A/N: The St. Mungo’s services for homeless people mentioned below actually exists. Yeah, you heard me. Check out the website at http://www.mungos.org/. I stumbled upon it while doing research for this chapter and just couldn’t leave it out! I have to admit that I don’t know the details about lines for their hostels, so I based that information on statistics from the States. I wouldn’t think it very far off, though. Enjoy!
The week started as most weeks did. That is, with a crash from above, muted shouting from below, and a thunderstorm of feet down the stairs past her door. Free rent notwithstanding, there were few advantages to living at number twelve, Grimmauld Place.
It seemed strange that the Order could go on living and working here, without...well. But Tonks (who insisted that, despite what her mother’s cousins thought, she would have been next in line for the house, at least according to Sirius’s will) had said that there was no better use for it. And it was comforting, in some way, that a house that had been a home to darkness and prejudice for so long could be transformed into a haven and shelter for those fighting for light. Even so, the lack of Harry’s presence seemed to make that light shine less brightly, seemed to diminish the hope of ever coming out of this war.
He’d never come back from that last battle at Hogwarts. Ron swore up and down that he’d given him a Portkey that was supposed to send him up to the Burrow for Mrs. Weasley to take care of. He’d been alone on the battlefield for two minutes, tops. But he’d never arrived at the Burrow. Hours turned into days turned into weeks. Soon it had been six months, seven months, eight, and no one had heard anything from him. Somehow, impossibly, he must have been taken. There was no other explanation.
Strange though it was, it wasn’t hard at first. She’d managed eight months without him; the idea of him being gone forever, while it wasn’t ideal, was at least fathomable. But time was passing, and instead of it getting easier, it just seemed to get harder and harder to go on living. Perhaps it was the little bit of hope that she’d still held as a shield against the grief. It was shrinking and shrinking; the smaller and thinner it got, the closer and closer the grief came to her heart.
Hope was hard to come by, these days. With Harry gone, Voldemort had grown stronger and had gathered more and more supporters. They still did not comprise a majority of the wizarding world (score one for the innate goodness of human kind!), but together they were powerful enough to control most of Britain. The Muggles were slowly beginning to take notice; not the way they notice a war amongst themselves, of course, but more the way a group starts to feel a rising panic that they can’t explain, as though each was worried for their own life and livelihood every day. Muggle news casts were blaming it on “this worrisome weather—has global warming started to effect England?”, “a rise in crime in London neighborhoods”, and even “increased activity among predators stealing livestock from our farms”. Day by day, Muggles were getting more and more nervous about something they could sense but couldn’t see or hear.
Throughout the Wizarding World the same question was asked, over and over again: “What do we do now that Harry Potter is gone?” It was rather maddening, in fact. Was he just a tool to them, a way to win the war? What would the lot of them (them, in this case, being a general term for anyone who hadn’t known him personally) have thought if they’d known that he’d disappeared...died...just for them and their own safety and security? That they had cost themselves their own weapon? What would they ask if they knew the person Harry had been to his friends, his family? The person he had been to her?
“What am I to do now Harry’s gone?” she asked herself quietly.
A loud rap came on the door. “Ginevra Weasley, if you don’t get that pretty little head downstairs in five minutes you can forget breakfast!”
“Yes, Mum!” she called out, swinging her legs off the bed and yanking on her dressing gown. “I’m coming!”
The wood floor was cold on her feet and she cursed Kreacher, who had become Tonks’s, -- and therefore the entire Order’s -- servant, after Harry’s disappearance, for not loading the stove on time. Ginny supported Hermione whole-heartedly in her pursuit for elf equality, but the fact remained that Kreacher had it good compared with his peers and certainly didn’t appreciate it at all. Making a mental note to speak gently to the house elf about the proper completion of his duties, she opened her door to face the day.
It was a mistake from the beginning. News had come of further attacks; Voldemort was growing closer and closer to London, bringing with him hordes of Death Eaters. Breakfast was a quiet, grim affair (or, at least as quiet as the old portrait of Mrs. Black would allow it to be). The twins, visiting from Diagon Alley, only brought reports of the dark attitude that reigned there. “No one comes into the store anymore,” Fred was saying as Ginny entered the kitchen and started loading her plate with sausages and toast.
“It’s as though no one wants to feel happy any more...there haven’t been any sightings lately, but you would think there was a horde of Dementors hanging about the place,” George added before biting into a particularly large sausage that squirted juice directly onto Ginny’s face. He grinned ruefully as she wiped it off. He looked tired and old; both of the twins did. “How’s our favorite little sister?”
“George, she’s our only little sister.” Fred swooped down and snatched up one of George’s remaining sausages, which he chewed while continuing “I thandth oo eeson ‘at thee’d be ow fav’wit.” Their mother tutted, as she cleared away the table and set the dishes to starting to wash in the sink.
“Very true, brother, very true,” George replied, winking at Ginny. “But think about it. What if we did have another little sister? I think that Ginny would still be our favorite.” He nudged her gently. “But you still need to tell us. How are you?”
Ginny shrugged. “How are any of us? I’m tired, sick of the war, scared for my life, and I miss Harry. I think that’s running about average.”
“That shouldn’t be average,” growled Fred. “We worry about you, Gin. We know that...well, things weren’t the way they should have been when Harry disappeared—”
“—died,” Ginny interrupted. “Fred, he died. That’s the only explanation that makes any sense at all, and I for one don’t want to get my hopes up just to have my heart broken again.” Her voice was rising; she was getting emotional and she hated getting emotional in front of her brothers. But she couldn’t stop herself. “I need to move forward. I need to get things done. We have a war to fight, to win. I can’t be distracted by the stupid hope that maybe the impossible will happen and he’ll come back and everyone will live happily ever after. That won’t happen. That can’t happen, because if it does it means that he’s been out there all this time letting us fight this war on our own and Harry wouldn’t do that.” She took a deep, shaky breath and continued. “Because then he’s not the Harry that I loved—that I love—damn it!” she exclaimed this last as her eyes flooded over. “I hate crying.”
Four arms – long, lanky, warm brother arms – enfolded her in a hug. As crazy as life with the twins could be, as life with six brothers could be, there were few that could compete for better brothers than hers. “Harry was a big, selfish prat,” George told her in his big brother voice that Ginny often found annoying, but which she now found comforting, “for not seeing that you wanted to be with him, no matter what the situation Voldemort was. I’ll give him one thing, though. He was a big selfish prat with good taste; he loved you, Gin.”
“—Nearly as much as we do,” Fred interjected.
“And he would have wanted you to be happy, in his own big, selfish prat sort of way.”
“—Nearly as much as we do.”
“And he would have known—”
“—Nearly as much as we do,”
“That the way you’d be happiest would be giving Lord You-Know-Whatsis hell. Lots of hell.”
“—Nearly as much as we do.” Fred ducked a swat from his twin.
“Would you stop that? Anyway, Gin, why don’t you run up stairs, get dressed, and come help plot more ways to rid the world of evil?”
Ginny nodded, wiped her nose on her sleeve, and disentangled herself from her brothers. “I’ll be down in ten minutes.”
Tom (at least, that was what he called himself), was an assistant bartender at the Laughing Muskrat on Charing Cross Road. He was no mere Muggle. Of course, he didn’t know that, though if he’d known enough to term anyone a Muggle, he would have known that he was long past Hogwarts’ years, and it was strange enough that anyone magical wouldn’t have attended some significant portion of Wizarding school by this point in his life.
Of course, he didn’t really know how old he was. The estimate was somewhere between 18 and 22, but that was a bit of a crapshoot, itself. He didn’t remember his birthday, nor anything, really, from more than eight months ago, when he woke up, sore as all hell, on the ground of a little town by the name of Ottery St. Catchpole. He’d had some sort of raggedy old cloak about him, which was a little strange, seeing as it was July and they certainly were not experiencing cloak-type weather. There’d been a coin in one of his hands that had the look of some old antique-type thing and a well-polished length of wood in the other that looked almost as though it was meant to be a music conductor’s baton. He remembered nothing of how he’d ended up in the middle of the road in such a dinky little town.
He first sought out medical help. Having no idea how he had managed to lose his memory, he thought it smart to make sure that there had been no other brain damage or other serious injury to go along with it.
The doctor, however, had nothing really to share with him about how he’d lost his memory. “You’re brain is behaving normally, as far as we can tell,” he was told. “There’s no damage, or even really evidence of any injury.”
So much for the helpfulness of the medical world, he thought.
There had been some point to going into the doctor, however. The soreness from his night on the ground hadn’t gone away and he’d developed a bit of a wheeze. When he’d asked the doctor about it, the suggestion was made that an x-ray might be helpful, seeing as he didn’t remember whether or not he might have been injured in any way. The results were rather surprising. “You’ve apparently had some broken ribs fairly recently—there is still some bruising around the break points, and that’s where you’re feeling the soreness. Perhaps you punctured a lung, as well? That would explain the wheezing. And, if I believed it, I’d tell you that it looks as though you broke your back fairly recently, as well; there’s a weak point just above your tailbone and the cartilage looks as though it’s just starting to re-grow. Frankly, I’m surprised that you managed to walk into the office.”
Deciding that the doctor must be a crack, he had also managed to walk out of the office just fine.
His next step was an investigation into his own identity. The doctor hadn’t known anything about it, something that didn’t add to the man’s rather scarce intelligence (though this judgment seemed unfair in retrospect). The man at the post office, who swore up and down that he knew everyone in town (and seemed to have a photograph on hand of every single one of them), hadn’t recognized him, and, since he doubted that he lived the life of a total hermit, he had made the decision that the town held no more clues for him and had caught the first bus to London (having first begged his fare off a kind old lady at the station, who had tutted him and gave him a half hour lecture about working for one’s living before bestowing her gift with a large grin).
Once in London he’d checked in about his housing options. A quick glance in a phonebook had given him the name of a “St. Mungo’s homeless agency”, whose number he called immediately. He had felt a strange sort of connection to the name, strangely enough, and hoped that this connection would give him some sort of clue. This was not the case. Rather, he had been told to get in line at one of the local hostels, and that it was usually necessary to be lined up prior to noon in order to get a bed.
He had decided to try his luck elsewhere. Mentally vowing that if he found himself rich – upon either getting his memory back or finding out that he was a stock market genius – he would send a large portion of money to the state specifically for more homeless shelters, he had sat down on a park bench to think about his situation.
Instead he had thought about the events that had just passed.
There were two names that he had remembered upon waking up, and it is upon these two names that he had clung, hoping they would bring him to some sort of evidence of his own life. These two names were “Ginny” and “Tom”. Assuming that his name was not Ginny (which, he knew, was assuming a lot), he had decided that his own name must be Tom. It hadn’t seemed to fit him very well, but, then, that had seemed a poor reason not to take it: he was sure that there were many people out there whose names did not fit them at all.
The name Ginny had caused him more pause. Who could this mystery girl/woman be? A girlfriend? A sister? Mother, daughter, wife, aunt, grandmother? Secret crush or arch enemy? Somehow, whoever she was, she seemed to hold the key to his existence. Why else, after all, would he remember her name?
Existence notwithstanding, he had still needed a place to sleep. It had just about reached four o’clock when inspiration had struck him like a swinging polecat: he had no money, but he was pretty sure he was capable of doing dishes. Few innkeepers could turn down the prospect of free labor for a cot in the corner of the kitchen, could they? Some may even be bothered to provide him a whole room, if they didn’t have too long a reservation line.
He couldn’t have been sure why, but he had first been drawn to Charing Cross Road. He had decided eventually that he must be, in some measure, a lover of books, because there didn’t seem to be any other reason for him to desire to be in that particular part of London. He had been lucky; not the first, but the second inn he tried had a keeper who was willing to give him a corner cot for a few good hours of moping and scrubbing. Tom supposed it was because the tables in this particular pub seemed about twenty times stickier that those in your average establishment and the keeper didn’t want to do it himself.
To make a long story short, he had proven himself a worthy employee and had soon earned a position as assistant barkeep. While not a high paying position, it provided him with two meals a day in the pub, and a room in a shed out the back of the inn; his boss had insinuated that it had been servant’s quarters in the old days and it might as well serve the purpose again. Nightly tips were enough that he could afford to modestly furnish the three room apartment: bedroom, bath, and a sort of half-kitchen that had come with cupboards, a rusty sink, and an ancient stove that Tom didn’t trust not to burn the shed down. Which was fine enough with him as he ate all his meals in the pub—no need to invest in dishes or cooking classes.
Did he spend any of this time looking for his past, you ask. No. By this time he had established himself so well at the pub that he adopted a rather laid back attitude about the whole thing. If his past wanted to find him, fine. Pasts tend to do so, anyway, and he’d rather stay in one place while it looked for him.