|SIYE Time:14:04 on 30th July 2021|
Category: Portkey Challenge (2018-1), Portkey Challenge (2018-1)
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Sirius Black
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Humor, Romance
Story is Complete
** Winner for Most Romantic in the Portkey Challenge **
Whilst staying at Grimmauld Place during his fifth year, Harry makes several new discoveries - most startling among them involving Ron's younger sister. A harrowing adventure involving danger, intrigue, unexpected discoveries... and also a bit of bonding.
Hitcount: Story Total: 5851
Awards: View Trophy Room
Disclaimer: Harry Potter Publishing Rights Â© J.K.R. Note the opinions in this story are my own and in no way represent the owners of this site. This story subject to copyright law under transformative use. No compensation is made for this work.
I've been without power for three days! It's back on now although flickering, so I thought I'd get this one up while I could! My heartfelt thanks to Arnel for her beta work. I wrote this when the category was first announced, but its been so long, I thought it had to be anonymous. Thankfully, Arnel told me they should be beta'd first.
“Well, that was a bit stupid of you,” said Ginny angrily, “seeing as you don’t know anyone but me who’s been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels.”
- Order of the Phoenix, page 499
Harry trudged up the stairs at Grimmauld Place, feeling weary and oddly drained. He’d left Ron and Hermione in the sitting room waging a game of chess that should last them well past Harry’s ability to keep his eyes open. Although he’d had a full night’s sleep the night before, it had been broken and troubled with disturbing dreams. After spending the day locked in a room with only Buckbeak for company, he was mentally and emotionally exhausted, if not physically.
Mrs. Weasley had chivvied them all upstairs after dinner so the adults could have a discussion — most likely about him — and Sirius hadn’t intervened. Harry didn’t have the energy at the moment to feel put out about it. He was about to enter the bedroom he and Ron shared when he caught a brief flash of red on the landing above where the twins were staying.
Frowning, Harry stealthily climbed a few steps, remaining in the shadows. He expected to see either Fred or George, but was surprised to discover Ginny looking shifty as she closed the twins’ bedroom door and concealed something beneath her jumper.
Harry, who’d spent a lifetime nicking stuff he wasn’t supposed to have from the Dursleys, easily recognized the signs.
“All right, Ginny?” he asked, moving out from the shadows and pleased to see her startle. She was definitely up to something.
“Harry!” she said, blinking. He recognized the ploy as stalling for time whilst she thought up a plausible explanation. He had to give her credit, she covered her guilty look very quickly. He supposed successfully sneaking something from the twins would take a practiced hand at deception.
“What do you have there?” he asked bluntly, wondering if she’d tell him.
“What d’you mean? I don’t have anything,” she said breezily, waving her empty hands in the air. “I was just going to ask Fred and George if they had any more Extendable Ears to hear what was happening downstairs, but they’re not there.”
He nodded appreciatively. The lie was smooth, just enough of the truth to make it plausible, except that he’d seen her hiding something, and his eyes were drawn to where her jumper was bunched above her jeans. She noticed his gaze and turned away, hurrying up the stairs two at a time.
“I’m going to see if I can find them,” she said.
It was really none of Harry’s business if she’d taken something from the twins — although he admired her guts in doing it. His mind briefly drifted back to the conversation they’d shared earlier that evening. She’d made him feel better in a way no one else could’ve done. It had been stupid of him not to think of asking her what it felt like to be possessed. He’d been there with her on the floor of the Chamber. He’d seen what she’d been going through — he’d even played Exploding Snap with her in the common room several times as she recovered.
He hadn’t meant to be insensitive. He’d been so caught up in his own fear and turmoil that he wasn’t thinking straight. It had been a long time ago, and she appeared to have put it behind her. She never mentioned it. Of course, he supposed he wouldn’t have ever brought it up willingly, either. While he’d contemplated the idea of being possessed, Harry had felt disturbingly unclean, and it had only lasted a little more than a day. Was that how Ginny had felt once she’d realized what had happened to her? He’d never seen her as a victim, but he suddenly wondered if she’d felt like one.
“Ginny!” he said before his brain even caught up with this mouth. “Wait.” His longer legs easily caught up with her on the next landing. She looked guarded and wary — and also a bit exasperated.
“What is it, Harry?” she asked impatiently. His mind flashed briefly onto a time when she used to make up excuses to be around him. She was certainly over that now, and he was pierced by an odd sense of loss.
“Listen,” he said, suddenly feeling awkward. He stuffed his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans to keep from fidgeting. “I owe you an apology.”
“What d’you mean?” she asked, her eyes scanning him and somehow making him feel very exposed.
They were standing outside the door to Sirius’ bedroom, although he knew his godfather was still down in the kitchen with the rest of the adults. His tongue suddenly felt twisted, and he wasn’t entirely certain what he’d meant to say. The intensity of her gaze was unnerving him, and he wished he hadn’t acted like such a berk. Still, he owed her an apology.
“I should’ve come to you straightaway. I didn’t mean to forget. You’re just so… different now,” he said, his voice trailing. He felt very stupid and wished he’d kept his mouth shut and just gone to bed. He was mucking this up even worse.
Ginny tilted her head, looking interested rather than insulted. “How d’you mean I’m different?”
Harry shrugged, feeling a sheen of sweat on his back. “I dunno. I suppose it’s just that you’ve grown up.”
“Yes, shocking that people tend to do that,” she said tartly.
Harry ran his hand through his hair. “Look, I shouldn’t have forgotten. I’m sorry,” he said, turning his back in order to retreat. He was never very good with talking about emotional stuff, and he’d already made enough of a fool of himself tonight.
Voices on the stairs caused Ginny to take a sharp intake of breath. Fred and George were almost back at their bedroom, and Harry and Ginny would be clearly visible once they reached the landing. Ginny grabbed Harry by the arm and pulled him into an empty room, shutting the door behind them quietly. She clearly didn’t want the twins to see her, and his suspicions that she’d been doing something dodgy were confirmed.
She put her ear against the door, but the thickness of the heavy wood blocked out all sound. Harry looked around. They were in another bedroom decorated like most of the house, although this one looked as if it had belonged to a student as it was decorated with Slytherin colors. Harry knew that the rest of Sirius’ family had been part of Slytherin House, but this room had a definite youthful appearance.
“What did you nick from the twins?” he asked her bluntly, hoping to distract her from their previous conversation.
“Never you mind,” she said, turning to face him and crossing her arms in front of her. “So, you’re feeling better now, and you’ve decided to snoop on me? Maybe I should’ve left you sulking with Buckbeak.”
Harry inwardly flinched. His behavior seemed rather silly and childish now, but he didn’t like being called on it. He recognized Ginny’s tactic, she was putting him on the defensive to get his scrutiny off of her. She was good. He frequently used the same ploy.
“Maybe you should’ve. How hacked off are they going to be if they saw us duck in here?” he asked, refusing to be cowed and maintaining eye contact.
She stared right back at him. Her eyes were a light chocolate color, as if mixed with caramel. At the moment, although they were guarded, there was a glint of something else that he couldn’t quite place. She wasn’t backing down — not that he’d expected her to. He’d seen her practicing with the DA, and she always went straight for the offensive, not letting up until she’d beaten her opponent. She was usually paired with Michael Corner, and she’d always done better than him. Harry had never been certain if Michael was going easy on her or not, but watching her now, he suspected the Ravenclaw hadn’t wanted to be embarrassed by being upstaged by his girlfriend. Harry could understand that, but what remained a mystery was what Ginny saw in Corner. She didn’t seem like she’d put up with being coddled.
“They didn’t see us,” she said, raising her chin defiantly. “Just wait a few minutes, and they’ll have shut themselves up in their room, and we can get out of here. It’s unnerving to be surrounded by so much Slytherin.”
She walked away from the door, looking around the room curiously. There was a desk in one corner, and she began opening the drawers, rifling through the contents.
“What are you doing?” he asked. He’d quickly learned that touching anything in this house could be dangerous, and he didn’t think this room had yet been approved as ‘clean.’
“Aren’t you curious about what they’re hiding from us?” she asked.
He was, but he didn’t think anything of any import would be hidden away here in this unused bedroom of some unnamed Slytherin student. Still, it was something to do, so he, too, began looking through the drawers. He glanced up to see Ginny reaching for a small tarnished medallion in the back corner of her drawer. From the corner of his eye, he noticed it had the image of a snake carved into its side, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.
“Ginny, no!” he gasped, reaching to pull her hand away. It was too late. As his hand closed around her wrist, he felt the familiar jerk of a Portkey behind his naval. The two of them were spinning away, banging against one another, helpless to let go in a whirl of color and sound.
The overwhelming panic began clawing at Harry’s insides before he’d even stopped spinning. He was trapped in some sort of horrific déjà vu. His brain felt numb and sluggish, unable to process anything but the fact it was happening again, and this time — Ginny was the spare.
Harry’s feet slammed into the ground, and his knees buckled. His hands landed not on hard earth, but a thin carpet. He was dimly aware of a dark room lit only by the dying embers of a fire in the grate. From what he could see of it, the room looked much like Grimmauld Place with dark colors and an abundance of serpent stylings. His mind only half-registered this, however, as his vision kept flickering back and forth between the present and a graveyard he’d visited a mere six months ago.
Breathing became difficult, and gasping, he clung to Ginny’s wrist, bringing her closer to him and forcing her to kneel on the floor beside him. Cedric’s dead eyes stared up at him from his prone position on the floor, lifeless yet accusing. His vision alternated between the smoldering embers in a dusty, cobweb-filled grate, and a burning fire beneath a mammoth-sized cauldron issuing sparks of blue. In his mind’s eye, the threadbare carpet and peeling wallpaper were transformed into a sprawling graveyard with a winged statue opening its arms to encircle Harry. Imprisoning him. Trapping him. Blocking his escape.
His heart raced, and he felt dizzy as a sense of impending doom ensnared him. He was both chilled and sweaty at the same time. This couldn’t be happening again. No, no, no, no, no…
A sharp pain on the underside of his arm shocked him back to reality. He pulled it back, breathing heavily as he rubbed the spot Ginny had pinched, looking at her accusingly.
“Are you all right?” she whispered urgently, her eyes searching his face with concern.
“I—” Harry faltered as a sense of shame overtook him that she’d seen him fall to pieces. He rubbed a hand along the back of his neck, desperately seeking a plausible excuse.
“You were back in the graveyard, weren’t you?” she asked, pinning him with her gaze.
Harry nodded slowly, the words sticking in his throat. He suddenly couldn’t have answered if he’d wanted to. He felt sick, and his stomach roiled unpleasantly. He’d been doing his best to suppress all the memories of that awful night, and now they were front and center in his mind once again.
Ginny nodded. “That’s happened to me a few times, too, even after all these years. Your trauma was only months ago,” she said simply, standing up and turning away as she began looking around the empty room. “Where d’you suppose we are?”
Harry was grateful to her for both looking away and changing the subject. Hastily swiping at his eyes, he, too dragged himself up onto his unsteady legs. “Dunno. The embers in the fire means someone was here, but it looks like it hasn’t been used in ages.”
“It looks just like Grimmauld Place before we started clearing the rooms,” Ginny said, grimacing as she pulled out a section of the heavy drapes and dropping it quickly when something fluttered inside the folds.
“Look,” Harry said, picking up a candelabra with cobwebs strewn between the branches. “It has the Black family crest on it. I wonder if this is one of Sirius’ other properties. He told me they had several.”
“D’you think we’re still in England?” Ginny asked, looking around uneasily. Although the room looked similar to the house in London, they really could be anywhere.
“Dunno,” Harry said, shrugging. “I didn’t ask him where the others were.”
“Of course you didn’t,” Ginny said, sounding exasperated. “How are we supposed to get back? They’re going to notice we’re missing, and we’ll be in so much trouble.”
“If they haven’t already. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a tracking charm on me,” Harry said, feeling that familiar sense of ill use churning in his belly.
“Let’s hope it’s the Order and not Umbridge or the Ministry,” Ginny said nervously. “Should we go outside and try to work out where we are?”
“Wait — where’s the Portkey? The one from the Triwizard tournament took me back to Hogwarts. Maybe this one will bring us right back to Grimmauld Place,” Harry said, squinting in the dark to find the Portkey.
“It dropped when we landed,” Ginny said, helping him search. “I heard it roll this way.”
She walked to a stiff-looking arm chair decorated with tarnished studs along the rim. Reaching beneath, she patted the dusty rug cautiously.
“It’s here. Take my hand,” she commanded.
Harry reached out his hand cautiously. He hadn’t developed a phobia about Portkeys or anything — it was just the unexpected suddenness of the last one. This time, he held his breath as Ginny reached under the chair again and presumably grasped the medallion. Nothing happened, and after a moment, Ginny sighed and released his hand, taking away the warmth of her own.
“Most Portkeys don’t work that way. You need another one to return, but it was worth a try,” she said, making Harry painfully aware of how much of the wizarding world he still didn’t know, and she took for granted.
“Well, unless you have any other brilliant magical ways of communication that I don’t know about… I suppose we’d best try the Knight Bus,” he said.
He didn’t like the idea. He felt incredibly exposed, and he knew it wasn’t just the Ministry that would like to find him. He had to keep Ginny safe, however, and that meant finding a way back as soon as possible.
“You can do a Patronus,” Ginny said suddenly. “Can you send it to Sirius and see if he can tell us how to get back?”
“I can conjure one, but I don’t know how the Order uses them to send messages. They never showed me that spell,” Harry said, feeling this was an incredibly important bit of information they’d left out. “D’you know how they do it?”
Ginny shook her head. “I can’t even cast one.”
“Let’s try and see if just telling it what to do will work,” he said, withdrawing his wand.
“No! Don’t!” Ginny gasped suddenly. She was standing so close, her warm breath tickled his ear and created a pleasant feeling in his chest, despite his disappointment.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“No matter what happens, you can’t use magic. Dumbledore couldn’t stress that enough all last summer. They can trace underage magic, but I also suspect they can somehow trace you. You’ll be back at the Ministry for another trial, or they’d just chuck you into Azkaban this time.”
Harry gritted his teeth in irritation, but she was right. “So what do we do?” he asked.
Muffled voices in the hallway made his heart drop like a stone. He turned wide, panicked eyes toward Ginny, and her face mirrored the same shock and dismay he felt. While it could be the Order using another Black property as a safe house, it could also be one of the unsavory folks the former Blacks were fond of.
Grabbing Ginny’s hand, he quickly dragged her toward the heavy drapes and urged her behind them, doing his best to shield her body with his own. He was aware of the scurrying movement of whatever lived within the drapes, but at the moment, the unknown voices appeared the far bigger threat.
“I tell you I heard something up here, Mulciber,” a rough voice said, and the creaking of the floorboards let Harry and Ginny know whoever it was stood directly outside the door of the room in which they were hiding.
Ginny pressed closer to Harry, and the hand he still held grew slick with sweat. He wasn’t certain if it was hers or his own, perhaps both. This was not good.
“And I told you, this house is teaming with critters. I broke up the remaining embers in this room not a half hour ago. There’s no one there,” Mulciber replied mulishly.
“Lumos,” the rough voice said, and room filled with light.
Behind the drapes, Harry stood motionless, gripping his wand tightly. He could see Ginny’s pale face, alarmed yet determined. She, too, would fight her way out if it came to it, but Harry hoped the men would leave without doing a thorough search. Although they were fully concealed by the heavy drapery, there would be nowhere to run should the curtain be pulled back.
“Avery, he’s agitated enough as it is. If we make the slightest mistake, it’ll be our heads on the line. I’m not eager for another round of the Cruciatus. Damn it, there’s nothing here. We have to go.”
Harry and Ginny shared a glance. Harry recognized at least one name of a known Death Eater, and mention of the Cruciatus Curse left no doubt in his mind to whom they were referring. He didn’t know if Ginny recognized the names, but she definitely recognized the curse. Her nails dug into Harry’s flesh painfully.
“That’s what I said,” Mulciber replied petulantly. “Nox.”
The lights dimmed once again, but before Harry could release a relieved sigh, pain ripped through his forehead, causing his eyes to water. He clamped his lips together, using sheer force of will not to make a sound, and blinking to clear his vision.
A cold, high-pitched voice that featured in his nightmares spoke from out in the corridor, but still at an uncomfortably close distance.
“Is there a problem?”
“No, my Lord,” Mulciber said, unable to conceal the tremor in his voice.
“Then why, I might ask, are you scurrying around up here rather than setting out on the task I set for you,” Voldemort asked silkily.
As soon as he began speaking, Harry felt Ginny’s body start to shake. He couldn’t risk movement to put his arm around her in case the rustling of the curtains brought them back into the room, so he clutched her hand, attempting to offer a small bit of comfort. Her trembling was growing rapidly more violent, and he only hoped she’d be able to hold it together long enough for the Death Eaters to walk away.
His own terror mounting and the pain in his head throbbing, he found it easier to focus on her. The shock of the Portkey had dragged him back to that godforsaken graveyard earlier. He imagined the sound of Voldemort’s voice had brought Ginny back to the Chamber.
He shifted his arm ever-so-slightly to try and offer her a bit more contact, yet aware how inadequate the gesture was.
“I thought I heard something, my Lord, so I checked, but it’s just the dying embers of the fire,” Avery replied.
“I see. And do the embers in the fire offer any solutions on how to aid my most loyal… or insights on how to get to Potter?” Voldemort asked, his voice icy.
The bottom dropped out of Harry’s stomach upon hearing his own name, and he felt a cold tendril of sweat snaking its way down his back. He couldn’t see Ginny’s face through the darkness, but her trembling hadn’t abated.
“No, m’lord,” Avery said as they began to move away at last.
Harry held his breath as he listened with all his strength to the footsteps moving further down the hallway. When they’d gone far enough that their voices were only dull murmurs, he turned to Ginny and pulled her into his arms without really thinking about what he was doing.
“It’s all right,” he lied, keeping his voice low and knowing there was absolutely nothing all right about this situation. It had gone from bad to worse, but at the moment, his desire to offer her some measure of comfort after his insensitivity earlier in the evening overrode all else.
Ginny sniffled, but remained pressed into his chest, either unwilling or unable to move away. He could feel her body trembling and easily imagine what she was remembering. The pain in his head receded as he attempted to comfort her.
“We’re still okay, Ginny. We need to get out of here quickly, though. Can you do that?” he asked, the urgency of the situation beginning to once again press down upon him.
“How?” she asked, her voice wobbly and forlorn. “He knows what I’m going to do before I do it.”
“No, he doesn’t,” he said forcibly, knowing exactly how she felt. “It’s not the same, Ginny. You aren’t being possessed. He doesn’t know we’re here, and there’s no reason for him to suspect it. As long as we’re quiet, we can get out of this.”
Ginny nodded against his chest, valiantly attempting to pull herself together. “He’s not in my head,” she mumbled, as if trying to convince herself.
“He’s not in your head,” Harry said firmly, uncomfortably aware of how often he did end up in Harry’s own head. This time, the pain in his scar hadn’t been debilitating, and he reckoned it was because Voldemort hadn’t been in a towering temper. Whenever Harry had seen him in his dreams, Voldemort had been in a rage. Or, perhaps it only happened if Harry was sleeping. It didn’t matter now. “We have to get out of here.”
“How,” Ginny repeated, finally looking up at him. Her face was drawn and pale, and her eyes sparkled with unshed tears. His mind flashed on an image of an eleven-year-old Ginny’s tear-stained face after they’d left the Chamber, and his stomach roiled again. He had to get her out of this.
His gaze roamed the room. He could still hear voices on the floor below, and he thought sneaking past them to simply use the door was folly. He turned to the window and peered into the darkness.
“We’re only one floor up from the ground. We need to go out the window,” he said, already testing them to see which would open easily — and quietly.
Ginny kept her hand tangled in his shirt, following him from window to window. “How are we supposed to get down? We don’t have brooms,” she said, her whispered voice still sounding urgent.
One of the windows gave easily, and Harry cautiously pushed it up. His heart thundered, terrified it would make some sudden sound, bringing Voldemort right back to this room. For once, fortune was on his side and it rose silently. The cold night air rushed in, causing goosebumps to arise all over his skin.
There was a trellis along the side of the stone house, with dead and rotting vines woven in the slats. It looked old and worn, like the rest of the property. There probably was a broom hidden in this magical house somewhere, but they couldn’t waste time looking for it.
“We have to climb down,” Harry whispered resolutely, hoping to instill some confidence in her, despite his own trepidation. “We can summon the Knight Bus once we reach the road.”
Ginny glanced out the window nervously. “It’s very high,” she said dubiously, even while rolling up the sleeves of her jumper.
“Haven’t you ever escaped from the Burrow?” he asked, attempting a bit of levity. “I used to climb out of Privet Drive all the time.”
While this was true, the trellis in Surrey was much sturdier than this one appeared, and the distance to the ground far less imposing. “If you prefer, I can try and Levitate you.”
“No,” she said quickly, looking alarmed. “I told you — we can’t use any magic — especially you. The Ministry has ways of tracking it.”
Harry gritted his teeth in frustration, knowing she was right yet irritated just the same. “I suppose Voldemort probably has a way of detecting magic, as well.”
Ginny shuddered slightly at the name. “No magic,” she repeated steadfastly.
“Unless it’s a life-threatening situation. I’m not just going to stand there and let Voldemort kill either of us because the Ministry wants to charge me for being underage,” he insisted derisively.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Ginny said. “Well, go ahead. Show me these previously unseen climbing skills.”
“I’m not leaving you up here with sodding Voldemort. You go first,” Harry insisted.
“You said you’ve done this before. At least let me watch you and see if you break your neck before I risk mine,” she said stubbornly, crossing her arms in front of her.
Harry stared at her incredulously. Voldemort was a far bigger threat than a rickety trellis, but he supposed if he reached the ground first, he could at least catch her if she fell. There wasn’t time to argue about it, anyway.
“You’re worried about breaking your neck more than a Killing Curse?” he asked skeptically.
“You’re wasting time,” Ginny said, pushing him toward the window. “Hurry up and see if it’ll hold.”
He stared out the window, the ground looked alarmingly far away. He hated leaving her alone in this room, but he recognized that stubborn expression. He’d seen it on Mrs. Weasley.
Harry swung his leg over the sill and stretched his arm to reach the trellis. He gave it a quick shake, and was marginally reassured that it didn’t crumple to dust when he did so. He took a deep breath, and was startled when Ginny quickly pressed her lips to his cheek. He looked around at her in surprise.
“For luck,” she said, blushing furiously.
Harry nodded without comment and swung his body out the window. Although the trellis rattled slightly, it held. Ginny turned her head, presumably staring at the door to see if anyone came running back at the sound. Harry began climbing as quickly as he was able, terrified of someone catching her still up there. If it came to it, he’d jump the rest of the way and tell her to leap, attempting to break her fall with his body. Even if they were both hurt, the darkness would aid in hiding them.
He couldn’t bear the thought of hurting another Weasley.
It was freezing, and Harry’s fingers quickly numbed as he clamored down the side of the house — more like a castle from this view. The wind was brisk, and he could smell salt on the air. Wherever they were, it was near the sea. He wasn’t dressed for being outdoors, and the only warmth he felt was radiating from his cheek where Ginny had kissed him.
Merlin, they needed some luck now. When he reached the bottom of the trellis, it was a short jump to the ground below. He landed in a crouch on the hard, snow-covered earth. He straightened quickly and waved Ginny down. She showed no hesitation in climbing onto the window ledge, but the distance to the trellis was difficult for her shorter arms to reach.
Harry briefly considered climbing back up to come to her aid, but she twisted her body gracefully and sort of leapt onto it. The trellis rattled again, and Harry drew his wand, prepared to cast a spell at anyone who so much as peered out the window. It was unnecessary, however, as Ginny’s lighter body had no trouble descending the old trellis. Harry reached up and caught her as she reached the end, gently lowering her to the ground.
“It’s freezing,” she whispered, the wind whipping her hair around her head like a fiery halo.
She was wearing a jumper that Harry recognized as one Mrs. Weasley made, so he knew it at least offered some warmth. “Come on,” he said quietly, holding out his hand. “We need to find the road.”
Ginny shook her head. “Once we reach the road, I think we need to walk a bit before we try calling the Knight Bus.”
Harry stared at her incredulously. He was only wearing a thin button down, and already his teeth were chattering.
“There are probably wards, and I don’t know if the bus can be summoned through them. Never mind if they can detect magic within them,” she replied.
That made sense, and he was grateful she’d thought of it. “Okay, then,” he said, shivering. “You lead the way. How far do wards stretch?”
They’d begun walking around the perimeter of the house, cautious to remain far enough back so the darkness enveloped them, but they needed to find a drive that would lead them out to the road. The house appeared isolated and forlorn, wherever they were.
“It’s different depending on who cast them,” she said, her teeth also chattering. “The ones at the Burrow go past the orchard. If this place really does belong to the Blacks, I think we need to err on the side of caution.”
“There’s the drive,” Harry said, seeing a dusty path leading away from the house. “Come on.” From the outside, the house looked dark and deserted. A large stone structure, isolated and imposing, it had two carved serpents intertwined above the entranceway.
Hoping to get their blood moving to stay warm, Harry began a light run, keeping Ginny’s hand clutched in his own. As they reached the road, they lost the cover of the trees, and the biting wind went straight through him. They’d have frostbite if they stayed out here too long. As they ran along, a rocky cliff appeared along one edge of the road, and Harry could definitely hear the distant roar of waves.
“I think we’re in Cornwall,” Ginny gasped when they’d stopped to catch their breath. Her cheeks were red, and she huddled against him to block the frigid wind.
“D’you think it’s safe to call the bus?” Harry asked, his breath showing in puffs of smoke.
Ginny glanced around before nodding resolutely, her expression showing the same fear, uncertainty and grim determination that he was certain showed on his own face. He began to raise his wand, which he’d kept clutched in his numb hand, but Ginny grabbed his arm, stopping him.
“What?” Harry asked, frustration creeping into his tone. He was freezing.
“You can’t be recognized,” Ginny said urgently. “If anyone even suspects it’s you, we’ll have both Death Eaters and the Ministry down on us.”
“So… what am I supposed to do?” he asked in slight exasperation. He didn’t even have a coat, never mind a hood to pull over his head.
Ginny reached under her sweater and pulled something out. It was a bright, fluffy scarf with lurid tassels along the edge. “I was hoping to use this later, but your need is greater.”
“What is that?” Harry asked, realizing it was what she’d nicked from the twins’ room earlier that evening.
“I heard Fred and George talking about it, only it’s still in the development stage. They called it a Diva Deception,” she said, moving to put the horrid-looking thing around his neck.
Harry jerked back, unwilling to trust anything coming from the twins. “What does it do?” he asked warily.
“I’m not sure, I only overheard part of their conversation. It’s supposed to offer the wearer some sort of disguise. I know they’re plotting ways to prank Umbridge,” Ginny said, and even with her teeth chattering, she still scowled with distaste over the name.
Harry looked at it dubiously, but there really wasn’t much choice, and he wanted to get inside the warmth of the Knight Bus. “Go ahead,” he nodded, resigned.
Ginny flung the scarf over his neck, and tucked the front inside his shirt. He felt nothing for a moment before a strange tingling took over his entire body. He wasn’t certain if it was the Diva Deception or the beginning of frostbite, however.
Ginny giggled, a strong puff of condensation rising in the air. Harry felt a ticklish sensation along the side of his face as his hair lengthened. He became aware of several things at once, but it was one… or rather two… things that were blatently obvious.
“What the— Ginny, I’ve turned into a girl!” he gasped, horrified, and his voice changed to a much higher pitch. His entire body had slimmed and curved so that his jeans — Dudley’s old jeans — were now hanging off him worse than ever.
“Oh, my,” Ginny said, giggling as she tugged a lock of his very long, ebony curls. “I overheard Fred saying that the idea is to conceal one’s appearance after getting up to mischief.”
“I’ve got breasts!” Harry yelped, horrified and completely forgetting the cold. His button-down shirt was definitely protruding in an area it never had before. He’d never live this down, and if it was still in development, how did he know it would reverse once he removed the scarf? Both repulsed and fascinated, his hand automatically reached for them. Ginny slapped his hand away.
“I know — and it’s quite obvious how cold you are,” she snapped impatiently. “I can still see your scar, though. Hang on.” She lifted the scarf and placed the back on top of Harry’s head, keeping it secured around his chin. “That should hold your lovely hair over it.”
“Funny,” Harry growled between his teeth, finding the situation anything but. Fred and George would take the mickey for the rest of his living days.
Ginny ignored him and pulled the glasses from his face.
“I can’t see without those,” Harry said urgently, feeling exponentially more vulnerable without them. He tried to take the glasses back, but Ginny kept them out of his reach. She was only a blurred outline surrounded by a red haze, and he had to squint to try and see his glasses.
“They’re too distinctive. I’ll give them back as soon as we get off the bus. Don’t worry, I can see, and I’ll guide you,” Ginny said before taking his hand and raising her other arm, wand in hand, into the chilly air.
There was a deafening BANG, and the violently purple triple decker bus appeared from nowhere. Stan Shunpike, the same, wiry conductor who’d been here the last time Harry had needed emergency transportation, stepped outside and welcomed them to the Knight Bus. Harry was on his feet this time, but somehow he thought his falling over the last time he’d ridden the magical transport had been less embarrassing than riding it disguised as a witch.
Harry and Ginny searched the pockets of their jeans and managed to scrape together just enough Sickles for the fare, although unfortunately not enough to add hot chocolate.
“Where are you lovelies ‘eaded to, this evenin’?” Stan asked, smiling soppily.
Harry’s stomach turned realizing Stan was trying to flirt with them. Ginny took Harry’s arm and guided him up the steps, giggling outrageously as she gave Stan an address for the green near Grimmauld Place. Stan seemed inclined to stay and chat, but Ginny insisted they were knackered and would likely take a kip. She sweetly asked him to wake them if they were going to miss their stop.
She led Harry to one of the brass bedsteads, and instead of taking her own, sat down beside him. He was grateful for it, however, as his poor eyesight left him feeling at a distinct disadvantage. Everything was blurry, and the candles along the bus shimmered with an ethereal glow. Ginny wrapped one of the blankets around his shoulders before taking another one for herself.
Harry shivered into its warmth. The bus jerked, and they both were flung backwards, sprawled across the bedstead so that their heads lolled off the other side.
“Well, this is interesting,” Ginny said, turning her head toward him and grinning, her long hair trailing on the floor.
Harry was dismayed to notice that his hair trailed right beside hers, although it wasn’t quite as long. It was easier to see her features this close, and now that they were away from the danger, he could appreciate the humor of the situation.
“Not one word about this to Fred and George,” Harry said warningly.
“Or what?” Ginny asked, calling his bluff. “You really don’t make an attractive witch, Harry.”
“Thanks… I think,” Harry replied. “I don’t reckon you want them knowing you’re experimenting with their products. Exactly what were you planning to do with the Diva Deception, anyway?”
Ginny shrugged. “I wanted to know what it did, and they wouldn’t tell me. I thought it might be useful for sneaking away after a prank. All the teachers know to suspect them, but they won’t be looking for a couple witches.”
“What kind of prank did you have in mind?” Harry asked curiously, never having seen this mischievous side of Ginny. He supposed it only made sense. She was also a sister to the twins, who never stopped getting into mischief.
“Anything that would annoy Umbridge,” Ginny said darkly. “That woman is vile.”
“You can say that again,” Harry muttered. “This night has been bizarre.”
“You think?” Ginny asked, choking back a laugh.
“Think about it. We find a hidden Portkey that brings us straight to Voldemort, and we escape on a bus.”
“Don’t forget the boobs. You escaped with boobs,” Ginny said, shaking with laughter.
Harry scowled. “And don’t forget you chose to stay in the house with Voldemort rather than risk climbing down a ladder first,” Harry said grumpily. He’d never live down the boobs.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Harry,” Ginny said breezily. “I knew it was you they wanted. You had to get out of there first.”
Harry stared at her in shock. She’d risked herself… for him. That was a colossally foolish thing to do. “What—” he asked, unable to form coherent words.
“What does it matter now? It’s a moot point. We both got out and away,” she said firmly.
While that was true, Harry still didn’t like it. He didn’t want any of his friends risking their own lives for his. He couldn’t live with that. She’d been touched by Voldemort’s evil the same way he had, yet she’d stayed in that room to let him escape. That had been an incredibly brave thing for her to do.
The constant lurching of the bus made sleep impossible, but it was warm and the chill gradually left Harry’s bones. Stan tried to make conversation several times, but Harry was in no mood to play along. He’d thought the cleaning of Grimmauld Place was tedious and boring, but that unexpected Portkey could’ve caused them serious injury — or worse. What if instead of an empty room, they’d arrived in the room Voldemort had been? He had to make certain to warn the others to be careful of what they touched.
When they finally reached their stop, they left the warm blankets behind and departed the Knight Bus. Stan waved from the doorway until it disappeared. Harry took his glasses and was relieved when his surroundings came into sharper focus.
“I think he fancied you,” Ginny said, giggling as they hurried toward number twelve. The cold wasn’t quite as biting here in the city, although it was still uncomfortable, and they’d both begun shivering once again. A few stray Christmas lights were still lit in some of the windows.
“Funny,” Harry said, yanking the scarf from around his head and handing it back to Ginny with distaste. He once again felt that tingling sensation, and his hair gradually shortened, losing its curl as it did.
“Breast-less once again,” Ginny said, smirking.
Harry scowled. Ron was right — she never stopped talking.
They hurried up the steps and went inside, careful to shut the door without making a sound. Not only didn’t they want Mrs. Black to wake and start screaming, but they’d hoped to sneak back into their own rooms unnoticed. It was very late, and the house was completely silent. They tiptoed down the hallway, and had almost reached the stairs. Harry released a breath. They’d made it.
Sirius emerged from the kitchen stairway just as they tried to sneak past, shock and surprise etched clearly on his careworn face. He narrowed his eyes, and without saying a word, he pointed back to the kitchen stairs.
Shoulders slumping, the two teens climbed down into the kitchen. Sirius shut the door behind them, and they took seats at the table, heads bowed and neither meeting Sirius’ eyes.
“Which one of you would like to tell me what’s going on?” Sirius asked calmly, a curious, discerning expression on his face that made Harry very uncomfortable.
“It’s a long story,” Ginny said, rubbing her hands up and down her arms to regain some warmth.
Sirius stared at her for a moment before reaching behind him and pulling a bottle of firewhisky from one of the cupboards. He poured three shots, handing one to each of them. “Try me,” he said simply.
Both Harry and Ginny stared at the firewhisky in shock. Harry grabbed his before Sirius could change his mind and tossed it back, coughing and gasping at the liquid burned his throat, spreading glorious warmth throughout his insides.
Ginny sipped hers tentatively, but the desire for warmth overcame her caution, and she, too, tossed it back, eyes streaming.
“Don’t tell your mum,” Sirius said, looking a bit worried now as he drank his own.
“As if I would,” Ginny said, scoffing.
The liquor did its job, and Harry felt much warmer already. He shut his eyes, enjoying the sensation as it spread throughout his chest.
“All right, spill it,” Sirius said, not completely able to hide the amusement shining in his eyes.
Ginny began the tale, not flinching or even hiding the fact she’d stolen something from the twins. Harry supposed there was no way around that bit, seeing as it’s what allowed them to escape unnoticed. Still, he couldn’t help but admire her nerve. Sirius’ expression changed from incredulous curiosity to alarm with rapid intensity once she revealed the part about the Portkey.
“What?” he bellowed, staring at the ceiling in alarm as if he could see through floors like Mad-Eye Moody.
His color drained rapidly as Harry revealed that they’d been within such close proximity to Voldemort.
“You could have been killed,” he said shakily, pouring himself another glass of firewhisky and downing it quickly. He didn’t offer it up to either Harry or Ginny this time, however.
“I know,” Harry said. “We were incredibly lucky. Why would that Portkey have been hidden in that desk? How do we know there aren’t more of them?”
“I’ll have Moody conduct a search of the rooms we haven’t checked yet,” Sirius said, his hand still shaking. “My parents had several properties, and they most likely had ways to get there quickly if the Ministry did a search.”
“How does Voldemort know about it, though?” Harry asked.
“I told you. My brother was a Death Eater. He could’ve told him the locations. I’m going to alert Dumbledore. Perhaps we can catch him unawares,” Sirius said.
“I dunno. It sounded like they were planning something. I don’t know if they’ll still be there,” Harry said dubiously. He couldn’t believe it would ever be that easy.
“It can’t hurt to check,” Sirius replied.
Ginny giggled suddenly, holding her stomach with mirth. “You should’ve seen Harry’s face when he realized he had boobs.”
Her cheeks were rosy, and her eyes looked slightly glazed. Harry didn’t think it was nearly as funny as she did. She couldn’t seem to contain herself.
Sirius grinned. “I think you two best get to bed before I contact Dumbledore. Get some sleep and work that out of your system or your mum will thrash me.”
“I’m tired,” Ginny said, standing. “Night, Harry. Night, Sirius.” She ruffled Harry’s hair as she walked past, fumbling slightly with the doorknob.
“Night, Ginny,” Harry said watching her go for a moment more than was necessary. When he turned back to his godfather, he was a met with a very knowing smirk.
“What?” Harry asked uncomfortably.
“Oh, nothing. I doubt it’s the last time I’ll catch you sneaking in after spending the night out with a witch,” Sirius said, eyes sparkling merrily.
“It wasn’t like that,” Harry yelped, feeling color rush to his face. His tongue suddenly felt too big for his mouth, and it was twisted unnaturally. “Could’ve died,” he mumbled as the room began to spin.
“Go to bed, Harry,” Sirius said, steering him toward the door.
Happy with the direction, Harry complied. He undressed quickly and lay down in his bed, Ron’s snores filling the room. As he settled into the warmth and comfort of the blankets, his mind replayed some of his adventures that night. Ginny had said she couldn’t cast a Patronus, and he thought that was a skill he wanted her to have. What would happen if she were in an alley and Dementors were sent after her? Harry shuddered at the thought. The entire DA needed to know how to protect themselves.
As sleep began to claim him, Harry gently touched the side of his face where Ginny had kissed him.
For luck, she’d said.
They’d certainly been lucky tonight. He’d now had two kisses in the past week, both under very different circumstances. At least Ginny hadn’t been crying, although considering their predicament, she’d had far more reason to be. His cheek tingled, and he felt a warm contentment as he finally drifted off to sleep.
They’d been very lucky indeed.
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