Chapter 41: Something old and something new
Something old and something newAN: A short update. The title is... well, don’t think too much about it.
“Did you see the dragon?” Willow jumped off the table as Giles and Helen entered the library.
Giles raised his brows, bemused at first at what she was talking about, and when he remembered he thought that their dragon-sighting now appeared to him like it had happened years ago, although it was only three days in fact.
“Uh-yes,” he replied, “yes, we did.” But to Willow’s disappointment he wouldn’t say more about it.
“Did you take any pictures?” She tried again.
“Hm?” Giles looked at her again feeling distracted as he walked towards the main table and laid the two old incunabula on it.
Xander grinned. “See, Will? I told ya’ it was just a tale with the dragons... a cover-up for other things.”
But Willow’s mind now was elsewhere too as she seized the Latin book that Giles just brought.
The latter ignored Xander’s remark and addressed Buffy: “Was there anything-uh... I should know of? Any troubles with-uh... Spike and the-uh...others?” He asked, leaving out Angel’s name and wondering at the same time how Buffy was dealing now, more than two months later after Angel’s transformation.
“No,” she said in a bored voice, which he interpreted as a good sign, “nothing. I’ve dusted two vamps on the weekend, but I don’t think they belonged to Spike, they were lurking around the bronze, looking for someone to eat.”
Giles murmured something in approval, but sounded rather absent, and disappeared in his office where they heard him rustling and rummaging through some papers and books. He returned with a few books and some of his own older notes in his hands and laid them on the table next to where Willow was already deepened in the lecture of the Latin text on Kalderash’ rites.
Buffy stared from her best friend to her watcher incredulously, but Helen prevented her from saying anything when she started explaining: “We-eh... we found a couple of things that could bring us forward,” she pointed at the two books that were now being studied thoroughly by Giles and Willow. “There are some passages on rituals of restoration that might answer some of our questions and-eh... shed more light on the curse,” she added quietly. They still hadn’t talked about whether Angel should be cursed again as they knew little about how to do it or whether it was possible at all. Yet should these old records prove to be hiding the necessary knowledge, they would soon have to address the topic.
Helen then described to Buffy and Xander shortly what their trip had been like and after that Buffy glanced up again towards Giles and Willow, stating: “Looks like the rest of us are pretty much waste here,” and she grabbed her bag from the table, turning to Xander, “so Giles, if you don’t mind I’ll go home. I’ll do a quick sweep over the cemeteries on my way, just to check, and then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Giles didn’t raise his eyes from the Romanian book when he murmured to answer: “Mhm, yes, alright, but be careful please, and don’t be out too long.”
“Will, are you coming?” Xander asked.
Willow seemed only very unwillingly to break away from her reading, but then after a quick look at her watch she too seized her backpack and followed her two friends out of the library after saying Good night to Giles and Helen.
When they were gone Helen came closer to stand behind Giles and put a hand on his shoulder, looking over it at his notes. She frowned when she realized something as her eyes wandered from his notes over to the text of the book in front of him: “I didn’t know you can read Old Romanian...”
“Hm?” He was tipping his fingers on some old notes of his as if he was comparing something, then took another book in his hands, one that Helen recognized was a history of Kalderash in modern Romanian.
“When did you learn Old Romanian?”
“Oh, I didn’t really,” he replied casually, “but I was working through a couple of manuscripts lately that were all 16th century Romanian...,” he paused and Helen saw his eyes skipping from one book to another, then back to his older notes, before he wrote down something, “I think I’m catching on it... though this print – which just between the two us would appear to be the oldest written text in Romanian language to my knowledge -,” he pointed at the incunabula from Kezmarok, “is slightly more difficult as it seems... since it’s a bit older, but thankfully the language did not change so much in those hundred years... still, it’ll take some time to translate... I’m comparing the words, the phrasings and their meanings...”
Helen shook her head amazed. This was Giles – learning a whole new language within a few weeks by simply reading a couple of old books in it, after having tenaciously refused to accept that he would not understand them. Helen noticed a Romanian dictionary lying on the table, but Giles didn’t seem to need it anymore. She smiled fondly and – if possible – found him now more endearing than ever. In a way, this ingenious side of him was quite a turn-on.
He suddenly raised his head and looked at the clock on the wall. “It’s late, we should go. We best have a good sleep before we face Snyder tomorrow,” he said gloomily, then got up and collected the papers to put them back into his office.
When they arrived at Giles’ apartment, Helen unlocked the door, entered, then stopped abruptly so that Giles almost bumped into her: “I say what the-“ She exclaimed and pulled out her wand.
There was something different about the large living room compared to before they had left it for the second time two days ago. First thing that occurred to Helen was that someone had moved the furniture, because although everything seemed to be there, the things were all slightly displaced, beginning with Giles’ small desk, the large armchair, the sofa and the coffee-table... Helen’s eyes followed the shifted objects towards the fireplace and the windows at both its sides, and there she gasped anew. Beneath the left window where a small bookshelf and an armchair used to be now stood a black magnificent upright piano, the dark varnish shining, Helen’s heart jumped at the sight of its elegance and simple beauty. Giles came to stand next to her, he was still looking around him a little distracted, then noticed Helen’s widened eyes. “What is it?”
Instead of answering she merely raised her arm and speechless pointed at the corner and the new instrument that was filling it in a way as if it had always belonged there, as if it was well aware of the grace and the splendour it was adding to the whole room. Only now Giles saw it too and his expression suddenly lightened up. He looked again down at Helen and smiled complacently.
“Happy birthday,” he said.
She turned at him, frowning. “What-... How-... Why...?” She seemed unable to utter any whole sentence for a moment, while Giles moved through the room to adjust the other furniture that had been moved by the delivery men.
“I-it’s not my birthday,” she finally said in a stump voice and slowly walked towards the piano, as if anxious that it would disappear if she made a too rash movement, “it’s in five weeks.”
Giles watched her amused. He would have to thank Xander tomorrow for letting the delivery people in. “I know. Consider it an early birthday present then,” he said.
“Giles, that’s-,“ she turned at him with an odd look on her face. She couldn’t believe it and was trying to sort out her thoughts as to what it all meant, for her, for him, for the both of them that he should give her something like this. To someone else perhaps it would seem a very nice present, a very expensive one and therefore of course a lovely one. Yet to Helen who needed the play – and occasionally she felt she needed it almost like the air to breathe, especially at times of troubles of all sorts - it meant a lot more, and a lot more than she could put into words. She had been complaining to Giles during the past weeks about how much she missed it, and how she was aching for being able to play again. Every now and then she sneaked into the school auditorium in the evening and played the old completely off-tune school piano, but it wasn’t the same, it didn’t feel comfortable and she feared constantly that someone would come in, because even though it was nothing illegal, in a way she considered playing something very intimate and dreaded the thought of being “caught” by anyone, or even overheard by unwanted listeners. She thought she would buy a new piano eventually or ask someone to repair hers when she got more time to look into it, when the whole Angel-business would be over. Never would she have thought that Giles would actually get her one. And a Bösendorfer
on top of it all. And she knew too that – this being Giles – it must have cost him a lot of time (not to speak of money and she didn’t even dare to estimate how expensive it must have been), because he wasn’t one who’d buy anything lightly. She imagined him beginning a thorough and extensive research on all piano manufacturers probably weeks ago, before carefully organizing the actual purchase. To sum it up – it was in every way a most extraordinary gift.
Giles on his part, although very pleased with himself and that he again managed to surprise her, was also a little anxious about her reaction, especially about the fact that he had let the piano be brought into his apartment, not into her house. He wondered if she wouldn’t find it somewhat pretentious. But when he said so to her, emphasizing that should she wish so, he would let it move to her house and that he by no means meant to tie her even more to his place with this, she smiled at last, grasped the lapels of his jacket and pulled him closer into a kiss, whispering: “As if I ever wanted to leave here...”
“So you like it?” Giles asked after a while. “It’s a little late to play I’m afraid, the neighbours woud probably frown upon it... a-and I know you were used to yours, and I was thinking initially of getting the same one or having yours repaired... but then I realized that a grand piano wouldn’t fit in here anyway, so...,” he was explaining, while she carefully opened the key lid. At the sight of the gleaming white and black keys her heart jumped up happily in anticipation. She looked desperately at the clock, but it was indeed too late now to have a try. She brushed fondly with her hand over the keys, before closing the lid again. Then she turned back at him.
“Uhm... I-ah...,” she smiled taken aback, once again having troubles to put her thoughts into words, “saying thank you seems pretty-ah... deficient... I don’t know what to say really... apart from... are you sure you thought this through? That once it’s here I might actually play
“Well, that-uh... was
the main purpose of buying it really,” he replied half-seriously.
They turned in soon afterwards and both fell asleep, tired and glad to be home in their own bed again.Helen was frantically looking around her, trying to figure out how she got here. She was standing in Dumbledore’s office at Hogwarts. Though it was night and the candles and lights were off, she could distinguish all the familiar things, the phoenix stand, the bookracks along the walls, the round staircase leading to a sort of a balcony where the former headmaster used to keep all sorts of wizarding equipment.
She saw some movement there upstairs and then the tall thin figure of Dumbledore himself appeared from a shadow. He slowly walked towards the railing, then stood still looking down at her. A moan of pain sounded from somewhere behind him and Helen tilted her head to see past him. She felt the blood freeze in her veins as the by now only too familiar picture came into her sight: Giles was sitting there on a chair with his hands tied at his back, the Asian painting with the cherry tree and a small figure riding on a horse hung on the wall behind him. She was staring wordlessly at him, she could feel Dumbledore’s eyes fixing her. When she suddenly made a step towards the stairs, the grey haired man said in his deep, old voice, sounding ever so wise: “You are not supposed to be here.”
She stood there at the bottom of the stairs for a moment, those words disturbed her, she couldn’t say from his tone what he meant. Was it a mere statement, a threat, or a belated reproach?
“Helen-“ She heard him say, but he got interrupted by a wild laughter coming from the corner behind Giles.
Dumbledore disappeared as Bellatrix strolled on the scene, her features again distorted into her vampire-self. Their surroundings now changed too and suddenly they were standing in a dark room that resembled the one from Helen’s previous dreams. Bellatrix sunk her teeth into Giles’ throat and when Helen ran towards her to push her away she merely waved her wand at her and Helen felt immediately the pangs of the cruciatus curse hit her.
After what seemed to her like the eternity the pain stopped and someone had lifted her up, a tall male figure whose face she couldn’t see. And while Bellatrix kept drinking Giles’ blood, Helen could hear Dumbledore’s astounded voice whisper: “So there is an eighth one..,” but the headmaster was nowhere to be seen. The stranger on the other hand walked over to Bellatrix and with a short wave of his hand made her stand up. When Bellatrix now turned at him, her eyes widened and filled with what Helen could only describe as perverted reverence, but before Bella could say anything, the man pushed her aside and stood in front of Giles. Helen’s heartbeat got even faster when the man raised his wand, pointed it at Giles and hissed “Avada Kedavra!” In the flash of the green light that illuminated the room for a second Helen could see the face of the man, yet she did not recognize it. In the same moment Giles’ chest rose, he had raised his head for a split of a second as the spell hit him, his eyes widened briefly before the light in them expired and his head fell back onto his chest.
Helen found herself unable to move. She merely stared at Giles’ lifeless body sunken down on the chair. The unknown man meanwhile disappeared along with Bellatrix. Helen did not notice Severus standing in a far corner of the room now, leaning casually against the wall. The sudden sound of his dark voice startled her: “We both seem to have... the unique... gift... of bringing doom upon those few we’ve manage to care about... do you ever wonder why that is?” Though he spoke slowly in a clear, yet quiet tone, being his usual sharp, bitter cynical self, to Helen his words sounded as awful as if bawled in a hideous clamour.
She was shivering now on her whole body and yet when her head spun around to face Severus, he wasn’t there anymore, instead again the tall grey haired figure of Albus Dumbledore was approaching her. He was smiling at her, it was this faint, warm, knowing smile, and for a moment an irrational hope flared up in Helen that he would bring Giles back. Dumbledore saw it in her eyes and he stopped and shook his head sadly. “You wouldn’t want that for him too.” She froze after a second when she thought she understood what he was insinuating. “I know that this time, when the time comes you will do the right thing.” He then turned at Giles and before she could stop him, he waved his blackened injured hand and Giles’ dead body vanished. Only now she found her voice and wanted to scream.
She woke up at her own quiet moan, her eyes shot open and it took her a few moments to realize where she was. She looked next to her and found Giles sleeping contentedly, his chest rising and falling in a slow, calm pace. Rather subconsciously her eyes wandered over his neck, looking for any traces of vampire bits, and when she realized what she was doing, she shook her head over her silliness. But she was still shivering, her heart pulsing fast and the feelings from that awful nightmare wouldn’t leave her so soon she feared. She looked at the alarmclock, it was five in the morning, Giles wouldn’t be up for another two hours, but she doubted she could sleep anymore. She walked downstairs and spotted the new piano, feeling the sudden urge to play. But it was too early. She went to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of milk, then sat down at the piano nevertheless, took a sip and laid the glass on the keylid, staring at her own face reflected upon its black varnish. Bits and scenes from the dream were tossing in her mind, she tried to remember what was said by whom, but found that the memories were already beginning to fade and she wasn’t sure anymore what happened in the dream and what were her own, real memories... There was Dumbledore, wearing the same robe as during their last conversation at Hogwarts shortly before he died. Helen frowned and stiffened and wrapped her arms around herself tightly in discomfort at the recollection of that horrible evening in Dumbledore’s office. She had said awful things to him, she was angry, even now a shiver of fury seized her when she replayed his words “I know that when the time comes... Helen...you will do the right thing, I’ve watched you for a couple of years now, I know you will find the courage to. For the greater good.”
She thought she had forgiven him, or had she not?
She didn’t know how long she had been staring at the empty glass in front of her, only after what must have been a long while she realized it was light behind the windows. She sighed heavily, then looked at the piano, hesitated for only a split of a second before putting the glass away and opening the keylid at last. Briefly she felt the familiar wave of excitement spreading through her and she smiled. This is what addicts must feel when they spot their next dose...
With her feet she found the pedals and rather idly struck an aimless series of chords and then without thinking began to play Franck’s Prelude, fugue and variation
, slowly, gently, the first quiet bars almost shyly, but soon she felt the long missing sensation getting hold of her again and it was as if the music was playing itself, flowing from her fingers which seemed to be moving on their own, effortlessly and she seemed to be detached from them, watching them dancing over the keys. She could even close her eyes and let them play, and enjoyed the delightful sound that was filling the room.
Giles woke up at a strange sound, thinking at first that his alarm clock never before woke him with a sound this pleasant. Only then he realized it was the piano downstairs.
As he was getting out of the bed, it occurred to him that he had never before heard her play, this was the first time. It was a piece he had not heard before, so he couldn’t really judge whether she was doing well, but there was something about the way she was playing it, delicate and ardent at the same time and yet very soft, it moved him and he couldn’t tell why. At hearing it he actually felt his heartbeat getting faster, it was as if the music was going under his skin, in the nicest possible way.
He had heard her talking about it, about such things and feelings, yet he would always nod politely and wonder in silence what she was talking about, because he had never experienced it himself, at least not as intensely as she had or so he thought, not even with Pink Floyd, no... or perhaps yes, in one of their countless rushes during his Ripper-times in London with Ethan, Diedre and the others, but that was very different and mostly owed to additional psychedelics rather than being a genuine musical experience...
He listened briefly, and amazed he marveled at the thought that a sound this beautiful, this smooth could be produced so easily. He had been playing guitar of course all those years ago, and he remembered that he liked it, it was nice and fair, but never beyond that, he couldn’t remember it ever being like this, so thrilling, so... stirring even. And he wondered whether he should perhaps try it again and dust off his old guitar.
As he descended the stairs, Helen got startled, she didn’t hear him getting up. She turned at him blushing and felt caught as she saw his puzzled stare, before abruptly changing the melancholy tune for Scott Joplin’sEntertainer. Giles laughed now a little at the well-known jolly music and at Helen’s not too serious and exaggerated play. Little did he know that she was trying to cheer up herself rather than him.
When they arrived at school about an hour later, they were unlucky enough to run straight into Snyder in the first corridor. He merely glanced up at them and said somberly: “You two – my office – now.”
And there they sat and listened to Snyder’s harangue about duty and absences and professional behaviour and what was expected of a teacher in terms of being a role model for the students and how neither of them were acting up to it, but were being selfish instead, consumed with their own private affairs, which he did not care for and which would have to stop or at least they would have to get a grip of them so that those affaires would not interfere with their work and other school-related obligations anymore.
“... the library looks a complete mess...,” Snyder was saying, though it sounded more like he was making up things now to make them feel remorseful, because Helen doubted that he ever went to the library.
“You don’t know the first thing about a messy library,” she said coldly.
Both Snyder and Giles looked at her, Snyder a little surprised while Giles appeared to be scrutinizing her, trying to assess what she was up to.
“Whatever,” the principal replied angrily, “to remind you that we are all working here for the greater good...” Helen’s head shot up at those words and Snyder paused for a second.
Giles noticed Helen holding her wand in her right hand and nervously, frantically tipping it upon her kneecap, which Snyder could not see from behind his desk. Giles carefully reached out his hand and placed it upon hers to make her calm down, wondering at the same time why she was so edgy.
“... and to offer you a chance to prove that you do care about keeping your jobs I decided...,” Snyder continued and Giles’ heart sank. This couldn’t be good. “... to entrust the running of this year’s talent show to you.”
There was a heavy silence for a moment.And the nightmare continues, Helen thought, while Giles was looking at the principal’s face as if waiting for him to say that he did not mean what he said. He couldn’t have. When there was something he and Helen did not have time for right now, then it was exactly taking care of another vast school-event. Besides, those always tended to attract trouble and/or end badly. Giles couldn’t remember a single large event in the past two years that would go without any casualties.
Finally Snyder lost his patience: “This is where you saythank you and leave,” he said crossly and glared at them, expecting them to get up and out of his office.
Helen looked at Giles, her hand that was holding the wand was twitching, but he shook his head imperceptibly, then spoke to Snyder: “Y-you can’t be serious...”
“W-well, after last year’s bloodbath... I-I... we would have thought that-that-“
“Those were accidents, terrible, but we won’t let them affect us... on the contrary we, or I should say you will show us that the school spirit is strong enough to not get scared off by such things,” he said mocking them.
Helen got up to her feet abruptly and leant onto Snyder’s desk. “I had a really bad night,” she said angrily in a low voice, “so I’ll only say this once – I will not run your bloody talent show, you can run it yourself... or maybe you could just make it a one-man performance as you are yourself so brimming over with endless talents...” She made a step back and watching his foaming features she realized that in her own anger she may have gone too far.
“You... are...,” Giles could hear Snyder begin in a furious tone and he knew what would follow. Thus his eyes widened when instead of the expectedfired orsacked there was a short pause and then Snyder said in a tone very different to the one he had been using only seconds before: “You’re right. It was a stupid idea, I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said blankly.
Giles frowned, but because of Helen standing in his view with her back turned to him he couldn’t see Snyder’s face. And then she turned around and at catching a glimpse of the tiny streak of blood beneath her nose he knew.
“Sorry to have bothered you,” Snyder added in the same odd dull voice and Helen moved towards the door.
“Don’t,” she stopped him before he could say anything as they stepped out of the principal’s office and she saw the reproval in his eyes. “I didn’t have a choice, we'd never get out of it otherwise,” she said, sounding still a bit huffish as she walked over to a water fountain to clean her face.
Giles watched her in silence, then decided against further arguing and asked instead, attempting a lighter conversation: “So, was your night really that bad?”
He had thought her to ease up at what seemed to him an innocent enough question, after all he assumed she hadn’t meant it literally when she had said that to Snyder, but to his surprise and concern she stiffened and avoided his eyes at first.
“No, not really,” she replied evasively, but could feel his piercing glare on her, “well, I-ah... just another bad dream, nothing worth telling really.”
“And I thought you got up so early because you couldn’t wait to touch the piano,” he said casually and at the mention of their latest acquisition Helen looked up at him and actually smiled.
“Well, that too,” she said, appeased again by the sudden simple realization of how lucky she was having him.
Being rid of the talent show they could put their energies into reading the two old prints they had brought from their fieldtrip in Europe. By the end of the week Giles managed to translate the first couple of pages of the Old Romanian text, while Willow and Helen worked on the Latin copy in turns, as they both had other duties to attend to.
On Friday afternoon Helen once again passed her work to Willow and went to her house to floo George and the others for their monthly exchange.
However when she sat down in front of her fireplace it was only George’s face that greeted her. He explained to her that the others couldn’t come, Ron, Hermione and Harry having some other commitment elsewhere and Ginny being ill with a flu.
“I’ve tried to floo you,” George said, “but you’re rather hard to reach these days... Are you ever at home at all?” He asked grinning.
“No,” she answered curtly, before grinning back and George knew exactly that she was anything but unhappy about her new living arrangements.
“Why don’t you two get a floo at Mr. Giles’ place? It would be much easier,” George suggested.
“Yes, for you to harass us maybe...,” she said and glared at him, “... besides Giles doesn’t wish to be-eh... connected, and frankly I don’t blame him, he wants to keep the little amount on privacy he’s still got and I respect that.”
“Of course you do,” George said nodding in amusement. Then he remembered something: “Oh, oh, Kingsley too has been trying to catch you, he said something about...Travers andbooks and aletter... I really don’t know what he was talking about, you best talk to him yourself, I only promised him to let you know if I’d see you.”
“Right,” Helen muttered looking over at a clock. It was late, it would be around midnight in London now.
“You could try, you know how late he works sometimes,” George proposed.
Helen agreed and they said good night, then she threw a handful of new floo powder into the fire and called for Kingsley’s office.
“Yes? Who’s there?” Kingsley’s muffled voice sounded after a moment.
“It’s Helen. McGregor.”
“Oh, Helen, how nice to hear from you,” and his voice got clearer as his face appeared in the fireplace.
“I’m sorry for calling so late, I hope I’m not disturbing you, only George just relayed to me that you had something you wanted to talk over with me,” she said.
“Yes, yes, I did. I’ve got here two letters from Quentin Travers addresses to his cousin in Azkaban...”
“Yes? What does he say?”
“Not a whole lot. It’s very meagre, he’s asking where the books are and whether they’re safe and if he can get them back. Hadn’t you told me about those council books I would have absolutely no idea what it’s about.”
“Hm,” Helen said thoughtfully, “and yet it doesn’t exactly reveal anything spectacular.”
“No. I mean if I were him I’d probably want to have those books back too,” Kingsley stated dryly.
“And there was nothing else? Only the two letters?”
“No, Secundus hasn’t posted anything and we did not deliver him these. They are some weeks old by now by the way, I wanted to call you earlier, but there was so much going on here that I forgot about it among all the other things... we’ve been debating over the new Hogwarts staff for the next school year since there’ve still been a few vacancies we needed to fill at last and that took a lot of time – and hassle and nerves and a few brawls even – so that I was hardly able to take care of anything else,” Kingsley complained sounding tired. Helen didn’t envy him for still having to clean up the mess that the war and the Death Eaters had left behind.
“New staff? And? Whom did you get?” She asked curiously, remembering that months ago Minerva had again offered her her former history post. She wondered who got it now.
But before Kingsley could reply Helen heard a loud, persistent knock on what she assumed was the door of his office and then Kingsley turned away and spoke to someone: “Alright, tell them I’ll be there in a minute, and get them some beer beforehand, you know they’re unbearably savvy when they’re sober...”
Then he turned back at Helen with an apologetic look: “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. I have yet another demand for compensation money on my plate for some atrocities Voldemort had done while he was abroad...” He sighed, then shook his head at the craziness of all the matters he had to deal with. “I’ll talk to you soon. Or I’ll send those letters to you through someone, you can have a look at them yourself.”
“Alright. Thanks, and good night,” she waved at him as he nodded in acknowledgement and left.AN: Thank you very much for staying with me until now – and as always – do review on anything that occurs to you as nice, weird, awful, funny, whatever. Please share your thoughts.