14. The Sadist

Ginny woke up in a dark room with a massive headache.

"She's awake," a woman's voice said from miles above her. Ginny tried to open her eyes, but everything felt numb and heavy and painful all at once, and she couldn't do it.

"Let me see her," a deeper voice said. Ginny felt the bed, or couch, or whatever she was lying on, shift as someone sat down. "How do you feel?" the man asked.

Ginny tried to sit up. "Where's Kreacher?" she asked sleepily. Why was she sleepy?

"What did she say?" asked the woman.

"I'm not sure. Ginny, how do you feel?"

"I want Kreacher!" She couldn't help slurring her words together like a drunk.

"Severus, are you sure she's all right? Shouldn't you bring her to St. Mungo's, or - "

"You watched me check for broken bones earlier. She's fine. All she has is a bruise. There's no reason to bring her anywhere. Will you please sit down?"

"Snape?" It came out sounding like, "Shnaaay?"

"Maybe she needs a Pepper-Up Potion," the woman said.

"Sybill, please know I mean it in the kindest way possible when I tell you to shut up and sit down."

"Twewawwee?"

"Yes, dear, it's Professor Trelawney!" the woman called from her seat. "We're here to help you."

"Ginny," Snape said close to her ear. "I need you to focus. Open your eyes."

She did, blinking heavily, and looked around. They were in Snape's apartment, all warm and cheery in spite of its macabre inhabitant. "Do you know where you are? Can you remember your name?"

She nodded. "Tom's house," she said as clearly as possible. "Ginny Weasley."

Snape shot a triumphant look at Trelawney. "How do you feel?"

"Fuzzy. And my head hurts."

Snape smirked. "Probably because a pile of stones came down on top of in Merlin's name were you doing in the Dark Lord's fireplace?"

"Hiding." The feeling was coming back into her tongue. "From Bellatrix. Where's Kreacher?"

"Where's what?" asked Trelawney, but Snape knew what she was talking about.

"He's there," he said, pointing to a couch on the opposite side of the room where a limp Kreacher was spread out.

Her heart skipped. "Is he dead?"

"Stunned. He put up quite a fight to keep us from taking you."

"He did?" Ginny sent a small smile toward the house elf. "He's not hurt, is he?"

"He's fine." Snape drew his wand. "Renervate."

Kreacher's eyes snapped open, and he leaped off the couch and hurled himself at Snape. "Let Mistress Ginny go!" he howled, assaulting the former potions master with his tiny fists.

"You see," Snape said over the elf's yelling. "He's very protective of you. We really had no other choice."

"Kreacher, enough," Ginny said, and Kreacher froze and looked up at her, eyes wide.

"Mistress Ginny," he said. "Mistress Ginny is awake!"

"Yes," said Ginny. "I'm fine. You don't need to attack anyone."

"Whatever possessed you to come back here?" Snape asked snidely, eyeing Kreacher with distrust. "I thought I made it clear that I would return for you in three days' time at the Leaky Cauldron."

"I couldn't stay there," said Ginny.

"Because of your fight with Miss Granger, yes," Professor Trelawney piped up. Ginny raised her eyebrows.

"How did you know about that?"

"Well, my dear, I am one of the most accomplished Seers of this generation, and you are giving off several very clear signs of - "

"We went to the headquarters first," Snape said over his companion, "and Granger told us you'd gone away."

Ginny felt herself flushing. "She didn't tell you what we fought about, did she?"

Snape smirked. "I believe her exact words were, 'Ginny's run off to snog the moulding corpse of her true love Voldemort.'"

Ginny was on her feet before she remembered the pain in her head. "That lying - " The dizziness caught up with her. "Ow," she said, sitting down with a huff. "I did no such thing. I went to his funeral. I made an Unbreakable Vow that I would, and I had to follow through with it."

Trelawney put a sympathetic hand on Ginny's shoulder. "Miss Granger is very sorry, and slightly embarrassed, by all of this," she told Ginny in what she must have thought was a comforting voice. "She wishes you'd come back so she can apologize."

Ginny snorted. "Did she tell you that, too?"

"No." Trelawney drew herself up proudly. "As I said, I am an accomplished Seer, and I predict you two will emerge fast friends."

"Great," Ginny said with false enthusiasm.

"She's probably right, actually," Snape said. "Ever since I removed her memory charm, her premonitions have been far more, ah, accurate."

"Memory charm?" Ginny looked from Snape to Trelawney. "When did that happen?"

"Years ago," Snape said. "Your Tom was the one who ordered it, as a matter of fact. To prevent Sybill from predicting his plans."

Trelawney jumped in and explained, in an overdramatic and incredibly detailed speech that she appeared to have rehearsed, what had happened to her Sight.

"I woke up the next morning feeling foggy," she said ominously. "I couldn't quite recall what was happening, or where I was, or even my own name - "

"That's a lie, Sybill, and you know it," said Snape. "And it's not important now, anyway." He looked at Ginny. "Do you feel well enough to Apparate?"

Ugh. Apparation. "I'm not going anywhere until I know what's going on," she said. "Where have you been for three days? And since when do you two get along?"

"Severus and I have always been fast friends," Trelawney declared, just as Snape said, "We don't."

"Then why are you together?" Ginny asked, ignoring the Divination teacher.

Snape began to trace his mouth with a long finger. "You have been to the Department of Mysteries, have you not?"

"Yes."

"You have seen the Veil?"

She shuddered. "Yes." She hadn't liked being in the same room with it. It hadn't actually spoken to her, the way it had with Harry and Luna, but it had had some kind of magnetic power over her. She'd been drawn to it, as it were Summoning her, and she knew it was dangerous, but at the same time she had desperately wanted to peel back the curtain and see what lay beyond.

Except she already knew what lay beyond. They'd all seen Sirius fall.

"Then you know it is a portal to the world of the dead," Snape continued. "But what you do not know is that in the past, it could be used to bring people back to life."

Ginny's heart ripped in two as she felt herself begin to hope again. "I know what you're suggesting," she said, "but no, thank you."

If Snape were surprised, he hid it well.

Trelawney did not. "No?" she repeated.

She shook her head. "I have to let him go. I can't keep hoping. Every time someone offers a reason why Tom might be alive, it reopens a healing wound in me. It hurts. I'd rather just - I'd rather know for sure that he's gone."

Snape pressed his lips together. Behind him, Trelawney had leaped out of her seat. "But we spent days planning for this," she cried. "We know exactly what to do, where to go, how to make the bargain with Death - "

"Thank you," Ginny said firmly, meeting her teacher's eye, "but no."

Kreacher, who had been uncharacteristically silent, finally spoke up. "Professor Snape," he said, tugging at Snape's robes. "Can Professor Snape bring someone else back to life? Not the Dark Lord, but someone different?"

Snape's dark eyes hardened. "I suppose."

Kreacher's lip began to tremble. "Could Professor Snape - could he bring back Harry Potter?"

Ginny's head snapped up.

"Could you?" she asked.

"It's possible, I suppose."

"But, Severus!" Trelawney looked confused. "I thought - you said he doesn't deserve another chance, didn't you? You wanted to bring back someone who could improve from love, and you said - "

"I know what I said." Snape was looking at Ginny. She stared back. "Do you love Harry Potter?" he asked.

She made sure not to hesitate. "I do."

"More than you love the Dark Lord?"

She didn't look away, even though she knew it was hopeless. Snape would know the truth no matter what she said. Snape always knew the truth. "I regret every moment I ever spent with Tom Riddle." Because that's how I'm supposed to feel. That's how a normal person would feel.

"If that is the case," Snape said, standing, "then I suppose we can change the plan."

"Severus - "

"I said we will change the plan, Sybill," he snapped. "We will bring back the Boy Who Lived."

Kreacher let out a cheer. Ginny forced herself to smile.

This is what you're supposed to want.

"I reckon we should head back to Denmark and find him, then," she said.

Trelawney let out a theatrically loud gasp and put her fingers to her temples. "I see a glowing figure," she moaned, eyes rolled back. "A ghost! A ghost with messy hair and - is it? Yes! A scar on his forehead! Harry Potter! It's the Chosen One!"

Ginny looked at Snape. "Does she do this often?"

"Inordinately."

"He's flying." Trelawney was rocking back and forth, hands clutching at her hair. "He's flying with the others who have passed on. I see Rufus Scrimgeour - I see Gilderoy Lockhart - I see Marl - "

"Is this relevant, Sybill?" Snape asked.

" - ene McKinnon! And now he's landing - in a graveyard, no less - and he's talking to someone - a woman - they're crying together - "

"If we leave now, d'you think she'll even notice?" Ginny asked.

"And now he's - he's - oh! The Inner Eye! It's - opening!"

"She'll notice," Snape said. "She's only doing it this way for our benefit."

"Harry Potter is in the Leaky Cauldron!" Trelawney finished, throwing her arms open and knocking a lamp to the ground.

"No, he isn't," Snape said impatiently. "We were just there."

"Well, he isn't there yet," Trelawney said in her normal voice. "But he will be. Trust me."

There was a loud rap at the door. "Severus?"

All heads turned to the entrance.

"Severus, are you all right in there? Who are you talking to?"

"Mistress," Kreacher whispered.

"Everything's fine, Bella," Snape called. Ginny dove behind the couch, dragging Kreacher with her. Trelawney stood uneasily.

"Yes, Bella," she called. "Severus and I were just having a lovely chat - "

"What are you doing?" hissed Snape.

"Who is that?" Bellatrix demanded. "Snape, let me in."

Throwing a murderous glare at Trelawney, Snape crossed to the door and yanked it open. "It's just an old colleague," he said when Bellatrix opened her mouth. Trelawney threw a wave over Snape's shoulder. "We were catching up."

"Why here?" Bellatrix asked.

"I live here."

"Why not at Hogwarts?"

"I don't work there anymore," Trelawney supplied cheerfully. "I was sacked."

"Sacked," repeated Bellatrix, giving Trelawney a once-over. "Can't see why at all."

"Oh, it was because - "

"Are you finished here?" Snape asked while Trelawney rattled off the reasons she'd been fake-sacked.

"Yes," said Bellatrix slowly, eyes sweeping the room over Snape's shoulder. "I thought I heard more voices, but maybe I was mistaken. . . ."

"Apparently so." He made to close the door.

"I still don't quite understand, though," Bellatrix said, stopping it with her foot, "why you brought your friend here. Unless she's one of us?"

"She isn't."

Bellatrix smirked. "Somehow I thought not. So why not meet up in Hogsmeade? Why not go out to a pub?"

"Actually, we were just on our way to one," Trelawney said. "The Leaky Cauldron."

Ginny felt her heart stop.

"The Leaky Cauldron," Bellatrix said quietly. "Is that right."

Trelawney didn't seem to notice her faux pas. "Yes," she said. "We were just about to Apparate there when you arrived."

"No one can Apparate into or out of this house," Bellatrix said in her same dangerously quiet voice.

"But - " Trelawney turned to Snape. "That's how we got here. We Apparated right into this room."

Snape didn't hesitate. "I lifted that particular enchantment from my chambers," he said. "The Dark Lord allowed it."

"The Dark Lord is dead," Bellatrix said forcefully. "And I am in charge now. And I want to know the truth." She pulled her wand out and held it just under Trelawney's chin. "Why are the two of you," she hissed. "planning to go to the Order of the Phoenix?"

"The Order of - no, you've got it all wrong!" Trelawney said with a laugh. "We're going to the Leaky Cauldron. It's a pub?" Her lie was so obvious that Ginny couldn't hold back a whispered curse.

"The Leaky Cauldron has been closed for a year," Bellatrix said. "I want the truth. Crucio."

Trelawney screamed.

"Bellatrix!" Snape yelled, drawing his own wand. "Stop that!"

"I am the Dark Lord now," Bellatrix shouted over Trelawney's shrieks. "What do you know about the Order?"

"Nothing - I - I'm not - "

"Crucio!"

"Expelliarmus!"

Bellatrix's wand flew out of her hand and sailed back behind the couch. "You," she started, rouding on Snape, but he looked shocked.

"Me," Ginny said, standing up from her hiding place. "Leave her alone."

Bellatrix's eyes blazed. "You," she said in quite a different voice. "How grand of you to join us. Please, my dear Ginevra, sit down, put up your feet. We are honored to be graced with your presence."

"I have your wand," Ginny said, holding it up. "And if you don't do exactly as I say, I will snap it."

If Bellatrix felt threatened, she didn't show it. "Of course, Princess Ginny, do tell me all your demands."

Ginny was shaking. This was the woman who had tortured her nights for the past year. And Tom wasn't here for her this time. "Let Trelawney go," she said. "Let her Apparate away from here. Not to the Leaky Cauldron," she told her former professor, "but somewhere else, where Bellatrix won't be able to follow."

"But how will I - " Trelawney said nervously.

"We'll find you. Don't worry. Go. Now."

Keeping her eyes determinedly off of Bellatrix, Trelawney spun on the spot and Disapparated.

"Next Kreacher," Ginny said, clenching Bella's wand tightly. "Let him go without - "

"Kreacher?" An ugly smile crossed Bellatrix's face. "Kreacher, come!"

Kreacher stood and came out from behind the couch.

"Retrieve my wand, there's a good elf."

Kreacher reached up for Ginny.

"No," Ginny ordered. "Don't listen to her."

Kreacher clasped his hands behind his back, trembling.

"Don't be silly, Kreacher," Bellatrix cooed. "Get my wand."

"Kreacher, don't you dare."

Kreacher whimpered and clutched at his head.

"Kreacher," Ginny said desperately. "Just go. Get out of here."

"Stay," Bellatrix said lazily.

Kreached began to moan.

"Kreacher." Ginny shrugged out of her jumper. "Catch." She threw it at him. He caught it, looking confused. "I present you with clothes," she said. "You are a free elf. You do not have to obey anyone anymore. So please, because I care about you, get yourself to safety."

Bellatrix's eyes had suddenly become very dark. "Kreacher," she said. "Retrieve. My. Wand."

Kreacher couldn't take his eyes off the jumper in his hands.

"Now!"

He took a deep breath and drew himself up to his full height. "Kreacher is not your elf," he said to Bellatrix. "Kreacher belongs to Master Regulus. And since Msater Regulus is dead, Kreacher belongs to Master Sirius. And since he is dead, as well, Kreacher belongs to Master Harry. And now he is dead, too, and so Kreacher belongs to the Weasleys, only the Weasleys, and now a Weasley has set Kreacher free, and so he may choose his own master." He fixed his eyes on Bellatrix. "And Kreacher is very sorry, Mistress Bellatrix, and Kreacher will punish himself later, but Kreacher will not listen anymore. Not to Mistress Bellatrix. He will be loyal to Mistress Ginny, even though he does not have to, and he will hope and pray that she does not end up dead, too." He looked up at Ginny with a smile. "Kreacher will go to Grimmauld Place," he told her. "And Kreacher will wait there for Ginny. And maybe - " He swallowed. "Maybe he will have a nice steak-and-kidney pie waiting when she comes."

And with that, he snapped his fingers.

Bellatrix lunged for him, but he was gone just as her fingertips grazed his new jumper. With a snarl, she turned on the spot - and didn't Disapparate. "You did this," she accused, pointing at Snape. "You put the wards back up. I can't Disapparate!"

Snape shook his head. "I did nothing. It was the elf."

"Well," she said with a calmness that didn't match the fury in her eyes. "I suppose I'll just fetch him later, then. For now, you two are trapped here."

"No," Snape said with a smile. "Actually, we aren't."

He'd been inching toward the fireplace ever since Bella had walked in, and he was finally close enough to reach the vase brimming with Floo Powder. With a sudden lunge, he grabbed the vase and dropped the entire thing into the fireplace. Green flames sprung from the broken vase, and Snape, with Ginny close behind, jumped into them. "The Leaky Cauldron," he shouted, and with a whoosh, they were gone, leaving Bellatrix Lestrange behind with no Floo Powder, no house elf, and - most importantly of all - no wand.