DISCLAIMER:JK Rowling created the characters, settings and events of the Harry Potter novels. I'm borrowing them and forcing them to do my bidding. Apologies to her, Scholastic, Bloomsbury, Warner Brothers and a bunch of others because they own Harry Potter and I don't. I'm not making any money of this. No copyright infringement intended. No animals harmed in the making of this fiction.
NOTES:I'm super-grateful to Fearthainn who beta read for me. And to wmlaw and FireSprite who read it and encouraged me. Also all my livejournal friends who aided me in my search for a title.
* * *
Lord Voldemort was defeated. It was all Harry Potter's doing, of course. The Death Eaters were facing dark times. 'The Death Eater Trials," as the Daily Prophet christened them, were nothing short of a three ring circus. People weren't afraid anymore. The threat had been removed. Public outrage was at a fevered pitch. They actually hurled small objects at Walden MacNair as he was lead into the court room. They were out for blood and the Ministry of Magic was more than happy to oblige. Anyone remotely associated with Voldemort and his plans went straight to Azkaban. There was no leniency. No mercy. They had let them go once, and they weren't about to let it happen again.
Aurors were in high demand these days. They were always running about, doing something daring and exceptionally dangerous in order to catch the friend of the sister of the guy who put that curse on that guy that time. Sometimes they were a tad overeager. They all thought they were James Bond. It was a running gag in wizarding circles, which was certainly funnier than the "How many Aurors does it take to light a candle?" bit. That was getting old fast.
The Auror Academy was filled to the brim with wide-eyed recruits. They all hoped they'd be the one to catch a Dark Wizard right in Voldemort's inner circle. Of course there weren't very many of those left, so there was a great deal of competition among the trainees. Many of them continued to adhere to Hogwarts House lines out of habit. Gryffindors tended to be the loudest and most daring of the lot. They felt they had a leg up as Harry Potter himself had been in their house.
Ravenclaws would scornfully point out that so was Ezekiel Crowley. And he had managed to set himself on fire whenever he came near a Death Eater. No one could figure out how. Most Gryffindors would pointedly ignore this logic. There was always a black sheep, after all.
There was, however, one Gryffindor who couldn't help but doubt her talents. She had always been small. She had never excelled at much of anything. And she had this pesky habit of always needing to be saved.
Ginny Weasley always walked down the Academy halls with her head down, praying she wouldn't trip or bump into anyone. She did that a lot. When she got nervous she tended to be a bit of a klutz. She'd do things like put her arm in butter when boys she liked were around. It was very embarrassing. When someone would call on her in class, she'd become red-faced and stutter over her answers. Professors couldn't understand why she was so frightened all the time. She was very bright and those answers were almost always correct. Yet she'd never volunteer them unless pressured.
People wondered why she had decided to go into Auror training. If there was one job one needed to be forward and decisive in it was this one. She was the complete opposite of the stereotypical Auror in the jokes. At best, all Ginny'd ever be suited for was a desk job (Something "real" Aurors scorned.) even though she would be at the top of her class, if for the obstacle courses.
Aurors in training were expected to run obstacle courses to prove their ability in the field. Large cardboard cut outs of bad guys would jump out at them and the Auror needed to handle them appropriately. Ginny knew what she was supposed to do better than anyone else. The problem was the Professors. They stood there and just stared at her. They made little marks on their parchment whenever she made a move. It made her nervous, which, in turn, made her make silly mistakes.
Everyone shook their heads sadly as she emerged from the training area. They wanted to see her do well. She was a Weasley after all. Her father was one of the higher ups in the Ministry. Her whole family had been a rock during the crisis. And her brother, Ron, had been instrumental in taking out Voldemort. He was Harry Potter's right hand man. Everyone knew that. But it seemed all the family's nerve had been tapped out when Ginny was born because she just didn't have what it took.
There was no point in giving her "helpful hints" or telling her what she had done wrong. Ginny already knew. She'd spend the entire day in her dormitory berating herself. She was harder on herself than anyone else was. Often the other girls who lived with her could hear her sobbing throughout the night. She wanted to do well. She wanted to be like her brothers. She wanted to prove everyone wrong. She just couldn't no matter how hard she tried.
When he came to the Academy earlier that year, Oliver Wood had taken a particular interest in Ginny. He had quit Puddlemere after discovering second rate Quidditch players didn't get paid very well. He had decided to pursue another interest of his: ordering people around. At Hogwarts, he had been famous for his militant style of Quidditch practice. Players were the first one up and last ones to bed on practice days. Fred and George Weasley still insisted that they hadn't properly recovered.
Wood was something of a drill sergeant at the Academy. He shouted a great deal. He had his own office. And he had the power to make students run laps. (That was his favorite part.) All in all, it was a great job for him. It gave him a great sense of satisfaction when he saw kids he had harassed on the cover of the Daily Prophet after they became heroes for catching dark wizards. Some called him sadistic. Others just called him Wood.
"Weasley," he said one day. Ginny was walking down the hall with her head down. She jumped to a rather impressive height when he said her name.
Ginny smoothed her robes with shaking hands and tried to be polite. "Yes?"
"I'd like to see you in my office later, if that's ok." Wood was careful not to make it sound like she was in trouble because then she'd probably cry and he had a thing against crying.
She nodded hastily. "Okay," she replied. He could see the wheels turning in her head. She was trying to figure out what he wanted. When he didn't offer to specify, she turned and quickly left. She got out of his sight in record time. He made a mental note that she was quick and retired to his office.
* * *
"I have an assignment for you, Weasley," Wood announced loudly as he threw a roll of parchment down with a 'thud' in front of her. She winced. Ginny was never one for theatrics.
"An assignment?" she repeated tentatively.
"Yeah," Wood answered, "it's your last year at the Academy. All students have to do some field work to prove they're not completely brain dead. You know, so we feel confident in releasing them to the world. You have to prove that you won't poke yourself in the eye with your wand, stuff like that."
Ginny laughed half-heartedly. He made it sound easy, whatever it was. And if it was going to the library and finding out information it would be but she got the feeling that it wasn't. Suddenly, her fingers were twitching. She fidgeted a lot when she was nervous. She sat on her hands in an effort to hide them from Wood. It was very uncomfortable.
"Have you been reading about the trials in the paper?" he asked.
She nodded. Everyone had, especially today. It was one of the biggest news events of the year. Death Eater Peter Pettigrew had been sent to Azkaban yesterday. The courtroom was packed with witches and wizards trying to get a good look at the traitor as the witnesses recounted his sordid tale. In the end, he had been convicted on no less that 14 charges: 1 count of murder, 2 counts of conspiracy to murder, 1 count of kidnapping, 3 counts of assault, evading arrest, conspiracy, fraud, breaking and entering, improper Animagus registration, misuse of magic around Muggles and finally one count of theft. (Sirius Black's big motorbike was missing. He knew Pettigrew hadn't stolen it but, hell, he hadn't killed Lily and James and someone was going to pay.)
"All the real Aurors are out looking for wanted men. Really busy. So the Academy has to step up in handling some of the leg work. There's someone I need you to find." Ginny paled. "I know what you're thinking, he's not a Death Eater. We wouldn't send a full fledged Auror out to catch one of them on her own let alone an Academy student. He gave the Ministry some information awhile back. They want him to testify at trail. But they, er, misplaced him. He went into hiding, from the Death Eaters, of course. You just have to dig him up."
Ginny nodded vacantly. She hadn't heard any of the other trainees talking about doing anything like this. "Why me?" she asked meekly.
"Well for starters, you're smart. You're resourceful. You're about his age. And, most importantly, you're here." He grinned. "As I said, everyone's busy."
"So..." Ginny wobbled from side to side. She wasn't sure she could handle this kind of pressure. "All I have to do is find him?"
"Who him?" she asked, then blushed deep crimson. "I mean, who is he?"
* * *
Ginny walked back to her dormitory feeling as low as she ever had. She didn't feel up to the task at hand. She wanted to ask for another assignment but knew that wouldn't go over well with the higher-ups. You had to take orders to be a good Auror. But she didn't even know where to begin to look for Draco. If the Death Eaters couldn't find him then she didn't know what made Wood think she would be able to. They were much more experienced wizards than she. And they used shifty methods.
Secondly, she wasn't sure she wanted to find Draco Malfoy. He was a horrible pain in the ass. She couldn't count the number of times he had made her cry at Hogwarts. (Not that it was hard to do. He always seemed to glean particular satisfaction out of it though.) Even if he had helped the Ministry that didn't mean he was any different. He had probably just sold Voldemort out in hopes of making him cry. Ginny was certain she'd would be perfectly happy if Draco Malfoy stayed 'misplaced' forever.
When she reached her room, she sat on the bed, drew the curtains around her and sighed. She hadn't the foggiest idea how she would go about finding him. She lay down, stared at the ceiling, and tried to think of something. But no ideas came. She felt as though there was a big, brick wall between her and Draco. No matter how much she looked, there was no way through it.
She sighed again, thinking of all the terrible things that would happen if she didn't. Oh, she hoped she wouldn't be expelled. She'd never be able to outlive the shame...
* * *
Ginny was right. Locating Draco did not prove to be an easy task. She tried locator spells but they didn't work. He must've taken measures to ensure that he couldn't be found by the Death Eaters and was, in the process, keeping her away too. So Ginny went to the library to research other possible methods of finding him. She liked the library. The books seldom bothered her. They sometimes got in bad tempers but were rarely short with Ginny since she was always polite to them and never dog-eared their pages or spilled hot drinks on them.
She found an interesting spell in which she had to hold a crystal over a map and it would point to his location. It was interesting but not very useful. The crystal whirled around in circles, never pausing over any one spot. When the crystal started to show off by doing a dance that resembled the tango, Ginny had to put it away. She didn't need uppity pieces of rock in her life.
Then she tried sending out an owl for him. Oftentimes, owls could find people when wizards could not. Ginny had never heard of one failing to deliver its post even when the weather was atrocious. She wrote a very simple note, "Ministry would like to speak with you. Return owl expected. Sincerely, G. Weasley, Auror." After a bit of inward debate she crossed out the 'auror' part since it wasn't technically true. Then after a bit more debate she crossed out the 'Weasley' part since Malfoy had never been fond of the Weasley family.
Only about an hour after Ginny released the owl it returned. It still had the unopened letter attached to its leg. The owl glared at her in a disgruntled sort of way as though she had asked it to fly to Mars and make it snappy, please. She took the letter back while mumbling something about "useless owls." It nipped her finger for her trouble and flew away before she could ask it to deliver a letter to a wild goose.
That night she was lying awake in bed, thinking. She thought a lot before she went to bed. She had some of her best ideas there. It occurred to her that she should ask some of his friends if they had been in contact with them. The only people she could ever remember him associating with at Hogwarts were Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. Both were now awaiting sentencing in local lock-up. It wasn't really a good thing. But at least they weren't in Azkaban already...
Ginny went to visit Goyle the very next day. It was a very awkward meeting. Lots of guards buzzed around, speaking in hushed tones. They were, no doubt, wondering why she would ever what to speak with Goyle. She knew because they asked repeatedly. She had to state her reasons for the interview more times than she could count. And they frisked her which wasn't fun at all and made her blush a deep crimson.
It really wasn't worth all the trouble she went through. Goyle wasn't helpful at all. He grunted menacingly when the guards led him out once he recognized who she was. He grunted menacingly as he sat down in case she hadn't heard him before.
"Er, Goyle? I was wondering," she tried to sound casual, "have you, by chance, heard from Draco Malfoy recently?"
Goyle grunted menacingly when Draco's name was mentioned. "No." He proceeded to grunt menacingly a bit more, just for good measure.
The interview with Crabbe was considerably less useful, if that were at all possible. At least Goyle had given her some type of verbal response. Whereas, Crabbe just grunted menacingly.
Finally, all Ginny could do was return to the library, keep searching and try her best not to cry. And eventually, her tenacity and not crying paid off. She found a dusty, old book on locating missing persons. It was supposed to be used for law enforcement should some witch or wizard be kidnapped. And it could only be opened by a certified Auror. Ginny got Wood to do it for her. He was busy making people run laps and didn't have time to chat, but he seemed quite pleased that she had figured it all out. He winked at her and said, "On the case, eh, Weasley?" She wasn't sure what that meant but he sounded chipper as he said it so she took it as a good sign.
It took her a very long time, but eventually she cracked it. Ginny was immensely pleased with herself. She felt the same way she had when she had beat Ron at wizard chess after losing to him every other time they had ever played. She conveniently put the thought of actually having to converse with Draco Malfoy out of her head as she went to collect him. No point in sullying her good mood.
* * *
Her search ended in a most surprising place. It was a small town, if you could even call it that. She had never heard of it before. No one she spoke to had ever heard of it either. According to her information, the population was a dozen people. But after arriving and looking around for a bit, Ginny knew they were counting dogs as well. There were very few people around at all. It seemed the perfect place to go if you were hiding out.
The town mostly consisted of long expanses of over-grown grass. There weren't even trees to dot the landscape, just a few unkempt shrubs that blew about in the wind. It was a particularly breezy day. The wind was moist. It made your clothes feel slightly damp after you had been outside long enough. But it wasn't quite wet enough to say that it was raining and an umbrella wouldn't do any good anyway.
The house that purported to be Draco's was not at all what she would associate with the name 'Malfoy.' For one thing, it was a small dwelling. It was nothing compared to Malfoy Manor. He probably had larger closets at home. It wasn't much to look at either. It was made of some old, rotting wood that didn't look as though it could withstand the wind. It was a wonder of carpentry. Ginny figured the only reasons it was still standing were a wish and a prayer. As she approached the house, Ginny noticed that there was only one window. It was covered over with what looked like dust. She couldn't see inside. The door was made of the same rotting wood as the rest of the house. The only reason you could tell it was a door was because it was rectangular shaped. There was a small carving in the middle of it, a half moon that must've been used as a peep hole.
Ginny peered in through the half moon. It was dark inside, she couldn't see any movement at all. She reached up and knocked on the door. Then she waited. Then she knocked again and waited some more. She tried to magic the door open, but the "alohomora" spell had no effect. Frustrated, she stomped her feet on the ground. After fifteen minutes of this she had to face facts. He either wasn't home or wasn't going to answer the door.
Why did nothing ever work out for her? This was the last option she had. If he wasn't here then she didn't know what she would do. She felt the urge to cry rising up in her. She struggled to keep it suppressed. She sank to the ground and pulled her legs up to her chest to keep out the wind. Maybe he was just out, that annoyingly optimistic voice in her head whispered. All you have to do is wait until he comes back. Ginny really didn't want to do this. It was cold and windy. But she couldn't think of any better ideas. She didn't want to have to go back to Wood's office and say she couldn't complete the task. That would be just too mortifying. Worse, than say getting a little wet. As long as she didn't cry, she'd be all right. The last thing she needed now was for Malfoy to pop up while she was sobbing on his doorstep. She'd rather face Wood.
So she sat there. She wasn't sure how much time went by. She hadn't a watch. Despite the wet wind, it wasn't that bad. Ginny rather liked sitting alone, being left to her own devices. She was free to let her mind wander to the most obscure places. And no one ever made her feel uncomfortable or unworthy. If she could've, she would've lived inside her head.
Ginny was so engrossed in her musings, she all but jumped out of her skin when she heard something whirling inside the house. She pressed her ear to the door. It sounded like it was spinning really fast, whatever it was. She knew she had heard the sound before but couldn't quite place it. She was busy trying to work it out in her mind when the door was abruptly yanked out from under her. She fell forwards, across the threshold with a yelp of surprise.
It was then that she got her first look at him. He was tall and lean, as always. He appeared even taller from her place on the floor. And his white blond hair shone in the darkness of the house as if on its own accord. But that wasn't the part that made her go wide-eyed. It wasn't the only thing that glinted in the darkness. She wasn't staring at his hair but at the large, hunting knife in his hand. Even more unnerving was the fact that he wielded it with the practiced grace of someone who used it regularly.
"Get out of here," he barked.
* * *