Thanks to my beta Morning's-broken-angel. » Gwen clutched the polystyrene cup of hot chocolate tightly in her hands. She felt apprehensive. Joan had done everything possible to make her comfortable, but there was no denying it. The feeling increased when John Spencer walked into the large canteen. He looked worried, but when he saw her and Joan sitting near the back, he immediately lost the look and acquired a neutral expression. He headed over to their table. “Right, thanks for doing this, Joan. If you’d sort out the calls to the authorities...” He looked at her meaningfully. “Oh!” Joan nodded, catching some hidden meaning in his words. “I’ll get on with that.” “As for you,” he turned to Gwen. “I’m afraid we need a word with you. Just a small problem with your files. Nothing to worry about.” Gwen, seeing the reassuring smile he sent her, immediately felt dread clench her stomach. Nevertheless she stood up, if a little shakily. “Okay. You don’t mind if I bring up my drink?” “No problem.” John replied shortly, indicating for her to follow him. Gwen sent Joan a swift smile and followed John up the several flights of stairs she’d come down to get to the canteen. When they reached his office, the door opened on a pacing Pete who jerked to a stop when he saw them. He turned to John, a questioning look in his eyes. To Gwen’s surprise, John ignored Pete’s look and sat behind his desk. After offering them both seats, which they took, he began to gather material from a file, papers spread across the desktop that Pete had clearly been perusing. After a few moments, he looked up and spoke. “I wish to begin by saying that we will be completely honest. I will tell you no lies. All I ask in return is that you give me the same courtesy. As Officer Campbell knows, and as you probably have guessed, I did not ask you to come up here to discuss your records. As far as I can see, everything is clear. Your parents moved with you to Cambridge shortly after your sixteenth birthday and the car accident you experienced occurred on the sixth of September.” Gwen, who had been listening silently to all of this, glanced up at John, who had paused to observe her reaction. “What happened next?” she asked softly. John rubbed the bridge of his nose and his eyes became hard. “You were thrown from the car with a pretty bad leg injury but nothing more serious than that. The lorry your car hit head-on killed both of your parents immediately.” Gwen shuddered involuntarily as the sickeningly hollow sensation deepened. She felt nauseated and weak. “I...I don’t want to...” Pete put his hands on her shoulders. “John,” he appealed, “She’s not ready for this...” “She has to be. The Ministry wants to question her within the next hour and I won’t let her face them without knowing as much as they do.” “Ministry?” asked Gwen faintly. “I will explain,” replied Spencer, “But you must understand what I tell you first. The hospital that took you in kept you for a few weeks, and contacted Social Services when it became clear you had no remaining family in the area and were under the age considered legal for you to live without a guardian. Therefore they searched for any next-of-kin. The only family member listed was living in London and I presume you were headed there when Pete picked you up.” “Yes, they told me about a woman... Miss Agnes Marple, they said she was a great aunt or something...” “A great aunt by marriage, in fact, not that it matters anymore...” “Matters?” asked Gwen, fear and doubt creeping into her voice. “What are you talking about?” “I have to make some calls,” said Spencer, standing up. “Campbell will…” He hesitated. Pete nodded. “It’s alright, sir.” And with that, he left. As he made his way down the corridor, he felt a certain discomfort but knew that he had done the right thing. Pete knew what to say and when to say it. » For a few moments all that could be heard were the muffled footsteps of the superintendent walking away. “There’s a reason in all this,” began Pete slowly, “Why we kept you, I mean. There’s a reason why we couldn’t let you go to London, and it’s not because of your memory or your records. It’s because you never would have found what you were looking for.” “Why?” asked Gwen, her eyes wide. “Is she dead? Is that it?” Pete told her what he’d hoped not to have to utter. “She never existed, Gwen. Your parents falsified the data and destroyed their own birth certificates.” She took a painful gasp of air. With an effort, she spoke. “Then what did he mean, ‘it doesn’t matter any more’?” Gwen asked quietly. Her eyes were cast down, but her voice was self-contained and steady. Pete remained silent for a few seconds. “Don’t think you can avoid it,” she continued in the same strangely-controlled way. “I won’t let you keep the truth from me.” “What did he mean?” she repeated, a slight tremor of anger coming into the question. “You heard him; you’ve got to tell me.” Pete found himself defending Ministry rhetoric. “Gwen, the right people will give you the information you need. It won’t be the same if I tell you now.” He paused for her reply but none came. “I just don’t feel this is my decision to make.” “Then whose is it?” she shot back fiercely. “Your boss’s decision? My parents’ decision? Because it certainly isn’t mine, and if you won’t tell me, then – then you’re just a coward!” “I only found out about this whole mess an hour ago! What makes you think that I would want to keep a story like this in my head for a moment longer!” “But it’s mine!” shouted Gwen, finally giving into the sobs forcing their way up her throat. “And it’s the only one I’ve got! Don’t you see? It’s only – my parents – I can’t tell you, it’s all mixed up and… all I can remember are shadows. I can’t see their faces, I don’t hear their voices; it’s all I can do to hold onto one memory, because every moment I’m afraid of someone destroying it…” Pete grasped her shoulders tightly as she began to shake from the force of her tears. She looked up into his face, her pale cheeks glistening with tears. He became aware of the intense vulnerability of that face, of its fragility, and yet at the same time, of its strength. He wondered if anyone had ever kissed that face and seen the tenderness in those coral green eyes. Pete could bear it no longer and spoke. “Ginny, I…” He felt the sobbing girl’s body tense in his arms. The next sentence she uttered was barely audible. “What did you call me?” “It’s…” Pete forced himself to finish, “What I should have been calling you from the very beginning.” For what seemed like hours, she remained motionless. At last, slowly but deliberately, she sat up, wiping the tears away from her face. When she spoke, it was with the voice of certainty. “Then begin again.” » “Your name is not Gwen Brightly. You were born Ginny Weasley and you are the only daughter of Molly and Arthur Weasley. Four years ago you disappeared without a trace from the world of your friends and family. No one has seen or heard from you until now.” “I was kidnapped?” “We think so. By Death Eat -” he hesitated. “By a terrorist organisation, enemies of the state and your family.” “Why?” “You were to be a bargaining chip. They hoped to use a hostage for political gains, revenge, just plain hatred; I don’t know... It’s hard to explain.” “I don’t understand. Why didn’t they contact anyone?” “Because before they could make their demands, their cause fell apart. The leader they had hoped to supplant returned and they had no choice but to hide themselves and everything connected to the kidnapping, including you. They found a couple; sympathisers to their cause who kept you hidden in their own home.” “My parents...” “Yeah. I’m sorry; I really can’t imagine what this must be like for you.” “No.” She shook her head. “I’ve got to face this.” Pete looked up as the door opened, catching sight of his superintendent looking in on them. In his hand was a family-sized box of Kleenex tissues. Seeing Ginny’s tear-stained face, he looked down at it awkwardly. He gave a wan smile. “Too late,” he said placing the box on the table and sitting down again. “How much have you told her?” he asked Pete, matter-of-factly. “Everything but the ‘W’ word, I’m afraid.” “Oh God, and that’s the hardest one to explain,” sighed John Spencer, turning to Gwen. “Look, I wish we had more time, but I need to prepare you. I’m very sorry, but that isn’t the whole story, and you know what the world’s like. Doesn’t stop for anyone, least of all the youngest of seven children.” “Seven children?” “Yes, and at one time all under fifteen – Lord bless your poor mum – but that’s another thing you’re going to have to get used to if you choose to go to London and meet your parents. And of course, there’s your school, if you want to go back to it.” “My school?” She put her head in her hands. “I… I don’t know. How can I choose? I mean, I don’t even remember - ” She looked suddenly horrified. “I can’t even remember what I learned…” “Well, that’s one less thing to worry about,” remarked Spencer darkly. “Pardon?” “It’s no use worrying about that now. I’m afraid that the next part of your history is entirely out of the realm of what you’d believe if I told you now. The only way to show you is to let you experience it for yourself.” To her utter astonishment, he turned his attention to the box of tissues in front of him. He gave the Kleenex box a sharp tap, checked his watch, and began to speak, enunciating very clearly. “Superintendent Spencer checking in at 10:48, requesting immediate service for a Miss Ginny Weasley to Kings Street lobby reception. Thirty seconds please. I repeat, thirty seconds and counting.” John Spencer looked up and gave what, in his case, amounted to a smile. “I think it’s time to go.” Pete gave a cheerful grin, hoping he wasn’t showing any trace of the worry he felt. “I guess this is goodbye.” He accepted her hug, and she began making for the door. “Hang on a minute.” Spencer held her back by the shoulder. “You’ll be needing one of these.” He held out the small cardboard box. “A tissue?” “Believe me, you won’t get there without one,” he reassured as she took one. “I really don’t see why - ” She stopped as suddenly as if she had been hit in the stomach. All around her the world was dissolving; melting away like lemon sherbet and clocks in a Dali painting... » When her world swung into focus, it was to the cheerful grey of a smooth floor. She was crouched on all fours as if she had fallen from the clear sky, though for the life of her she couldn’t remember having fallen. She lifted her head groggily, her eyes slowly adjusting to the scene around her. It appeared to be a large and modern business lobby, rather like an exclusive hotel foyer, although she was absolutely certain that none of the people around her had ever checked into the Hilton. For a start, the noise they made was deafening. They were people everywhere, most of whom were congregated around an oval reception desk at the end of the long room. None of them appeared to have noticed Ginny’s arrival. She made her way towards the reception, taking in her surroundings with every step, occasionally stepping aside to let people walk past; busy office workers, tourists, visitors. The main desk was surrounded by a throng of unruly people at which all appeared to be trying to speak to the receptionist who in turn was trying to handle all of them and at least three irate telephone callers. At her back was an exceptionally large wall-lining fish tank, which Ginny noticed as she began to move through the crowd to the front desk. Swimming around the tank were a selection of brightly coloured fish. Except they weren’t fish. These were fish with fur, tails and three-toed webbed feet. The elfin girl next to her noticed her somewhat aghast look. “Ebay Sea Monkeys,” she explained in an American twang, the electric-blue tentacles that passed for her hair swaying crazily as they shouldered their way through. “Weird, huh? The department ordered them from the GM institute in Orlando. We thought they’d never cross clabberts and grindylows – but I guess they managed it somehow. I bet you anything they’re pissing her off.” “Who?” “That lady, of course,” replied the girl, indicating the receptionist. “They’ve been crashing into the glass the whole time I’ve been here.” “Oh, right...” Ginny backtracked through the conversation, suddenly taking in the two words that had no place in the world she knew. “What do you mean ‘clabberts’?” she asked, but the girl had moved on to the front. “Where can I find the Department for International Trade?” she heard the Texan shout above the din. “I was told to ask for Madge Rivers – she wrote the paper on illegal trade in Mugwart skins?” “Third floor; blue door on the left at the end of the corridor,” replied the receptionist, indicating the lifts at the end of the hallway. “You can’t miss it – she pasted all the hate mail from the fur companies on the door. Yes, sir? How may I assist you?” The little man at the head of a family of Japanese tourists stepped forward. He was dressed in the oddest of clothes; vibrant red robes, and on his shoulder squatted an animal Ginny hoped was an overgrown cricket. “I am…” he began in halting English, “Looking for fountain. Is of magical persons? Very, very famous?” “Yes, yes…” she sighed impatiently. “There’s a guided tour leaving in six minutes from the entrance; you can buy tickets from my colleague at the purple booth, but you will need your Gringotts exchange card.” She turned to Ginny. “Next please?” Ginny hesitated for a moment. What on earth was she looking for? Why had John Spencer even sent her here? She decided to make a guess. “Uh… I guess I’m looking for …” “Oy! You can’t let ‘er go first,” a rather large man in a cheap suit butted in. “She only just got ’ere and I’ve got a very important report on international cauldron standardisation to get up to Percy Wetherby!” There began a free-for-all, as everyone began to shout, crushing even closer around the desk. “There’s an urgent message for Alison Peters in accounts!” “If I wait another minute, St Mungo’s is going to have another funding crisis on its hands!” The fat parrot perched on a Nigerian lady’s shoulder began to caw loudly. “THAT’S IT! SHUT UP, THE LOT OF YOU!” the receptionist bellowed. There was a moment of silence, followed by a distinctly subdued cry from the parrot. “Now,” she began, in a tense but controlled voice that implied that the penalty for interruption was disembowelment. “I will deal with you all if, and only if, you will form an orderly queue, keep any members of the animal kingdom under control, and speak one at a time.” With an undercurrent of hostile murmuring, the crowd complied resentfully. “You,” she said again to Ginny, “You go first.” Ginny looked back at her uncertainly. “I’m not sure who I should be looking for.” “Oh dear,” she replied in a long-suffering sigh. “Well perhaps your mother and father can phone -” Ginny could see where this was going. She clutched for the nearest thing she could think of. “I do have some information. It’s about a disappearance four years ago.” “Well now we have something to work with,” replied the receptionist brightly, plucking a form and a luminous pink quill from a drawer. “We’ll just need a few details and then I can send you up to the proper department. Your name?” “Er…” She momentarily struggled to recall her new name. “It’s Ginny Weasley.” There was a loud snap as the quill broke into two neat pieces in the receptionist’s hand. » Please review.
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