They Apparated to the site this time. As soon as they had exited the gates to Hogwarts and were outside the anti-Apparition wards, Harry gave Ron a pointed look before turning on the spot and disappearing. Ginny wasn't surprised by his aloofness towards her, but she had to admit it rankled, and aggravatingly enough, hurt.
"Side-along Apparition, Ginny," Ron said apologetically, holding out his arm.
"What's going on?" she demanded, not taking his arm. "I can tell you suddenly don't want to involve me anymore. Why?"
"I hate it when you read me, Ginny," he complained.
"I'm not even trying to read you, your face and demeanour tell me everything I need to know, Ron," she retorted.
"We received a dressing down from Robards this morning," he confessed to her. "He told me I had no business involving you and questioned Harry's reasoning for allowing it in the first place."
"So, why am I here then?" Ginny asked and her brother snorted.
"Because the one thing I have learned is you never tell Harry how to run a case, not even if you are the Head Auror," Ron informed her. "Now we'd better go before Harry starts to wonder where are. He's on a bloody rampage and I do not want to cross him."
He held his arm out for her to take, which she did so without another word. He spun on the spot and the familiar surroundings of Hogwarts swirled around them, disappearing and reforming into the desolate park Ginny had just seen in her meditation.
While it had been sunny at Hogwarts, it was overcast in this part of England and a mournful wind rustled the trees, causing the roundabout to creak and the chains on the swings to clank. Harry was standing just past the roundabout waving his wand over the ground.
She stepped away from Ron, but didn’t immediately go to where Harry was standing. She had already seen Romilda’s battered body there, but that was not where she had died, Ginny could sense that. She turned in place, absorbing her surroundings. Anger and fear were still palpable under the surface, and she deduced that the tragic event had occurred sometime in the early morning. Across the lane stood a row half constructed Muggle shops. Plastic tarps covered the steel structure and bright, fluorescent bulbs hanging on long electrical cords lit the interiors of the incomplete shops. Only one shop at the end of the park looked to be finished. She could make out glass-fronted doors at the back of the shop that appeared to already contain some stock on the shelves within. A few large yellow vehicles with black tires taller than herself sat in the dirt in front of the building. While stationary, they were intimidating, alien Muggle contraptions reminiscent of sleeping dragons.
Romilda’s weak magical signature called to her from where the machines sat. Romilda had been another vain, beautiful girl from Hogwarts who had been cruel to anyone who did not meet her standards of perfection. That had been most of the school, but all the same, there had been plenty of boys who had fancied her, even the ones who never stood a chance.
“Where was her body found?” Ginny asked and was startled when Harry answered her from just over her shoulder.
“You tell me,” he said.
“Another test, Auror Potter?” she queried, glancing over her shoulder towards him. She was pleased that he appeared ruffled by her formality, and choosing to ignore him, reached out with her senses instead. She would be able to deduce where the victim had died without his help.
Romilda had somehow pulled herself upright by the roundabout. In a waking, meditative trance Ginny moved past Harry to walk around it. She passed her hand just above the curved metal bars children used to turn the roundabout and hang on for dear life until she came to the one the victim had used for leverage.
“There’s blood here,” she said, not bothering to look at the bar her hand hovered over.
“Forensics already found that earlier,” Harry stated. “It’s been confirmed that it belongs to the victim.”
She continued around the roundabout and headed towards the lane, pausing before crossing over.
“I can see the white lorry again,” she breathed, the marred surface of the lorry shimmering before her. “It was dark when he brought her here. Early morning perhaps. I can see him climbing out of the cab. There’s a box in the back, and she’s been shoved inside. I can hear her screaming, trying to get out.”
“This is enough,” Ron said, repulsed. “You don’t have to do this, Ginny.”
“Yes, I do,” she firmly responded. “I already saw the victim this morning before you arrived, and know it’s Romilda Vane.” Both Ron and Harry looked astonished by this revelation and Ginny continued. “I need to do this. We’re getting closer.”
Satisfied that they would not bother her further, and with half-lidded eyes, she returned to the trance. The killer walked down the driver's side of the lorry, prohibiting her from gaining a clear view of him. He opened the box on the back of the lorry and dragged Romilda out by her hair. She struggled weakly as he pressed her up against the back of the truck, his wand at the side of her face. He pulled it down her cheek, a Cutting Curse leaving a deep, jagged gash in its wake. She whimpered in agony as he viciously slashed at her throat and torso before shoving her forcefully away from him to clatter against the roundabout.
He retreated back to the cab of the lorry and drove away, leaving her there to bleed to death. Only, she had enough strength left to pull herself up and drag her body across the lane to the retail park. Ginny walked slowly across the lane, as well, following the ghostly trail Romilda had left behind.
Passing by the hulking yellow machines sitting cold and silent in the car park, she headed towards the pavement that ran in front of the shop fronts. She stopped several feet from the pavement and raised her hands, beating the air in front of her.
“Please, is anyone in there?” she muttered, her hands rapping weakly against the metal cab door of a tanker that had been hidden by the construction machinery.
“There’s nothing there.” Harry spoke in a hushed tone from behind her and Ginny turned her head slightly towards him.
“She died here, in the arms of a Muggle,” she said, sinking to the gravel and touching the ground. “He was sleeping in his truck, and was startled awake by her knocking. He contacted the local authorities before trying to save her.”
“Yes,” Harry replied in a shocked whisper. “You can see all of that?”
“He is in his early forties, with a large build, brown hair and beard shot with grey,” Ginny said, describing the Muggle who had been the last person to see Romilda alive. “He was crying when the authorities arrived, and feels guilty. He thinks if he hadn’t been asleep he might have noticed the white lorry and seen the murderer, perhaps even have been able to apprehend him.”
“You accurately described what the Muggle experienced,” Harry admitted. “But what we could really use is something more on the murderer.”
“Harry,” Ron angrily interjected.
“No, it’s all right, Ron,” Ginny said, waving away any reservations her brother may have. “Let’s go back to where he parked the lorry. Maybe I can see something.”
They quickly walked back across the street and stood on the pavement just in front of the roundabout. It creaked in the blustery fall wind, a lonely sound under the grey sky in the deserted park. The faint echo of Romilda’s desperation as the murderer drove away still hung in there air. Her fear of dying and knowing she would die alone sent a chill down Ginny’s spine.
Again the fear of the victim was overpowering what was driving the murderer. She could not gain a clear idea of what his objective was, other than causing immense pain to dark-haired women.
"He has a deep-seated hatred for beautiful, dark-haired women," Ginny said.
"We're beginning to gather that much," Harry replied. "We need more than that. A why he has this hatred, what he looks like, that sort of thing.”
She closed her eyes and reviewed the scene, focusing on when the murderer stepped back into the lorry and began driving away. In her mind she stood near the hood of the lorry and peered intently inside the cab as he drove away. The first time the lorry sped away too quickly for her to gain a good look at the driver.
Replaying the scene, she stepped towards the lorry as it passed her, making eye contact with the murderer. His cold, dark blue eyes seared into hers, and a wave of nausea washed over Ginny as she felt the full brunt of his malice for the first time. Bitterness welled inside her, acrimony for all the evil in the world that had denied him a normal life. He blamed the Wizarding world. She tried to gain a clearer picture of his face, but aside from his piercing eyes, his features were fuzzy, as if something were obscuring them. There was something very familiar about him and she had a very strong impression that she knew him.
“He’s young, early twenties I would guess, has blue eyes, dark blond hair,” Ginny rasped. “He thinks the world has robbed him, and he wishes he had never learned about the Wizarding world.”
“He’s a Muggle-born!” Ron exclaimed and she nodded, allowing the disturbing images and feelings of the killer to fade.
“Yes,” she confirmed, looking between Ron and Harry. “There’s something else. I think I know him, but something is preventing me from seeing him clearly. Romilda spoke to me in the vision I received today. She tried to tell me who killed her, but I couldn’t understand her. She said it was K Rehfy, but that name doesn’t ring any bells. I think she was trying to say something else, but couldn’t form the word correctly due to the severe beating. Her face was badly disfigured.”
“It was,” Harry attested. “Even her parents had difficulty identifying her.”
“She was a few years below us at Hogwarts, but she had been a beauty,” Ron said. “I remember plenty of blokes who fancied her, but she turned her nose up to most of the advances.”
“She wanted a celebrity,” Ginny expounded. “Again, like Daphne she wasn’t the nicest person at Hogwarts, but I can’t see how her actions would lead to someone wanting to cause her harm. She was a Gryffindor and supposedly on the light side, unlike Daphne.”
“It has nothing to do with Houses,” Harry grimly stated. “You’ve already said he’s singling out women who fit a certain aspect; beautiful, dark hair, possibly vain with superiority complexes.”
“So, what do we have to go on now?” Ron asked rhetorically before clicking off case points regarding the suspect, “Muggle-born, blue eyes, dark blond, average height, drives a white, open-sided lorry with blue lettering on the cab. Am I missing anything?”
“That about sums it up,” Harry said. “We need to get back to the office. Dudley may be able to give us some insight regarding what businesses use open-sided lorries. That may help us narrow down the list of Muggle-borns.”
He looked between Ron and Ginny, "In the meantime, we should begin collating a list of Muggle-borns that fit the description Ginny just gave us, starting with men in their early twenties who matriculated through Hogwarts over the past fifteen years.”
“Fifteen years!” Ron exclaimed. “Merlin, Harry, it will take days to look through all that parchment!”
“Then we had better get started,” Harry replied before looking over at Ginny. “Thank you for your help.”
“May I come back with you?” she asked, suddenly thinking perhaps if she saw a picture of a student something would come to her and telling Harry and Ron this. “Maybe I could start looking through the files with you? Something might come to me, especially if I already know the killer. Perhaps if I see a picture of him it will all become clear.”
“That would be great,” Harry admitted. “If you have the time.”
“I don’t have anywhere to be until tomorrow morning,” Ginny said.
They Apparated to the secured Apparition point in a secluded alley outside the coffee shop located near the Ministry and hurried inside, joining the queue of other ministry workers standing in front of the row of grates at the back of the shop. Ginny was looking forward to becoming a more active participant in the case. She took it as a good sign that Harry had acquiesced so easily to her offer and hoped that meant he had forgiven her for yesterday.
When they arrived in the Atrium, they immediately headed towards the row of lifts.
“I’m going to stop on four, if that’s all right, Harry,” Ron said when a lift arrived and they stepped inside. “I want to tell Hermione to be sure to let me know when she is heading home. You can’t be too careful.”
“Fine,” Harry said. “Just don’t be too long.”
They rode in silence, Ron getting off on four, leaving Harry and Ginny alone in the car. He stared straight ahead at the wood-panelled doors, apparently lost in thought, and Ginny remained quietly by his side. She reflected that Ron was keen to warn Hermione, who wasn’t even a dark brunette in regards to the killer, but Harry did not seem concerned over Cho’s welfare. She longed to ask him about the woman, but then he would know she had seen him that morning embracing her. Her cheeks flamed in embarrassment that she had stooped to using her gift for spying. That was something she hadn’t done since she had been a student at Hogwarts and had learned her lesson when she saw Michael kissing Padma Patil. She had already planned on breaking things off with him, but to see him kissing another girl before she had the chance to do so had been a tough pill to swallow.
Michael had been livid when she confronted him, so Ginny could only imagine what Harry would think and do if she told him she had seen him in her scrying crystal that morning. He had not reacted very well when he thought she had somehow made him confess to her yesterday. But, she couldn’t help but wonder again why he hadn’t mentioned knowing Cho to her yesterday, when she had told him about Cedric. Surely, he must have known that Cho was the girlfriend she had been referring to. Again, she could not ask him without revealing her lapse in better judgment.
The lift slowed to a stop at their destination and she put thoughts of Harry and Cho aside until a later time. She hadn’t been to the Auror Office since Ron had begun working there two years ago. Her work as a professor kept her away for most of the year, and when she was on holiday, she spent most of her time at The Burrow. Not much had changed since the last time she had been there, with the exception of the addition of a few more desks beyond the reception area to accommodate the growing numbers on the force.
A sombre looking older witch sat at the reception desk, her greying hair sticking out from underneath the pointed blue hat she was wearing. She wore the standard navy robes, but hers were adorned with frilly white lace along the collar and at the cuffs. She sat stiffly at attention as Head Auror Robards stood behind her reviewing the sign out log.
He glanced up when he heard the lift and his red face grew livid when he saw Ginny step out of the car after Harry.
“Potter!” Robards angrily shouted across the room. “What is Weasley’s sister doing here? I thought I made it clear this morning that we do not need her services on this case!”
His tone and words made Ginny feel dirty and her face flushed scarlet. She avoided Harry’s gaze as he stiffened beside her.
“Professor Weasley has been an invaluable aide to us,” Harry said through gritted teeth before adding a belated ‘sir’.
Robards was not about to back down in a room full of his junior officers. “Get her out of here now!” he commanded.
Harry stood rooted to the floor just outside the lift doors, glaring daggers at Robards. Ginny quietly moved to the call button and pressed it gently, willing the lift to return before things turned ugly. While she couldn’t read Harry, Robards acrimony practically sizzled in the air around them. She did not feel that his anger was directed towards her per se. She had met Robards on several occasions in the past, and while he wasn’t the warmest of individuals, he had always treated her with respect. Harry had clearly stepped over the line by blatantly disregarding an order from Robards and a struggle for domination was silently being played between the two men.
The bell for the lift pinged loudly in the suddenly hushed room and the doors whispered open. Ginny stepped back into the car, holding her hand against the door to keep them from closing.
“Auror Potter?” she called, thinking it was best to keep things as professional as possible in front of the Head Auror.
Instead of acknowledging her, Harry stepped over to the reception desk and waved his wand over a pile of blank parchment sitting on the corner of the desk.
“Myrtle,” Harry said, ignoring the incensed look Robards was giving him. “Would you please have these files sent to my office? I will retrieve them shortly.”
Turning on his heel, he walked slowly back to where Ginny was waiting and entered the lift, while Robards glanced down at what was written on the parchment.
“None of this will be admissible, Potter!” he roared. “You are wasting your's, mine, and Professor Weasley’s time! Get your head screwed on straight or don’t bother coming back here!”
“Your opinion has been duly noted,” Harry said, giving Robards a mocking salute before the lift doors closed off Robards angry retort. Ginny stared over at Harry as he jabbed the Atrium button. She felt a slight drop in her stomach as the lift began its descent, but otherwise the only sound that could be heard was Harry grinding his teeth in anger. She was still somewhat dismayed by Robards reaction to her presence, but Harry had defended her. A small bubble of happiness bounced in her belly.
“Thank you,” she said softly, and he looked over at her with a puzzled expression. “For sticking up for me,” she added.
Harry shrugged. “He was being an arse.”
The lift stopped on level four to admit a wizard going to down and revealed Ron waiting for an up lift. His face registered surprise when he saw Harry and Ginny inside and he quickly stepped in after the tall wizard, pushing past him to stand beside Harry.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “I expected to see you in the office.”
“Robards took exception to my bringing Ginny back there,” Harry answered and Ron grimaced.
“Didn’t I tell you this morning it was a bad idea involving Ginny anymore?” he asked.
“I disagree,” Harry responded, and Ginny couldn’t help but notice the way Ron’s eyes narrowed as he studied his partner. She clearly sensed from Ron that he suspected hi partner had ulterior motives to continuing to include her in the investigation.
“I do, too,” Ginny said. “I want to see this through to the end.”
She thought about her own motives for wanting to continue to help on the case that had everything to do with getting to know Harry better. She would like nothing more than to get into his mind and wondered if she would ever be able to persuade him to attempt to meditate with her. Would she see his death again or would she see more images similar to the one she had seen that day? Remembering the scene between him and Cho reminded her that he may be attached to the beautiful Ravenclaw and brought her musings to an abrupt standstill.
Cho was dark-haired and beautiful, meeting part of the criteria the killer seemed to look for in his victims. While she had never exhibited a vain or disdainful personality, some may take her aloofness as a superior attitude. Ron had gone to warn Hermione immediately of the danger despite the fact that her hair was a much lighter colour than that of the victims. Harry had thus far still made no mention of needing to alert Cho and did not appear to be in any hurry to do so.
“Should we have the Prophet print a warning for witches?” Ginny quietly asked the two men as the lift doors opened at the Atrium and the wizard who had entered the lift with Ron stepped out.
“Since Ron felt the need to warn Hermione, perhaps others should be alerted as well.”
“I don’t want to cause undue panic,” Harry replied exiting into the Atrium.
“There’s no one you think should be warned?” she pressed, following after him with Ron, and Harry turned back to look at her with a puzzled expression.
“Do you think I should alert someone in particular?” he asked.
Ginny shook her head. “You know what is best, I am sure.”
“I’d like to review the case notes a bit more before making any further statements to the press,” he said, walking towards the grates connected to the Floo Network. “The public who have read both articles relating to the murders are smart enough to make their own deductions in regards to the killer’s M.O.”
He stopped by an empty grate and turned to Ron. “Ron, go back to the office and collect the files I have requested from Myrtle. You may have to wait.”
“What? You aren’t coming back with me?" Ron asked.
“Robards isn’t expecting me back today,” Harry answered dismissively, “But I want those files. I trust you can get them past him.”
“You know I can,” Ron assured him. “Where are you going to be?”
“We could go back to Hogwarts, if you would like,” Ginny suggested. “My classroom will be free by now and it’s fairly comfortable.”
Harry nodded. “That’s a good idea. Bring them there, Ron.”
“All right,” Ron agreed. “I’ll head there as soon as I can. It might take Myrtle awhile, especially if Robards is as upset as he was this morning with us.” He didn’t look pleased to have to return to the office and deal with the Head Auror on his own.
“Sorry, mate.” Harry said apologetically.
“Don’t worry, I can handle Robards,” Ron assured. “You need to learn to do what I do - stare at the wall behind his shoulder and go to your happy place until he is done ranting. Mine is of Hermione, fixing breakfast. She’s wearing an apron and…”
Harry’s expression soured, and Ginny held up her hand, grimacing. “Stop. We get the picture.
“It works every time,” Ron vowed with a grin, either ignoring or oblivious to the dark look Harry was giving him.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Just imagining sausages cooking in a griddle pan would work for you.”
“True,” her brother admitted, still grinning.
“Just go,” Harry groused. “Do whatever you need to to deal with Robards, and we’ll see you later.”
Ron nodded as Harry gestured for Ginny to use the grate before him. She did so, calling for The Three Broomsticks. The green flames flared around her, obscuring Harry, Ron, and the Atrium of the Ministry. Grates swirled past her vision until slowly coming to a stop. She stepped swiftly out of the grate and moved to the side to make room for Harry’s entrance.
Madam Rosmerta looked up from where she was serving some locals at the bar and waved when she saw that it was Ginny. She returned her greeting just as the flames flared green once more, emitting Harry. He stepped smoothly from the grate, waving absently at the barmaid who had suddenly taken a great interest in the couple standing by her fireplace.
“Hello, handsome,” she called, her eyes roving appreciatively over Harry, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, love. Stay and have a drink, won’t you?” She beckoned a stool that stood directly in front of her, leaning over as she did so to expose her ample cleavage in the tight peasant blouse she was wearing.
Harry didn’t appear to notice as he walked quickly towards the door. “Maybe next time, Rosmerta,” he called, opening the door for Ginny. “I’m here on business.”
She followed him, casting a backward glance at Rosmerta who now looked disappointed that they were not going to stay and patronize her pub. Either that or she was dumbfounded that a warm-blooded male had blatantly ignored her advances. Ginny was certain that did not happen very often, if at all.
Ginny walked past him smirking. “Looks like Rosmerta fancies you,” she whispered and was welcomed to the sight of Harry’s cheeks turning pink. She was so taken aback by his reaction that she stumbled down the step, only to be saved from falling to the pavement by Harry’s hand firmly gripping her upper arm.
“Karma,” he uttered, showing his half grin again.
“Thanks,” Ginny grumbled, righting herself as he let go her arm.
“I’ve known Rosmerta,” Harry began and Ginny finished for him, “A long time. I’m beginning to gather that, Harry. You seem to already know everyone of importance around here.”
“I didn’t know you,” he said, heading up the lane towards the school gates.
Now it was Ginny’s turn to blush. “I’m not important.”
“I beg to differ,” he said, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets. “You’ve been an invaluable help on this case.” He glanced over at her. “I’m sorry about Robards.”
Ginny shrugged. “I won’t say it wasn’t a bit of a shock, but I’ll get over it.”
“He’s frustrated that we don’t have many leads,” Harry explained. “Not that this is an excuse for his behaviour, but he thinks I am grasping at straws.”
“Are you?” she asked.
“I thought that at first,” he admitted, “But after today, I would be a fool to doubt your gift anymore. It’s amazing.”
Ginny allowed his praise to settle over her, and she smiled. They continued on towards the gates, stopping only when they reached them. She began pulling her wand to cast the unlocking charm only Hogwarts professors were privy to, but Harry was quicker. He waved his wand silently over the gates and they slowly parted, swinging towards them until they hung parallel with the lane.
“I suppose Professor Dumbledore shared that with you?” Ginny asked, and he simply nodded, gesturing for her to lead the way.
She proceeded up the lane, hearing the gravel crunch indicating he was following. A moment later the gates quietly clanged shut.
“You are very adept at nonverbal spells,” she observed.
“I had proficient instructors,” he replied. “They couldn’t emphasise enough the importance of not calling out spells and giving your opponent a chance to deflect. Not that it really mattered all that much in the end.”
His expression was dark a moment before brightening slightly. “Plus, it’s easier and quicker. For a lazy bloke like me, nonverbal spells are a plus.”
“You are far from lazy,” Ginny admonished, even though she could not be certain of that. However, from Harry’s own actions and what Ron and Neville had said, she knew her statement held more truth than his own.
“You don’t know me very well yet,” he replied, and her heart flip-flopped. Yet meant that, perhaps, he wanted her to get to know him better. It meant that this might only be the beginning of them working together or otherwise.