25. The First Domino

Jade got up rather groggily as the Burrow began to come to life with the rising sun. She managed to make it downstairs in time to hear the entirety of the urgent message from the ministry for Mr. Weasley. Since much of it was nonsense to her, she decided to do some quick research with her PDA.

She had worked hard on figuring out how to make ordinary muggle electronic devices function in high magical fields. Her latest success - near meteoric - had been the discovery that certain magical crystals naturally generated a low level electrical field. By installing these crystal in electronic devices in place of certain resistors and capacitors, the device could function in places like Hogwarts, although certain enchantments needed to be placed to change certain functions. Her PDA, for example, had been amplified with slightly altered spatial expansion spells to amplify its storage space for any and all magical world knowledge she might need, as well as an Expectancy Charm that caused anyone without magic to see only ordinary data on its screen when she was researching the magical. She had also given a similar upgrade to her cell phone, using a careful spell so that - when contacting a magical number - it connected via the Floo Network, in essence allowing her to call a fireplace. It proved quite effective, and since this particular enchantment only kicked in when placing a magical call or in a high magical field, it was completely within the laws set down regarding the enchantment of Muggle Artifacts. ...she promised herself never to explain this particular loophole to Mr. Weasley, though.

Scanning her PDA, she examined the data available to her on Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody. From there, she read the details regarding an Auror, and other things that perked her interest. This lead her to information relating to the efforts the Aurors had put forth towards the end of the war with Voldemort, and other stories that she found of progessively less interest. She found explaining the function of her PDA to Bill when he asked to be far more entertaining, since he seemed to have a strong grasp of Muggle technology, though how she wouldn't begin to guess. Probably from traveling the world for his work.

When Mrs. Weasley mentioned going to call a couple of taxi cabs to get them all to King's Cross, however, Jade balked. While she didn't really like showing off her wealth around the Weasley's, the idea of being cramped into an ordinary Muggle cab when she could easily be comfortable with one phone call won out. Ruby's commentary helped as well.

*If you try to stick me in those clown carriers humans call a taxi, I swear to Bastet I will gouge someone's eyes out.*

Given that reassurance, she pulled out her phone and placed the call. "Hello, it's me. Yes, I need a pick up. The Burrow. My usual driver? Thanks. Two minutes? I'll be waiting." She hung up her phone and turned to find Mrs. Weasley and the others staring at her. "What?"

"Now dear, I was just going to call a couple of cabs, you didn't need to-"

"Please, Mrs. Weasley, consider this my treat to everyone as thanks for your warm hospitality." Jade smiled ingratiatingly. "Besides, I'm sure this will be a much more enjoyable experience for everyone."

"Well, alright," Mrs. Weasley conceeded. "But who did you..." Her voice trailed off as the limo pulled up to the driveway.

A young woman with bright red hair and mischevious green eyes stepped out of the drivers seat, wearing the traditional uniform of a Muggle chauffer, complete with hat...although a small green leaf was stuck in the brim just over her eyes. "Good to see you again, Ms. Chan."

"Mara," Jade sighed as she grabbed her trunk. "I've asked you to call me Jade. You certainly drive me enough."

"Protocol, Ms. Chan," Mara replied, smiling. "Everyone coming?"

Everyone managed to get into the limo, although Mrs. Weasley hyperventilated a bit at riding with the Paladin Express. "Jade...how can you manage to..." She couldn't manage to finish her sentence.

Jade shrugged. "My business ventures with my crafting projects have been...profitable." She glowered at Ron as he made a choking noise from holding back his reaction to her understatement. Once everyone was in, however, she turned to Mara. "Mara, you know what I've said about your mirage."

Mara smiled. "Have to keep it up when outside." Reaching up, she plucked the leaf from her hat. There was a poof of white smoke, and when it faded...Mara had taken on a rather vulpine appearance, with bright red fur and three full fox tails.

As everyone else stared, Jade explained. "Mara is a kitsune, a magical race of fox-like humanoids from Japan. They are but one of many such races from around the world who are somewhere between human and animal in appearance."

Hermione nodded. "I heard there's been quite a bit of furor in the Ministry about how exactly such races are to be classified on the scale from creature to person, since even within each individual race some members...vary on the scale. Not to mention their numbers and appearance make it hard to keep out of Muggle sight."

Mara nodded as she started the vehicle. "Yes, only the Kitsune and our sister tribe - the Tanooki - have the magical ability to alter our appearance to appear mostly human. However, outside of Great Britain, regulations regarding our behaviors are a bit more...lax. Our people's are especially able to walk freely in Japan - where many work as voice actors and character models for various anime and video games - and in America. It's amazing how easily a Muggle will overlook an obviously non-human entity at a convention." Jade, Sirius, and Bill all found this highly amusing, although most of the others were quite lost. "Vegas is also a good place to work." Mara sighed as the limo manuevered through traffic towards King's Cross station. "The hard part is, with more and more of our traditional ranges becoming civilized by Muggle and wizard colonization, our numbers are starting to dwindle. To survive and blend in, a large portion of us have intermarried with wizards...and even Muggles. The resulting children tend to be more human, but with strong magic tied to their parentage. My cousin actually attends the Youkai Academy in Japan to learn to master her power and blend in with human society. She sends me letters frequently."

Jade smiled. "I'm glad."

Conversation amongst passengers and driver continued over less sensitive subjects until they reached the station, at which point Mara returned the leaf to her hat, once more appearing outwardly human. "I'll just help you unload, shall I?"

Jade smiled. "Think you could wait and give Mrs. Weasley, Bill, Charlie, and Sirius a lift back once we leave on the train?"

"Certainly." Once on board the train they waved goodbye, then settled in for the long ride.

As the train moved off, Jade put the small hints about something big happening at Hogwarts from her mind. She figured she'd learn about it when she needed to.

Malfoy stopped by their compartment, ostensibly to taunt Harry about 'entering' whatever was happening at Hogwarts and Ron about him not knowing. However, it seemed to Jade that this was more an excuse then an actual reason, as he kept glancing surreptitiously towards her. He was unnervingly good at surreptitious glances.

*He was worried about you,* Ruby informed her calmly as Malfoy left the compartment. *He wanted to make sure you were okay after your fright at the World Cup. He'd be a bit more interesting if his motives weren't so transparent.*

After Malfoy had left, Jade had a real surprise as Ron spoke up, "Did it seem Malfoy's heart wasn't really in his taunts this time around, or was that just me?"

Jade managed to stop laughing by the time they actually reached Hogwarts...barely.

Once off the train, Jade slogged with the others through the torrential downpour, all of them quickly becoming soaked to the bone. On reaching the school, Jade heard Peeves tossing water ballons and reacted quickly. Catching several water balloons in a quickly cast shield charm, she crushed them as she collapsed the charm, and released a high pressure stream of water straight up Peeves nose. Ignoring several cheers, she proceeded with her friends to the Grand Hall.

She listened as the Sorting Hat sang its song, wondering what the world must have been like in the days when Hogwarts was first built. She wondered how it had been constructed, animated, enchanted. There was so much to this school no one knew. She wondered if she'd get a chance to find out. As the song drew to a close, she did something she hadn't tried before. She attempted to make direct contact with the awareness she sensed within the stones.

The school seemed to be hesitant about something, but towards herself she detected mild amusement. Obviously, she wasn't doing this quite right.

As the Sorting finished, she listened as Dumbledore explained about the upcoming Triwizard Tournament, and the rules regarding it. It seemed this year would be interesting, to say the least. Although she had no actual interest in entering the Tournament - even if she were old enough to - she did look forward to watching. She found Fred and George's frustration about being held back by a matter of months amusing, though.

Hermione's fuss about the house elves left Jade feeling a little frustrated, however. She'd known about the house elves at Hogwarts since last year, and didn't see the fuss. She knew that house elves were an established part of the wizarding world, and irregardless of what she thought based on life in the Muggle world, she needed to know the whole situation before forming an opinion...especially since the house elf who had helped with Ruby and her kittens last year had seemed especially happy. Jade made a mental note to research how house elves came to be...well, house elves.

She did look forward to studying under Mad Eye Moody, just to see what he was like and capable of. After reading about the Aurors - and him in particular - she was eager to learn what she could.

She listened calmly on the way up the stairs as discussion regarding the tournament and Moody bounced around, stifling a yawn. It had been a full day, and while it seemed nearly over, she still felt it had been too long. Staggering into the dorm, she fell into bed, curling up to sleep. Somehow, she was sure tomorrow would be a good day.