Ginny felt… uncomfortable, to say the least. This muggle city - Las Vegas? It was so completely alien to her. She felt completely out of her element, this was far removed from even London, and that had been a bit odd to get used to in and of itself. The garish lights were everywhere, and knowing they had to use muggle technology made it all seem so… wasteful. The worst part was she hadn't even left the airport yet.
Not that she'd taken a plane, of course. If not for a few subtle tricks, people may have noticed a group of people leaving the ladies room that hadn't gone inside to begin with. She sighed and looked up at her companions.
Her father tried to smile encouragingly. "Well Ginny, dear, it's not like you'll have to spend much TIME here at all," He said, patting her on the shoulder, "I'm sure they have a Hogsmeade of their own at the academy."
Her mother remained silent, staring out the window, as flabbergasted as Ginny. Arthur elbowed her lightly. She turned to glare at him, but before she spoke, his eyes flicked to Ginny. She turned and the mild frustration immediately faded into a warm matronly smile. "It won't be so bad, I'm sure you'll make some new friends… I mean American wizards can't be so different from the rest of us, right?"
Ginny looked up at her last companion.
Harry looked back and she immediately filled with that warmth those green eyes seemed to ignite in her. He leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss on her cheek. "I'll just be an owl away," he said, "I'll write you whenever I can." She smiled back up at him and pulled his face down, her lips embracing his. Arthur coughed uncomfortably. She pulled away, after another moment.
"I'll be expecting those letters, Harry." She said with a grin. She turned and gave her mother a hug. Even though Molly had been through this so many times with her children she still stifled a little sob. This was especially hard on her since this would be the last time she did it for her own children. Arthur as well tried to hold back tears.
"We're proud of you, Ginny." He said. The reasons for this hung unspoken, though the memories flashed back. That day at Hogwarts… That dreadful, glorious, heart wrenching, victorious day. A war won, so many lost. Ginny felt a tear slide down her own cheek. In their moment of emotion, none but Harry noticed the men walking towards them.
Neither looked very much like a wizard, which may have been a good thing considering the circumstances. What surprised Harry was that they had none of the awkwardness of most wizards trying to blend in with muggle society. They both looked at ease, as if this was as normal to them as it was to him. One of them had blonde hair framing his face, the features of which were pleasant though his nose was sharp. Snape immediately came to mind, which brought a sad grin to his face. The man wore a button down shirt over a T-shirt with a helmeted figure holding a glowing red stick. Harry recognized him as Darth Vader, though he was sure he would be completely foreign to Ginny and her parents.
The other man was taller, a pair of glasses perched on his almost delicate nose. He looked somewhat feminine, his hair held in a similar manner to his companion, though it was noticeably less kempt. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt with an odd, almost arcane symbol, under which read 'Nirvana.' He looked a little older than his partner.
"Ginny?" Harry said softly, and she turned to see the two men, taking them in with the utter surprise evident on her face. They looked so… Muggle.
"Weasley?" The taller man asked. Ginny nodded, still staring at his shirt, confused. "Professor Raphael Schwartz, Merlin Society Academy." He said extending a hand. Ginny took it, and her parents took it in turn. He turned to Harry, his expression unchanging but for a subtle raise of his eyebrows, as if to say to him 'Yeah, I know who you are, what of it?'
The other man shook their hands. "Jacob Reegan, same as Raph, and I just have to say what an honor it is to meet the famous-…" Harry took his hand before he could continue.
"Nice to meet you too," He said with a patient smile. Raphael rolled his eyes behind Jacob, before looking apologetically at Harry. Harry gave a slight nod back, an unspoken understanding already forming.
Raphael stepped forward. "You'll be coming with us to the academy from here," he said to Ginny. "The car is parked out front." He waved them after him as he began to walk towards the doors. Jacob was still smiling like an idiot at Harry. "JAKE." Raphael said flatly, and Jacob turned and followed him.
As soon as they were out of earshot Ginny let out the giggle she'd been stifling. "I guess you're popular here too, Harry." She said cheekily. He just sighed helplessly.
"That Raphael seems to be a man of few words." Arthur said, almost as if he didn't approve.
"He seems nice enough to me," Molly said, "And sometimes it's better not to chatter on." She added. The irony was not lost on anyone else.
At the car, Raphael helped pack one of Ginny's bags, Jacob carefully handling the covered cage that held the small ball of fluff that was Arnold. He squeaked audibly as the cage jostled a little. The car looked like it wouldn't be quite as comfortable as their family car. For one thing it didn't seem enchanted at all. Raphael loaded her last bag into the trunk and shut it. "Train's leaving." Jacob said, "Anything left to do here?" Ginny nodded to him. She turned to her parents and gave them each one last hug.
"Can I have a moment with Harry?" she asked quietly. Arthur seemed to be giving that thought before Molly pulled him away by the elbow.
Ginny turned back to Harry.
"Harry…" she said softly. "I know… This…" she stumbled over her words. "I mean… I'm… I'm glad you came back to me."
Harry looked quizzically at her. "I know, you've said it before…"
"I don't just mean from Voldemort…" she said. "I remember you said we couldn't see each other… I'm glad you changed your mind… I just hadn't said it yet." She said, blushing a little.
"I'll be honest," Harry said. "I'm glad I did too." Before he could say anything more she threw her arms around his shoulders and planted another kiss on his lips. This one, uninterrupted by her parents, lasted for several seconds. A few passers-by applauded.
"I love you, Harry." Ginny said for the first time since the Battle of Hogwarts.
Harry was speechless as Ginny turned and climbed into the car.
"Ginny." He said before she closed the door. "…I love you too." He finished. Ginny's face turned bright red, nearly as fiery as her hair, and her smile beamed through the tinted glass as the door slammed shut.
Damien Lachance was moving low to the ground, through the alleyways of Ivory City at a crouch. His black coat brushed the ground, his ashwood wand drawn in front of him. He looked next to him and saw Wendlynn Nguyen hold up her hand. Her eyes peered above the window. She came back down and ran her other hand through her short cropped black hair. Her hand came back up.
Three fingers. Good sign.
Damien nodded and moved to the other side of the door slowly. He held up his own hand.
Five fingers. Lynn nodded.
Damien rose and blasted the door from its hinges. They both came around into the empty frame, wands at the ready.
"What the FU-"
"STUPIFY!" Lynn called and a black cloaked figure was blasted from his feet, catapulting into a table behind him. Damien turned and saw the other two drawing their wands.
The wands never left their sheathes. Two crimson blasts erupted from Damien's wand tip, both men dropping with moans. He turned to Lynn, when motion caught the corner of his eye.
"AVADA KEDAVERA!" a deep voice called from an adjoining room, fury tinging it. Damien whirled aside as the green blast slammed into the wall, the wood rotting at its touch. He scowled. This had just gotten much more serious. "AVADA KEDAV-" the other man began as Damien's wand whirled.
"FULGURE RUMPERE!" Damien shouted quickly and lightning erupted from the tip of his wand. It slammed into the man who shot out of sight into the other room. Lynn sped in after the man, into the room before the resounding crash of his impact resounded through the small condominium.
"STUPIFY." Lynn said flatly and another cacophony sounded. There was a pause. "Clear." She called to him. Damien stepped over a groaning man, pausing only briefly to kick him in the ribs. The adjorning room had become a wreck, the man having been sent flying through it twice, both times shattering furniture with the impact of his bulk. The man was huge, easily seven feet tall, with beady eyes and short hair buzzed close to his skull. His robes were burned, and still smoking from the impact of the lightning and blood leaked from several lacerations over his body. Damien smiled in satisfaction. The man blinked bearily.
"Frederick Stirge." Damien said. "Hiding in America was a mistake." His heavily lidded eyes narrowed and he frowned, the expression coming naturally to his otherwise handsome features. "Using an unforgivable curse was a bigger one." He stomped on Stirge's hand, which had been groping for his wand, drawing a pained moan. "I hear Azkaban is getting full, looking forward to meeting some old friends?"
Lynn closed her cellphone. "Backup is on the way, Damien." She said. "That was a damn close call."
Damien shrugged. "I hadn't thought about it yet." He said honestly. "Wasn't planning to dwell on it." He turned and looked at Stirge. "This is bothering me more, anyway." He said. He pulled up the huge man's sleeve and a Dark Mark was clearly visible. "They're still active, and this is the third cell we've found in the past month."
"Fourth," Lynn corrected. "Patterson found a cell across town, same time we did." Damien's scowl deepened. She shrugged. "You'd think they'd have stopped. You-Know-Who is gone…" her words hung in the air.
"Something is holding them together. Men like Stirge are too idiotic to lead this… whatever is keeping them going, we haven't found it yet." Damien said. His cell rang at that instant. He flipped it open.
"This is the central office, when backup shows up we want you to report back immediately. You're being reassigned." Damien's face flushed.
"WHAT? That's redi-…" He bit back his anger, "I'm just starting to make progress here, and you're reassigning me?"
"I don't know the details, Lachance," came the voice from the other end. "Just report to the Head Auror when you get back." There was a click. Damien hated it when they hung up on him. He was tempted to throw his cellphone but instead roughly shoved it back into his pocket.
"Merlin DAMN it." He spat.
Ginny had been pleasantly surprised by the SUV. They had enchanted the rear of the car so she felt no sense of motion at all. It took a few moments to get used to seeing everything move past while she sat so perfectly still, but it ended being quite relaxing. She leaned back in her chair and let out a long sigh. She wondered how Ron was doing. He and Hermione had rarely been out of each other's sight for the past several months. She remembered quite vividly walking in on them snogging in the kitchen.
"You may not want to do that where Mum spends most of her time." She said to them. They'd jumped. Hermione blushed furiously.
"G-GINNY!" Ron cried. "How long where you standing there?"
"Long enough." Ginny said mischievously. "Just giving you some sisterly advice."
She smiled as she remembered Ron's sputtering and Hermione's nervous giggling. The ride, as smooth as it was, had taken a turn for the boring after they had left Vegas. They had been driving through the desert for a while now, though the car was still cool, another enchantment put in place on the car. She had seen plenty of desert in Egypt. Not that she was complaining, she had actually been nearly silent for most of the car trip, Raphael and Jacob making small talk betwixt themselves. Jacob repeated something he had just said.
Ginny was staring at the nearly cloudless sky, imagining broomsticks flying across it. Jacob repeated himself again.
"Ginny? You okay?"
She looked up. "Oh, what?"
"I was asking you about the schools back in England." He said. "I've heard they don't use any muggle tech at Hogwarts. Is that true?"
"Yes," Ginny replied, "Dad says with magic we really don't need it, though he's still fascinated with it." She cocked her head. "Why? Isn't that how you do it here?"
"No," Raphael said. "We tend to use a blend of standard muggle tech and magically enhanced muggle tech."
"Why would you need it, though?" Ginny asked.
"This is America," Jacob said with a smile, "Everyone in this country is wired, cellphones, videogames, laptops. Hell, the Society has internet."
"It's better if you see it firsthand." Raphael said.
"It's like the Matrix in that way." Jacob added. Ginny didn't answer. "Haven't seen movies, right, forgot." He said, "Anyway, we're almost to our destination."
Ginny looked through the windshield and saw a sign.
"Merta Lynn's greasy spoon diner and auto-body." It said. On it a cartoon of a large elderly woman proudly said, "Best fried chik'n in the desert!" Ginny found she could not look away from the sign as they drove by. It was so absurd that it captivated her. When they pulled in she saw the same woman plastered on the window proclaiming the greatness of her chik'n.
Raphael hopped out of the car and walked inside. Ginny waited with Jacob, who was whistling something that had been playing on the radio earlier. After a short while Raphael poked his head out and waved them inside. Ginny walked in to see a group of people too large to have simply come from the cars outside. Several of them nodded in recognition of Raphael and Jacob. Ginny saw one pointed hat and immediately felt at ease. An older gentleman still has his robes and hat on. Since he was alone the muggles would dismiss him as a 'wierdo'. The wand at his side made it clear that this was where she should be. Raph nodded to her. "We're waiting to head down, another's going to be coming."
Jacob cocked an eyebrow. "Really? Who?"
"An auror, apparently." Raphael replied. "I know, I'm surprised too, actually."
As if on cue loud pop sounded from the garage, only half of the patrons looked up in surprise, the rest just looked up as if expecting something. A sour looking man with heavily lidded eyes and thick eyebrows stepped through the door of the garage smoking a little bit. Ginny could smell the floo powder on him. He turned towards Raphael and sauntered forward. "Schwartz? On the Weasely detail?" he asked curtly.
Raph nodded. "And you are…"
"Lachance," he finished. "Damien Lachance." He was frowning as if it was his natural state. "Let's get this over with." He said flatly.