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Chapter 7 : Chapter 7: The Search Begins
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“Harry,” Hermione’s voice interrupted his musings, “this is our stop. Come on.”
“Right,” Harry muttered and rose to follow. He tried his best to disregard his sore muscles. He wasn’t sleeping well and despite trying to clear his mind every night, his dreams were still plagued with images of Ginny, either hurt or worse. Ignoring the jostling crowds of Muggles, he followed Ron’s red hair through the station, which was the only thing that he could really see over the heads of all the other travelers.
The escalator rose steadily out of the underground, Harry found himself squinting into an unusually bright August sun. “Which way?” he asked Hermione as she took out her map and scrutinized it.
Glancing up at a street sign, she pointed to her right and began walking quickly away from them. “I think we’ll find the right building two blocks over.” They followed at a more sedate pace. No matter how quickly she walked, they could easily keep up.
It had taken them a day to get Muggle money so they could take the train, but so far they hadn’t had any luck finding the orphanage that Voldemort had grown up in. All they had were Harry’s memory of the building to go by and that wasn’t enough to locate it. Hermione, of course, had taken them to a small, local library the second Remus had dropped off the money needed for the underground.
Harry and Ron trudged along behind Hermione as they went to look at yet another orphanage that had been open during the 1940’s. “Do you suppose we’ll ever actually locate it?” Ron asked as he dodged a mother wheeling a pram. She looked as tired as Harry felt, although he supposed having a baby would do that to anyone.
“I dunno,” Harry grumbled and ducked his head further against the bright light. The buildings weren’t very tall in this part of London, wherever that was. He hadn’t bothered to ask because he doubted he’d remember. It was easier to let Hermione do the research, which kept her happy, and follow along. His body felt like it was being sat upon by Grawp, and he desperately needed a full night’s sleep.
Hermione halted and Harry had to pull himself up short not to run into her. “That’s it,” she told him, pointing out an austere looking building, set back from the road, complete with dead trees and broken windows.
Harry knew instantly that this was not the right place. “No,” he said dully and turned around to head back, but her shout pulled him up short and he looked back.
“Well!” Hermione stomped her foot and threw her map to the ground. “This is useless! We’ll search for weeks before we find the right building!”
Ron picked up the map and handed it back to her as he rested a hand on her shoulder. “It won’t be that bad! How many orphanages were open-”
“I don’t know!” Hermione bellowed, causing two pigeons to take off and several passersby to stare. “The library only had one book on them and it didn’t really have much information.”
Harry glared at them until they continued on, before turning to Hermione. “How many do we still have to check?”
“None,” she told him gloomily. “We’ve checked all of the large, public orphanages that were listed in the reference book.”
“Where would you need to go to find his name and where he was living?” Harry asked her, studying her flushed face while the cars rushed passed.
She shrugged and looked helplessly between them. “It would be in a government building, but where, I don’t know. Even if we found the right place, they aren’t likely to let us go wandering about in their records.”
Ron snorted and Harry grinned mischievously. “Then we’ll have to get in without being seen.”
“Right, so let’s find this place and get the right orphanage,” Ron agreed and took Hermione by the arm so they could head back to the heart of the city.
It turned out to be more difficult than they thought. Birth records were not as centralized fifty years ago as they were today. After checking churches, courthouses, and several clerical buildings, they were finally directed to the library at the University of London around supper time.
“Yeth, we have that information,” said a sour looking man with a noticeable lisp, “but we are not open to hooliganth! You will need to vacate the premitheth!”
Hermione grabbed Ron’s arm and snagged the back of Harry’s shirt, before thanking the man and dragging them back and behind a large, potted plant. “Never mind him,” she told them excitedly. “I don’t need a librarian to show me around. I can find what we need by myself, if they actually have the information. The first library we went to just didn’t have the resources that I needed to find what we are looking for.” Her eyes glistened as she spoke and Harry knew that they were filled with joy at the prospect of being stuck among so many books for hours on end.
“Do you want me to Disillusion you?” Harry asked as he started to pull his wand from his back pocket.
“Yes, please, but not yet,” she told him, bouncing with each syllable she spoke. “I’ll look through here until I’ve found something.” She walked towards the entrance again and pointed down the street. “We passed a Muggle coffee shop on our way here. It’s called Starbucks, and they should be open late. Wait for me there.”
“Why can’t we wait here?” Ron questioned, suddenly looking suspicious.
Hermione sighed and glanced back over her shoulder at the grouchy librarian, who was still glaring at them. “We don’t want to be caught.”
Out the door they went and into a stand of shrubs. “You ready?” Harry asked her, thankful that he’d learned this particular spell from Remus only days ago.
“Yes,” Hermione said breathlessly as he tapped her on the head with his wand and watched her fade into the background. “Well, it isn’t like the cloak but it should do nicely.”
Harry hadn’t even thought to bring the cloak with them. “We’ll be waiting for you.”
“Okay,” she said happily as he watched the branches part where she exited.
Harry and Ron followed and knew that with she would follow the next student entering the library. “It’s not right,” Ron told him, his voice was low and hoarse, “her liking libraries this much. It’s just not natural.”
“I know, mate, but at least we have her, or you and I would be stuck in there.” Harry clapped a hand on his back and steered him around, back towards the café.
It was nearly closing time before Hermione made it to the café. Harry and Ron had long since exhausted the topics of Quidditch, Percy and where they thought Malfoy might be. She’d taken the charm off of herself before leaving the library and her cheeks were flushed with excitement as she climbing onto the tall chair at the table they were occupying.
Harry, having drunk several cups of coffee during her absence, was finally feeling awake enough to pay attention. “You found it?”
“Yes, well it took a bit of digging, but I was able to locate it. The orphanage was privately run, which is why I couldn’t find it before, but we were very close today when we visited the Stockwell Orphanage this morning. That Orphanage was evacuated because of World War II for four years. It was also bombed, so I’m not sure that the building we were looking at is the original orphanage.”
“This is all fascinating,” Ron began wearily, “but-”
Hermione cut him off. “I’m getting there, Ron!” She pulled out a sheet of parchment and laid it on the small, round table. “When I looked for his name, I found it in a record of Stockwell as having been there for a competition but not as a resident. After finding that, I realized that he might have been at another establishment close by and so I found this!” She pointed to a list of private institutions. “During World War II there were many children that lost their parents, so the orphanages were quite full. Many of the children were even sent to the country because of the bombing, but not the children from this orphanage.”
Harry saw that she had circled Birchington Place. “You’re sure that’s it?” Harry asked her.
She nodded, “I am positive. The place was shut down and turned into a department store in the 1960’s. There weren’t as many orphans without a war to help make them. But, I managed to find a list of the orphans that lived there and Tom Marvolo Riddle was among them, born,” she consulted another note, “December 31st, 1926.”
“Wow,” Ron said, whistling, his voice was a mixture of awe and fear. “He’s old.”
“He looks it, too,” Harry commented dryly as he picked up his Styrofoam cup and stood, ignoring the stunned looks they gave him. “Good work, Hermione,” he told her before throwing away his rubbish. “Now, let’s get back… er, back to Grimmauld Place so we can get some sleep.” He’d nearly called the place home, but it would never be that. Never.
“Heading out again?” Remus probed mildly from behind a copy of The Daily Prophet. Harry knew that he didn’t expect an answer and was just thankful that his old professor had decided to stay at the house with them. He had been useful with advice more than once in their search.
“We’ll be gone most of the afternoon, I expect,” Harry replied evenly as Hermione handed him a piece of toast. Ron had already finished his breakfast.
He lowered the paper and met Harry’s gaze. “You might want this,” he told him calmly as he held out a note. “It was on the table when I came down this morning.”
Harry tentatively reached for the folded slip of parchment and opened it to see a very familiar script. He read it out loud.
Harry, Ron and Hermione~
I’m fine, and I’m where I am supposed to be. Don’t worry about me and know that I won’t contact you again. I don’t believe we have anything further to say. Harry, you broke my heart. Ron, you stood by Harry, and Hermione, you haven’t kissed Ron yet.
Goodbye for always! The injustices were just too much!
Stunned silence filled the room. “What the ruddy hell was that about?” Ron blurted out.
Hermione, obviously choosing to ignore his language, went from blushing to giggling nervously. “I don’t know but Ginny is certainly improving with the theatrics! What nonsense!” She snatched the note from Harry and read. “Goodbye for always! The injustices were just too much! She even used an exclamation point!” She looked between them and then sighed. “At least we know she’s safe, but whatever she’s up to, it doesn’t have anything to do with this,” she said, waving the note around. She threw it into the fire and then stomped out of the kitchen.
Harry looked at Ron and then at Remus. “Do you know what-”
“No,” both of them answered together before he could fully form the sentence.
“Is this it?” Hermione asked nervously, pulling her bushy hair back away from her face.
This was it… for better or for worse. Harry stared up at the large building, which was now a department store, and felt a shiver go through him. He didn’t know what they would find here, but he hoped it was a Horcrux. “Come on,” he muttered quietly as he took off across the street.
Ron pushed open the door and a saleswoman was on them instantly. “Can I help you?” she asked in a falsely cheerful voice. Her eyes scanned Ron and Harry, whose Muggle clothing was not what one would call ‘neat’.
“No,” Hermione told them instantly. “We’re just interested in looking around. As you can see,” she barely glanced at the boys, “my friends are in desperate need of new clothes, but I am not sure that your store will have what they need.”
“Ah,” the woman sized her up and obviously decided that they could be trusted not to nick anything. She nodded her blonde head and smiled. “Well, if you need something, please ask.”
“Thank you,” Hermione replied sweetly before steering the boys around the store until they were out of her sight. “Now, we need to know if he left something here.”
“How are we going to figure that out?” Ron questioned as he picked up a pink jumper and frowned before putting it back on the rack.
Hermione took out a hair tie and pulled her hair back, away from her face. “According to Dumbledore, everything leaves a magical signature. I did a bit of research before we left-”
“‘Course you did,” Ron murmured, but Hermione ignored him.
“-and found out that what he was talking about was feeling the magic. We’ll need to walk through the entire store, trying to feel for any sign of magic.” She looked around, trying to see if anyone was within earshot.
“No one’s going to hear you,” Ron assured her. “So how do we do this?”
Hermione carefully took out her wand and turned the pink jumper to orange, before changing it back. “Now, this is fresh and not a powerful spell, but if what I read is correct, we should be able to feel the change between the atmosphere around it.” She slowly moved her hand towards the sweater. Her eyes were closed and she inhaled deeply. Her fingers made contact and she felt around the sweater before sighing loudly and shaking her head. “Nothing.”
Harry’s frustration was mounting. He’d not slept well, again, and all of the coffee from the previous evening was wreaking havoc on his system. “What do we do now?” he questioned, his voice sharp.
“We do this the hard way!” she snapped back. “We search the whole building with our wands.”
“Great,” Harry said finally. “Well, let’s get started then.”
It was not an easy task. For one thing, the sales staff all thought that they were there to steal the merchandise, “Like I would want to wear this!” Ron had exclaimed under his breath while Harry laughed at the particularly hideous pair of purple trousers.
“No, of course you wouldn’t, Ron!” Hermione told him, also giggling. “They’re for ladies.”
Ron held them up and cocked his head to the side, “Well, they’re really ugly, that’s all I know.”
“What about this?” Hermione grinned at them as she held up a yellow shirt that had large green flowers on it. “Who on earth would wear something like this?”
Harry snorted and shook his head. “The same person who’d wear the pants, I expect.”
It went on in that vain for the rest of the afternoon while they searched each floor. They had brought sandwiches with them, and had snacked in the dressing rooms, around lunchtime but even that break was short. “We have to keep looking,” Hermione reminded them. “If we have to come back tomorrow, it will look really suspicious.”
“It looks really suspicious anyway!” Harry reminded her. Hermione had spotted surveillance cameras around the room. A well placed hex had disabled them but it would look extremely odd if the three teenagers came back for another whole day of looking but not buying. “They’re going to notice that the cameras aren’t working eventually.”
“I know, but we only have one more floor to cover,” she reminded him. “We just need to get this finished in an hour.”
It took them the entire hour to sweep the rest of the floor, casting the charm every meter or so, until they had gotten across the large, open room. By now the staff had thankfully given up tailing them, and it made the job go faster. They didn’t have to stop to look at so many clothes on the way.
“Nothing,” Hermione admitted glumly as she reached the end of the room. She was moving quicker than Harry or Ron and it took them a few minutes to catch up.
“Nothing over here,” Ron agreed as he slumped against the wall next to Hermione, closing his eyes.
Harry turned away, trying to control his aggravation at the situation. “Where do we look?”
“We’ll talk about that when we get back,” Hermione reminded him softly. “Not here, though. Come on,” she finally moved, taking both his and Ron’s hands in hers. “We need to get back. Remus said he’d make supper for us.”
“So James said, ‘If I have to scrub this floor, you’re going to help!’” Remus said, finishing the story as they all laughed heartily.
“I can picture Sirius doing that too! I bet my mum was mad, though,” Harry mused, feeling lighter than he had all day.
Remus nodded and took another sip of wine. “Oh yes, she was livid. I’d never seen her go that quiet. Normally when they pulled a prank, she yelled, but this time she was completely silent. It was a bit scary, to tell the truth.”
“Just like Mum,” Ron muttered through his last bite of pork chops.
“Speaking of your mother,” Remus began and then shook his head reassuringly when Ron paled. “No, you’re not in trouble. I gather though, that Ginny sent a letter to your parents as well and that it wasn’t- uh… anymore edifying than the one she sent you three.”
“Oh no,” Hermione groaned and set her head down on the table. “This is not going to go well, I can just tell.”
Harry’s insides twisted as he looked up at the ceiling. “I wish I wouldn’t have covered for her at the wedding. She might not have gotten away then.”
“No, but she would have run off, no matter what you did. You know Ginny,” Ron grumbled. “She’s too stubborn to listen to anyone when she’s made up her mind.”
“Wonder where she got that from,” Hermione added softly and ignored the glare that Ron sent her. “We’ll just have to wait and see. If we can figure out how to find her, then-”
“You will do nothing,” Remus interjected. “If she is in harm's way, you will only make it worse.”
The three of them stared at the older man, whose face was set. “We can’t just sit around and do nothing!” Harry said incredulously.
“You can and will, Harry,” Remus said clearly. “You gave her your word and as we’ve said before, if she’s put herself in danger, then you can only make it worse. I trust Nymphadora and you need to, as well. She would have said something to us if Ginny’s life was in danger.”
None of this sat well with Harry, nor did he want to leave Ginny’s welfare to anyone else, but he had no choice. Remus was right and there was nothing to do but to wait and see what she did next. This went against everything that Harry believed in. He did not like to sit on the sidelines.
Harry looked over at his two best friends, who were sitting in the kitchen of this moldy, old house because he had a task to accomplish. That had to come first, despite how much he wanted to find Ginny and lock her up at Hogwarts, where she would be safe.
A wave of exhaustion overtook him and he sagged in his seat. He rose slowly and walked towards to the door. “I’m off to bed.” Tomorrow they would have to figure out where they were headed next and Harry had a feeling that it would be out of England.
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