently for a tip, and she stared at him insolently, brown eyes wide. He sighed, exasperated, and turned on his heel.

The woman sipped at the coffee, choked, and hurriedly spat it back out while trying to look discreet. She caught Lavender's glance and grimaced, gave a little wave, then swept her hood over her forehead, tightened the scarf back around her face, and left The Wooden Leak without looking back, a strip of skin and her eyes the only features making her distinguishable as a person.

Lavender, still stuck behind the counter, sighed. She looked at the customer in front of the counter crossly; wishing the magic folk in this area of London weren't so fond of gossip and mead. She still didn't see why Hermione insisted upon using this particular café as their drop off point.

'Do I get me beer or what?' The clearly drunken warlock tittered on the spot, then righted himself for a moment, and it appeared he was going to curse her- he was drawing his wand- but before he could even prod her lightly, he had collapsed in a heap on the ground.

Lavender dragged him over to one wall, stuck a hard pillow under his head, and resumed her duties behind the counter. She was used to this.

***

Ginny Weasley sat cross-legged in a small flat which was tucked behind several run down shops, only accessible by a narrow lane coming off yet another lane. It was quite bare, with only a few pictures on the wall that Ron had brought from the Burrow, and the furniture was ripped and tatty- she herself had scavenged them from some muggle second hand stores, which she had been coming very well acquainted with over the past year.

She loved this flat. It was Ron and Hermione's- Harry stayed overnight occasionally- but she was probably there more often than the actual rent payers were. (Namely, her brother.) She insisted that she still lived at home, but home was becoming an increasingly difficult place to stay at, so she 'popped in' on regular occasions to stay the night, managing to basically live there and avoid paying any money whatsoever. Besides, they had found their own uses for her since she herself had graduated…

Ginny glanced at the clock hung up on the roughly painted wall. Quarter past six. Lavender was late; not that she'd expected her to be punctual. Knowing Lavender she'd been held up by some witch or wizard wanting a free drink, news, help of some kind- or, of course, she'd met a cute wizard and was off talking to them down some dark alley. It was strange- Lavender worked at probably the least exciting place of them all, and yet she met more people, was closer to everything they were now somehow separated from. Ginny wouldn't have minded taking on the job at the Wooden Leak if she'd actually been out of school at the time, but, of course, she'd been listening to Professor Binns in a stifling classroom when they'd been having all the fun.

The clock hands ticked slowly, and Ginny grew bored. Lavender was taking her time, obviously. Had she forgotten? She was usually the last to arrive at places, last to leave, but still--this was stretching it, even for her. Ginny stood up, yawned, pulled on her cloak and opened the door. It took a moment, since the warding charms on it were particularly strong at night, and once she was out under the night sky she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to be. If it had been cold that day it was now freezing. She cursed herself for forgetting to put on gloves, but it would take too long to get back in, and Hermione didn't want anyone who might be watching to learn how to say the charms properly.

Harry thought Hermione had become paranoid; Dean said she was being sensible and Ron was so busy getting things organised he barely noticed. Although Ginny realised he was always home on a Wednesday night, always drinking tea, laughing at some joke Harry had told, most of which were morbid and yet made them all fall about in hysterics. Hermione, when talking to Ginny one evening, pointed out that this was only because they never laughed at anything else. Everyone squashed into the little flat on Wednesdays, the only stability in their lives.

Ginny tucked her red hair under her hood hastily and she stared down at the ground as she walked, buffeted this way and that by the wind and passing strangers.

***

Lavender glanced at her watch impatiently. She was an hour late for Ginny and it didn't look like there'd be a break in work for her any time soon. The night waiters hadn't turned up at all- she knew better than to complain, but she was annoyed. Of course, Ginny probably wouldn't have anything necessarily important to talk about, but Lavender wanted someone besides Hermione to talk to. She only ever talked about Voldemort, their next plans, and what Ron had done to be a pain in the past week. Each list grew longer and longer and sometimes Lavender couldn't help wondering if Hermione was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Ron said she was under too much stress, but Hermione, ever capable, insisted it was the cold.

The bell tinkled again and she groaned loudly, causing several customers to look over in surprise. Lavender considered ducking behind the wooden counter and to the confusion of the people waiting for their drinks to be refilled in front of her, she sat down on the tiled floor without considering what this would mean. Her feet were exhausted and her legs, encased in black stockings that itched, felt unusually like cooked spaghetti.

A familiar face peered over the edge of the polished counter. 'Lavender?'

'Renee!'

Ginny's face registered confusion. 'No, Lav, it's me,' she whispered, rubbing her arms quickly in an attempt to warm them as she walked over to where Lavender sat on the dirty ground. 'Ginny.'

'Renee?' She mumbled, staring at the white face in front of her. 'There's snow on your nose…white snow…'

Ginny wiped her nose. 'Come on, Lavender. We're going home.'

She put her arm behind the older girl's back and helped her up. 'Home?' Lavender whispered. 'Mum and Dad will be up, I'm late, they'll be ever so cross, Renee…'

Oh God, she's lost the plot, Ginny thought helplessly. Why now? Why Lavender? Parvati, put some of that damn divination skill into practise and come help me.

Parvati, being in London and nowhere near a crystal ball, with nothing even close to palmistry on her mind, did not come.

***

Hermione Granger stared out of the window at the sky. The clouds were flying through the air at a remarkable speed and the entire picture was blurred due to the rain pounding against the glass pane in sheets. Definitely the best season of the year. Ron was-- well, she didn't know exactly where he was but at the moment she hoped he was on the moon. The moon sounded like a pretty good place to be, especially considering the distance it was from earth.

The world was so grey in winter, the footpaths were always wet and it was impossible to go outside without freezing and Hermione, for one, loved it. There was something about snuggling up at night under the blankets with your feet on a hot water bottle that cheered her up immensely and although Lord Voldemort was also seemingly enjoying the weather, she considered it to be a good omen.

Not that she believed in omens.

She didn't really even know what omens were.

She was pondering over exactly what omens were and why she didn't believe in them when the door slammed and the sound of two people and possibly a sheep entered the kitchen. Hermione stared at the doorway nervously, her stomach heavy with dread. Ginny was home- supposedly- Harry was away in France, Ron was who-knows-where (the moon?) and Hermione, especially when she was home alone, did not like unexpected visitors. Lavender had been lucky enough to discover how it felt to be hit on the head with a tea-pot and Ginny, who usually forgot to knock and didn't own a set of keys, had been driven to hospital with concussion on more than one occasion.

Hermione waited, eyeing the vase on the table in front of her. Her breath had fogged up the window and she wiped a spot clean with her sleeve, then peered out into the dark lane. It had finally stopped raining and the cobblestones glistened in the moonlight, sparkling. She sighed, stood up, and stuck her head around the doorway after checking to make sure she had her wand ready. They didn't need another broken teapot.

There, in the kitchen light, stood Ginny- her hair was plastered against her face and she was dripping all over the floor, creating tiny little puddles that gathered up together in a dent in the tiles. Next to her, slumped on the wooden table, was a fairly tall figure that also appeared to be considerably wet. Hermione couldn't quite make out who it was- their hair had fallen over their face in thick, long clumps, and it wasn't until she saw the silver ring on the person's finger that she could identify them.

'Ginny…why's Lavender asleep?'

Ginny shrugged wearily. 'I think she conked out halfway home. She's heavier than she looks, you know. My back is killing me.'

'Why'd you bring her here?' Hermione lifted the hair of Lavender's face to look at her closely.

'What, you wanted me to drag her back to the Burrow? I can't even apparate properly, let alone take an unconscious nineteen-year-old with me…sorry I didn't knock.'

Hermione shrugged off the apology, forgetting for the moment that she had been panicking about someone breaking in for the last few minutes. 'Don't worry about it. Look, you get some towels while I try and wake Lavender up. Wasn't she working tonight?'

Ginny nodded. 'She said she'd come back here…there's something I need to tell her- then she was late and I went looking for her and for some reason she thinks my name is Renee,' she said, shaking her head. Water sprayed around the kitchen and Ginny turned and left the room, sneezing loudly.

Hermione crossed her arms and watched Lavender for a moment, thinking. 'Lavender?' She whispered, poking her gently on the shoulder. 'Wake up…' She wiped the water off the table with a tea towel and squeezed some water out of Lavender's messy ponytail. 'Honestly, Lavender, this is no time for naps.'

Ginny reappeared holding a small stack of pink fuzzy towels in her arms. 'I've tried that already. She's out cold…is Ron coming home tonight?'

'I don't know.' Hermione scowled at the water on floor, as though blaming it for the world's problems, from Ron being on the moon to Lavender being fast asleep at the kitchen table. 'He didn't say.'

'Oh.' Ginny, sensing this was a touchy subject, didn't say anything else on the matter. 'Shouldn't we, uh, dry her off a bit?'

'I'll use a spell,' Hermione muttered, fumbling for her wand in her robe pocket.

'I thought you said-'

'They can't track a simple drying spell and even if they could…I doubt they'd bother following it up…besides, there isn't time to dry her off.' She produced the old wand from her pocket and wiped some lint off it with her finger fondly. 'You know, I miss Hogwarts sometimes,' she said conversationally after drying Lavender off. 'It's nice having some sort of idea of what you're going to be doing the next day…and the next…'

Ginny stood silently for a moment. 'I like it better like this,' she said slowly, her voice thoughtful. She bit a fingernail off and stared at the ceiling. 'At Hogwarts it was…I don't know. Like a trap, almost. Nowhere to run or hide even though there wasn't exactly anything to hide from yet. You weren't there. It wasn't the same sometimes, not the old Hogwarts at all…I got the note from Lindsay,' she said suddenly, changing the subject altogether.

Hermione's head snapped up in surprise. 'What's it say?' She said, gnawing on her lip while Ginny fished through her pockets. She finally pulled out a faded piece of yellow parchment- the ink had run a bit and there were bits of tissue stuck to it, but Hermione grabbed it and scanned the writing quickly.

Ginny watched without saying anything, curious to see Hermione's reaction to what Lindsay had had to say.

It was odd to watch-- Hermione's eyes widened first and then her eyebrows went down in a furious frown. She glanced up at Ginny. 'How long have you known about this?' She snapped, waving the parchment with a flourish.

Ginny shrugged. 'Just today. I met her in some shop on London-- you know, muggle toy shop or something…bad news?'

'You read it, didn't you?' Hermione said icily.

'Well, yeah…I wasn't sure what you'd think of it, that's all,' Ginny mumbled, staring at her shoes-- there was a little hole ripping in the sole and her sock was poking out. It was a very cold toe in that sock.

Hermione gave a loud sigh. 'I'm going to bed,' she announced after a moment. 'I'll see you in the morning…just wrap a towel around Lavender, okay?' She left before Ginny could answer.

That night, when Ginny crawled up under a patchwork blanket with cats on it, the wind howled loudly and the even the framework on the windows seemed to rattle. She slipped further under the blankets, humming to herself. Images of dark figures leapt in through the doorway and her lip bled from her constantly biting it.

It wasn't until after midnight that she fell asleep.

Okay then. I'm sorry I haven't been posting often-- my life has just gone crazy. I'm doing netball (my stomach….my poor, poor, stomach…) the school play, and a whole lot of homework added on to all this. If you want to ask me a question or anything, could you write me an email? I'll always answer them (even if it takes a couple of days…) but if you ask something in a review, chances are I'll forget about it when it comes to writing. Sorry- I always read reviews and I love you all to bits for writing them, but it's really hard to remember all questions.