Hermione, Lavender and Pavarti woke with a start, and with their rapidly beating hearts and bloodshot eyes they turned to the opened doorway, where they found Ginny and Susie staring at Buffy's bed. A bed that was still empty. And one question came to mind: WHAT THE HELL?
The quintet gathered in the empty common room. Ginny had woken up Neville, Ron and Harry, and once they were told of the suspiciously empty bed, they hurried downstairs. Susie asked, pleaded to join them, but with the type of information that could possibly be brought up, her being there was not an option, and they made sure she was out of earshot before they discussed anything.
"So what do we do now?" asked Ginny, her knee bobbing up and down anxiously as she sat on the edge of the table.
"Well, normally I would say we should go to Dumbledore -" answered Hermione.
"He's not gonna tell us anything," Harry interrupted harshly. "After the way he and McGonagall disappeared yesterday, and the way Hagrid was behaving, I'm sure none of the professors would."
Just like Sirius, everyone seemed to be avoiding revealing any information about Buffy other than she was coming back to Hogwarts, which seemed to be becoming less and less likely with all the evidence piling up.
"What if she isn't coming back?" said Ron, and everyone stared at him as if he had just cursed them. It was a horrible suggestion, and Ron didn't like the thought of it either, but in the face of things as they were it appeared to be a very good possibility. And someone needed to say it. "Let's face it. She would've been here by now. We haven't heard from her in weeks. What if she chose to stay in Sunnydale?"
The mere thought of it froze them on the spot. It was an option they hadn't let themselves dwell on but was very much possible. Most of them had seen Buffy in Sunnydale and she looked happy - free of any restraints the Wizarding world had placed upon her. She could slay when she wished, not hide who she was, and there was no Voldemort there, no Death Eaters and dementors to swallow the sun that shined on Sunnydale despite its Hellmouth and demons. She looked very much at home, and if home was where the heart is…
"If she wasn't coming back than why did everyone tell us that she would be here?" Ginny asked, desperate to find a crack in her brother's suggestion.
Ron shrugged. "Maybe they thought she was. She could've changed her mind."
Yes, she could have. She could have very well said screw it all and stayed put - and could they really blame her for it? With things as they were who wouldn't give anything to get away from the deaths, disappearances and darkness. Not them. They couldn't. They didn't. Even if some families had decided to flee, Harry, Neville and company couldn't hide because that's not who they were, because they had the will to fight, to protect, qualities Buffy had as well, but she's been fighting longer, much harder, and maybe it had all become too much. Because it wasn't just Death Eaters and dark creatures, those she could handle, it was Voldemort himself.
'He's still after you, isn't he? After the Slayer?' It was one of many revelations Buffy had disclosed to them last year. One of the most dangerous ones. But nobody knew how he planned on getting the Slayer out of her and it was something nobody wanted to think about. But after everything she's faced was that really enough to keep her away? Would she really leave her friends, her world, behind because of it?
"She wouldn't," muttered Neville absentmindedly, shaking his head at the idea of never seeing his best friend again. "She…not without saying goodbye. She wouldn't…"
"Neville," Ginny called, but Neville had already stood from his seat and rushed up the stairs toward his room.
The quartet turned at the new sound of a small voice. Susie was standing at the bottom of the girl's stairway. Her pale face confident with no trace of the distress she held earlier at seeing Buffy's empty bed.
"Susie, I thought-" Ginny began to reprove.
"She wouldn't. She'll come back. Even if it's just to say goodbye. I know she would."
She sounded so sure of herself, and if they didn't know Buffy as well as they did, know of the dangers that could prevent her from ever seeing her friends and family again, they might be just as sure of it themselves.
"Come on," said Ginny as she stood and walked over to the second-year. "Breakfast'll start soon. We should go get ready."
Ginny was tired of talking about it, thinking about, but she wasn't going to lose hope. Not until someone she trusted told her that Buffy Summers was not returning to Hogwarts. If and when that happened, she would deal with it then.
The girls went up and the Golden Trio was left in the quiet room.
After hating Buffy for so long, Hermione was still surprised at herself for growing as attached as she had. Buffy was clever, independent and she didn't judge without reason. Traits Hermione had come to respect. But Buffy was also a slayer-puzzle she had wanted to solve, so many questions she wanted to ask. She was her friend, yes, but Hermione's ever inquisitive mind wanted to know more about Buffy's life in Sunnydale, her experiences first hand and the thought of not being able to solve the enigma, to not see her friend again, twisted her stomach in knots.
Ron had not only hated Buffy, he had loathed her nearly above anything else, but of course that was before Buffy returned last year completely different from who she used to be. No longer snobbish, vindictive and cruel, but funny, brave and selfless. She protected those she loved with fervor and it was a quality Ron found admirable. And though it took him longer, a lot longer, than everyone else, Ron had warmed up to her. He had fought alongside her, had seen her take the heroic mantle and he grew to respect her, admire her to a level he never would have imagined. Buffy Summers was his friend. And it bothered him not knowing where she was or if she was coming back.
"I don't care if we have to find every single member of the Order, but someone is going to tell us what's going on," said Harry. "Even if we have to go all the way to Sunnydale."
She was Buffy and that was all that mattered to Harry. He needed her here, because Buffy understood, because Buffy didn't expect anything from him, because Buffy helped him to forget, because Buffy was Buffy and he didn't want to go through this alone. There was just no other option.
Hermione knew she had to be the voice of reason and tell Harry that what he wanted to do was impossible, and prohibited, but with the look on Harry's face she knew that all it would accomplish was a waste of her breath, so she decided that distracting him from his plan was the best thing to do…at least for now.
"Harry, you never told me what happened on the train."
The distraction worked. Harry pushed Buffy aside from his thoughts and told Hermione everything that happened on the train, but it did not get the result he had hoped for. Like Ron, Hermione believed that Malfoy was lying in order to impress. They still wouldn't believe that Voldemort would choose someone like Malfoy for anything let alone allowing him to join the Death Eaters, the elite of dark wizards, and Harry was frustrated at their lack of support, but the conversation was cut short, and he couldn't say any more, because students began to filter into the common room and any hope of privacy was dashed. Nevertheless, one way or another, Harry was going to convince his friends, he only hoped they would come to believe him before it was too late.
Gossip at Hogwarts always spread like wildfire. It doesn't flicker, it engulfs from the first drop of juicy gossip that passes between two sets of lips. And it never ends how it begins, because along the way people seemed to like to twist and spice up the rumor to keep it from fading into obscurity until it holds only the smallest grain of truth from whence it came.
Buffy Summers still isn't here.
Her bed's not even in her dormitory anymore.
It's because she didn't pass her O.W.L.s.
She isn't returning to Hogwarts.
I heard she was taken by Death Eaters.
They said she and her mum left the country and that You-Know-Who is looking for them.
It simmered in the Gryffindor common room and boiled over to every house before most of the school had settled down for breakfast; and it was only a matter of time before the news reached Draco's ears.
"And? Why would I care if she isn't here?"
Pansy's eyes started to sparkle and her smile grew. The girl was practically glowing.
"Well, I just thought you'd like to know in case you wondered why she wasn't at breakfast. But I should've known you wouldn't've cared. Are you hungry? Did you wanna go down to breakfast together?"
Draco's jaw clenched. It would be a whole lot easier for him to be nicer to Pansy if she wasn't so damn annoying. If she didn't take so much joy in…in things he didn't care about. But he convinced himself that if he couldn't be nice, he could at least be civil, and that was a start.
"I'm not hungry. You go ahead. I'll see you in class."
He shouldn't start the day with an empty stomach; Draco was a very important man now. He had duties, but Pansy wasn't going to nag. He didn't like it when she nagged.
"Okay, I'll keep an apple for you then," she said, and Draco pulled on his patience and gave a brief nod.
Pansy rushed toward her friends, excited once again at Draco's agreeable behavior that her smile had no plans on leaving her face as the girls set out for the first day's meal in a fit of gossip and giggles.
There were still a few bodies milling around when Theodore came into the common room. He spotted Draco in his usual chair by the fireplace, and after hearing about Buffy's absence from Hogwarts, Theodore wanted to hear something a little more solid than 'Dumbledore kicked Buffy out because she was really a Death Eater' as the reason of why she wasn't here.
"Did you hear about Buffy?" he asked.
"Yeah, so?" he replied, not even a glance in his direction.
"Do you know why?"
"Do you know if she's coming back?"
There was a pause. "No."
Theodore didn't need and didn't like longwinded explanations. He got the answers he was looking for and that's all he needed. But that didn't mean he didn't notice Draco's behavior. His short answers when he usually gave out lengthy ones just to hear himself talk. The fact that he seemed uncaring that his best friend was missing and no one knew where she was. Or the slight gesture he made of clenching his left fist when he heard Buffy's name. All those actions answered questions Theodore hadn't asked, and wasn't going to ask, because it was none of his business. So he let Draco be and went out to join the rest of the school in the morning's meal, and maybe catch any news about Buffy's whereabouts. They may no longer be seeing each other, but that didn't mean he didn't care. Buffy was still his friend, not in the typical chat-everyday-owl-each-other-say-hi-to-the-parents-for-me kind of way, but they knew where they stood. And it worried him that no one seemed to know why she was missing.
The ceiling of the Great Hall was serenely blue and streaked with frail, wispy clouds, just like the squares of sky visible through the high mullioned windows. There was chatter and the sounds of people eating, but for one small group, at the end of the Gryffindor table, breakfast was a subdued affair. They were quiet, barely touching their food, so lost in their thoughts that they didn't notice the wisp of girl with dirty, blonde hair that had come to stand near them until she spoke, "Good morning, everyone!"
And even then they didn't look up.
"Good morning, Luna."
"It's a beautiful day isn't it?"
Either she hadn't heard, or was in her own Luna-world to care, that Buffy wasn't at Hogwarts. But no one wanted to dispel her from her cheery mood and chose not to mention it. She would notice and bring it up sooner or later.
Glancing up, Hermione finally noticed that Luna wasn't alone. "I didn't know you had a cat, Luna?"
At the mention of the cat everyone turned to the Ravenclaw, and settled in her arms was a fluffy, golden tabby with luminous forest-green eyes. It appeared as if it was full grown but very small for its age. Almost midway between cat and kitten.
"Oh, she's not mine. She found me on my way to breakfast. She's very beautiful don't you think?" she said as she scratched behind the cat's ear who seemed to enjoy it very much. "It's wonderful how one can happen on things when they least expect to," she said and drifted off toward her table, and no one questioned it as they were getting accustomed to Luna's 'pearls of wisdom and then leave' behavior.
"Look, McGonagall's coming this way," said Ron.
The distribution of class schedules was more complicated for those in their sixth year, for Professor McGonagall needed first to confirm that everybody had achieved the necessary O.W.L. grades to continue with their chosen N.E.W.T.s.
"All right, Miss Granger let's sort you out first, shall we?"
They were teeming with questions, and she must have sensed it, because a very stern, no-nonsense look appeared on her face that prevented them from opening their mouths about anything but their schedules. McGonagall could be very frightening when she wanted to be.
Hermione was soon cleared to continue with Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Herbology, Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, and Potions, and shot off to a first period Ancient Runes class without further ado.
Neville took a little longer to sort out, but in the end he was set in Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Potions, History of Magic, Charms, and, to his and his grandmother's great pride, Transfiguration. And at receiving his schedule, he left the table for his first class.
Professor McGonagall turned next to Parvati Patil, whose first question was whether Firenze, the handsome centaur, was still teaching Divination.
"He and Professor Trelawney are dividing classes between them this year," said Professor McGonagall, a hint of disapproval in her voice; it was common knowledge that she despised the subject of Divination. "The sixth year is being taken by Professor Trelawney."
Parvati set off for Divination five minutes later looking slightly crestfallen.
"So, Potter, Potter…" said Professor McGonagall, consulting her notes as she turned to Harry.
"Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Transfiguration… all fine. I must say, I was pleased with your Transfiguration mark, Potter, very pleased. Now, why haven't you applied to continue with Potions? I thought it was your ambition to become an Auror?"
"It was, but you told me I had to get an 'Outstanding' in my O.W.L., Professor."
"And so you did when Professor Snape was teaching the subject. Professor Slughorn, however, is perfectly happy to accept N.E.W.T. students with 'Exceeds Expectations' at O.W.L. Do you wish to proceed with Potions?"
"Yes," said Harry, "but I didn't buy the books or any ingredients or anything-"
"I'm sure Professor Slughorn will be able to lend you some," said Professor McGonagall. "Very well, Potter, here is your schedule. Oh, by the way- twenty hopefuls have already put down their names for the Gryffindor Quidditch team. I shall pass the list to you in due course and you can fix up trials at your leisure."
A few minutes later, Ron was cleared to do the same subjects as Harry, and the two of them left the table together.
"Look," said Ron delightedly, gazing at his schedule, "we've got a free period now…and a free period after break…and after lunch…excellent."
They returned to the common room, which was empty apart from a half dozen seventh years, including Katie Bell, the only remaining member of the original Gryffindor Quidditch team that Harry had joined in his first year.
"I thought you'd get that, well done," she called over, pointing at the Captains badge on Harry's chest. "Tell me when you call trials!"
"Don't be stupid," said Harry, "you don't need to try out, I watched you play for five years…"
"You mustn't start off like that," she said warningly. "For all you know, there's someone much better than me out there. Good teams have been ruined before now because Captains just kept playing the old faces, or letting in their friends…"
Ron looked a little uncomfortable and began playing with the Fanged Frisbee Hermione had taken from a fourth-year student on their way to breakfast earlier that morning. It zoomed around the common room, snarling and attempting to take bites of the tapestry. Crookshanks's yellow eyes followed it and he hissed when it came too close.
Katie must've sense Ron's discomfort because she reminded Harry again to let her know when Quidditch trials were going to be held and turned back to her friends.
"Isn't that the cat Luna had earlier?" said Ron, pointing to the golden tabby that was grooming herself in the middle of the room. The cat perked up as if she noticed their attention and then sprinted in their direction. Purring and circling Harry's legs. "She seems to like you, Harry," said Ron amused.
"She's probably looking for her owner."
The cat followed the pair as they made their way to the couch to rest up for their first class, and the tabby jumped onto the cushion next to Harry, before curling up by his side.
"Okay, she really seems to like you."
Harry smiled a little and began to scratch the cat behind her ears like Luna had done earlier. He then began to scratch her neck when he felt something solid hidden between her fur. It was a delicate, gold chain with a small, gold locket at the anchor of it. Harry meant to take a closer look when the cat suddenly straightened up, perked its ears in attention and then leapt off the couch, dashing out through the portrait hole just as two more students came in.
"That was odd," Ron commented.
"Probably heard a mouse or something."
"Or Neville's toad."
An hour later, Ron and Harry reluctantly left the sunlit common room for the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom four floors below. Hermione and Neville were already queuing outside, where it looked like Neville was helping Hermione with an armful of heavy books.
"We got so much homework for Runes," she said anxiously when Harry and Ron joined them. "A fifteen-inch essay, two translations, and I've got to read these by Wednesday!"
"Shame," yawned Ron.
"You wait," she said resentfully. "I bet Snape gives us loads."
The classroom door opened as she spoke, and Snape stepped into the corridor, his sallow, irritated looking face framed by two curtains of greasy, black hair. Silence fell over the queue immediately.
"Inside," he said.
The line of students looked around the room as they entered. Snape had imposed his personality upon the room already; it was gloomier than usual, as curtains had been drawn over the windows, and was lit by candlelight. Their eyes were glued to the new pictures that adorned the walls, many of them showing people who appeared to be in pain, sporting grisly injuries or strangely contorted body parts as they slowly walked.
"I know. Creepy, right?"
Their hearts stopped. And their heads whipped so fast that the pictures they were staring at blurred before their eyes. It was like a mirage in the desert. It was almost unreal. Because there Buffy was, sitting calmly in a desk, wearing her Hogwarts uniform with her golden hair shining in the gloomy room, looking as if she had not a care in the world.
"Hey, guys. What's new?"
"You could've at least cleaned up before I got here."
"Why? I knew you'd be arriving today."
Joyce's blood pressure rose even more. The living room was a mess. In one day Sirius managed to have left dirty clothes and shoes on the floor, newspaper over the couch and chairs, and dirty dishes and flatware on the table, under the table, next to the table. God only knew what the kitchen looked like.
"I don't know if it's escaped your notice but I am not a house-elf. If you plan on staying here you will need to be cleaning up your own messes." Sirius snorted, actually snorted, as if the idea was laughable, as if he really believed Joyce would actually jump at his beck and call. Yes, she had been a soft touch in Sunnydale and cleaned up a little after him, but he was on his good behavior as well and not tried to be messy either. But that was Sunnydale, they were on vacation, and now they were home, back to the real world, and Sirius was under the impression he had inherited some sort of maid. And that had her seeing red. "Sirius Black, if you think for one second that I am going to let you make a mess of this house, and expect me to clean up after you, you can go back to the Department of Mysteries and jump through that Veil right now before I even begin to express what will happen to you if I see one dirty sock touch the floor."
Oh, she was mad. Very mad. He hadn't meant to make her mad, but now was not the time for excuses; Sirius needed some serious damage control. He rose up from the couch, and with his most charismatic smile, placed his hands on her hips, and said in the sweetest voice, "You're so beautiful when you're angry."
Joyce was having none of it and she stepped away from his grasp.
"Clean up this room," she said and turned toward the kitchen.
A sigh escaped him. He was definitely losing his touch.
"Are you at least going to tell me what happened in Sunnydale?" he bellowed after her.
"Can you see your reflection on the coffee table?"
Women! Begrudgingly, and with much noise, Sirius began to clean up his mess from the cherry coffee table.
"We're not even bloody married yet, and she's already – OW! HEY!"
At the sudden hot zap to his behind, Sirius nearly dropped the plates in his hands.
"I heard that!" Joyce shouted from the kitchen.
He stuck out his tongue in her direction like a good little adult and went back to his cleaning. But Sirius being Sirius was never one to learn his lesson.
"Ears like a damn werewolf that one," he mumbled before another zap burned his butt. "STOP IT!"
Note: And she's alive ladies and gentlemen!