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SIYE Time:1:17 on 19th August 2017


Gothic
By Brennus

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Harry/Ginny
Genres: Action/Adventure
Warnings: Death, Disturbing Imagery, Intimate Sexual Situations, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: R
Reviews: 158
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.
Hitcount: Story Total: 19464; Chapter Total: 2000
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:

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.




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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.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPH PHP

“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.”

“How so?”

“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.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP

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.”

“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.

HPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHPHP HPHP

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.

“Look.”

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.















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