Escape from Brextwistle Hall by Arnel
Summary: Looking through an old trunk shouldn’t pose much of a threat, but when the trunk is in the Grimmauld Place attic, mysterious things can happen, especially if you are Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley.
Categories: Pre-OotP, SIYE Challenges, Portkey Challenge (2018-1)
Escape from Brextwistle Hall by Arnel
Chapter 1: Escape from Brextwistle HallAuthor's Notes:
17 August 1995
“Hey Ginny, you up there?” Harry Potter’s voice floated up the attic stairs towards Ginny, where she was currently sitting on the floor next to an open trunk.
“Yeah, does Mum want me?” Ginny called back.
Harry came clomping up the stairs and stuck his head above the last one. “Eventually. She sent me to see if you’d found the old sheet she wanted for the house-elf heads,” he told her with a shudder.
Ginny grinned at him. “I’m glad she wants to cover them up. They give me the collywobbles,” she admitted. “I put the sheet next to the stairs if you want to take it down to her.”
Harry shook his head. “It can wait,” he said, coming up all the way into the attic and crouching next to her, his wand sticking out of his back pocket. Ginny eyed it enviously, resenting the fact that her mother wouldn’t let her carry her own wand. Now that Voldemort was back, she felt she needed to have hers with her at all times like Harry insisted upon doing. Her mother just didn’t understand…
“What did you find?” he asked, sitting down facing her. Ginny had to smile when he started squirming and set his wand on the floor with an exasperated sigh. Wands weren’t the most comfortable things to sit on.
“Nothing you’d be too interested in. It’s girl stuff,” she said, shrugging off his interest. None of her brothers would take interest in something she thought was beautiful. They’d probably tease her about it mercilessly, so she couldn’t afford to be too “girly” around them. When he didn’t get up, she explained, “It’s just a bit of handmade lace.”
To her surprise, Harry murmured, “Cool.”
She reached into the trunk and pulled out a rectangular piece of lace about the size of a pillowcase. “I think this is about a hundred years old. If I’m right, this is a crocheted antimacassar.”
“A what?” Harry asked, reaching for the lace to get a closer look at it. The teardrop pattern made him think of pineapples.
“A piece of lace Victorian ladies put on the backs of chairs to protect the fabric from their husbands’ hair oil,” Ginny said, pleased that she knew something he didn’t. “My Auntie Muriel has them all over her sitting room. A bit fussy, if you ask me.”
Harry snorted. “My aunt tried putting something like this on Uncle Vernon’s favourite chair when I was little. It didn’t last long because Uncle Vernon thought it made him look like a nancy boy.”
Ginny giggled. “From what you’ve said about him, I can definitely understand why,” she said.
Harry reached into the trunk and lifted out a set of bed sheets. “What kind of lace is this?” he asked, pointing to the rounded, flowerlike pattern decorating the edges of the flat sheet and pillowcases.
“Tatting,” Ginny said. “Aunt Muriel tried to teach me to tat when I was younger. I never did understand which way to throw the shuttle to make the knots.”
“I wonder who made all this,” Harry mused. He seemed to be enjoying looking at the linens. He showed her a couple of tatted doilies and a long length of knitted lace trim, remarking that the tiny stitches probably took a long time to make.
Ginny searched through the neat piles inside the trunk and finally found what she was looking for: handkerchiefs. Specifically, ones with initials embroidered on them.
“L. Y. B. Do you know if any of Sirius’ ancestors made lace?” she asked.
Harry frowned. “No, but I think I saw someone on the tapestry down in the drawing room with a name like Lavinia Y-something. She married into the family.”
“That sounds about right,” Ginny said. “I remember seeing her, too.”
Reaching back into the trunk, she patted around until her hand came in contact with something hard and oblong. She smiled as she drew it out of the trunk.
“I bet this needle box will tell us what we need to know,” she said, setting the wooden box on the floor and lifting the lid. Inside, was a collection of tatting shuttles, knitting needles, and crochet hooks. On the underside of the lid was the name ‘Lysandra Yaxley.’ Ginny pointed this out to Harry.
“What’s this?” he asked, taking out an egg-shaped wooden ball on a handle.
Ginny reached for it, her fingers closing around Harry’s. “It’s a darning egg. It used to help Mrs Black mend–ACK!”
With an abruptness that startled both of them, the two were wrenched off the floor and hurtled into space, their hands glued to the darning egg. What did I say that activated the Portkey? she wondered. And why would someone turn a darning egg into one in the first place? She glanced over at Harry and was alarmed to find that his face had drained of all colour. She couldn’t imagine what would do that to him, he seemed just fine last summer when they’d taken the Portkeys to and from the World Cup.
After what seemed a long time, but was probably only a few seconds, they were deposited, still sitting, on a hard, wooden floor.
“Oh, God!” Harry exclaimed, pulling away from her and doubling over, holding his head. He rocked back and forth as he chanted, “This is not happening! This is not happening!”
Concerned, Ginny reached over and began rubbing circles on Harry’s back, trying her best to calm his trembling, and wondering why he was reacting this way. What was it that made Harry so afraid that he would act like this? Did it have to do with the fact the Fudge had put him on trial in front of the full Wizengamot? Nope, that wasn’t it. Was it something to do with the Dementors and what they made Harry hear in his head? She didn’t think so. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more the evidence pointed to the third task of the Triwizard Tournament and what happened when Harry and Cedric had touched the Triwizard Cup… Then, she understood; Harry had been abruptly taken to Voldemort less than two months ago and he seemed to be reliving the Portkey trip.
“Harry,” she whispered, scooting even closer and putting her arms around him, “I think we’re in another attic. We might be safe for a while if no one heard us land.”
Her words seemed to reassure him a little because he looked up at her, his expression bleak.
“Are we safe?” he asked. “Cedric and I thought we were safe when we first landed in the graveyard.” He suddenly pulled away and started patting his pockets, his expression turning panicked. “Oh, no! I don’t have my wand! I left it in the attic back at Grimmauld Place! I can’t defend myself!”
Realizing what he said was true for herself, Ginny said, feeling rather panicky as well, “I don’t have mine, either. Mum made me put it in my school trunk after we got back from King’s Cross in June. What are we going to do?”
Harry’s laugh was bitter. “I reckon we’ll just have to use our wits to get out of this mess we’re in.”
Ginny smiled. “You do know that two heads are better than one,” she said, “at least that’s what Fred and George are always telling me.”
Looking somewhat less terrified, Harry sighed, “I guess we’ll just have to use them, then.”
“Where do you suppose we are?” Ginny asked. She stood up and really looked around for the first time since they’d arrived. As she had told Harry, they were in an attic. The question of the day was: whose attic?
Like every attic she’d ever been in, the room had a tiny window to provide light and was piled high with sheet-covered portraits and furniture, and held lots of boxes and trunks. Ginny didn’t think the furniture would hold many clues to their whereabouts, so she cautiously lifted the bottom corner of the sheet covering the nearest portrait, hoping to see a name plate on the frame.
“Be careful, Ginny,” came Harry’s voice from where he sat, “and don’t go too far away. I don’t want to get separated.”
“Will you help me look, then?” she asked. “This one doesn’t have a name plate, and I don’t want to disturb the subjects if I don’t have to. It wouldn’t do to wake a portrait and discover another Walburga Black.”
Harry stood up, shuddering visibly at the mention of Mrs Black’s portrait, and together they began searching the frames. While they found many artists’ signatures in the corners of the paintings, they found no clues to the identity of the subjects of the portraits, so they decided to look through the drawers of an old bureau.
“You’re not going to find anything in there,” a squeaky voice suddenly said.
Harry whirled around, his hand automatically reaching for his non-existent wand. “Who’s there?”
Ginny raked her eyes over the sheet-covered furniture, finally spying a small portrait propped up against an old wardrobe. The girl in the dusty picture was dressed in old-fashioned robes and was eying the two searchers with curiosity.
“Who are you?” Ginny asked, grabbing Harry’s hand and hauling him toward the portrait.
The girl smiled sweetly. “Phoebe Yaxley. Who are you?”
“Strangers,” Harry told her cautiously. “We came here by accident.”
“I’ll say,” Phoebe said. “It’s not every day that someone just drops in to talk to me. I don’t think you’re from Lancashire. Your accents aren’t right for the area.”
Ginny exchanged a look with Harry. How much should they tell the portrait? Harry’s guarded expression told her revealing too much would probably get them in deeper trouble, so she smiled and said, “You’re right, Phoebe. We aren’t from here. We’d like to get home as quickly as possible. What do you know about the house? What floor are we on right now?”
Apparently, Phoebe was starved for someone to talk to because she immediately revealed that the attic was the unofficial fourth floor of the house, Brextwistle Hall, located in the garret of the original building. It was also the floor used to house the butler and housemaids prior to the Yaxley family purchasing the house. There was a servants’ stairway at the other end of the central hallway.
“You mean this was originally a Muggle house?” Harry asked, sounding incredulous. “I’ve always thought the Yaxley family was prejudiced against Muggles.”
Phoebe shook her head. “Not during my father’s time. He employed many Muggles as farm workers, but something horrible happened just before he died that turned the family against them. They put my portrait– which was originally hung in the kitchen, my favourite room in the house– in this attic to punish me because I defended the Muggle who accidentally started a fire in the butler’s pantry. The family immediately purchased several house-elves after dismissing the servants and farm workers. My living self was immediately married to the first wizard who would accept me. That was many, many years ago.”
This was interesting information, indeed, but it wasn’t going to help her and Harry escape. Ginny gently steered the conversation back to the layout of the house.
Phoebe then told them that the front door faced north and the ground sloped downward to the south, allowing easy entry into the cellar through a number of doors on the lowest level.
“That’s where the kitchens and storage areas are,” Phoebe said. “When I was alive, all the cooking was done in the big fireplace, but other portraits that have been brought up over the years have said the elves now cook on a stove, and the fireplace is one of the entrances to the Floo Network in the house.”
Harry smiled at this bit of information and looked at his watch. “We need to go while there’s daylight left. I’m anxious to get back to see how much trouble we’re in for leaving without permission or an escort,” he said to Ginny. He turned to Phoebe. “Thank you for talking to us. You’ve been very helpful.”
Ginny stifled a giggle as the girl in the portrait blushed prettily. Then taking hold of Harry’s hand, she boldly tiptoed towards the door to the attic, paused long enough to ascertain there was no one on the other side, then eased it open and stepped out into the hallway.
It was just as Phoebe had said: there were three doors on either side of the central corridor with another door directly opposite the one they’d just closed behind them. Harry stood next to her with a thoughtful expression.
“Do we sneak or just walk carefully?” he asked.
“I’d say something halfway in between the two,” Ginny said, feeling decisive. “We’ll waste time if we’re too cautious, but we don’t want to alert anyone downstairs by causing a racket up here.” She smiled as she quoted her brothers, “‘Sneak with a purpose’ is one of Fred and George’s rules.”
Harry chuckled softly and began to quietly lead her down the middle of the corridor. Ginny had to smile when she realized their hands were still joined between them. This gave her some much-needed courage and a bit of hope that they’d get out of the house undetected.
The door at the end of the hallway was, surprisingly, unlocked. One look at the steep stairs and Ginny dropped Harry’s hand in order to steady herself as they wound downwards. They reached the first landing with a door in one wall without incident and continued onward. Third floor, Ginny thought as they descended to the next level. On the landing to the second floor, Harry paused and mimed opening the door. Ginny shook her head. She had no desire to possibly get caught sneaking into or out of someone’s bedroom.
They paused again next to the door to the first-floor landing and this time Harry opened it and peered around the door jam. It must have been safe because he gestured for her to follow him and they quickly made their way to the first door they found. This door was also unlocked, and they stepped inside what was obviously a men’s lounge, due to the billiard table in the centre of the room and card table and chairs in one corner.
While Harry took the opportunity to examine the room, Ginny looked for another exit that would allow them to skip the hallway as much as possible: she’d seen the main staircase further down, right in front of a pair of grand double doors, which she assumed led to an office or library. It took some searching, but she found a door concealed behind a tapestry and motioned for Harry to follow her. Again, she listened at the door before pushing it open and easing through into the room next door.
They’d entered the home’s library. To their left was a huge fireplace flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows covered in velvet draperies; to their right were the double doors Ginny had seen from the hallway. What caught Ginny’s attention, though, was the gigantic wooden desk that sat in front of one of the windows, its top covered in neat stacks of parchment as well as a silver desk set that included an inkstand and quills, a padded writing surface, and a blotter. With a quick glance at Harry, Ginny walked over to the desk and picked up the top piece of parchment, looking for a signature.
“Corban Yaxley,” she murmured, scanning the minute handwriting. Her eyes widened as she focused on a paragraph. “Harry! You need to see this!”
Harry stopped his perusal of the book cases and hurried over to her. “What is it?” he asked.
Ginny pointed to the paragraph she’d been reading. “This is a report to Voldemort about a mission he went on six weeks ago. Look, it says that the subject, Horace Slughorn, was nowhere to be found in his house, but that when the revealing spell was cast multiple times, it registered human life. Yaxley and the other Death Eaters searched each room thoroughly a second time, but didn’t find Slughorn. They left after ransacking the house,” she said in way of summary.
“I remember this bloke from my hearing,” Harry whispered, pointing to a family portrait sitting on the desk. “He’s rather ugly. I remember because he was sitting next to a toad-faced witch who Fudge called Dolores Umbridge. He was one of the ones who didn’t raise his hand to clear me of the charges.”
“Do you think he’s a Death Eater?” Ginny asked, setting the parchment back on the pile.
Harry only nodded.
“Why do you think this Yaxley bloke left all this stuff on his desk? Shouldn’t it have been locked somewhere?” Ginny mused.
Harry shrugged. “Maybe he was suddenly called to Voldemort’s side and didn’t have time to lock it up. I think the Death Eaters have only so much time to respond to a summons before they’re punished.”
Ginny was about to suggest they continue on their way when they heard voices outside. She looked at Harry who was scanning the room. Did they have time to sprint for the door to the billiard room? Probably not.
“Mistress, I’m certain I heard voices in the library,” squeaked a high-pitched elven voice.
“All right, I’ll check,” came the impatient-sounding answer and the handle of one of the double doors twisted.
Ginny grabbed Harry’s hand and dove underneath the desk, pulling the desk chair back into place as far as possible. It was a tight squeeze, but the two of them managed to curl up enough to be completely concealed.
Footsteps approached the desk and stopped. Ginny held her breath. Go away! Don’t look very hard! she pleaded silently. Beside her, Harry was shaking again, but his face was set in a determined expression. She admired the courage she saw there, and she felt braver for it.
Apparently, the mistress didn’t find anything amiss for her footsteps retreated from the room and she closed the door behind her. A moment later there was the sound of a small body bumping down the big staircase, followed by a high-pitched squeal of agony that caused Ginny to cringe. The thought of Hermione would be livid if she heard that, floated through Ginny’s mind as she raised an eyebrow at Harry.
“I think she’s gone,” he mouthed, and pushed the chair away from the desk.
The two of them headed for the servants’ staircase as fast as they thought they could reasonably move. They collapsed on the next landing down, breathing hard and shaking with relief.
“That was close,” Harry whispered.
“Yeah, I hope we don’t meet her again,” Ginny replied. She heaved a sigh and stood up. “It’s getting dark. We need to get out of here.”
Harry stood up and led the way down the last set of stairs. At the door to the hallway, they could hear the clank of pots and pans and the rattle of utensils. Nonetheless, he opened the door and stepped through. Ginny knew they needed to reach the kitchen fireplace, but could they do so without the elves noticing? Since they didn’t have their wands, it was going to be nearly impossible to leave unnoticed from the kitchen.
Their luck ran out as soon as they stepped into the kitchen. They had taken no more than two steps towards the fireplace than one of the elves looked up and yelled, “INTRUDERS! INTRUDERS!”
“Quiet down!” Harry pleaded as the elves left their tasks and brandished wicked-looking knives at them. He began backing towards the fireplace, which was in the middle of the back wall. “We’re lost and want to get home. Can we use the Floo?”
“How do you know about the Floo connection?” an elf challenged.
Ginny pointed to a flower pot sitting on the mantle. “Your pot of Floo powder is in the same place as it is in my house,” she said. The elf considered this, then shook its head.
“Take them to Mistress,” the elf ordered, and quicker than Ginny knew elves could move, an elf had grabbed her wrist and Disapparated with her, but not before she heard Harry yell, “Gin–"
They landed in front of an imposing-looking woman who was seated in an armchair stitching at an embroidery frame. A second later, Harry appeared with a second elf clutching his shirt.
“So… Mimsy was right after all,” the mistress said, eying Ginny and Harry. “Where did you find them?”
“The kitchen, Mistress. They wanted to use the Floo connection to go home,” the elf holding Ginny squeaked.
“I see,” the mistress murmured. She stepped closer to Ginny. “Who are you and why are you here?”
Ginny didn’t say anything, so the question was repeated. When she still didn’t answer, the mistress slapped her across the face so hard her cheek stung.
“I repeat: who are you and why are you here?” she demanded, raising her hand to slap Ginny again.
“Leave her alone!” Harry cried, calling attention to himself. Ginny cringed and wondered why he’d done that.
The witch went over to him and eyed him critically. “I know you,” she snarled. “You’re the scum who escaped Azkaban last week.” She reached up with her wand and moved some of Harry’s fringe away from his forehead, exposing his scar. “Harry Potter. Can’t keep out of other people’s business, can you?” And turning to the elves that held Harry and Ginny prisoner, she barked, “Take them downstairs and lock them away!”
Molly Weasley was becoming annoyed. It had been over an hour since she’d sent Ginny up to the attic to retrieve the sheet she wanted to use as a cover for the house-elf heads on the stairs. While the sheet would call attention to the display, it would be a great deal easier to look at than the gruesome sight one normally saw when mounting the stairs to the first floor.
“Honestly, what has that girl done with herself?” she fumed and began climbing the stairs towards the top of the house.
The sheet she’d asked her daughter to bring her was sitting at the top of the attic stairs. Molly picked it up and looked around, spying the piles of lacy linens stacked in front of one of the trunks.
“Ginny, I know you’re still up here. You’ve been snooping around in the Black Family’s things again,” she stated. “Come out from your hiding place and clean this mess up. I need your help with dinner.”
She expected to hear Ginny’s exasperated sigh and see her daughter emerge from behind some of the sheet-covered furniture. However, when she received no such response, she called again and then one more time for good measure. By this time, Molly was growing anxious, so she brandished her wand, sending Sirius Black an urgent Patronus message, not wanting to wake Mrs Black’s portrait with her usual shouting.
A moment later, Sirius appeared at the bottom of the attic stairs. “You bellowed?” he asked with his usual rakish smile.
“Ginny’s missing,” Molly told him. “I sent her up here to retrieve this bedsheet over an hour ago. I found it by the stairs and the contents of one of the trunks scattered on the floor.”
Sirius came fully into the attic. “Are you sure she’s not in her room?” he asked, sounding uneasy.
“She’s not. I checked as I came upstairs. She wasn’t in the library with Hermione or the drawing room or Harry and Ron’s room, either. I don’t know where she could have gone,” Molly told him, the feeling of doom settling on her shoulders.
“She may truly be gone,” Sirius said as he scanned the attic. “There are things in some of these trunks that may have been turned into Portkeys. If she accidentally activated one of them, she could have been taken who knows where.”
“Sweet Merlin!” Molly exclaimed just as Ron emerged from the stairs.
“Mum, have you seen Harry? I can’t find him,” Ron said, sounding worried.
Molly turned to Sirius. “Do you think the two of them did activate a Portkey?” she asked tremulously. “I know Ginny doesn’t have her wand, and I told Harry to put his in his trunk after he came back from his hearing last week, but he didn’t. I know he had it in his back pocket this morning. I’m so afraid he’ll get in trouble again if he uses it.”
Sirius waved his wand, casting a couple of spells, and let out a resigned sigh. “There’s evidence of recent magic being done in the vicinity of that trunk,” he reported, stepping closer to the contents of the trunk. Kneeling, he began looking through the linens and picked up the lid to the needle box. “Damn! They’ve been going through Lysandra Yaxley Black’s trunk,” he muttered and began sifting through the box with more urgency with each passing moment. “It’s not here!”
“What’s not there?” Molly asked in alarm as Sirius retrieved a wand from where it had become lodged in a gap in the floor boards. She recognized it as Harry’s and her heart skipped a beat. Ron had recognized it, too.
It’s Harry’s, he mouthed. Molly nodded once, biting her lip to keep from sobbing.
“Lysandra’s darning egg is missing,” Sirius said. “My mother carried it in her pocket. Family legend has it that Lysandra Yaxley Black, my mother’s great-aunt, turned the egg into a Portkey and gave it to my mother during Grindelwald’s rise to power. My mother kept it in her pocket as a security measure against being taken by ‘the filth and scum,’” –he made air quotes as he said the last four words– “represented by first the anti-Grindelwald faction and then those opposing Voldemort and his Death Eaters. The story goes that if she felt threatened in any way, she was to say a certain phrase and the Portkey would be activated, whisking her away to a safe place known only to her and her aunt.”
“Blimey,” Ron murmured as his mother dissolved into tears. “Do you have any idea where the Portkey might have taken them?”
Sirius shook his head. “I have no idea,” he said resignedly as he gazed at Harry’s wand. “We need to alert Dumbledore. Those two are defenceless!”
The elves deposited Ginny and Harry in a small room with stone walls, a stone floor, and a stout wooden door. The space was occupied by several dozen wooden boxes. After they left, she gazed at her surroundings feeling quite dazed at the outcome of their unexpected trip. They’d been so close to escaping! Why hadn’t they thought to bide their time in the service stairwell until the household had gone to bed? She knew the answer: both she and Harry had been anxious to get back to Grimmauld Place before they were missed. It had felt like they were being naughty when, in reality, they hadn’t done anything wrong. And now, because they weren’t the Yaxley relative the Portkey was meant for, they were locked up with no idea of how to escape. A despairing sigh escaped her as she sat on a wooden crate under a torch, the only source of light in the oddly-shaped room.
The sound of pacing feet brought her out of her thoughts.
“Harry, what are you doing?”
“Thinking,” he replied as he passed her crate. “I’m wondering where we are.”
“Obviously the cellar. The other floors had wood floors,” Ginny replied. She couldn’t help the trace of sarcasm in her voice. She visually inspected the space they were in and chuckled softly. “Erm, Harry, does the slope of the ceiling look familiar to you?” she asked.
Harry stopped his pacing and took a good look around the room… and groaned. “We’re in the cupboard under the central staircase,” he moaned. “Just my luck…”
“Rather ironic, if you ask me,” Ginny said, just as the door opened. Both she and Harry looked at the newcomer expectantly, hoping it was someone friendly enough to let them go on their way.
“Well, well, it looks like I have a famous house guest,” Corban Yaxley said silkily, sounding uncannily like Severus Snape. He pointed his wand at Ginny, and before she could stand up, he had her lying on her side on the cold floor, unable to move because of the ropes he’d bound her with.
“Don’t hurt her!” Harry’s protest became a scream of agony as Yaxley turned his wand on him with a snarled, “Crucio!”
“Potter, you’d better have a good explanation for why you and that blood-traitor have invaded my private residence,” Yaxley said coldly, lifting the curse.
Harry, who was huddled inches from Ginny’s face, gasped, “Old Portkey… came here… by accident.”
“Is that so? I don’t believe you. Crucio!”
Harry’s screams tore at Ginny’s heart. She wished she could take his pain away, but knew the only way to do so was to take the curse herself. Was she brave enough to do so? She had to try.
“It’s true,” Ginny cried, causing Yaxley to cancel his spell. “We activated the Portkey by accident.”
“Silencio, girl!” Yaxley snarled at her and stood, looming, over Harry. “Now Potter, the only reason I’m not going to kill you is that the Dark Lord wants to kill you himself. I have something to attend to before I call him, so consider yourself lucky to have this reprieve.”
Without another word, he turned on his heel and exited the room, slamming the door behind him. As it sealed itself shut with a squelching sound, Ginny began to squirm. Her arms were pinned to her sides in such a way that she could actually reach into her jeans pockets. If she could just bend her elbows like so… and wiggle and twist her shoulders like that… she could get her arms free!
It took a few more minutes to completely free herself, and by that time, she thought the Silencing Spell had worn off. She pushed the last of the ropes from her legs and crawled over to Harry, taking his head in her lap and gently running her fingers through his hair as she visually inspected him for injuries.
He was in bad condition: the spells had left him with a big bump on the back of his head and he was shaking uncontrollably. Where his arms emerged from his t-shirt, blood seeped from numerous small cuts that had been made as he twitched on the rough floor.
“Harry, what hurts most?” she asked, stilling her ministrations in order to concentrate on his answer.
“I’m fine,” he croaked.
“Ha! You’re anything but, Harry,” Ginny said, shaking her head. “I know for a fact that you have a huge lump on the back of your head that’s got to be causing your head to explode, so ‘fess up.”
Harry closed his eyes and let out a long, shuddering breath. “Head, yeah, it hurts, but so does the rest of me,” he admitted.
“Can you move on your own yet?” she asked, resuming her gentle caressing of his face and scalp. It seemed he relaxed a little as she did so.
Harry squirmed as if to find a more comfortable position on the floor, but stopped as a groan escaped him. “Not yet,” he gasped.
“Then just lay there. I’m going to see if I can find a way out of this room,” she said while taking off the cardigan she was wearing. She folded it and gently placed it under Harry’s head. “I won’t be long.”
She started her search by running her fingers over the stones in the wall nearest the door, pushing and tugging on any protrusion she came in contact with. She really didn’t think she’d find a way out, but she knew she needed to give Harry time to recover. She also needed time to think. When she was done with the walls, she started on the lowest brick in the sloping ceiling and worked her way up until the bricks were out of reach. With a sigh, she returned to Harry, whose face seemed a bit more colourful and less riddled with pain.
“You doing better?” she asked as she sat next to him and pulled the crate she’d sat on earlier a little closer. It made a good backrest.
“A little,” he said. “I can move a bit easier now.”
She smiled at him. “I’m glad.” Then, standing again, she began digging in her right jeans pocket, the one that usually held her wand. It had a larger capacity than her other pockets to accommodate the length of her wand. “Let’s see what I have in my pockets,” she told him conversationally, and placed a lipstick, a small brush and an Extendable Ear on the crate.
“Give me the Ear,” Harry requested. “I can listen for Yaxley’s return.”
Smiling, Ginny handed over the listening end before going to the door and threading the other end underneath. She was secretly glad that Harry was taking an interest in their escape. She then pulled a couple more items from her pocket before she found what she’d been looking for: one Wet-Start No-Heat Firework from Gamble and Japes. Triumphantly, she set the firework where Harry could see it. His grin told her he thought her plan would work, and he even pointed out a box labelled “Bulldog Butterbeer.”
Ginny quickly opened it to find it full of unopened bottles. “Yes!” she rejoiced quietly and uncorked two of them, handing one to Harry.
“What were you going to do with the firework?” he asked as he gingerly sat up and took a swig from his bottle.
Ginny chuckled. “I was going to set it off in Fred and George’s bedroom at three in the morning to get them back for pranking me a month ago,” she replied.
“Wouldn’t it have awakened the whole house, Mrs Black’s portrait included?”
“It would have, but it would have been worth it to see my brothers acting like scared little first years,” she told him as she put on her sweater. “They don’t take kindly to being abruptly awakened from a sound sleep.”
“And how do you know this?”
“A couple of years ago, one of their experiments exploded during the night, waking them and the rest of the house. Mum and Dad were livid, but Ron and I thought watching the twins huddle in their beds was the funniest thing ever.” She paused, then asked, “So do you think this will work?”
“It’s rather a noisy way to escape, but it might work if we timed it right,” Harry replied.
“I thought so,” Ginny said and held up her bottle to the light to see if she needed to open another. There was just enough liquid in the bottom to start the firework. Nevertheless, she helped herself to another: she was awfully thirsty…
The two lapsed into silence, and eventually Harry dozed off, his head now resting on Ginny’s shoulder. She supposed she was a bit softer than the floor and was glad she could provide Harry a little comfort after his ordeal. When he began snoring softly, she gently transferred the Extendable Ear to her own ear and kept her silent vigil.
“Harry,” she whispered, shaking him awake several hours later. “Harry, wake up. Yaxley’s coming back.”
The sound of his boots on the stone floor of the corridor was very distinctive. Harry moved to the back of the little room and crouched down, ready to spring past their captor. When the footsteps stopped outside the door, Ginny dropped the firework into the bottle she’d put a few feet from the door and waited.
The door swung inwards, showing them a dimly lit corridor on the other side. Yaxley inhaled to begin speaking, but he never said a word as the world exploded in a salvo of sound and light. Harry and Ginny, who had closed their eyes tightly and stuck their fingers in their ears, took advantage of their captor’s temporary incapacity to push him out of the way and sprint for the kitchen fireplace.
“It’s still there,” Ginny breathed. At the same time, Harry pointed out, “The embers are still orange.”
Ginny snatched the flower pot off the mantle and threw some Floo Powder into the fireplace. The embers erupted in a blaze of green, and dropping the pot on the floor, she grabbed Harry’s wrist, pulling him into the flames with her.
“Diagon Alley,” she called softly and was gratified when they began spinning away from the hearth.
Several anxious minutes later, they tumbled out of the fireplace in the Leaky Cauldron. The pub was eerily empty this time of night, making it necessary for them to search for a more secure place to be. They settled on hiding in one of the private rooms near the stairs to the first floor and huddled together, waiting to see if they’d been followed. It seemed they hadn’t been, for no one came crashing through the pub searching for them.
“Why don’t you try to get some sleep, Harry,” Ginny suggested finally. “It might help you feel better. I’ll keep watch and wake you in a couple of hours.”
“’M okay. I can stay awake if you want to sleep,” Harry slurred, even as his head found her shoulder again.
Ginny woke Harry as the first sounds of the pub waking up reached her ears. She was glad to note that he seemed completely himself again.
“How are we getting back to Sirius’ place?” she asked. “The Knight Bus? A taxi?”
“I don’t have any money with me,” Harry said. “It’s not that far, we could walk back.” When she looked sceptically at him, he continued, “The Death Eaters don’t like to mix with Muggles very much. It might be safer to get lost in the crowded streets than to attempt taking magical transportation of some sort.”
Ginny considered this and then assented. “I’ve never been out in the Muggle world this early,” she said.
“It’s not any different than walking around at Hogwarts,” Harry said, “except that no one will know who you are, and that’s the beauty of it.”
They snuck out of the pub, leaving via the street door just as the first patrons caught old Tom the barkeeper’s attention. As they walked along, Ginny noticed that Harry was keeping an eye on the ground, occasionally stooping to pick up something small.
“Whatcha doin’,” she asked, deliberately sounding like the nosy little sister she could be when she wanted to annoy her brothers.
“Looking for lost change,” Harry replied. “People drop it and don’t bother to pick it up. See,” he held out his hand to her, “I’ve collected nearly a pound already.”
“Can I help?” she asked. “What do I look for?”
Harry told her, and together they combed both sides of the street for a couple of blocks. When they met up again, Harry grinned and pointed to a small bakery just down the street.
“Let’s get some tea and scones. I’m hungry,” he said, making her grin.
They lingered over their breakfast, feeling relieved that they had actually escaped and enjoying their time alone without the adults watching them like hawks. Eventually, though, they reluctantly wended their way back to Grimmauld Place, arriving weary and wary of what Ginny’s mum would do and say.
It was quite a shock when they quietly knocked on the front door to find Dedalus Diggle guarding it.
“If you’re Harry Potter, when did we last meet on the street?” he demanded.
Harry grinned. “I was about seven, and you bowed to me and wished me a good day,” he replied.
Diggle nodded and turned to Ginny. “What shape is your brother Bill’s tattoo?”
“Bill doesn’t have a tattoo,” she answered with a snicker. “At least one that’s visible. Mum is already after him about his long hair and earring.”
The tiny wizard muttered something about cheeky teenagers and gestured to them to follow him down to the kitchen where they interrupted what looked like a full meeting of the Order of the Phoenix. All conversation stopped abruptly, and Professor Dumbledore paused in handing out what looked like small pieces of a map.
“Ginny!” her mother screeched, rising from the table to envelop her daughter in a hug. “Oh, I was so worried!” She extended a hand to Harry and pulled him into the hug. “Harry, you kept her safe! Thank you!”
“She kept me safe,” he mumbled, causing Mrs Weasley to pull away with a quizzical expression on her face. “It’s a long story,” he added by way of explanation.
“Where are my manners?” Mrs Weasley cried. “Come, sit down and I’ll have breakfast for you in nothing flat. In the meantime, you can tell us what happened.”
The other adults at the table made room for Ginny and Harry, and the two sat side by side. Ginny began their story with being sent upstairs to get the sheet, and the tale unfolded from there. When they reached the part where they landed in the attic and identified the house, Sirius sighed.
“I should have remembered that name. Lysandra Yaxley Black was my mum’s favourite aunt, and the two of them visited the Yaxleys quite often when I was growing up,” he lamented as platters of eggs, sausages, bacon, beans, tomatoes, and toast floated to the table.
“Harry, Ginny, help yourselves first,” Professor Dumbledore commanded. “You must be famished.”
The two needed no more encouragement and were soon back to telling their story between mouthfuls. Their report about Horace Slughorn particularly interested Professor Dumbledore, but Ginny’s mother completely stopped the retelling to examine Harry from head to foot after they told about him being subjected to the Cruciatus Curse. She was particularly alarmed over the bump on his head, asking him all sorts of questions about how he felt: how much he slept at a time, did he wake easily, did he feel rested like he normally did when he woke up, was he nauseous, and had his headache worsened? Finally, she heaved a sigh of relief: she didn’t think Harry had a concussion.
While her mother fretted over him, Ginny watched Harry reacting to the personal attention he was receiving. If it had been her brothers enduring the barrage of questions, they would have been grumbling and squirming and trying to end the ordeal as quickly as possible. Harry, on the other hand, seemed to be content to just let her fuss. He answered all of her mother’s questions truthfully and even let her gently touch the bump on his head. All the while, he stood perfectly still and Ginny realized that the only other person who gave him this much attention was Madam Pomfrey at Hogwarts! No wonder he was so cooperative, he was starved for even the smallest kindness from an adult!
Mrs. Weasley finally finished her “interrogation” and stepped back. “I think you’ll be fine with a good day’s sleep, dear,” she said. “I’ll make sure you’re not disturbed by some of the noisier inhabitants of this house,” she added, making Harry grin in Sirius’ direction.
“Thanks, Mrs. Weasley,” he said shyly. When he turned to sit back down, she stopped him.
“Harry, before you sit down again, I need to heal those cuts on your arms. You won’t be very comfortable if the scabs catch on the bedclothes while you’re sleeping,” she said, taking out her wand.
Unlike Ron or Fred or George, Harry immediately held out his arms without being asked. He seemed to relax a little more as each cut disappeared and the pain associated with it lessened.
When she was done, Harry again took his place next to Ginny, and the two continued their story. Their report of what they did to escape Yaxley brought cheers from Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and Bill Weasley.
“That’s my sister for you,” Bill chortled. He then asked their reason for hiding in the Leaky Cauldron.
Ginny’s smile crumpled, and she put her arm around Harry’s middle. He tensed momentarily before he relaxed into her side. “We didn’t know if we’d been followed. Harry still wasn’t fully recovered from the Unforgivables, and I needed to rest. The pub was quiet and relatively safe. I’m sorry we didn’t come directly back, but we just needed some time alone.”
“It’s true,” Harry agreed, his own arm settling gently on her shoulders. “The sprint to the fireplace did me in, and I was hurting again.”
Ginny’s mum stood up, went to the fire and placed a small cauldron over the embers there. By the time Ginny and Harry finished the last few moments of their story, she had prepared a potion, which she gave to Harry.
“I don’t know if this will do you any good, but drink up. It’s a mild pain reliever and at the very least should help you sleep,” she said.
“I’ll take it when I’m ready for bed,” he told her, sounding relieved. “Do you have any questions, Professor?”
Professor Dumbledore shook his head. “Get some rest, Harry. You, too, Miss Weasley. If I think of something, I’ll let you know,” he said. Then addressing the adults at the table, he said, “This emergency meeting is adjourned.”
The adults left the table and Ginny looked up at Harry, her eyebrow raised in a silent question.
“I can manage the stairs, I think, Ginny,” he told her and slowly rose from his seat.
Ron met them at the foot of the stairs and took the cup of potion from Harry. “You’re sure you two are all right,” he asked anxiously.
“I’m fine, just sleepy,” Harry replied, and Ginny agreed.
“Come on, then, and we’ll get you in bed,” Ron said, leading them up the stairs.
At their door, Harry paused and looked at Ginny. “Thanks,” he said and took a step into the room before turning back. “Erm, Ginny, you never did tell me how the darning egg was used.”
Ginny thrust her hand into her pocket and held up the egg. “You mean this? You use it to mend holes in socks,” she said.
Harry grinned and took off his shoe. There was a huge hole in the toe of his sock. “You mean a hole like this one?”
Ginny handed him the egg. “I’ll find you a needle and thread,” she said.
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