Chapter 3 - The Hero Who Slouches
There were two of them, both eschewing the black hoods and metallic masks that had become the trademarks of the Death Eaters while still wearing black robes. Through her various run-ins with them, Ginny had the deep displeasure of meeting a few, but she didn't recognize either of these. She was about to bound to her feet when Harry brought a finger to his lips. She gave a tiny pout but remained in her place.
"What if there are more coming?" he whispered. Ginny nodded sheepishly. If they were quiet, they could hear the conversation between the two men.
"Snape said this was the street. Grimmauld Place. But he forgot the number," the smaller of the two reported. He had sandy blond hair and a scar that ran from the outer edge of his eye to the laugh lines near his mouth. He was referencing a professor from Hogwarts, the one within the Order of the Phoenix who was trying to play both sides. He was the one who killed Dumbledore at the end of last term, sending Harry into hiding and signaling the Death Eaters' intent on seizing power over the summer, starting with the wizarding school.
"Do you really believe that?" the larger one asked. He was dark, Italian or some other form of Latin. His forehead seemed to take up half his face.
"The Dark Lord believes in him." The larger man just shrugged.
They wandered up and down the street, seemingly focused on each individual window while betraying their confusion. Ginny's eyes never left their movements, trying to place them from the attack on the wedding without success. Everything was so chaotic and she had only had a few seconds before Harry pulled her to safety.
Now the two Death Eaters seemed to be pacing without a goal. It was becoming apparent that these were two low-level thugs given the prime assignment of staking out a house where none of the dark wizards thought anything was going on and that, if the wards were holding, they couldn't even see. Voldemort was just covering his bases.
"So how about that wedding, eh? I think it was the best one I've ever been to," the larger one started with a smirk. Ginny grit her teeth and had a near-stranglehold on her wand. Her knuckles were turning white. Harry could sense her frustration without looking, pushing his hand to the side and leaving it on her knee.
"How many did we end up capturing?"
"We reckon about half. Most of the redheads, except for the daughter. She couldn't get out of there fast enough with her little cousin or whatever." Ginny gasped. Even these guys thought she was a coward. She should've come back and fought with her family. She wondered what her parents were thinking. Her brothers. She tried to get up again but Harry just held her down.
"Where are they going?" the blond asked.
"They were all taken to Snape. He did his mind reading thing. None of them knew where Potter was and he confirmed it. He sent everyone but the youngest two home. The kids, the youngest boy and that mudblood girl he hangs around with, are going to Hogwarts early. All he said was that there are some chores for them to do there before term starts."
The men found the nearest bus bench and made themselves comfortable for what they knew would be a long night. Ginny surprised herself with a relieved exhale. Everyone was alive. Then she realized that she and Harry leaving actually protected them. Everyone at the wedding truly didn't know where Harry was. If they had, the Death Eaters would've tortured them within an inch of their lives to find out.
But Ron and Hermione, alone with Snape for a whole month in that castle. No telling what those "chores" might be. Ginny turned to Harry, who she noticed was not as relieved as her. In fact, he was shaking. She grabbed the wrist that was still resting on her knee and dragged Harry across the sitting room on all fours, back to the kitchen.
"There's nothing you can do," she whispered to him as they collapsed against the wall, so close to each other that every available inch of their sides was touching its counterpart.
"I need them. I can't do this without them."
Ginny looked at him with her lower lip screwed over the top. "I don't believe that," she replied softly. "But even if that was true, what are you going to do? Break into Hogwarts and help them escape?"
"I've done it before."
Ginny found herself nodding. Curfews, admonishments, and detentions were mere suggestions to Harry Potter at Hogwarts. He came and went as he pleased, not because it was fun but because he was probably on some sort of mission, saving one person or another. Well, sometimes it was fun. His skills were quite handy when they needed some time to be alone last term. She had followed him to places in that castle she didn't even know existed at times that would've made her mother faint.
"Okay. And where's the Invisibility Cloak?" Ginny asked. Harry's head sank even further under his shoulders. "And the Marauder's Map?"
"Hermione has them. She did the packing for the trip," Harry said, almost inaudible. "Snape probably has them now."
"So you're going to go into Hogwarts with no tools to rescue two people from right under the headmaster's nose. Two people that are more than capable of taking care of themselves, by the way. Also, in case you forgot, you can't apparate into the castle. What was that you were saying about suicide?"
Harry jumped to his feet, knocking Ginny over in the process. "I thought you wanted to help. If this is what your help looks like, just stay out of my way!" He bounded up the stairs. The drapes over the portrait flung open again.
"Yoo hoo! Pure blooded brothers outside! Potter and the Weasley girl are in here!" Walburga called. Ginny quickly regained her feet, pointed her wand at the portrait, and called the incantation "Quietus". Walburga still looked as though she were yelling, but it was only coming at a murmur. Then Ginny cursed herself. Underage magic. Traceable, underage magic.
"Harry! We've got a problem!"
But it was too late. Ginny's hand had just reached the carved balustrade of the stairway when the front door of the townhouse shattered into incalculable pieces. The larger of the two Death Eaters sprung through the wreckage and seized Ginny's ankle. He pulled her closer to him and restrained her wand hand with his free arm. Ginny struggled and rolled with no effect. He was close enough for her to smell the fish he'd had for lunch.
The other Death Eater arrived. Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny could see the man's wand pointed at her temple. He dug it into her skin for effect. She could feel the end of it was still warm. He was the one who had blown the door open.
"Where's Potter?" he snarled.
"Get stuffed," Ginny responded through clenched teeth. The man stamped on the back of the knee being held by the larger of the two Death Eaters. Ginny's leg slackened immediately as she cried out in pain.
He chuckled. "Stevens, drag her out. Let's get Potter to come out in the open."
But before the bigger man could get enough leverage, a heavy thud emanated behind the group. One red bolt of light fizzled past Ginny's left ear before the next connected with its target. The leader collapsed sprawled next to Ginny, open-eyed. The other one let go of her ankle and spun toward the source of the light. Ginny took the opportunity to kick the man in a sensitive area. He howled in pain, so much that Ginny couldn't hear her Stunning Spell connect with the man's face. He flew backwards, blocking the doorway.
"Where did you come from?" Ginny asked Harry through quick breaths as he stepped over the bodies.
"Jumped out the window," he replied with a grin, offering her a hand up. She grunted as she reached her feet.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Ginny replied. She glanced at the portrait. Walburga was gesturing wildly but they couldn't hear anything. "l'm sorry, Harry. I couldn't help myself."
He chuckled. "Which time?"
Ginny's mouth twisted at the corner. "Both."
"That's what I thought." He reached around and held her around the shoulders. It reminded her of the time she stole one of the experimental products from the collection of her brothers Fred and George, who are noted inventors of items that bring trouble, when she was eight. She was sobbing on the front porch when her father found her sans eyebrows and reached around just as Harry had done. She frowned. Was she just Harry's little sister again?
Harry conjured some ropes and muttered a binding charm. The ropes wound their way around the arms and legs of the two unconscious Death Eaters, then he took their wands away from their outstretched hands and snapped them in two.
"Come on. We've got to go before reinforcements show up. Did you find any clothes?" Ginny shook her head. She'd forgotten that she was still wearing her shiny gold dress from the wedding.
"Okay. Grab everything you can from the hidden office, especially the book. I've got to get some things from Sirius's room." Harry was bounding up the stairs before she could even nod. Ginny tailed after him, then watched as he disappeared into Sirius's room. She headed straight into the linen closet and pushed three bricks before finding the correct one. She crawled into the office and found an old briefcase next to the desk made of the softest leather she had ever laid her hands on. She shoved Secrets of the Darkest Arts in first, then went to work tearing the photos of the Muggle relics off the wall. She then spun to Tom Riddle's wall, taking a bit of satisfaction from tearing it apart. Finally, she struggled to figure out how to fold the Muggle map before balling it up and shoving it into the bag.
Ginny pushed herself out of the tunnel and turned left into Sirius's room. She found Harry with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and a coat covering his torso, staring at two framed portraits on the wall. She moved to stand at his shoulder. The portraits were hung one on top of the other, both the same dimensions. The top was a portrait of the original Order of the Phoenix from the first war against Voldemort. She was drawn to the people who were now gone. Harry's parents, his father looking so much like Harry that it could've been magic, standing behind his auburn-haired wife with his hands on her shoulders on the left of the picture. The Longbottoms, parents of their friend Neville, who were tortured and driven insane by Death Eaters. And, of course, Sirius himself.
The bottom portrait made Ginny smile. It was taken two summers ago when everyone was hiding in Grimmauld Place. Even under the circumstances, everyone seemed happy. Almost her entire family was there, redheads dominating the picture. But what made her gasp was where she could find the boy with wavy dark hair and round glasses and the girl with the flaming red hair - they were to the left, in the same position in this picture as Harry's parents were in the previous version. The only difference was that in the moving picture, Ginny was beaming up at Harry, who was looking down at her and cracking up. She can remember the joke she whispered to him word for word: "Don't slouch, Potter. People don't like a hero who slouches."
Ginny turned to Harry and could see that his eyes were wet.
"We should hide these in Regulus's office. The Harry Potter Museum will want them one day," she told him. "And Voldemort is not going to rob me of my chance to be in a museum." He grinned and reached for the frames. He pulled the top one toward him, revealing a hidden safe.
"Do these people ever just keep things in drawers?" Ginny mused. Harry reached in and pulled out a folded yellow envelope, filled to capacity, then closed the safe. He then lifted both pictures off the wall and handed them to Ginny. "I was kidding…" But she nodded and went back to the office as she said she would.
When she came out, Harry was already at what was left of the front entrance, holding out his hand.
"Stay with me, okay?" Ginny nodded.
They started at a brisk walk in the opposite direction from how they came earlier in the evening. As they reached the first corner, Ginny looked back and found a group of five Death Eaters, their black robes billowing in the wind. She squeezed Harry's hand hard. He didn't even need to look back to know it was time to run.