Hi all! This is my first fic, although I'm a professional writer in both original fiction and non-fiction and have been an avid reader here. I don't have a beta yet, so if you're interested drop me a line. Bonus points if you're British or can do their slang better than a Muggle American can. Enjoy!
With a crack, Ginny Weasley appeared in the middle of Victoria Street in London. The sound of a grumbling diesel engine brought her attention to the side, where a red double-decker bus was bearing down on her. She only had time to take in the air she would need to scream when a hand grabbed the back of her shimmering gold dress and pulled her onto the sidewalk behind her.
Still wide-eyed, she turned behind her to find the hyperventilating face of a 13-year-old Muggle boy with red hair and freckles. It took her a moment to make the connection, but once she did she knew she was safe. The visage was just a disguise using Polyjuice potion, adopted by the most wanted wizard in Britain so he could attend the wedding of Ginny's oldest brother, Bill, and Fleur Delacour.
"Harry! Are you alright?"
He chuckled. "You're the one that almost got run over."
Ginny started surveying her surroundings. The cars and trucks whipping past them. The restaurants and clubs, some of them with lines extending out the front doors. More lines at the food stands. Noise. Muggle London.
"We have to go back!" Ginny called to Harry. She meant it as a plea. It sounded more like an order.
"We can't," was his only response.
"But, my family! Our friends! We have to help them!"
Just before Ginny and Harry Apparated to safety, a patronus from Kingsley Shacklebolt interrupted the wedding reception, announcing that the dark wizard Voldemort and his legion of followers, the Death Eaters, had overtaken the Ministry of Magic, killed the Minister, and were now in charge of all government in the wizarding world. Not a minute passed before Death Eaters broke through the defenses of the Weasley family property, The Burrow, and started attacking the gathered guests in a hale of fire, bright colored lights, and screaming.
Harry just stared across the street. "They were there for me," he said more to himself than to Ginny.
She rose to her feet. "They were there for all of us. Let's go." She held out her arm. She couldn't Apparate herself. Harry didn't even look at it, even though her elbow was inches from his face.
"If I'm not there, they'll leave. Right?"
Ginny started stamping her foot in impatience. "You know they won't. We need to help them. You need to help them."
Harry looked up into her face for the first time and reached for the crook of her arm before pulling back. "It's suicide."
"You're a coward!" Ginny screamed at him before marching her way down the sidewalk, long auburn hair fluttering purposefully behind her. She regretted it as soon as she said it. The last word that could be ascribed to Harry Potter was "coward". Harry scrambled to his feet and jogged after her.
"What are you doing?"
"Going home. My family needs me. Our family needs me."
"And what are you going to do, Gin? Hitchhike? Take the train to Devon?" Harry was having trouble keeping up with her as her meaningful trot became a jog.
"Whatever it takes. At least I know what that means."
Harry grabbed her by the arm. Ginny's hopes lifted before she realized they were still on Victoria Street. Her narrow brown eyes stared up at Harry. He had never seen her look so fierce. If only her skills in magic could equal the intensity he saw in her face, she could have taken down the entire Ministry of Magic herself. Meanwhile, his attitude just fell. Even though it was a strange face, missing the wavy black hair, bright green eyes, and the famous thunderbolt scar, Ginny saw exactly what he was thinking. She always could.
"What do we do, Harry?" She asked in the process of holding back a sob.
"I don't know. But we will do something. I promise." He held out his other hand. Ginny's inched its way toward it. "But we can't go back. Not now. They had too many people. And if they see me come back with you, they'll know…" He looked down to his feet. This was everything he had been trying to avoid for the last year.
"They'll know what?"
Harry took in a sharp breath. "They'll know you're important to me. And they'll take you, too."
Ginny couldn't help but squeeze his hand. She knew he cared about her, of course. She knew last school year, when she would catch him staring at her for no reason. She knew when he finally kissed her at the party, after their house had won the Quidditch Cup. She even knew when he broke their relationship off. He wanted to keep her safe, he said, and she believed him. And yesterday, she knew his feelings hadn't changed when she dragged him into her room at The Burrow and kissed him for his birthday until they were both short of breath and her brother Ron barged in. She had spent the next 24 hours wondering what would've happened if he didn't…
Harry looked down at her dress, then his dress robes from the wedding. He swiveled his head around. People were starting to stare, and not for the usual reason people stared at them.
"We've got to change. You look…" Ginny raised an eyebrow at him. "Ummm… fine. But I'm standing out."
She smirked at him. "Ok, Potter. Where do we go?"
"I left some clothes at Grimmauld Place last summer." He shook his head. "But that's a stupid idea. It's dangerous. The Death Eaters probably know about it, even with the Fidelis charm. That's why we abandoned it." To anyone other than the Order of the Phoenix, the townhouse at 12 Grimmauld Place was invisible. But the Order had a spy in its midst. It was too risky to return.
Ginny held out her elbow expectantly.
"No, we can't Apparate again. They're tracking us. They probably already know we're here."
"But how? You're of age. They aren't tracing your magic anymore."
"But you aren't. I just Apparated an underage witch. I'd be getting an owl from the Ministry right now if it wasn't…"
Ginny looked up, spotting the sign for the Victoria tube station down the block. She held onto Harry's hand and started walking. "We'll take it slow. Scope it out. Maybe some of the others will go there, too."
"None of them are that stupid," Harry said under his breath. Ginny heard him anyway, even over the sound of her heels clapping onto the pavement and the constant rumble of the city.
"I prefer to call it 'brave'," she called behind herself.
Harry and Ginny rushed down the left side of the escalator that led to the London Underground, passing people on the right who were happy to let the machine do the descending for them. They inspected the large, wall-mounted system map until they found the correct trains to take for Arsenal Station, which was only a few blocks from Grimmauld Place. Then they came to the turnstiles.
"We don't have any Muggle money," Ginny whispered. Harry turned up the side of his mouth and muttered a simple spell, keeping his wand in his robes. The turnstile started blinking with errors and unlocked. He and Ginny slid right through before the attendant could emerge from his booth.
"Muggle electronics don't work around magic," Harry explained.
The station was a maze of corridors and stairs. Harry and Ginny were bumped into by people who had taken the wrong turn and were busy looking at the directional signs. They reached their platform just before the train departed, with its doors sliding closed and a robotic voice reminding them to mind the gap. The only seat left was at the rear of the car. Harry and Ginny both looked at each other before Harry exaggerated a wave of his hand at the plastic chair. Ginny curtsied and sat down, turning away from him to giggle.
It was Saturday night and the car was full of people on the way to or from having fun. Football fans, wearing colorful shirts or scarves, were chanting. Others, in clashing colors, were trying to blend in. Partygoers in smart dresses and coats were huddling closely with their friends or dates. Other, more tired-looking passengers, were wearing work uniforms and had these strange plastic wires coming from their ears, looking as if they wanted to be anywhere but there.
Across from Ginny, an older man in a brown rumpled sport coat, threadbare pants, and well-scuffed shoes was swaying back and forth in his seat. His eyes were glazed over and looked as though they were seeing right through her. Ginny tried to ignore him, but suddenly the man's mouth dropped and his glare became purposeful and directed at Harry. Ginny started and followed the man's glare to her companion, automatically reaching for her wand hidden strategically in her stately — and shapely - dress.
Harry's red hair was starting to fade back into its trademark black locks and stick out at all angles, as it tended to do. It grew back over his ears. The freckles disappeared and his complexion darkened a bit. His eyes turned from brown to their natural brilliant green. He grew a few inches in height before their eyes. And his scar, the famous lightning bolt scar on his forehead known the world over to represent the Boy Who Lived, traced itself back across his skin. Harry, meanwhile, was idly staring out the window at the concrete tube racing by.
"Harry!" Ginny spit in a whisper. He turned. Her eyes were wide and urgent. He shrugged. She grabbed one of her own bangs and pulled on it. In his confusion he giggled, but then understood. He held out one of his own locks of hair and his face matched Ginny's. She nodded toward the old man, who still looked shocked.
"Gotta lay off the Scotch," the man muttered to himself. Harry and Ginny both allowed themselves audible sighs before he turned back to staring out the window and she remained staring at him.
"This isn't how it was supposed to go," he said softly.
"Yeah, I know. I doubt Bill and Fleur wanted their wedding to be this memorable."
Harry frowned. "That's not what I meant. Well, sort of. You were supposed to stay out of it. I was supposed to keep you safe. Ron, Hermione, and I were leaving tomorrow. We were the ones that were going to be in danger. I mean, we didn't want that. We weren't going to look for it. But our trip was going to be difficult. It was the only way."
The only part of his rambling that made any sense to Ginny was the part about the trip. Yesterday, she had managed to get Harry to admit that the three were dropping out of school at Hogwarts. It sounded like a quest, something to do with defeating Voldemort. That revelation was what drove Ginny to practically throw herself at Harry before his birthday party, even though he had split with her. She wanted to give him something to remember her by. She wanted one last time alone with him.
The train took a corner and swayed back and forth. The passengers who were standing swayed along with it. The momentum made Harry bump into Ginny's knee.
"We'll find Ron and Hermione. Then you guys can go." Ginny wanted to be supportive, but she couldn't help herself from sounding downtrodden.
Harry nodded slowly. "And you'll go back to your parents." Ginny didn't respond.
After a dozen stops or so, the train pulled into Arsenal Station and Harry and Ginny leaped onto the platform, fighting through a wave of people wearing red and white. They took the stairs two at a time up to the street level before slowing their pace. The roads and sidewalks were packed with football fans, with more chanting and yelling at each other. Occasionally, two or more would square off, looking for a fight. Harry grabbed Ginny's hand and wove her through the crowd.
"I think we found where the football match was," Harry remarked.
The crowd thinned after a couple of blocks. At the next turn, Harry stopped their progress and peered around the corner of a building. Ginny looked around him. Grimmauld Place was a shabby row of townhouses covered in soot or other grime. One or two had been littered with graffiti. Almost all of them featured at least one broken window. Number twelve, the former headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix and family home of Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, was situated in the middle of the far row.
Even though no one could be seen, the pair still advanced in a crouch, taking shelter behind a series of Muggle cars. At the last one, Harry halted their progress.
"It looks like the Death Eaters haven't made it here yet," Harry whispered.
"I overheard Dad say that the Order put every enchantment on the house they could think of before they abandoned it. I guess they held," Ginny explained.
"You stay here. I'll check it out."
Ginny glared at him. "Yeah, right." When Harry took off for the front door, Ginny was on his heels. They were halfway across the street before Harry noticed. They reached the door at the same time. Harry rolled his eyes at Ginny and knocked. She giggled, shaking her head.
"What's so funny?"
"You're knocking at your own house."
Harry had forgotten that Sirius had left him the townhouse in his will before he was killed in the first battle of the war against the Death Eaters, in the Ministry's Department of Mysteries. Harry hadn't been back here since. He took out his wand.
The lock of the door slid open with an audible click. Harry turned the knob and pushed.
To both of their surprise, the Order had taken to making sure the house remained livable for its new owner, their most important member. Drop cloths were hung from important pieces of art and furniture. Others that Harry remembered from his time at the townhouse had been moved to safer locations. The only thing that betrayed the house's lack of occupancy was a thin layer of dust.
Harry and Ginny tiptoed through the sitting room to the kitchen, wands at the ready. Nothing. The Order had even done the dishes before they left. They turned the corner to the stately dining room slowly. The cabinets were still full of antique china and crystal goblets. They returned to the kitchen. Harry opened the pantry and found some canned fruit and puddings.
"Hungry?" He asked Ginny as he held up her slender choices. She nodded at a black pudding. He pulled open a drawer, retrieved a spoon, popped open the top, and handed her the can.
"Tank vou," she accepted, her mouth already full. Harry did the same with the can of pineapple. They ate in silence, leaning against the cabinets and concentrating on hearing anything out of the ordinary. Ginny finished her food first and started climbing up the stairs.
"Wait for me!" Harry called, knowing it was no use. He stuffed one more slice of pineapple in his mouth and jogged after her, but she was already out of sight. Suddenly, a scream came from the bedroom off to the right, the room Ginny would share with Hermione when everyone stayed at Grimmauld Place in hiding. Harry sprinted around the corner.
Black smoke had filled the room and a form was taking shape in the middle — Bellatrix Lestrange, Voldemort's right-hand witch and most loyal follower.
"STUPE-" Ginny started, waving her wand in Bellatrix's direction, but Harry cut her off.
"RIDDIKULUS!" Harry yelled. At that moment, a whole family of black bats emerged from Bellatrix's nose, swarming her head and making her stumble around the room, waving inconsequentially as she went. Harry flicked his wand and she stumbled back into an open cabinet, whose doors quickly closed behind her. Ginny was still standing at the ready, hyperventilating. When she saw the danger was over, she collapsed onto the floor.
"It was just a boggart, Gin. You remember how much they like hiding in the cabinets here." She nodded slowly.
"I should've thought of that. I was just looking to see if I had some clothes in there. Or Hermione."
Harry walked over and put his hand on her shoulder. "It's okay. It's been a tough night."
Ginny nodded again. "Bat-bogey hex, huh? For your Riddikulus?"
Harry smiled. "I've always wanted to see one. One of my friends is apparently a master, but she never does it when I'm around." It was the hex Ginny was known for, but she was too preoccupied with the word 'friend' to respond. Harry shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "Listen, why don't you get some sleep? I'll keep watch. Maybe get the wireless out…"
But then yelling started emanating from the ground floor.
"Potter! You half-breed! Is that you? You may own this house now, but the House of Black will always be the sanctuary of the pure! I'll make your life a living hell! And the little Weasley? She's here too? That filthy blood-traitor. She's staining her bloodline by even being seen with the likes of you!"
Harry and Ginny both rolled their eyes, knowing exactly who was speaking. Near the front door, a life-size portrait of Sirius's xenophobic mother, Walburga. The portrait, covered in black drapery, would come to life at any sharp noise and yell obscenities at the occupants of her former home. Most of the work Ginny, her mother, and others put into fixing up Grimmauld Place when they first adopted it as headquarters had been trying to remove the atrocious artwork, with no luck. It was stuck to the wall with a permanent sticking charm. Even Sirius couldn't get rid of it.
"Let's just stay up here for now," Harry surmised. Ginny nodded.
"We'll take shifts on watch, Harry. You need to rest, too." Harry started to protest, but Ginny put up her hand to silence him. There's not many people who could talk sense into Harry Potter, but she was one.
"Okay, but I'll take the first one."
"Fine. Think I'll go take a shower first." She smiled at Harry, whose face had turned red. "Any idea where some towels might be?"
"Che-check the linen closet on the top floor. Between Sirius and Regulus's old rooms," he stammered in reply. Ginny winked at him, turned, and headed back up the stairs.
She reached the fourth floor of the townhouse and saw the closet straight ahead, between two other doors that were cracked open. To the right was Sirius's childhood bedroom, while the left belonged to his brother Regulus. Ginny had never been in either. Regulus had died young, during the first war against Voldemort. Even the thought of that room made goose flesh form against her arms. Now the same could be said about Sirius's room.
She opened the closet and looked for a source of light, finding a swaying cord for a spare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. She pulled the cord and light emerged from above her. She then put her hand on the side of the closet, steadying herself as she crouched toward the towels. As she did so, one of the bricks in the wall pushed inwards. Ginny's breath caught. The shelf-covered wall of the closet rotated to a 90-degree angle, revealing a short hallway. Ginny looked around her, half-expecting some sort of alarm to go off. None came. She couldn't help herself. She kneeled to fit through the passageway, struggling about ten feet before coming to a small room that was lit with the same kind of bulb as the closet.
The room featured an antique wooden desk and chair, both ornately carved in swirls and patterns. The stale air started circulating as she entered, as if it hadn't moved in many years. The desk was covered in papers and featured a heavy, leather-bound book like many that could be found at the Hogwarts Library. She lifted it and gazed at the spine.
Secrets of the Darkest Art
Next to the book was a Muggle map of Europe, with circles around certain cities, some of which had been filled with an X. Ginny turned to the wall to her right, which featured pictures of certain pieces of art and other artifacts. They weren't moving. Muggle art. She thought she recognized some, but others just looked like crowns, swords, and paintings of women.
"What was Sirius doing with this stuff?" Ginny asked herself in a whisper.
Then she turned to the other wall. Her heart stopped and began shaking, but she willed herself to look closer. That wall was covered in black-and-white photos, taken of a man walking through streets and cities dressed in Muggle clothing, usually carrying some sort of knapsack. He was sometimes looking over his shoulder. Whoever was taking the pictures was seemingly far away from the subject.
Even though he was always wearing sunglasses, Ginny would recognize that face as long as she lived. It appeared in every nightmare she's had since she was 11 years old.
The man in the photographs was Tom Riddle, the man who would become Voldemort.
"Harry!" She called out the open passageway. "I think you need to see this!"