in medias res/opening in the midst of action
"Come back to me, Harry."
Pain hammers my skull. I recognise the girl's voice, my girl's voice, but I can't remember her name. If she hadn't called me Harry, I wouldn't know mine. Hands grip my shoulders and shake.
"Open your eyes." The soft pleading is gone. Her words are a demand. This is a girl used to getting what she wants.
My lower lip throbs, and wetness trickles down my chin as I smile. Dark wizards usually stick to torture curses. I must have royally hacked someone off to incite Muggle duelling. The realisation that I know what Dark wizards, Muggles, and torture curses are snaps my eyes open. A pretty blur comes into focus as my girl slides round glasses onto my face. She kisses the unbloodied corner of my mouth, her red hair caressing my cheek. I stare into brown eyes glittering with tears and triumph and attempt to tell her that if she's the reason I took a beating, it was worth it.
I can't speak.
Her fingertips gently press my lips. "It's all right. Blood magic takes its toll, Harry. Whatever you've . . . lost . . . will return in time." After heaving a sigh that draws my eyes to the front of her black camisole, she says, "Until then, I brought a few things to help."
She casts charms to heal my cuts before levitating her bag toward the wall behind us. I'm bloody useless, twitching on the concrete floor while she drags me by my wrists before sitting and pulling me up until my back rests against her. One of her arms wraps around my chest, holding me in place while she opens the bag with her free hand. We're in a warehouse: abandoned, by the boarded up windows and musty stench. There's enough daylight for me to see the broken chalk circle, candles, and an ominous dark splotch.
My gaze drops to the arm supporting me. Along with reddish brown freckles I want to lick, there's a jagged silver scar that resembles a lightning bolt on her creamy skin.
Blood magic takes its toll.
"Drink up," my girl says. She tilts my chin and puts a finger in my mouth to open it wider. Images flash into my mind.
Her hair spread out on a pillow, her face looking up at me as she brings my hand to her mouth.
I suck her finger.
Her body jerks. "Merlin, Harry. I'm glad your sex drive is back, but naughtiness has to wait." She puts the potions flagon to my lips. I drink it down. Strength courses through me. She has another flagon for me to drink. "I have food and water too," she says.
I shake my head and push myself to my feet. I reach into a trouser pocket.
"I think they took your wand as a trophy." My girl's voice has a dangerous edge to it. I like her anger on my behalf almost as much as I enjoy the sight of her curves. She says, "They're lucky they didn't take any body parts. Those belong to me."
I tap my chest.
"Especially your heart." She smiles. "And you have mine."
That wasn't what I'd meant, but it felt good to hear her say it. I mouth "name" as I point to her.
"Oh!" Her eyes glisten. "I'm Ginny." She sways toward me, lips parted, hopefully having second thoughts about naughtiness when a shrieking whistle comes from her bag. She takes out a device that resembles a Muggle toy top. A Sneakoscope. Ginny catches me mouthing the word and nods. "With a George Weasley modification," she says fiercely, twisting the Sneakoscope anti-clockwise. It starts beeping. She tosses it at the far door. "We have thirty seconds until things go boom. Hold onto me." I snatch up the bag and wrap my hand around her arm.
The warehouse explodes as we step into nothingness.
Instinct tells me I've Apparated so many times the squeezing sensation doesn't bother me anymore. I expect Ginny to be unaffected as well, but she sinks to the pavement in the alleyway. I kneel beside her. Blood trickles from the dagger length shards of wood stabbed through her arm. It's a punch to the gut. I never wanted her to bleed for me.
A breath hisses through her teeth. "Change of plans thanks to whatever bastard detonated the Sneakoscope with a fireball."
Open double doors with an Emergency sign overhead magically appear in the side of the brick building. A witch and wizard in lime green robes clatter toward us rolling a patient trolley.
Ginny presses her wand into my hand. "Take the bag and go to the street. Hold up my wand to hail the Knight Bus."
I reluctantly stand.
"Run!" she screams. "I can't save you again!"
The Healers have almost reached her.
I go through motions that produce a flash of memory. A boy in a dark village stumbling over his trunk to fall on his arse in front of a purple triple-decker bus. It’s the same bus that appears out of nowhere in front of me now. I climb the steps when the doors open.
"Keep your sickles, Harry," the elderly driver says.
I give a chin tilt to acknowledge his kindness and walk toward the wooden bench at the far end. It might not be as comfortable as the chairs scattered about, but at least it's bolted down. It smells of lemon polish. I take a seat and the bus jerks into motion. Chairs careen from one side to the other. I hold Ginny's wand at the ready when a lanky wizard rises from a chair and drops onto the bench next to me. There's something familiar about his red hair, blue eyes, and the triple W logo on his gold t-shirt.
"I've been stuck on this bus for hours," the wizard says, "and I couldn't even pass the time reading Quidditch Illustrated 'cause I got motion sick and puked. Twice."
Protego. Instinctively, I cast the nonverbal spell in case the bloke is only pretending to be a nutter who shares his problems with everyone he sees. I remember other hexes and jinxes I've cast silently and effectively in the past, even without a wand. The witch or wizard responsible for my present condition must have concentrated on wiping specific memories.
Next to me, the redheaded bloke declares that waiting around drives him mental, and that's one of the reason he's not an Auror anymore. Stakeouts were like water torture. Drip, drip, drip. I'm debating whether to cast a Silencio or Sleep Charm on him when his expression changes from grumpy to steely.
"Your turn to talk, Harry. What happened to my sister?"
"Ginny?" I mouth.
He scowls. "Why aren't you speaking?"
I put a hand to my throat and shake my head.
The bloke takes a mobile phone out of his pocket. "Hermione gave it to me," he says. His cheeks redden. "We text." He presses silver buttons and holds the phone out.
The name GINNY flashes on the screen, and then I hear, "Ron? Are you with Harry? Is he safe?"
"For now," Ron snaps. "What the bloody hell did you do to my best mate? He looks like a zombie!"
"I saved him, and he looks beautiful!"
I glance down. My clothes are dirty and torn, my arms and hands bruised and streaked with dust, sweat, and dried blood. I lift a hand to my hair. It's sticking out in all directions. I grin.
Ron grins back.
A cry of "My baby is in mortal peril!" reverberates through the phone.
"Mum's in the corridor, there isn't much time." Ginny's voice is low and urgent. "Neo Death Eaters are evil, not stupid. They'll think to check the Knight Bus soon if they haven't already. Get the driver to stop even if it's in the middle of nowhere. Bill's tracking your phone. He'll pick you up."
"My baby!" a woman wails.
Ginny says, "I'll be in touch."
Ron hits the button with the image of a tiny red phone receiver and casts suspicious eyes my way. "Mum said Ginny was in mortal peril?" His hands curl into fists. They trigger a memory of Ron punching a snivelling git and calling him a two-faced bastard.
I jump to my feet and navigate through the ever changing maze of sliding chairs to reach the driver. I hold up my hand and he stops the bus.
"Ow! My shin!"
I turn my head to watch Ron angrily limp his way to the front. The spell Ginny had used to heal my lip should fix things.
The doors to the bus crash inward beneath the force of the spell that rushes past me to strike the driver with green light. He slumps over the wheel. Passengers scream and dive onto the floor. The step I'd taken toward Ron to cast Episkey saved my life.
A masked wizard in a hooded robe climbs into the bus. The Shield Charm I'd cast earlier deflects his attempt to disarm me. I cast my own spell with enough fury to send the murderer through the windshield. If Expelliarmus hadn't been my favourite spell before, it is now. I leap out of the bus, firing spells nonstop in all directions. Two more bodies hit the ground. I follow each Disarming Charm with Petrificus Totalus.
"I'll grab their wands," Ron shouts behind me.
Above his Summoning Charm and the muffled voices of the passengers, I hear the roar of a motorbike engine. The road is empty, no approaching headlight in the growing dusk.
I glance upward. Ah. It's a flying motorbike.
"No! On top of the bus!"
A masked Neo Death Eater dives at me in a last-ditch effort to take down his enemy. Before I can step out of the way, the flying motorcycle collides with my attacker. There's a snapping sound, and then body and motorbike hit the dirt. The redheaded biker dressed in head to toe black dragon hide pops a wheelie to turn the motorbike around.
He rolls to a stop beside me, grinning wolfishly. "Muggles are right. Road rage kills."
I see the family resemblance to my girl and mouth, "Bill?"
"Yeah." He turns to Ron. "Summon Aurors and tell them the bus was hijacked. Nothing else. We don't know who we can trust. C'mon, Harry."
I lift a finger and stride over to examine the Death Eater's mask. It's dingy. Paint flaking. Neo Death Eaters can't afford new gear? I remove it and flip it around to examine the snake eyed mask from the inside. There are smears of old, dried blood. An heirloom handed down from father to son would be reverently cleaned and restored.
"George is waiting," Bill says.
I tuck the mask beneath my arm and climb onto the bike. Ron stares at us enviously. I wave goodbye. He shows me the back of two fingers. I return the gesture. Ron grins from ear to ear.
"Stay alive, mate!" he says as the motorbike lifts into the air.
I give him the OK sign before Bill engages the Invisibility Booster and flies away.
However fast the bike goes isn't fast enough for me. I think I'm addicted to speed. I wonder if Ginny is too. It's easy to picture myself driving the motorbike with her chest pressed against my back, her hands sliding over my abs.
Bill says, "That better be Ginny's wand I'm feeling, Harry." He isn't yelling, but I hear him clearly: Amplifying Charm.
I glance down although we're invisible. We're not sitting that close.
"Ha! Made you look." His laughter makes me chuckle too: silently, of course. He sobers. "Seriously, mate. Stop thinking about my sister that way. I can smell the pheromones."
I concentrate on the hazy pinpricks of lights far below in case Bill isn't taking the mickey about smelling my desire for his sister. Once we stand together at our destination, the roof of a building, I use an Illumination Charm so he can read my lips. "Werewolf?"
"Fought one. He gave me a heightened sense of smell and craving for red meat along with the manly scars."
I nod. The scars are cool.
Bill casts a spell that makes a rooftop entrance appear. I follow him through the red and gold striped door. We go down two flights of stairs to reach a storeroom.
"Come on back," a gleeful voice shouts. "I'm sorting all the toys. It's like Christmas!"
Behind rows of stocked shelves, a wizard with red hair and brown eyes like Ginny stands behind a long table covered with a jumble of odd items. George Weasley, I presume. I pick up a black lace bra.
"Knockout Knickers. Ginny was going to wear them," George says.
I frown and lift a modified Sneakoscope from the table.
George winces. "Sorry about that, Harry. I tested it with everything but fireballs." A wistful smile plays across his face. "Those were Fred's specialty."
I put down the Sneakoscope and point to a group of what looks like bombs made out of dog turds.
George's face lights up. "Riot control Dungbombs! Works better than Muggle tear gas. Decided against selling them to magical law enforcement because I don't want to encounter one during a post-match Quidditch brawl, but I kept them for a shitty day. Pun intended."
A honking ringtone sounds. George digs into a pocket and pulls out a phone. After answering, he rolls his eyes and presses the speaker button.
Ginny's voice makes my heart skip a beat. "Mum and Dad insisted I stay overnight, so I had them move me to the Spell Damage ward." After a pause, she says, "The bed's big enough to share if we cuddle, Harry, so go finish the mission."
At the word "cuddle" I see Ginny snuggled next to me on a bed. We're naked. I can't wait to re-enact that moment and everything that led up to it.
A low growl rumbles from Bill's throat.
Ginny says, "A mediwitch is knocking on the washroom door. See you soon, love."
After ending the call, George tells us, "I'm sure she meant loves, plural, since I'm her favourite brother."
There's a loud beep. "Hermione sent a text," George says. He reads aloud, "Warrant acquired. Meet you there," and stuffs the phone back into his pocket. He grabs a rucksack off the table. "Time to load up," he says, picking up a Dungbomb. "Shit's getting real."
I inwardly copy Bill's vocal groan, yet I wouldn't be surprised if George was most people's favourite Weasley. He's funny. Just then, he glances over and winks at me as if he knows what I'm thinking.
"Anyone fill you in on what we're doing?" George asks.
I shrug and show him the mask. I've been piecing things together.
"Hardcore Harry," Bill says.
George sniggers. "I'm going to print that on t-shirts!"
I shake my head.
"I'll donate half the profits to charity." George hooks the rucksack over a shoulder.
"Give it up, Ginny's second favourite brother," Bill says as he passes us on the way to the storeroom door.
George shoots back as he follows, "Fine. I'll sell Billy No Mates shirts instead."
We return to the rooftop. Neither Weasley gets on the motorbike. They squabble about who should Apparate with me to the detached house in St. John's Wood.
I envision a brick mansion the registered owner shouldn't be able to afford.
582 sq. metres, three floors, separate staff quarters, fenced and gated. The facts swim up through the depths of hidden memory. I know the exact location of the home at the Avenue Road end of Regent's Park.
"Harry! Over here!"
A girl with a stubborn chin and brown hair pulled back into a low bun crouches behind the tall green hedge the neighbours undoubtedly planted to hide the stark iron fence from sight. She's wearing Ministry robes. I hurry over.
She hugs me. "Your memory came back!"
I shake my head, reconsider, and demonstrate "a little" by pinching air between a thumb and finger. I mouth, "Hermione?"
"Yes." When she smiles, it's weird to see straight teeth. For some reason, I'd expected her to have an overbite. I show her the mask and she says, "This is an original. Where did they get them?"
Rows and rows of banker's boxes on high-density shelving . . . .
I've seen the storage facility. The Property Office.
George and Bill Apparate next to us, out of view of the brick mansion.
"Good to see you, Hermione. Was it hard to get the warrant?" Bill asks.
"Not once I stated the numerous reasons searching the property is necessary and proportionate to the circumstances involved."
"Threatened him in legalise, did you?" George asks cheekily.
Hermione lifts her chin, "Damned right I did."
Bill and George chuckle.
She lifts a hand to smooth down her hair although it's sleek, not frizzy. "All right, we have the warrant. What's the plan?"
Only one comes to mind. I conjure a piece of chalk and kneel down to draw on the pavement. Target's house, side fence and hedge, x, arrows, and finally initials: two at the front and two at the back. I wipe away the initials.
Hermione says, "We use Disillusionment Charms, levitate over the side fence at the middle, and then Bill and George storm the front of the house while you and I sneak around back." Her eyes ask a silent question I answer by putting a finger on the x crossing out the rectangles representing French windows at the back of the house. Our target is there. She hands Bill the warrant.
George asks, "Billy No Mates and I are deputised, right, so no one can come after us later for damages?"
I write Bomb Away on the pavement.
"Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas," George sings as he digs through his rucksack.
"I'll stick to spells," Bill says when George tries to hand him a Dungbomb. "Like Bubble-Head Charms."
Good thinking. I glance at Hermione and lift my eyebrows.
She holds up her wand. "I'm ready."
In seconds, we're mostly invisible and levitating over the hedge and fence. Once our feet hit the ground, we split up.
"The doors are certain to be protected against Unlocking Charms," Hermione says. I glance at the slight blur to my right. Her voice lowers. "Anti-theft wards won't protect against a Blasting Curse."
Images of a monstrous green snake and a broken wand flicker through my mind. Did I break my wand trying to cast a Blasting Curse in the past? I certainly don't trust myself to attempt one in the present since my Disarming Charm sent a bloke through a windshield. I might blow up the house with Bill and George inside.
I put a hand out and touch fabric, groping a little. Thank Merlin what I'm feeling is Hermione's arm. Ron seems like the jealous type. I'm about to give what I hope is a reassuring squeeze when a different spell comes to mind. I stop, reach for her hand, and draw two letters on her palm.
"V . . . S . . . ." Almost instantly, she says, "Vanishing Spell. He won't know we're there until it's too late. Why didn't I think of that?"
I draw a G on her palm.
"His desire to blow things up is rather contagious." She sighs. "Oh well, perhaps next time."
I'm immobilised by the overwhelming conviction that I'll always have enemies, and my friends will never hesitate to fight by my side. The sound of a muffled explosion reaches us. It jolts me into running again.
"At least Dungbombs exploding should keep anyone in the library from noticing the French doors disappear," Hermione says beside me. I glance her way a few seconds later and there's no blurred air. She calls out, "I'm casting the spell. Don't slow down."
I keep running even when it looks like I'm going to crash through glass and wood. The French doors vanish and I'm inside the house, hurtling toward the hawk-faced wizard standing behind the desk, gripping his wand with a death grip as he stares toward the interior door. I could incapacitate him with a spell. Instead, I shove Ginny's wand into the pocket of my jeans, brace my left hand against the desktop, and use my momentum to jump across the desk. I kick the bastard's hand, cracking the wand and—by his scream—several bones. I land on my feet and start throwing punches to his body, to his face, left, right, left, left, right.
Even with his right hand out of commission, my opponent lands a decent left hook to my jaw. Aurors train to fight with and without the aid of magic. Still, he's middle-aged and a lightweight. If he'd beat the shit out of me earlier, he'd done it while I was unconscious. The bastard's also rubbish at wandless spells. I see him, but he can't see me step my right heel down while pivoting on my left foot, preparing to throw a knockout punch.
"Incarcerous!" Hermione rushes over to stand between me and her bound prisoner. "That's enough. He can't confess if you kill him, Harry." She places the Death Eater mask I'd dropped outside onto the desk.
I break the Disillusionment Charm. The bastard laughs mirthlessly. "They should change your name from The Boy Who Lived to The Bloke Who Won't Die."
Hermione rights the overturned desk chair and casts a silent Compulsion Charm because her prisoner sits down and doesn't object to her using a second Incarcerous Spell to bind him to the chair. She takes a Recordbrall out of a robe pocket and sets it on the desk. "My name is Hermione Granger, and I'm recording this interview."
"And it will adversely affect my defence if I bring up facts during trial that could have been shared during this interrogation," the prisoner says mockingly.
"Interview," Hermione replies. "State your name."
I know who he is. Former Auror, bodyguard for Minister Fudge, spy for Minister Scrimgeour. Arrested Muggle-borns and transported them to Azkaban for Minister Thicknesse. Charged with crimes against Muggle-borns after the war. Why isn't he rotting in Azkaban? I look to Hermione for the answer.
She says, "He used the Malfoy defence to avoid prison."
"I was under the Imperius Curse. I had to follow orders," Dawlish says tauntingly. His expression darkens. "They took my badge. My future. What did they think I would do? Devote my remaining years to good works?"
Hermione waves a hand toward the Death Eater mask on the desk. "Tell us about the Neo Death Eaters."
Dawlish widens his eyes in exaggerated surprise. "You're confusing me with Lucius Malfoy."
In an alley lit only by moonlight, a cloaked wizard with long ivory hair points his cane. "You of all wizards should know appearances are deceiving, Potter. The masks came from your people, not mine."
"I'm no wizard supremacist." Dawlish scoffs. "I don't give a toss who's running the Ministry."
"I believe you," Hermione says. "Neo Death Eaters don't exist. They're a ruse created to disguise the true motive for your crimes."
"Gold," I say hoarsely.
Hermione's head whips around.
"His inside man stole the masks from the Auror Property Office." My voice sounds like I've been drinking whiskey by the barrel all my life.
Dawlish licks his lips. It's the only sign of his nervousness. He says, "Inside persons. Don't be sexist. I have witches and wizards from every key department on my payroll."
"Get names," I tell Hermione. I turn to go.
"Fauntleroy Lockhart erased your memory," Dawlish jeers. "He's no Gilderoy, as you've noticed from the neurological voice problems, but he was cheap, and as a bonus he used irreversible spells."
Since I'm able to speak, Dawlish is talking out of his arse. I stalk from the room and meet Bill and George in the outer corridor. Their heads aren't encased in bubbles of fresh air. I take that as a good sign.
George claps me on the back. "You missed out on all the fun! I took out four wankers, and Bill got two."
"Dungbombs took out two of the guards," Bill says.
"Fred and I created those Dungbombs, so I at the least get half-credit, which still puts me one up."
"Younger brothers and their inferiority complexes," Bill says. "Everything's a competition." He glances past me. "Hermione's torturing information out of the bastard behind all this, I hope."
She's probably offering a deal, but I nod. One can hope.
"I'll help," George says. He pats the rucksack slung over his shoulder. "Some of my toys are perfect for the job."
I raise two thumbs up. It hurts less than talking.
"Smiling only encourages him, Harry," Bill says as George goes into the library. Then he grins. "I summoned help. Want to go outside and see who arrives first, ambulances or Aurors?"
The mansion's grand foyer is an odorous, brown stained monument to Weasley warfare. Bill points out the scorched walls, pillars turned into rubble and statues missing heads and limbs: his contributions. He and George have considerately dumped the bodies in need of medical attention on the front lawn.
Bill takes out his mobile phone and sends a text. "I told Ginny you're on your way," he says.
I shake his hand and clasp his forearm in wordless gratitude.
A trio of ambulances screech to a halt next to the kerb in front of the gate.
The Healers rushing out of St. Mungo's emergency entrance try to get me to lie down on a patient trolley. I shake my head and keep walking. There are plenty of signs to direct me to the Spell Damage Ward.
A mediwizard shows me to Ginny's room—my room, actually, since my girl has healed nicely, he says, while I'm still in need of care. He opens the door and Ginny turns from the dark window.
We meet in the middle.
The mediwizard coughs and says a Healer will be with me shortly, but I'm too busy kissing Ginny to acknowledge his words. When the door clicks shut, she presses closer, moving against me in a way that leads to naked cuddles on a bed.
"Not like this," I say between ravenous kisses. "I'm filthy."
Her smile is beautiful wickedness. "We'll shower." She pulls me into the bathroom. "I'm glad you have your voice back."
"It hurts," I admit.
She presses kisses to my throat while undressing me. "Only speak important words like 'more' and 'faster'." She turns on the shower.
"I love you," I say. I can't remember how Dawlish and his fake Death Eaters got the drop on me, or how my girl found and saved me, but I know how I feel.
She pulls her camisole over her head, glances at the bathroom door, and says, "Colloportus." A frisson of magic seals the door. "I love you, Harry," Ginny says. "And we love long, hot showers. Do you remember that?"
I reach for my girl. "I will."