Chapter 32: Christmas Present
Christmas time was coming - and coming in a very fast pace at that.
Quite a large number of people were already looking forward to it, simply because with so much going on since the Vote, it made for a very nice change to enjoy something so simple and ordinary. More so, enjoy it with their significant others.
Ginny Potter, Luna Zabini, Susan Lennox, Astoria Malfoy, Hermione Weasley and Hannah Longbottom were definitely among them.
Free from their Hogwarts duties for today, they finally siezed the oppoturnity to have a girls´ outing, as well as adress a certain issue...
"Aaaand... that´s all on my list."said Hermione brightly, ticking off the last on her parchment as soon as she, Ginny and Susan exited a yet another shop.
"Well, good for you."grumbled Ginny, making a mental note NEVER to go Christmas-shopping with Hermione ever again.
One of her best friends she may be, but seriously... Hermione made Christmas shopping look like a bloody errand for Potion supplies. She already had an entire list written down before they even left Hogwarts, and knew exactly where to go, going with business-like efficiency.
That of course left her and Susan with very little time to do a bit of browsing for presents and it was a small wonder, that they were able to buy the few small ones they have at the moment. Both of them now heartily wished to have gone with either Luna or Torie, when they split up into two groups.
"What about you two? Do you have everything?"asked Hermione happily, eyeing the small bags in her hands.
"NO!"came the reply of both of the redhaired girls, both fixing their friend a small glare.
Hermione looked at the pair of them in confusion.
"Hate to break it to you like this, Mione... but some of us like to look around,when searching for Christmas presents."said Ginny, Susan nodding fervently.
"But... but surely you´ve already some idea on what you want to buy."she asked, looking astounded.
"Yes, we do, Hermione. But we would also like to browse trough some other shops - given that there are so many - to see, if there isn´t something better for us to pick."said Susie diplomaticly.
Ginny had to conceal a grin as she saw, that Susie´s diplomatic manner seemed to have done the trick. Hermione seemed to be a bit more open to the notion of browsing trough shops... but not too much though.
"Well... I suppose..."she said almost begrudgingly, pulling out her wand and shrinking her numerous bags down to a key-chain side, placing them safely into her pocket.
Unbeknowst to Hermione, Ginny couldn´t help but exchange a fist-bump with Susan - a small habit they´ve picked up from their darling husbands.
Entering the first shop they´ve run into, both of them found something, their family members would surely like.
Ginny, for her part had known exactly what to buy for her parents and brothers, but was slightly nervous about what to buy for the new members of her family. However...
"Oh, James will definitely love this..."she said aloud, as soon as she saw the small joke ball-like object that according to the eager salesman changed its form according to the user´s mood - always intent on jokingly brightening him up.
"I´d bet."giggled Susie as she bent towards the ball, the ball immediately taking the shape of a miniature bull, which immediately started to jump up and down, barking like a cute little puppy.
In less than fifteen minutes, Ginny and Susan found several presents that seemed just perfect, going trough three or four more other shops. Susie found all she needed for her father-in-law as well as her two new brothers-in-law in a small shop, which dealt in Muggle merchandise and Ginny too found things very suitable for the Evans grandparents.
By the time they were almost done, both Susan and Ginny held a generous ammount of bags.
"Now all we have to do, is to make sure our nosy family members won´t sniff them all out."said Susan brightly.
"No problem, Susie. Apricie..."said Ginny with a mischievous look as she called.
Hermione at once fixed her a scandalized look as the old female house-elf appeared, instantly giving Ginny a sunny smile.
"Ah, Mistress is buying the gifts."she said knowingly, giving the air of having done something similar all too many times before.
"Yes, Apricie. Can you think of some place where to hide these? Especially from James?"asked Ginny, giving Apricie a wry grin.
"Of course, Mistress Ginny. Apricie has such a place, eversince Master James is being a little boy."
Even Hermione laughed at the remark. They could only imagine a very tiny James Potter searching the Cottage for the presents years and years back. And Ginny was fairly sure, that James had certainly NOT given up this tradition even now.
"Can Susie also place her presents there? Given that she has both Angus´ brothers and Sirius to consider."
Apricie laughed and nodded, turning to Susan.
"Of course. Apricie will place a spell on them and when they is being needed back, all Madam Lennox needs to do is say "Appear the presents"."
Susan smiled gratefully, setting her bags next to Apricie.
"Thank you very much, Apricie. I extremely appretiate it."
Apricie smiled at her, making a small curtsey.
"Ginny... James and Sirius is one thing, but are you sure that Harry won´t go looking for his present?"asked Hermione with a grin, feeling very sure that her brother-in-law would definitely be able to locate it, if he wanted to.
"Apricie is sure, Madam Weasley. Master Harry is always waiting patiently for his presents."said Apricie happily, her voice showing just how sure she was about the fact, and also showing a world of affection.
Hermione now looked once more completly convinced that this is NOT house-elf abuse. However as Apricie dissaparated along with the presents, she couldn´t miss the slightly sad look on Ginny´s face. She knew at once, that Ginny was still missing one present - the most importaint one - and the exact reason for it.
"I can´t think what to get for him. Nothing seems to be good enough."Ginny admitted.
"I know what you mean, Gin. I´m still not sure what to get for Angie either."said Susie earnestly.
"Well... we´re not far from the Magical Menagerie... how about getting him another pet, Susie?"suggested Hermione brightly.
Both Susan and Ginny laughed humorously at the idea.
"Come on, Mione... d´ you think, that Angus Lennox would be satisfied with something so simple?"asked Ginny with a giggle.
"Right... for my Big Moo? He would like some dangerous creature, he could prefferably tame by himself. Perhaps I should have a talk with Hagrid and go for a hunt in the Forbidden Forest..."giggled Susie.
"OR... since he´s muggle-born too, why not borrow a Time-Turner and bring him back a baby dinosaur. I´m sure he´d love that."suggested Hermione jokingly.
While Ginny laughed at the suggestion ( especially since Hermione didn´t know of Harry and Angus´ fascination with dinosaurs), Susan froze - realization hitting her like a ton of bricks.
"Hermione! You´re a genius!"she exclaimed, at once setting course back to the Muggle-object shop.
Hermione shot a confused look at Ginny who merely shrugged, having an shrewd idea of what Susie was thinking.
However, she wasn´t sure that even a full-size toy T-Rex would be a good enough present for her husband. She was fairly certain, that Harry would positively love anything she would get for him, but that wasn´t enough for HER - she wanted to surprise him, wanted to give him something that only SHE would give... the most perfect of presents that she could give him for their very first Christmas...
But... nothing in Diagon Alley seemed to fit the bill...
"Bloody HELL! What did you two DO? Buy out all the shops?!"came Hermione´s reply, sounding very much like Ron in that moment.
Looking around, Ginny saw Luna, Torie and Hannah come to meet them... Luna and Torie sporting so many bags, that it seemed almost impossible that they could carry them around - both of them grinning in a most satisfied way.
"Well... although Mum Malfoy doesn´t exacly have high standarts on her presents, she told me that the boys of Malfoy Manor DO - in great ammounts, I may add."explained Torie with dignity, but her smile at once told, that she positively loved the idea of spoiling Draco and Lucius like this.
"And I like to make my own presents. I´m planning to make something special for my Black Prince."said Luna brightly, showing the contents of her bags which seemed to contain simple items.
Torie grinned, while Hannah shared a confused look with Hermione, who rolled her eyes. Ginny however grew silent.
Hermione and Torie could easily read the look that came upon Ginny´s face and at once silently agreed, that Harry had definitely rubbed off on her. Ginny´s blank look of a working computer was suddenly replaced by a look of utter joy.
"THAT´S IT!"exclaimed Ginny happily.
"You´re a genius, Luna!"
Even Luna was slightly chaught off-guard by Ginny launching herself onto her, catching her in a small affectionate hug, before immediately sprinting away to the Muggle-item shop too.
Susie came back with a large and very realistic toy-Tyrannosaur Rex, moments after Ginny practicly flew into the shop like a train into the tunnel.
"Wow... cool Rexie, Susie. Angus will flip when he sees it."said Torie, giving her a thumbs-up as soon as she lowered her bags on the ground.
"Roger and Augustus too, I bet. And, I plan to place an Animation Charm, to make it seem alive. Since I can´t get him a real T-Rex, I´ll just do the next best thing. That should make Angie jump around in joy."
The girls shared a giggle, already knowing how Angus can get when being overjoyed about something. Susan drew her wand and shrunk the toy into a tiny miniature, fitting it into her pocket just like Hermione had with her presents.
A few moments later, Ginny emerged from the shop looking extremly pleased with herself, holding a simple but strange metal puzzle. It resembled a small circular cage, holding a metal ball that had spikes in every direction, seemingly trapped inside.
Susan, Torie and Hannah looked at it in awe, Hermione in confusion, but Luna fixed Ginny a radiant smile. It seemed as though Luna knew perfectly well, what Ginny intended to do with the metal puzzle.
"Harry will definitely love it, Ginny."she said at once, sharing a radiant smile with her.
While the comment was met with nods from the other girls, Hermione looked at the puzzle skepticly.
"A puzzle this simple...? Surely it won´t leave him occupied for more than a few minutes at most..."
Ginny wasn´t able to hide her giggle.
Really... Hermione really had a very concrete imagination, mostly looking at the practical side of such matters...
Before she had a chance to reply however, a loud collective squeal rang trough the street.
The girls quickly looked around to the source of the noise and lucky they DID...
Otherwise they would have been definitely run over by the virtual stampede of screaming witches, all of which seemed to be sporting a look of manic hero-worship as they raced trough the street like mad.
Sharing a look of confusion they followed, eager to see what in the name of Merlin´s soggy underpants was going on.
Following towards the very centre of Diagon Alley, one that is now known as the most Pro-Ministry area, they immediately saw a sight that made them want to puke.
"Yes, yes, yes, my dear ladies... and gentlemen too, of course. In the light of the wonderous Christmas season, I want - first and foremostly of all - to wish all of you a very merry Christmas..."boomed Gilderoy Lockhart, a Sonorus Charm making a hundred percent sure, that no one on the street could possibly miss his... for the lack of a better word speech.
Diagon Alley virtually boomed with cheers, squeals and other exclamations - coming mostly from the female population of the street.
Lockhart, standing on the top of what seemed to be a large stand ( complete with the emblems of the Ministry of Magic on its sides) and flanked by bodyguards was undoubtably in his element. Adressing the crowd like the most ultimate hero of all time, he waved for silence in exactly the same way, the girls (save for Torie) remembered from his time of teaching at Hogwarts, before speaking out to them again.
Looking into the crowd, they saw that it had not been composed of only middle-aged or teenage witches. There were quite a few adult wizards there too, also a generous ammount of children, who were still too young to attend Hogwarts. All of them were applauding Lockhart like crazy.
It was to be expected though...
The girls well enough remembered, that since the announcement of the Reinforcement Act, Lockhart had played his role in a number of well-known and even better published incidents that occured. They have all been shocked, when an infuriated pair - Harry and Draco - had informed them, that the Ministry´s new hero had INDEED done, what was said in the papers.
Unexplicably, the return of his memory had also meant the return of his magical prowess, which according to Luna - who knew it from her Head of House, who remembered him from his student days - was once truly very good.
It made it very hard to question his former magical ineptitude, which was diagnosed due to a heavy depression following the tragic death of his father at the early point of his career after leaving Hogwarts - something that gained instant and extreme points of sympathy from many witches all around the country - and it only affirmed everyone, that the Derwent Institute´s Healers were able to cure him completly and once more allowed his true self to shine.
Lockhart, since his return assisted the Ministry in the squabbles with the Death Eaters and most recently - as he was very fond to mention - he played a major role in the discovering of one of the Death Eaters´ secret prisions, where they kept the kidnapped people under the Imperius Curse. Fudge and Kellen had instantly used the situation and now an even greater ammount of people were very grateful to the Ministry for bringing their missing loved ones back safe and sound.
Ginny, more than any of the other girls, was feeling very angry that the people, who used to admire and look up to the Masked Wizard and his exploits, had so easily turned their back on him, in exchange for this Ministry-aprooved poster-boy. What was worst...
"Come on... let´s get out of here before he notices Luna, Torie... or worse... ME."she growled in disgust, already knowing that Lockhart would not miss a single chance to show off with Noble Ladies and that she, along with her husband were one of his most favourite objects - as she learnt during the few Noble occasions that went down over the past two weeks.
She now shared the full measure of her husband´s hate for the man.
The others nodded and made a quiet, but quick escape to the one place, where they knew they would be safe - the Leaky Cauldron.
Though being greeted very warmly by the landlord Tom, they weren´t able to shrugg off their disgust even as they sat down in the private parlour.
"Why that concieted... good-for-nothing...miserable..."growled Hermione with disgust - she took the truth about Lockhart even worse than Alice, proudly saying that her Ron is ten times the man HE is.
"Say no more, Mione..."nodded Hannah, who was very grumpy about the subject too, especially with how Lockhart had been showing-off with Neville not too long ago - seemingly rejoicing at the reunion with one of his former students (for the sake of publicity) during his visit of Hogwarts.
"A nice little way to sell some of the Ministry´s and HIS Christmas merchendize."noted Luna with pure disgust.
All of them were easily able to see during the brief moment, that the stand, as it was opening, held a great number of Lockhart´s books, merchendize and other objects from the Ministry, that were intended for the Christmas sale. And knowing Lockhart, they NEVER come cheap.
"Flanked of course by three RAPers."said Susan, her distaste suddenly turning into a giggle.
The other girls, being very much in on the joke giggled too.
The Reinforcement Act had certainly made a few new professions for the people following the Act. One of which - besides th (Magical Border Patrol), was the new position made to police the Magical Community - the Reinforcement Act Patrol - in short R A P.
Fudge, with his very limited knowledge about the Muggle world had no idea of the joke he had made up with the title.
The Slytherin Squad had explained to the most of them, the three letters could also apply to a popular form of street music made by americans. Fred and George had instantly siezed the oppoturnity and joined in with the Snakies, making numerous jokes at their expence and leaving people in tears. Especially when jokingly applying the wacky muggles´ habits onto the grumpy wizarding members of the Ministry´s new division.
Although... in the present climate, they all had really to be carefull where they applied this humor. In private however...
"Hey-Yo... that´s right, you - know..."exclaimed Torie, making several comical gestures, imitating the muggle performers.
The table boomed in laughter and the tension lifted at once. Even old Tom - already knowing all of the popular jokes at their expence - chuckled in appretiation as he delivered the drinks.
Soon enough, the girls were sipping their drinks and enjoying a much pleasurable topic - their plans for Christmas.
"...so, you´re sure, that my brother-dearest won´t embaress himself too much?"asked Ginny wryly, looking at her sister-in-law as she finished explaining that they were to spend the Christmas at the Granger Household.
Hermione shook her head, smiling very fondly.
"Completly sure, Gin. My Mum took a bit of a shine to him, when he visited for the very first time. Plus she is very interested about everything in the magical word. And as for Dad... well, he is just as clueless as Ron sometimes..."
"Just like YOU are when it comes to Christmas presents?"asked Ginny slyly.
The girls laughed, as Hermione fixed her sister-in-law a small glare, while blushing bright shade of red.
"Well... I´m going to have it interesting with the Muggles too. Since its the first Christmas, I really want to give Auntie and Sirius their time alone from us, so we´re staying at the Lennox Manor, dispite Sirius´ spirited invintation to stay in his family house - I´m pretty sure, that they won´t complain, though. Besides, Roger and August will be back home after a a month, and I really DO enjoy spending time with them. There is also supposed to be a large celebration down in the village on Christmas Eve and Professor McGonnagal accepted our invintation. But... I fear, that with both Pop Lennox and old McRushley there, it will probably become a... well... "said Susan, trying to find the right phrase.
"... a Christmas catastrophe?"offered Torie helpfully with a grin.
Suddenly a loud explosion rang from outside, shaking the table and almost everything in the private room.
"What was that?"breathed Hannah, just as another explosion rang and a collective shriek from the crowd was heared even inside.
The others didn´t have a doubt in their mind, what could all the exploding and screaming mean.
"Death Eaters!"growled Susie, at once standing up.
"Don´t these guys EVER have enough?!"exclaimed Ginny angerly, jumping to her feet.
Torie, Luna and Hermione also stood up, fierce expressions on all of their faces. With a collective nod, they all raced from the private parlour, ignoring Tom´s shocked warnings.
The scene outside was pure pandomonium. People running here and there, waving their wands, evading several curses that were being cast at random and screaming in pure terror. Several mad cackles were also heared.
"Stick together, everyone."exclaimed Ginny.
Just then a group of small, screaming and terrified witches scooted past them in exact the same way as they did before Lockhart was to appear. Hot on their heels were a small group of rotting, smelling and skeletal-like figures, that were trying to reach them blindly.
"Inferi?!"exclaimed Hannah in shock, but Ginny´s wand was already out and raised straight at them.
In an instant, the two that were the closest burst into flame. The rest of them jumped away, retreating from the searing heat that was coming from the burning corpses that fell to the ground.
Luna, Susan, Hannah and even Hermione fixed her a look of utter surprise.
Ginny had to surpress a small grin - not one of them had known, as she never shown it during the practices, her natural affinity to Fire Magic... one that only her new family members had knowledge of. One, that her mother-in-law helped her develop fully and one, that always left her husband with a dreamy look on his face.
"Fireball"oh, she could practicly hear him, even now - the dreamy, loving admiration of her green-eyed husband.
Torie made a sound of pure disgust as her eyes were glued on the Inferi. All of them were wearing...
"Christmas hats?!"exclaimed Hermione in revulsion.
"Someone really has a twisted sence of humor."said Luna disgustedly.
"I have an inckling WHO!"exclaimed Torie fiercely, at once looking around.
And just as well too...
Reacting swiftly, Torie jumped and with a small roll on the ground evaded the Killing Curse that came from the far end of the street. The other girls looked at who cast it and at once gasped.
Standing there was a girl dressed in black battle robes, a Christmas Hat covering most of her long redish hair.
"Hi, Sis. Its been a while. Been keeping busy, I see."called Torie in a cheery voice as she rose from the ground and turned to her older sister.
Daphne Greengrass scrowled, fixing her younger sister a look of disgust.
"Still refusing to DIE! Repugnant as always, aren´t you, you filthy little pest?!"she growled with distaste.
Just then, another group of screaming people were running their way. The Inferi instantly reacted, moving towards them in an effort to attack them.
The girls each sent a wave of spells, stopping the incoming Inferi on the spot, but more were coming. The people, giving way to pure panic had swept by, suceeding to seaparate each and every one of the girls in the virtual tidal wave of living, screaming, running bodies. Ginny swiftly grabbed hold of both Hermione and Susie, and somehow managed to withstand the onslaught.
As they passed, Ginny noticed that the street was deserted, save for one single person standing there in a black Death Eater uniform, his twisted face alight with malice and his wand pointing at them.
Still keeping hold on her two friends, Ginny yanked both of them aside, just as the Death Eater named Dolohov cast his curse.
Pulling the two girls on the ground, Ginny heared the wall behind them crack as the curse hit it. Quickly jumping to her feet, she at once aimed her wand at her uncles´ murderer.
Her curse, though powerfull was rendered completly useless, as Dolohov blocked it with ease. However, by that time both Hermione and Susan were on their feet too. Both of them attacked, each with a different curse, but had about as much luck as Ginny had.
Dolohov counterattacked, and all three had to react very fast in order to shield themselves. They tried counterattacking again, but it was obvious that Dolohov was simply too skilled a fighter.
Ginny realized, that even the three of them combined were unable to match him in sheer power.
Quickly racking her brains, even as she blocked, shielded and counterattacked, she remembered something that James had taught her about duelling not too long ago. They needed to penetrate his defences and land one, well aimed blow on him. Something which is done the easiest when...
"Tag-Duelling"she realized in an instant, and was suddenly very thankfull for the practice she and other girls got under their Slytherin husbands and their new families.
Looking from Hermione to Susie, she realized that she DID know them well enough to know, what kind of spells would they be likely to use next. Just then, Hermione (who had already once suffered Dolohov´s signature curse) left herself exposed and the seasoned Death Eater knew better than miss out an oppoturnity like this.
Dolohov´s curse was milimeters away from Hermione when...
"Protego"roared Susie, her Shield Charm strong enough to catch off the worst of the curse.
She staggered a few steps back, leaving herself exposed thistime. Dolohov struck again, but now Hermione returned the favor.
Ginny knew she had not a moment to spare.
Dolohov reacted, not having the time to cast a Shield Charm or block, throwing himself out of the way.
Sharing a glance with Susie, Ginny knew by her nod, that she had chaught up to the plan. Dolohov was swiftly on his feet again and attacked once more.
Susie defended, but at the same moment Ginny attacked.
Though Dolohov had to dodge once more, he was clearly far from giving up. He doubled his efforts and once more, the two girls were on serious defence. However they found, that once they were defending one another, it was much easier to withstand the Death Eater´s onslaught of curses.
Dolohov pressed again, determined to penetrate their defences, but Hermione who chaught up with the girls´ plan, attacked with a Reductor Curse of her own. Dolohov blocked, but once Hermione teamed up her pace with Susie´s and Ginny´s, he was suddenly the one on heavy defence. The three girls were using one combination after another, the Death Eater still holding his own. But...
Ginny surpressed a small grin - it would only be a matter of time, before the combos would crack an opening in his defences.
Sure enough... just as Dolohov countered Susie´s Full Body Bind Curse, she spotted one.
"Mucus Chiroptera"she roared, launching a surprise attack.
Dolohov was chaught off guard and in half-a-second Ginny´s famous Bat Bogey Hex struck him straight in the face.
He swayed and somehow managed to shield himself from the incoming spells, even as large bats that came from his nose started to swarm around his head, attacking him.
It was obvious, that he would not be able to shield himself for very much longer - it was now or never.
"NOW!"she exclaimed, knowing that Susie and Hermione guessed as much themselves.
Three Stunning Spells were at once flying his way, as he was desperately trying to rid himself of the bats.
Before they could make contact however, half-a-dozen of bodies jumped out from nowhere, three of them taking the Stunners and shielding Dolohov in the process.
All three of them gasped, staring at the Inferi even as Dolohov managed to perform a counter-curse and vanish the bats around his head. Just then another person jumped infront of the Inferi. But thistime it was another Death Eater - Yaxley.
"Nice one, girlies... but not nearly enough."said Dolohov, making his way trough the Inferi and standing next to his collague.
His face was a bit bloodied from the bat bites and scratches, but his signature grin was still present on his twisted face. Yaxley too was sporting a malicious smile.
"Now... let´s see how tough you three really are."Yaxley sneered, before firing the opening curse.
Ginny blocked it, but Dolohov´s curse followed almost immediately. Susie´s Shield Charm saved her, while Hermione counterattacked, but Yaxley at once shielded Dolohov.
It took only a few more seconds of battle for Ginny to realize, that they were really outmatched. The pair of them were good duelists and tag-duelled very easily - in ways that were superior to their tag-team.
She, Hermione and Susie were holding their own, but the advancing Inferi, which already took a curse or two for the Death Eaters, told her that it won´t be so for long.
"...in that case, its always best to retreat, Gin. And fast. In such a situation, you can´t possibly win."she remembered her father-in-law saying during one of the practice sessions with her.
She recodnized, that this WAS such a situation. And that there wasn´t much time.
"Murus Ignis"she roared, waving her wand right infront of her and the girls.
A jet of searing fire erupted from her wand, at once turning into a blazing wall, separating them from the Inferi and the two Death Eaters. Hermione and Susie jumped back from the flames and looked to her.
"Come on. Let´s get out of here."she exclaimed, knowing that they only had a few moments before Yaxley and Dolohov broke trough the wall.
Quickly running up the street, the girls were running for cover, not even looking back.
Ginny didn´t even notice her wedding ring blinking in mild, golden color.
Unlike the Granger Potion Farm, the Dilys Derwent Institute was not located on some isolated part of a countryside village, but rather it was hidden among the busy streets of a larger Muggle City.
It was camouflaged to look like a large office building, but mysteriously the Muggles who approached its door suddenly remembered, that they had a far more pressing matter to settle, than walk into the unknown business office.
However, the young woman who was walking towards the front door had suffered nothing of the sort.
Before she could even knock on the door-handle, the door opened and a gruff man in his fourties appeared. He was dressed in special robes, often worn by security at the Ministry of Magic. But his were differently colored - in white and red colors - and over his chest was the emblem of the Derwent Institute.
"Badge."he grumbled, holding out his hand.
The young witch rolled her eyes good-naturedly, presenting her badge.
"Aren´t you going a bit overboard with all the security, Oswald?"
The guard however didn´t return her grin.
"I think not. There is never enough safety. Especially in times like these. You know..."
Before he could finish the sentance a strong gust of wind picked up and he could have sworn, that he felt something fly past him. Turning around wildly, he pulled out his wand, aiming it up and down inside.
"Oh, Oswald. Its only wind for Merlin´s sakes..."said the young witch, rolling her eyes with a small giggle.
The guard Oswald however wasn´t about to give up.
"Homenum Revelio"he cast, but no responce to the Charm came.
"See? I swear... you´re getting as paranoid as Mad-Eye Moody was."she giggled and Oswald let out a small growl.
"All right, all right... I was wrong, I suppose..."he grumbled.
But funny enough... he wasn´t.
A few more meters away from them, behind the first door in the antechamber, two figures suddenly appeared out of nowhere, their wands in their hands. Dressed in head-to-toe black robes, along with matching masks that hid away everything except their eyes - a pair of bright-blue ones and a pair of emerald-green ones.
"Frankly... I´m shocked. The legendary Derwent Institute and only ONE guard?!"said the blue-eyed one.
His partner-in-crime rolled his green eyes, which twinkled in amusement.
"Angus... why do you think, we snuck-in at this exact time?"
He saw realization shine in the blue pair of eyes.
"Bingo... security and monitoring Charms... they´re not active during daytime, otherwise they would go haywire with all the people here right now."
"Precicely. Sneaking here during the night, when all the Charms are on alert would have been too risky. Even as the Masked Wizard..."explained the green-eyed one.
The other chuckled.
"Which is why we brought out our presents from Japan, eh?"he asked slyly, pointing to his robes.
The other one nodded, his mask concealing a smile.
"About time too. Lately I´ve been wondering, whether our hiding techniques have gone rusty or not."
Just then the door opened and a pair of wizards came in. They were chatting and laughing together, walking trough the antechamber towards another door, that was labled "Laboratory Three".
Neither of them were any wiser to the two figures, which appeared once more seemingly out of nowhere, as soon as they left and the door to Lab Three closed.
"Looks like you´re wrong, Harry. They didn´t go rusty at all."said Angus, sounding quite proud.
Harry nodded, his eyes suddenly getting that all-too familiar gleam, which was even more visible without the presence of his trademark glasses.
Much like the Masked Wizard´s mask, this one also had a special little Charm on it, that made it function exactly in the same way as his glasses did in regards to his eyes - in fact, it had been one of the nifty tricks they picked up during their holiday in Japan.
"All right. To business. Dad said, that all records are kept in the Archive Room, that can be reached trough Lab Six."he said, pointing to another door, which was labled "Laboratory Six".
Although never entering the building before, Harry knew exactly, where to go. Aurors frequently visit the Institute and as the former Head Auror, his Dad knew the place inside out. And thistime, in the light of his new little investigation, his dear old Dad had been more than eager to help.
He moved to the door, with Angus not far behind. As he approached the door, he used his precious Cedar wand to perform a perfect, non-verbal Human Presence Revealing Charm.
"Four people inside... though still far from the door."he muttered, nodding at his partner, who returned the nod.
Both of them once again performed the Disillusionment Charm, before Harry used the Intangibillity Charm on the door. Walking cassually trough it, as if it weren´t even there, they entered a large laboratory.
Harry, for his part had to seriously restrain the curious child within himself and focus solely on his task, at the very sight of the wonderous laboratory.
The place looked simply marvelous.
There were several long working tables, supplied by a large number of tools, vials, mortars and even a few cauldrons. The numerous shelfs beside the walls held a virtual collection of books, ingredients and potions. Next to each of the tables were medium-sized blackboards, each describing a certain problem or illness that the workers of the lab were currently working on. The three wizards and one witch were busily working on something and it seemed, as though nothing could distract them from their importaint work.
"But one can never be too sure - never forget it. Constant Vigilance."Harry reminded to himself and once more focused on the task at hand.
The workers were moving up and down, but the two invisible ones carefully slip past them. Harry patiently waited at the door, which was labled "The Archive", for Angus. Only by the tap on his arm could he tell, that Angus was there, and they could once more proceed. Performing the same Charms all over again before the pair of them stepped trough the Archive´s door.
In contrast to the lab, the sight of the empty Archive room left Harry completly disgusted.
The room was, for lack of a better word, an utter catastrophe. It was plain to see, that the workers must be using the Summoning Charm in order to get the files they needed, when updating them. The few tables inside the room were stacked with folders, parchments and papers.
"Okay, Angus... thistime I´M shocked. Didn´t these people EVER hear of an organizational system?!"Harry moaned, hearing his friend chuckle in responce.
"Apparently not. They must be too busy with their research to properly take care of this place... this poses a certain problem though... Accio Lockhart File"said Angus, waving his Larch wand.
Nothing whatsoever happened, even as both of them reappeared and became visible once more. Both goaned instantly, looking at eachother and knowing full-well, what this means.
"Talk about bad luck. Haaarryyyy..."Angus whined, clearly not liking the prospect, beseechingly looking into his friend´s eyes.
However, catching sight of his friend´s stern look, he raised his hands up in a gesture of defeat.
"Du bist der Fuh... Chef."he said innocently, his mask hiding away his grin, while Harry´s green eyes fixed him a glare.
"Schnell, schnell, sofort!"commanded Harry, pointing to the first stack of files.
Angus instantly sprang into a sallute.
"Ja voll!"he said and obediently moved towards one the stacks.
Harry shook his head, chuckling and knowing that their respective wives would have probably been giggling by now.
Joining his friend, the two started to go over the records and the next moments passed in virtual silence.
"Harry, no offence but maybe you´re getting a bit paranoid about this. I mean, I know that the timing of his recovery is a little too convenient, but... we´ve interrogated the teachers... hell, even old Sluggy said that Lockhart actually DID have the magical skill he showed up until now. Whatever his other faults may have been. And let´s face it - he still has them, we´ve seen so at Hogwarts just a few days ago. He´s still a vain, ignorant, attention-seeking prat, that would have probably been able to sell his own mother for a bit of fame and recodnition. As for the mental shock he supposedly sustained years back, well... you´ve heared Madam Pomfrey... it IS possible. Rare, unussual, but possible. And if the people here actually found a way to reverse his own Memory Charm - they CAN be brocken, you know..."
"Angus... I know! I´ve taken every single of those points into consideration."said Harry, looking up from the papers.
Angus fixed him a confused look.
Harry however returned his sights to the file he had been searching trough, his eyes narrowing.
"But... I still have the feeling, that that´s not all that there is to Lockhart´s miracle recovery."he said, recalling a certain private conversation he had, just yesterday.
"... well its strange. Everything about it."said Audrey, placing two cups of tea on the table of their small kitchen.
NOW he was really interested.
He had been a bit surprised, when a letter came sometime shortly before lunch - fortunately Ginny hadn´t been in the Great Hall yet.
His sister-in-law requested a private meeting in her and Percy´s flat in London - having a day off and Percy being too busy at the Ministry for the day.
Making a small excuse and using one of his good old tricks, he snuck out of the school and made for London immediately - something which was even easier done han ussual, especially with Albus away on a personal trip, far away from the school.
He had been slightly interested about the hints she had left him in her letter, but never expected that she had actually overheared something, that could push his investigation of Lockhart´s miracle recovery further.
Apparently, she had overseen the two Derwent Institute members, who had healed Lockhart arrive...
"Do you ever recall seeing them before, Audrey?"he asked, showing a bit of his boyish curiosity.
Audrey shook her head sadly.
"No. But that doesn´t mean much. I´m still a traineé and they visit the hospital very rarely. But they came along with Thicknesse. He said something about the Ministry giving their research a chance and that they have suceeded in it."
He pondered on it, going over many theories as they took a sip from their tea. There was a chance, that Kellen could somehow arrange this miracle recovery.
"Hm... how was Lockhart doing before they came along?"he asked.
Audrey took a moment before answering.
"Well... as far as I remember, Lockhart´s case was diagnosed as a complete memory wipe. The Memory Charm that struck him was extremly powerfull. Many healers, since he arrived there, have tried to reverse or at least soften its effects but everyone failed. During the last few months he DID start to get some of his memories back, but his nurse had said, that it was only the tiniest measure. If I were to place it in numbers... it would be around five percent of his total memory."
Harry nodded, his eyes narrowing in suspition.
As an accomplished Legilimens he knew, that real memories can NOT dissapear from the mind. Like love... they were simply too complex to be erased fully.
The Memory Charm merely provides a sort of a blanket, that covers the real memory beneath it - the stronger the Charm, the thicker the blanket.
A powerfull wizard can tear that blanket into pieces... OR, there were such theories for quite some time now... that he could do the reverse and... for the lack of a better term... "paint" something on it. Something that might fit their ends...
But... such a procedure would not only be extremly difficult (not to mention illegal) - he doubted Kellen had someone so skilled on her side... but also unpredictable and potentionally dangerous, especially if some real memory would pop-out at the wrong time.
"The procedure itself took about two hours. Lockhart then slept trough an entire day before he opened his eyes again."Audrey said, once more sipping her tea.
"And how was he, when he woke up? Did he remember everything?"he asked, his interest rising by the second.
"Well... he didn´t seem to remember much at first, but after a few moments - I was there along with all the other trainees, especially with how Strout was shrieking around - he slowly started to remember. During the next day many tests have been made by Blacklock himself and the day after they let him have his wand and try out a few simple spells. And he did them without fail."
He folded his arms and thought hard yet again.
The wand would recodnize its master of course. And if the memory relapse wasn´t automatic... but that still left a few questions though...
It seemed, that the trail leads to only one place at the moment... the Dilys Derwent Institute.
"Audrey... what do you think about Lockhart´s recovery - as a Healer? Do you think it could be possible?"
Audrey looked visibly astounded and he needed no Legilimency to know what she was thinking. It took her a few moments to compose herself and even then, her cheeks colored a bit.
"Well... I´m not yet so experienced, especially with lasting Spell Damage... but I´m not exaclty sure what to think about it, Harry. As a traineé Healer, I´d love to think that there is always a possible cure. In this case... I think it might be possible. Especially with the research of the Derwent Institute."
He nodded, smiling at her.
"Thank you for telling me all of this, Audrey. And not that I´m distrustfull or anything, but I can´t help but ask... why did you choose to tell me?"he asked pleasantly.
She blushed again.
"You´re part of the opposition against Kellen. And as I said earlier, its strange. Lockhart recovered miracleously and now he´s one of Kellen´s best aces. Though Percy already asked me to stay out of this mess, I want to help too. If only indirectly..."
"And secretly, I´d bet. Don´t worry. I won´t breathe a word to Percy."he said with a grin.
"Or Ginny, please. Wouldn´t want to cause another rift between those two. Percy was fumming like mad after he saw the two of you on the vote."she said with a small giggle.
He grinned in a most satisfied way, rising up from the chair.
"THAT I can´t promise, Audrey."he said with a wink, making her giggle again.
- End of Flashback -
Harry smiled to himself slightly, even as he went trough a yet another research file.
He hadn´t got round to tell Ginny anything yet. He suspected, that sooner or later he would, but first he wanted to try and find something.
He was a bit glad, that she and the other girls were having an outing in Diagon Alley, no doubt doing their Christmas shopping too.
He formed this little infiltration plan immediately after leaving Percy and Audrey´s flat. He wanted to have a look around here himself, but it was becoming apparent, that he was going to have to ask Kingsley to interview the Institute´s members.
Angus set down another file down with a sigh.
"Nothing... looks like we´ve come up empty-handed, Harry. Harry?"
Harry just let the file in his hands fall to the ground and was gazing on his hand, his green eyes wide with shock.
"Mate, what´s up?"asked Angus, but suddenly gasped as he saw the small golden glow coming from his hand, blinking like a silent alarm.
"Your wedding ring..."he breathed, already having a shrewd idea what it might mean.
"Ginny is in danger..."breathed Harry, sounding - for the first time in a very long time - scared.
Instantly both pairs of eyes - blue and green ones - steeled, knowing full well what that meant.
"Screw Lockhart´s case. Next stop, Diagon Alley."said Harry, before calling his trusty old house-elf.
Neither of them, as they swiftly and quietly dissaparated along with the old house-elf, could have any idea, that right at that moment an another person was walking towards the front door of the Institute.
The guard Oswald at once halted him.
"And who might you be?"he asked gruffly.
The figure gave him a smile.
"Alisdair Rowley. A member of this Institute."
Oswald looked very suspitious.
"I don´t recall EVER seeing you here. Badge."he commanded, his wand pointing straight at the newcomer, making it very clear that one false move would instantly be answered by a curse.
Rowley´s smile didn´t leave his face, as he reached very slowly into the pocket of his Derwent Institute robes.
"But of course."he said cassually, producing a small badge out of his pocket.
Oswald squinted his eyes at the badge presented to him, only to find that it wasn´t a bandge, but a small, hand-sized mirror.
"Look... are you taking the mickey..."he started but suddenly noticed, that his reflection had dissapeared, the mirror turning pure, shining white.
His voice failed him in a second, and he found himself gasping for breath. He was getting the feeling, as though something was pulling the very life out of his body. His wand-arm was trembling, nevertheless he found in himself the strength to perform a few desperate, non-verbal spells.
None of them made any difference. If anything, it only made those aching feelings worse.
He was growing weaker and weaker as he still tried to somehow chatch his breath. His wand fell helplessly out of his hand after his very last attempt at a spell failed. His conciousness faded away and as the mirror finished its work, all that remained of him was a dried-up, almost mummyfied corpse that slid to the ground close to Rowley´s feet.
Under his disguise as Alisdair Rowley - Bartemius Crouch junior smiled, as he looked from the corpse to the mirror, that once more appeared quite normal.
"Well... time to clean up the trail... and give our Master an early Christmas present."he said, smirking at the mirror, which was very soon to have more victims.
The Inferius, that was holding a little girl by the anckle burst into flame, but not before...
The girl was pulled out of the Infrius´ grasp before he could burst and flew towards Susan, being gently set onto the ground. The tiny child instantly embraced Susan, crying in fear from the horrifying ordeal.
"There, there... its all right."cooed Susie, trying to calm her down.
She, Ginny and Hermione were able to pick up a few kids and take them under refuge inside the Muggle Objects shop, during the last five minutes. A minute ago, when they got Luna´s Patronus Message, which said that the Ministry lot have arrived at the scene, the three agreed that there was little need to fight the Death Eaters, and instead protect those that could not protect themselves.
"We´re here."came a known voice from the street.
"Hannah."breathed Hermione in relief, seeing that she and Luna were guiding more little ones to the shop.
"We came out all right."she said with a smile, looking very much all right, save for a bit of her singed robes.
At once, she turned to one of the injured children, applying a small Healing Charm on the bumps and bruises the boy had sustained. The boy at once gave her a hug of sheer gratitude, when he saw that they were gone.
"We should still be on alert, though. The Ministry lot doesn´t look like they are doing a god job at all. Several of these children´s parents have been placed under the Imperius Curse and are fighting for the Death Eaters right now."
Luna´s comment instantly made the children scream in terror.
"LUNA!"exclaimed Hermione, Hannah, Susie and even Ginny.
"Was it something I said?"asked Luna in an innocent voice.
"That is NOT helping the situation, you know!"growled Hermione, who had the least patience with Luna´s bluntness, especially at times like these.
"Miss..."piped up a tiny, innocent voice from a boy, who was pulling at her robes.
"Will they... our Mums and Dads... will they be okay?"
The question from the wee five-year-old boy seemed to have pulled at each of the girls´ heartstrings and even the ever-rational Hermione wasn´t able to keep her heart at bay. Quickly taking the boy into her arms, she tried to soothe his fears as much as she possibly could.
"Of course they will be okay. You don´t have to worry..."
Suddenly a loud explosion sounded outside and as all of them turned towards the street, they saw Bellatrix Lestrange slide backwards not far from the shop, as though being pushed back by something.
Ginny, Susie and Hannah already had their wands raised, expecting an attack but... Bellatrix didn´t even pay any attention to them.
Instead, she was baring her teeth, looking angrier and madder than any of the pictures of her in the Prophet or the posters, glaring at someone whom she was duelling.
"Give up, Lestrange."said a voice they all knew, but wasn´t able to believe that it was actually HIM.
Bellatrix glared the person.
"Why you stuck-up, concieted..."she uttered venomously, and there was no doubt in anyone´s mind, that she was in a positively murderous mood.
Lockhart instantly blocked her incoming curses and retaliated in the blink of an eye, making her jump away as he laughed openly.
"You should know better, than to challenge someone like ME. Give up, while I still show mercy, Bellatrix Lestrange."
With a wild howl of manic rage Bellatrix charged him, firing one curse after another.
"I... I can´t believe it... he´s holding his own."breathed Susan, seeing just that.
Lockhart was indeed holding his own.
In fact, he was duelling Bellatrix on pretty much even ground. Though being told of Lockhart´s prowess, seeing it in action was something completly else. They could actually believe, that some people saw him as a true hero - the way he was duelling...
"I can´t believe it. Last time, it took the three of us to fight her and we still didn´t have a chance. And he´s doing it ALONE?!"breathed Hermione in amazement, remembering that during the Battle of Hogwarts it had been she, Ginny and Alice who fought her, before Sirius Black took over their duel, and managed to defeat her.
Ginny narrowed her eyes as they all watched the pair duel. Her eyes were tracking Lockhart, trying hard to observe the way he was duelling. His style was truly different from her husband´s... or Lily´s or James´...
Even with the little insight into various duelling styles she had gained lately, she could easily tell that most of Lockhart´s style was for show rather than efficiency.
However... the moment a curse was flying his way, he blocked or redirected it as if on instinct. Bellatrix used the tiny opening he had left in his defence and pressed her advantage.
Lockhart swiftly reacted. Turning around, he cast a powerfull Shield Charm. So powerfull in fact, that Bellatrix´s Devastation Curse was blasted away and flew straight at their refuge in the shop.
"Protego Maxima"roared Ginny at once, using the more powerfull version of the Shield Charm, her husband showed her a few weeks back.
The Devastation Curse was so powerfull, that it shattered the shield, knocking her off her feet and causing her to land straight on her backside. Hermione and Susan were instantly by her side.
"Are you all right?!"
Though unhurt - the Shield taking all the damage, Ginny felt her anger rise to impossible levels. She couldn´t recall EVER wanting to strike someone with her famous hex.
"Not to worry everyone."boomed Lockhart, as his duel brought him closer to the enterance of the shop.
"You´re all safe, as long as I´m around."he said, shooting them all his brightest smile.
The glare she shot him would have probably made even her eldest brother, and prehaps even her father positively cower in fear.
"Define SAFE!"she growled, sounding even angrier than Bellatrix.
Lockhart didn´t even register this and a moment later, he repelled a yet another of Bellatrix´s curses, sending it flying straight into the shop nearby, the tiny shop blowing sky-high.
"Maybe we were safer outside."noted Luna in a neutral voice.
The children were looking at the duel in sheer awe, never seeing anything of this scale, their fear instantly forgotten and not aware, that they were still in potential and perhaps even serious danger.
"Should we move into a safer location?"asked Hannah in concern.
Before Ginny could even voice her opinion, two figures ran towards the shop. Susan, Hannah and Hermione instantly raised their wands, but Ginny and Luna recodnized them all too well.
"Mel, Caractacus."breathed Ginny in relief, while Luna waved at the girls to lower their wands.
Sure enough, the kids gave out another gasp of pure awe as the Slughorn couple entered the shop trough the blown enterance.
They all looked at Ginny and Luna as they greeted the well published heroes, the VTF was made by the Daily Prophet, stunned by the cassual way they greeted them.
"Dray knows then."said Luna with a smile.
Both of them looked, like they certainly ran into a couple of duels on the way here. Nevertheless both smiled brightly at them.
"You bet, Luna. The Boss has a sixth sence about these things. He sent the pair of us to locate and reinforce you."said Caractacus with a smile.
"The Vigilante Task Force, at your service."said Melania, making a small bow and shooting everyone, especially the little ones a warm smile.
"Did any of you see Torie? We got separated, when she started to duel her sister."asked Ginny urgently.
Melania and Caractacus looked at eachother, frowning.
"No. Right after reaching Diagon Alley, the Boss sent us to find you, while he went ahead. Its as though he knows, that you are separated."said Melania, biting her lip.
"But with the ammount of people fighting around here, I´m not sure he´ll be able to find her so easily. I think I also saw Jugson and Dolohov run after him - they´re really out to get him."said Caractacus with a frown.
"Knew it."breathed Ginny, shaking her head and already knowing what to do.
Immediately her little Bouncehop Patronus appeared.
Many of the young ones - girls mainly - cooed as they saw the adorable little, bouncing snake made of silvery vapour. It turned its head towards Ginny and gave a visible and obvious nod.
Ginny grinned at it. One of the recent discoveries in her and Harry´s Patronus Project was not only their ability to act as Messangers, but also their ability to easily locate a person, no matter where he or she is.
"I´ll find her."she said, her voice full of resolve.
As expected, many let out exclamations to the contrary.
"Look. With my Patronus I can find her easy. And once I do, I can use it and send a message to Draco."
"But Ginny, its a war-zone out there."said Melanie with honest, great concern.
"Yes. There´s no need to place yourself into danger like this."nodded Hannah.
Ginny instantly shot a blazing look at her.
"No NEED?! Our friend is out there, probably fighting for her life with her sister! I will NOT leave her alone like this! Now that I know, that you and these kids are safe, I´ll go and make sure that SHE is safe too."
Her resolve shocked Hannah and left Hermione speechless for a bit, but Susie nodded supportively and Luna beamed at her. Caractacus looked as though he was going to protest, but his wife swiftly poked him in the ribs.
"You´re right, Gin. I´ll go with you as backup."she said quickly, her voice oozing respect.
Just then, another explosion from the Bellatrix - Lockhart duel sounded nearby.
"No, Mel. You and Caractacus guard here. With pretty-boy Lockhart duelling around here, the others will need all the help they can get, so that the shop doesn´t get blown by one of their curses. I´ll deal with this."
She and Melania looked at eachother for a few seconds, before Melania nodded.
"Okay, Ginny. But please, be careful. Harry would skin us alive the muggle-way, if something EVER happened to you on our watch."
Ginny grinned dispite herself. She could positively imagine him doing that and for the first time, she could fully appretiate being cared AND feared for in this way.
"I´ll take full responsibility, then. Lead the way."she said, instructing her Patronus, which immediately nodded and sprang into action.
Following her Patronus, which slithered in mid-air, she ran outside of the safety of the shop.
Melania wasn´t kidding - Diagon Alley was a virtual war-zone.
People duelling everywhere, curses flying here and there.
And yet, as she darted past, using her Shield Charms to reflect the incoming curses, retaliating as well sometines, she didn´t feel afraid at all.
On the contrary... she felt that she never fully understood her Harry´s passion for battle until now.
How in the WORLD could she EVER fault him for fighting under that mask now?
She could easily make out the Ministry lot, trying to get the upper-hand in the various duels.
Sending a helpfull spell or curse, she had been able to help a few of them to win their fights. Many, recodnizing her as Madam Potter, shot her looks of sheer surprise.
Her Bouncehop Patronus waited for her patiently, once or twice even coming to her, poking her shoulder with its tail as if to urge her and leading her on the way towards Knockturn Alley.
Reaching its borders, Ginny could already see several plants, vines and moving fungus on the pavement - indicating that she was very close to her target.
The explosions were growing louder and sure enough, as she turned behind a downwards corner, she saw them.
Torie was defending herself like crazy, but it was obvious even from afar, that she was exhausted. Her sister on the other hand, was looking completly fresh, alert and pretty much looking in her element.
Before Ginny could intervene, Daphne´s curse struck Torie´s tiny Shield Charm, knocking her backwards and onto the pavement, where she was left panting for breath, her wand uselessly fell to the ground nearby.
Daphne´s face was alight with vicious triumph as she looked over her fallen little sister.
"Nice. I have to say, brat... you have gotten better. I´ve enjoyed this little training of ours, but its time to put an end to this game. Avada..."
The Bouncehop Patronus, obeying her thought immediately lunged at Daphne. She swiftly dodged, not being able to finish her curse.
The Patronus made another lunge at her, but thistime she was ready. With a wave of her wand, the Patronus exploded in a wisp of silvery smoke. Turning her head towards Ginny, who was now standing beside Torie, her eyes lit up in pure malice.
"Well now... if it isn´t the Weasley, that miserable traitor took a shine to."she said acidly.
Ginny retaliated with a glare.
A few moments passsed in silence, as the two simply observed eachother, before Daphne spat on the ground in a gesture of sheer disgust.
"Good Lord... what in the world does he see in a filthy blood-traitor like YOU?!"she hissed, looking sick at the very thought.
Seeing red, Ginny reacted in an instant.
Daphne repelled it in an blink of an eye and Ginny had to dodge her own curse.
Daphne moved in, attacking with a series of curses. Ginny responded and managed to block and defend effectively, but Daphne´s persistant onslaught of curses was keeping her at bay.
With a wave of Daphne´s wand, big, lethal-looking vines sprouted from of the ground and Ginny had only moments to spare.
"Positio"Ginny roared, moving herself out of the way and reappearing a few meters back, out of the vines´ reach.
Though out of reach, the vines instantly moved her way, still trying to somehow reach her.
"Commuro"she cast, the vines bursting into flames, falling to the ground harmlessly.
Daphne laughed openly, even while the vines burned down and turned into ashes, dying along with the flames.
Ginny growled in sheer and utter fury.
Launching another (a much leathal one) curse at her, her anger grew even more as she saw that it had been avoided without any effort, Daphne dissapearing from view completly.
Ginny looked around here and there but the vicious Junior Death Eater was nowhere to be seen.
"You know... whatever his faults may be... he IS a powerfull wizard. WHY does he choose to waste his time and talents with YOU is beyond me."rang Daphne´s voice all over the borderline of Knockturn Alley.
Ginny wasn´t stupid - she could tell, what Daphne was aiming for with all this.
"Don´t listen to her! Its not true! She´s just trying to provoke you!"she thought, immediately trying to calm down.
"You´re not worthy. Of even a traitor like HIM."rang across the Alley.
She closed her eyes and stilled herself, trying not to listen to anything and rather focus on the first possible place, from where an incoming curse could strike.
"You´re nothing! Just a leech... one, that was stuck to his side by some absurd law!"
"G-Ginny... don´t... listen... to her..."breathed Torie still sounding exhausted and still unable to move, was looking at her in concern.
"Shhh."breathed Ginny ever-so quietly and Torie instantly got the message, recodnizing what was going on.
"Worthless. Useless. Poor. You are nothing compared to him!"
Ginny waited patiently, knowing the curse was coming in a matter of seconds. Remembering a tactic Harry told her of, she deliberately got down on one knee, as if surrendering. The cruel cackle that rang trough the street told her, that Daphne had taken the bait.
"Face it, Weasley - you don´t DESERVE him!"
Ginny bowed her head and in no less than a second... a curse followed. Ready for it, Ginny reacted in a split-second, rising up, her wand slashing trough the air, aimed right where the curse was coming from.
"Protego Maxima"she roared, concetrating on the spell with every fiber of her being.
The side of Knockturn Alley shook in its foundaries, as the powerfull curse bounced off Ginny´s shield and blew apart a part of the pavement on the side. Daphne came into view once more, glaring at Ginny a moment before she had to block a curse, that the redhead instantly launched at her.
With a wild roar born of pure anger, Daphne attacked, launching a barrage of curses.
Ginny moved as fast as she could. Blocking and reflecting curses, she tried to somehow gain the upper-hand, but the one-year older girl was like that big muggle war-machine Lily, Harry and grandpa Robert talked about - a tank.
Desperately trying to withstand the onslaught, Ginny felt her defences vane by the second. She knew, that she wouldn´t be able to hold on for long. It was only a matter of time until...
Suddenly, a powerfull curse flew at Daphne and she had to spin in mid-air to avoid getting hit. The curse was as strong as Daphne´s, and the street shook again as another part of the pavement in the back was blown into smithereens.
Turning her head, Ginny was suddenly torn between sheer relief and utter shock.
Standing on the opposite side of the street was her husband.
He was wearing some strange black attire, his face was cold, stony and positively ruthless as his green eyes tracked Daphne. She could not blame Daphne, for taking a step back and dispite her obviously best efforts, gulping.
Harry was standing there, his Cedar wand raised and looking ready to take down an army.
Daphne instantly sent a Killing Curse his way, but Harry was already out if its reach, covering the distance between them in a second. Daphne jumped back, but Harry was hot on her trail, not leaving her any room for to dissapear again.
In contrast with Lockhart´s way of duelling, Harry´s style was dexterious, precice and moving for a kill.
Daphne was suddenly the one on heavy defence.
"Positio Repositus"she roared, siezing oppoturnity as soon as Harry´s onslaught came to a momentary end, leaving her the tinsiest of spaces to react.
Her Evasion Enchantment moved her to the very side of the street, a split-second before another of Harry´s lethal curses could stike.
"Accio Inferi"she roared, as soon as she steadied herself.
Harry had already sent another curse at her, but her Summoning Charm was fast enough for the first summoned Inferus to intercept it. The Inferius blew apart, as if a powerfull explosive tore it from the inside.
A second later seven more Inferi flew in, and were standing between Daphne and a very furious looking Harry Potter.
The Inferi at once ran forward, but Harry waved his wand, intantly producing a jet of searing flames, that overtook them.
As they fell to the ground, Ginny saw that Daphne Greengrass was nowhere to be seen. Harry narrowed his eyes and for good measure, quickly cast several Charms to verify that she was indeed gone.
"Damn. She got away."he growled quietly as he lowered his wand, knowing it was over... for now.
Turning towards her, Ginny once again got the feeling of the intimidating power that was radiating from him as he walked to her.
However, once reaching her, she was almost chaught off guard by the desperate hug he gave her.
She felt him shudder a bit, giving out a sigh of sheer relief, and she couldn´t help but punch his chest lightly.
"Prat! I told you, not to scare me like that."
Harry chuckled dispite himself.
"Sorry. I must remember not to look so scary, when I come back to you."he said in clear humor.
She punched his chest again.
"Oh, shut up, Potter."she giggled, relishing the feel of being back in his arms, as she saw Draco sprint towards the alley, and immediately rushing to Torie´s side.
"D-Dray... we have to... get her, she´s..."she said exhaustedly, while her husband helped her up.
"Don´t worry, its all right. The Law Enforcement members on our side are here as well, the Task Force too. And I think I´ve also seen the Order of the Phoenix lot here too."said Draco soothingly, pulling a small bottle out of his pocket and offering it to her.
"I notified them, as soon as I got wind of what was going on."said Harry, coming closer along with Ginny.
Draco and Torie nodded, but Ginny at once fixed him a small look.
"You got wind? HOW?"she asked suspitiously.
The newlywed Malfoy swiftly shared a tiny glance, while Harry instantly guarded himself with the infamous Slytherin poker-face. One, that his wife was now fully accustumized to. She looked him up and down properly and at once fixed him with a stern look, quite like the one her Mum always gave to her boys, over the years.
"Harry James Potter... You´ve got some explaining to d..."
Just then a large green light illuminated the entire street, a large shape was making itself clear in the sky.
"The Dark Mark!"exclaimed several people so loudly, that they could have even be heared from the far sides of the neighbouring streets.
It was indeed the Dark Mark. But this one had instantly made looks of sheer disgust appear on the Potters´ and Malfoys´ faces, as they watched it from the ground.
"So... besides growing stronger than she was..."breathed Torie.
"...Daphne has also grown a rather disturbing sence of morbid humor."finished Draco.
Ginny quickly glanced at her husband´s face. The calculating look was once more present on his face, and his eyes were narrowed at the Dark Mark, which seemed to have been modified for the occasion.
On the top of the greenish skull was a Christmas Hat, quite like the ones that were on the heads of the Inferi, and the snake that was supposed to be coming from its mouth was replaced by a banner of sorts. One that read...
DO NOT FORGET...!
Though the Death Eaters have dissapeared and all the fighting had ceased, Diagon Alley was suddenly held in a grip of fear, that not even the presence of poster-boy Lockhart was able to dispell.
Draco gave out a howl of agitation.
"Nice little Christmas greeting indeed."he growled furiously.
"Wrong, Dray."said Harry, who still had his eyes narrowed at the message.
"I think its more of a warning."
Ginny growled, knowing exacly WHO sent that Dark Mark. She lightly elbowed her husband.
"Harry... I think its time, that you taught me, how to REALLY duel..."
The insults she threw at her were simply too great to shrugg off. THIS was personal! In that moment Ginny resolved, that this was the last time she would lose out to Daphne Greengrass.
The old muggle amusement park was extremly calm during nights like these. Sitting on one of the swings, Daphne relished the sence of victory she felt after getting the job done. The solitude, when looking at the moon after doing so much for their aim - it was simply something, that dreams were made of.
Though having her eyes closed, she could easily feel the presence of someone approaching from the back.
Jumping from the swing, she turned, at once firing a stream of non-verbal curses and hexes.
None of them however, made any impact.
Looking around, spotting no one in sight, she growled.
Suddenly however, a spell of sorts had grabbed her and in an instant, she found herself facing a pair of burning red eyes, which were twinkling in amusement.
"Feisty. I like that."came the voice, which was the most dear to her.
She laughed, at once reaching into the hood and locking lips with her beloved.
"I like THIS."she practicly purred, as they separated.
Using the body of Neville Longbottom, Lord Voldemort smiled happily.
"I like the fact, that your little Christmas Party of sorts has the Wizarding Community cowering in fear. Dispite Lockhart´s being there."
Daphne embraced him, trying to get as close as she possibly could.
"The present I wanted to give you for our very first Christmas - albeit an early one."
"And I appretiate it very much."said Voldemort, returning her hug.
"Fudge will surely press for more security, enraging the opposers of the Act. Before the year is out, they will be ready to act."she said, happy that her plan is working like clockwork.
"You are amazing, Daphne."said Voldemort, as awed as he could possibly be.
"Thanks to the cover-up, that Bart has made, your mirror has more force. During the new year, we can launch stage three."she informed happily.
Voldemort nodded, feeling for the first of times, cared for by someone. Suddenly he felt her wince in his embrace.
"Are you all right? I heared, that you´ve also had a run-in with the young Potter."he asked, uttering the name venoumously - if he ever DARED to hurt her...
"I´m fine. But if it wasn´t for your training... I´m afraid I´d be dead. He barely gave me a chance. Tom... I think, that only YOU can actually defeat him."
The hood concealed it, but Voldemort´s face turned to one of utmost hate.
"I WILL. When the time comes. But Daphne... until such time... I´ll never allow him to harm you."he said, for the first time meaning it - he now felt, that Daphne was the greatest thing that ever happened to him and he would be damned, if he allowed a miserable traitorous brat to hurt her.
He felt Daphne hug him tighter in gratitude and for a second, thought to what his mother told him in the limbo.
"I love you, Tom..."
He almost winced at the sincirety he felt. It was actual bliss to hear and feel that. He held her tighter, than he ever held anyone, repaying her with the same gesture, though still not being able to utter the word.
"There... there is no one on the planet, who means more to me, Daphne."he said, as sincirely as possible, but still not being able to use the word love.
At this however, Daphne gave out a howl of pure wild happiness and once more attacked his lips very fiercely. He was completly lost in the kiss and was only vaguely aware of being dragged down on to the ground.
"N...NO, Daph."he said quickly, placing a hand to separate them.
"I... I want to do this when I regenerate... when I´ll finally once more BE Lord Voldemort - not using someone´s body for it."he explained, having no explanation for the feel of sick jealously that stung him.
He couldn´t even explain it to himself, but taking her while in Longbottom´s body was... eugh...
Daphne looked at him in surprise, but her eyes took on a gleam of sheer, manic delight.
"You are incredible, Tom..."she beathed in pure admiration, at once nestling herself by his side on the ground.
"You are right, Mother... I deserve the best."he thought, as his hand went into Daphne´s reddish hair.
"And I HAVE the best."he thought with a smile, knowing that Daphne would rip the world apart for him - something only SHE - he was sure of it - would do.
A/N: Well guys, this chapter really took me long. But given the turmolious time I´ve had since August, I had very little time for writing, so I hope you can forgive me. Heh... for a while I actually thought it would take me until REAL Christmas. But... for the absence... I have something in store for all of you guys. I´ve been working on a small backstory for Albus and it also shows some of Potter´s family history. All I have to do is edit it now, and it will be published as a spearate story, so I hope you all can find your way to it. I also hope you´ll find it nice and intrigueing.I ve actually tried to incorporate it into this one, but I found that it had way too much background and was not exactly helping with the plot. All I can say, is that the events of the backstory will also show later on in THIS one.
Also I hope, that you guys will like the backstory as much as this one. For all of you, who can´t wait, I´ll spoil a bit and say, that the story will revolve around Albus and his past - which also means, that Gellert Grindelwald will be there. :)
Till next time.