WOGW: Chapter Five: Mum’s The Word

“It was him, Ginny, you were right,” Keddle said shakily several minutes later when they were finally alone in the sitting room. Ginny had asked Fred and George to put James to bed, and sent Hugh to make tea.

The victorious feeling Ginny thought she would have felt at being right didn’t come. Instead she was worried about the circumstance that had brought Keddle to her flat on Christmas, and how she had got through the security spells. Very few people knew where Ginny lived, and the only person from the Harpies who did was Jordana. It was unlikely that Jordana would have instructed Keddle to come here without first consulting Ginny. Another troubling fact was that Keddle had shown up at the door with Hugh. They’d obviously spent some time together, but how much? What might Keddle have let slip about the magical world in her overwrought state? And what might Hugh have said in return?

“What happened?” Ginny asked, trying to ignore the questions that were making her head spin. Keddle was obviously distressed, and Ginny needed to focus on that right now. The other questions could wait.

“He was in my flat again.” Her voice was steady, but weak, and Ginny guessed that Keddle wasn’t going to be able to hold it together for much longer. “He set off the sensors that Tougas and Rossi placed there, but he was too quick for them. By the time they got there he was gone.”

Ginny felt her frustration increase. She had hoped that Keddle was going to tell her that Tougas and Rossi had caught the maniac and were carting him off to Azkaban as they spoke and wanted Keddle to stay here while they finished their investigation of her flat. The fact that he had slipped through their clutches again did nothing to bolster her already tenuous faith in the Auror office.

“I don’t even what to think what would have happened if I had been home. I did decide to go to my brother’s after all, but I couldn’t take his ‘perfect’ wife and so I left early. I was just coming home when he . . . when we literally ran into each other.”

She stopped talking as Hugh entered the room with tea. After setting the tray on the table he perched on the arm of the sofa closest to Ginny, who was annoyed by his presumption and the way Keddle looked from one to the other questioningly.

Ginny knew perfectly well that Hugh had stayed and had agreed to make the tea because he was waiting for an opportunity to talk about what had happened the previous night. He’d held his tongue so far, but she knew it was only a matter of time, and made her unwilling to be alone with him tonight. She didn’t want to tell him she wasn’t ready to start anything. That could wait until after the holidays.

Keddle clutched her cup of tea in her hands and alternated between lifting it to her lips and glancing at Hugh. She had become mute, obviously unwilling to say anything else in his presence. Ginny didn’t press the matter, allowing Keddle some time to collect herself before she continued, She also hoped that Hugh would take the hint and leave, but he just continued to sip his tea, apparently quite at his ease. At least he was doing until the silence was shattered by a noise from James’s room.

“What now?” Ginny muttered under her breath, hastily setting her tea cup down and splashing a good deal of the contents onto the coffee table. Ignoring this, she hurried out of the room, wondering for what felt like the millionth time if she had misplaced her trust in her brothers.

She met Fred and George coming out of the room with James who was in his pajamas, but still awake, and very cranky. The minute he saw Ginny, he stretched out his arms. She took him from Fred. James immediately lay his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes.

“I thought I asked you to put him to sleep?” she said testily to her brothers, who for a reason best known to them, were grinning.

“We were doing, but he wasn’t ready to,” Fred replied.

“he wouldn’t be, would he, if you keep playing with him.”

“We weren’t, Ginny, honest,” George replied. “We were just waiting to make sure he fell asleep, when it happened.”

“What happened?” Ginny immediately began to examine James for signs of illness or injury.

“He’s fine,” Fred said, nettled. “He didn’t hurt himself, he just said his first word.”

“Oh good,” Ginny said, not really listening as she continued her examination to make sure that James was indeed fine. “As long as you two weren’t up to your usual tricks.”

“No, no Ginny,” George said, putting a hand on her shoulder to get her attention. “He said his first word.”

“Don’t be stupid, he’s too young for that.” Even as she said it though, Ginny looked at her son in amazement. James was also too young to be performing magic, yet he had done that yesterday. She felt a lump forming in her throat and swallowed it painfully. “What did he say?”

“Mum,” Fred and George chorused.

“He did not?”

“Did, too.”

“You’re full of surprises, Jay,” she said, kissing the top of his head. He shifted in his sleep but didn’t stir.

“He does look exactly like Harry,” Keddle said, leaning over the arm of the sofa to peer around the corner. Her simple statement had a profound effect on the mood of the room. Fred and George’s expressions became fixed, Hugh had crossed his arms and was scowling, an expression Ginny was sure hadn’t been there a moment earlier.

“Yeah,” Ginny said, her voice further constricted by the apprehension the mention of Harry’s name had caused. She hurriedly made her excuses and headed for James’s room. He didn’t wake, or even stir as she laid him in his crib, but she still stayed there for several minutes, ensuring that she had fully regained her composure.

When she returned to the sitting room it was to find that the tense atmosphere had not dissipated. Fred, George and Hugh were standing with their arms folded, staring in opposite directions. Keddle had got a wash cloth from the kitchen and was cleaning up the spilled tea.

“You don’t have to do that, Eva,” Ginny said, hurrying over.

“I don’t mind. I find it helps to take my mind off things if I have something to do,” Keddle replied, surreptitiously glancing at the three men.

“Thanks.”

Feeling as though she hadn’t slept in a week, Ginny sat down on the sofa, put her head back, closed her eyes and yawned widely. Her bed had never seemed more inviting, but she knew it would be some time before she could crawl into it.

“D’you want us to stay?” George asked.

“Why would I want you to stay?” Ginny didn’t bother to open her eyes. “Nothing happened here! And in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t really have the room.”

Fred and George had to concede the point. One extra person could potentially sleep on the sofa, but there simply was not room for three extra bodies.

“All right, but don’t do anything stupid, or mum will murder us,” Fred replied. He and George had taken the hint to leave, because they were already making their way to the door, not so subtly urging Hugh to do the same. He hung back though.

“I won’t stay long,” he said, more to Fred and George than to Ginny. She rather hoped they would press the point, but they merely shrugged and said their good nights.

“I need to get back to Keddle,” Ginny said, holding the door open long after Fred and George disappeared down the stairs. “And I didn’t get much sleep last night, so . . . ”

“So you’re just going to push me out the door without talking bout what happened last night?”

“Nothing happened last night!” Ginny said impatiently, disliking his tone.

Hugh stared at her angrily for a moment, before amending his question. “Fine, what almost happened last night then?”

“I don’t have time to debate semantics with you, Hugh.” Ginny placed a hand on his chest and pushed him out into the hall. “We’ll talk another time, OK?”

Hugh didn’t look pleased and Ginny expected him to debate her, but he turned around and plodded up the stairs with slumped shoulders. It was such a defeated posture that Ginny almost called him back. Almost. She had to remind herself that Keddle’s needs were much more pressing.

“He’s a Muggle?” Keddle asked the minute Ginny reappeared in the sitting room.

“He is,” Ginny said, reminded of her earlier worry about what Keddle might have said to him before she discovered this.

“I figured as much when he didn’t know all about Harry.”

“What do you mean? What did you say?”

“Nothing. It’s just . . . You weren’t here when Tougas dropped me off so I waited outside your door. Hugh got here first and when he saw how upset I was he offered to let me wait in his flat. I was just telling him how bad I felt for imposing on you after everything that you and Harry had been through. When he didn’t know what I meant I knew he must be a Muggle. I just told him to ask you about everything.”

“Oh . . . Thanks,” Ginny muttered, feeling ashamed of her outburst.

“is there something going on with you two?” The slight smile on her face was so reminiscent of the old Keddle that Ginny couldn’t help but return it, but she seized her advantage to turn talk away from herself.

“Weren’t we talking about what happened to you? You said you ran into the stalker. How did you get away?”

The smile and the colour on Keddle’s face vanished almost at once.

“If I’d kept my head we probably could have caught him, but I was thinking about the family dinner. I didn’t even notice him, but he noticed me. He was running, probably from Tougas and Rossi, but he – he grabbed me. I didn’t have time to reach for my wand or anything.” She shivered, and wrapped her arms around herself protectively. “He tried to Disapparate but wasn’t able to.”

“Then the protections do work, somewhat,” Ginny said. “He was surprised by your appearance, I guess?”

Keddle shrugged.

“That’s what I was thinking while I was waiting for you. Like I said before, going to my brother’s was a last minute thing. I think he thought that I was going to be home, and . . . and then he could have taken me quickly before Tougas and Rossi showed up . . . ” Her voice shook as she said these last words. She’d held it together fairly well, but recalling it now was obviously costing her a great deal.

“It’s OK, Eva,” Ginny said, patting her hand. “If you don’t want to talk about it anymore -”

“I don’t think it was more than a minute, from when he grabbed me to when I got free, Ginny, but it was the longest minute of my life. I fought him hard as I could, more than I’ve ever done in my life because I knew . . . I could see this feral . . . This leering look.” She tightened her arms across her chest, turning slightly green.

Ginny nodded in understanding. She knew all too well what sort of look Keddle was talking about: a piercing stare that made the skin crawl. She’d recently seen traces of that look when she’d encountered the man on her first day back at the stadium, but she had much more personal experience with that sort of look, and what it led to courtesy of Harry’s cousin.

“Now that they know what he looks like, hopefully they’ll be able to catch him,” she said through clenched teeth, having to remind herself how to breathe.

“Tougas brought me here while they add some additional security spells to my flat. I said we should ask you first, I don’t want to intrude, but he -”

“It’s the smartest thing he’s done in a while.”

“But you just said you don’t really have the room. And there’s a madman after me. I don’t want to make it more dangerous for you and James.”

“This flat is probably the best protected place in all of London,” Ginny explained. “I don’t think he’ll find you here. And if he does . . . Well, let’s just say that I owe him one. Besides, Eva, you forget that I’m used to living with people who have madmen after them. I insist that you stay here until they arrest that maniac.”

* * *

By Valentine’s Day, however, Ginny regretted her insistence on having Keddle stay. It wasn’t that she was demanding. Quite the contrary, she was beyond helpful and more than willing to pull her weight, but certain idiosyncrasies that had been amusing when they were sharing a changing room because irksome or annoying when having to deal with them on a daily basis. For instance, the flat had never been better organized, but it came at the cost of a long lecture if even the slightest thing was out of place, a difficult thing to avoid with a baby.

At times Ginny was on the verge of rescinding her invitation, but it seemed that whenever she started to, something would happen to reinforce her original decision. The stalker, it seemed, was getting desperate. He hadn’t yet found out where Keddle was staying, but that didn’t dissuade him in the least. His inability to intrude on her at home had made him double his efforts at the Quidditch Stadium. Almost daily there was some sign that he’d been there: more deadly plant-life, candies that contained dangerous poisons, or envelopes containing curses.

“We’re getting close to finding out who it is,” Rossi told Keddle in a reassuring sort of voice the morning of their first match.

Keddle didn’t seem convinced, and Ginny didn’t blame her. They’d been on the case for two and a half months and didn’t even have a name? That was pathetic, especially given all the evidence he was leaving behind.

“You need to get that maniac behind bars,” Ginny asked, putting an arm around Keddle’s shoulders.

“Well . . . The thing is that he seems to have gone underground. We’ve reinforced our spells though,” Rossi explained.

“Not helping,” Ginny said, feeling Keddle start to shake as she looked over at the latest gift: a large teddy bear that they had already determined was infused with a sleeping draught that was released if the bear was squeezed. “We’ve already had to change venues because of this.”

“We’re doing the best we can,” Rossi said, scratching the back of his neck, obviously uncomfortable. “We’ve got this whole place covered in protective spells, so if he’s stupid enough to try to get in here, we’ll get him.”

Ginny was doubtful of Rossi’s certainty, because the stalker had been getting around their security spells for several months now, and they were at a decided disadvantage playing in the Tutshill Tornados stadium rather than their own. She was prevented from pressing the matter when someone shouted her name. She jumped up, only to realize that it was Jordana.

“They’re finally here.”

“Oh.” Ginny spent a few seconds dithering about what to do with Keddle. She didn’t think that it was wise for her teammate to be left alone. If the stalker had somehow managed to get past the security spells again then Keddle would be a sitting duck, but Ron and Hermione had just arrived with James and she wanted to say a quick hello before the match started.

“Go on, we’ve only got a few minutes,” Jordana said. She looked drawn. This whole situation had been difficult on the whole team. “I’ll stay with her.”

Ginny thanked her and hurried out in the corridor, which contained the usual last minute stragglers. Most of them were in too much of a rush, trying to get to their seats to pay any attention to a young couple with a child.

“I thought you’d never get here,” Ginny said, stretching out her arms to take him from Ron.

“Mum,” James said, holding out his arms. Ginny gave him a kiss on the forehead. She hadn’t yet tired of hearing him say the word.

“Was it your fault that they were late?” she asked him.

“No, we . . . just got a slow start,” Ron said, glancing nervously at Hermione, who was maintaining her silence, and looked hacked off about something. Ginny opened her mouth to ask what it was, but the door to the changing rooms opened.

“Weasley, come on. Kick off’s in ten minutes,” Gwenog called.

“Coming,” Ginny replied, still watching Ron and Hermione. There was something serious going on with them, something more than the strain of too many long hours at work. She wanted to address it now, but Gwenog was waiting, and people walking by were starting to recognize her. A man in a corduroy suit glanced at them as he passed, walking just behind a squat woman pushing a pram. Both of them glanced at Ginny before moving on. “You should go get your seats before someone sees you here.”

“Good luck,” Hermione said, immediately walking away.

“Show the Tornadoes who’s boss,” Ron added and turned to follow Hermione.

“Dada,” James said loudly.

This simple word made Ginny’s heart skip several beats. She spun around in slow motion, first to see if anyone had noticed, and then as though she was expecting to see Harry standing behind her. He wasn’t there, of course, but James’s shout had caught the attention of several latecomers, including the pram-pusher and the man in the horrible brown suit, The latter reached in his pocket, and Ginny was seized with the horrible idea that he was some sort of reporter,. She hissed her suspicion to Ron,

“Clear off,” he said fiercely. He was much taller than the weedy little man, who sized him up and after only a split second withdrew his hand from his jacket and walked away. Hermione had pulled out her wand, but she hastily slid it back into her pocket when the man retreated.

“Come on, let’s go,” she said, taking Ron by the arm and leading him away. She didn’t even glance back at Ginny, proving that there was definitely something wrong. Ginny considered again going after them and demanding to know what was wrong, but that would have to wait for another time.

It was hard to sit through the pre-match speech Jordana was giving. Her mind kept wanting to focus on other things, like Ron and Hermione, and if she had made the right decision in agreeing to let them bring James to the match. He’d already caught the attention of one reporter, what if he told others and there was a mob scene in the stands? If he got hurt because she’d made a bad decision . . .

It was Keddle who once again forced Ginny to think of something other than her own problems. They were sitting side by side on the bench. Keddle was gripping the edge of the bench tightly, and she looked slightly green. She looked worse than she had done a few minutes earlier.

“What’s the matter?” Ginny asked, talking out of the corner of her mouth so as not to interrupt Jordana’s pep talk.

“Just a little under the weather, is all,” Keddle replied. It was a bald faced lie, and one that wasn’t very convincing. Ginny opened her mouth to say something else but Kedle had gone back to listening, or pretending to listen, to Jordana.

Minutes later they were walking out onto the pitch amid the screams and shouts of nearly fifteen thousand. As they faced the Tornadoes, Ginny took the opportunity to scan the stands. She could just make out Ron and Hermione sitting with the rest of the family. Lupin and Tonks were there as well, the latter unmistakable because of her bubblegum pink hair. It made her feel better to see so many people there because it meant that James was safe.

Ginny caught one last glimpse of Keddle before the referee blew his whistle. She wondered if the latter was going to pass out, and it it mightn’t be better to postpone the start of the game, but then the whistle blew and the Quaffle was released, and she didn’t have time to think of anything else.

She lunged for the Quaffle, but was knocked out of the way by Bole, one of the Chasers from the Tornadoes. He tucked the red ball under his arm and sped off towards the goal. Ginny followed him, determined to get possession of the ball. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Howard aim a Bludger at him. He dropped lower to avoid it, but his attention was diverted by the maneuver and Ginny zoomed in and snatched the Quaffle. By the time he realized that it was gone she had already passed it along to Gwenog, who had passed to King. They were streaking up the pitch and closing in on the Tornados’s goals.

“The first point goes to the Harpies,” called the announcer happily over the roar of the crowd. Ginny joined in, cheering Gwenog’s excellent Chasing abilities.

There wasn’t much time for celebration, however. Fleurry, one of the other Tornadoes Chasers had caught the Quaffle and was speeding down the pitch. Ginny ducked a Bludger aimed at her, nearly colliding with Howard as she did so, losing valuable time in the process.

“And the Tornados get even with a goal of their own,” the announcer yelled so that he could be heard over the cheers from the Tornadoes supporters. “It’s ten – ten and Harpies Chaser Weasley is in possession.”

The time Ginny had lost in dodging the Bludger worked out to her benefit. She was lagging behind everyone else, and was free when Gwenog caught the Quaffle after it went through their hoops. She threw it to Ginny, who immediately took advantage of her clear field and shot towards the other goals. They needed an early lead.

She might not have made the goal if another Bludger hadn’t been sent her way in advance of the approaching Tornados Chasers. It grazed her ear and headed straight for the Keeper, who swerved just enough that his left hoop was free. Wasting no time, Ginny threw as hard as she could. A second later someone crashed into her and sent her careening towards the goal hoops. She only just managed to avoid crashing into the Keeper. She didn’t know if her shot had made it in until the referee blew his whistle and called for a penalty shot.

“Get this in, and we’ll be thirty-ten,” Gwenog said, patting Ginny hard on the shoulder.

After a minute of sizing up the Keeper, Ginny was able to do just that. The Harpies supporters let out a very loud collective shout of appreciation. She waved at them in acknowledgement before returning to the game.

The Tornados were not used to losing the lead so early, and they spent the next ten minutes trying every move known in Quidditch to get the Quaffle through the Harpies hoops, but Dylan was equal to them, making some amazing saves that could easily wind up in the next edition of Quidditch Quarterly. And while she was pulling off those amazing goal keeping tactics, Ginny, Gwenog and King were able to score four more goals.

Gwenog had the Quaffle again was was heading up the pitch for another attempt at a goal when Kovacs, the Tornados’ Seeker, cut across her path, nearly knocking Gweong out of the air. Before they had a chance to call foul, however, he had joined his teammates in mid-air, his arm held up in triumph.

“He caught the snitch,” King said, flying up to join Ginny and Gwenog. “Keddle didn’t even go for it. She was on the opposite end of the pitch. Look.”

Keddle was hovering below the Tornados’ goal. She didn’t seem aware that the game had ended.

Gwnog swore and threw the Quaffle to the ground..

“I know she’s got some nutter after her,” she said, “but she swore that it wouldn’t affect her performance. She swore!” And she flew off before King or Ginny could say anything.

Groans and unhappy shouts characterized the noise of the audience when they saw the final score: Tornados: 160, Harpies 70.

“The match is over,” Ginny said to Keddle, flying over to her. “We’re heading back to the changing rooms.”

“OK,” Keddle replied placidly, and she followed Ginny without question.

Their plans for retreating to the changing rooms were impeded the moment they landed. They immediately surrounded, first by the rest of their team, and then by the Tornados, and finally by the largest ever number of reporters.

“Let’s just try and get past them,” Ginny shouted so that she could be heard over all the noise. Keddle nodded, her eyes out of focus. Had she been hit with some sort of spell? People were pressing in on all sides, and the noise and blinding flashes of light were starting to make Ginny’s head hurt. She knew the only chance of finding out what was wrong with Keddle was to get off the pitch.

By pushing hard against the swell of the crowd, and using her broom as a prod when that didn’t work, Ginny was able to negotiate a path. As they drew nearer the changing rooms, Ginny dared to hope that they wouldn’t be stopped. Almost the second she thought this someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around to tell them to shove off and found herself staring at a man not much taller than she was, with mousy brown hair and a squirrelly face.

“You’re a lot shorter than I thought you’d be,” she said before she could stop herself.

“And you’re a lot tougher than I gave you credit for,” Declan Fohn replied, holding out his hand to avoid being smacked in the face by Ginny’s broom. “That was some excellent flying today, Miss Weasley. We haven’t been properly introduced, of course, bout you obviously recognized me.”

He held out his hand, wearing an oily smile.

Ginny didn’t take it.

“I know far more about you than I care to,” she said, checking to make sure she and Keddle hadn’t been separated. “I don’t have time for want-to-be Death Eaters.”

“Death Eater? No. We have a difference of opinion, I see. I think it’s a matter we need to discuss in a less boisterous environment, like over drinks.”

Realizing that she had lost Keddle, Ginny didn’t immediately register what Fohn said. She was frantically scanning the crowd, hoping that Keddle hadn’t gone too far.

“What can you possibly think we have to discuss?” she asked, laughing incredulously. “I don’t agree with your politics, and I certainly don’t appreciate your insinuations – ”

“A great many things to talk about then,” Fohn said, his smile increasing again. “It would be a great opportunity to correct any misconceptions. I pride myself on having all the facts.”

“Really? Then can you tell me where my Seeker went?”

Looking only slightly crestfallen, Fohn pointed at the changing rooms. They were at a considerable distance and it seemed unlikely that Keddle could have covered that distance in such a short amount of time. Ginny spent a moment or two scanning the crowd for Keddle’s golden hair, but it wasn’t there. Spotting the reporter in the corduroy suit, Ginny decided Fohn must have been right after all, and she hurried to the changing rooms, keen not to give the reporter time to start asking questions.

The noise of the crowd outside was muffled enough in the changing rooms that Ginny could almost hear herself think. Pulling the rubber band out of her hair, she started to call for Keddle, but decided against it; she wasn’t sure that the daze Keddle had been in had lifted yet. It was best just to look for her.

Keddle was there, her back against the lockers, all trace of her inexplicable trance gone. She didn’t notice Ginny because she was watching with wide-eyed fright as a man bore down on her, his wand held tightly at his side. He had is back to Ginny, but she knew at once that this was the stalker.

Moving as quickly and quietly as she could, Ginny pulled out her wand and took careful aim at his back. If she aimed carefully she could knock him out, but if she missed then all bets were off.

“Stupefy,” she cried.

Her spell just missed. It ricocheted off the locker and flew into a tapestry of the Tornados latest league victory, ripping it to shreds. As the tattered remnants of the blue tapestry fell like rain, the stalker turned. This was the man she had seen on her first day back with the Harpies, the very one who had tried to attack her as she left that night, but the jagged scar that marred his otherwise handsome face was gone, replaced by an equally grotesque, lascivious expression.

“You’re a troublemaker.” He spoke in the gravelly voice she recognized from that night. “I don’t want any trouble. I’ve spent too much time and effort to get here to have this end with trouble.”

“Drop your wand, then, and let the Aurors take you quietly,” Ginny said, letting her broom fall to the floor as she redoubled the grip on her wand. She hoped that Tougas and Rossi would come bursting in here any moment. They had set up security spells to detect just this sort of thing.

“Evangeline and I will be long gone before they show up,” he said, confidently, reading Ginny’s thoughts. “Their protections were weak. They detect concealment and disguise, and as you see I have shed mine for this happy occasion.”

He retreated to stand beside Keddle, running his finger down her cheek. He whispered something to her that Ginny couldn’t hear, but whatever he said made Keddle flinch. He ignored this, fishing around in his pocket for something.

“Don’t touch her!” Ginny’s voice was amplified by the cement walls. It startled Keddle, who tried to retreat, but was prevented doing so by the Full Body Bind curse that he cast upon her.

“Let me deal with her and then we’ll have all the time in the world,” he said, a loving caress in his voice. He jerked his thumb in Ginny’s direction as he addressed Keddle.

Ginny took advantage of his momentary distraction to aim another Stunning spell. He deflected this one, and it hit the door of the changing rooms with a loud bang like that of a firecracker.

The noise made both Ginny and the madman pause, but he recovered first. Obviously realizing that such a noise would not go unnoticed, he seized Keddle’s around the waist and started heading for the door. Immobilized, there was nothing she could do to resist.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Ginny said, blocking the exit, her wand raised. She had a decided advantage, because his wand was in the hand he was using to carry Keddle. She raised her wand to perform a Stunning spell that couldn’t miss, but as she did he raised his left hand. Ginny had the briefest glimpse of a tiny vial before some sort of ghastly looking potion flew at her. She dodged the majority of it, smashing into the wall dropping her wand as she felt a burning sensation on her neck and a hissing sound in her ears.

It looked for a moment like the stalker’s plan had worked, and he was going to be able to abduct Keddle, but Ginny, remembering clearly that look in his eyes, launched herself at him. She grabbed his robes and slowed his progress enough that he hadn’t yet reached the door when it flew open.

Tougas and Rossi ran in just ahead of a whole crowd. Behind them were members from the two Quidditch teams and most of the reporters that had accosted the teams on the pitch.

“Stupefy,” both Aurors roared, and their spells hit the stalker in the face. He toppled over backwards, releasing Keddle and knocking Ginny down with him.

As she struggled to free herself, she could make out the sounds of someone, Tougas she thought, freeing Keddle from the Body Bind Curse, The murmurs of voices in the corridor were undoubtedly passing along details of the scene to those who couldn’t see.

“Here.” Tougas held out his hand to help Ginny to her feet.

“Thanks,” she said, looking down at the Stunned man lying prone on the floor. She had a sudden urge to kick him, hard, but was prevented doing so when something flew at her. It was Keddle.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said, tears spilling down her cheeks as she hugged Ginny tightly. “I thought that he was going to . . . That he would get away . . . Thank you.”

Ginny felt like she was suffocating under the weight of Keddle’s tight embrace, and what was more her neck was starting to throb

“Eva, can you -”

“Oh my God,” Keddle said loudly, pulling back on her own.

Her exclamation caught the attention of everyone in the vicinity, the closest of whom was Tougas. He paused in the act of propping his newly bound prisoner against a locker to look at Ginny and Keddle. His expression didn’t change much.

“Rossi, get Adrasteia,” he barked, coming over as Keddle took several steps back.

“What?” Ginny asked, feeling self-conscious because everyone was staring at her. She reached up to rub her neck and felt something sticky there. Holding her fingers up to her face, she expected to see blood, but what she saw was a grayish pasty substance.

“Some of the potion must have hit you,” Keddle said, slightly hysterically.

“What potion?” Tougas barked, making Keddle jump. “What the hell happened here?”

“Stop shouting, damn it,” Ginny said, staring at the strangely dead looking substance with a detached expression. “We’re getting to what happened.”

Both Tougas and Keddle looked at her like she was crazy, but Ginny felt perfectly fine. She was a little woozy, and a bit colder than she had been a few minutes ago, but knew that was just shock. She’d be fine in a few minutes.

Keddle started to tell Tougas what had happened. She, too, seemed to be in shock, because her voice was getting louder and softer, like a poorly tuned wireless . . .

” . . . Not as bad as it looks, as long as someone’s got Essence of Dittany.”

“There’s some in my bag,” Ginny said thickly. It sounded like both voices were coming from a very long way off. She heard Adrasteia use a summoning charm and next second felt a burning sensation on her neck worse than the first. It was this feeling that roused her from the stupor she’d sunk into.

“If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. Don’t -”

” – Leave home without Dittany,” Ginny finished. She blinked a few times. THe room seemed overly bright and it took a moment to see that she was lying on one of the benches. People were packed into the room, including every member of her family who had been at the game. Ginny automatically reached up to feel her neck, but Adrasteia pushed her hand away.

“It’s going to take a few days to fully heal because it got into your system a bit, but if you keep applying the Dittany you’ll be fine.”

“Got into her system?” Molly asked, sounding scared and nervous. “What does that mean?”

“The potion that he used acts sort of like an infection,” Adrasteia explained as she applied a bandage to Ginny’s neck. “So we have to keep applying the Dittany to make sure it doesn’t spread. It’s nasty, but minimally dangerous if caught early as this has been. It also scorched several inches of your hair, Ginny, so I’ve had to cut that for good measure. We don’t want to take any chances.”

“No,” Ginny agreed, feeling her hair. It was at least six inches shorter than it had been that morning. it was shorter than she could ever remember it being. James wouldn’t like that. Panic-stricken, she sat up quickly, feeling her head spin. “Where’s James?”

“He’s here, and he’s fine,” Ron said from the back of the crowd, holding James high over the heads of the others so Ginny could see for herself. “D’you want him?”

“I’m sorry, Ginny. I’m so sorry,” Keddle cried before Ginny could answer Ron. “None of this would have happened if I hadn’t -”

“I’m fine, Eva, really,” Ginny replied, feeling relieved that everyone was OK. “At least you don’t have to worry about that nutter anymore. You do still have him, right?” she asked Tougas.

“Course we do,” he said in his usual impatient manner. “You just had to interfere again, didn’t you?”

“Interfere?” Ginny jumped to her feet. “You should be thanking me for not having to deal with another missing person. We all know how good you are at solving those cases!”

“If she hadn’t acted, I’d probably be dead, or worse now,” Keddle said, standing beside Ginny.

Looking livid, Tougas turned his back, muttering under his breath. Ginny felt at that moment like she could hex him. She reached in her pocket for her wand, but it wasn’t there. Then she remembered that she had dropped it by the door when she had hit the wall. Looking in that direction she saw that someone had picked it up: Declan Fohn.

“How did he get in here?” she hissed to Keddle.

“Who?” Keddle asked, following Ginny’s gaze. When she spotted Fohn she gripped Ginny’s arm tightly. “Who is that?”

“A ferret,” Ginny replied through gritted teeth. She wouldn’t put it past him to have bought his way in. She marched over to him, holding out her hand. “Are you going to take a page from this creep’s book -” She jerked her thumb at the stalker ” – and start stalking me now?”

“Not at all. I merely wanted to return your wand, and ask that you reconsider my invitation.”

“No.”

“I’m not asking you on a date, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Fohn said, his greasy smile in place again. “Merely an opportunity to further discuss our differences of opinion.”

“There’s nothing to discuss. My wand please?”

“How about lunch, then? Tuesday?” he asked as he handed over her wand.

“If you’re hoping on gaining more supporters by appearing to befriend me, you’re sadly deluded, Mr. Fohn.”

“No, no, nothing like that. Wednesday?”

“You’re not going to drop this are you?”

“No, and I can be very persistent,” Fohn replied, continuing to wear his horrible smile.

“Merlin,” Ginny replied. Then, knowing she would regret it, she relented, “Fine. The Leaky Cauldron, noon on Tuesday. I’ll give you thirty minutes.”

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