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.
Categories: Alternate Universe
Chapter 1: Chapter 1 - Lord of Wrath
Chapter 2: Chapter 2 - Through Forests of Despair
Chapter 3: Chapter 3 - A Step into the Abyss
Chapter 4: Chapter 4 - Bringer of Death
Chapter 5: Chapter 5 - Death Shall Rise
Chapter 6: Chapter 6 - Song of the Sands
Chapter 7: Chapter 7 - Village of the Damned
Chapter 8: Chapter 8 - House of Horrors
Chapter 9: Chapter 9 - Dark Lady
Chapter 1: Chapter 1 - Lord of Wrath
Author's Notes: Greetings, my dear readers, and welcome to my latest tale of magical misdeeds. Hopefully this one won’t upset as many people as ‘Abraxas’ did!
My starting point for this one was my love of Hammer Horror films, and the desire to incorporate the ‘classic’ versions of various movie monsters into a story. Naturally, me being me, I went a bit off-topic but I did end up with a story that was a huge amount of fun for me to write. It’s not a massively long story, only eight chapters, and the Harry I present here is very different to the canon version. Basically, here he’s what I imagine he would be like if he was raised as a proper member of the Black family, Sirius having left behind his more irresponsible side when he suddenly found he had to raise Harry. Anyway, you’ll get more background in later chapters.
Arnel is back beta reading for me and already doing a sterling job in catching my grammatical cock-ups. One day I’ll write a chapter with no errors, one day…
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!”
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.
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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Chapter 2: Chapter 2 - Through Forests of Despair
Welcome to chapter 2 of my dark and twisted tale.
In this chapter we get a bit more of Harry’s backstory. Ginny will also face some tough moral dilemmas, and this won’t be the last one she has to deal with, either. What, you thought working for Harry would be easy? Oh, how foolish!
Mega thanks to Arnel for beat reading. She had an awful lot to do with this one, I can tell you.
Chapter 2 — Through Forests of Despair
“You did WHAT?” Molly Weasley howled, leaping to her feet.
“I said, I’ve taken a job as Harry Potter’s personal assistant,” Ginny repeated, desperately trying to appear nonchalant, although she was unsurprised by her mother’s reaction.
“What were you thinking?” Molly cried. “Haven’t you heard all the rumours about that man?”
“They’re just rumours,” Ginny shrugged. “The press are always making up rubbish about famous people. You got angry enough about that book Rita Skeeter published about Dumbledore a few years back, didn’t you?”
“I know, but this situation is completely different,” her mother protested. “Albus Dumbledore was a paragon of virtue, while Potter is a completely different kettle of fish. He was raised by Sirius Black, remember, and I’ve never heard a good word spoken about any of the Blacks.”
“He did defeat You-Know-Who,” Ginny pointed out.
“Indeed, and I note that he doesn’t seem very forthcoming on how he actually did it, either. I’ve heard many suggestions that Potter used Dark magic to beat him, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least!”
“Albus always thought highly of him.”
The two Weasley women both turned their heads to look at Arthur Weasley in surprise. He’d been sitting so quietly that they’d both forgotten he was there.
“Maybe, but poor Albus wasn’t around at the end of the war, was he? He might have changed his tune about that young man if he had been,” Molly spluttered.
“Maybe, and maybe not,” Arthur said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I do know that he spent quite a lot of time with Potter and his godfather, too. He was a good judge of character, was Albus. I doubt he would have had anything to do with them if they were truly Dark.”
“That might be true,” Molly conceded, sounding far from convinced, “but even so, I hardly think it’s appropriate for Ginny to be spending so much time alone with a strange man she hardly knows.”
“How did you even meet Potter, Ginny?” Arthur asked curiously.
Ginny looked at him and decided this was the time to play her ace in the hole.
“Did you visit Gringotts like I suggested?” she asked.
“I did, but I couldn’t really understand what the goblins were on about,” Arthur admitted. “They kept saying that our mortgage had been discharged and we didn’t owe them anything. I’ve never known them to make an error like that.”
“It wasn’t an error,” Ginny confirmed. “The mortgage on this place has been repaid.”
“But how? Is this something to do with Potter?” Molly demanded.
“Indirectly. Actually, it was Draco Malfoy who repaid it. Actually, that’s not strictly true. He initially bought out the debt.”
“But, Ginny, that’s illegal!” Arthur protested. “There are strict rules against that sort of thing. The goblins would never transfer a debt to a human like that! Besides, why on earth would Malfoy do such a thing?”
“For revenge,” she said simply. “Draco has always hated this family, and after what happened to his father I’m not surprised. No, it appears the bastard has been bribing someone within Gringotts and persuaded them to arrange to sell the debt on. Draco actually waved the title deeds to the Burrow in my face! I dread to think what he was going to try and force me to do once he had that power over us.”
Ginny watched the horrified expressions on her parents’ faces. She’d deliberately not told them explicitly what Draco had tried as it would have upset them too much. She wouldn’t have put it past them to do something irrational, either, and she didn’t want them to end up in prison.
“Fortunately, Harry happened to be nearby and overheard what was happening. He basically pointed out to Draco how much trouble he would be in if it ever got out that he’d managed to get the goblins to transfer the debt. He confronted Draco and the little snot had no choice other than to burn the legal charging document right there and then. That apparently discharged the debt, meaning Draco repaid our mortgage for nothing!”
“Ginny, do you have any idea how serious this is?” Arthur gasped. “The goblins have to maintain complete independence when dealing with our financial affairs. It’s all ratified by treaty! If it gets out that this young Malfoy hoodlum has done this…”
“Don’t worry, Dad,” Ginny assured him. “Harry promised to take care of it. He thinks whatever goblin did this was acting independently without the knowledge of his superiors. He has some contacts in higher management at Gringotts and he has spoken to them about it. I think whoever did this is in deep, deep trouble.”
“But if Malfoy did this, he should be prosecuted!” Molly yelled angrily.
“Hush now, dear,” Arthur said soothingly. “I think it’s for the best if this all remains quiet. Honestly, I dread to think of the trouble this would cause if it became common knowledge. Wars between us and the goblins have started for less.”
“But what about Malfoy? What exactly was he planning? Surely you can’t be happy that he’s got away with this scot-free!”
“I suspect he would have loved to have us evicted, Mum. He was talking about having the Burrow demolished and the land sold for development,” Ginny explained. “Besides, he hasn’t got away scot-free. He’s effectively ended up paying off the mortgage on this property for us, with no gain to himself. He must be livid about that.”
“Are you sure this isn’t some scheme he and Potter hatched up between them to lure you into their clutches?” Molly asked suspiciously.
“I hardly think so, Molly,” Arthur interceded. “It’s well known that Potter and his godfather hated the Malfoys. They’ve been at each other’s throats for years. I can’t see them suddenly becoming friends. The Malfoys openly challenged Potter in the courts regarding his inheriting the Black fortune, remember, and there’s been bad blood ever since.”
“Alright, but I still don’t see how all this has anything to do with Ginny taking this job,” Molly said, changing tack. “I suppose we should be grateful for him intervening, but that’s no reason for him to effectively kidnap my daughter!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Mum!” Ginny snapped angrily. “He hasn’t kidnapped me, he’s just offered me a job!”
“But why did you accept? This doesn’t sound like the sort of thing you were looking for,” her father pointed out. “Please, love, we’re really trying to understand all this. Please explain.”
“Actually, this job is exactly the sort of thing I wanted,” she replied. “Although I have the title Personal Assistant, the role is quite diverse and interesting. I’ll be doing anything from basic paperwork, to arranging travel itinerates, to helping Harry out on his adventures. It sounds like no day will be the same as another, and I like the idea of that. Besides, the money is good and I’ll have the chance to travel overseas.”
“Overseas? You’ll be traveling to foreign countries with this man? Ginny, think of your reputation!” Molly cried.
“Don’t be so old fashioned,” she retorted. “He’s my employer, not some fancy man I’ve taken up with. Besides, the initial contract is just for a month so we can see if we’re happy working together. If I don’t like it, or feel uncomfortable, I’ll just go back to working at the twins’ shop again after that time.”
Her parents exchanged an uneasy look, but really, what could they say? She was an adult and they’d always promised to support her decisions. Now all she had to hope for was that she’d made the right choice.
“It’s good to see you again, Ginny, and right on time, too. I do appreciate punctuality in my employees.”
Potter was reclining in his chair which was positioned behind a large, highly polished desk. His eyes, normally so intense, seemed a little bloodshot this morning and he had a large cup of coffee steaming beside him. She couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been drinking the previous evening.
“I didn’t want to be late on my first day,” she replied. “So, what’s to be my first assignment?”
“Actually, I’m planning a little trip abroad. I have a very exciting project that I’m about to start and I’d like you to be involved from the beginning. Here, let me show you.”
He stood and walked over to one of the rows of books that lined his study. After a moment’s perusal, he withdrew a slim, black-bound volume which he brought back to the desk. From his shirt pocket, he removed a pair of round-lensed spectacles which he put on. Ginny was rather surprised that her employer needed to wear glasses.
“I only wear these for reading,” he explained, obviously having seen her expression. “Now, where is it? Ah, here we go. Have a look at this, Ginny.”
She took the book from his outstretched hand and found herself looking at a picture of a fabulous, jewel-encrusted, golden hare. Dangling from its legs were representations of the sun and moon, carved in jade according to the description in the book. It was beautifully wrought, and looked extremely expensive.
“This piece is called the Moon Hare,” Harry explained. “It was commissioned by an extremely wealthy wizard over two hundred years ago as a birthday present for his wife. It remained in that family for several generations, until they fell into hardship and were forced to sell it. It was rumoured that a Dark family bought it, but they started squabbling amongst themselves as to who should own it. Eventually, the head of the family decreed that the jewel should be divided into five pieces so each of his children could own a piece. The family, however, were a foolish bunch and all five of the children met with untimely deaths. The pieces of the Moon Hare were lost, and no one has ever been able to find them.”
“But you have?”
“I believe I have a very good idea where one of the pieces might be, Ginny, and that should be all we need to help us track down the rest. The jewel was magical, you see, and was never meant to be sundered. I know of a ritual which, if I have just a single piece, should reveal the location of the next piece. I will then be able to hunt that piece down, and continue in a similar manner until the jewel is whole again.”
“So, we’re going on a treasure hunt?” Ginny exclaimed, feeling rather excited about the idea. “Is this jewel valuable, then?”
“It’s virtually priceless, and is said to bring its owner good fortune and luck. They say that’s why those two families fell into ruin. The first because they sold the jewel on when things started getting tight rather than trusting in its magical properties, and the second because they actually cut it up. Now, I’m less interested in whatever magical qualities this item has, rather that its sheer beauty calls to me. I’m somewhat of a collector of old, beautiful items such as this, and I would very much like to possess it.”
“Completely understandable,” she agreed quickly. “I mean, it’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it? It seems such a shame that someone broke it up.”
“My thoughts exactly, Ginny! I’m glad to see that you’re a young woman who appreciates the finer things in life, and can see the worth in this piece. I’ve obviously picked an assistant with exquisite taste.”
“I just thought it was a pretty thing,” she said quietly.
“I managed to trace ownership of one of the pieces to a German family called Tychsen. They held extensive estates in the north of the country, and obtained one part of the jewel as payment for a gambling debt. Sadly for the Tychsens, they didn’t possess it for very long. The head of the family, Eugen Tychsen, had it with him when he made an ill-advised trip into the Hurtgen Forest.”
“The Hurtgen Forest?” Ginny repeated. “Is that meant to mean something to me?”
“Ah, I wondered if you would have heard about it,” Harry smiled. “It’s an area of woodland situated near the German/Belgium border. The main part of it isn’t that large, only about fifty square miles, but the forest leads to numerous, magically-hidden valleys. These are heavily wooded and extremely desolate. It’s also home to the largest wild werewolf pack in Europe.”
“Wild werewolf pack? I’ve never heard of one of those,” Ginny frowned.
“They are something of an embarrassment to the ICW, so they don’t receive a lot of coverage. The pack is, however, a focal point to every wild werewolf in Europe.”
“Okay, I’m not sure I understand,” she admitted. “What’s a wild werewolf, and how do they differ from normal ones?”
“A wild werewolf is someone who has embraced the animal side of their persona and rejected humanity completely,” Harry explained. “It happens more often than you think. Generally, this person will decide that they have more in common with their wolfish side and seek to become an animal completely. It’s said that the elders of the pack can transform at will, irrespective of the moon’s cycle. This pack is rumoured to have other, more radical means to enable its members to become more animalistic.”
“This is only a rumour remember, but there are tales that the pack have perfected a ritual that destroys the part of the human brain that makes us what we are. They effectively lobotomise their members and shut down certain higher brain functions. The person who has had this done to them quickly learns to become a wild animal, or dies.”
“That’s horrible!” she exclaimed.
Harry shrugged. “Many werewolves have things they may wish to forget. I heard of one fellow who accidentally killed his wife one full moon when the cage they had erected for him failed to hold him. I heard that he eventually went and sought this pack out. You can perhaps understand his desire to have his brain wiped clear in those circumstances.”
“Even so, the whole thing sounds revolting,” Ginny said, before a thought occurred to her. “Wait, are you telling me that we have to go into this forest where these animals live?”
“I’m afraid so. Every so often, the German authorities make some effort to cull the pack. Eugen Tychsen was one of a group of wizards who were given this task, but unfortunately they never returned from their task. Eugen was known to have his piece of the Moon Hare on him, perhaps for luck. We have to discover his last resting place, where I suspect we will find the jewel. The werewolves would have no interest in gold, after all.”
“But…that’s suicide!” she spluttered.
“Not at all,” he said calmly. “We have a number of advantages that we can utilise, not least the fact that we will be trying to avoid the werewolves, not hunt them down. I have a rather excellent Invisibility Cloak we can utilise, not to mention knowledge of a spell to mask our scent. If the worst should happen and we are discovered, there are a number of spells that are instantly lethal to werewolves, and I will ensure that you are well practiced in them before we leave.”
“Is this jewel really worth it?” Ginny asked. “Despite what you say, this sounds like a mad idea.”
“Come on, Ginny, where’s you sense of adventure? I’ve faced many more daunting tasks than this and come through them all without a scratch. Was I wrong to think that you would face any peril bravely? Have I misjudged you, Ginny?”
“No!” she said quickly, “it’s just… I was wondering if the reward was worth the risk, that’s all.”
“It is, my dear. I assure you, it is.”
“Then I guess I’m up for it,” she shrugged.
Harry smiled at her, but privately Ginny was beginning to have second thoughts about the job. If not for the fact that she didn’t want her new employer to think poorly of her, she might have refused to go. Quite why she was so desperate for his favourable opinion, she hadn’t quite worked out yet.
Ginny looked down into the dark and heavily wooded valley which sprawled out ahead of her. The undergrowth appeared to be thick and unforgiving, and they hadn’t even approached the magically-hidden valleys yet.
Sighing, she shifted her small rucksack higher onto her back and glanced at her employer ruefully. Potter was busy fiddling with what looked to be a prismatic compass, but which came equipped with numerous small dials and buttons. He currently had the device to his eye and was scanning the nearby valley with it.
In truth, the venture had not begun well for her. They had travelled to Germany the previous day and taken lodgings in a small guesthouse a few miles away. While the single room Ginny had been allocated had been sparse but comfortable, she’d had precious chance to use it as Harry had made her rise at the crack of dawn to begin their trek. He’d then berated her for her choice of clothing. When he’d previously told that she needed stout outdoor wear, she’d foolishly thought that a pair of hiking boots and a waterproof would do. Apparently, her boots weren’t robust enough, the jeans she was wearing would retain water and provide little warmth when wet, and her waterproof wasn’t breathable so she would get soaked by sweating too much. He’d then bluntly informed her that after this trip was over she was to buy some decent gear, even if he had to give her an advance on her wages to do it. Needless to say, she was extremely embarrassed.
In most other respects they were well equipped, however. She’d been provided with an extensive shopping list and access to Harry’s vault at Gringotts, and she’d spent the last few days gathering supplies. They were both carrying light rucksacks with Extension Charms cast on them, and both bags contained identical sets of equipment. This included a magical tent, a sleeping bag, several changes of clothes, an emergency Portkey, not to mention approximately ten days’ worth of food. As Harry pointed out, they had no idea how long the search would take.
“I think we need to head down the hill and through this valley,” Harry announced. “If I’m not mistaken, the magically hidden area is very close by.”
“Along with the werewolves?” she asked pointedly.
“Not quite yet,” he replied, smiling. “I believe this pack will very visibly mark their territory. I’m sure we’ll be aware when we’ve reached their range.”
“That sounds promising,” she muttered.
Harry just gave her a roguish, lopsided grin and started to head down the slope. Taking a steadying breath, Ginny followed after him.
They walked for several hours in comparative silence. Being late autumn, the woods were a riot of colour, the dark green evergreens mixed in with the russet browns of the deciduous trees. The ground, however, was sodden and the paths they followed little more than slippery tracks of mud. At one point, she had the breathtakingly embarrassing experience of slipping flat on her backside into a virtual mire. Potter, to his credit, didn’t laugh but merely offered her a hand up. Sadly, his assertion that her jeans would not retain warmth when wet proved to be correct and she found herself shivering in the cold November air.
Every half an hour or so, Potter halted and scanned the area with his magical compass. He failed to share his findings with Ginny, however, and she had only the occasional satisfied grunt from him to assure her they were going the right way. Whatever doubts she had about his navigation skills ended abruptly around eleven o’clock that morning.
They stopped in front of a small clearing which was surrounded on all sides by thick fir trees. What caught her attention, however, was the skulls. There were at least fifty of them, arranged around the entrance to the clearing in a ramshackle pile. Some of them appeared quite old and had been bleached a dirty white colour by the elements. Some, however, appeared to have traces of their original owners still coated to them. Ginny felt her stomach heave and she desperately avoided looking directly at them.
“I’d say this was the place,” Harry announced, a note of satisfaction in his voice. “From now on, Ginny, we need to start being careful. We’ll both apply the Scent-Masking Charm to ourselves, and a Notice-Me-Not Spell, too. I think that should suffice until we get closer to the pack’s actual lair.”
“You don’t think we should Disillusion ourselves?” she asked.
“No, not yet, anyway. It will be too hard to keep track of each other, and the last thing we want is to get separated out here. I think we’ll stop to have a bit of lunch before we go any further, though. We’re likely to lose all light by half past four, and we’ll be forced to stop and make camp. Crashing about in the dark would be a very bad idea. Let’s eat now, and press on until dark.”
“Okay, but can we move from this spot, please?” she asked plaintively.
“Of course. The scent of rotting flesh does nothing for my appetite, either,” he agreed.
The moved back around fifty yards and found a relatively dry spot under some trees. Harry threw a waterproof sheet over the pine needle covered ground, and they sat and ate a light lunch of sandwiches and fruit. Her employer greatly endeared himself to Ginny, however, when he produced a flask of hot tea from which she gratefully drank. She also took the opportunity to cast a Drying Charm on her wet jeans, which was a great relief.
All too soon, it was time to move on. They headed back to the clearing and gingerly avoided the collection of skulls. Somehow, as soon as they moved into the pack’s territory Ginny could feel something change. The dark forest seemed to close in on her, and everything seemed eerily still. No bird song could be heard, apart from the occasional croaking of the odd crow. The croaking almost seemed like a warning to Ginny’s ears, either that or the bird was laughing at their foolishness. Either way, it was all she could do to keep from grabbing her wand and hexing the creature.
Harry had slowed his pace right down. He was now moving cautiously; his previous long, distance-eating strides abandoned for a more cautious approach. It might have saved Ginny from struggling to keep up from him, but it increased her nervousness, too. She felt like dozens of pairs of eyes were watching her silently from within the dark woods, and at any moment she expected some vicious beast to leap out at her. She kept a firm grip on her wand and tried to hide her mounting fear.
The afternoon dragged on, and Ginny felt oppressed by the silence. The cold, dank woods were depressing and eerie, and Harry’s continued silence didn’t help. He’d abandoned his compass-like object and now had his wand in his hand. Every twenty minutes or so, he would stop and cast some spell. As he did this silently and with only a very minimal swish of his wand, she had no idea what he was doing.
By four o’clock, Ginny was cold, hungry and tired. She’d never walked so far in her life, and the rough terrain only made things worse. She was absolutely determined, however, not to make any verbal complaint. The last thing she wanted was for Potter to think of her as some weak-willed, little girl.
“I think we’d better stop for the night. This clearing ahead looks suitable.”
Harry’s voice startled her, coming as it did after so many hours of silence. At first, she was surprised that they were halting their search so early, but looking around she noticed that the light was already fading and the shadows were lengthening amongst the trees. As Harry had previously noted, crashing around in the dark in these woods would be a very bad idea.
“There’s no sense us unpacking both tents,” he announced. “You set up your tent in the centre of the clearing while I start casting protections around it.”
Nodding her agreement, she slid her rucksack off her back and began hunting through it. She quickly found the tent, and began to unfold it in the middle of the small space. Fortunately, her family had gone on camping trips when she was younger, so Ginny wasn’t totally inexperienced in such matters. One quick spell, and the tent was erected. Seeing that Harry was still walking around the circular clearing, muttering incantations and obviously still raising protective spells around them, Ginny grabbed her rucksack and darted into the tent.
Looking around, she saw that it was considerably smaller than the tent her family had used when she was a child. Even so, it was a welcome taste of civilisation. The main living space also featured a small kitchette, while through a narrow door she found a bathroom, equipped with a sink, toilet and, joy of joys, a shower. Darting out, she found the curtained-off sleeping area which had two narrow beds in it. This gave her pause for thought.
The beds were only a few feet apart from each other, meaning she would be sleeping extraordinarily close to her employer. While she didn’t fear any impropriety from Harry, the idea of spending the night so close to him made her nervous for some reason. She was pondering this when the man himself stepped into the tent and shed his rucksack.
“You did really well today, Ginny,” he informed her, unzipping his waterproof as he did so. “We covered an awful lot of ground, despite this forest being damn near impenetrable in places. If we can keep this pace up tomorrow, I’m hopeful we can find the jewel quickly.”
“Thank you,” she said simply. His praise was enough to rise a health glow in her cheeks.
“Do you want to use the shower first? A good, hot soak will do you the world of good. I can start dinner while you’re in there.”
“Oh! Umm, if that’s alright?” Ginny said in surprise. She’d fully expected that cooking would be one of her tasks during the expedition.
“No problem. You go right ahead,” he confirmed.
Not needing a second invitation, she headed into the small bathroom with her rucksack in hand, and quickly stripped off. The shower was heavenly, and the hot water warmed her frozen extremities and soaked away most of her cares. Her feet and legs still hurt, but she was sure a good night’s sleep would solve that problem. Delving in her bag, she found some clean clothes and pulled them on, emerging from the shower to find Harry hunched over the small stove mounted against the wall.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s amazing what a hot shower can do for your morale,” she replied lightly. “What’s for dinner?”
“Just a simple pasta dish, I’m afraid. I do pride myself on my cooking abilities, but I don’t have much to work with here.”
“Really? I didn’t have you down as a cook, Harry. I thought your house-elf would have done most of the cooking.”
“Oh, Winky does, but sometimes I like to cook just for the pleasure of it. Good food is one of the joys of life, Ginny, and only a fool would not explore its creation. I suppose that I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to dine at some of the finest restaurants in the world, but I believe that you can only fully appreciate a truly great chef if you’ve had some experience of cooking yourself.”
“That’s a very… interesting outlook,” she admitted hesitantly.
“Why do you say that?” Harry asked in amusement.
“Oh, I guess I’m just influenced by my brothers. My mother’s wonderful in the kitchen and none of them ever really bothered to learn how to cook. Now they’ve all moved out, fending for themselves has come as a bit of chore for them. I swear, if you can’t fry it, my brothers won’t eat it.”
Harry laughed. “They truly don’t know what they’re missing. Like anything, cooking is just about preparation and concentration. With a little practice, even the most ham-fisted oaf can create something delicious. I’m the prime example of that.”
“I don’t think you could ever be called ham-fisted at anything, Harry,” Ginny replied.
“Why, thank you, Miss Weasley. I have no idea if you’re just angling for a pay rise, but I appreciate the compliment,” he said merrily. “Now, take a seat. I’m ready to serve.”
Ginny did as she was instructed, and Harry almost immediately placed a steaming plate of food in front of her. For a simple pasta dish, this meal proved to be really rather good, in her opinion. It was, he informed her, taglierini pasta with Parma ham and red peppers. It looked fantastic and tasted even better. To Ginny’s great joy, she even discovered there was enough for seconds.
“I would normally recommend a rather nice Sicilian red wine I discovered to go with this, but out here is not the place to be drinking alcohol,” Harry noted. “Still, I’m gratified that you found that acceptable, Ginny.”
“It was gorgeous,” she confirmed. “I was ready for it, too. All that hiking gave me an appetite.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” he said, smiling.
Sipping her glass of water, Ginny couldn’t help but admire her employer. Although he had yet to take advantage of the tent’s small shower, he still had an appearance of dignified grace about him. He lounged in his chair elegantly, as if he was dinning in some exclusive French restaurant, not a small tent in a German forest. The misty autumn air had dampened his black locks that hung down to his shoulders, giving him a dashing, wild look that she found extremely appealing. She really had never met a man like him.
“We should probably get an early night,” he advised her. “Sunrise should be around seven o’clock tomorrow morning, and I’d like to be ready to be moving by that time.”
“Of course,” she agreed readily.
“I hope you’re not uncomfortable in sharing the single bedroom, but during such trips it’s often necessary to rough it, somewhat. I’m reliably informed I don’t snore.”
“That’s fine,” she replied, perhaps a shade too quickly.
They chatted for an hour or two, before cleaning up the dinner things. Harry took advantage of the shower while Ginny prepared for bed. She’d been advised to sleep with most of her clothes still on, just in case they encountered some emergency in the night. Harry had assured her that was extremely unlikely, as the protections he’d placed around their camp should render them undetectable to anyone or anything. However, it was always best to be prepared.
Wearing a sweatshirt and her jeans, Ginny slipped into her sleeping bag. Despite the Warming Charms placed on the tent, the temperature was starting to drop markedly outside, and she was glad to be warmly wrapped up. The thick wool socks she had on her feet were particularly welcome.
Harry entered the sleeping area only a few minutes later. He was wearing a skin-tight, blue thermal vest with some logo on it that she didn’t recognise. It looked like professional kit, and she made a mental note to ask him what sort of adventure wear she should be buying later. He leaped into his bag effortlessly and zipped it up with practiced precision.
“Ready for lights out?” he asked.
“Yeah. Good night,” she replied.
“Good night, Ginny.”
With a wave of his wand, the lights were extinguished and she was plunged into darkness. Her eyes tried to penetrate the gloom, but with the curtain pulled across the doorway, she couldn’t see anything.
Despite her weariness, Ginny found it hard to sleep. She always struggled to drop off the first time in a new place, and this experience was about as new as you could get for her. Even so, lulled by the warmth of her sleeping bag and the absolute silence, she found her eyes starting to droop as she slowly began to drift off…
A shockingly loud howl made her sit up straight. Fearfully, she looked around, but couldn’t see anything in the inky blackness.
“It’s alright. The beast is at least a couple of miles away,” Harry’s reassuring voice said calmly. “Besides, it could never find us with the protections I’ve cast around the tent.”
A second howl followed, and Ginny was able to listen a bit more closely. As Harry had said, it was probably coming from further away than she’d first thought. Hesitantly, she lay back down.
“Sorry,” she said.
“No, it’s alright. The sound of those beasts is enough to put anyone on edge. Are you alright?”
“Yes, I… I’m fine,” she insisted.
Settling back down, she tried to relax and let sleep claim her. Instead, she found herself listening intently, waiting for the next mournful cry to come.
“We could talk a little if you like?”
Harry’s voice made her jump. Obviously her rather rapid breathing had alerted him to the fact that she was still awake.
“Umm, that might be nice. I mean, it’s still only early isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” Harry agreed, mercifully not challenging her on the reason for her wakefulness. “Why don’t you tell me more about your family?”
“Actually, I think I told you pretty much everything when we had dinner that time,” she pointed out. “Why don’t you tell me about your family instead?”
There was a long silence, and Ginny feared she’d offended him. Then, slowly, Potter began to speak.
“Everyone knows what happened to my mother and father, of course. It is very well documented,” he began hesitantly. “I can’t remember a thing about them. Oh, I’ve seen hundreds of pictures of them and heard a million stories, but they’re still just strangers to me. No, if I had anyone I could ever call mother and father it would be my godfather, Sirius Black, and his cousin, Andromeda Tonks. It was them that raised me and made me the person I am today.”
“I’ve heard of Sirius Black, obviously, but I’m not sure I know who Andromeda Tonks is,” Ginny admitted.
“It would be more apt to say ‘who she was’. Andromeda was killed by her own sister, Bellatrix Lestrange.”
“Lestrange? She was this person’s sister? Oh, of course! I understand now. This Andromeda was a Black, wasn’t she? Still, I pity her having a sister like that!”
“Her other sister was nearly as bad. Narcissa became Lucius Malfoy’s wife, if you recall. She died at the final battle with Voldemort, alongside her husband. No great loss on either count, I believe.”
“Wow, I’m guessing Andromeda wasn’t much like the rest of her family, then?”
“Not really, although she did always keep a certain nobility about her. She had a great heart, though. She was cast out of the family for marrying a Muggleborn called Ted Tonks. I have fond memories of him, too. He was a big, generous man with a sharp sense of humour. They had a daughter called Nymphadora who was that rarest of things, a Metamorphmagus. She was considerable older than me, but I still thought of her as a big sister.”
“It was good you had people to look after you,” Ginny noted.
“Yes… I suppose.”
“You don’t sound very certain. Weren’t your adopted family good to you?”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, between Sirius and Andromeda I had about the best upbringing a boy could ever want. I daresay I was rather spoilt as a youngster and I had a great deal of attention lavished on me. No, I can’t fault them as substitute parents but, well, all families have problems and the Blacks more than most.”
“Really? Like what?” Ginny pressed, fascinated at this insight into his life.
Harry remained silent for a while, and Ginny realised she might have come over as nosy and intrusive.
“Sorry, Harry, what happened with your family is private. I’m sorry for asking,” she said quickly.
“No, it’s alright. I just got lost in my memories for a moment there,” Harry assured her. “It’s funny, but when you’re a small kid you don’t really realise if you’re unhappy, do you? It’s only when I look back now do I understand how lonely I was back then. Sirius was absolutely paranoid about my safety, which I suppose was understandable after what happened to my parents. It meant that, unfortunately, I had no friends of my own age to play with. Oh, I was never on my own for very long, but I was always in the company of adults. Even when Dora was around during school holidays it wasn’t exactly the same as having a friend my own age. She was always vivacious and fun, but the age difference was too great for me to consider her a proper friend. Like I said, she was more like a big sister.”
“Didn’t you know anyone your own age? What about when you went to school?”
“I didn’t go to school,” he explained. “I was home schooled from an early age. My main teacher was a family friend named Remus Lupin who, ironically, was cursed with lycanthropy. He was a gentle, scholarly man, whom I looked up to greatly. I was supposed to go to Hogwarts when I was elven, but security concerns scuppered that, too. Actually, judging by the number of times Death Eaters tried to kill me later in life, perhaps it was a good thing I didn’t go. It certainly made things safer for the other pupils.”
“Maybe, but it still sounds like a sad upbringing,” Ginny said sympathetically. “I understand what you mean about not understanding if things were tough when you’re little, though. We were dirt poor when I was growing up, not that I really realised that until I got to Hogwarts. Some of the other children where very keen to point that out to me. Draco Malfoy, especially.”
“I can imagine. He really seems to have a grudge against the Weasleys, doesn’t he?”
“Lucius Malfoy detested my father and they clashed several times. My brother Ron was in Draco’s year, and they hated each other with a passion. My older brothers Fred and George took every opportunity they could to get back at him, too. But what about you? Did this Remus Lupin really provide your entire education?”
“A great deal of it, although he did have a lot of help. Sirius paid for various private tutors, and other family friends helped, too. Andromeda taught me Potions, actually, and that’s when I really started to become close to her. She was a wonderful woman, and the first mother-figure I had in my life.”
“Wasn’t your godfather in a relationship, then?”
“He was, but only with a bottle. I think he always felt slightly responsible for the death of my parents. He was also, by necessity, forced into the role of the Head of the House of Black, which he never wanted. He felt guilty and trapped in equal measures, and drank to escape from it all.”
“Oh, that’s sad.”
“He was never a mean or unpleasant drunk, though. In fact, that was when he was generally the most fun. Still, it made life difficult, sometimes. Of course, it was only later in life that I realised just how debauched the House of Black actually was.”
“How so?” she asked nervously.
“I couldn’t possibly begin to reveal all our dark and dirty secrets, Ginny,” he said bitterly, “but all of us had problems in one way or another. I never realised how much it affected me until later in life. Do you know, when I accidently discovered Sirius screwing Andromeda in a spare room one day, I actually thought it was a good thing. I thought they would get married and I would finally have a proper father and mother. It was only later that I began to think of poor Ted. I think he knew they were having an affair from the start, but was too afraid of losing Andromeda to say anything. Poor bastard.”
Ginny lay still, unable to think of anything to say.
“I think we’ve talked enough. We should sleep,” Harry said suddenly.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” she agreed quickly. “Good night.”
It was some time before Ginny was able to drop off, such was the turmoil in her mind, and the incessant howling outside.
They awoke before dawn. It had been a cold, windy night and Ginny found herself sandy-eyed from a night tossing and turning.
They ate breakfast in near silence, with Harry maintaining a polite but distant manner throughout. Wanting to press on as soon as possible, he insisted that she wash and dress quickly, before hurrying her out of the tent which he immediately began to dismantle. The sunrise revealed that it had rained overnight, and the woods around them were sopping wet. A light mist had also risen, shrouding everything in a hazy gloom.
Ginny stood and watched her employer as he folded up the tent with a wave of his wand and deposit it into her rucksack with a practiced ease. He then dispelled the protective magic around the campsite, before swinging his own bag onto his back. Expecting nothing less than a long, dreary march all that morning, Ginny grabbed her rucksack before turning and starting to head towards a gap in the trees, when she stopped abruptly.
Ahead of her, perhaps twenty yards or so, was a man. He was naked, but so thoroughly covered in greyish-brown hair that it barely mattered. He sported a thick beard that reached down to his chest, but this didn’t hide the angry expression on his face.
“Harry,” Ginny called out nervously.
“You… wizards,” the man growled in a barely understandable accent.
“Yes, we’re wizards,” Harry said firmly, coming to stand next to Ginny. “You’d do well to remember that and leave us alone.”
“You… die… here,” the man announced, his words spat out like curses.
A noise from somewhere behind her caused Ginny to turn around. Dimly, through the mist she could see figures lurking in the trees. Although humanoid shaped, there was something about the way these figures moved that made Ginny think that they weren’t really human.
“They’re behind us,” she hissed at Harry.
“I know,” he replied quietly before again addressing the naked man in front of them. “Seriously, attacking us would be a major mistake. Leave now and I promise you won’t be hurt.”
“You… hurt! You… be… our… food!”
“Shit,” Harry muttered softly. “Make sure you’ve got your wand ready, Ginny, we’ll have to fight our way out of this. I’ll deal with the creatures behind us, you take down this joker. Remember the spell I taught you?”
“Yes,” Ginny whispered. He’d made her practice the bloody thing enough times.
“Alright, on three. One… two… three!”
“Argentum Hasta!” she cried as she levelled her wand at the man. A silvery beam of light shot from it and caught her target in the shoulder. He bellowed in pain and sank to his knees, clutching his wound in agony.
Behind her, Harry had remained silent, but a sudden wave of light and heat revealed that he had cast a spell. She risked a quick look behind her, and was shocked to see that the trees on all three sides of the clearing were ablaze. She could hear screams and howls of frustration, and the occasional glimpse of figures through the dancing flames.
“They’ll be coming at us from the front,” Harry told her grimly. “As soon as you catch sight of them, take them down. I’ll concentrate on the right side, you cover the left. Got it?”
“Y… yes,” she managed to stutter.
Quickly, she turned and saw that the man she’d hit was now lying face down on the ground. Dimly, she remembered Harry telling her that the spell she’d used was lethal to werewolves and if it didn’t kill them instantly, it would poison them in a matter of moments. She’d just killed someone for the first time in her life.
Feeling oddly detached, she noticed Harry tracking a figure as it ran parallel to the raging fire, heading for the entrance to the clearing. The same silvery light shot from his wand that she’d used earlier, and caught the half-seen figure squarely. The person staggered, and toppled sideways into the flames. In horror, Ginny watched as the body caught fire immediately.
“Eyes front!” Harry snapped.
Fighting down her growing sense of revulsion and fear, she forced herself to concentrate. Ginny could see shadowy shapes moving on the other side of the flaming barrier, and knew they were heading in her direction. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself for what she had to do next.
The first figure to emerge into sight was a young man, perhaps twenty years old. He too was naked, if not so hirsute as the first man had been. His face was contorted into such a mask of rage and he barely seemed human. Without hesitation, he ran towards Ginny at a ferocious pace.
The spell left her wand before she even realised she’d cast it. It struck the man in the chest and actually blasted him off his feet. He crumpled into a heap in the wet grass and didn’t move. Fortunately, she didn’t have time to ponder what she’d done as two more figures leapt into sight. She hit the first one with a solid shot to the head, but the second only received a glancing hit on the shoulder. He managed to get within ten feet of her before she managed to hit him again.
With her heart pounding, she glanced over at Harry who was methodically taking down the werewolves. The majority of the pack seemed to be approaching from his side, for which Ginny was extremely grateful. She shifted her attention back to her side of the clearing… and gasped.
Running towards her was a small boy. He couldn’t have been more than eight or nine, and was utterly filthy. She gasped at the sight of him, and she hesitated. The child continued to run at her, but try as she might, she couldn’t bring herself to aim her wand at him. How could she cut him down? He was just a kid!
A flash of silver light lit up the dull morning and the child screamed once. He then fell to the ground, just a few feet away from her. Ginny looked at the body in shock.
“What the hell do you think you were doing?”
Ginny turned her head and saw Harry glaring at her, his expression one of furious anger. Dimly, it registered in her brain that there were no more werewolves attacking them. The number of bodies strewn about the clearing explained that fact.
“I asked, what the hell were you doing?” Harry yelled.
It was the first time Ginny had ever heard her employer raise his voice, and for some reason it infuriated her. She went from dumb shock to furious rage in a heartbeat.
“What was I doing? What do you think I was bloody doing?” she bellowed.
“Why did you hesitate? That werewolf was nearly on top of you? Why didn’t you kill it?” Harry snarled.
“IT WAS A KID!” she screamed at him. “Look at him! He was just a little boy… and you killed him!”
“Little boy? You stupid girl! It wasn’t a little boy, it was little more than an animal, and one that would have killed you in a heartbeat!”
“I think I could have handled a bloody eight-year-old,” she spat back.
Harry glared at her, before turning and marching over to the child’s body. He kneeled down, and forced the boy’s mouth open with his hands.
Almost against her will, Ginny walked over to the body and glanced down. She felt a sickening lurch in her stomach when she saw the child’s teeth. They appeared to have been filed down until they were sharp points. Just like a wild animals.
“This was never a child,” Harry said angrily. “Since it was born, it’s been raised as a wolf. Since it could stand, it’s been taught to hunt with its pack and live by the laws of the wild. Did you expect the boy to show some human emotion? Did you think if you gave him a hug, he’d just curl up in your arms? This animal only saw you as one thing, Weasley, food! It would have ripped the flesh off you while you stood there looking vacant, and eaten it while you watched.”
Fighting down an urge to vomit, Ginny glared at him.
“I realise the child was a werewolf, but that doesn’t make it easy to just cut him down, does it? Despite what you say, he looks like a little boy! Maybe it’s easy for you to just kill anything that moves, but not me! What are you? Just some cold blooded killer, like all those rumour says?”
Potter stood and strode towards her, his expression beyond fury.
“Cold blooded killer? Is that what you think? I just saved your life, you stupid woman, and that’s all the thanks I get? Damn it, I thought you were different from all those other sheep out there, blindly believing what they read in the papers. Clearly I was wrong. Pack up your kit, and get the hell out of my sight!”
They stood for a moment, glaring at each other. Fighting against her basic instincts, Ginny forced herself to calm down.
“I’m… sorry,” she said eventually. “I didn’t mean to say that, I was just upset. You can see why I hesitated though, can’t you? I mean… he was just a kid. He might have been a werewolf, but how as I suppose to react? Just look at him!”
Potter took a deep breath, also trying to calm himself.
“Yes, I suppose you’re right. It wouldn’t have been easy for anyone to cast that spell at him. I suppose I’ve become rather hardened to all this. I’ve been trained for battle since I was ten years old, and it all becomes instinctual after a while. Even so, you can’t afford to hesitate in situations like that. Little boy or not, he still would have killed you, Ginny, without thought or regret.”
“I guess,” she agreed, feeling suddenly tired now that her anger had passed. “Do you still want me to go?”
“Do you want to stay?” he asked in surprise.
“I… yes, I do,” she replied, shocking herself with her own conviction. “I’ve never been a quitter, and I don’t want to start now. I won’t lie to you, what happened here has shaken me to the core. I never dreamt this job would be so dangerous or violent, but I do understand that this wasn’t your intention. It must have just been bad luck that pack found us, and you were right about them; they were little more than wild animals. I can’t believe we’ve slaughtered so many of them, though. It just feels… horrible.”
“Ginny, this pack of werewolves has been terrorising this whole area for centuries. Whenever they can’t find prey within their range, they’ve ventured out into the neighbouring areas, killing wizards and Muggles alike for food. They are terrible creatures, and killing these beasts might have saved many lives. Imagine if this group had abducted a Muggle child, for instance. Think of the pain and suffering that child would have endured at their hands. No, as unsavoury as it seems, we’ve done the people of Northern Germany a great service here today.”
She could only nod at his words, even if she felt sick to her stomach.
“If you want to stay, I’ll be glad to have you,” he said. “But you must understand, if we run into these beasts again there can be no mercy. I don’t care if it looks like a man, woman or child, it’s no longer human. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do,” she agreed.
“Good. I don’t think we should just leave these bodies lying around here. If nothing else, the smell of blood might attract the rest of the pack. I’ll Levitate the bodies into the fire while you gather up our kit. Okay?”
Nodding again, Ginny turned to gather up their scattered possessions. She steadfastly looked away as Harry started tossing the limp bodies into the flames.
Back to index
Chapter 3: Chapter 3 - A Step into the Abyss
Author's Notes: More tough choices for Ginny in this chapter and she’ll have a very difficult decision to make before she leaves Germany. On the plus side, you’ll get to learn where we’re heading for in Chapter 4 towards the end.
Oh, Arnel suggests I post an ‘arousal warning’ for the end part. I’m not sure that such a thing exists, but I’ve done it, anyway. Huge thanks to her for usual wonderful work and apologies that I caused her to have to fan her face. Snigger.
Chapter 3 — A Step into the Abyss
Feeling dispirited and confused, Ginny trudged along behind Harry as he made his way further into the forest. To further add to her misery, it had started to rain again and her inadequate outdoor clothing was doing little to protect her. She was sure there was a charm that would have helped, but she couldn’t remember it and she was damn sure she wasn’t going to ask him about it.
As they continued through the damp woods, she began to seriously question why she was here. Potter had offered her the chance to simply leave — why hadn’t she taken him up on it? This certainly wasn’t what she’d signed up for. She’d been expecting excitement and adventure, not this exhausting trek through a near impenetrable forest, soaking wet and freezing cold. While she couldn’t deny the trip had provided excitement, she hadn’t counted on nearly being ripped to pieces by a rabid pack of werewolves and the sickening slaughter that had followed. Why was she still here? What was she trying to prove?
Those questions made her think. Why was she here? She’d told Harry that she wasn’t a quitter and wanted to see this through, but there was more going on here than just her plain stubbornness. In the back of her mind, she’d tried to imagine what her friends and family would have said if she’d turned up unexpectedly at the door, announcing that she’d quit the job. Her parents would have undoubtedly been sympathetic, if not outright relieved, but she could almost see the slight note of smugness in her mother’s eyes, silently saying ‘I told you so’. Her brothers would be even worse.
But was that sufficient reason to stay here?
If she was honest with herself, Ginny had to admit she was scared. The werewolf attack had been like nothing she’d ever experienced before. Although her parents had supported Dumbledore throughout the conflict with Voldemort, the war had never touched the walls of Hogwarts and she’d been largely sheltered from its effects. Her family had emerged from the conflict unscathed and she’d never had to worry about fighting, other than throwing the occasional minor hex at the odd annoying Slytherin. To be suddenly placed in a life or death situation was a major shock to the system. The smell of the burning bodies would probably stay with her forever.
It was with a measure of guilt that she thought of the accusation she’d thrown at Harry. Calling him a cold-blooded killer had clearly upset him greatly, and perhaps not unreasonably, either. Had he been right? Had they simply cut down a pack of vicious animals that viewed them as nothing more than food? Logically, she would have had to say yes, but the thought of that small child still haunted her. Desperately, Ginny had tried to remember the look in the child’s eyes, hunting for any sign of humanity in them. Unfortunately, there had been none.
So, Potter had probably been right and saved her life, to boot. And what had she immediately done? Insult him. Even so, he could have been a bit more sympathetic…
Ginny almost snorted with disgust at herself. Sympathetic? What had she wanted him to do? For him to pull her into his arms and hold her as she cried, perhaps? She’d always hated being treated like a weak little girl, and here she was blubbering because a man had avoided doing just that. How hypocritical of her!
Was that why she stayed? Here, she was expected to pull her own weight. Potter had never once asked if she could manage this long march through these terrifying woods, he’d just assumed she was capable. He’d placed his faith in her, and she’d nearly let him down. Of course, he needn’t have been such a pig about it afterwards, but still.
As Ginny walked along in silence, she came to a new realisation. Yes, she was cold, wet and tired. Yes, she was walking into awful danger willingly, and, to top it all off, she was placing her trust in a man with a terrible reputation who she barely knew. Yet, despite all this, she knew now that she wouldn’t give up and go home, for the simple reason that she could never return to the life she’d been leading previously. How could she return to working in a shop after all this? Unthinkable.
With a renewed determination in her heart, Ginny pulled her rucksack a little higher on her shoulders and continued walking. Looking ahead, she could see the trees starting to thin ahead of them, and very soon they emerged from the edge of the treeline to find themselves overlooking a deep valley.
“I’m pretty sure this is the middle of the pack’s territory,” Potter told her quietly. “This is the centre of their range, so we’ll need to be extra careful.”
Ginny nodded, but her attention was drawn to something on the opposite slope of the valley.
“Harry, what’s that over there?” she asked, pointing across the basin.
Potter looked for a moment before he spotted what she had seen. He frowned.
“I’m not sure, but it looks like a house.”
“That’s what I thought, but that’s not possible, is it? I mean, who would live out here?” she protested.
He said nothing, but instead pulled out the compass he’d been using off and on, and flipped it open. He held it to his eye, and pointed it at the mysterious dwelling.
“Odd it might be,” he said after a few moments, “but that’s where we have to go. There’s strange magic over in that direction, and I have a feeling that we’re going to find our missing piece of the Moon Hare over there.”
“The valley’s pretty steep. Do you think we can get down okay?”
“I think it’s time we cheated a little, Ginny,” he said with a smile. “We can clearly see where we’re going. Let’s just Apparate over there.”
“I’m so glad you said that,” she said in a relieved voice.
He laughed lightly. “Let’s not arrive too close to the house. See that small clearing about a hundred yards to the right of the building? Aim for that.”
“Right,” she agreed, and twisted slightly. A second later, she appeared in the clearing, with Harry arriving almost exactly at the same moment as her.
Potter held up his hand to motion her into silence. He peered keenly around him, listening intently. Ginny copied his actions, but could hear nothing, not even the sound of bird song. There was definitely something unnatural about this forest.
With a slight motion of his hand signalling her to follow him, Harry started towards the house, his wand held at the ready. Ginny trailed behind, making sure to take the occasional glance behind them. She definitely had the feeling that they were being watched, even if there was nothing in sight.
They reached the sturdy log building and paused. There seemed to be no signs of life and Ginny started to wonder if the place was abandoned. She voiced this opinion to Harry, who just shook his head and pointed up at the chimney. Although very faint in the dim light, she saw smoke coming from it. Someone was definitely home.
“What do we do?” she asked softly.
“I think the polite thing to do would be to knock, don’t you?” he smiled mischievously, and stepped up to the door. He rapped his knuckles sharply against it, before stepping back.
There was a long silence, before Ginny heard a door slam somewhere within the house. After what seemed an agonisingly long wait, the door opened and a man emerged. He appeared to be in his fifties, but was broad-shouldered and muscular. His long hair was greying but still had streaks of black in it. The most remarkable thing about him was his eyes, which were a brilliant amber colour.
“Yes?” he said simply.
“Good morning to you, sir,” Harry greeted the man in a jaunty voice. “We are weary travellers who have become lost in this vast wood. We were wondering if we could impose on your hospitality for a while and warm ourselves by your fire?”
Harry then folded his arms in front of him, with his wand very prominently displayed in his right hand. The man looked at it impassively, before stepping back into the house slightly.
“You’d better both come in,” he grunted, the Translations Spells they had been using flattening out his guttural accent, somewhat.
Harry turned and gave Ginny a lopsided grin, and gestured for her to enter first. She stepped into the house and followed the strange man as he walked through the narrow hallway and into what must have been the living room. The room was sparsely furnished by the standards she was used to, although the roaring fire looked most welcoming. What caught her eye first, though, was that the room had another occupant. A tall woman sat in a chair by the fireplace, knitting peacefully. She appeared to be about the same age as the man, and when she looked up at Ginny, she noted the woman had the same amber eyes.
“Visitors. How unusual,” the woman noted, putting down her knitting and standing to greet them.
“Wizards,” the man muttered, before indicating that Harry and Ginny should seat themselves on a small couch.
“Thank you for inviting us in,” Harry said once he had sat down.
Ginny found she was pressed up against him on the small couch, but she actually found that somewhat comforting. There was something about this pair that put her on edge.
“No problem,” the man replied bluntly, and sat down in the chair the woman had recently occupied. She, in turn, came and stood behind him, resting one elegant hand on his shoulder.
“May I ask who I have the pleasure of addressing?” Harry asked. To Ginny’s ears, he actually sounded faintly amused.
“I’m Karl, this is my wife, Agatha.”
“Very pleased to meet you. My name is Harry Potter, and this lovely young lady is my assistant, Ginny Weasley. May I say, what a fine house you have here, and in such a beautiful location, too.”
At the mention of Harry’s name, both Karl and Agatha looked startled. Clearly, Harry was known to both of them, certainly by reputation, anyway.
“I’m honoured to meet such a famous and distinguished wizard,” Karl said slowly. “Can I ask why you are here, in this forest?”
“Of course. I’m seeking a precious object, actually. I’m looking for part of a fabulous item called the Moon Hare, which was foolishly cut into five pieces and scattered to the winds. I have reason to believe a wizard was carrying it when he was attacked by werewolves in this very forest. In fact, if I’m not very mistaken, that piece is hanging around your neck at this very moment.”
Ginny gasped and looked at the man closely. He did appear to be wearing something around his neck, but it was hidden under the man’s shirt. Karl didn’t seem surprised by Harry’s statement, she noted.
“You might be correct,” Karl said grudgingly.
“I thought I was,” Harry smiled. “I did come here with the intention of offering a fair price for the piece but, really, what would a fine couple like yourselves want with money? You appear to have such a rich and wonderful life here in the forest. Still, I’m surprised all the werewolves don’t give you trouble. Is there a reason for that, I wonder? A valid reason why the most vicious and unruly pack of werewolves in the world just leave you to live here peacefully?”
“You know the answer to that, wizard!” Karl spat angrily at him.
“I assume I’m addressing the pack’s alphas?” Harry asked, and Ginny saw he had his wand resting casually against his leg, ready for instant use. She immediately copied his actions while trying to hide her shock at his revelation.
“You are, and if you think you can threaten us here, in our own range, then you are a fool. You might be a powerful wizard, Harry Potter, but we are not your average werewolves!”
“Oh, I’m quite aware of that,” Harry agreed calmly. “In fact, I believe one of the most notable abilities senior members of your pack possess is that of being able to transform at will. No waiting around for those pesky full moons for you, eh? No doubt the pair of you could change into werewolves and attack us in a matter of mere seconds.”
“We could, and what’s to stop us doing just that?” Agatha demanded.
“The fact that you’d never make it,” Harry informed them in an off-hand manner. “Both Ginny and I know spells that would be instantly lethal to the pair of you. The second you sprouted a single hair we’d cut you down without hesitation. We’ve already eliminated a hunting party that attacked us, with remarkably little effort, if I do say so myself.”
“Sigfrid!” the woman cried in distress, but Karl just raised a hand and she became silent. Ginny wondered exactly who Sigfrid was, and whether he was one of the werewolves they had slaughtered that morning. Their son, perhaps? A brother? Grandchild?
“It seems your reputation isn’t unfounded,” Karl said in a quiet, angry voice.
“My reputation was created by idiots who for the most part have never even met me,” Harry countered. “Yours, however, seems to have rather more substance to it. Tell me, I once heard a rumour that your pack was the only one in the world that possessed knowledge of a secret ritual that stripped a person of their humanity, and reverted them back to the state of being a wild animal. Is that true?”
“Civilisation is an evil and immoral place,” Karl growled. “The people who come here requesting the ritual be performed on them all do so willingly, because they want to be free of the memories of their dreadful lives as so-called human beings. Here, there is no false morality or deception. Only the law of the wild must be obeyed, and we lead a simpler, more honest way of life. Do not presume to judge us, Harry Potter!”
“I don’t. As I implied, you have to know someone well to be able to judge them. For instance, I’ve known several werewolves in my time. One of them was the kindest, most learned man I’ve ever met. On the other hand, I’ve also met a brutal killer who tried to make himself alpha over every werewolf in Britain, and gloried in blood and infecting every child he could. Judging people is very hard unless you’ve actually met them. However, by your reasoning, most of your pack aren’t actually human, are they? They just act as any wild animal would, and that includes raiding Muggle settlements and taking people to eat, doesn’t it? With that line of reasoning, I should just view you all as dangerous animals and kill the lot of you.”
“You wizards, you’re all alike!” Agatha yelled. “Arrogant and judgemental! I think you just like the idea of imposing your will over others!”
“Frankly, my dear woman, I couldn’t give a shit about imposing my will on anyone. Half the time I don’t know what my own will is, anyway, and I certainly have no desire to rule over others. But let’s just backtrack a moment. You two are the alphas of this pack, the only pack in the world that knows of this de-humanising ritual. I don’t suppose this is a secret shared with many others. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was handed down only from alpha to alpha. So, let me ask this: if I kill you both now, would the secret of that ritual be lost forever? Would no one else be able to revert themselves back to the level of an animal? Would your brutal pack eventually just die out?”
Both of them stared at Harry with hate-filled eyes, which seemed to be answer enough.
“What do you want?” Karl demanded through gritted teeth.
“Why, I already said. The piece of the Moon Hare that you possess,” Harry said with a smile.
“That’s it? If I give you the piece, you just leave us in peace? No, Potter, I don’t trust you! I’ve heard dark things about you. Besides, you said it yourself, killing us would mean the ritual could never be performed again. Knowing that, why would you let us live?”
“Perhaps I just don’t care?” Harry replied in a nonchalant tone.
“Don’t trust him, Karl. He is a wicked man who has killed hundreds! He would slaughter us for nothing,” Agatha hissed.
Karl looked at Harry intently.
“No, it’s not that straightforward. Potter claims to know spells to kill us instantly, but he has no way of knowing how fast we can transform. Even if he hits us with his spell, we might still have time to rip out his throat before we die, and the throat of his pretty little whore over there, too. I think he did actually come here just for the golden jewel. That would fit everything I’ve ever heard about the man,” Karl pondered. “Well, Potter, is it that simple? If I hand over the piece, do you just up and leave?”
Harry paused a moment. “Actually, I don’t think it should just be up to me. Ginny, what do you think? Do we take what we came for and just leave, or do we kill this pair and rid the world of the threat of this pack forever?”
“What? Why are you asking me?” she yelped in surprise.
“Because this is a moral decision, and it’s only been a few hours since you questioned my morals. That’s your prerogative, so I’m quite happy to leave this choice up to you.”
Ginny stared at him in surprise, before turning to look at Karl and Agatha. They, in turn, were looking right back at her questioningly.
“I… I can’t choose. This is your expedition, Harry. You make your own difficult decisions and don’t try and palm them off on me!” she snapped.
“So you have no opinion on this matter? You don’t care what happens to this pair?” Harry pressed.
“Of course I care, I just… I… why are you doing this to me?” she demanded.
“Because you need to learn to make difficult choices under pressure,” he replied calmly. “Now, what do we do?”
She looked back at the two werewolves. They clearly were powerful, she could sense that even in their human bodies, but otherwise they looked quite normal. Quite… human. She didn’t doubt for a second that Harry wouldn’t butcher them if so instructed. Why the hell was he putting this pressure on her? Did she let them live and potentially kill the Muggles who lived nearby, or did they walk away, sparing them both more bloodshed?
“I… I’ve seen enough killing today, Harry,” she said eventually. “Just take the bloody jewel and let’s leave.”
“There you go,” Harry said to Karl and Agatha. “It appears you’re getting a reprieve. Now, the piece of the Moon Hare, please.”
Karl reached into his shirt and withdrew something that glittered in the firelight. With a grunt, he tossed it in Harry’s direction. With lighting reactions, Harry snatched it from the air and tucked it into a pocket.
“Well, I must say it’s been a pleasure meeting you both,” he said, rising to his feet. “Shall we, Ginny?”
“Umm, yes,” she replied, hastily getting up.
“Straight back to the hotel, I think. Karl and Agatha, I will bid you farewell. Pray that you never have cause to cross my path again.”
And with those words, Harry twisted slightly and popped out of sight. Ginny paused for a moment, and looked at the werewolves. She could see the relief etched into their faces.
“Thank you,” said Agatha.
Ginny just nodded, and immediately Apparated. A moment later, she found herself outside the hotel they were staying at, with Potter standing nearby evidently waiting for her.
“You took your time. I was getting worried,” he said.
“Why did you do that?” she demanded, ignoring his words. “Why did you put that pressure on my shoulders?”
He smiled gently at her. “Because you had to learn that sometimes there are no right or wrong choices. Yes, we walked away and left that pair unharmed, but who’s to say that they won’t immediately go on a killing spree amongst the local Muggles. I’ve seen what their type can do, remember. That werewolf I mentioned was called Fenrir Greyback and I once saw him tear the throat out of a three month-old baby. As I said, to them we’re nothing more than meat. Even worse, those pair have the ability to turn regular people into deranged animals who hunt and kill by pure instinct. We could have potentially ended that.”
“Then why didn’t we?” Ginny nearly shouted. “If those two were so terrible, why didn’t we kill them?”
“Because we’d seen enough blood spilt today,” he replied, echoing her words. “Besides, it was just speculation that those two were the only ones who knew of the de-humanising ritual. There might have been others in the pack that knew of it. Besides, do we actually know the pair have committed any crime? Do we know for sure that they might take life in the future? The situation was different with those werewolves that attacked us. We were just defending ourselves against them. Did we have any right to judge Karl and Agatha without conclusive evidence?”
“I… I don’t know,” Ginny admitted.
“Neither do I,” Harry replied, grinning at her. “As I said, nothing in life is ever black and white. There are always two sides to a story. You also have to remember that a lot of what other people tell you can often turn out to be a pack of lies.”
“Then how can we ever be sure of anything we do?” she demanded.
“We just have to use our best judgement, based on the information we’re given,” he said. “Anyway, I don’t know about you, but I need a hot bath. We have an hour or so before lunch, so I’m going to have a soak before then. I’ll meet you in the dining room later, okay?”
“Yes, I’ll see you then,” she agreed, and watched as he strode into the hotel.
A few moments later, she forced herself to move in search of her own hot bath. Her mind, however, was a jumble of confused thoughts and ideas. Frankly, she’d never felt more out of her depth in her life.
They arrived back at Grimmauld Place around lunch time the next day. Harry had decided that they should stay in Germany overnight so they could rest and recuperate, and Ginny had to admit she did feel better this morning. She was still beset with doubt about virtually everything that had happened to her in the last few days, but she was also greatly relieved to be back in England. Maybe things would make more sense now she was home.
As soon as Harry entered his house he immediately shed his rucksack which he casually dropped in the hallway. Ginny followed his actions, and a second later Winky popped into sight.
“Master Harry, you’se being home! Was your trip successful?”
“It was indeed, Winky,” Harry confirmed, “although we had a few complications along the way. Would you be so kind as to take care of our packs? If you could serve lunch around one o’clock that would be most excellent.”
“Of course, sir!”
The little elf vanished from sight, clutching the two rucksacks which were nearly as big as she was.
“You’ve been very quiet today.”
The statement caught Ginny by surprise, and she turned to see Harry looking at her questioningly.
“I’ve had a lot to think about,” she replied.
“I suppose so. Anyway, let’s head up to my study. We have things to discuss.”
She meekly followed Harry up the stairs and into a room she’d only ever been in once before. Harry’s study was a cosy area lined on two sides by bookcases and otherwise dominated by a highly polished desk. Harry walked around it and dropped into a rather worn, but comfy-looking leather chair. She sat herself in a more frugal chair situated in front of the desk.
“Are you angry at me for making you chose what to do yesterday?” he asked.
“Not angry exactly,” she admitted, “more confused. Harry, I have no experience in these sort of matters. I was working in a shop just a couple of weeks ago, for Merlin’s sake! I’m terrified that I’ve made the wrong decision.”
“Do you believe you have?”
“I… I don’t know.”
Potter looked at her for a moment, before reaching down and opening a desk drawer. From it he retrieved a bottle half full of amber liquid and two glasses. He poured a generous amount into both glasses and pushed one towards Ginny.
“It’s not even lunchtime,” she protested.
“Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so,” he replied. “Besides, you should be pleased your employer if forcing you to drink ridiculously expensive blended Scotch whisky in working hours.”
She picked up the glass and gave it an experiment sniff.
“Sip it slowly,” he advised. “Hold it in your mouth a moment before swallowing. Savour the taste.”
She did as she was instructed, before shivering involuntarily as it burned down her throat.
“Good, isn’t it?” Harry said. “Some people like a peaty taste in their whisky, but I’ve always favoured a mellower, creamy flavour. It has hints of toffee, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah… I guess it does,” she managed to gasp.
“Sorry, I thought you looked like you needed a stiff drink,” he said unrepentantly. “Do you want my take on your choice yesterday?”
“Yes, I do,” Ginny replied firmly. She’d begun to despair that he’d elaborate on what he’d said outside the hotel.
“Personally, I don’t think there was a right or wrong answer. Both choices had merit to them, and both choices had drawbacks. As I said, do you condemn someone for something they may or may not do in the future?”
“So, what you’re saying is that it didn’t matter what decision I made yesterday?” she demanded.
“Not at all. You’re working for me now, Ginny, and that entails a measure of responsibility. Sometimes you will be put in the position where you will have to make a decision in my name, and I need to know what your choice is likely to be. Frankly, I’m glad you took the less violent route. In my life, I’ve so rarely been in the position where that’s even been an option, hence I frequently overlook the benefits of taking a more… measured… approach, shall we say.”
“You’re saying you were happy with what I did?” she pressed.
“I suppose so,” he nodded, before taking a swig of his drink. “I mean, if it had been left to me I would probably have killed them both without a second thought, but equally I had no problem just walking away. We got what we came for, after all.”
“Yeah,” she agreed reluctantly, before draining her glass.
“And on that subject, we’ll need to find out where the next piece is,” Harry informed her. “As I explained previously, I have discovered a ritual which will allow us to discover the location of the next piece of the hare. I was lucky to find the spell, actually. The book I discovered it in was extremely old, but I confess to having a preference for old magic. It seems to me that nearly all the spells created in the last two hundred years or so are all so prosaic, don’t you agree?”
“I really couldn’t say either way,” Ginny admitted. “I don’t recall them teaching us at Hogwarts how old any of the spells we learnt were.”
“I doubt anything you learned there would have been particularly old. Modern education is so lacking in so many areas, in my opinion.”
“If you say so,” she shrugged. “So, what does this ritual entail, exactly?”
“Well, obviously, we’ll both need to be naked for it and…”
“WHAT?” Ginny shrieked, leaping from her chair.
Harry began to chuckle. “Sorry, just my little joke. More wishful thinking on my part, actually. No, you won’t even be directly involved in the ritual, but I will need you nearby to listen out for anything I say. I’ll probably pass into a trance state during the spell, and I’m likely to blurt out the location of the next piece while being totally unaware of what I’m saying. That’s why I’ll need you nearby with parchment and quill handy.”
“Oh, okay,” she nodded, still feeling a bit unsettled by Harry’s little prank. The two of them getting naked was ‘wishful thinking’ on his part?
“Perhaps it would be best if we perform the ritual now,” Harry decided. “That way we’ll know what to prepare for. I assume you’ll be wanting a few days off after our little jaunt to the continent?”
“Well, if that’s okay,” Ginny confirmed, relishing the thought of a couple of days at home so she could get her head together.
“That’s fine. After our fun and games with the werewolves, I could do with putting my feet up for a while, anyway. Before you pop off, let’s head down to the ritual room and find out where we’re heading next.”
“You have a ritual room?”
“Ah, you haven’t seen it yet, have you?” Harry said with a mischievous grin. “It’s down in the cellar. Sirius set it up for when we had to perform high-level spells and rituals which we didn’t want the Ministry to know about. The room is heavily protected, which is just as well as we’ve had a few unfortunate mishaps in the past. The time we accidentally summoned that demon was about the worst.”
Ginny followed her employer as he headed out of the room, pondering if he was joking about the demon. Frankly, she couldn’t tell if he was being serious or not half the time, which she found extremely frustrating. For someone who could normally read men like an open book, Harry Potter was a vexing puzzle to her.
They headed down the stairs and through the kitchen where Winky was busy preparing lunch. Harry then took a narrow flight of stairs that Ginny had never noticed tucked away in one corner, which led to a heavy, black door.
“This room is heavily protected, and magically keyed to myself. Don’t ever try and come down here by yourself,” he advised.
“No, of course not,” she agreed rapidly, watching in fascination as he pressed his hand against a metal plate fixed onto the door roughly where a handle would normally be. There was a faint glow of light, before the door swung open.
They stepped into a pitch-black room. Harry waved his hand, and dozens of candles sprung into life. She looked around in shock and not a little apprehension. The room was fairly large, perhaps ten yards square. To Ginny’s eyes, it resembled a dungeon more than anything else, and was painted a solid black throughout. The candles were mounted in alcoves set into the walls at regular intervals, but they seemed to do little to alleviate the gloom. Most concerning of all, however, was the large white pentagram marked out on the floor. The edges of the star were marked with intricate writing and symbols, none of which she could begin to understand. There was also a strange, unidentifiable smell in the air that made her very uneasy.
“Have you got your quill and parchment handy?” Harry asked, sounding strangely muffled in the claustrophobic space.
“Yes,” she confirmed, displaying the items she’d taken off his desk before they came down here.
“Excellent, I should only need a moment to prepare, and then we can get cracking.”
The door behind her shut with an alarming clang. The candles all flickered for a moment, but remained lit. Ginny couldn’t help shuffling her feet nervously, and fidgeted with the quill as Harry turned his back on her and placed something on a table which was the only piece of furniture in the room. Then, without warning, he pulled off his shirt and threw it on the table.
“What are you doing?” she gasped. He turned to face her, and shot her one of his trademark lop-sided grins.
“Don’t worry, Miss Weasley, I assure you my trousers will remain on. It’s just that this ritual can be quite strenuous, and that shirt is rather expensive. I was removing it purely as a precaution.”
She nodded in understanding, but said nothing. In truth, she doubted she could have spoken at that point if her life depended on it.
If she was honest, Ginny would have had to admit that she found her employer extremely attractive. Whatever doubts she had about his morals or personality, and she was confused on both counts, she never doubted for a moment that he was a very handsome man. What she hadn’t expected was that he had the body of a god. Obviously, their strenuous hike through the German forest had demonstrated his athletic abilities, but this man didn’t appear to have an ounce of fat on him.
The flickering candle light seemed to accentuate his toned abdominal muscles. He had a lean build which suggested a wiry strength, emphasised by his developed biceps. His flesh was lightly tanned, and he had a wisp of black hair that ran down the center of his chest almost to his bellybutton. The light also vividly showed his scars, of which he had several. Of course, she knew about the legendary lightning bolt scar on his forehead, but Ginny had been unaware that he sported a similar one on his chest. As the visible scar was always reported as being caused by being hit by a Killing Curse when he was a toddler, she couldn’t help but wonder how he’d received the other one.
“Are you ready, Ginny?”
Harry’s voice brought her back to reality, and to her embarrassment she realised she’d been staring at him. Fortunately, he gave no indication that he’d noticed.
“Yes, ready when you are,” she confirmed hurriedly.
“Good,” he replied, and headed to the centre of the pentagram with the piece of the Moon Hare dangling from his fingers. As he turned, something glinted against his chest and she realised that he was wearing some sort of necklace. Interestingly, it almost looked like a golden snitch, which was odd as Harry had previously indicated that he’d lost interest in Quidditch. She’d have to ask him about it later.
Harry knelt down inside the pentagram and placed the small piece of the jewel on the floor in front of him. He then began to chant. At first, he spoke so softly that Ginny couldn’t hear what he was saying, but, ever so slowly, he began to increase in volume.
Whatever he was chanting, the words meant nothing to her and sounded like they were in some obscure, foreign language that she’d never encountered before. What struck her, however, was the strange cadence that Harry maintained, and she found herself nodding her head in time to it.
He continued to chant louder and louder, his delivery becoming more forceful and urgent. Before she knew what was happening, Ginny began to feel something in the air around her. At first, she felt alarmed, before a familiar feeling began to wash over her. Magic. The room was becoming infused with raw magic. She’d never felt anything like it, and it made her tingle all over.
Looking down at Harry as he knelt, his arms outstretched and his lips in constant motion, Ginny couldn’t help but feel strange stirrings within her. He was starting to sweat now, and his body was gleaming in the candlelight. The magic that was all around her, she could sense that it was originating from him and the thought that he was so powerful wildly excited her. How could one wizard generate so much raw, untapped power? What exactly was he capable of? Why, at that exact moment, did she long to run her hands over his naked flesh so much?
She let out an involuntary gasp. Harry’s semi-naked body and the pure power he was generating was arousing her on a level she’d never experienced before, and would never have believed was possible. Her nipples were becoming painfully hard as her eyes roamed over his exposed skin, and she could feel her knickers were already soaking wet. She ached for him to touch her, to run his hands over her body, to kiss her… hell, she wanted him to rip her clothes off and have her right there on the floor. Despite her almost painful longing, she was unable to move an inch. It was the most exquisite form of torture imaginable.
Suddenly, Harry ceased his chanting and let out a blood-curdling scream. Ginny’s eye’s bulged and she fought against her invisible bonds, but without success. Then, Harry’s body began to jerk and twist like he was a puppet on a string. He began to mutter in a guttural, crazed tone. Listening carefully, she strained to hear what he was saying, and managed to faintly hear his words.
Then, abruptly, everything stopped. Harry gave a cry, and fell forward. Ginny, suddenly released from her paralysis, leapt forward and ran to him. As soon as she touched him, he raised his head and gave a weak smile.
“That was somewhat more potent than I was expecting,” he gasped.
“Are you alright?” she demanded, sounding a little panicky to her own ears.
“Yes… yes, I’m fine. I just need a moment or two to catch my breath. Help me up, would you?”
Ginny stood and helped pull him to his feet, aware of her hands on his gleaming, naked flesh and the lingering effects of her arousal. She couldn’t help letting her fingers rub up and down his chest, ostensibly offering comfort, but in truth fulfilling her own need. She shivered slightly at the feel of his skin, and at the taut layer of muscle she could detect underneath.
“It’s alright, Ginny, I’m fine,” he assured her, covering her hand with his own. She looked up and found herself staring into his vivid green eyes. From the moment she’d first seen him, she’d thought his eyes were his most striking feature, and now she found she couldn’t look away. Minutes seemed to drag into hours, and it was all Ginny could do to control herself. She’d never wanted anything more in her life than for him to lean down and kiss her.
Eventually, Potter broke the gaze. He pulled her small hand to his mouth and placed a gentle kiss on her knuckles.
“Thank you for being here, Ginny,” he said softly.
“You’re welcome,” was all she could find to say.
He released her hand and stepped back, still breathing rather heavily. “Did I say anything useful during the trance?” he asked.
“Oh… yes. You kept saying two things, over and over again.”
“What were they?”
“You kept saying ‘The Baron’ and ‘New Orleans’ repeatedly,” she revealed.
Harry grinned broadly. “New Orleans, huh? Are you up for a trip to America, Ginny?”
Despite her confused and stimulated condition, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of excitement at the idea of visiting the States, and New Orleans in particular.
“Yes, that sounds great,” she managed to say in a level voice.
“Superb. Now, I’m afraid that the mere smell of me must be making your stomach turn, so I’ll head up and take a shower. You’ll be staying for lunch, won’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, that would be nice.”
“Wonderful, let’s head upstairs,” he said, before retrieving his shirt and bending down to pick up the piece of the hare, which he slipped into his pocket. With a wave of his hand, the solid door swung open and he disappeared through it.
Ginny followed slowly, determined to allow him a few moments to get ahead. She could feel herself trembling slightly, and her heart was beating rapidly. More worryingly, she could feel that her knickers were completely drenched, and she could smell her own arousal. Before lunch, she would need to nip into the bathroom on the first floor and clean up a bit, herself.
The question was, what the hell had just happened and why had she reacted so strongly to Harry? If she was honest with herself, her attraction to him was one of the reasons she’d taken this job, but what had just happened was several orders above mere attraction. That was out and out lust. Was it just the strange magic that had affected her, or was it Harry himself?
Shaking her head, she quickly headed up the stairs and through the kitchen. She just hoped that she could quickly find a way to sate her raging desire before Harry returned, otherwise it was going to be a very awkward lunch.
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Chapter 4: Chapter 4 - Bringer of Death
Author's Notes: Some acknowledgements are required for this chapter, as I had quite a bit of help with it.
Firstly, I must thank Arnel for her usual wonderful work in beta reading for me and also saving me from making a terrible mistake with a specific grammar choice which would probably have got me tarred and feathered. I’m still scrapping that black muck out of my ears from the last time that happened, so I’m very grateful.
Also, thanks to Jill (Lioness1988) for help on geography and locations in New Orleans. It helps to have a southern belle to lend you a hand with such things.
Finally, I must give a lot of credit to (ex-) Mrs Brennus for her knowledge and advice on the Loa. We spent a long time discussing the characters here and their attributes. We certainly got a few strange looks from a waitress in a restaurant we were in when she overheard us discussing voodoo over a meal. Not that we don’t attract strange looks normally, but still.
Chapter 4 — Bringer of Death
“So, what’s he like then?”
Ginny sighed and looked over at her friend, Hermione Granger. Hermione was her brother Ron’s girlfriend, but she’d known the girl since her first year at Hogwarts. As Hermione had ended up staying at the Burrow many times, she and Ginny had become frequent roommates and had always been on good terms. After spending most of the previous day trying to assure her mother that Potter hadn’t raped, enchanted or otherwise interfered with her, Ginny had arranged this lunch with Hermione just to have someone a bit more sympathetic to talk to.
So far the subject of Harry Potter and what Ginny had been doing for him had been avoided by simple virtue of the Privacy Agreement she’d signed when she took the job. Unfortunately, personal questions about her employer probably didn’t fall under that agreement.
“He’s… not what I expected,” Ginny replied evasively.
“In what way?”
Ginny sighed again and put down her fork. She might have known her friend wouldn’t let this drop until she’d squeezed every last available bit of information out of her.
“Well, it’s very obvious that he was brought up by a well-to-do, pureblood family, but he’s never snobbish about it. He’s cultured, very well educated, and extremely powerful magically. He’s also very fit and athletic. On the other hand, I think he’s a bit of a tortured soul. The last war robbed him of everyone he loved or cared about, and I think he’s built a lot of walls around himself as protection. I’m beginning to suspect that he drinks a bit too much, too.”
“What’s your personal relationship with him like?” Hermione pressed. “Do the two of you get on?”
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but he seems to have a lot of confidence in me, which means a lot. In fact, he’s deliberately put me in difficult situations just to see how I would cope.”
“Really? What sort of situation?”
“Sorry, Hermione, that falls squarely within the bounds of the Privacy Agreement, so I can’t tell you. I will say that I had to make an incredibly difficult choice, and I’m not convinced I made the right decision.”
“What did Potter think?” Hermione asked, clearly interested by the whole thing.
“I think he was of the opinion that there were no right or wrong answers in the position we were in. I suspect he just wanted to see how I would react in a stressful situation, and that I wouldn’t just freeze and start crying like a little girl.”
“He doesn’t know you very well if he thought you’d act like that!” Hermione snorted.
“The thing is, I very nearly did break down in tears. This wasn’t an easy situation I was in, Hermione. It could have been a matter of life or death to certain people. I’m still amazed that he just stood back and let me decide. Hopefully, it’s a sign that he’ll want to employ me permanently when the trial period is up.”
“You’d want the job on a permanent basis, then?”
“Yeah, I think I do. I mean, some of the things I’ve had to do so far haven’t been easy, and the paperwork can be a pain, but I suspect that there will always be something new with this job. I’m never going to be just stuck behind a counter, bored out of my mind.”
“You realise working for Harry Potter has a certain stigma attached to it. People will never look at you the same way again,” Hermione pointed out.
Ginny shrugged. “I really don’t care what other people think. I know what Harry’s like, and I’m happy to work for him.”
Hermione nodded, before a sly grin crept onto her face. “I understand he’s very handsome, too.”
“Oh, he’s gorgeous. I’ve never met a more attractive man in my life.”
“Sounds like you’ve got a bit of a crush on him,” her friend teased.
“I fancy the pants off him, Hermione. Given half a chance, I’d jump him and ride him like a Hippogriff.”
“Well, don’t beat around the bush, tell us what you really think!” she snorted. “It’s not like you to be so upfront, Ginny, especially about a man you only met a few weeks ago.”
“I can’t help it,” Ginny admitted. “I tried to lie to myself at first, and convince myself that all I wanted was a new, exciting job, but, truth be told, I simply would never have accepted his initial invitation to dinner if I wasn’t so attracted to him.”
“I see,” Hermione said slowly. “Does he give any indication that he shares your feelings?”
“He… I think he flirted with me a bit a couple of days ago, but then something happened which kind of scrambled both our brains and I really don’t know where I stand with him at the moment. Have you ever experienced magic so pure and powerful that it’s actually sexually arousing?”
“Umm, no, I can’t say that I have,” Hermione replied, looking a little shocked.
“I did, two days ago. I mean, I was already hot and bothered when Harry had taken off his shirt, and then when…”
“Wait a minute!” Hermione interrupted. “Taken off his shirt? Why did he do that?”
“Oh, he was preparing to perform an extremely difficult Detection Ritual, and didn’t want it messed up. Considering just how taxing the bloody ritual was, it was a sensible move.”
“And? Come on, Weasley, I want details,” Hermione implored.
“He looked amazing, okay? He obviously spends a lot of time exercising, and he’s lean, mean and had me practically panting like a dog in heat. He’d previously made a joke about us having to perform the ritual naked, and let me tell you, I nearly started getting my kit off right there and then.”
“Wow, he really must be something,” Hermione said, before giving Ginny an appraising look. “This really isn’t like you, Ginny. I mean, I know you’ve had a few boyfriends, but you’ve always been a sensible girl. I’ve never seen you like this, so totally gaga about a bloke. You’re not going to do anything silly, are you?”
“Depends what you mean by silly,” Ginny countered. “Look, don’t worry about me, I know what I’m doing and I’m not just going to throw myself at him. Any relationship with Harry Potter is going to come with a lot of baggage attached, and I’d want to know beforehand that he was into me as much as I’m into him. I’m not some naïve little country witch who’s never been kissed, you know. Let’s face it, neither of us are exactly inexperienced.”
“Speak for yourself. I’m as pure as the driven snow,” Hermione sniffed.
“Pull the other one, Granger,” Ginny smirked. “Aside from what you get up to with my idiot brother, I know about that wizard you met in Manchester when you and Ron were on a break, remember.”
“You promised never to mention that!” Hermione hissed angrily.
“And I never will. All I’m saying is that we both know what’s what, and that I’m not going to just drop my knickers and bend over for Potter.”
“Good, I’m glad to hear it. So, what is it about this man that so turns you on? It can’t be just his looks, can it?”
“Nah, it’s the whole package,” Ginny admitted. “He’s not like anyone I’ve ever met before. This might sound odd, but he’s what I always imagined someone from Slytherin House should have been like. What I mean is, not one of the racist, evil morons that we met, but someone who’s exquisitely mannered, gracious in how he approaches anyone, and a bit mysterious. He has this aura about him that’s a little dark and dangerous, but really appealing at the same time.”
“I actually would like to meet him now,” Hermione admitted. “Amazing really, before all this I’d probably have hidden in a cupboard if I’d seen him coming towards me at the Ministry.”
“Me, too,” Ginny agreed. “I just hope I can do enough to convince him to take me on permanently at the end of the trial period.”
“Do you have doubts?”
“I came very close to quitting just a while back. I was cold, wet and scared out of my wits. I just wanted to say sod it, and Apparate home.”
“Why didn’t you? What was Potter getting you to do that was so terrible?”
“I can’t tell you,” Ginny smiled wryly. “All I can say was that I was in more danger than I’ve ever been in my life, and that includes all my accidents while playing Quidditch or anything that happened back during the war. As for why I didn’t quit, well, there were a few reasons. The main one was I would have been disgusted at myself. I’ve been banging on about trying to find an interesting and exciting line of work, and when I’m finally given the chance to do something like that, I wanted to quit! Besides, I really didn’t want to disappoint Harry. He took a chance employing a girl he’d only met briefly because he thought he saw something in me, and I couldn’t let him down. There was another reason though. I might have been more scared out there then I’d ever been before, but there was something I was even more afraid of.”
“What?” Hermione asked.
“Returning to that dead-end job and spending the rest of my days bored out of my mind. I just knew if I went back I’d never get another chance like this again. I’d always be a shop girl, stacking shelves and serving rude children. If I was lucky, I’d meet some bloke and get married, and end up just like my mother, tied to the oven with a bunch of screaming kids running round. I can’t live like that, Hermione, and this is my chance to make sure I never have to.”
Hermione nodded, but said nothing. What else was there to say? Ginny had made her choice, and nothing was going to sway her from her path, apparently. She just hoped her friend didn’t live to regret her decision.
“How’s the gumbo?”
Ginny paused from raising the spoon to her mouth, and shot Harry a warm smile.
“Absolutely delicious. I’ve never tasted seafood this good. The shrimp and crabmeat are to die for. I love the oysters, too,” she gushed.
“Excellent. I’m glad this place lives up to its reputation.”
They were eating in a small restaurant in the Garden District of New Orleans which had a distinctly British pub flavour to its decor. The food, however, was a different matter and was mainly Cajun and seafood based, not to mention utterly sensational. They’d only arrived in the city that morning, and already Harry had decided they should venture out from their hotel and explore the place. That had led them to this restaurant, where Harry had easily managed to blag them a table, despite not having a reservation.
“How are the fish tacos?” she asked, pointing at Harry’s plate.
“Very good,” he admitted. “I must admit, I do like to sample the local cuisine whenever I go anywhere new. You can tell a lot about a place by what food they serve.”
“Not to mention the drink,” she noted, eying Harry’s pineapple express cocktail with a grin.
“It’s an extremely refreshing drink,” he replied with a note of amusement in his voice. “I’m surprised you only wanted a beer.”
“Anything stronger than that at lunchtime and you’d have to carry me around for the rest of the day,” she said, laughing.
He tutted. “I don’t know, no stamina some people. Mind you, it’s probably for the best. I want to visit the magical section of the city later, and I’ll need you on your best behaviour. I imagine you’d be a bit of a trouble maker with a few drinks in you, Miss Weasley.”
“Cheek!” she protested, although she couldn’t help smirking.
This, she thought, was why she’d taken this job. She’d always wanted to travel and see new things, and here she was, sitting in a great restaurant in what looked like a very exciting city, eating wonderful food with her handsome employer.
Eating out with Harry was truly a great experience, she was rapidly learning. Food and drink seemed to be something of a passion for him, and he was always helpful in guiding her through the unfamiliar parts of the menu. Having him lavish attention on her while she enjoyed a superb lunch was just about as good as it got as far as she was concerned.
Regretfully, she spooned up the last of her meal, savouring the flavour as she took her last bite. She really didn’t eat enough seafood, she decided, assuming that good old fish and chips didn’t count. She took a last swig of her beer, and saw that Harry had finished eating, too. With a practiced flick of his wrist, he downed the last of his cocktail and signalled for the bill. The waiter nearly fell over himself to be of service, which amused Ginny. Harry was just one of those people who seemed to command respect wherever he went.
After paying the bill and leaving a tip so large that Ginny nearly gasped out loud, Harry led her outside into the warm, slightly humid air. Frankly, she couldn’t believe it was December it was so warm. Only the occasional shower threatened to spoil the pleasant weather.
“Apparently, it’s stifling here in the summer,” Harry informed her after she’d voiced her thoughts. “Not to mention they get hit by the odd hurricane.”
“I’m glad we came here now,” she agreed. “So, where to next, boss?”
“I wish you wouldn’t call me that, Ginny,” he winced. “Next, we’ll head over to the French Quarter, where I’m reliably informed that the city’s magical district is located.”
“How are we getting there?”
“I thought we’d just grab a taxi. The entrance is very close to the Omni Royal Hotel, so we’ll just ask for that.”
Flagging down a taxi proved to be no effort at all, and it wasn’t long before the driver had deposited them outside the regal-looking building. Harry led them down the street from the hotel, towards a brightly painted, three story building.
“Look for the green door, that’s what I was told,” Harry informed her, coming to a halt in front of the said entrance.
Without pausing, he pushed open the front door of the building and entered. Ginny immediately followed, and found herself inside a rather plain looking bar, dominated by a long, wooden counter. A grizzled, fat man looked up at them with little interest.
“Good afternoon to you,” Harry addressed him warmly. “I assume we’re in the correct place to enter the magical district?”
“Hey, Brits! What’da ya, know. We don’t get many foreigners coming down here. Yeah, buddy, just go through the door at the back. Then tap your wand on the empty beer barrel leaning against the wall, and you’ll be in.”
“Thanks for your help,” Harry nodded politely at the man, before leading Ginny through the door. The barrel the man had mentioned was sitting right in front of them.
“An empty beer barrel? That seem quite fitting for this place,” Ginny grinned.
“Yes, I suspect it’s a crime to waste alcohol in this city. I have to say, I’m liking the place more and more.”
“You would,” she laughed. “Come on, Harry, I’m dying to know what their version of Diagon Alley looks like.”
Harry removed his wand and tapped the barrel once. The plain brick wall that had previously barred their way seemed to dissolve before their eyes, revealing a busy street beyond.
“Wow, it’s a lot more colourful than Diagon Alley,” Ginny noted as they stepped through.
“Indeed, the place seems very vibrant, doesn’t it?” Harry agreed. “The architecture seems to be Spanish, I believe, with a few odd French influences. Every building seems to have a balcony, I note.”
“Yeah, it looks great. So, what exactly are we looking for here, or are you just looking to do a bit of shopping?”
“I’m always on the lookout for rare or attractive items, but today I do have a specific purpose for coming here,” he confirmed. “That name ‘The Baron’ struck a chord with me, and I believe him to be well known to the magical community here. I suggest we find a slightly shady looking establishment, and see if we can obtain some information.”
“Fair enough. Where do you want to try?”
“Nowhere in the main street,” Harry decided. “We’ll be better served by finding a place rather more off the beaten track.”
They walked down the main street with Ginny eagerly examining all the shops they passed. While many of them would have slotted in at home quite readily, others were more exotic and unfamiliar. She was, of course, aware of the Voodoo tradition of the city, but it still came as a surprise to see so many shops selling the related paraphernalia. All looked very bright and colourful compared to the items a British witch or wizard would use.
Eventually, they encountered a small side alley which immediately made her think of Knockturn Alley back home. Harry, of course, entered the shady side street without breaking step, and Ginny was forced to hurry after him. This alley was far less busy than the main street, and the few people who did occupy the place looked at them suspiciously.
Harry came to an abrupt stop outside a shop that bore a sign declaring itself to be ‘Erzulies House of Vodou’. Giving Ginny a quick grin, Harry pushed the door open and entered. Feeling a little apprehensive, she followed close behind.
“Don’t touch nothin’ unless you be buying it,” a voice immediately called out.
The shop was dark and cluttered, with all manner of strange and wonderful looking objects. One wall was entirely covered in what looked like poppet dolls, while another had multiple racks of potions. Lounging against a long counter was an attractive, young black woman who had her long hair in dreads. Her ample bosom was straining to be contained by a tight leather vest which was elaborately decorated. She regarded both of them with cool indifference.
“Good afternoon,” Harry said politely, nodding his head slightly to the woman.
“Well, seems we got us an Englishman here,” the woman drawled, her expression turning to one of amused interest. “You’re a long way from home, sugar. You sure you in da right place?”
“Quite sure,” Harry replied, favouring the woman with a warm smile. Ginny instantly recognised that he was turning on his not inconsiderable charm on the shopkeeper, and she was rather surprised to feel a pang of jealousy.
“In dat case, what can I do for you? If you get rid of little fire-hair over there, I’m sure I could do quite a lot for you,” the woman purred.
“I’m sure you could,” Harry smiled, coming over and leaning on the counter just inches from the woman. “Unfortunately, I’m not really looking for what you’re offering… at the moment. However, if you could provide me with a little bit of information, I’m sure I could make it well worth your while.”
“Really? Keep talking, handsome, and I’ll let you know if I can be of service,” she said with a seductive smile on her lips.
“It’s recently come to my attention that a local resident has come into possession of a rather rare magical object and I’m interested in trying to buy this object from him. Unfortunately, all the information I have about this man is what I assume is a nickname and the fact that he lives in this area.” Harry paused to remove a money bag from his trouser pocket and place it on the counter. “Any help you could provide on tracking this person down would be well rewarded, I promise.”
“What name were you given?” the woman asked huskily, leaning over so her face was just inches away from his.
The woman stood up straight and gasped, her eyes wide. Then, without warning, she burst out laughing.
“Oh, sugar, no, no, no! You do not want to be chasing after the Baron,” she managed to say, despite being nearly doubled up with laughter.
“Why not?” Harry demanded, with a frown on his face.
“Cos if the Baron has your little magical toy, it’s ‘cos the Baron wanted it, and nothing you can say or do will change that. You go and stir up trouble, and he’ll put you in a coffin and nail it shut permanently, honey.”
“I have no intention of causing this man any trouble. I merely want to speak with him,” Harry implored.
“Handsome, I’m going to do you a big favour. I’m going to send you packing out of my shop, and I ain’t gonna tell you nothing about da Baron! You can forget about asking anyone else about him either. Ain’t no one around here who’s gonna tell you ‘bout him. The more questions you ask, the more trouble you’re gonna find yourself in. Now, scram!”
“I see,” Harry said, standing up straight and turning to leave. “I guess I have no choice other than to… Imperio!”
Harry had drawn his wand and turned in one fluid motion. The woman had no chance to avoid the spell, at all, and her eyes widened for a split second, before her features relaxed and she stood absolutely still.
“Harry! That was an Unforgivable you used!” Ginny cried in alarm.
“Wasn’t the first time, I doubt it will be the last,” he replied with a shrug. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt her in any way. In fact, once we’re gone she won’t even remember we were here. Normally, I would just use Legilimency on someone to obtain information, but this woman is extremely resistant to it. In fact, I can sense she’s fighting the Imperius Curse even as we speak. We’d better be quick with this. You’d better lock the door so we’re not disturbed.”
“Okay,” she agreed reluctantly, but hurried over to the door and bolted it closed. She turned the ‘open’ sign to ‘closed’ for good measure. While she wasn’t at all comfortable about Harry’s methods, she really didn’t want to be caught while he was practicing them.
She returned to the counter to find Harry was already questioning the woman. She spoke in a slow, dead voice.
“…house in the Garden District, but no one goes there without an invite. The Baron, he has mighty strong magic, and you don’t wanna be messing with him.”
“What’s his real name?” Harry demanded.
“Baron Samedi, and he’s one of the Loa.”
“Shit!” Harry cursed.
“Is that bad?” Ginny asked him nervously.
“Very bad. The Loa are demi-gods of the Vodou religion. I’ve heard of this Samedi character and he’s supposed to be their god of the dead.”
“A god?” Ginny gasped. “Are you joking?”
“Not in the slightest. Of course, the modern interpretation of a god has become rather confused and this person is probably not what you imagine when you hear that word, but it’s still very likely he is someone with enormous magical power and knowledge.”
“Harry, taking on werewolves is one thing, but this is insane! You can’t seriously be thinking of continuing your quest, can you?”
“Why not?” he grinned. “I’ve never met a god before and, besides, I’m sure if we approach him in the right way he’ll at least talk to us.”
“Have you only just noticed?” he laughed, before turning back to the shop owner. “Now, you, what did you say your name was, girl?”
“Loretta,” she answered immediately.
“Well, Loretta, you’re going to tell me everything you know about the Baron, including the safest way to approach him.”
As the girl began to talk, Ginny listened intently. Despite her objections, she had to admit she was curious about this mysterious demi-god, too. She just hoped that Harry knew what the hell he was doing.
Nervously, Ginny trailed behind Harry as he confidently opened the gate that led to a large, white mansion which was situated in the Garden District of the city. Despite her mounting trepidation, she had to admit she shared a little of her employer’s fascination at the idea of meeting a demi-god. The fact that he would be found living here surprised her, however.
For a start, the houses in this immediate area all appeared to have been modernised and clearly this was a very wealthy part of the city. In her head, she’d had images of romantic but dilapidated buildings, covered in Spanish moss, all displaying signs of fallen grandeur and harbouring memories of better days. Instead, this appeared to be an area on the up and up. Although most of the houses did appear quite old, by American standards at least, most of them were in immaculate condition, with well-tended gardens and expensive cars parked in their driveways.
Baron Samedi’s house appeared no different. As they walked up the front path, she could see that the front door of the property appeared to be brand new and quite sturdy. In fact, the whole place seemed to reek of being extremely secure and well protected, despite its native charm. Harry appeared supremely unconcerned by this and, with his usual confidence, rang the doorbell without hesitation.
After a surprisingly short amount of time, the door opened revealing a tall black man dressed in what Ginny assumed was a butler’s uniform. He looked at them with something approaching repugnance on his face.
“Yes?” he drawled in a deep voice.
“Good afternoon,” Harry greeted the man graciously. “My name is Harry Potter and I’m a wizard visiting your country from England. While in this city, I learnt that your employer was residing here and naturally felt I should visit to pay my respects. Is your employer available to accept visitors?”
Ginny gaped at Harry in amazement. She certainly hadn’t expected him to turn up at the door of a complete stranger and announce himself to be a wizard. Even so, the butler seemed unmoved by the statement and, if anything, seemed even more contemptuous.
“Wait here,” the man said simply and closed the door. Harry turned and offered Ginny a mischievous smile.
“Was that a good idea? I mean, just blurting out who you are?” she demanded.
Harry shrugged. “We’re hopefully about to visit with a demi-god. Lying would have achieved very little, I imagine.”
Accepting that logic, she just curtly nodded. This was starting to seem less and less of a good idea.
It was some minutes before the door opened and revealed the butler, again. He regarded them with cold, hard eyes for a second.
“The Baron will see you,” he informed them.
“Excellent,” Harry said. “After you, my dear.”
Almost before she knew what was happening, Ginny found herself ushered into the large house. The inside proved to be a lot more modern than she was expecting, with pristine white walls and polished wood flooring. The butler had already started down the entrance hall, so she hurried after him, dimly aware of the front door closing behind them, apparently of its own accord.
The butler was walking at a rapid pace, so she didn’t have long to examine the property as they went. From what she saw of it, however, she was disappointed. The whole place looked just like a modern Muggle house, and a rather sterile and uninteresting one, at that. Harry’s residence in Grimmauld Place was far more appealing to her mind.
Unexpectedly, she found herself blinking as she stepped out into bright sunlight. The butler had led them through a side door and outside. In front of her was a large swimming pool which was surrounded by a paved patio area. By the side of the pool were two people, both dressed in swimwear and relaxing on chaise lounges. As they approached, Ginny had a better look at the pair of them.
The woman was lusciously beautiful, with her one piece swimsuit doing little to conceal her full, sensual figure. Like the girl in the shop they’d encountered earlier, her hair was braided but somehow this woman’s style was classier and more appealing. As they approached, she looked up at them through her dark glasses and offered them a smile.
A few feet away, the second chaise lounge was occupied by a man. He looked to be very tall, and his dark skin seemed to glisten in the sunshine. He too wore dark glasses, but seemed completely unaware that he had company. Instead, with his body reclined gracefully, his hand shot out and grasped a glass of dark liquid which was perched on a small table next to him. In one fluid movement, he raised the glass to his lips and drained the contents in one go. Oddly, by the time he placed the glass back on the table it seemed to have refilled itself.
“Well, we appear to have company, how nice,” the woman said with a distinct Caribbean accent.
“Allow me to introduce us,” Harry said in a respectful tone. “My name is Harry Potter, and I am, if I might be so immodest, a wizard of some repute in my homeland. The beautiful young lady accompanying me is my assistant, and I hope, my friend, Ginny Weasley. We were travelling in these parts and felt it was only right and proper to come and show our respects.”
At this introduction, the man had sat up and removed his sunglasses. He stared directly at Ginny, much to her discomfort.
“Well, now, look at this! Now ain’t that a beautiful sight,” he drawled. “Tell me, white boy, is this pretty little thing an offering to me, ‘cos I’d be mighty pleased if it is.”
Ginny felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise, and her fingers twitched as she started to reach for her wand, currently inside her shoulder bag. The woman, however, forestalled her.
“Samedi! Is that any way to treat a guest? I’m sorry, Miss Ginny, my husband has the manners of a pig sometimes. My name, if you are unaware, is Maman Brigitte and I have the unfortunate burden of being married to this reprobate.”
“We’re charmed to make your acquaintance,” Harry said, and stepped forward to take Maman Brigitte’s hand, which he placed a kiss upon. Ginny couldn’t help but notice the apparent amusement on the Baron’s face as Harry did this.
“You’ll find my wife is a lot more neighbourly than I am,” Samedi announced, although there was definitely amusement in his tone. “You best be having a good reason for calling on me, white boy.”
“Naturally, I wouldn’t dream of disturbing you without good purpose,” Harry said, completely unruffled. “But first, you mentioned an offering. While I regret my lovely companion isn’t available to fulfil that role, I have brought a token of my respect. May I?”
Harry had half drawn his wand and looked at Samedi with a questioning expression. The man gave a slight nod, and Harry withdrew his wand fully and gave it a casual wave. Suddenly, a large crate appeared by the side of Samedi’s lounger. With an amused expression on his face, the dark-skinned man swung his legs over and stood up. Without any apparent effort, he pulled the top off the crate and looked inside. A look of genuine pleasure appeared on his face when he saw what was inside.
“Well, now, you do know how to show proper respect!” he exclaimed, and pulled a bottle of dark liquid from the crate. “50% proof Jamaican rum! Damn it, white boy, I ain’t had this brand for a dozen years or more. Where’d you get this?”
“I have contacts,” Harry said depreciatively. “I hope it’s to your taste.”
“How many bottles are in that crate?” Maman Brigitte asked in a resigned manner.
“Damn, he won’t be sober for a month!” she cursed.
“Ha! I’d better make a start then,” Samedi declared, grinning like a schoolboy. “Get your ass over here, white boy. You and me are gonna have a little drink. You, too, red.”
With a casual wave of his hand, four tall glasses appeared on the table next to him, and the one he had been drinking from vanished. Samedi poured an extremely generous amount of rum into three of the glasses, before looking up at his wife questioningly.
“You think I’m going to refuse some of the good stuff?” she snorted with derision.
Samedi chortled and filled the remaining glass. The drinks were distributed, allowing Ginny to take a cautious sniff of the liquid. The smell of the rum was nearly enough to make her pass out.
“To our gracious guests,” Samedi announced, and promptly drained half his glass in one go. Harry and Brigitte copied his actions, but Ginny could only manage a small mouthful before she started coughing. She could feel the rum burning her insides as she swallowed. Samedi, of course, found this hilarious.
“Oh, your sweet little thing there can’t hold her booze,” he said to Harry. “Still, if we can get her drunk who knows what fun we can have?”
Ginny felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up again. There was definitely something about Samedi that creeped her out, and it wasn’t just the crude comments that he was throwing in her direction. She remembered Harry had told her that Samedi was worshiped as a god of the dead, and that seemed strangely appropriate. Although he looked handsome and athletic, there was definitely a graveyard stench about hm.
“You know, I really have no desire to watch you boys drink yourselves into insensibility,” Brigitte declared. “Ginny and I are going to go inside and have a proper conversation.”
“What? My pretty ladies are deserting me? Damn, no!” Samedi exclaimed.
Mercifully, Brigitte ignored him and had taken Ginny’s arm, steering her back through the door into the house. They headed into a large sitting room which was immaculately decorated. Brigitte took a seat on a huge, squashy sofa and patted the seat next to her as an invitation to Ginny. She sat down willingly, still clutching her glass of near-toxic rum.
“I’m afraid your friend out there isn’t going to leave this house sober,” Brigitte began. “Samedi will insist that he drinks with him and I expect he will carry on until well into the evening.”
“It’s okay. Harry can handle his drink.”
“Oh, trust me, no one can drink like Samedi!” Brigitte snorted. “So, Potter described you as his assistant and friend. Is that all you are to him?”
“Uh, yes. It’s a very professional arrangement. In fact, I think it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say we’re even friends. I’ve only know him for a few weeks, after all.”
“Really?” Brigitte drawled. “That’s one handsome man that you’re working for, sugar. Still, you’d be best resisting temptation when it comes to him, I think.”
“What? Why?” Ginny asked, sounding rather more outraged than she’d intended. Brigitte stared at her calmly through her large, dark eyes.
“Do you know who I am, Ginny? Who I really am?” she asked eventually. “I’m one of the Loa. I have powers like you couldn’t even imagine. I might look damn hot, but I’m actually hundreds of years old, and I have thousands of worshipers who offer their prayers to me every day. My main attribute is judgement, and I actually have a job as a fancy, high-paid lawyer, just ‘cos I enjoy it. I only have to take one look at a client and know whether they’re innocent or guilty. But I tell you, girl, in all my days I’ve never met anyone like your pretty employer out there.”
“Because there’s a mystery to him, and there ain’t no mysteries to Maman Brigitte,” the dark woman said with a note of anger in her voice. “I can’t read him, and that makes him dangerous in my book. I understand he’s famous in your country because he kicked some evil wizard’s butt?”
“Yeah, he defeated the Dark Lord V…Voldemort,” Ginny confirmed. Even now she struggled to even say the name.
“I can feel he’s powerful, but what’s so special about him? I’ve known plenty of powerful wizards in my time, even slept with a few, but I’ve never got the feeling I got off Potter from any of them.”
“As I said, I’ve only known him for a short while,” Ginny repeated. “No one knows exactly how he defeated Voldemort, and he won’t say.”
Brigitte gazed intently at her for a moment, until Ginny started to feel very uncomfortable. She really didn’t want to talk behind Harry’s back, as it felt like a betrayal of confidence. Eventually, Brigitte dropped her gaze and took a long pull on her drink.
“You just be careful about him, honey,” she advised. “There’s something off about that boy. He’s dangerous.”
Ginny said nothing. Really, what was there to say?
It was well after ten in the evening when they left the Loa’s house. The two men had been drinking continually all that time, and from where she was sitting Ginny could hear their raucous laughter and snatches of extremely dirty jokes being shared. Fortunately, Brigitte had not questioned Ginny on her employer any further, and the two of them had actually started to get along quite well. They even shared a light dinner while the men continued drinking.
While Ginny’s assessment of Harry’s drinking capabilities seemed to have been proved correct, Brigitte’s comments about her husband’s capacity had been equally valid. By the time it came for them to leave, Harry could barely stand. Ginny found herself, quite literally, dragging him out of the front door and towards a waiting taxi which Brigitte had thoughtfully arranged.
Once they were in the car, Harry just slumped in the seat, his head lolling as the car started moving.
“You folks had a good night, then?” the driver asked in amusement.
“Some of us better than others,” Ginny replied. Just the smell of Harry’s breath was getting her drunk. She dreaded to think how many bottles of that rot-gut rum he and Samedi had consumed.
The driver fortunately managed to get them back to their hotel without incident, and even helped her half-carry Harry inside. From there, a young concierge took over and between them they helped get Harry to his room. Ginny was just about to thank the young man for his help, when he ruined it by informing her that he was due to finish work shortly and would be more than willing to ‘keep her company’ while her man was incapacitated. Her response was to tell him that he’d just blown the generous tip she had been about to give him before throwing him out of the room.
They’d booked adjoining rooms and she was just about to head to her own room for a quick shower before bed, when she stopped. Something made her turn and look back at her sleeping employer. On a whim, she walked back to the bed and sat on the edge of it. Harry was sound asleep. She’d removed his shoes and socks, but hadn’t felt comfortable doing anything more than that initially.
Not knowing why she was doing it, Ginny began to unbutton his shirt. Once she had it open, she realised she was doing this the hard way and pulled out her wand. With a flick she removed the shirt from his back, leaving him topless. After a moment’s hesitation, she removed his trousers, too. He now lay on his back, clad only in a pair of boxer shorts.
Almost against her will, she reached out and placed her hand on his chest, her fingers lightly brushing his skin. She could feel the taught muscles underneath, and she began to tremble. Gently, she let her hand run down his body, her excitement growing at the feel of his flesh under her fingers. She had paused on his abs, and she realised she didn’t have the courage to venture any lower. Not at the moment, anyway.
She leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on his partially open lips. He stirred in his sleep slightly, but didn’t wake. Silently, Ginny stood and headed into her own room. She showered and made ready for bed quickly, and once between the soft sheets she stared at the ceiling for a moment.
Maman Brigitte had called Harry ‘dangerous’. As she lay in the darkness, Ginny pondered why that statement had just made her want him all the more.
Next morning, Harry understandably rose late and took his breakfast in the privacy of his own room. Ginny had been up for some time, but joined him for a coffee as he began to explain to her what had happened the previous night.
“My ego took a large knock,” he informed her between forkfuls of scrambled egg. “I thought I was an accomplished drinker, but Samedi wiped the floor with me. He was still relatively sober while I was being carried out.”
“Brigitte did say that no one could match him,” she said sympathetically. “How many bottles did the two of you get through?”
“I’m not sure. Things started to get hazy after we opened the third.”
Ginny snorted in amusement. “Did you actually remember to bring up the subject of the Moon Hare at any point in the evening?”
“I did,” Harry confirmed before virtually downing his glass of orange juice in one go. “He won’t sell it.”
“So this was all a waste of time?” she asked, surprising herself at how disappointed she was.
“Not exactly. He flatly refused to sell it, but he did say that he would give us the opportunity to win it.”
“Win it? How? Not another drinking contest, I hope.”
“No, we wouldn’t stand a chance, if that was the case,” Harry admitted with a pained expression. “Actually, he didn’t really give me many details, other than we have to be at Lafayette Cemetery tonight at midnight.”
“A cemetery? Oh good. As long as he didn’t pick anywhere creepy or unpleasant,” Ginny noted.
Harry just chuckled. “What do you expect from a man worshipped as the god of death by his people? I expect that’s where he feels most at home.”
“Brilliant,” she said with a distinct note of sarcasm in her voice. “So, what do you reckon he’ll do? Some sort of test or competition?”
“Something like that. I got the impression he was a very competitive man,” Harry said as he finished off the last of his breakfast.
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Ginny said. “So, what are we going to do for the rest of the day?”
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going back to bed for a few hours,” he announced before standing and heading over to the large bed that dominated the room. As he was about to climb in, he looked back at Ginny with a mischievous grin. “You’re welcome to join me, of course.”
“It’s alright, Harry. I’m not angling for a pay raise just yet,” she replied with a cheeky smile.
“Shame. Come and wake me for lunch, would you?”
“Of course. Sleep well,” she told him, before closing the curtains and leaving the room.
Fortunately, she had packed a couple of books for the trip so she had something to occupy her for the next few hours. Soon, she was settled in a comfy chair that had a wonderful view out of the window in her room and a cool glass of iced water beside her, happy in the knowledge that her boss had definitely been flirting with her that time.
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Chapter 5: Chapter 5 - Death Shall Rise
Author's Notes: Huge thanks to Arnel, as always, and also to (ex-) Mrs Brennus for her continued support and extensive knowledge of all things weird. Probably why she married me, originally.
Chapter 5 — Death Shall Rise
They stood in a secluded, paved area that was well-lit by Muggle electric lights. Around them, only half visible in the darkness, were various tombs and crypts, all organised into neat rows with paths running between them. Although by no means cold, there was a definite chill in the air.
“Where is he, then?” Ginny demanded. “It’s past midnight.”
“I rather got the impression that strict timekeeping wasn’t one of Samedi’s great strengths. He came over as too anarchic to worry about things like that,” Harry replied casually. He seemed far too comfortable in this creepy location for Ginny’s taste.
“You don’t think this was just a hoax, do you? That he won’t show and we’ll be standing here like mugs all evening?”
“No, I suspect Samedi likes a contest. Virtually all of yesterday evening he was challenging me to something: who could drink five shots the quickest, who could tell the filthiest joke, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, who won that one?” she asked with interest.
“I did,” Harry replied with a grin. “I told him the one about the two Veela and the lonely centaur.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard that one before,” she admitted.
“Trust me, Ginny, you’d need a few stiff drinks in you before I’d risk telling it in your presence,” he chuckled. “My godfather normally reserved it for whenever he met pureblood ladies he decided needed a shock to their sensibilities. He was thrown out of a lot of important functions for telling it.”
Ginny laughed. “You’ll definitely have to tell me it now.”
“Yeah, white boy, tell the sweet young thing your joke. I’d like to see a nice glow in dem pretty cheeks.”
They both spun around, and were shocked to see Baron Samedi perched on top of a nearby tomb, grinning at them manically. He looked radically different to when they’d last seen him, however. He wore a black tail coat and a top hat, while his face had been painted a ghastly shade of white, as if to resemble a skull. In his hand he held a staff with various objects tied to it, and he was also smoking a fat cigar.
“Ah, Baron Samedi,” Harry said in greeting. “Glad you could make it. I must say, your appearance tonight is far more in keeping with how I imagined you would look. You seemed far too restrained back at the house.”
“Well, white boy, what can I say? I don’t wear my work clothes while I’m relaxing. Now, as I recall, you two are wanting this pretty little trinket here, ain’t you?”
Samedi held up something in his free hand that dimly glinted in the artificial light. Ginny assumed that it was the part of the Moon Hare that they had come to New Orleans seeking.
“That’s correct,” Harry confirmed. “So, what task have you in mind to allow us to win it?”
Without warning, Samedi sprang into the air like a frog and landed gracefully on the ground in front of them. He turned and gave Ginny a lustful smile that made her take a step back fearfully. Then, with a dramatic flourish, Samedi produced a single white rose which he offered to her.
“A rose for the beautiful English rose,” he informed her silkily. “All you two gots to do is lay this rose on the tomb of a great friend of mine, Marie Laveau. Her tomb is to be found three blocks down. You’ll recognise it instantly ‘cos of all the flowers laid out in front of it. She was so dearly loved, was my Marie.”
“That’s it? We just have to find her tomb?” Ginny blurted in surprise.
“That’s all, my sweet little angel,” Samedi purred, before turning and walking back towards the tomb he’d previously been on top of. Before he reached it, however, he turned suddenly and brandished his staff.
“Maybe you’s right! Maybe that’s just too easy for powerful magicians such as yourselves,” he said thoughtfully, before making a sweeping downward motion with the staff. Something instantly appeared in his free hand. “Maybe this will make things a bit fairer.”
Ginny suddenly realised what he was holding and her hand immediately went to her back pocket, which she found to be empty.
“Our wands!” she cried.
“Yeah, let’s see how you two do without your little sticks,” Samedi said with glee. “Oh, did I forget to mention that I’ve brought some of my friends along to join in the fun? Come and meet them now!”
There was a scrapping noise to their left and the pair of them turned to see the door of one of the crypts slowly open with a horrid grinding noise. For a moment, nothing could be seen inside the dark tomb before a hand slowly emerged into the light. The hand was practically skeletal, with lumps of rotting flesh hanging from it. The whole arm emerged, with a few dirty rags hanging from it, before the whole body could be seen. A horrid, rotting face glared at them with malicious intent, broken teeth bared, and its fingers outstretched towards them.
“An Inferius,” Harry hissed.
“Oh, more than one!” Samedi cackled. “Take a look around, white boy! Oh, and we call ‘em zombies around here. Good luck and have fun, you crazy kids!”
Samedi vanished from sight, but Ginny barely noticed. Her attention was caught by the fact that every single crypt or tomb around them was opening, and bodies in various states of decay were crawling out. She stared at them in horror.
“Feeling energetic?” Harry asked.
“If by that you mean, ‘am I ready to start running?’, then the answer is bloody right!” she snapped.
“Come on, then!” he yelled and launched himself forward. Ginny was hot on his heels, but even so she narrowly missed being grabbed by the clawing hand of one of the Inferi.
“Where are we going?” she yelled as they ran blindly into the dark, with only the pale shapes of the tombs to guide them.
“Towards Laveau’s tomb,” Harry called back.
“And where the hell is that?” she demanded, her breathing starting to become laboured.
“Damned if I know, but I think we should keep running, anyway!”
Ginny risked a glance back, and she was horrified to see that the Inferi were not only coming after them, but that they seemed capable of running at a surprising speed. For some reason, she’d always assumed that they would only be able to move at a shambling pace. These ones, however, appeared more than capable of running.
“Shit! They’re right on our heels!” Ginny cursed.
“Eyes front and keep moving,” Harry yelled back.
Deciding to save her breath, Ginny bit back her sharp response and did as she was instructed. It was fortunate that the pathway that ran between the tombs was quite level, because in the dim light they could have easily tripped and fallen. As it was, they had virtually no warning when the path abruptly stopped before a high, stone wall and the pathway split both left and right. After only a moment’s hesitation, Harry grabbed Ginny’s hand and pulled her down the right-hand path.
“What do we do when we find the right tomb?” Ginny managed to gasp as they sprinted down the footpath, which was even darker than the main throughway had been.
“Nothing, we can’t do anything with those creatures right behind us,” Harry replied, his breathing ragged. “I doubt that even placing the rose on it will persuade Samedi to call off his zombies.”
It came as something of a shock to Ginny that she was still clutching the white rose in her hand. With a growl of frustration, she shoved the flower into the front pocket of her jeans.
“What can we… do without… wands?” she demanded, really starting to struggle for breath. Running wasn’t something she could ever claim to do on a regular basis.
“We need to put some distance between us and them,” he said. “Come on, we need to pick up our pace.”
Ginny was about to angrily reply that she couldn’t run any faster, but a quick glance over her shoulder convinced her that Harry was right. The Inferi were only about ten yards behind them. Their pursuit was all the more sinister as the undead monsters were completely silent as they ran.
Digging into reserves she didn’t know she possessed, Ginny lengthened her stride and began to push as hard as she could. Harry comfortably matched her increased pace, and it suddenly occurred to her that he had been deliberately holding himself back, and that he could probably have ran much faster if he’d wanted. She felt a surge of gratitude that he’d had no thought of leaving her behind.
They continued running and it dawned on her that they were moving along the perimeter of the cemetery and that safety probably could be found on just the other side of the wall. Unfortunately, it was an extremely high wall and had metal spikes running along the top of it, so climbing it would be impossible unless they found a ladder or something similar. Besides, she suspected the Inferi would just follow them over the wall, anyway. They seemed very singular in their purpose, which was probably to rip her and Harry to pieces with their bare hands.
Unexpectedly, the row of tombs on their right hand side ended and they emerged into an open space which in the dark looked to be a garden. Ginny was filled with the horrible feeling that they might just run into a wall or gate and be trapped. At least the pathway had offered some comfort in that respect.
“There! Over there!” Harry cried suddenly.
He started to veer to his right and she found herself running over a neatly cut lawn. A moment later, she saw what Harry had been heading for — a long, low building. They screeched to a halt in front of it and Harry tried the door. Even in the darkness, Ginny could see a padlock securing it.
“Shit!” she cursed.
“Don’t worry. I know a little wandless magic, enough to get this open, anyway,” he announced, grabbing the padlock. It sprang open in his fingers, and Harry pushed the door open.
Not needing to be told, Ginny leapt into the building, closely followed by Harry. He slammed the door shut and put his shoulder to it, not a moment too soon. The door buckled as something impacted against it hard.
“Quick, give me a hand here,” he instructed her urgently.
Ginny threw her own meagre bodyweight against the door, even as she felt it shudder. Fortunately, this gave Harry the time he needed to slide a bolt, which appeared to be the only visible lock on this side of the door, into place. They stepped back as the door again shuddered, but fortunately held.
“That’s not going to keep them out for long,” Ginny noted, her heart racing at what seemed like a thousand beats a second. She then jumped as the room was bathed in light.
“Found the electric like switch,” he informed her. Although not as apparently exhausted as she was, his breathing was definitely laboured and he was sweating profusely.
“Where are we?” she asked, glancing around the small building. It looked like it was filled with all manner of tools and objects.
“I suspect we’re in the gardeners shed,” he replied. “Hopefully we can find something useful in here.”
“Yeah, perhaps a set of especially lethal pruning shears. That’s bound to stop them,” she muttered darkly.
“Ah, Ginny, I do think your sense of humour is my favourite thing about you,” Harry chuckled. He’d already started to root through the various implements in the room, intent on finding anything that could help them. A moment later, he handed her a shovel.
“Here, if they break through try swinging that at their heads.”
She took the shovel and hefted it experimentally. It was probably of no use at all, but for some reason having a potential weapon in her hands made her feel a little bit better. Harry went back to his scavenging, until he stopped abruptly in front of what Ginny thought was some large, over-complicated lawnmower.
“A petrol-driven lawnmower,” he murmured to himself. “And what does a petrol-driven lawnmower run on?”
He hurriedly searched around, and a moment later triumphantly lifted a metal can with both hands. With some effort, he gave it a small shake, before breaking out into a wide smile.
“It’s nearly full,” he exclaimed happily. “Now, if I can just find some matches…”
“Harry, I don’t think this door is going to last much longer!” Ginny cried fearfully.
“I’m coming,” he called, running back to her. “Here, let me have that shovel for a second.”
Handing over her only weapon, Ginny stood and watched in amazement as Harry started to ram the head of the shovel forcefully against the corrugated-iron roof of the shed. While the walls of the small building were made of sturdy brick, the roof proved much more flimsy and it took him only a few moments to break through.
“Harry, what are you doing? I’m pretty sure those Inferi are capably of climbing!”
“Fear not, my beautiful assistant, for I have a plan!” he exclaimed in a cocksure manner that annoyed her no end.
Having made an opening in the roof, Harry handed the shovel back to her and then grabbed a ladder that had been propped up against one wall. With a little manoeuvring, he managed to get it through the gap in the ceiling. He then ran back and grabbed the metal can and with some effort carried it over to the ladder.
“Here, help me lift this,” he instructed.
“What are you planning?” she demanded.
“What’s the most effective weapon against Inferi?”
Ginny paused, trying to remember her old Defence Against the Dark Arts classes.
“Fire!” she exclaimed suddenly.
Harry shook a box of matches at her and grinned. “I think it’s time we went on the offensive, don’t you?”
Realising what he intended, Ginny helped him as he lifted the heavy can up the ladder. Eventually between them they managed to get it onto the roof. Although she could now only see his legs, she could hear him pushing the can forward overhead. She then began to smell something pungent; a scent she associated with her visits to Muggle areas and their motorcars. A moment later, Harry ducked his head down to talk to her.
“Okay, I’ve pushed the can towards the edge of the roof and opened it. It’s currently spilling petrol all over our zombie friends. I’m going to throw a lit match down there next, so stand back because I’m not sure if it will explode.”
“You mean, you could just be about to blow us both to kingdom come?” she gasped.
“Very possibly, but as I think the Inferi are just moments away from breaking down the door, can you suggest a better plan?”
Ginny glanced fearfully at the door, which was buckling alarmingly.
“No, go on, you maniac. If we’re going down, we might as well take the bastards with us.”
“That’s the spirit! Get ready,” he advised.
A moment later there was a tremendous whooshing sound, and light flared from underneath the door.
“What’s happening, Harry?” Ginny called out.
“It’s working!” he cried happily after ducking his head back in. “The petrol has spread everywhere, and the Inferi are lighting up like a Christmas tree! Fortunately, they appear to have limited intelligence and keep pushing forward so the whole lot of them are catching fire.”
“Ah, one thing, though. It looks like the shed has caught fire, too. I think we’d better make a rapid exit. Up you come, Ginny, and we’ll crawl over the roof and jump out the back.”
Taking one look at the wooden door which was now clearly on fire, she hastily scrambled up the ladder and followed Harry as he climbed fully onto the roof. It certainly didn’t feel very secure and she was afraid they would just fall straight through. Harry flattened himself out, presumably to spread his weight, and began to slowly crawl towards the back of the shed. Ginny copied him, praying the fragile roof would hold. It was with great relief that they reached the far edge and simply rolled off. They landed with a thump on a patch of grass.
“Do you think we got all the Inferi?” Ginny asked nervously as they climbed to their feet.
“There might be the odd survivor, and I think we’d better try and take them out or they’ll be at our heels. Still got that shovel? Good. Let’s see what’s left.”
They edged back around the shed, through billowing clouds of smoke that had begun to form. The night sky was lit up by the flames and Ginny’s nostrils filled with the disgusting scent of burning flesh. Unlike in Germany where the smell had appalled her, this time she took it to be a good omen.
As they reached the corner, Harry took a quick peek round.
“There’s just one left,” he informed her. “The stupid thing is just standing there like it can’t figure out why all its chums are laying on the floor burning. Still, we can soon take care of that. Shovel please, Miss Weasley, if you’d be so kind.”
“Of course, Mr Potter,” she replied, handing him the tool. His confident attitude seemed to be infectious.
Giving it one experiment swing, Harry took a deep breath and charged. Ginny was hard on his heels, although she came to an abrupt halt when she caught sight of the carnage in front of the shed. The whole area was like a huge bonfire, with bodies burning brightly everywhere. Harry ignored all this, and headed straight for the one figure that remained upright, standing near the edge of the flames.
The Inferi saw him running towards it, but didn’t have time to react. With one mighty swing, it’s head was severed from it’s shoulders by Harry’s shovel. Comically, it remained standing, it’s arms outstretched and grouping blindly. With measured calmness, Harry walked behind it and, with a shove of his boot, pushed it into the flames. The Inferi toppled into the fire and began to flail wildly as it started to burn. It took some minutes before it ceased to move.
“Well, that’s taken care of that,” Harry announced, walking back towards her with a smug grin on his face.
“What’s to stop Samedi just raising more of these things?” she asked warily.
“Absolutely nothing. I therefore suggest we find Marie Laveau’s tomb as quickly as possible. You do still have the rose, don’t you?”
Ginny reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out the white rose. It was rather mashed after being shoved in there so roughly.
“Ah, well. I don’t suppose we get bonus points for presentation,” he said. “Come on, let’s head back the way we came. I think I have a rough idea where to look.”
In the end, they found the tomb with remarkable ease. They’d headed back down the narrow pathway with the wall running alongside it and, about halfway down, they encountered a small, rectangular tomb that was surrounded by flowers. A plaque was mounted next to the door, and Harry squinted at it in the dim light.
“This is it. We must have run straight passed it earlier.”
“We had other things to worry about then,” Ginny pointed out, before bending down and placing the white rose on the concrete step. Almost immediately, she heard the sound of a slow handclap coming from nearby.
The both spun round and saw Baron Samedi standing just a few feet away from them. He’d arrived completely silently, and stood there looking at them with a hard expression on his face.
“So, white boy and da pretty rose gave my pets the slip, did they?” he drawled in an unfriendly tone. “Well, ain’t they just the cat’s whiskers!”
“We’ve done what you asked, Samedi. We’ve beaten your challenge,” Harry said firmly, before stepping forward with his hand outstretched. “Now, I believe that you have something for me?”
“You think I’m just gonna hand it over to you, white boy? You think that beating a few of my zombies gives you some sort of power over me? Man, you’re dumber than you look!”
“Do I take it you’re reneging on our bet?”
“Reneging? Well, just listen to Mr Cultured Englishman there! I never had any intention of handing that pretty little jewel over to you, boy. I was just playing with ya. Are you really so arrogant that you think you can make a deal with Baron Samedi? I’m a Loa, fool, and I don’t make no deals with shitty little wizards like you. Ain’t much use without your little stick, are you, boy?”
“You treacherous bastard,” Ginny growled.
“You’d best be nice to me, little rose,” Samedi snapped, turning towards her. “In fact, you’d best be real nice to me, unless you want the same thing to happen to you that’s gonna happen to your boyfriend here.”
“What are you planning to do?” she demanded, almost shaking with rage at the man’s duplicity.
“I’m the god of the dead, baby, and I can turn a living human being into a rotting zombie with a wave of my hand. White boy here needs to learn his place in the world, and that you don’t be going trying to make deals with gods. I’m gonna turn him into one of the undead, and then find a nice, cosy tomb to stick him in. He’s gonna lie in that coffin, fully aware of what’s happening to him, until I decide to fetch him out. Who knows, I might think about doing that in a few hundred years or so.”
Ginny gasped in horror.
“As for you, sweet-cheeks, you gonna be warming my bed until I get bored with you. When the Baron wants a woman, that woman best be spreading her legs for him pretty damn quick, if she knows what’s good for her.”
“You bastard! You bloody bastard! If you think I’m just going to roll over and drop my knickers for you, you’ve got another thing coming. We’ll fight you any way we can! Right, Harry? Harry?”
Ginny looked over at her employer in concern. Ever since Samedi had revealed his treachery, Harry had remained rooted to the spot, just looking at the man dispassionately. Slowly, he turned his head and looked at her without expression. Without saying a word, he turned his head back to Samedi and took a step forward.
“Do your worst,” Harry said.
Samedi sneered at him.
“Oh, white boy, you all big and brave now, but just wait until you’ve been rotting in your coffin for a few years. You’re just about to find out what hell’s like, boy!”
The man flourished his staff, and gave an almost inhuman cry, before slamming the wooden pole into the ground at Harry’s feet. Samedi grinned evilly, his perfect white teeth gleaming in the dark.
Slowly, the smile began to slide from Samedi’s face. Again, he struck the ground with his staff, but nothing appeared to happen. He repeated the action again and again, each time with no noticeable effect.
“You know what, Samedi? You’re an idiot,” Harry said suddenly, before lunged forward and snatching the staff from the Loa’s hands. Then, quick as lightning, Harry swung it and smashed the man in the face. Samedi was knocked backwards and collapsed in a heap on the ground. He shook his head once and looked up at Harry in surprise.
“How? How did you do that? I’m the God of Death, man. I can snatch a man’s life away like it ain’t no thing! How did you resist me?”
“You might be the God of Death, but I’m the Master of Death!” Harry announced imperiously. “I have already passed through the veil of death, and returned to walk this earth once more. I have united the Deathly Hallows, and wield their power. You, you back-stabbing arsehole, have no power over me!”
Ginny stared at him in shock. The Deathly Hallows? They were just a fairy story, weren’t they? Some fanciful tale in a children’s book. And what did he mean, ‘passed through the veil of death and returned’?
“Our wands, please,” Harry said, standing threateningly over Samedi.
“Okay, okay. You got it, man,” he replied and, a moment later, their wands appeared in Samedi’s previously empty hand. Harry reached down and snatched them from him, before turning and handing one of the wands to Ginny. She took the familiar piece of wood gratefully.
“And now, Samedi, I believe you owe me a piece of the Moon Hare,” Harry announced, still holding Samedi’s staff like a weapon.
Samedi looked at Harry hatefully, but a second later something appeared in his hand which glinted in the faint light of the moon. Harry reached over and took it, holding it up to his face so he could admire it.
“Is that definitely it?” Ginny asked, not trusting Samedi an inch.
“Yes, this is definitely part of the Moon Hare,” Harry confirmed, gazing at the small piece of gold as it spun from a thin chain in his hand. “It has a rather distinctive magical signature, and this feels exactly the same as the other piece.”
“Happy now, white boy?” Samedi sneered from his position on the ground.
“What are we going to do with him, Harry?” Ginny asked, glaring at the Loa angrily. “He tried to kill us and then backed out of the bet. You’re not going to just let him go, are you?”
“Oh, of course not,” Harry said, in mock surprise. “You don’t think I’d let him get away with a stunt like that unpunished, do you? No, the only trouble is, being a demi-god, we can’t kill him. We can hurt him, though, but I doubt we’d cause him any lasting damage. No, I actually have a better idea.”
“We let Maman Brigitte deal with him,” Harry smirked.
For the first time, Ginny saw actually fear in Samedi’s eyes.
Despite the fact that the sun was now high in the clear-blue skies over New Orleans, the room they were standing in seemed frigidly cold. The reason, Ginny suspected, was due to the almost palpable waves of cold fury emanating from Maman Brigitte.
“Brigitte, honey…” Samedi began.
“Shut up,” the imposing woman snapped. Samedi instantly lapsed into silence.
“Do you know what you’ve done?” she continued, glaring at her husband.
“I, you see…” the man spluttered, but whatever he was going to say died on his tongue. His shoulders slumped and he just nodded in a resigned manner.
“How could you do this to me, Samedi?” Brigitte growled. “Why do you think the people worship me, fool?”
“Because you’re the Goddess of Justice,” he replied quietly.
“Damn straight! But for some reason that I can’t quite fathom, I stupidly married you, fool! As my husband, I thought that you might at least respect and honour my attributes, the reasons why I’m worshiped, but clearly that was too much to hope for from you.”
“Sugar, honey… I do honour you! Everyday! It’s just… they’re wizards! They don’t follow our rules or care about our customs! Dat arrogant white boy thought he could just mossy up and make a deal with me. Why should you or I care about them?”
“Damn, you’re a fool, Samedi!” Brigitte cursed, raising her voice for the first time. “We got rules we have to work by, just like them! They might not worship us, but you made a deal with them, you idiot. That binds you to the contract. It don’t matter if they are wizards, gods or chickens — if you make a deal, you got’s to stick by it, you asshole!”
“What you gonna do?” Samedi asked nervously.
“Oh, husband, put it like this: you ain’t gonna be having no fun for a very, very long time,” she informed him, her voice dripping with malice.
“Umm, Brigitte? Perhaps it would be best if we just leave you to it,” Harry suggested.
Brigitte looked round at him in surprise, perhaps having forgotten that he and Ginny were even still in the room.
“Yes, perhaps that would be a good idea. I’ll see you both out,” she agreed, before turning and pointing at her cringing husband. “You stay right there, Samedi!”
Samedi nodded meekly.
The tall woman escorted them to the door. She paused on the landing as they stepped out into the clear morning sunshine.
“I guess I owe you both an apology,” Brigitte stated. “A deal’s a deal, and Samedi was an idiot to try and break it. You might be wand-wavers, but that doesn’t mean he can treat you like shit, now, does it?”
“Our very thoughts,” Harry agreed with an amused smile on his face.
Brigitte looked carefully at him. “Master of Death, huh? That’s some old magic you’ve been messin’ with. No wonder I couldn’t read you.”
“It’s a long story and I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details,” he said with a gracious nod of his head.
“Fair enough, but I would appreciate it if you stayed the hell away from Louisiana from now on. That sort of magic makes us Loa kinda nervous, if you know what I mean.”
“I do,” he confirmed. “Goodbye, Maman Brigitte, and thanks for all your help.”
The woman just nodded and they turned to leave. They had nearly reached the front gate when Brigitte called out to them.
“Hey, Ginny honey, you remember what we talked about that night Harry and my husband had their little drinking contest? Well, you just think about it, girl. My comments still apply, but for very different reasons. That pretty boy next to you is one dangerous mother. You tread carefully now.”
And with that, the elegant woman turned and closed the door behind her.
“Do I want to know what she meant?” Harry asked.
“Nah, she didn’t say anything I didn’t know already,” Ginny said with a shrug.
“Fair enough. I think we’ll cheat a bit to get back. Let’s find a nice quiet spot and Apparate back to our hotel rooms.”
They turned and headed down the street, intent on finding somewhere a little more secluded to travel from. Ginny managed to hold her tongue for a good two minutes before curiosity overcame her.
“Master of Death? The Deathly Hallows? Really?”
Harry chuckled. “What do you want me to say? I didn’t just defeat Voldemort by throwing a few Stunning Spells at him, you know. His life was protected by the Darkest of magics, and I needed to pull something rather specular out of the bag. Before you ask, yes, the Hallows are real and, yes, I have the title Master of Death. Neither of these things really mean much, however, at least not in regards to how I live my day-to-day life. Gathering the Hallows to me has given me much greater powers, but they are only relevant to certain situations. Aside from that, I’m just a normal person.”
Ginny snorted before a thought occurred to her.
“Wait a minute! This is why you’ve never explained exactly how you defeated Voldemort, isn’t it? It has something to do with the Deathly Hallows, and you don’t want to advertise that fact.”
“Quite correct, Ginny, and I would remind you of the Oath of Secrecy you swore when you took employment by me. The history of the Hallows is littered with tales of violence and betrayal, and if it’s even suspected I might have united the objects, every half-wit villain out there will try to seek me out. Not a word to anyone.”
“Of course, I’m not stupid,” she grumbled, annoyed that he might think she wouldn’t keep his secret.
“Sorry, not that I meant to doubt you for a moment,” he apologised quickly. “How about once we get back to the hotel I buy you an enormous lunch to make up?”
“That might sooth my wounded feelings,” she admitted. “Perhaps I might even indulge in a few of those cocktails you seemed to like so much.”
Harry broke into a wide smile, before offering her his arm.
“Then let’s head back as quickly as possible. For some reason, zombie hunting has given me a thirst.”
They vanished, with only the sound of two soft pops and their lingering laughter remaining.
Humming tunelessly to herself, Ginny scanned her shopping list one more time, determined to make sure nothing was missed off. As excited as she’d been at the prospect of a trip to America, the latest destination that she and Harry had arranged practically had her bouncing with delight.
Just the previous evening, Harry had again enacted the ritual to identify where the next piece of the Moon Hare was located. Unfortunately, the combination of so much raw, untapped magic and Harry’s semi-nakedness had the same effect on her that it had the first time. Fortunately, this time she was better prepared for it, and at least had made sure that she had a clean pair of knickers with her. Besides, as soon as she had heard where she was going, even her sudden sexual desires had taken a backseat.
Egypt! She’d wanted to visit the country again badly ever since her first trip when she had been just eleven years old. At the time, a fortuitous lottery win had allowed her family to travel en masse to visit her eldest brother, Bill, who was working there. As it should happen, Bill was back working in the country again and Harry had guaranteed Ginny that there would be enough time in their schedule for her to visit him. She was so excited about seeing her favourite brother again! True, things had been a bit strained between them of late, but that didn’t mean that…
Ginny spun round as the sound of her name called, and saw a young woman with long, straggly, dirty-blond hair and a dreamy expression on her face.
“Luna! I didn’t know you were back in the country,” Ginny cried and leapt forward to hug her friend.
“I just got back,” Luna confirmed, returning the embrace warmly. “I visited your brothers’ shop, but they said you didn’t work there anymore.”
“No, I’ve got a job working as Harry Potter’s personal assistant, would you believe!”
“So Fred said. Do you have time for a cup of tea? I’d love to hear about it,” Luna exclaimed.
“Yeah, let’s grab a cupper and catch up. Harry’s pretty relaxed about my work schedule, as long as I get everything done in time.”
Arm in arm, the two witches headed for a small tearoom that was situated at the far end of Diagon Alley. Soon, they were fortified with a mug of steaming tea and a slice of cake each, and could get down to some serious nattering.
Before revealing anything about her current employment, Ginny had insisted that her friend tell her all about her latest adventure first. Luna was an explorer and magical naturalist, roaming the world in search of undiscovered plants and animals. She’d already published a book, not to mention several well-received articles, and was considered an important up-and-coming zoologist. If she was honest, Ginny had to admit that at times she’d been jealous of her friend’s success and globe-trotting lifestyle. She listened in fascination as Luna detailed her latest trip to the Korean peninsula. Sometimes her friend could be a little hard to follow, but apparently Luna had discovered a breed of miniature dragons during her adventure and she was extremely excited about it.
“Wow, that all sounded pretty amazing,” Ginny exclaimed after Luna had finished her account of her trip. “A previously unknown type of dragon, eh? Amazing!”
“Yes, the largest of them was less than a foot long. I can’t wait to publish my findings,” Luna confirmed, her smile lighting up the whole room. “But that’s enough about me. Tell me all about your new employer.”
Ginny hesitated. “I… I’m not sure I can describe him. I’ve never met anyone quite like him before.”
“Really? In what way?”
“It’s just that he’s seen and done so much, and he has such incredible magical knowledge. Honestly, Luna, he manages to surprise me every day with something new.”
“I see,” Luna said, nodding slightly. “What sort of work do you do for him?”
“I’ve actually taken an Oath of Secrecy, so I can’t tell you too much,” Ginny admitted, “but, in a nutshell, I do a bit of everything. Harry is an adventurer, and likes to make trips overseas hunting for exotic magical items and treasure. I’ve been organising his most recent trips, and helping wherever I can. Today, for instance, I’m shopping for supplies and equipment for our next journey.”
“Can you say where you’re going?” Luna asked.
“I guess that would be alright. We’re going to Egypt, but please don’t ask about what we’ll be doing there.”
“Oh, Egypt! I love it there,” Luna gushed. “Will you be able to visit your brother Bill while you’re there?”
“Yeah, I hope so,” Ginny confirmed, pleased that her friend was excited for her and not merely intent on casting aspersions on Harry’s character as some others had done.
“Where else have you been?”
“Well, our last trip was to New Orleans in America, and before that we visited the Hurtgen Forrest in Germany.”
“The Hurtgen Forrest?” Luna repeated. “Where the wild werewolves are? Ginny, that place is incredibly dangerous. Even I wouldn’t go near it.”
“Oh, tell me about it! Still, Harry seemed more than capable of handling a few werewolves, even if we did end up in a few sticky situations. The trip was… enlightening, to say the least!”
Luna gave her a strange look for a moment, before smiling.
“I’ve heard rumours that Potter knows some secret and exotic magic, and that was how he managed to defeat You-Know-Who. I know a lot of people say he’s a Dark magician, but I doubt you’d have anything to do with him if he was, so I’m inclined to believe that he just has some strange powers or knowledge.”
“I… I can’t say, Luna,” Ginny replied. “You’re right that I wouldn’t have anything to do with a Dark wizard, though. Actually, I doubt you’d believe the truth even if I could tell you.”
“What, me?” Luna asked with a giggle.
“Yes, even you!” Ginny confirmed, laughing at how ridiculous her last statement had been.
“So, have you had sex with him yet?” Luna asked with a mischievous glint in her eye.
“What? No! He’d my bloody employer, Luna! Besides, I’ve only known him for a few weeks.”
“Hmm, if you say so,” Luna acknowledged, before adding, “but do you want to have sex with him?”
Ginny gave her friend a very hard stare.
“It’s just you seem to be quite glowing in your praise of him, and I’ve heard he is very handsome,” Luna said. “You seem different now you’re working for him, too. Happier.”
“Really? I wasn’t aware I came over as unhappy before.”
“Oh, Ginny, you were!” Luna exclaimed. “Anyone could see you were miserable. You were trapped working for your brothers in a boring job. I could see it was grinding you down — you lost your normal sparkle and just seemed to give up, a bit. You dressed really plainly and half the time never bothered to do your hair. Now look at you. You’re wearing stylish clothes that make you look really sexy, your hair is fantastic, and you’re even wearing some makeup. Your whole demeanour has changed and you’ve got your old bounce back.”
“Umm, do you think so?”
Luna’s statement gave Ginny pause to think. True, she had splashed out on some new clothes, mainly as Harry, delighted at the progress they had made in finding two parts of the Moon Hare already, had given her a bonus. She’d felt that working for Harry Potter carried a certain status, and as such she had to look the part. She hadn’t really thought about her hair and makeup, though. Had she really been trying to impress him?
“You won’t be able to go back to the way things were, you realise,” Luna said suddenly.
“I can see it in your eyes: the excitement. You’ve tasted what it’s like to travel the world and get into adventures now. You’ll never be able to go back and ‘just’ be a shop girl, no matter what. You’ve caught the disease, and you’ll never be the same again.”
“You might be right,” Ginny admitted after a moment’s thought.
“I am, trust me. I get angsty just from sitting and writing about my travels. After being home for a week, I’m ready to be off again. It sounds like your Harry is much the same.”
“Perhaps, but he seems equally happy just puttering around his library sometimes. I think he just has a thirst for knowledge. He also just likes beautiful things and likes to surround himself with them. He told me once that he’s had so much ugliness in his life, he feels compelled to collect beautiful things to make up for it.”
“Perhaps that’s why he employed you,” Luna said with a smile.
Ginny snorted. “Yeah, right. Been out in the sun too long, have we?”
“I don’t think so,” Luna said seriously. “This Harry Potter sounds a powerful and intelligent man. I doubt he’d surround himself with anyone he didn’t particularly want around him, which suggests that he must like you. I’m sure he could have employed some empty-headed bimbo with big boobs to be his assistant, but instead he picked someone who was brave, beautiful, intelligent and fiery. My opinion of him is rising by the minute.”
“Luna,” Ginny protested.
“You must let me meet him, sometime,” Luna continued. “I’m sure we’d have a lot to talk about.”
Ginny just nodded in a non-committal manner, much as she’d done to Hermione when she’d badgered her to arrange a meeting with her employer. She might only be his personal assistant, but she was damned if she was going to let any other witch get their claws into him.
Back to index
Chapter 6: Chapter 6 - Song of the Sands
Author's Notes: We’ve made it to Egypt in this chapter and I have to thank (ex-) Mrs Brennus for not only her help and support in this part, but also for supplying most of the reference material I used. I’ve stolen several ideas and themes from Egyptian mythology, completely without shame I should add.
I should also mention at this point that despite me saying there were only eight chapters to this story, there will now be at least nine, as I keep adding bits to it. I don’t normally fiddle too much with stories once I’ve written the first draft, but I can’t resist playing with this one.
Huge thanks as ever go to Arnel for correcting my (many) errors. I’m glad I kept you entertained while you were waiting for the locksmith, anyway!
Chapter 6 — Song of the Sands
Ginny closed her eyes and let the cool breeze wash over her. Had she ever had a moment more perfect than this? Truthfully, she couldn’t recall one.
Opening her eyes again, she drank in the sight of the vast, open desert below her, stretching endlessly into the distance. Occasionally, a gust of wind would send the sand spiralling into the air, only to disperse a moment later. To her right, the sun was setting — a huge orange fireball creating heat ripples on the horizon. The early evening air was beginning to cool, a welcome change from the oppressive heat of the day. The sky was darkening already, and was currently a perfect shade of azure. A single star was visible overhead, but soon its comrades would join it.
“Everything alright, Ginny?”
She looked over to where Harry was lounging next to her. His hair was even more tousled than usual in the wind, and his loose, white shirt rippled, occasionally offering her a glimpse of his smooth chest. He regarded her through those unnaturally green eyes, and offered her one of his lopsided smiles that always set her heart racing.
“I’m brilliant, actually,” she replied. “I mean, this is all just breath-taking, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I’m glad we decided to fly. Apparation is all well and good, but look what we would have missed out on.”
They were currently heading out to visit her brother, Bill, who was working at an excavation deep in the Egyptian desert. When Harry had suggested they travel by the traditional Arab method, a magic carpet, she’d leapt at the chance. The flight over the empty, but eerily beautiful desert had been everything she hoped it would be, and possibly more. Ginny had always loved flying, and being able to share the experience with Harry made it extra special.
The sun had by now nearly completely sunk below the horizon and she could feel a chill in the air. The carpet had many charms and enchantments on it, meaning they would still remain reasonably warm, but she wondered how much longer it would take to get to the camp.
“Not long, only another half-an-hour, or so,” Harry confirmed after she vocalised her question. “It’s a shame really. Flying with only the stars for light would have been wonderful, I think.”
“Yes, it would,” she agreed, feeling a momentary twinge of disappointment that they wouldn’t be experiencing it.
“This is why I travel, Ginny,” Harry continued. “To see sights like this. How many witches or wizards ever get to experience something like this? They just get wrapped up in their hum-drum lives, happy to wallow in mediocrity. After I tracked down the last Death Eater, I promised myself I would never be like that. I owed it to myself to reach for more, and I’m lucky enough that I have occasionally reached my goal. I mean, just look at where I am at this moment: I’m sailing through the sky on a magical carpet, I’ve just watched the most sensational sunset I’ve ever seen, the stars are coming out above me, and I have a beautiful witch to keep me company. Who could ask for more?”
Ginny blushed a little at his comment, and her heart started beating a little faster. Harry had been giving her these little compliments more and more lately, and had been particularly lavish in his appreciation of the outfit she had selected for the journey. Truthfully, she had to admit the calf-high boots she was wearing were rather sexy, as well as being practical. Her tight, lightweight trousers were breathable and also charmed to stick to the top of her boots to prevent sand getting in. Harry, however, seemed to be more appreciative of how form-fitting they were. She was also wearing a sleeveless, white blouse, but she had her travel cloak in her pack for when the temperature dropped. A wide-brimmed sunhat sat on her head, which had a scarf wrapped around it which she could use to cover her face, if required. At the moment, however, it was billowing out behind her, like her own personal battle standard.
“I’m just glad I’ve had the opportunity to share this with you, Harry,” she admitted. “I was dying of boredom working in my brothers’ shop.”
“I’ve said it before, Ginny, but you’re no shop girl.”
“I like to think so, and I hope you’ll bear that in mind when my probationary period is up.”
“Actually, it’s up next week, isn’t it?” he said thoughtfully. “Well, I have no hesitation in offering you the position fulltime, assuming you want it, of course.”
“Definitely!” Ginny confirmed joyously. Secretly, she’d been terrified of not being offered the role on a permanent basis. She was pretty sure she’d done a good job up to that point, and she and Harry seemed to get along very well, but the fear was always there. To hear him confirm she had the job fulltime was wonderful news.
“Excellent, we’ll draw up a formal contract when we return to England. Say, do you think that might be your brother’s camp there, over in the distance?”
Looking over, Ginny could just make out a collection of what she assumed were tents spread out over the sands. She could also see what looked like the foundations of a number of ruined buildings, although little else remained.
“Yeah, that must be the camp,” she agreed.
“Excellent. We made good time,” he noted as the carpet began to bank slightly before starting a slow descent towards the camp.
It took a good five minutes for them to finally reach the collection of tents, and the carpet gracefully landed just in front of the nearest one. A woman, who must have seen them approach, was standing waiting for them to set down.
“Who are you?” she asked in a not altogether friendly voice.
“I’m Ginny Weasley,” Ginny replied instantly. “I’m here to visit my brother Bill.”
“Oh, yes. He said you were coming,” the woman admitted grudgingly. “What about him?”
“My name is Harry Potter, and I’m accompanying Miss Weasley on her visit,” Harry replied smoothly.
The woman looked at him with something approaching contempt. “I’ve heard about you, Potter, and you’re not welcome here.”
“Are you going to try and eject me?” he asked calmly, although the challenge was plain in his words.
A long moment passed as the woman obviously weighed her options. A snarl appeared on her lips.
“Okay, you can stay, but you’d better behave yourself. We’ll be watching you. I’ll go and fetch Bill.”
And with that, the woman turned and stalked away.
“It seems my reputation proceeds me,” Harry muttered.
“Miserable cow,” Ginny snorted.
They stood for a few minutes in the fading light before Bill Weasley appeared. Ginny instantly hurried forward to hug her brother, but was dismayed when he quickly folded his arms in front of him before she put her arms around him. She’d hoped Bill would have forgotten the argument they’d had when last they’d seen each other, but clearly not.
“Hello, Ginny. Nice to see you,” Bill said politely, if not particularly warmly. “You didn’t mention you’d be bringing your new employer with you.”
“I said why I was here in Egypt, didn’t I?” she retorted. “Why would you assume Harry wouldn’t be accompanying me?”
Bill snorted. “Well, it creates a problem. I’ve only arranged for overnight accommodation for you, Ginny. We don’t have anywhere for him to sleep, and I doubt anyone is going to be keen to invite him to stay in their tent.”
“That’s okay, big brother, we’ve brought our own tent. Just show us where we can pitch it.”
“What? You intend to sleep in the same tent as… him,” Bill said in an appalled voice.
“I assure you, Mr Weasley, we do have separate sleeping areas,” Harry said smoothly. It was true, too. Because they didn’t envisage any trouble on this trip, Harry had decided that a more luxurious tent could be packed rather than the ones they’d used in Germany. While this tent took far longer to put up and take down, it had many more rooms and even a proper bath.
“I see,” Bill said, angrily turning to his sister. “So, you can shack up with some bloke that most sensible people predict is on the road to becoming the next Dark Lord, but if I bring home a girl that’s even a bit unusual, you and Mum feel the need to drive her away.”
“Oh, not this again,” Ginny groaned.
“Yes, this! Have you any idea how badly the pair of you hurt me? Have you any idea how miserable I’ve been since Fleur left?”
“Umm, sorry to interrupt, but I sense this is something of a family matter. Perhaps it would be best if I went and pitched our tent and left you two to talk out your problems. If you could just point out a suitable area for me to use, Mr Weasley?” Harry interjected.
For a second, Bill looked like he was going to draw his wand on the dark-haired young man, but at the last moment thought better of it. Instead, he turned and ungraciously pointed to a row of tents off to their left.
“Pitch your tent at the end of that row. Don’t go beyond that line of stonework over there as we raise magical protections around the camp at night,” the tall red-head grunted.
“Thank you,” Harry replied simply. “Ginny, I’ll get us set up and start dinner. Come and find me once you’re done talking.”
“Okay, Harry. I’ll see you in a bit,” she replied, thankful for his understanding.
“How the hell did you end up with that guy?” Bill demanded after Harry was out of earshot.
“How much did Dad tell you?”
“Very little. He said it had something to do with some shady business dealings and it was best I knew nothing about it.”
“Bloody hell,” Ginny muttered, angry at the vague way her father had explained things. “Look, Bill, let’s just say that Harry saved the Weasley family from a very bad situation which involved a crooked goblin at Gringotts selling on the title deeds of the Burrow to someone who hates us.”
“What? That’s ridiculous! No goblin would ever do that. The risk if they got caught would be far too great. Not only would they risk being tortured to death over the space of several months, if not years, their family name would forever be shamed. No sane goblin would ever do something like that.”
“Well, it must have been an insane one, because Draco Malfoy waved the deeds of the Burrow in my face and gave me the option of either having sex with him or seeing our parents imprisoned for non-payment of debt. It was just lucky that Harry happened to be passing by and overheard all this. He knew what the potential fallout of all this becoming public would be far better than Malfoy did, and forced him to burn the deeds. Lo and behold, the next day Dad discovers that our mortgage has been discharged. Check with your employers if you don’t believe me.”
“But… Ginny! Do you realise how serious this is?” Bill exclaimed.
“Yes, I do, actually. Which is why you need to keep quiet about it. Check on the mortgage, if you will, but don’t dig any further. Harry’s already contacted the senior management at Gringotts and explained what happened, so whoever the goblin is that did this, I’m sure they’ve already been taken care of. Quietly.”
“Bloody hell, sis! That’s a bloody big surprise to drop on me,” Bill moaned, “but it doesn’t explain why you’re working for him.”
Ginny shrugged. “Harry was impressed by the spirit I showed standing up to Malfoy and offered me the job as his assistant. I think I’ve been doing pretty well, actually.”
“Are you sleeping with him?”
“No, but if I was it wouldn’t be any of your damn business,” she retorted angrily. “Look, I’m not going to make any secret of the fact I like him, and he likes me, I think. But he’s still my boss, and I intend to act in a professional manner.”
“What about all those stories about him? Those tales of Dark magic and womanising?”
“Well, he might be a little Grey, but he’s not Dark, I know that for a fact,” she insisted. “As for womanising, I’ll admit he’s a terrible flirt, but I’ve seen no other evidence of it. In fact, I’d say he was lonely, if anything. I suspect it’s all those stupid rumours about him that keep decent witches away.”
“Yeah, ‘cos no woman would ever go for a handsome, mysterious, bad boy, would they?” Bill pointed out. “Bloody hell, Ginny! The bloke has never even said how he actually defeated You-Know-Who. Why keep it a secret unless he used Dark magic to do it?”
“Maybe he had another reason,” she said mildly.
“What would you…” Bill started to say, before he trailed off and looked intently at her. “Are you telling me you know how he did it?”
“Yes, I do, but you better not breathe a word of this to anyone!”
“Then how did…”
“Don’t ask me that question! Besides, I doubt you’d believe the answer, anyway. Just put it this way, Voldemort was one of the most powerful wizards for centuries, right? Many people said he was immortal, and he apparently had the power to rise from the dead. Therefore it follows that something pretty bloody spectacular would be needed to beat him, right? Just keep that in mind, and then ask yourself why Harry wants to keep things quiet.”
“Ginny, what have you got yourself into?” Bill moaned.
“A better life than the one I had before,” she responded. “Look, Harry is a good bloke. He’s just a bit crazy at times and has a real sense of adventure. If you got to know him, I’d bet you two would get on like a house on fire.”
“I severely doubt that.”
“Just give him a chance,” she begged. “Now, how have you been? You haven’t answered any of my letters.”
“Can you blame me?” he snorted.
“Bill, it wasn’t my fault that Fleur left. It’s not really Mum’s either, although I admit she could have handled the whole thing better.”
“You two practically hounded Fleur out the door! Neither of you ever had a good word to say about her!”
“But I was never rude to her face, was I? Which is more than I can say about her. She was a condescending bitch to me, Bill, but I bit my tongue for your sake! Now, I’ll admit Mum might have picked a few fights with her, but that was no reason for Fleur to leave you, was it? No woman is supposed to get on with their mother-in-law.”
“I loved her, Ginny. I mean, really loved her. If you cared for me at all, you would have made her welcome.”
“And if she truly loved you, she wouldn’t have been put off by just having a few catfights with Mum! Besides, I thought that half the problem was that she wanted to live in France and you didn’t?”
“We were working that out! It wasn’t living in France that I objected to, it was having to leave my job. I mean, I’m supposed to support my wife. How can I do that if the first thing I do after we get married is quit my job?”
“There are other jobs, Bill. Maybe you just really didn’t want to give up this one?”
Bill said nothing, but just looked sombre.
“Are you still in communication with her?” Ginny asked.
“We’ve exchanged a few letters,” he admitted.
“Perhaps you need to figure out what really is important to you, big brother. Doing the job you love or being with the woman you love?”
“It wouldn’t have been an issue if she’d been made more welcome back home,” he pointed out. “Maybe then she would have been happy to live in England and I wouldn’t have had to choose.”
“Perhaps if she’d been less of a stuck-up cow, then she would have been more welcome,” Ginny retorted. “You always did go for the high maintenance types.”
Bill actually chuckled at that. “Yeah, I guess I do. Oh, Ginny, what am I going to do?”
“I think only you can decide that,” she said sympathetically. “Look, I’d better go and give Harry a hand with dinner. Why don’t you pop over to our tent later and meet him properly. I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of what he’s doing here in Egypt.”
“Great, I’ll see you later.”
Quickly, she hurried over and planted a kiss on her brother’s cheek, before turning and heading towards the area Harry had been instructed to occupy. She arrived to find the tent was fully pitched, so she ducked straight inside.
She found Harry inside, busy cooking in the well-equipped kitchenette. Already, the tent was filled with delicious aromas.
“Hey, Ginny,” he greeted her. “Dinner won’t be too long. I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with Egyptian cooking, so I thought I’d try my hand at a few Moroccan dishes instead. We’re starting with some briouat, which are small triangular pastry shells stuffed with meat, peppers and cheeses. We’ll follow that with mrouzia: a sweet lamb dish with almonds, raisins and honey. If you’ve any room left after that, I’ve got a baklava baking.”
“It all sounds, and smells, wonderful!” she gushed. “Honestly, Harry, I can’t believe what a great cook you are.”
“Merely someone who appreciates good food,” he disagreed. “As we’re in a non-threatening environment, assuming your brother doesn’t want to kill me, that is, I’ve also brought some rather nice wine to go with our meal. An oak-aged Spanish red, actually.”
“Better and better! What do you want me to do?”
“Just set the table, if you would. I admit, I had most of the food already prepared before we left Cairo, so it was just a matter of warming everything up.”
Pretty soon, the pair of them were seated at the small dining table enjoying the fruits of Harry’s labours. Trying new foods was one of Ginny’s favourite perks of her new job, and today was no exception. The starters were devoured within moments and were delicious, and they soon were tucking into the unusual, but very flavoursome, main course. The rich, fruity wine was a perfect accompaniment.
“So, how did it go with your brother?” Harry asked presently.
“Better than I expected,” she told him. “I think he’s finally starting to realise that his fiancé leaving him wasn’t all down to me and Mum. He needed to have made a few sacrifices, too, which he didn’t seem willing to do.”
“Relationships are all about give and take, aren’t they?”
“True, but tell me, Harry, why are you single? I mean, I know the press labelled you as something of a playboy, but I haven’t seen you exactly chasing many girls. Someone like you must have women lined up desperate to be your wife, too.”
“Oh, I don’t deny the playboy tag has some validity. I did run wild for a while after I defeated Voldemort, but where the press got things wrong was that this all occurred overseas. I had liaisons with dozens of women, both Magical and Muggle, but none of them were British. The stories of my time in Brazil, for instance, would make your hair curl, my dear. But I quickly grew tired of that lifestyle, especially as I knew that there were still Death Eaters free at the time. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lived like a monk since then, but I have developed… other interests… which have taken up most of my time. As for a wife, most of the proposals I’ve received have been for purely political reasons, and I have no interest in that.”
“Have you no plans to settle down one day?”
“Oh, at some point, I’m sure,” he confirmed. “For instance, recently I’ve developed a thing for feisty, short, redheads, so perhaps I’ll find one of those to marry.”
“Flirt,” Ginny laughed.
“But of course. Would you expect anything else from me?” Harry asked with mock amazement.
“Not lately, no. You, Mr Potter, seem to be going out of your way to make flattering comments to me recently. I’m not sure that’s appropriate behaviour from my employer.”
“Maybe you won’t always be my employee,” he countered.
Ginny looked at him over the rim of her wine glass. Those brilliant green eyes of his were looking back at her intently, almost glowing in the candlelight. How easy it would be to fall in love with this man. He was mysterious and powerful, not to mention cultured and charming. But would she be just a diversion for him? A plaything to pass the time?
“Perhaps I won’t,” she countered, “but what would I be?”
“I think, Ginny,” he said carefully, “you could be… whatever you wanted to be.”
“Anything,” he confirmed, putting down his glass and leaning forward a fraction.
Ginny found herself mirroring his actions automatically. It was a very small table, and they were so very close now. The world seemed to turn emerald green as she became lost in his eyes. They were still leaning towards each other, their lips moving closer and closer together. Her mouth suddenly felt very dry and her body was trembling. They were so nearly touching now…
“Hello? Ginny, are you in there?” came Bill’s voice from just outside the entrance to the tent.
“Oh, for pity’s sake!” Harry cursed, pulling back.
For a second, Ginny could only blink at him stupidly, her brain unable to process what had nearly just happened. When Bill called again, comprehension came to her, along with a sudden burst of anger and disappointment.
“Bugger, why did I not see that coming?” she spat. “My brothers always did have the worst sense of timing.”
“Never mind,” Harry said in a resigned voice. “Come in, Bill. We were just having dinner.”
A second later, Bill entered the tent and looked around suspiciously. His eyes settled on the pair of them seated at the small table with plates and glasses laid out on it. A relieved expression crept onto his face.
“Oh, sorry, I see you haven’t finished eating yet,” he said, not sounding particularly regretful.
“No, we’re nearly done. I would offer you some, but I only made enough for the two of us, I’m afraid. I can offer you some coffee and a slice of baklava, though,” Harry replied.
“Umm, that’s very kind of you,” the tall redhead replied, rather taken aback by Harry’s offer.
“Take a seat, Bill,” Ginny said. “Let us just finished eating and I’ll get your coffee.”
The three sat in silence as Harry and Ginny finished their meal. Once they had, and the plates had been cleared away, Ginny poured coffee into three cups while Harry dished up generous servings of the baklava.
“So, what brings you to Egypt, Harry?” Bill asked after a few mouthfuls of his sticky desert.
“I assume from the rather hostile reception I got from your colleague on arrival that my reputation as a treasure hunter is known here, and it’s true that I dabble in tracking down certain objects and texts, on occasion. It’s just such a quest that has led me here.”
“We don’t approve of rank amateurs hunting for antiquities,” Bill said disapprovingly. “They can do a lot of damage to important sites and rarely have much respect for the historical importance of the locations they raid.”
“Yes, because of course the goblins are just interested in preserving human sites and relics for their historical value, aren’t they?” Harry countered.
“We have strict rules we work under. We preserve the sites we work at and have made some important historical discoveries,” Bill insisted.
“Fair enough, but I would like to think that I am rather more enlightened than your average scavenger, particularly as the monetary value of the objects I seek is rarely of any importance to me,” Harry replied.
“What exactly are you looking for, then?” Bill asked suspiciously.
“Part of a jewelled, gold object called the Moon Hare. It was cut into five pieces by a family during a custody dispute and then scattered. I’ve already found two pieces, and by using a rare ritual I’ve been able to establish that the next piece is here in Egypt.”
“The Partition Ritual?” Bill asked. “Wow, I’m surprised. That’s extremely tricky to pull off. I’m amazed you managed it.”
“Harry is a very talented wizard,” Ginny snapped, rather more defensively than she’d intended. Bill just looked at her pityingly.
“Indeed,” Harry confirmed, showing no signs of being offended. “The ritual gave me two clues. Firstly, that the jewel is hidden in the tomb of a magician named Teta. Secondly, this man’s grave is apparently located in the lost city of Tanis.”
“Although how we are supposed to find a lost city isn’t clear,” Ginny added.
“Oh, the lost city of Tanis isn’t lost. It was rediscovered a few years back,” Bill informed them. “It’s up in the Nile Delta, not too far from the sea, actually. I have to say though, Harry, people have been looking for the tomb of Teta the Magician for years. Tanis has been excavated pretty thoroughly, and if the tomb was located there I’m sure it would have been found by now.”
“Possibly, but I have an advantage. As I know what the magical signature of a piece of the Moon Hare is like, I can cast Tracking Charms which will hopefully lead me straight to it. If the tomb is in Tanis, I’m confident I can find it,” Harry explained.
“Really? That would be quite the discovery! I don’t suppose you’d be needing the help of a skilled Curse-Breaker, would you?”
Harry laughed. “I certainly wouldn’t turn down any offer of help.”
“Great! You can come with us,” Ginny said, happy that her brother would be included in their expedition.
“Yeah, I’m sure this mob can spare me for a day or two,” Bill confirmed, before a frown appeared on his face. “How exactly did a piece of this jewel of yours manage to get into the hidden tomb of a wizard who died over four and a half thousand years ago?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” Harry admitted. “I’m assuming that some sort of charm was used to randomly hide the piece, and this was where it ended up.”
“Okay, that could have happened,” Bill agreed. “After all, if the intent of the charm was to hide the piece away, you couldn’t get a much better hiding place than an undiscovered tomb, could you?”
“My thoughts, exactly,” Harry agreed.
“Right, well, here’s to a successful hunt,” Bill announced, raising his coffee cup.
They all clinked their cups together, and Ginny smiled, happy that the rift between her and her favourite brother seemed to be healing.
The next day found Harry and the Weasley siblings at the ruined city of Tanis. Looking round, Ginny wasn’t surprised the place had been undiscovered for so long. There simply wasn’t much to discover.
“If you think this is bad, you should have seen the place before it was excavated,” Bill informed her when she voiced her opinion. “Most of this was all buried until about five years ago. Thousands of tons of sand have been moved since then. Sadly, most of the buildings were already pretty much ruins before that happened. Are you sure we’ll find Teta’s tomb here, Harry?”
“My Detection Charms definitely indicate that the piece of the Moon Hare is nearby. I admit, the entrance to the tomb must be pretty well hidden, but it’s unquestionably around here somewhere.”
“Well, lead on,” Bill said with a shrug.
Harry once again had his magical compass out and Ginny now had a better understanding of what it did than when she’d last seen him using it back in the Hurtgen Forest in Germany. Although it was tuned to the magical signature of the jewelled hare, the compass required frequent adjustment and fine-tuning to provide directions to the lost treasure. Indeed, Harry seemed to be struggling with the compass today and was having to stop every few feet to fiddle with it.
“This appears to be it,” Harry declared suddenly.
Ginny blinked. They were stood in what appeared to be the ruins of a street, although only the basic foundations of the houses remained. There was, quite simply, nothing here.
“Umm, are you sure about that?” Bill asked, and Ginny could hear a note of disbelief in his voice.
“Oh, yes. No doubt about it,” Harry confirmed. Bill snorted.
“Look, Harry, this whole street has been examined pretty thoroughly by a number of experienced archaeologists. If there was a hidden entrance anywhere around here I’m pretty sure they would have found it,” he pointed out.
“Maybe they didn’t look into things deeply enough,” Harry replied with a smirk as he pulled out his wand.
If Ginny had been expecting her employer to cast some sort of Detection Charm, she was greatly mistaken. Without warning, Harry aimed at the ruins of the nearest house and cast a Blasting Charm straight at it. There was a thunderous detonation, and brick and sand were thrown high into the air. The noise of the blast echoed around the desolate city.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” Bill screamed. “This is a protected site!”
“Possibly, but if I happen to find the entrance to the long-lost tomb of Teta the Magician, do you really think anyone will give a hoot about this one house?”
“You’ve no proof there’s anything under that house!” Bill protested. “You could just be destroying a historical building for no good reason.”
“Good point,” Harry agreed with a roguish smile. “Still, as I’ve started I might as well finish, eh?”
Three more Blasting Charms hit the house in quick succession, and Ginny found herself having to cover her nose and mouth due to the amount of dust in the air. The speed and power with which Harry cast the deadly charms again reinforced what a formidable wizard he was. Even Bill seemed a little bit awed by the whole thing.
As the dust began to settle, Harry strode forward and peered at the now completely demolished house. He turned back to them with a wide grin on his face.
“Take a look at this,” he urged.
Ginny and her brother scrambled forward and immediately saw there, amongst the ruins, a deep hole in the middle of what had been the house’s floor. It was dark and far too deep to see the bottom.
“I guess we’ll have to Levitate down,” Harry mused, staring down into the darkness.
“Whoa! Hold up there, Potter. I’ll need to check that before anyone goes anywhere,” Bill insisted.
“Did we need to bring him along, Ginny? He’s taking all the fun out of this,” Harry complained.
“Amazingly, Harry, not all of us are quite so ready to leap down a dark hole without taking a few precautions,” she replied, although she didn’t attempt to hide her amusement at her brother’s sour expression.
Shaking his head, Bill walked to the edge of the hole and for the next five minutes stood casting all manner of spells and charms, none of which Ginny recognised. Harry merely stood and watched with an expression of amused indulgence on his face.
“Okay, it’s clear,” Bill announced eventually. “We can go down.”
“I rather thought it would be. Any traps we encounter will probably come later,” Harry replied.
“Better safe than sorry,” Bill retorted.
The three of them Levitated themselves down into the hole, with Harry going first. The shaft they descended into was around thirty feet deep, Ginny guessed, and pitch black. As she slowly floated down, a light suddenly flared below her, revealing that Harry had found the bottom and cast a wand lighting charm.
“Locked door,” Harry announced as soon as Ginny and Bill landed. He gestured to a bare wood door, set into a small recess in the compacted mud walls.
“Let me have a go at it,” Bill said and stepped forward. It took him barely a minute to get it open.
“That was quick,” Ginny noted.
“Yeah, there was a very simple Locking Spell on it. Perhaps too simple,” Bill said warily.
“So, in other words, from this point on be ready for traps?” Harry asked.
Warily, they entered what proved to be a long, dark corridor made of grey stone. The walls and ceiling were featureless, while the floor had a heavy dusting of sand covering it. No matter how hard she peered into the blackness, Ginny couldn’t see more than a few yards in front of her.
“Time for some proper illumination,” Bill declared, and waved his wand in a precise manner. A moment later, a small ball of brilliant light appeared in the air in front of them. “Old curse-breaker trick. The light will float about five feet in front of us at all times, and it leaves my hands free.”
“Useful,” Harry agreed.
“Right, I’ll take the lead,” Bill declared. “You two stay a couple of yards behind me at all times.”
“If you say so,” Harry agreed, amusement in his voice.
Stealthily, Bill began to make his way down the corridor, his wand extended in front of him at all times. Slowly, the three of them edged their way deeper into the stygian depths of the tomb. They continued on slowly until Ginny started to lose track of time. She was beginning to think that the corridor went on forever when, suddenly, there came a sound of stone grinding on stone, followed by an audible click.
“Oh… shit,” Bill mumbled.
“Stay absolutely still,” Harry told him, before dropping to his hands and knees and crawling forward. He halted just short of the spot where Bill was rigidly standing, and began to examine the area around the redhead’s feet.
“Hmm, seems to be an old fashioned pressure plate,” Harry announced. “I suspect we only heard it because it’s so old. I suppose leaving it four thousand years without regular maintenance has that effect.”
“Just fix it, would you?” Bill demanded.
“I’ll just conjure an object with the same weight as you and use a Switching Spell to replace you with it,” Harry shrugged. “How much do you weigh?”
“Twelve stone, six pounds,” Bill replied immediately.
“Okay, get ready,” Harry told him, climbing to his feet and aiming his wand at the pressure plate.
There was a flash of light and suddenly Bill was standing next to Ginny, while in the spot he’d been standing was a large, stone object which was strangely shaped. Ginny gasped when she realised what it was.
“Harry!” she protested. “That’s a bit… phallic… isn’t it?”
“As Mr Curse-Breaker here demonstrated he was a massive cock by stupidly standing on that trap, I thought I’d replace like with like,” Harry said smugly.
Ginny nearly collapsed laughing.
“It was a simple mistake,” Bill said through ground teeth. “I’m used to dealing with magical traps and curses, not idiotic Muggle traps like that.”
“There was still a good chance that whatever that was would have killed you, magic or no magic,” Harry smirked. “Still, I can Vanish the stone and you can take your chances if you like.”
Bill just glared at him.
“How about we continue in line abreast?” Harry suggested. “You check for Magical traps, and I’ll look for Muggle ones?”
“Okay,” Bill agreed sullenly.
Pausing only to wink at Ginny, Harry took position next to the tall man. Then, moving in parallel, they began to edge forward again. They hadn’t gone very far when Bill again halted them.
“I think there’s another trap up ahead. A magical one this time,” he announced.
“What do you want to do? Disarm it or trip it early?” Harry asked.
“I think I’ll trip it. It seems very straightforward, and that makes me suspicious. Why would one of the greatest magicians in Egyptian history leave something so simple?”
“Okay, lets back up and you can trip it,” Harry agreed.
They retreated a good ten yards before Harry and Ginny both cast Shield Charms. Bill instead aimed his wand back at the area they had just come from before releasing a beam of blue light. Several things immediately happened. Not only was there a sharp detonation which echoed thunderously in the confined space of the corridor, but a moment later a veritable storm of spears shot down from the ceiling and peppered the area where they had previously been standing.
“Interesting. A mix of magical and the mundane,” Harry noted once their ears had stopped ringing. “Some form of Blasting Charm was triggered before moments later the whole area is bombarded by spears. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were poison-tipped, either.”
“I thought that trap looked too straightforward,” Bill added.
“Yeah, good work, Bill,” Ginny congratulated him.
“Well, this is proving to be fun. I tell you both, though, if the next trap involves a huge stone ball rolling at us, I’m going to be very disappointed,” Harry said with amusement in his voice. Bill chuckled at his words, but Ginny wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about. Not wanting to show her ignorance of the matter, she said nothing.
They continued their journey further into the dark depths, with Ginny starting to lose all notion of how far they’d actually travelled. The tunnel just seemed to keep going down and down. Just how deep was this tomb?
The next obstacle appeared after another ten minutes walking. The corridor was blocked by a door of what appeared to be iron. A pair of fabulous serpents was engraved on it, making Ginny shudder as she looked at them.
“Can you get this open?” Harry asked.
“Yeah, in fact, it’s not even locked,” Bill replied. “I am detecting some magic emanating from the door, though. I’m not sure it’s a trap, exactly. It’s more like a signal, actually, although to what I couldn’t say.”
“Only one way to find out,” Harry decided and pushed open the door.
The iron door swung open to reveal a corridor just like they were standing in. In the middle of the floor, however, was a huge, golden serpent, very similar to the ones engraved on the door. At first, Ginny thought it was just a statue, but just as the door fully opened a blue light seemed to shimmer around the great snake and it began to move.
“Ah, I should have guessed it would be a snake,” Harry said.
“Hopefully, this shouldn’t be too hard to deal with,” Bill responded, and sent a powerful Cutting Charm at the creature. Bill’s aim was good and the snake’s head was neatly severed. The body of the great serpent crashed to the stone floor.
“Well, that was easy…” Bill began, but his voice trailed off.
Ginny’s jaw dropped as the recently severed head began to move all by itself. A moment later, it slid across the floor until it joined the neck of the snake. A blue glow again surrounded the creature and, amazingly, it began to stir.
“Ah, maybe not that easy,” Harry said.
“Oh, bollocks,” was Bill’s only comment as the snake began to rear up.
“Back!” Harry yelled, leaping backwards and dragging the two Weasleys with him.
The snake lunged with its fangs narrowly missing Bill as he staggered backwards. Unfortunately, his feet became tangled and he tripped, falling on his back.
“Bill!” Ginny cried and sent a hex at the snake who again look ready to strike. It knocked the beast back a few feet, but otherwise it looked unharmed.
“Let’s try this!” Harry shouted, and with a wave of his wand Conjured a long, silver sword. Jumping forward, he swung the blade and cut the snake cleanly in two. With Ginny’s help, Bill managed to scramble to his feet just in time to see the snake magically reattach itself again.
“How do we kill this thing?” Bill asked in awe.
“I’ve got an idea,” Harry called back. “Bill, cast another Cutting Charm at it. Try and get a good clean cut.”
“What good with that do?” he demanded.
“Just do it!” Harry yelled back.
“Bugger, get out of the way, Bill. I’ll do it,” Ginny said, shouldering her brother out of the way. She levelled her wand at the advancing snake and sent the required charm at it. Again, the snake’s body was cut into two.
This time, Harry was ready for it. With a graceful wave of his wand, he sent another charm at the snake, although it appeared to have no immediate effect. He then cast a second spell, this time causing all the sand that was lying around the floor of the tunnel to billow into the air. For a second, the snake was obscured in the mini-sandstorm, before visibility began to clear.
Ginny gasped as she saw the snake trying to become whole again, but for some reason this time it wasn’t working. The two parts of the body just seemed to be ramming against each other, with no effect. They stood and watched for several minutes as the snake’s actions became more and more frantic. Gradually, the two pieces of the serpent began to slow and its movement became less frenzied. Slowly, it came to a complete stop and it collapsed onto the cold, stone floor and remained still.
“What did you do?” Bill asked.
“Once Ginny cut the monster into two, I simply applied an Adhesive Charm to the creature’s neck before causing the sand to start flying about. Naturally, the sand became stuck to the snake’s torso and formed a barrier, meaning the two parts couldn’t magically mesh together. I guess it could only survive so long in that state.”
“Brilliant, Harry!” Ginny exclaimed.
“Yeah… good thinking,” Bill admitted. “You’re pretty good at this stuff.”
“Thank you. That’s praise indeed coming from one of Gringotts’ finest curse-breakers,” Harry said graciously.
“You’re welcome,” Bill responded. “Shall we press on? I can’t imagine that there can be much further to go. My Tracking Charm says we’ve gone nearly a mile into the rock face as it is.”
“I suspect that snake was the final guardian, but we should still be cautious. Let’s move on in the same way as before,” Harry suggested.
“Good plan,” Bill agreed.
In fact, they only had about fifty yards left to travel. They soon encountered another door, this one of beaten copper. Strange symbols were etched above the door which Ginny assumed were hieroglyphics. Bill, fortunately, seemed to be able to understand what they said.
“This is it!” Bill declared. “This is the tomb of Teta the Magician.”
“Are we clear to enter?” Harry asked.
Bill waved his wand a few more times before nodding. “We’re good to go,” he confirmed.
“In that case, let’s enter a place no living being has stepped foot in for over four and a half thousand years,” Harry said eagerly.
With trepidation, the three of them crowded forward, and prepared to enter the lost tomb of Teta the Magician. With a surprisingly gently push, the copper door swung open, revealing the tomb beyond.
It was all Ginny could do not to gasp out loud at what she saw there…
Back to index
Chapter 7: Chapter 7 - Village of the Damned
As I type this, the first spoilers are coming onto the web regarding ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ and I find myself intrigued by them. Not enough to book tickets to see the show, mind. Still, what a shock to learn that Hagrid has had a sex-change. That failed relationship with Madam Maxime must really have screwed him up…
Anyhoo, he’s the next chapter in which we get not one, but two classic Hammer Horror monsters (even if one doesn’t make an appearance yet). Ginny proves she’s growing into her new job, and Harry reveals that he hates sparkly things. Snigger.
Massive wobbly thanks to Arnel for beat reading and to (ex-) Mrs Brennus for lending me her books on ancient Egypt.
Chapter 7 — Village of the Damned
The door swung open giving Ginny her first look into Teta’s tomb. Her brother’s glowing ball of light revealed a large room, perhaps twenty or thirty feet square, in the very centre of which stood an impressive stone sarcophagus. Piled around the walls were a huge variety of items, including various weapons, jars and pots of all shapes and sizes, a number of statues, books and papyrus scrolls, plus a vast number of boxes.
“Hang back, you two,” Bill said firmly. “Let me enter first and check it out.”
“You’re the expert,” Harry agreed.
Bill edged into the tomb, his wand extended in front of him. He paused every few feet and cast various different spells, his eyes scanning the room intently. After some ten minutes or so, he beckoned them to enter.
“Come in, but don’t touch anything,” he advised. “Even after all this time, this place is filled with powerful magic. It’s going to take a whole team weeks to sort it out, but I’m fairly certain we’ll be alright as long as we don’t try and take anything.”
“That could be a problem. The whole point of me being here was to take something,” Harry pointed out.
“Yes, but the object you’re after didn’t belong to Teta, did it?” Bill replied. “I don’t think the original curse should affect it.”
“One way to find out,” Harry said, and pulled out his magical compass. He quickly scanned the room before pointed to a large box tucked into a corner. He walked over to it and peered inside.
“Is the piece of the Moon Hare in that box, Harry?” Ginny asked.
“Yes, in fact it appears to be sitting on top of a pile of amber. I should be able to pick it up without touching anything else, assuming Bill thinks that’s okay.”
“Let me just have a quick check,” Bill told him, before joining Harry in front of the box. The tall redhead waved his wand over the container several times, apparently without effect.
“Well? Am I okay to take it?” Harry asked impatiently.
“I think so,” Bill replied hesitantly. “There’s a lot of strange magic coming off that piece of jewellery, but I don’t think it’s connected to this tomb.”
“In that case…”
Harry reached into the box and deftly snatched up the piece of the Moon Hare. They all held their breaths, but nothing happened.
“That makes a nice change. Normally things aren’t that easy,” Ginny noted.
“Yeah, they…” Harry begun, but his voice trailed off. “I hate to ask, guys, but didn’t that sarcophagus have a lid on it a moment ago?”
“Oh, shit. I had to open my big mouth,” Ginny cursed.
A moment later, a figure began to slowly sit upright in the stone coffin. It looked exactly the way Ginny had always imagined a mummified body would be, save that it seemed rather large. With agonising slowness, it rose up and began to turn its head towards them.
“Time to leave, I think,” Harry said urgently.
“Yeah, I… bugger! When did the door to the tomb close?” Bill asked in horror.
“I never even heard it! Damn. Okay, let’s not panic. As we said earlier, we haven’t touched any of the original treasure in this tomb. Perhaps this thing will just let us be,” Harry reasoned.
“Yeah, I’ll bet that’s exactly what will happen,” Ginny replied in a voice that left no doubt what she really thought.
“Keep your wands ready,” Bill advised.
The mummy began to climb out of the coffin, swinging its legs over the edge until they touched the floor. It must have been at least seven feet tall, Ginny reckoned, and powerfully built. In fact, it didn’t look human.
“Is this really the body of Teta the Magician?” Harry gasped, obviously thinking along the same lines as Ginny.
“I think this must be his Kas, or double. No doubt Teta magically enhanced the thing to act as the tomb’s guardian. His actual body must be elsewhere,” Bill replied while warily watching the mummy.
For a moment, the tall creature paused, as if uncertain what to do, before suddenly raising its arms and lunging towards Harry.
“Damn,” Harry yelled and fired a spell at it. Ginny wasn’t certain what spell her employer had used, but whatever it was it looked powerful and deadly. It struck the mummy square in the chest, knocking it back a few feet. Unfortunately, the bright purple beam of light seemed to be absorbed into the creature’s body without any other effect. A moment later, the mummy again raised its arms and began to move towards Harry.
“I think we might have a problem,” Bill announced and began shooting his own curses at the advancing monster. Harry also began to throw a variety of spells at it, but nothing seemed to work.
“Fire! Try fire spells!” Ginny yelled, thinking that the bandage-wrapped creature would likely burn easily. She threw an Incendiary Curse at the monster and for a moment felt a surge of triumph as the mummy was engulfed in flames. A few seconds later, however, the flames died leaving the beast unharmed.
“What will destroy this thing?” Bill yelled, before grabbing something that resembled a jewelled sceptre and wielding it like a club. He charged at the mummy, intent on using his improvised weapon to smash in the monster’s skull. The mummy almost contemptuously grabbed his arm and without any apparent effort flung the tall redhead across the tomb. Bill hit the far wall with some force and he let out a loud yell on impact. He fell to the ground like a ragdoll and began to cradle his arm.
“BILL!” Ginny yelled. She tried to reach her fallen brother, but the mummy was between him and herself.
“Stay there, Ginny,” Bill called out between gritted teeth. “I think I broke my arm, but I’m okay.”
“For the moment, anyway,” Harry pointed out as the mummy began to advance on him again. “Let me try something.”
Taking the piece of the Moon Hare he’d recently retrieved, he threw it at the mummy, obviously hoping that if he returned the item that the creature believed he’d stolen it might make it halt its attack.
It didn’t. The creature lurched forward again, its hands extended in front of it.
“Damn, this thing is grumpier than Ginny when she’s been forced to get up early in the morning,” Harry snarled.
“This is really not the time to be making jokes, Harry!” Ginny snapped. “Besides, not all of us are morning-people, you know.”
Harry actually laughed, before launching himself at the advancing mummy. He twisted in the air and caught the monster squarely in the face with his right heel. Ginny marvelled that he appeared to know some form of martial art, but gasped in horror as the beast swung his arm and caught Harry in the chest with a powerful swing. She heard the breath being knocked out of him as he was flung backwards through the air, landing roughly in a pile of boxes.
“Harry!” she called, but was relieved to see him climb to his feet.
“Will nothing stop this thing?” Harry cursed. “Anyone got any ideas?”
“Sorry, Harry, I’ve never encountered anything like this before,” Bill said while awkwardly climbing to his feet. He appeared to have lost his wand.
As the mummy began to advance on the two men once more, Ginny began to desperately look around for a weapon or at least some means of escape. As her eyes scanned the piles of treasure, her gaze fell on a strangely shaped sword. It resembled a sickle more than anything, and had an odd hook at the end. Leaping forward, she grabbed the sword with both hands and looked up. She nearly shrieked in horror as she saw that the mummy had managed to grab Harry around the throat and was strangling him, despite Bill’s best efforts to loosen the beast’s grip. Without thinking, Ginny sprinted towards the mummy and with a mighty swing embedded the sword in the back of the monster’s head.
Harry slid to the floor as the mummy’s grip on him loosened. The monster staggered a few steps, its arms flailing wildly as it tried to grab the sword still sticking out of the back of its head. Then, without warning, its legs collapsed and it fell to its knees. The mummy let out a mighty cry, the first noise the beast had made, before falling flat on its face.
“Oh, sweet Merlin!” Bill gasped. “Well done, Ginny.”
“Yes… that was brilliant,” Harry managed to wheeze between deep breaths.
“I’m just amazed that a simple bloody sword worked on that thing,” Ginny replied, her heart racing a million beats a second.
“That’s a khopesh,” Bill informed her. “The fact that it was left here suggests it might have been magical or had some other special properties. Either way, it did for that bloody thing.”
“Yes, and we have Ginny to thank for that. Now you see why I employed her?” Harry asked the curse-breaker.
“I always knew she was special,” Bill replied casually, still cradling his arm.
“Right, I vote we try and fix your arm, before we work out a way to get out of here. Did you see where your wand went, Bill? I’m sure you’ll need it to get that door open again,” Harry asked.
“Over there somewhere,” Bill replied, grunting as Harry cast a number of Healing Charms on him.
By now, Ginny had managed to regain her composure, somewhat. With measured steps, she approached the fallen body of the mummy and viewed it with satisfaction. In the weak light provided by Bill’s hovering light charm, she saw something glittering. Reaching down, she saw it was the piece of the Moon Hare that Harry had thrown at the mummy. Carefully, she let the jewel dangle between her fingers, and she admired the wonderful craftsmanship of it.
“I’ve got what we came for, boys,” she announced. “Now, let’s get the hell out of here!”
There was no disagreement to her words.
It was evening before the three of them were able to gather together again in Harry’s tent. On their return to the camp, Bill had been rushed to the group’s Healer who immediately set to work on his arm, repairing what Harry’s spells had not.
The news that the three of them had discovered the tomb of Teta the Magician was met with both scepticism and anger, not least because a pair of non-Gringotts personnel had been involved. In the end, Harry had to escort a couple of senior bank staff to the site of their discovery and show them the tomb. The revelation that the tomb was actually what it had been reported to be set off a mild panic amongst the curse-breakers, and Harry had been coerced into signing an agreement stating he had no claim on anything in the tomb, not that he cared.
As most of the Gringotts staff had decamped to Tanis to explore the new discovery, the existing site was soon nearly deserted. Harry, Ginny and Bill all pulled up chairs and sat outside Harry’s tent, watching the sun setting on the horizon and sharing a bottle of chilled white wine that Harry had produced.
“Well, that was an interesting day,” Bill noted, before taking a sip of his wine.
Ginny snorted. “That’s an understatement!”
“Is this the sort of thing you two normally get up to?” Bill demanded. “Bloody hell, Ginny, Mum would have kittens if she had any idea you were involved in stuff like this.”
“Oh, and you think she’d be any happier if she discovered exactly what your job entails? Just because you can pull the wool over her eyes doesn’t mean I can’t, either! Why is it alright for you to risk your life hunting through ancient tombs and not me?” Ginny demanded.
“She makes a good point,” Harry interrupted. “Besides, don’t you think Ginny proved that she can handle herself? We’d probably both be mincemeat if it wasn’t for her.”
Bill scowled, but reluctantly nodded in agreement. “I have to say, I was deeply suspicious when I heard you got this job, Ginny. I thought Potter here must have ulterior motives, but I guess you showed me I was wrong. You two make a good team, actually.”
“We do,” Harry agreed. “I’m coming to rely heavily on your sister. She’s become just about indispensable to me.”
“Only because you can never be bothered with all the small details of our trips,” Ginny countered. “I swear, you’d forget to pack any clean underwear if it wasn’t for me.”
“I’ll leave my underwear entirely in your hands, Ginny,” Harry confirmed with a roguish smile. Even Bill snorted at that.
“So, this should be a huge shot in the arm for your career, big brother,” Ginny told him. “As Harry graciously signed away all rights to the discovery, you can claim the glory all to yourself. I bet Gringotts gives you a promotion, at least.”
“Yeah… maybe,” Bill said glumly.
“You don’t sound very excited by that prospect,” Harry noted.
“No, I guess I’m not,” the tall redhead replied.
“Why? I thought you loved this job. A promotion would mean you could pick or choose what site you worked at,” Ginny exclaimed.
“Actually… I’m thinking of asking for some time off, a leave of absence, if you will.”
“Why?” Ginny asked.
“I thought… I thought I might visit France,” Bill said hesitantly.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to be chasing after Fleur,” she gaped. “I thought you said she was history.”
“I know I did, but… look, to tell you the truth, seeing you and Harry has made me realise what I’m missing,” Bill explained.
“You what?” Ginny cried in surprise.
“What you said to me yesterday has started to hit home. If I truly cared about Fleur, I shouldn’t have let my family’s opinion of her put me off. If living in England made her unhappy, I should have been prepared to compromise, but truth be told, I loved this job so much that I didn’t want to give it up. I think I used you and Mum’s hostility to Fleur as a bit of an excuse, really, when at the end of the day it was my reluctance to really commit that broke us up. Well, I’m starting to realise what an idiot I’ve been, and I’m going to go and beg her for a second chance. If she wants me to move to France then no problem, and if that means quitting Gringotts, then fine. I know the circumstances are very different, but seeing the casual way you and Harry act around each other really drove home what I’ve been missing. All this excitement and adventure is meaningless unless I have someone to share it all with.”
“Wow, that’s a bit of a turnaround,” Ginny muttered.
“If you want my opinion as an outsider, I think you’re doing the right thing,” Harry said. “Becoming obsessed by your work can be a dangerous thing, and loneliness can be a terrible burden. If this girl means as much to you as she appears to do, than you should risk everything to get her back. If you don’t, you could be regretting it for the rest of your life. Even if it doesn’t work out, you can hold your head up and say you gave it your best shot.”
“Seriously, Bill, I may not like her, but if you really do love her, then I’ll welcome her into the family with open arms. Hell, I bet Mum will even warm to her when you present her with her first grandchild,” Ginny told him.
“Ginny!” Bill protested. “Besides, I have no idea if she’ll even want me back. She might have moved on.”
“Best you don’t wait too long to find out, then,” Harry said.
“No, I guess you’re right. I’ll speak to the group leader in the morning,” Bill replied with a steely determination.
“Then I wish you good luck,” Harry said, raising his glass.
All three of them clinked glasses, and watched as the sun dipped under the horizon.
“That doesn’t get any easier!” Harry gasped as he lay panting on the floor.
Ginny hurried over to him and helped him sit up, before draping a towel over his shoulders. The third time in, and she was starting to become more use to these Detection Rituals, even to the point she felt comfortable touching the half-naked Harry. Perhaps ‘comfortable’ wasn’t the word, she decided, maybe ‘eager’ was more fitting.
“What did I come up with this time?” he asked, smiling at her as she wiped him down with the towel.
“Sounds like another trip to Europe,” she advised. “You kept muttering ‘Carpathian Mountains’ and ‘Count Rugila’.”
“What? Oh, I didn’t, did I?” Harry moaned sounding like a petulant schoolboy.
Ginny blinked. She’d never heard him anything less than enthused for any of their destinations. To hear him almost whining was something new.
“Is that a problem?” she asked.
“Yes, the Carpathian Mountains mean one thing: vampires! I think I might have heard of this ‘Count Rugila’, too. If he’s who I think he is, he’s an ancient and powerful vampire who owns a large castle in the mountains. He’s a dangerous bastard, and pure evil!”
“You’ve already faced down a demi-god, Harry. One vampire isn’t going to cause us much trouble, is he?” Ginny asked, thinking of the vampire that had visited Hogwarts during her time there. He hadn’t seemed that impressive.
“Samedi was just humouring us until he got caught up in his own scheme. If he’d decided to just attack us we’d be dead by now, although admittedly we’d probably still be moving about and doing a lot of moaning and groaning. Rugila won’t mess around. He’ll just attack us on sight. He’ll be damn powerful, too, and he won’t be alone. I expect his castle is full of blood-sucking servants and flunkies. Damn it! Why did it have to be vampires? I hate vampires.”
“Are we giving up, then?” Ginny asked, a little shocked.
“No, of course not. I’ve never given up on anything in my life,” Harry said, echoing her own words back in the Hurtgen Forest.
“So, how do we approach this?”
“Carefully, and we go in fully prepared,” he informed her. “The best way to kill a vampire is decapitation, so we’ll both carry swords. That means I’m going to have to train you how to use one. I’ll also have a few spells to teach you, too. Although it’s a myth that vampires are destroyed by sunlight, they certainly don’t like it much. I know a spell that can simulate blazing sunshine which should blind them, if only temporarily. There’s another curse that attacks their blood and leaves them paralyzed, the weaker ones, anyway. I doubt an elder vampire would even notice it being cast on them.”
“Okay,” Ginny said, starting to feel a little nervous. “Are we going to try and negotiate with them initially? I mean, they might be willing to sell their piece of the Moon Hare.”
“No, they won’t have any interest in dealing with humans; they hate us. We’ll try and sneak in to this castle, but I highly doubt we’ll have much success remaining undetected. No, if the situation requires it, we’ll have to go in all guns blazing and kill as many of the bastards as we can. Trust me, we’ll be doing the world a service. If things get too dicey, we’ll simply Apparate away. For all their powers, vampires can’t cast magic.”
“Alright,” Ginny agreed, happy that they had an easy escape mode if the situation got out of hand.
“Know this, however, Ginny. There can be no hesitation or mercy shown when dealing with vampires. They are born killers and totally without remorse. They also have powers of mind control and, if you let them, they will take over your mind and have you begging them to drink your bloody. If you see a vampire, you kill it, instantly. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Harry. I know you well enough by now to know you’re not joking around with this.”
“I’m glad,” Harry said, his expression brightening. “By the way, I didn’t say you had to stop rubbing me with that towel.”
Laughing, Ginny just slapped him lightly over the head with it.
“I have to say, Harry, you’ve taken me to nicer places!”
Ginny looked around critically at the small Romanian village of Solca. When Harry had selected the location as a suitable place from which they could launch their assault on the vampire’s castle, she’d pictured a rustic, medieval place with quaint buildings full of mystery and charm. What she got instead was a hovel.
“It’s not quite what I imagined, either,” Harry admitted.
They had arrived just outside the village having taken a Portkey from Bucharest. While there were a few older buildings evident, the majority of the houses were ugly breezeblock constructions, all painted in drab colours and in serious need of repair. Several large, metal sheds were located nearby, presumably for agricultural purposes, but they did little to add to the aesthetics of the place. Add in the fact that the weather was damp and miserable, and Solca looked a very unwelcoming place.
“We could just pitch the tent somewhere,” Ginny suggested, not liking the look of the village, at all.
“I was hoping to get a taste of rural Romania,” Harry said, sounding a little disappointed. “I’ve never really explored this part of Europe, the major cities, aside. I was interested to see what this part of the world was like these days. It’s not so long since the Communists lost power here, after all.”
“I guess we could check it out,” she said grudgingly.
“Well, we have come all this way. It would be stupid not to at least have a look around. Besides, I’d be interested in finding out if these villagers know anything about their vampire neighbours. We are only about five miles from the castle, after all.”
“Let’s go, then,” Ginny said with a sigh, and the two of them began to walk into the drab village.
As they walked, Ginny became less and less impressed with the place. The roads were in serious need of repair, with potholes everywhere. Most of the houses they passed seemed in a fairly bad condition, too, with rotting doors and window frames, peeling paintwork, and overgrown gardens. She noticed several rusting cars without wheels, propped up with bricks.
They’d nearly walked through the entire village before they came to an ugly building with a sharply slanted roof, similar to many she’d seen in Germany. The houses in Germany, however, had all been in good repair and had looked sturdy and welcoming. This place looked badly-kept and rather shabby. It was also, she realised with a sinking heart, the village’s only hotel.
“The tent is starting to look more and more appealing,” she muttered.
“Remember, we only brought the small tent, so you’d have to end up sharing a bedroom with me,” Harry pointed out, “or was that your desire, Miss Weasley?”
“My desire, Mr Potter, is to sleep somewhere I’m not likely to catch something off the sheets,” she retorted. “I’d rather share a bedroom with you than a million cockroaches, which is what I’ll probably be doing here.”
“You’d rather sleep with me than a cockroach? Oh, Miss Weasley, you do care!”
Ginny managed to suppress a snort of amusement.
“Seriously, Harry, are you sure about this place?” she asked plaintively.
Harry shrugged. “I do want to gather some local intelligence,” he insisted. “If the place is as bad as it looks, we don’t have to stay here. Believe it or not, I’m not a huge fan of sleeping in insect-infested beds, either.”
“Okay, let’s go in, then,” Ginny agreed.
They entered and found themselves in a large, gloomy room that was littered with numerous tables and chairs. Immediately to their left was a small bar area, featuring a dark-wood counter and a cracked mirror mounted on the wall behind it. Numerous bottles, none of which Ginny recognised, were haphazardly arranged on a shelf beneath the mirror. The whole room smelt of over-cooked meat and cigarette smoke.
Harry headed straight to the bar and wrapped his knuckles loudly against the counter.
“Service!” he called out, there apparently being no other means of attracting the attention of the staff.
A few moments later, a man shuffled into sight from a side room. He was thin, balding, and apparently in his late-forties/early-fifties. He was dressed in a white shirt with a rather threadbare cardigan over it. For some reason, the man reminded Ginny of her father, although he would never have appeared in public quite as grubby as this fellow.
“Yes?” the man said, looking at them inquiringly.
“Good afternoon,” Harry greeted him politely. “I was wondering if we could see a menu?”
“A menu?” the man repeated, as if he’d never heard of such a thing. “Ah, being that we tend only to cater to the local community, we don’t have a printed menu, as such. In fact, we rarely have visitors here in Solca. May I ask why you have come here? We’re not exactly a normal tourist destination, you know.”
“We’re backpackers,” Harry answered smoothly. “There’s nothing my girlfriend and I like better than to head off into the wild and discover new places. We really aren’t much for touristy locations, you know.”
“Ah,” the man said simply, but continued to regard them strangely.
“Yes, we came across this place purely by accident,” Ginny added quickly. It was a good cover story, although she’d had to hide her surprise when Harry had described her as his girlfriend.
“So, would we be able to sample some of your local cuisine?” Harry pressed.
“Of course, although I’m afraid we have only a limited selection available,” the man replied. “You’ve missed our normal lunchtime rush, and normally we don’t serve food again until early evening, but as long as you’re not too picky I’m sure we can rustle something up.”
“We’re always keen to try out the local fare. Please, bring us whatever you have available. Perhaps we could have a couple of glasses of beer while we wait?” Harry asked.
The man nodded and retrieved a glass from underneath the counter. He began to fill it from a pump that had a badge marked ‘Timisoreana’, presumably the name of either the type of beer or the brewery that made it. Soon, Ginny found herself cradling a large glass of frothy, golden beer. Harry soon had one, too, and took a long pull from his. It obviously met his satisfaction, as he smiled appreciatively as he wiped the foam from his lips.
They took seats at what looked like one of the less battered tables and waited for their food. Harry seemed quite happy to sit and swig his beer, although Ginny felt decidedly on edge.
“Well? What do you think?” she asked him quietly while keeping an eye on the bar in case the owner returned.
“I think they make good beer in these parts,” he replied.
“I mean, what do you think about this place?” she growled, resisting the urge to pour her beer over his head.
Harry chuckled. “I think the barman is extremely suspicious of strangers, but that is probably true of any remote village like this. Still, something about him makes me wary. He got this look in his eyes when I said we were backpackers that made me think he didn’t believe me. There’s something odd about the whole village, too. I ask you, Ginny, during our time in this country, have you seen anywhere quite as rundown as this place? I know this country is still recovering from years of being under a dictatorship, but the rest of Romania looked like it was on the up and up. This place… it feels like it hasn’t changed in the last fifty years.”
“Like you said, this is a pretty remote location. Change probably comes pretty slowly to somewhere like this.”
“True, but still, I had the feeling…”
Whatever Harry was about to say was interrupted by the arrival of a young girl bearing a laden tray. She was small, dark, and quite pretty. Ginny judged her to be about fifteen or so, but was more interested in why the girl seemed to be utterly terrified of the pair of them.
“S…s... sorry for keeping you waiting,” the girl stammered. “I hope this is… all… umm… acceptable.”
“What do we have?” Harry asked, offering the scared girl a friendly smile.
“There’s a bowl of tocana, that’s a lamb stew. Some tochitura, which is pan-fried pork. Dovlecei umpluti, that’s stuffed zucchini, and a few sarmale, those are cabbage rolls. Is that okay?”
“I’m sure it will be delicious,” Harry told her kindly.
No sooner had the girl deposited the bowls and plates on the table, then she turned and practically fled from the room. Harry and Ginny shared a look, surprised by her odd behaviour.
The meal proved satisfactory, if not particularly spectacular, but Ginny reasoned that she should expect nothing more judging by the surroundings. Still, the food was honest, hearty fare and she had to admit she enjoyed the pork particularly. They had just finished when the bartender reappeared and came over to them.
“Was that alright?” he asked in a voice that suggested he didn’t care either way.
“Yes, it was very nice,” Harry confirmed. “Tell me, are we very far from the next village? Would we be able to make it on foot before dark?”
“No, you would not. The next village is many miles away, and night would fall long before you reached it. It is best not to walk around here in the dark, either.”
“You’re probably right, this far up into the mountains walking in the darkness would probably be a very bad idea,” Harry agreed.
“Yes,” the man said simply, his eyes guarded.
“Tell me, do you have a room we could rent for the night?” Harry asked, sounding like he’d only just thought of the idea.
“Yes, we are a hotel, after all,” the man replied. “Just the one room?”
“I’ll go and get it ready. Please, finish your drinks and I’ll come and get you when it’s prepared.”
With that, the man vanished behind the bar. Ginny instantly turned on Harry.
“One room? Is this the point when you tell me that this job involves performing duties for you that I wasn’t previously aware of?”
“Ginny, if I thought I could get away with it, I would have suggested that a long time ago,” Harry said with a mischievous glint in his eye. “No, I might be being a bit paranoid here, but I think we should stay together tonight. Something is definitely wrong here, and I believe we should take turns maintaining a watch through the night.”
“Really?” she exclaimed in surprise. “Are you sure we wouldn’t be better off in the tent?”
“No, something is definitely going on around here, and I want to know what it is. This village is only about five miles away from the vampire’s castle, yet everything here seems oddly normal. What did you make of our hosts assertion that we wouldn’t make it to the next village and that we shouldn’t walk around in the dark?”
“It seems sensible advice,” Ginny pointed out, before pausing for a moment. “Although something about the way he said it did give me the creeps.”
“Exactly. There’s more going on here than meets the eye, and I want to find out what.”
“Naturally,” Ginny replied, trying not to roll her eyes. When had Harry not wanted to find trouble?
Suppressing a yawn, Ginny stared out of the window into the dark street below. It was only a little after midnight, but it had been a long day and she was tired. Unfortunately, it was Harry’s turn to sleep.
They had taken the room offered by the hotel owner, and it had proven to be as dingy and dirty as Ginny had feared. As soon as they were alone in the dismal room, Harry had laid out his plan for the evening. He was convinced that the hotel owner was up to something and insisted they maintain a watch throughout the night. After a rather aggressive game of rock, paper, scissors, a victorious Harry had bestowed the first watch on Ginny before curling up in his sleeping bag, neither of them trusted the hotel supplied bedding, and going to sleep. Ginny was left sitting in the dark, trying desperately not to nod off. Sleeping, after all, was one of her favourite hobbies.
She began to rub her eyes again when something outside caught her attention. At the end of the street a bright light flared into life, illuminating the shabby buildings. A moment later, a second light appeared, followed by a third. Ginny watched in fascination as the lights began to move towards the hotel, bobbing up and down slightly as they came.
Eventually, the lights came close enough that she realised what they were: torches. They looked exactly like the ones that had illuminated the dark corridors of Hogwarts during her school days, and appeared to be held aloft by shadowy figures.
As she continued to watch, the torchbearers halted around ten yards in front of the hotel. Soon, in the flickering light she began to see other figures emerge from the darkness and join the three torchbearers. More and more shadowy bodies began to join them, until a sizable crowd was assembled below her window. Realising something odd was going on, Ginny leapt to the bed and woke Harry.
“When did this lot arrive?” he asked her after he had a chance to examine the crowd covertly out of the window.
“Only just a moment ago,” she explained. “They just appeared from out of nowhere and…”
“Wait!” Harry interrupted. “Someone has just come out of the hotel to meet them. Ah, it seems our friendly host has decided to make an appearance.”
Ginny peered down and did indeed see the hotel owner approaching the crowd. The man seemed untroubled by the mob, and in fact seemed to be giving them instructions. With a few waves of his arms, several figures scuttled off left and right, apparently having been given some task.
“Want to bet that they are planning to surround the hotel?” Harry asked.
“Fat lot of good it will do them,” she snorted. “We can just Apparate away, can’t we?”
“Obviously they don’t realise we’re magical,” Harry suggested. “I think they have just been ordered to detain any strangers that come to this village.”
“Ordered? By who?”
“The vampires, obviously,” he replied. “You don’t think this lot have been able to happily live in the shadow of a major vampire settlement without coming to some form of arrangement with their neighbours, do you? I think this merry bunch outside are the bloodsuckers early warning system and first line of defence.”
“They work for the vampires?” Ginny exclaimed in surprise.
“I suspected as much from the cool reception we got when we first arrived. Remember how terrified that serving girl who brought us our lunch was, too. No, something is rotten about this village, and I want to find out exactly what.”
“You mean, we’re not simply going to Apparate away, then?” Ginny asked.
“No, I have a better idea. We’ll gather up all our things, then find a quiet corner to hide under the cover of my Invisibility Cloak. Hopefully, our unruly mob out there will assume we’ve done a runner and simply disperse. After that, I think a little chat with our wonderful host is in order, don’t you?”
“Okay,” Ginny agreed reluctantly. “We’d better hurry, though. It looks like the villagers are starting to enter the hotel.”
“Which is why we always keep our belongings packed away until we need them,” Harry said smugly. “I do have to say, Ginny, this is something of a turn-around. I thought torch-wielding mobs were supposed to go after the monsters, not the monster hunters.”
“Yeah, I suppose they are meant to, aren’t they?” she agreed.
“Indeed. Come on, Ginny, let’s grab our gear and find a nice hidey-hole.”
It was but the work of a few moments to grab their belongings, only the unrolled sleeping bag requiring any effort. After they had stuffed the bag into Harry’s rucksack, they hurried out of their assigned bedroom just as the sound of the mob could be heard coming up the stairs. Harry led them down the corridor and randomly selected another room. They then made themselves comfortable on the single bed the room contained, before covering themselves with Harry’s cloak.
It wasn’t long before they began to hear angry shouting and the sound of running feet. It was, however, a good ten minutes before the door of the bedroom they had taken refuge in was thrown open and a pair of villagers entered. They quickly scanned the room, going only so far as to open the closet and look under the bed, before they left again. Ginny had the impression that the locals believed they had already fled, and hence why only a half-hearted search was made.
In fact, she was more distracted about her close proximity to Harry than worrying about the rampaging locals. They were pressed extremely close together and Ginny luxuriated in the warmth of his body. He had a wonderful, manly scent about him, too. It was strange, no matter what dangerous situation Potter found himself in, he always managed to smell good. She would have to ask him about it one day, she decided. But for now, she was more than happy to be lying next to him, even if she was struggling not to succumb to temptation and start touching him more then she should. Now was most definitely not the time for such things!
They remained on the bed for another forty-five minutes, listening intently as the noise of the mob clattering around the hotel died down. Eventually, silence reigned and Harry pulled the cloak from them.
“Let’s Disillusion ourselves and look for the hotel owner,” Harry whispered. “Hopefully, he won’t have joined the other villagers out hunting for us.”
They stalked out of the room and headed down the stairs to the hotel’s bar-come-dining area. The whole place was dark, but Ginny could just make out a shape leaning against the bar. They approached as quietly as they could, and only when they were a few feet away from the figure did Harry make his presence known.
“I believe you’re looking for us?” he asked casually.
The figure spun around to reveal it was indeed the hotel’s owner who had apparently been frequenting his own bar. The man looked around in confusion, unable to see either of them due to their Disillusionment Charms. A moment later, Harry shot a spell at the man, binding him tightly with ropes. As Harry had become visible the moment he cast the spell, Ginny dropped her charm, too.
“You two!” the man exclaimed. “But you’re… magical!”
“Oh, what gave it away?” Harry asked wryly.
“But I don’t understand. What is a wizard doing here? Your kind know well enough to stay away from this place!” the man said in confusion.
“Oh, Harry never knows when to stay away from somewhere dangerous. I swear, he lives to stir up trouble,” Ginny explained.
“Play nice,” Harry admonished her before turning back to the hotel owner. “Now, you know, I don’t believe we ever learnt your name.”
“It’s Mircea Eliade,” he replied instantly. Ginny could see the fear in the man’s eyes clearly.
“Pleased to meet you, Mircea,” Harry continued in a conversational tone. “My name is Harry Potter, you might have heard of me. The beautiful lady next to me is Ginny Weasley, my friend and travelling companion. You and I, Mircea, are going to have a little chat.”
“Harry… Potter? You are he?” Eliade stammered. “I have heard of you! You are a Dark wizard!”
“Nonsense. Harry’s only moderately evil,” Ginny said with a chuckle.
“I can, however, be quite disagreeable when people don’t answer my questions truthfully,” Harry added. “I’m sure I won’t have to resort to unpleasant practises to ensure I get the right answers, will I? I will know if you’re lying to me, Mircea.”
“I… I… know what your type can do,” Eliade confirmed in a defeated tone. “Ask your questions, and I will give you truthful answers. As much as I can, anyway. I have nothing to lose now, as they’ll probably kill me for this. I might as well spare myself from whatever torture you are planning to inflict on me.”
“Very well,” Harry said. “Firstly, you can explain how this miserable little village can co-exist with one of the most dangerous vampire communities in Europe right on its doorstep.”
“It is simple: we work for them,” Eliade said, confirming Harry’s beliefs. “We have for centuries. We do whatever work they require of us, be it repairing their castle, carrying messages out into the world, or acting as lookouts for anyone suspicious in the area. We informed them of your arrival just minutes after you walked into the hotel.”
“Damn, so they’ll be ready for us,” Harry cursed.
“Do they really leave you alone?” Ginny pressed. “I mean, I can understand that you’re useful to them, but surely the vampires just view you lot as food most of the time, don’t they?”
“We… we have to appease them, from time to time,” Eliade admitted. “We have to give them a quota of young people every year, on mid-summer’s day. They prefer young female virgins, normally.”
“Don’t we all,” Harry agreed.
“Harry!” Ginny exclaimed, and slapped his arm. “How can you joke about this? This is barbaric! These people hand over their own daughters to those monsters. Remember how terrified that girl who served us at lunch was? I wouldn’t be surprised if she was on the list to be handed over to the vampires one day.”
“She is,” Eliade said despondently. “She is my niece, Madalina. She will be given to them two summers from now. She was scared because strangers in the village normally means trouble, and trouble upsets the masters. Sometimes, if we have displeased them, they demand we hand over more people, and not at the normal time. Madalina feared she might have to go early.”
“She knows this will happen to her? Why doesn’t she run?” Ginny demanded.
“They are elder vampires… where could she possibly go to escape them? Besides, if she ran they would punish others here,” the man explained.
“So, that poor girl has to live her life knowing that in a couple of years she’ll be sacrificed to a blood-sucking monster? That poor, poor girl,” Ginny said, feeling outraged by the idea.
“Oh, they don’t always kill them, you know. Sometimes, if the youth is especially attractive or strong, they turn them. I gather the vampires are not on good terms with each other, and clashes frequently occur amongst them. On occasion, they take our children to replace those that have been killed. It is a terrible thing… to see a familiar face, perhaps your own child, to return here stripped of all humanity… to have become one of them… I am glad I never had children, that is all I can say.”
Ginny looked at the man with a mixture of disgust and sympathy. What an awful life these villagers led, being nothing more than slaves to the vampires, unable to ever escape, and having to potentially hand over their own children to be either drained of blood or turned into a monster. She decided she would rather die than live like that.
“What do we do now, Harry?” she asked.
“Firstly, we’re going to Obliviate old Mircea, here. No one will ever know we came back to the hotel. Then, we’re going to get out of here and find a nice, quiet spot to pitch our tent. I’m sorry, Ginny, but you were right in the first place. We should never have stopped in this village.”
“At least we got some useful information. You were right about that,” she pointed out.
“Yes, but the price we paid wasn’t worth it. The vampires know we’re here now, and I’m sure our mysterious escape from that angry mob will have alerted them to the fact that we are not normal tourists. There’ll be no point messing around now, Ginny. I had hoped to try and infiltrate the castle quietly, but that’s not going to work now. We’ll have to launch a full-on assault on, and kill any vampire we come across.”
Ginny nodded. After hearing what was to be the fate of that poor serving girl, she had no problem with that plan, at all.
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Chapter 8: Chapter 8 - House of Horrors
Author's Notes: Sorry for the slight delay in posting again but, rather like the last one, I made a lot changes to this chapter. Still, a lot happens here so hopefully that will make up for my tardiness.
I think I should flag up a ‘Naughtiness!’ warning, and a ‘Nastiness!’ one, too. Things get a bit hot and sticky in places (literally!), and I go all ‘Witchfinder General’ towards the end. Hey, this is meant to be a horror story!
Mega wizard thanks to Arnel. I might yet yield to her suggestion to write a sequel to this.
Chapter 8 — House of Horrors
“That’s our destination.”
Ginny wearily looked up at where Harry was pointing. By the time they’d Obliviated the hotel owner and found a new location, well away from the village, to set up their tent, she’d only ended up getting about four hours sleep. Although Harry had insisted she consume a Pepperup Potion with her meagre breakfast, she was still feeling a little sandy-eyed.
After blinking in the sunlight a few times, Ginny caught sight of a dark, ominous structure that was perched on the hill across the snow-filled valley. Its gothic towers and foreboding keep were exactly as she had imagined the vampires’ castle would look like. Here was the fortress of Count Rugila, and it was as mysterious and unsettling as Harry had pictured it to be.
Although it was nearly March, spring showed no signs of making an appearance in this part of the world, and the thick expanse of evergreen trees were all sprinkled with snow which glistened in the first rays of the morning sun. As Harry had told her, dawn was the best time to try and enter a vampire-infested castle and she was happy to make the most of any advantage they could get.
“Are you ready?” Harry asked her.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she confirmed, adjusting the sword that hung in a scabbard at her waist. Harry had spent the last two weeks instructing her in its use and she was unsurprised to learn that he was a master swordsman. Her wand was securely mounted in a holster on her left arm, and she could also boast of several new spells to add to her armoury. The False Dawn Charm created a brilliant ball of light that would paralyse, or at least blind, most vampires. Likewise, the Blood Boiling Hex should also render them helpless. As Harry had driven into her, however, neither spell would kill them. Only a beheading would do that.
“Let’s Apparate to the top of the extreme left-hand tower. From there we should be able to find our way into the castle itself,” he suggested.
“No problem,” Ginny replied with as much resolve as she could muster. Nervously, she pulled at the stiff collar of her battle robes which were designed to prevent a vampire gaining easy access to her jugular. Desperately, she tried not to think about a pair of over-sized teeth sinking into her flesh.
“Alright, let’s go, then,” Harry said and, with a soft pop, was gone.
Ginny wasted no time in following him and soon found herself standing beside him on the wind-swept tower. The tower itself was bare stone apart from a rectangular gap in the centre which revealed a set of steps descending downwards. Over the ramparts, she could see the sun was now raising over the horizon, bathing everything in a golden light.
“This way,” Harry told her, approaching the steps. “Remember, from this point you must be totally ruthless. Any hesitation could get you killed, so take down any of these monsters that you see instantly. Make sure you stay close to me, too.”
“No problem,” she confirmed, hurrying over. She had absolutely no desire to find herself alone in this place.
“Let’s go,” Harry said, holding his wand out in front of him as he started to make his way down the steps.
Ginny followed and soon found herself in a very narrow, circular stairway. Only a few widely-separated torches were hung from the walls, meaning the steep passageway was extremely dark. She concentrated intently on every step she took, fearing she would slip on the damp, grey stone.
After what felt like a ridiculous amount of time, the steps finally ended and led into a wide hall which featured a dark, polished wood floor with an intricate set of supporting beams arranged above them. A number of tapestries hung from the walls, but it was too dark to make out what they depicted. A few candelabras dotted about the place provided the only light.
Harry had taken a few hesitant steps into the hall when the first attack came. All Ginny saw was a blurring of the shadows in front of them before a body lunged at Harry with inhuman speed. Clearly, Harry had been expecting this and a Blood Boiling Hex left his wand before Ginny had time to blink. There was an animalistic cry, and the body fell to the ground, writhing.
A second figure sprung from the shadows, but Ginny was ready for it this time. She cast her own Blood Boiling Hex and hit the indistinct blur square in the chest. It too screamed and fell to its knees, giving Ginny her first good look at the creature. It appeared surprisingly normal, apart from the fact its skin appeared to be pulled too tight over its face. In the weak candlelight, she clearly saw two large fangs protruding from its mouth.
By this point, Harry had drawn his sword and with a vicious sweep of the blade he struck the head from his opponent. Rather less gracefully, Ginny fumbled with her own sword, struggling to free it from its scabbard. Fortunately, Harry had already strode forward and, gripping his sword in both hands, swung it at the second vampire. There was an unsettling thump as its head bounced on the wooden floor and rolled away into the shadows.
“Good work,” Harry said with a fierce satisfaction in his voice. “That’s two of the monsters dealt with. Best if you keep your sword drawn from this point, Ginny. Carry it in your offhand and your wand in your right. You can easily switch hands as needed that way.”
“Yeah, I had trouble getting it out of its scabbard,” she admitted. “Do you think this pair just happened to be in this room, or do they know we’re here?”
“Who knows? I doubt there would have only been two of them if they knew we were here for certain. I suspect they know someone has entered the castle, but don’t know our exact location, for sure.”
“I wonder how,” she pondered.
“No time to speculate,” he admonished her. “Keep close behind me, and watch the shadows.”
From the hall, they entered a long corridor which featured doors set into the walls at irregular intervals. Not wanting to leave any potential enemies to their rear, they entered each room as they came to them, and twice found them occupied by sleeping vampires. They dispatched both of the creatures before they could awaken, and Ginny was a little surprised to find she had no hesitation in doing so. One of the vampires had been a beautiful woman with blond hair, but to Ginny’s eyes she’d just looked wrong, like she just wasn’t quite human, which obviously was the case. Either way, the woman died without ever opening her eyes.
As they left the second room, another pair of vampires charged them from down the far end of the corridor. While one of the beasts fell to Harry’s Blood Boiling Hex easily, the second seemed to shrug it off. It took two more curses for the vampire to finally succumb and allow them to kill it.
“He was obviously an elder vampire,” Harry explained knowledgably. “They have greater resistance to our spells. Hopefully, there won’t be too many of those bastards about.”
“Their attacks don’t seem very coordinated,” Ginny noted. “If they tried rushing us all at once, they might actually get somewhere.”
“Although they live together, I don’t think there’s a great deal of trust or respect between these creatures. They tend to group together for protection more than anything. Individual vampires can be hunted down fairly easily, even by Muggles.”
“It’s not doing them much good at the moment, is it?” Ginny noted grimly.
“Although I do say it myself, we do make a pretty formidable pairing, Ginny. I doubt this castle has ever been attacked by anyone as powerful as the two of us before,” Harry explained.
Ginny said nothing, but a slight smile of triumph crept onto her lips. The idea that she and Harry were the mightiest foes these vampires had ever faced pleased her somehow. She’d come a long way in a very short time, she realised. Her days working in Fred and George’s shop seemed like another life now.
They continued to the end of the corridor which led to another staircase. They quickly descended and found themselves in what appeared to be an entrance hall. As soon as they stepped into it, they discovered that the vampires must have been thinking along the same lines as them, as eight of the monsters charged at them from various points at once.
“Close your eyes!” Harry yelled and Ginny instantly complied, knowing what he had in mind.
An instant later, a white flash penetrated her closed eyelids before slowly dying. She heard numerous shouts and screams, and opened her eyes to see the vampires all staggering around, clutching at their faces. Harry wasted no time and beheaded the nearest one, prompting Ginny to run forward with her own sword raised. Another vampire toppled to the ground, its head severed from its shoulders.
Before they had a chance to kill all the remaining vampires, a second wave charged at them from a side door. Harry took the first two down with Blood Boiling Curses, but had to tackle a third directly with his sword. For her part, Ginny was alarmed when the fourth vampire shrugged off two of her curses, and continued to close on her at a frightening pace.
“Eyes, Harry!” she bellowed before casting a False Dawn charm at point-blank range.
Staggering back, Ginny opened her eyes again and tried to blink away the spots that were clouding her vision. Not knowing where the vampire was or if her spell had disabled it, she swung her sword blindly and felt it bite flesh. Her vision cleared, and she saw that she’d hacked into the vampire’s arm. It screamed at her, its fangs bared and its one remaining good arm outstretched towards her. In a panic, she wrenched the sword free and this time aimed at the beast’s neck. She caught it, but failed to land a clean blow. The vampire screamed and a shower of blood sprayed from its neck and all over her. In terror, she swung again and again, this time managing to sever its head. As soon as it toppled to the ground, she staggered backwards in relief.
Looking around, she realised she couldn’t see Harry, although the cries and screams coming from the open door through which the vampires had come at them suggested he’d taken the fight outside. She was just about to follow him when suddenly a man stepped in front of her. She hadn’t even heard him approaching.
Ginny could only gasp at the sight of him. He was, by far, the most beautiful person she’d ever seen in her life. The mere sight of him took her breath away.
“Greetings,” his voice seemed to ooze in her mind, like dripping honey. “What a most beautiful young woman you are. I am captivated by your loveliness.”
With her heart pounding, Ginny could only nod stupidly at the man. He thought she was beautiful? This god amongst men? At that moment, Ginny knew she wanted nothing more in the entire world than to be with this person.
“Come, my dear. This is no place for such an enchanting creature as yourself. Let us go somewhere more private.”
He held his hand out to her, and she took it willingly, her wand and sword clattering on the floor unheeded. She let herself be led away from the carnage of the entrance hall and down a side corridor. They continued walking for a short time, before he took a left onto a landing and eventually stopped in front of a closed door. He opened it, and gestured for her to enter.
She stepped through the door, and was thrilled to see that she’d been guided into a bedroom. Was he going to make her his? Ginny almost trembled with desire at the thought. The man followed her into the room and closed the door behind him.
“You are so beautiful, but you wear such ugly clothes,” he said disapprovingly as he looked her up and down. “Why don’t you get rid of them?”
Ginny almost wrenched her arms out of their sockets as she began to tear off her clothing. Her battle robes were quickly discarded, and she hurriedly pulled off her boots. Next was her blouse and trousers, before her bra and knickers followed. Suddenly nervous, she stood before him, silently praying for a sign of his approval.
“Ah, what a luscious young woman you are. But I’m afraid you’ve been a very bad girl, you know. Many of my friends and allies are dead by your hand. Fear not, however, for you will help replace their numbers. You, my dear, will remain here at my side forever. What pleasures I will bestow on you, and what delights you will witness.”
Her legs nearly gave out when she heard those words. Her dearest wish was about to come true! She would be his forever. Her body began to tremble as he leant towards her, and her mouth was dry with anticipation. Never had she known such desire or sexual arousal in her life. Ginny ached for him, and she could smell her own excitement. A soft moan escaped her lips as his mouth came closer to her neck…
Something flashed in the candlelight and suddenly Ginny found herself drenched with a warm, red liquid. Gasping out loud, she wiped the sticky fluid from her eyes. In front of her, the man of her dreams was choking and clutching at his throat, from which blood liberally sprayed. Standing behind the man with a face like thunder was Harry, a red-stained knife in his hand.
“You blood sucking bastard!” he growled, grabbing the man and spinning him round, so he faced him.
Ginny blinked. Where a few moments before had been standing the most handsome man she had ever seen, now stood a slightly podgy, balding fellow, with his face contorted in pain. The vampire tried to hiss at Harry and bare his fangs, but instead it only came out as a gurgling sound.
“How dare you lay a finger on her!” Harry nearly screamed in rage.
Dumbly, Ginny could only stare at the pair, her body still shaking with the desire that had been consuming her. What had just happened?
“It’s time to die, monster!” Harry raged, and hefted his sword. Fear began to creep into the vampire’s eyes, and it staggered backwards, its throat still dripping blood. Harry didn’t pause and lunged forward with the sword raised. One swift swing and it was over, with the vampire’s head falling to the floor.
“Are you alright, Ginny?” Harry asked urgently, dropping his sword and taking her into his arms.
For a moment, she could only stand there, trying to process what had just happened. Then, suddenly, her mind cleared and she understood what fate had nearly befallen her.
“That was… that was…” she managed to gasp.
“Yes, that was Count Rugila. He was able to take over your mind completely, it seems. Actually, it was just as well he was distracted, as I doubt I would have stood much of a chance against him face to face. Could you feel his power? It was terrifying!”
Gently, Ginny pushed him away and stood perfectly still before him. She saw his eyes dip as he took in her naked form, but she didn’t care. She remained standing, completely bare and covered in the Count’s blood, her body still trembling with a mixture of sexual arousal and relief.
“Take me,” she demanded in wavering voice.
“I… what?” Harry exclaimed. “Ginny, we’re still in the middle of the castle! There could be vampires everywhere.”
“I… don’t… care!” she ground out. “Take me now. Right here. Right now. No more excuses, Harry, I need you inside me, now!”
Harry paused, but only for the briefest moment, before he began to pull at his own clothing. Ginny instantly started to help him, desperately trying to undo his trousers with trembling hands, as he ripped off his shirt. In what seemed like an eternity to Ginny, but must have only been a few seconds, he was as naked as she was.
Greedily, she drank in the sight of him. She was no longer bewitched, and she could differentiate between the raw, animalist lust that now filled her from the clinical, dreamlike desire she had felt under the vampire’s command. Harry apparently felt the same way, and was clearly ready for her.
Not wanting to waste another second, she launched herself at him, her lips greedily seeking his. He returned her passion, his cold hands roaming over her body and making her shiver with delight wherever they touched her. But this wasn’t enough… she wanted more.
Virtually dragging him, she backed them up until her bare bottom came into contact with a dressing table that was positioned against a wall. Half turning, with one sweep of her arm she knocked the assorted objects that were resting on it to the floor, before she jumped backwards on top of the table, pulling Harry forward so he stood between her legs.
“Now, you posh bastard, take me now!” she begged.
Harry didn’t hesitate, and roughly thrust himself into her. She let out a startled cry, but this was exactly what she wanted. This was not the time for tenderness and gentle caresses, her body was screaming to be satisfied and she had no desire to be kept waiting.
Her lover seemed to sense this, and didn’t hold back. His hips slammed into her at a frantic pace, and she screamed and moaned at his every thrust. Ginny buried her face into his shoulder, her fingernails dragging across his buttocks as they worked like pistons. Already, he was sweating despite the frigid air and panting like a dog in heat.
“Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Don’t you bloody dare stop,” she growled with her face pressed to his flesh. She was shaking from head to toe and knew she was close to the edge. Just a little longer, she silently begged him.
“Ginny… I…” he gasped.
“I’m… nearly there… please,” she practically sobbed. With her head pressed against him, she could feel him set his jaw as he desperately tried to hold on a little longer. His pace, however, did not slack and she began to fear the dressing table would collapse under them.
Her orgasm hit her unexpectedly like a train, and she writhed against him, trying to take as much of him inside her as she could. He followed her seconds later, his body bucking against her like he was being subjected to a massive electric shock. Then he was still.
“Harry,” she moaned into his ear.
“You know, there could be a vampire standing right behind me at this very moment,” he murmured.
“I reckon we’ve given the bastard a bloody good show, then,” Ginny replied, giggling drunkenly.
“There’s no doubt about that,” he agreed, pulling away slightly so he could look into her eyes. Those green orbs seemed to be burning with passion, Ginny thought, and instinctively she pulled him into another kiss.
It was some time before they parted again, and Harry this time stepped back from her, an apologetic look on his face.
“Ginny, as much as I’d like to keep this up all day, we have to remember where we are. We need to get dressed and finish this.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she agreed reluctantly.
“I’m sure we can pick this up again when we get back to the hotel,” he said with a wicked grin on his face.
She smiled. Just for a moment, she had started to doubt whether this had been a good idea, but now she realised it had been inevitable. Ever since the moment he’d stepped out of the shadows back at the Ministry and humiliated Draco Malfoy, she had known that this would happen. Mind you, she hadn’t expected their first time to be in a vampire-infested castle in the Carpathian Mountains while she was covered in blood.
“Umm, do you know what happened to my sword and wand?” she asked, coming to her senses.
“I picked them up,” he assured her as he bent down to retrieve his clothing. “It’s just as well you dropped them where you did or I wouldn’t have known in what direction to look for you.”
“Thank you, Harry. I can’t believe how close I came to becoming one of the undead, myself.”
“No one could have stood up to that bastard. It’s just as well you distracted him by getting your kit off,” he noted with a smirk as he pulled his trousers on.
Ginny could only shake her head and smile. She’d come within a hair’s breadth of dying, but she had never felt more alive in her life.
“I don’t believe it!”
Harry’s sudden exclamation made her look up in surprise. She saw he was crouched over the body of the dead Count, an expression of wonder on his face.
“What is it, Harry?” she asked in concern.
Harry just reached down and pulled at something trapped under the dead vampire’s shirt. A moment later, he held up a golden object which dangled on a chain. Ginny instantly knew what it was.
“The Moon Hare! So the Count had it.”
“I’d hoped that it was just hidden in the castle, not that he had it on his person,” he confessed. “We’re incredibly lucky to get this.”
“So…” Ginny began in a seductive voice. “Does this mean we can now just Apparate back to the hotel and continue our interesting… conversation?”
“But of course, Miss Weasley. But can I suggest that you take a shower first? Vampire blood isn’t the greatest aphrodisiac that I can think of.”
Ginny blushed, having forgotten that she was still stained red.
“Perhaps you could help me wash it off?” she asked tentatively.
“It would be my pleasure,” he replied with an almost animalistic smile on his lips.
“So, Bill’s back with Fleur now, is he? Bet that makes you happy that she’s back on the scene, eh, Ronikins?” Fred said with a smirk.
“Shut it,” Ron snarled in reply.
“Oh, come on, little brother. Admit you were captivated by her beauty! A slave to her whims! A prisoner to her merest glance! Isn’t that right, Hermione?” George asked the bushy-haired witch sitting across the dinner table from him.
“If by that do you mean, ‘does my idiot boyfriend make a complete fool of himself whenever Fleur’s around’, then the answer is yes,” Hermione huffed.
“I do not,” Ron muttered, but only received a frosty glare from Hermione in return.
“I can’t believe Bill is throwing away his career by chasing after that girl,” Molly declared indignantly, stabbing at her roast beef rather violently.
“He’s not throwing away his career, he’s just taken a hiatus while he tries to sort things out with Fleur,” Ginny replied firmly. “Perhaps if we’d all been a bit more supportive of his choices he wouldn’t have needed to.”
“You’ve changed your tune, Gin-Gin,” Fred noted. “I thought you hated her.”
“I never said that, and just because I never liked sharing a room with her doesn’t mean I don’t think she isn’t good enough for Bill. You lot just put words into my mouth.”
“Never exactly tried to refute any of those words though, did you?” George pointed out. “So, what’s changed your mind? Why are you suddenly so supportive of the Parisian Princess?”
“She’s not from Paris,” Arthur pointed out mildly. “Pass the salt would you, Ginny dear.”
Ginny handed the condiment to her father before turning and regarding George with a hard stare. As usual, Sunday lunch with her family was degenerating into squabbling and micky-taking, although she would have to admit that it would seem strange if it didn’t. She had, she reflected, a very odd family. Still, for some reason today the childish behaviour of her brothers irritated her more than normal.
“Perhaps, George, I got to see first-hand how miserable Bill was after the breakup. None of you lot were exactly supportive of him while he was so upset, were you? You, George Weasley, could only sit there and make smug jokes about Fleur’s Veela ancestry and what she was likely to do now she had dumped him. Really supportive, bother-mine!” she spat.
“Ooh, watch out, George. Ginny’s on the warpath! If you’re not careful you’ll be picking bogies out of your hair for a week!” Fred cackled.
“You weren’t any better, Fred, so you’d better watch it, too!” Ginny snarled.
“Ginny, don’t threaten your brothers like that,” Molly rebuked her, admittedly with little heat. “But I have to say, George does have a point. Why are you suddenly so supportive of Bill and Fleur’s relationship? You’ve never had many nice things to say about her in the past.”
“Bill loves her,” Ginny said with a shrug. “I admit, she’s not what I would have chosen for him, but you can’t pick who you fall in love with, can you?”
“Really? Something you want to tell us, Ginny?” Hermione asked with a raised eyebrow.
“I would have thought you were the prime example of that, Hermione. After all, you fell in love with my idiot brother there,” Ginny replied in a threatening voice.
“What is this? Pick on Ron day?” Ron demanded indignantly.
“It’s always pick on Ron day!” Fred crowed in delight.
“I’m sure Hermione didn’t mean anything by her words,” George said mildly with an innocent expression on his face. “By the way, how is the Dark Lord Potter at the moment, Ginny?”
Ginny slammed her knife down on the table. “He’s not a Dark anything, and if you keep that crap up you will bloody end up getting hexed!”
“Easy, Ginny. George is just joking with you,” her father said gently.
“Bit defensive of your boss, aren’t you?” Fred noted. “Do you always leap to his defence like that?”
“Harry’s a good man, and I’m sick of hearing all this rubbish about him. People should remember that it was him who defeated Voldemort and realise that just because he doesn’t want to talk about how he did it, it doesn’t mean he used Dark magic to do it. Instead of being grateful, they just treat him with suspicion and make up lies about him. I’m sick of it!”
There was an uneasy silence around the table, partly due to Ginny’s use of the Dark Lord’s name which was still considered something of a social taboo, and partly to her passionate defence of her employer. Eventually, it was Hermione that broke the silence.
“So, do you know where you two are off to next?” she asked blandly.
“No, not yet. I’ll probably know tomorrow,” Ginny replied, forcing herself to calm down. She knew she was causing a scene, but really couldn’t help it.
“You went somewhere in Europe last time, didn’t you?” Hermione asked.
“You know I can’t talk about it,” Ginny replied dismissively, and resumed eating.
“I’m still not comfortable with you roaming about the world with that young man,” her mother said. “You won’t tell us what you get up to and just vanish for days on end with no word. I worry about you, you know, Ginny.”
“Whatever she gets up to, it’s good for her,” George interrupted.
“What?” Ginny exclaimed in surprise.
“It’s true,” George insisted, ignoring the rather disapproving look his mother was giving him. “Ginny’s got her old fire back. All that time she was stuck in our shop she seemed to be folding in on herself and was becoming more apathetic every day. Now, she’s got her old spirit and spark back. I haven’t heard her threaten me like that since she left Hogwarts, and I’ve missed it. Nah, I’ve no idea what this Potter bloke is actually like, but he’s perked Ginny up no end, and for that I’m grateful to him.”
“Actually, that’s true,” Fred admitted. “You did seem to be just wasting away there for a while. It’s good to see you back to your normal, feisty self.”
“Yeah, well, I’m doing a really interesting job and actually have some responsibility now,” Ginny said, suddenly feeling a bit embarrassed.
“What do you mean? We gave you responsibility,” George protested. “How many times did we leave you in charge of the whole shop?”
“That was only when you wanted to spend Friday afternoon in the pub,” Ginny pointed out coolly.
“Yeah, and we can’t do that anymore, thanks to you! Do you know, The Leaky Caldron might well go bankrupt without our custom!” Fred declared in a tragic voice.
Much derision met Fred’s words, and Ginny smiled to herself. Despite what George had said, she was not ‘her old self’. No, she was in fact more than that now, thanks to Harry. She had dramatically changed as a person and no matter what happened in the future, she knew she would never go back to being that person who was happy to just let life pass her by. She was pleased, however, that her brothers had at least noticed the changes in her and liked what they saw.
Of course, whether that would say the same thing if they knew Harry had become her lover was another matter.
With a contented smile on her lips, Ginny resumed eating her Sunday dinner.
Ginny hurried over to where Harry was gasping for breath on his hands and knees. She was pleased that the raw magic of the Detection Ritual was having much less effect on her than it had previously, even if a half-naked Harry still drove her wild. However, the revelation of where the final piece of the Moon Hare was located was enough to distract her from admiring her lover.
“Damn, I’m glad I don’t have to do that again,” Harry muttered as Ginny helped him to his feet. Perhaps noticing her silence, he looked at her quizzically. “I don’t have to do that again, do I?”
“No, you stated the location quite plainly,” she confirmed.
“Well?” he asked, taking a towel from her hands and beginning to rub himself down.
“The name you gave was ‘Draco Malfoy’ and the location was ‘Malfoy Manor’.”
“Really?” he said in evident surprise. “How did that little turd manage to get his hands on a piece of the Moon Hare? Actually, I wonder why he did, too. I doubt he would have known its significance or even what it actually is. The last piece is just the hare’s front paw. I’m sure an oaf like him wouldn’t have even realised it was part of an animal.”
“How are we going to do this, Harry? Draco is no threat compared to what we’ve faced so far, but he does have political influence and I expect his home is very well protected. You’re not going to offer to buy it from him, are you?”
“Good grief, no! I wouldn’t give that foul little shit the dirt off the bottom of my shoes. I still remember all the dirty tricks that family pulled trying to overturn my Godfather’s will, although I must admit that was mainly Lucius and Narcissa’s doing. Draco just sat behind his father in the courtroom and sneered at me. I agree this will take a little bit of planning, but I fully intend to obtain the last piece of the Moon Hare by any means, fair or foul. I fear Malfoy Manor is going to suffer an unfortunate break-in during the near future.”
“I still owe that bastard for what he tried to do to me previously,” Ginny spat. “Trust me, I’m well up for a bit of burglary at Draco’s expense.”
“That’s the spirit,” Harry noted approvingly. “I have to do a bit of digging for information, but I think I know how to approach this.”
Ginny smiled evilly, glad she was going to get a little personal payback on Draco Malfoy.
The rain was pouring down and the night was pitch black. It was a perfect evening for a spot of breaking and entering, Ginny decided.
They had been crouched outside the perimeter of Malfoy Manor for a good ten minutes now, while Harry attempted to work his way through the protective magic that surrounded the place. Fortunately, the protections weren’t particularly extensive, partly as Draco conducted most of his business from home and as a result received frequent visitors, but also because the Ministry placed restrictions on exactly what magic ex-Death Eaters were permitted to use.
The thought of those restrictions and how they had been enforced made Ginny’s blood boil. Although Draco had never been convicted of any serious crimes and had claimed he’d been forced to take the Dark Mark by his deceased parents, he was still technically on the Ministry’s restricted list. As such, he was supposed to be under supervision and his property was meant to be inspected on a regular basis. Harry had done some digging into Draco’s records and discovered Malfoy Manor had been inspected only once since the end of the war, and no other restrictions of any kind had been placed on the blond ex-Death Eater. In short, Draco had paid off enough people to ensure he had complete freedom of action. The thought that Draco had been able to just simply return to his privileged, pampered life made Ginny furious.
“Do you think you’ll be much longer?” Ginny whispered harshly. “It’s miserable out here and the Waterproofing Charms on my clothes only do so much, you know.”
“Patience, my flame-haired angel,” Harry replied with amusement in his voice. “I’m already through the actual protective magic, but there are extensive alarms also in place. I don’t want to announce our arrival.”
“Fair enough,” she acknowledged sourly.
Peering over the fence that marked the Manor’s rear boundary, Ginny kept a careful watch on the large house. They’d timed their visit so Draco and his wife weren’t home; Astoria was a guest speaker at a conference for Business Witches in Berlin and her husband was apparently accompanying her. There were likely to be at least three house-elves in residence, however, and they wanted to avoid alerting them. Winky had asked around, and apparently the Malfoy elves weren’t well treated or happy in their position. They would undoubtedly defend the house, however, and Ginny hoped she didn’t have to Stun the poor creatures.
Malfoy Manor itself was barely visible in the darkness, despite being only a few hundred yards away. In the dim light, the place’s classical stylings gave it an especially gothic look. It was like they were going to break into an old, haunted house, she mused. Assuming Harry ever disabled the alarms, of course.
“Got it,” Harry announced, as if he’d been reading her thoughts.
“Took you long enough,” she sniffed.
“Forgive me, Miss Weasley, I know how rude it is to keep a woman waiting,” he replied with an elaborate bow. “Sadly, I’m not half the curse-breaker your brother is.”
Smiling, Ginny leant forward and placed a soft kiss on his lips.
“I’ll let you off this once,” she told him, “but I will be expecting you to run me a hot bath when we get back. I’m frozen to the bone.”
“I sometimes wonder who is exactly employing who, you know,” Harry noted sourly, but she could see the amusement in his eyes. “Come on, the faster we do this, the faster I can get on with washing your back.”
Ginny nearly made a comment about preferring him to wash her front, but he’d already vanished through the hole in the fence that they’d created. She followed on, intent on getting on with the job.
They crossed the immaculate lawn and onto a paved patio area laid in front of a set of French windows. Harry pulled out his wand and waved it in front of the glass doors several times, frowning as he did so.
“No magical defences,” he said quietly. “Perhaps Malfoy’s so arrogant that he doesn’t think anyone would dare to try and break in.”
“Sounds like him,” Ginny agreed in a whisper. “It is locked though, right?”
“Yes, and I think a bit of Muggle-style lock picking is required. It’s probably a good idea to minimise our magical usage from this point. Such things can be detected, you know.”
Harry knelt in front of the doors and began to poke at the lock with a small tool he’d produced from a pouch fixed to his belt. After just a few seconds, there was an audible click and he was able to push the door open.
“No noise from this point,” he whispered to her, before stepping carefully into the darkened room. From his pouch he retrieved the now-familiar compass and brought it to his eye. After pointing it in several different directions, he looked back at Ginny and pointed to a door. During his investigations, Harry had uncovered a floor plan of the Manor left over from the war, and Ginny remembered that the door should lead to the main entrance hall, and from there they could enter the dining room, their first target of the evening.
Harry carefully opened the door a fraction and peeked out. The coast was obviously clear, as he opened the door wide and silently slipped from the room. Ginny followed, her ears straining for the slightest noise, but the creepy old building was still.
They passed through the entrance hall and into the dining room, where they knew a secret entrance to a cellar where the Malfoys had previously hidden illegal items and goods was located. Ginny briefly wondered how Harry had managed to get his hands on the restricted Auror arrest reports dating from before the war, but knew better than to ask. Harry, after all, seemed to have connections everywhere.
It didn’t take them long to discover the dark passageway that led to a set of steep stairs. They descended down them rapidly, and they soon found themselves in a long, dark cellar. Various boxes and crates were lined up against the walls, but otherwise the room appeared empty. Harry withdrew his trusty magical compass and began to scan the area.
“I don’t think the piece of the Moon Hare is down here,” he whispered after a while, “but I am detecting some strange magical signatures. I think there are some other hidden rooms down here.”
“If Malfoy is hiding something, it’s probably worth finding out what it is,” Ginny pointed out. “Can you find these rooms?”
Harry said nothing, but instead gave his wand a sharp downward swipe. A moment later, the silhouette of a door appeared on a nearby wall, outlined by a glowing light.
“Well, aren’t you a clever boy,” Ginny said with a cheeky grin on her face.
“I’m glad I’m appreciated,” Harry replied. “Shall we have a look and see what Mr Malfoy is so keen to hide from prying eyes?”
It was the work of but a moment to get the secret door open, but as they stepped through into the hidden room, the smiles slid from their faces.
“Harry… is all this what I think it is?” Ginny asked in a quiet voice.
“Yes, unfortunately it is. We appear to have a fully kitted-out torture chamber.”
Ginny looked around in horror. Although she couldn’t put a name to many of the devices in the room, their function appeared horribly obvious. Beside a large, oblong wooden object that she recognised as a rack, in the corner stood a man-sized metal cabinet that could only be an iron maiden. The gruesome representation of a screaming human face carved into it sent shivers down her spine.
“Look at this,” Harry said, pointing to a spiked object mounted on four legs. “That’s a Judas cradle. The victim is sat on it with the point inserted into one of their orifices. Downward pressure is then applied to them, effectively impaling them.”
“Is this some kind of museum of torture?” Ginny demanded to know in a sick voice.
“Possibly, but it appears to be a working museum. There’s fresh blood on the Judas cradle,” he pointed out.
Ginny went cold.
“Look at all these disgusting objects,” Harry continued, prowling around the room with a look of revulsion on his face. “Thumb screws, a breaking wheel… sweet Merlin! Is that a heretic’s fork? Where did Draco get all these things? And why is he so interested in Muggle torture devices?”
“Perhaps they belonging to his father?” Ginny suggested weakly.
“Some of these have been used recently,” Harry retorted, holding up a metal rod for closer inspection. Ginny had no desire to learn the exact function of the object. As much as she hated the Malfoy family, and Draco in particular, she was struggling to believe the foppish idiot would be so deviant and twisted as to actually use any of these things.
“Perhaps they were just…” she began, before something made her stop. “Harry, can you hear something?”
Harry paused to listen. After a few seconds, he pulled out his wand and again cast whatever detection spell he’d used in the main cellar. Almost immediately, another hidden door was revealed at the back of the room. Harry hurried over to it and forced it open. Almost against her will, Ginny followed on behind.
She emerged into an almost pitch black space, with only the light from the torture chamber providing any illumination. This was sufficient, however, to reveal that the hidden room had an occupant.
“Back up, Ginny, and let me get her into the other room,” Harry barked, causing Ginny to scuttle backwards. She gasped in horror as Harry levitated a young girl out of the dark space and lay her gently on the floor.
“Oh, good Godric, what’s happened to her?” Ginny exclaimed.
“She’s been tortured, what do you think has happened to her?” Harry snapped.
Ginny bit her lip. It had been a pretty stupid question, but the girl’s condition had just scrambled her brain, for a moment. The poor young woman was naked and her entire body was covered in vicious cuts and angry welts, suggesting that she’d been whipped within an inch of her life. Congealed blood covered her face and many other parts of her body, and her fingers appeared hideously deformed. The thought of the thumbscrew sitting on a shelf nearby came vividly into Ginny’s mind.
“Can you help her?” Ginny demanded in a cold voice.
“I… I don’t think so,” Harry replied as he waved his wand over the girl’s shivering body. “Frankly, I’m amazed she’s still alive. In addition to her visible wounds, she has numerous internal injuries and is completely dehydrated. Even if we get her to St Mungo’s immediately I don’t think there’s much chance to save her.”
Desperately, Ginny knelt next to the trembling girl. She wanted to take her hand and offer the young woman some comfort, but Ginny was afraid of causing her more pain.
Amazingly, the girl seemed to notice Ginny’s proximity and turned her head towards her. For a brief second, Ginny was certain she saw understanding in the girl’s previously unseeing eyes, but then a strange rattling noise began to come from her throat. Frantically, Harry began to cast spells on the young woman, but it was too late. Her body gave one final twitch, and was still.
“She’s gone,” Harry confirmed after a second. “It’s almost like she wanted to see light just one more time before she died.”
“How long do you think she was in there?”
“I’ve no idea, but judging by how pale she is, some considerable time.”
“Do you have any idea who she might have been and why she’s here?” Ginny asked, barley able to hold it together.
“All I can tell you is that she’s a Muggle,” Harry responded. “I discovered that when I performed the healing scan on her. Knowing how much Draco and his family hate Muggles, can I can guess at why she’s here.”
“Harry, Draco is a horrid, horrid person, but never in a million years would I have believed he would be capable of something like this! He’s a cringing coward at heart, and he’s never had the stomach for anything too gruesome.”
“People change as they get older,” Harry pointed out. “Look at his linage, and what his family were capable of. He might well have been meek when he was younger, but it appears he’s become more like his father and aunt as he’s gotten older. I expect that he’s worked his way up to this level of atrocities over the years. He’s a natural bully, and left unsupervised he’s probably slowly become worse and worse as time has gone by. Besides, you know his views on Muggles. He probably didn’t even consider this poor girl as even being human.”
“What do we do now?” Ginny demanded grimly.
“Clearly, we cannot let this matter pass without taking action. It’s just a shame that Draco is in Berlin at the moment. I think we should investigate the rest of the house before we decide exactly what to do. Who knows what else we might find?”
“Okay, that sounds like a good idea,” she confirmed, feeling strangely dead inside. The thought that a person could do this to another human being, seemingly for just the pleasure of it, was unbelievable.
Gripping her wand tightly in her hand as she turned to leave that accursed room, with tears in her eyes and an aching for vengeance in her heart.
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Chapter 9: Chapter 9 - Dark Lady
Author's Notes: Here we are at the end of this little story and, I must say, I’ve been delighted at how well it’s been received. It was immensely fun to write, too, which was just as well as it came at a time when my enthusiasm for doing these stories was flagging, a bit.
I do have a favour to ask of you, dear readers, and that is to read the last section which features Winky very carefully. I’ve thrown a little twist into the tail of this story and the end part might require a re-read or two before it sinks in exactly what’s been going on. Before you ask, no, I doubt Ginny will ever find out. *evil chuckle*
Lastly, a huge thanks to my beta, Arnel, for all her help and encouragement and to all my readers who offered corrections, suggestions, or just comments. They were all greatly appreciated. ‘Gothic 2’? It might just happen.
Chapter 9 — Dark Lady
Silently, they made their way back up the stairs and into the dining room. Surprisingly, there was still no sign of the Malfoy’s house-elves, which Ginny thought was odd. Surely the elves would have realised that there were intruders in the house by now, but still she and Harry remained unmolested. Perhaps they had travelled to Germany to attend Draco and Astoria?
Taking advantage of the unrestricted access, Harry and Ginny made an extensive search of the ground floor, but found nothing of particular interest. Even Draco’s study revealed no further incriminating evidence, although Harry took the liberty of duplicating most of Malfoy’s financial records for study later. Having exhausted the possibilities of this floor, they decided to move the search upstairs.
They left the study and soon found the central staircase which they carefully made their way up. The landing was pitch black, but Harry unswervingly guided them to the right, the floorplan of the house firmly imprinted in his mind. It was only when they turned a corner that they noticed light coming from under one of the doors further down the corridor. They halted warily.
“There wasn’t supposed to be anyone here,” Harry said, his voice barely audible.
“Perhaps it’s one of the elves?” Ginny suggested at the same volume.
“Let’s find out. We need to go that way, anyway.”
Stealthily, they crept down the corridor and paused in front of the door. Once they were nearer, distinct sounds could be heard from inside the room. A woman’s voice could be heard moaning and what sounded like bedsprings creaking. Ginny shared a quizzical look with Harry, surprised by what was undoubtedly the sounds of someone having sex in the room.
With a grim expression on his face, Harry firmly gripped the door handle before violently throwing the door open. For a moment, she was half blinded by the light in the room, but her vision quickly cleared.
She found herself inside a lavishly decorated room, which was dominated by a large four poster bed. At the sound of their entry, a man had scrabbled from the bed and Ginny saw that it was Draco Malfoy himself, stark naked and with an expression of horror on his face. His companion was a young brunet girl who was equally as nude as Draco. Oddly, the girl seemed unaware of anything happening and just lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
“Potter! What the hell are you doing in my house?” Draco shouted angrily.
“Stay right where you are, Malfoy,” Harry said, pointing his wand at the blond-haired man. “One move and you’re dead!”
“What are you doing here?” Draco demanded, although an element of fear had crept into his voice.
“I could ask you that same question. I thought you were meant to be in Germany with your wife,” Harry responded.
“Who isn’t that girl on the bed,” Ginny added in a cold voice. “Astoria was a year below me at Hogwarts and I’d recognise her anywhere. While the cat’s away the mice will play, eh, Draco?”
For a second Draco looked rather wild-eyed, before he turned his head and looked directly at the naked girl. “Attack them!” he ordered.
Instantly, the girl sat up and scrambled off the bed. She lunged at Harry with her arms spread out in front of her, but only got a few feet before Harry’s Full Body-Bind Curse paralysed her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Draco hurriedly turn and lunge towards a table, evidently going for his wand. She aimed her own wand directly at him.
“Stay where you are, Malfoy,” she snapped, causing him to freeze.
“This girl’s under the Imperius Curse, isn’t she?” Harry demanded angrily.
Draco, however, said nothing and just glared at him.
“There’s one way we can find out exactly what’s going on here. I have some skill in Legilimency. Let’s take a little peek into this girl’s mind and find out what’s happening, shall we? Cover him, Ginny,” Harry muttered, walking over to the rigid young woman.
“No! I…” Draco began, but it was too late. Harry looked directly into the girl’s eyes for a moment, before breaking away in disgust.
“Who is she?” Ginny asked, still watching Malfoy like a hawk.
“She’s a Muggle. The last thing she remembers is walking down a street in her hometown before a strange, warm sensation came over her. It appears Mr Malfoy here abducted her so he could rape her.”
“She’s only a Muggle,” Draco snarled dismissively.
“Really? Just like that poor girl down in your personal dungeon? I wonder if your wife knows what you’re up to. Made some excuse so you could stay home and play, did you?” Harry asked in a dangerous tone.
“No, she doesn’t know exactly what I’ve been doing, but I doubt she’d care, just in case you’re trying to blackmail me!” Draco sneered. “That girl is only a Muggle. She’s worth less than cattle. So I decided to use one or two of them for my personal entertainment, so what? Astoria would know that little piece of filth was nothing more than an object for me to satisfy my needs while she was away.”
“You pig! You utter piece of filth!” Ginny raged. “You think you have the right to rape and torture Muggle women for your amusement? You’re vile beyond description!”
“As I said, what happens to mere Muggles is irrelevant,” Draco sneered.
“Harry… what are we going to do with this bastard?” Ginny asked intently.
“Hmm, that’s a very good question,” he began, eyeing the blond-haired man with distaste.
“Oh, please!” Draco interrupted. “What are you going to do? Hand me over to the DMLE? Do you think they’ll care what happens to some random Muggle girl? I’ll probably get a fine, or something. Even if they do decide to imprison me, I’ll soon be out. I have connections, you know. Really, Potter, you’re making too much of this. Breaking into someone’s home, however, now that’s a much more serious matter. You two are going to be in big trouble. I’ll see you thrown in Azkaban for this!”
“Harry, can I deal with this matter, please?” Ginny asked.
Harry glanced at her with a raised eyebrow for a second, before nodding once.
“I’ll leave it up to your discretion,” he replied.
Ginny stepped for and looked him directly in the eye. She felt a cold rage building inside her.
“Draco Malfoy, you are a piece of human excrement. Not only did you attempt to blackmail me into having sex with you, you prey on helpless Muggles and treat them like they aren’t even human. You are a filthy rapist, a murderer, and a despicable idiot. Do you know what trouble would have been caused if it had got out that you had bribed one of the goblins? Do you even care? No, as long at Draco Malfoy gets what he wants, nothing else matters, does it? Well, I’ve had enough. Just because you managed to worm your way out of punishment for being a Death Eater doesn’t mean I’m going to let you get away with this. What you did to that girl down in your dungeon cannot go unpunished.”
“What… what are you doing?” Draco demanded, suddenly fearful.
“A while back, I was asked to make a choice and I took the easy option. That choice meant we didn’t have to kill two werewolves, but it could potentially mean that they could go on to kill other people themselves in the future. I think I made a mistake that day, because I wasn’t ready to take the hard option, the difficult choice that meant I had to get my hands dirty. I won’t make the same mistake again.”
“What are you babbling about, Weasley?” Draco asked, by now nearly in a full panic.
“It’s time to die, Draco. You should have died a long time ago at your master’s side, but you were too cowardly to do that, weren’t you? No, I’m not going to stand by and let you ruin other people’s lives like this. Rapists are the lowest of the low, and you are sick and twisted beyond belief. It’s time to pay for your crimes.”
“Weasley, no!” Draco screamed. “I have money! I can make you rich! I can give you anything you…”
Draco got no further, as a bright flash of light shot from Ginny’s wand and hit him squarely in the chest. Draco screamed once as he was blown backwards, landing in a crumpled heap on the floor. Blood immediately began to pool around his body.
Ginny stared at the naked corpse, barely able to believe that she had just executed him so coldly. Then she felt an arm snake around her middle and a warm hand gently force her wand arm down. Harry was there.
“Did… did I do the right thing?” she asked, her voice trembling.
“Yes, my darling, I believe you did. Draco Malfoy was a disgusting excuse for a human being, with no redeeming qualities. I very much doubt this is the first time he committed such terrible crimes. This is the sort of thing these types work up to, and I’m sure he would have only gotten worse as time went by. How many Muggle women would he have abducted, raped and killed? I fear the answer would have been many, simply because there was nothing to stop him doing it. Besides, do you really believe he wouldn’t have come after you and your family again? His revenge on you failed, and Draco was just the sort of petty monster who wouldn’t have let that lie. He was probably hatching some disgusting scheme to hurt you. You were just protecting the ones you love.”
“Maybe,” she replied shakily.
“Definitely,” he insisted. “Now, we’d better see to this poor Muggle girl.”
Harry released the Body-Bind from the girl, and she immediately screamed and tried to cover herself, the Imperius Curse apparently broken due to Malfoy’s death. Ginny hurried over with a dressing gown she had found and draped it over the terrified young woman.
“It’s alright, you’re okay now,” Ginny said reassuringly.
“Who are you? Where am I?” the girl demanded.
“You’re safe,” Harry told her. “You were drugged and abducted by the owner of this house, but we’re here to rescue you. It’s all over, I promise you.”
“He… he made me take my clothes off,” the girl gasped. “He… he did things to me. He raped me! I was totally helpless.”
“That was due to the drugs he made you take,” Harry lied smoothly. “What’s your name?”
“Charlotte… Charlotte Manning. How did I even get here? I don’t remember traveling here. Where is here?” she sobbed.
“Where do you live, Charlotte?” Ginny asked soothingly, ignoring the girl’s questions.
“Swindon, just off Drakes Way. Where is this place?”
“Not too far away from home, actually. We’re just outside Marlborough,” Harry supplied.
“But how did I get here? I don’t remember being put in a car,” Charlotte said in confusion.
“You were probably unconscious,” he said. “Ah, are these your clothes over here on the chair? I’ll nip out of the room while you get dressed, and then we’ll arrange to take you home.”
“What about the police? We’ll need to report this,” the girl insisted.
“It will all be taken care of. Ginny here will look after you while you get dressed,” Harry said before slipping out of the room.
Charlotte gave Ginny a wary look, before retrieving her clothes and hurriedly dressing. She stood looking at Ginny with mistrust written all over her face.
“Who are you two?” Charlotte demanded.
Before she had a chance to reply, Harry re-entered the room with a cheery smile on his face.
“Ready to head home, Charlotte?” he asked.
“I want to know what’s going on?” the girl demanded, now looking rather angry. “Just who are you two? Who was that bastard who attacked me? Why aren’t the police here?”
“Sorry, Charlotte,” Harry said simply, before raising his wand and firing a Stunning Spell at her. She instantly slumped to the floor.
“It was for the best. I’m sure she would have freaked when we Apparated her home,” Harry told Ginny. “I think we should just Obliviate this whole episode from her mind. It’s the kindest thing to do.”
“I agree,” Ginny nodded, feeling strangely detached from the events around her.
“Oh, by the way, I found what we came for. The last piece of the Moon Hare was hidden in the room across the hall.”
“Oh, good,” she replied. For some strange reason, even after everything that had happened, that simple fact made her glad. They had done what they came here to do.
“Come on, let’s get this poor young girl back home. We’ll need to do something about Malfoy’s body, and that of the poor girl downstairs, but you leave that up to me,” Harry said.
“Let’s just do what we need to do and then go home,” Ginny agreed. Right at that moment, she wanted nothing more than to get out of this house of horrors. She was sure that what she had done was the right thing, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
It was some hours before they were able to return to Harry’s home, having wiped the Muggle girl’s memories of the whole night and deposited her back in the well-lit main shopping area of her home town of Swindon. Harry had also followed through on his promise of disposing of Malfoy’s body, even if he refused to tell Ginny exactly what he’d done with it. It would never be found, he’d assured her, and she’d believed him. He’d also assured her that he’d taken the body of the poor girl they’d found in the dungeon and placed it somewhere the Muggle authorities would find it. That, at least, might give whatever family she had some closure.
Wearily, they collapsed on the couch in the main reception room of Harry’s home. Feeling somewhat dazed, Ginny recalled that this was the room where he’d first greeted her after she’d accepted his dinner invitation. Although that first meal together had only been a few months previously, now it seemed like a lifetime ago, to her.
“Here, drink this,” Harry instructed her as soon as she sat down. He handed her a glass with an extremely generous measure of whisky in it. She didn’t hesitate in raising the glass to her lips.
“I… I did do the right thing, didn’t I?” she asked eventually.
“You did. Frankly, Ginny, if you hadn’t killed him, then I would have. Draco Malfoy might have been a coward and a fool, but his money and position made him dangerous. Clearly, the madness that runs through that family had taken hold of him and driven him to depraved habits, and such evil cannot be allowed to exist. We had to do something about him. Draco was right in saying that the Ministry would have done nothing to him, save perhaps given him a slap on the wrist. He was a marked Death Eater, yet he still escaped Azkaban! This is the exact reason I dealt with any Death Eater I captured myself, rather than hand them over to the Ministry.”
“Have you… killed… many Death Eaters?” she asked hesitantly.
“Yes,” he replied simply.
“Oh,” she said, thinking about it. “Good.”
“I’m glad you agree. Those bastards would have killed me without a second thought, and they were responsible for the deaths of all my family. Why should I have shown them any mercy? Some might question who appointed me their judge and executioner, but I would answer that by saying they did themselves, the day Voldemort killed my mother and father. The day the Death Eaters killed Sirius and Andromeda. The day they took everyone I loved from me. Now the Death Eaters are all dead themselves, and the world is a better place for it, I think. I only let Draco escape punishment thus far was because I thought him a foppish idiot. I should have realised he would have had evil in his heart.”
“I guess you’re right, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about killing someone,” Ginny said despondently.
“We hold great power, you and I, and with that power comes responsibility,” he said firmly. “Tell me, is it right that we, people who possess such power, just stand by and do nothing while the likes of Draco Malfoy prey on the weak? Surely our inaction would make us a culpable as him?”
“I suppose you’re right,” she admitted before a thought struck her. “Is this why you made me decide the fate of those two werewolves in Germany? This was almost the same thing, right?”
“The situations are similar, but not identical,” Harry disagreed. “At the end of the day, we had no evidence that those pair of werewolves had actually done anything. I don’t deny that it was extremely probable that Karl and Agatha were both killers, but could we prove that? On the other hand, there was no doubt about Draco Malfoy’s guilt. In a perfect world we could have just handed him over to the authorities to deal with, but this is far from a perfect world. I learnt that lesson a long time ago.”
“But doesn’t that just mean that the most powerful get to decide what’s right? I mean, that was what Voldemort was trying to do, right? What makes us different to him?”
Harry knelt beside her and gently ran a finger down her cheek.
“Simply, because we have no desire to impose our will on others. We were only reacting to a crime that had already been committed. Voldemort and his Death Eaters were the ones who couldn’t live and let live. They felt the need to kill those that they didn’t approve of and set rigid guidelines as to what that actually represented. I hated the vampires because they were the same — they subjugated those weaker than them and used them as little more than cattle to feed on. I had far more sympathy with the werewolves, many of whom were just escaping from a society that mistrusted and despised them. It’s just a shame that their innocent neighbours sometimes suffer because of them.”
Ginny drained her glass and looked at him sadly.
“Again, I know you’re right, but I just wish it hadn’t had to be us that killed Draco.”
“It’s the price you pay for living this kind of life. We may only be seeking excitement and adventure, but invariably you will come across evil in some form or another if you travel enough. I'm sure that bored shop girl you use to be would never have been put in such a difficult situation, but think of all the other things she would have missed out on. Nothing in this life comes without some price attached, at least nothing of value. Maybe that’s what I saw in you when I first offered you this job — the strength to do the right thing, because that’s often the hardest thing to do.”
“You’re right, but can we talk about something else now? I really don’t want to think about this anymore,” Ginny begged.
“Of course. I know, shall we see what the Moon Hare looks like once we’ve joined all the pieces together?” Harry asked.
“Yes, I’d like to see it, especially after all the trouble we went to,” she nodded, glad of the diversion.
“Winky,” Harry called, and a moment later the little elf popped into the room. “Would you be so kind as to bring me the other four pieces of the Moon Hare, please?”
“Of course, Master!” Winky said happily and popped off. She returned just moments later the pieces of the jewel in her hands.
“Now, let’s see what we have, shall we?” Harry said, taking the pieces from the elf and laying them on the floor. Peering over his shoulder, Ginny could see the arranged pieces did now finally resemble a hare. Harry withdrew his wand and gave a sharp swish and flick, and there it was, finally. The Moon Hare was whole again.
“It’s beautiful,” Ginny said in awe as he held it up for her to see. The golden hare was exquisitely wrought and wonderfully decorated. From its paws hung small representations of various other animals: birds, frogs, mice, and even a small fish. From the tail hung a fabulous crescent moon carved in jade, and from its ears hung a sun, made from amber. “I guess it was worth all the effort, after all.”
“Maybe, but I think this isn’t the greatest treasure I found during this hunt,” Harry said, putting the Moon Hare down on the table and taking Ginny in his arms. “I’ve been so lonely, Ginny. I don’t think I realised exactly how lonely I was, but now I’ve found you, my life has changed.”
Ginny melted under his gaze. “I feel the same,” she admitted. “I don’t feel like I was even living my life until I met you. I want this to go on forever — you and me, having crazy adventures and exploring the world. I love this life you’ve shown me, Harry, despite the darkness that we might have to face.”
He bent down and gave her a long, lingering kiss.
“I’m glad, Ginny, but, despite saying that, I don’t think things can stay exactly the way they have been. It feels wrong to have you as a mere employee. You mean so much more to me than that, and you’ve become my equal in every sense of the word.”
“What do you mean?” she asked uneasily.
“It means I don’t think I can employ you any longer.”
“What? But… Harry, please! I need this job! I thought you were pleased with what I did for you. Why don’t you want me to work for you anymore?” she demanded in something of a panic.
“Because just paying you a wage just feels wrong, when you mean so much more to me. I don’t want you as a mere employee, Ginny, I want you to share everything I have, including my very life. In short, my love, I want you to become my wife.”
“Wife?” she gasped, “but… but… what?”
Harry gently placed a soft kiss on her trembling lips. “I love you, Ginevra Weasley, and I firmly believe I will never find a more perfect match for me. I want us to continue living this crazy life of ours, but with us equals and partners. I respect you too much for us to continue as anything else. So, tell me, Ginny, will you marry me?”
For a second, Ginny could only gawp at him. A million reasons why she should say no popped into her head, not least that that vast majority of her family would bitterly disapprove. There was his dark reputation, too. Would she be prepared to become his dark lady, and risk the scorn of most of society?
“I… I…” she stammered for a second, before an iron-clad realisation hit her. “Oh, bugger it! Of course I’ll marry you, you big git! I’ve loved you since the first time I set eyes on you, so screw anyone who doesn’t approve. I must be as mad as you are, but I will become your bride.”
“Wonderful!” he cried and kissed her soundly again. It was some time before they parted.
“You do realise my mum will have kittens when she hears about this?” Ginny giggled. “In fact, I think most of my brothers might have something to say on the subject, too.”
“I can’t wait to meet the rest of your family,” Harry said, smiling at her with mischief in his eyes.
“I wouldn’t be so keen if I were you,” she replied with a smirk. “At least Bill will be on our side. He’s pretty grateful to us for motivating him to get back with Fleur.”
“Indeed, and I’ll be glad of his support when meeting your formidable mother. Well, my darling, I think we have rather a lot to discuss. Winky? Would you be so kind as to find a safe home for the Moon Hare? I’m sure you know of a good place.”
“Yes, I knows exactly the place,” Winky confirmed, picking up the jewel with reverence.
“Now, where were we?” Harry asked, pulling Ginny into his arms again.
“Discussing our wedding?” she prompted.
“We can do that later,” he advised, pulling her down onto the sofa with him.
Winky made her way up to the top of the house where Master Harry kept all the trophies he had accumulated during his adventures. The room was extremely well protected, and only Winky and her master could enter it without instant eradication, such were the power of the magics protecting it.
The small elf had a spring in her step, as she was delighted with the news that Mistress Ginny was to become Master Harry’s wife. Certainly, it would be a huge change for her precious master, and one she heartily approved of.
Smiling to herself, Winky reflected on all the changes in her own life. She thought she’d been happy working for the Crouch family, and young Master Barty especially, but she had to admit things were much better now. Master Harry was a wonderful master, and she had so much more fun these days, even if she did worry about him sometimes.
Hopefully, she wouldn’t have cause to be concerned about Master Harry any longer, she thought. Mistress Ginny would be good for him. She was a wonderful witch, Winky believed, and the perfect cure for her beloved master’s loneliness. Maybe Winky would have children to look after soon, too! How marvellous would that be?
With that happy thought going through her head, Winky lovingly laid the Moon Hare in a cushioned display case in the centre of the room. She remembered when Master Sirius had commission the display case especially to house the Moon Hare. Well, it was a fantastic piece of jewellery and deserved a special setting. Winky had been most upset when Master Harry had ordered her to break the Moon Hare into five pieces and hide them around the world, thinking it was a shame to wilfully damage something so beautiful. Still, it was back in one piece again, now, and Winky was very proud of all the imaginative places she’d found to hide the pieces, so it was all worth it in the end. That Master Harry had found love was a massive bonus, albeit an unintended one.
Stepping back, Winky realised it was nearly time for her to go to Gringotts. Carrying messages back and forth between the goblins and her master was a regular task of hers, and no doubt they would be keen to learn of Draco Malfoy’s death. Deceiving the stupid Malfoy brat into believing he was bribing one of the goblins had been Master Harry’s idea, and one the goblins had embraced with enthusiasm. They would need to know that particular game was now at an end.
Turning, Winky wondered what games Master Harry would be playing now he had Mistress Ginny. Perhaps he would just settle down with her and live a quiet life, but Winky doubted it. After all, Master Harry might be named Potter, but he was a Black at heart, and the Black family always did enjoy playing games.
The little elf vanished from the room, happy in the knowledge that things had turned out for the best.
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