Gothic by Brennus



Summary: A bored Ginny Weasley finds her world turned upside down when a handsome and mysterious young wizard with a dark reputation offers her a job. Together, they seek a lost treasure and battle monsters while she learns many new things about herself.
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2016.04.30
Updated: 2016.06.24


Gothic by Brennus
Chapter 1: Chapter 1 - Lord of Wrath
Author's Notes:

Chapter 1 — Lord of Wrath


The frigid wind shook the bare branches of the diseased-looking trees. Overhead, iron-grey clouds were racing across the sky, spitting a fine drizzle that made an already dull landscape seem all the more depressing.

Harry’s boots crunched long-dead leaves underfoot as he cautiously followed the narrow trail through the undergrowth. Although still only mid-morning, the wood was dark and foreboding. Worst still was the palpable sense of evil that seem to infest the place and bring a chill to his bones. This, he thought grimly, was truly a place abandoned by God.

He could see his breath in the damp, chilling air, and the wind whipped his wild mane of black hair across his face. He pulled his cloak tighter about him and pressed on. There was no point dawdling in this spot. He had a job to do here.

He hadn’t gone much further when he found the first corpse. It hung, suspended from a tree by a rope wrapped around its body. Both legs had been severed below the knees, and both arms were missing from the elbows. What little skin remained was rotten and discoloured. Staring dispassionately at the cadaver, Harry realised that the genitalia had been cut off, so it was not immediately apparent if the unfortunate person had been male or female. Somehow, the ruined skull seemed to convey the agony that the individual had suffered during its last few tortured hours.

Removing a handkerchief from his pocket, Harry pressed it to his nose and neatly skirted around the hanging body. The dark sense that something terrible lay ahead only intensified and he found himself patting his forearm to assure himself that his wand still remained in its holster. He would be needing it soon enough, he felt.

As he walked along the forest track, he soon encountered further bodies, or at least, body parts. At one point he found four severed heads, all neatly arranged on sticks in a row. Further on, he found the naked body of a young man, nailed to a tree. He too appeared to have had his genitals hacked off and his groin area was a mass of congealed blood. Deep cuts marked his upper body and his eyes had been gorged out. The whole place smelt of blood and rotting flesh.

Eventually, he came to a small clearing in the centre of which stood a ramshackle wooden shack. Harry assumed only magic was keeping it upright, such was the dilapidated state it was in. Again, he was struck by the overwhelming sense of pure evil that emanated from the place. Here, he knew, was the source of the horror that haunted these woods.

Here was where the Witch of the Wild Woods lived.

With a practiced flick of his wrist, Harry’s wand slid into his hand. He took strength and comfort from the familiar feeling of it between his fingers. Knowing there was no point prevaricating further, he strode towards the tumbledown structure. He paused at what passed for a door to listen, and he thought he heard a low muttering coming from inside. Not wanting to delay any longer, he kicked the flimsy door down, and entered the dark hut.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light, but when they did he saw a figure hunched over a small table in front of him. The figure had its back to him, and all he could see was a mass of tangled black hair shot through with grey. The person appeared to be quite small, although the hunched posture they adopted could have been deceiving. Now he was inside, Harry could clearly make out the woman’s voice muttering in a low, garbled manner.

Harry walked forward until he reached the table. The figure seemed completely unaware of his presence, and just sat there, wittering away to herself. Seeing a cut-down log that appeared to serve as a seat, he sat himself down opposite the woman. He rested his arms on the rough table, his wand very evident in his right hand. Only then did the woman look up.

If he hadn’t already known that this hag was Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry doubted he would have recognised her. There was no trace of the regal beauty the witch had once possessed, or even the cruel intensity that her gaze once held. Instead, before him, Harry could only see a withered, dribbling old crone who had long since descended into madness. Her once dark eyes were now milky and unfocused, and her skin hung from her face like rumpled cloth. To think, this witch once had been the mirror image of her sister, Andromeda, a woman who had been the closest thing to a mother that Harry had ever had. Before the Death Eaters had killed her, that is.

“Hello, Bella,” Harry said slowly. “Do you recognise me?”

Bellatrix cackled in a dry, throaty voice.

“Little Harry Potter,” she chuckled with child-like delight. “Little Harry’s come to play with Bella, oh yes! Play some fun games!”

“Like you did with those people in the forest?” he asked calmly.

“Yes! Yes! What fun games we’ll play!” she cried, and pulled a cruel-looking knife from out of her filthy robes and waved it around with glee. An expression of eager joy had lit up her face, and succeeded in making her look even more grotesque than before.

“Actually, Bella, as the guest here, I think I should be the one to decide what game we play.”

“No! Bella’s house, Bella’s rules!” the mad witch shrieked, banging the handle of her knife down on the table.

“I think I’m going to have to insist,” Harry smiled coldly, and with a barely noticeable flick of his wand, the knife was wrenched from Lestrange’s grasp and flew across the room. It embedded itself in one of the flimsy walls.

“No!” the witch shrieked, leaping to her feet and lunging at Harry, her long fingernails seeking to claw at his eyes.

Again, Harry flicked his wand and Bella froze as if encased in ice. Harry regarded her with barely disguised contempt.

“You disgust me,” he growled. “You barely have the right to call yourself a witch anymore, do you? How long have you been hiding out here in the woods, howling at the moon and crying over your precious Lord Voldemort? Did it break your heart when I killed him, Bella? Did you weep bitter tears?”

Although unable to move a muscle, Bella’s eyes conveyed her insane fury. With a sneer on his lips, Harry stood and spat in the witch’s face.

“You’re nothing but a pile of excrement. A vile, pernicious harpy who’s only remaining pleasure in life it to kill and torture. Your mind snapped when you saw me cut down your treasured Lord in front of you, didn’t it? You loved him so much, didn’t you? Shame your touch probably disgusted him, but never mind, eh? I’m going to give you that chance to join him in hell, bitch!”

Looking around the small hut, Harry noticed that the roof was held up by a central wooden pillar. Using his wand, he floated Bella up against it and conjured thick ropes to tightly bind the witch to it. Only then did he release her from the Petrification Spell. She immediately began to scream; her voice like nails being dragged down a blackboard.

Harry ignored her and pointed his wand at the table. It shattered into hundreds of pieces which then Levitated towards the pillar. Carefully, he piled the wooden splinters around Bella’s feet. Next, he smashed the logs that she used as furniture and heaped them around the deranged witch, too. Next, he started to rip chunks out of the ceiling and the walls, piling them around her until she was covered to waist height by the debris. All the time, Bella continued her high-pitch screams and curses.

Stepping back, Harry admired his work. Very little of the shack remained now, only the single far wall which had half collapsed. Satisfied, he turned and looked at the witch.

“Bellatrix, you took everything that was precious to me away. Sirius, who raised me from a baby. Andromeda, who was the nearest thing to a mother I’ll ever know. Nymphadora, who was like a sister to me. Ted, the kindest man I ever knew. Remus, my teacher and friend. I could go on and list all the others that you killed, but you’d probably be proud of the numbers that you’ve slaughtered, wouldn’t you? No, this ends, today. I’m almost tempted just to leave you here, mad as you are, but that would be a bit hard on the neighbouring Muggles, wouldn’t it? No, it’s time to die, Bella.”

Pointing his wand at the stack of wood arranged around the witch, Harry ignited it. The flames soon caught, and within moments the whole pile was a raging inferno. Bella’s screams became more high-pitched and agonised as her hair began to catch fire.

Harry stood and watched as the skin literally melted off the witch’s face. She frantically tugged at her bindings, but it was hopeless. Soon, she was a living torch, her cries of pain not even sounding human anymore. Eventually, her movement lessened and she became still. The fire raged on, burning with such an intensity that he had to take a step backwards.

He continued to watch long after it was clear Bella was dead. He stood, immobile, as the witch’s body crumbled into ashes and the fire began to die down. He even continued to stand there as the flames died completely and only the glowing embers remained. Only as the cold wind began to blow the ashes into the air did he turn and begin to walk away.

It was over. The last remaining Death Eater was dead. The Ministry might have believed otherwise, but that was only because Harry had been rather selective about what he’d told them. Hunting down the remaining followers of Voldemort had been his obsession, and he was damned if some Ministry jobs-worth was going to stand in his way. Better that they remained ignorant of exactly how many he’d killed.

Only when he reached the treeline did he pause. It was truly over and his family were at last avenged. But what for him now? He’d spent nearly all his teenage years hunting down and killing anyone with a Dark Mark, and now he was a young man. What for him now? He had no family left, either real or adopted, most of the British Wizarding society was afraid of him, and even the Ministry treated him with caution. Perhaps his refusal to work for them directly had made them wary of him, but Harry refused to be controlled by anyone ever again.

So, what did he do now?

Sighing bitterly, Harry resumed his passage along the narrow forest track. He was sure the answer would come to him, eventually.

Nine months later

Stealthily, Harry made his way down the dark corridor in the bowels of the Ministry building. He had long since discovered that lurking in the shadows in this establishment could be profitable. Many wizards and witches of dubious character chose such places to conduct clandestine meetings, possibly attracted by the comparative security the building offered. Whatever the reason, he’d learnt many secrets by keeping his eyes and ears open.

He was currently on one of the lower levels where a number of private offices were located. Generally, these were reserved for the older, wealthier families who had representatives on Government bodies like the Wizengamot. Harry was fairly certain the Black family still had the rights to one such office, although he had no idea where. Such things simply didn’t interest him.

He was just about to enter a long, dark passageway when a door somewhere behind him was thrown open and an angry young witch stormed out. Harry immediately flattened himself against the wall, trusting in his long, black robes to keep him hidden in the shadows. With interest, he watched as the witch turned and yelled at someone in the room.

“I would never have come here in a million years if I’d know it was you, Malfoy!” she yelled.
Several things immediately caught Harry’s interest about the situation. Firstly, was the witch herself. She was short, but with a trim, attractive figure. Her hair was a fiery red colour, and was pulled back into a business-like ponytail. She was dressed smartly, if not particularly stylishly. Nevertheless, he had to admit she was extremely attractive, despite her raging anger. The other thing that had interested him was the name she had used: Malfoy.

As if summoned by the thought, a tall, slim young man with white-blond hair appeared at the door. He was dressed in expensive robes, and had a look of inbred superiority on his face. Harry recognised him as Draco Malfoy, son of Lucius Malfoy and cousin of Bellatrix Lestrange. The only reason the young man had not previously drawn Harry’s attention was because he thought him worthless. A cowardly, puffed-up peacock with little of his father’s talent or his aunt’s malicious intent. Curiously, Harry waited to find out what the egotistical fop had done to summon the witch’s wrath.

“Not so fast, Weasley, I have something you need to hear,” the young man drawled. “Unless you simply don’t care about the welfare of your parents, of course.”

“What are you talking about?” the witch demanded, growing even angrier.

Malfoy gave a cursory glance down both ends of the corridor, clearly not seeing Harry standing totally motionless in the shadows. An evil smirk came onto the man’s lips.

“You see, I’ve recently ventured out into the field of property development. I’ve been on the lookout for rundown old buildings that I can develop into decent homes for witches and wizards, at least the respectable ones who have more than two Knuts to rub together, that is.”

“What? Is that why you lured me down here with the prospect of some fictional job? Just so you can brag about your latest business venture?” the witch gasped. “You grow more delusional every year!”

“You didn’t let me finish,” Malfoy smiled, leaning casually against the doorframe. He reached into his robes and produced an official looking document. “No, I enticed you here so I could show you this; my latest property purchase.”

“Why should I give a toss about that?” the witch demanded, although she suddenly sounded rather nervous.

“Because I think you know the property quite well,” Malfoy responded eagerly. “It’s some run-down dump in Devon that goes by the name of the Burrow. The house is worthless, but the ground has potential to be developed.”

“What?” the witch shrieked. “How in hell could you have possibly bought the Burrow? It’s not for sale!”

“No, but it had got a quite substantial mortgage on it, one that the goblins were beginning to think wasn’t going to ever be repaid. Being a man of vision, I agreed to pay their debt in exchange for the title deeds. Needless to say, they were very happy with the arrangement.”

“You bastard,” the witch growled. “You bloody bastard!”

“Now, now, little Weasley, don’t be so hostile. After all, I haven’t turfed your family out into the cold just yet,” Malfoy smirked, “and maybe I won’t have to.”

“Why would you say that?” the witch asked, now sounding distinctly upset.

“Well, that’s say that you and I could come to some… arrangement,” Malfoy grinned lustfully. “You’re a very attractive young woman, after all, if you go out of your way to please me I could just be persuaded to let your parents remain where they are.”

“So, if I fuck you, you won’t make my parents homeless, is that what you’re saying?” the witch spat with hatred in her voice.

“So crude,” Malfoy laughed. “Besides, you’ll be doing a little more than just that for me. I have a very creative imagination, and I can think of all sorts of wonderful games for us to play.”

The witch snorted in disgust. “And what guarantee do I have that if I pander to your perversions that you won’t evict them anyway? Besides, I know you, you bastard. If I spread my legs for you, I’ll never be free again! You’d probably blackmail me, or something. I don’t trust you an inch.”

“You don’t have to trust me, you just have to do what I say!” Malfoy replied angrily, waving the title deed at her. “I can do a lot more than just evict your stupid family, you know. The mortgage has now transferred to me, and I could have your parents imprisoned for non-payment of debt. Think about that, Weasley. Would you happily stand by and watch your mother and father thrown in prison, knowing that you could have prevented that? No, I don’t think you would.”

“You bastard!” she snarled and drew her wand.

“Oh, put that away,” Malfoy sneered in disgust. “We’re in the Ministry building. You cast a single hex in here and you’ll be arrested instantly, and then what would happen to Mummy and Daddy?”

The wand wavered, as the witch desperately tried to think of something to do.

“Put it away, Weasley. You might as well get used to the idea, you’re mine now,” Malfoy said triumphantly. “Now, get back in the office and start removing your clothes. It’s your lucky day, bitch, as I’m going to give you the ride of your life!”

“Hello, Draco.”

Harry watched with secret amusement as both Malfoy and the Weasley girl leapt three feet into the air at the sound of his voice. He stepped from the shadows, and casually walked towards Draco, who was staring at him with an expression of horror on his face.

“Potter! What are you doing here?” he stuttered fearfully.

“Oh, I often have business here at the Ministry,” Harry replied calmly. “You’ll have to forgive me, but I couldn’t help but overhear part of your conversation with this charming young witch. I wonder, would you mind letting me see that title deed, if you’d be so kind.”

“Get lost, Potter, this has nothing to do with you,” Malfoy said angrily, although the fear was evident in his voice.

“Actually, I think it does,” Harry replied, looking the young man straight in the eyes. “You see, I’m a little confused as to how you could possibly have bought the debt to this property from the goblins. After all, the transfer of debt from goblins to wizards is strictly prohibited by the Treaty of 1871. The goblins have to remain strictly impartial when handling debts, and are forbidden from selling them on to anyone other than another goblin. So, how did you manage to obtain these deeds?”

“I… that’s to say…” Malfoy stuttered.

“I would assume there are two possibilities here,” Harry continued, ignoring the panicky young wizard. “One, that deed is a fake and you were trying to blackmail this young lady into having sex with you under false pretences, or two, you managed to bribe someone in Gringotts to actually sell you the debt. While the first option is vile and repulsive, the second, I fear, would be rather more serious. After all, Gringotts is sacrosanct in wizarding society. If it became known that goblin officials were accepting bribes from wealthy families… well, wars have started over less. So, tell me, Draco, how did you get that title deed?”

“It’s… it’s fake,” Draco said a little too quickly. “Of course I wouldn’t have made Weasley go through with it! She’s a dirty, little blood traitor from a dirt-poor family; do you honestly think I’d lower myself to be involved with someone like that? No, I was just having a little joke with her.”

“Ah, I see,” Harry nodded. “In that case, you can burn that fake deed now.”

“What?” Malfoy nearly shrieked.

“I said, you can burn it now,” Harry repeated. “As your joke, which was in rather bad taste I must say, has now been exposed, you have no need of that fake deed. You can destroy it, now.”

“Actually, I think I’ll keep it,” Malfoy sneered. “Whenever I look at it I’ll be reminded of Weasley’s face. That will always be good for a laugh.”

“In that case, I think I’ll have to insist that I see the deed,” Harry replied in a cold voice. “Frankly, anyone who would pull such a disgusting prank cannot be trusted. Let’s see that paper, please.”

“Are you going to make me?” Malfoy challenged, although his voice sounded a little wild.

Harry took a step forward, and Draco shrank back. Before anyone could move, he pulled out his wand and set the piece of paper on fire.

“There! Are you happy now? Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought that someone in your position would be so petty, Potter!”

“And I wouldn’t have thought someone in yours would be so tasteless. Honestly, trying to coerce a woman into having sex with you by blackmail? Tut, tut, Draco, even that mad bitch of an aunt of yours would have thought that stunt was cheap. You really are a pale shadow of your father, aren’t you?”

Without a word, Malfoy grabbed the door handle of his office and pulled it shut. He then hurriedly headed up the corridor with as much dignity as he could muster. Harry watched him leave with amusement.

“So, was that deed real or not?”

Harry turned to look at the young witch, who was looking at him with a defiant tilt of her chin. To some, she might have sounded rather ungrateful after he’d come to her rescue, but Harry felt that with his reputation the simple fact that she hadn’t instantly fled from him was a good sign. He smiled at her graciously.

“I can’t be absolutely sure, but I rather suspect it was,” he replied. “The real test, of course, will be if your parents visit Gringotts and find that they are suddenly mortgage free.”

“Maybe they won’t owe the goblins money, but they’ll still be in debt to that piece of filth, Malfoy, won’t they?”

“No, they won’t” he said, grinning. “By burning the title deed, Draco voluntarily discharged the debt. We’re assuming it’s real, of course, but I have been rather suspicious of some of his recent business activities, anyway. Draco has never shown a great deal of proficiency in handling his investments, but he recently has had some small successes. I rather think that having a Gringotts employee on his payroll might account for that.”

“Was it true what you said about it being prohibited by that treaty?”

“Absolutely. If that idiot has been bribing a goblin, he could quite literally bring our whole economy crashing down around our ears. That treaty is the bedrock on which our whole financial system rests. Not even Voldemort, in all his madness, would have messed with that.”

The girl flinched at the mention of Voldemort’s name, but otherwise didn’t protest at its use. That put her above ninety per cent of the wizarding population, Harry noted approvingly.

“I think you were right in your estimation of what would have happened if you’d given into Draco’s demands,” he continued. “I rather suspect you’d suddenly find that he had compromising pictures of you, which he would have threatened to make public if you didn’t pander to his whims. You, Miss Weasley, came very close to becoming Draco Malfoy’s personal whore.”

The girl visibly shuddered. “I should offer you my thanks, then.”

“Well… you could do one thing for me to show your gratitude.”

“What’s that?” she asked warily.

“Have dinner with me.”

Harry couldn’t resist smiling a little at her shocked expression.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

Ginny Weasley stood on the pavement looking up at the dark, imposing house in front of her. She’d lied to her parents about where she was going tonight, as if they’d know she was actually planning to have dinner with the notorious Harry Potter they would have forbidden her from even leaving the house. She wouldn’t have blamed them, either.

When Potter had made the invite, two days previous, she had said yes due to a combination of gratitude for his actions and sheer surprise. Now, having had time to mull things over, she was amazed that she was really here, standing in front of his London home, actually considering entering.

Potter had a dark reputation. While he might have been the one to defeat the Dark Lord, there was considerable speculation as to how he did it. Some parts of society had suggested that he’d used the darkest of magics to defeat You-Know-Who, and that he was now biding his time before he replaced Voldemort in the role of tyrant. Even the gossip sheets, which tended to be wary of him, couldn’t resist the odd dark dig, now and then. Everyone agreed that Potter was a polished, well-educated and extremely powerful wizard, as befitted someone who had been raised as a surrogate member of the Black family. Most of what was also said about him was wildly contradictory, however. He was a womaniser, but a recluse. A miser who also apparently gave generously to charity. A cruel, sadistic man, although no one ever claimed to know any of his victims. In fact, there didn’t seem to be a single adjective that the press hadn’t thrown at him.

So, why was she here? Why was she standing at the door of the most mistrusted and talked about wizard in Britain?

If she was totally honest with herself, she would have to admit that Harry Potter excited her. The man had a mysterious, dangerous edge to him, something that was sorely lacking from her life. Having narrowly missed out on a career as a professional Quidditch player, she now worked in her brothers’ joke shop. She’d promised herself that it was only temporary, until she found something better, but it was now two years and she was still there, still bored out of her mind.

Besides, Potter had shown exquisite manners up to this point, and she’d read in some quarters of the press that he was a perfect gentleman. The fact that he was ridiculously handsome didn’t hurt, either.

Squaring her shoulders, Ginny climbed the steps to the front door. Her hand wavered for a moment, before she grasped the knocker and slammed it down three times. There, she’d done it and there was no turning back now.

The last knock had barely ceased to echo around the street when the door swung open. Ginny found herself looking at a small, female house-elf. She was dressed impeccably in robes that bore the Black family crest on the chest, and looked up at her with large, brown eyes.

“Miss Weasley? Please do be coming in,” the elf said politely, standing back so Ginny could enter.

“Thank you,” she responded. She’d never known anyone who actually owned an elf, but she wasn’t surprised Potter did. She dreaded to think what Ron’s somewhat self-righteous girlfriend would have said about it, however.

“If you woulds place your coat on the rack just there, I wills be taking you to Master Harry immediately.”

Ginny hung up her coat, and smoothed down the simple dress she was wearing. No doubt it was completely inappropriate for the sumptuous surrounding she now found herself in.

The house reeked of money. The walls of the entrance hall were painted a rich, emerald-green colour and had intricate gold-leaf stencilling around the boarder. The rich, dark wood flooring was so polished she could practically see her reflection in it, and expensive-looking pictures hung at various points. Interestingly, the paintings tended to show either landscapes or more abstract works, rather than members of the Black family as she would have expected.

She was led up a regal staircase and onto a landing fitted with lush carpeting. The house-elf directed her to the room on her immediate left and opened the door for her to enter. Ginny found herself in an ornate-looking reception room, painted a lush red colour. A large couch was positioned in front of her, dominating the room, and on it lounged a relaxed-looking Harry Potter, clutching a glass of red wine in his hand. He stood as soon as she entered the room.

“Your guest, Master Harry,” the elf announced.

“Thank you, Winky,” Potter said. “We’ll dine in half-an-hour, if that’s acceptable.”

“Of course, sir!” the little elf said enthusiastically and left the room, closing the door behind her.

“Wonderful little elf,” Potter confided. “How she came to be in my service is quite a story, but one that I fear will have to wait for another night. Welcome, Miss Weasley. You look enchanting, I must say.”

“Thank you,” she replied uncomfortably. As she’d suspected, her plain, simple dress seemed dour and cheap compared to how Potter was dressed. He wore a white shirt, unbuttoned at the neck, with a silk waistcoat over that. The workmanship of the embroidery on the waistcoat took her breath away, and she found herself staring admiringly at the intricately woven flowers on it. The outfit was completed by a pair of dark, tailored trousers which were obscenely tight in places, and a gleaming pair of black brogues. In short, Potter looked aristocratic and totally delicious.

“May I offer you a glass of wine?” he enquired. “It’s an excellent vintage, from a wonderful little vineyard in Spain I discovered a while back. Please, try a glass.”

“I will. Thank you.”

Ginny accepted a glass from him and took an experimental sip. Truthfully, she wouldn’t have been able to tell good wine from bad, but she didn’t want to appear totally uncultured.

“Very nice,” she commented, even though she wasn’t totally sure about the unfamiliar taste.

“Please, take a seat and make yourself comfortable,” he said, gesturing at the couch. “I thought we’d use the time before dinner to get to know one another better. Tell me a little about yourself, Miss Weasley.”

“Umm, call me Ginny, please. Miss Weasley sounds so stuffy.”

“Then you must call me Harry,” he smiled. “Ginny… what’s that short for?”

“Ginevra, but please don’t call me that. I hate that name,” she confided.

“That’s a shame,” he smiled. “I rather like it. It’s mysterious and romantic. But please continue, Ginny. Tell me all about yourself.”

“There’s not much to tell,” she shrugged. “I come from a big family and I have six brothers. Actually, I work for two of them. Have you ever heard of ‘Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’? They have a shop in Diagon Alley.”

“I’ve seen it, certainly, but I’m afraid that I’m a little old for jokes and pranks. My godfather was a great prankster in his youth, as was my father, apparently. Sirius rather left that all behind when gained greater responsibilities. I must say, I’m rather surprised to hear that you work in a shop. When you were confronting Malfoy, I heard you mention something about a job offer. Are you looking for alternative employment?”

“Well, yes,” she admitted. “I never meant to get stuck working for Fred and George, it’s just that I invested so much time and effort into trying to become a professional Quidditch player, I didn’t really have anything else to fall back on. Oh, I got decent enough exam results, but I’d never considered any other career, which in hindsight was a bit stupid.”

“Why didn’t Quidditch work out for you?” he asked.

“I managed to get a trial with my favourite team, the Holyhead Harpies, but quite simply I messed it up. They had us flying drills on near professional standard brooms, and I’d been use to crappy school brooms or ancient second-hand ones, up to that point. It took me ages to get the hang of these super-fast professional ones and the staff must have thought I was bloody useless. By the time I’d gotten the hang of it, I’d been told I wasn’t good enough. I tried to explain what the problem was, but they had so many girls to see that they just weren’t interested.”

“Unfortunate, but couldn’t you get a trial with another team?”

“I tried, but after you get knocked out of one, your card is kind of marked. In fact, I did get a trial with a couple of minor league teams, but my heart really wasn’t in it, and I wasn’t crazy about their setup. I especially didn’t like the way the Head Coach of one of the teams kept leering at me. Looking back, I should probably have taken a place on the other team and tried to work my way up, but I guess I was too dispirited by that point. So, with no backup plan, I became a shop girl.”

“That’s a shame. I used to enjoy the odd Quidditch game myself. The Blacks used to have a private box at Puddlemere, but I let it go. I never had the time to get to a match, you see. Besides, the game’s all about money these days, isn’t it? I find that rather crass.”

“I guess you’re right,” she agreed, although secretly thought that if she could ever afford a private box at a large stadium there was no way in hell she’d ever give it up.

“So, what kind of work are you hoping to get into, Ginny?” he asked.

“Anything that’s a bit exciting or challenging, really,” she told him. “Just so long as I don’t spend my days stacking shelves or having to listen to snotty-nosed kids screaming all day.”

“An understandable desire,” he smiled. “You know, I think dinner will nearly be ready. Shall we make our way to the dining room?”

He stood and offered his hand to her. Blushing slightly, she took his hand and allowed him to help her to her feet. Normally, she hated this sort of thing, but it was clear this was probably normal behaviour for Harry. Evidently, he’d been raised as a gentleman.

“I hope you’ve brought a healthy appetite, Ginny,” he said as he led her by the hand from the room. “Winky has been dying to try her hand at a something a little different. I eat out rather too much for her liking, I’m afraid. I believe we are starting with a dressed crab cocktail, with bresse duck for the main course, and hazelnut mousse for dessert. I hope that’s to your taste.”

“It sounds wonderful,” Ginny admitted. In fact, it sounded mouth-watering. She so rarely had the chance to try new foods that she was greatly looking forward to the meal.

Potter led her to a rather grand dining room, decorated in a pale gold colour, but with fantastic paintings of characters from Greek mythology on the ceiling. She nearly stumbled into her chair, she was so mesmerised by them.

The dinner proved to be everything she hoped for and the food was sensational. She savoured every forkful of her meal, and desperately tried not to groan too loudly with pleasure as she ate. Potter seemed pleased at her reaction, and spent most of the meal discussing his favourite restaurants, many of which were overseas. Ginny couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy at the man’s privileged, high-class lifestyle. Reminding herself of what he had suffered to obtain that lifestyle soon dampened any resentment, however. Some people had been so cruel as to suggest that the grief from his loses had driven Potter mad, but she saw no evidence of that in this cultured young man seated in front of her.

It was with enormous sadness that she watched her empty dessert plate being cleared away. She could have happily eaten the entire meal again, but didn’t think it would be particularly lady-like to ask for seconds. This was the kind of food to be savoured, not devoured, even if that did go against her nature.

“Shall we take coffee in the lounge?” Harry asked.

“That would be lovely,” she agreed.

Soon, she was seated back on the luxurious sofa, with a cup of rich, black coffee in her hand. Potter sat on the opposite end of the couch, a respectable distance from her. She couldn’t help but look at him as he sipped his drink, coolness personified. She noted that he had a habit of occasionally shaking his head to flick his dark, tousled locks from his face. It was the kind of hair most woman dreamed of running their fingers through. That she had such a strong attraction to this near-legendary man wasn’t really a surprise to Ginny. Despite the fact that she had stopped reading story books about him when she was eight, Potter remained every red-blooded woman’s idea of a dashing hero. Only this hero was reputed to have a dark side to him. That only made him more desirable in her book.

“Why exactly did you invite me here tonight?”

The words were out of her mouth before she knew what she was saying. True, she had been mulling the question in her brain for most of the evening, but hadn’t intended to confront him with it. She’d half-feared that the man might had expected her to provide sexual favours in return for wrecking Draco’s plan, but instead he’d been the perfect host all evening, engaging her in polite conversation throughout and seemingly actually paying attention to what she said. Such polished behaviour was alien to her and made her rather suspicious.

“Actually, I must confess I did have a hidden motive for asking you here tonight,” Potter began, raising Ginny’s fears. “You see, I have for the last six months or so become something of an adventurer. I’ve been travelling the globe seeking hidden treasures and mythical monsters. I have, however, found that such a lifestyle does not suit the solitary traveller. All too often, a second wand, or even a second pair of hands, were desirable. In addition, I tend to find that organising the minor details of my trips somewhat boring. It occurred to me, therefore, that I should seek the services of an assistant. A companion, if you will, who will take care of the administrative side of things and provide welcome backup when things get rough. I rather thought that you might suit the position, Ginny.”

“Me?” she gasped. “You’re offering me a job as your assistant?”

“Yes,” he smiled.

“But… I have no experience in anything like that! I’m a shop girl!” she spluttered. “Why on earth would you think I was suitable?”

“Several reasons,” he said, putting his empty coffee cup on down the table in front of him. “The first and most important reason is that you don’t seem to be intimidated or frightened by me. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who think that I’m the next Dark Lord in waiting, or I’m a deranged manic. The press have been rather free in their speculation about me, and you’d be surprised at the number of seemingly intelligent witches and wizards who believe anything that’s put in print. You, however, seem prepared to find out what sort of person I am with your own eyes.”

“I guess,” she agreed. In truth, when she’d first met him she’d been so overwhelmed by the whole situation that she hadn’t really had time to think about it. In more casual circumstances, she might have run like the wind.

“Also, you proved your courage and resourcefulness to me. Even when Malfoy seemed to have you backed into a corner, you didn’t submit to him and remained defiant. Right up to the moment I intervened, I got the impression you were seeking a way out of that mess. Am I right?”

“Yeah, I wasn’t doing to give in to that bastard without a fight.”

“I thought so. I doubt you would have willingly given in to his demands, either, would you?”

“I’d have rather killed myself than let that foul little shit have me,” she spat.

“Ah, I think a better tactic would have been for you to kill him. You might have ended up in Azkaban, but you would have had the satisfaction of finishing off the Malfoy line for good, and saving your parents’ home, too.”

“I… I suppose you’re right,” Ginny admitted. Actually, it did make a lot more sense, although she doubted she could ever kill anyone, even Draco.

“Nevertheless, you showed spirit and resilience; qualities that I seek. I’ve also discovered tonight that you are a very amenable person and I think you would make a very agreeable travelling companion. Besides, didn’t you admit that you were in the market for a new, more exciting job? I think I can guarantee plenty of excitement, not to mention a healthy pay increase, too, I suspect.”

“What exactly would I be required to do?” she asked suspiciously.

“Nothing untoward, I promise,” favouring her with a roguish smile. “The job would require quite a bit of overseas travel, and the hours wouldn’t be what I would call regular, but it would be varied and challenging. You would, quite simply, be doing whatever needs to be done. It might be booking a suitable hotel in Bangkok, or purchasing much-needed supplies in some bazar in Cairo. Alternatively, it might be helping me man a canoe down the Zambezi River, or accompanying me into some dark, ancient tomb which no living soul has entered for centuries. Would that interest you?”

Ginny paused. She’d always envied her oldest brother, Bill, for his exciting job as a curse-breaker. She’d unfortunately never taken the right subjects at school to follow him into that line of work, but this sounded like it would be an exciting alternative. The idea of visiting far-off, exotic locations and having wild adventures sounded wonderful. But she barely knew this man, and he did still have a very mixed reputation.

“I would initially offer the position on a trial basis for a month,” Potter continued, perhaps sensing her wavering. “That way you’d have a chance to see if the job agreed with you, and that you could stand my company. If you decide it’s not for you after that time, then you’d be free to walk away with a month’s salary in your pocket and no hard feelings. Trust me, Miss Weasley, I’m not the monster I’m sometimes painted to be.”

She looked at him directly, trying to discern the truth of his words from his expression. Unfortunately, he was just too distracting. She found herself gazing into his bright green eyes and becoming lost for a second.

“I… I would want a few more details, but I am interested,” she eventually stammered.

“Excellent! Why don’t we step into my study and I’ll provide you with a little more information.”

Feeling somewhat dazed, Ginny stood and followed him out of the room. Only when she reached his study did she realise she was still clutching her empty coffee cup tightly in her hand, like her life depended on it.

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