Chapter 24: Truth
"How are preparations coming?"
"Excellent, my Lord. I should be ready tonight."
"Very well. Remember, if you are seen, do not engage."
"Of course, my Lord."
"It's bloody three in the morning, Albus. This had better be good."
Harry couldn't help but nod in agreement. His initial reaction to being awoken to meet in Dumbledore's office had been fear and a bit of panic. Had Voldemort already launched a counter attack just two days after the Order's massive victory? Had he somehow taken back the Ministry building?
But upon arriving at the headmaster's office, Harry found the old man calm and contemplative, rather than harried and anxious, as an emergency might provoke.
"We have a trespasser," Dumbledore replied. Harry was grateful the old man, often in search of a dramatic reveal, did not drag out the purpose of their meeting. Dumbledore held out a frail hand and pointed to one of his many silver trinkets that filled his office. "He is still over a mile from the castle grounds, making his way through the Forbidden Forest, but it's clear he's headed for the castle."
Harry watched as a compass-like device hummed with activity. The needle on its face vibrated, and pointed to the south west. Harry didn't know exactly how the tool worked, but he had to assume it pointed to the intruder.
"So, do we go get him? How has he gotten so close?" Harry asked. "I assume you know for sure it's just one guy?"
Dumbledore nodded. "It takes a lot of talent to get this close to the castle. It is nigh impossible to get in without me knowing—especially after we implemented some new wards regarding animagi." He shot Sirius an amused look. The former convict seemed too tired to react with a guilty look. Instead he just raised an eyebrow, and Dumbledore continued. "I was about to address the situation myself when I thought I should get a second, and third, opinion."
Harry narrowed his eyes at the old man. He'd been behaving strangely since the Ministry was secured. Hesitant with his words and actions. Prone to staring off into space rather than focusing on his tasks at hand. Harry was concerned the man's age was finally catching up to him. But the alternative scared Harry even more.
"What was your plan?" Sirius asked, refocusing Harry on the intruder.
"Well, I thought I'd go meet him, capture him, and question him."
"That would be good..." Harry started, an idea forming in his mind.
"I like that look, Harry!" Sirius said, seeming to wake up a little more. "You're thinking we can do better than 'good?'"
Harry's brow furrowed. "Maybe. Capturing him might tell us what his plan is, but it effectively changes the plan. So we thwart one of Voldemort's ideas, but another will just take its place."
"You want to use his plan against him?" Dumbledore inferred.
Harry nodded. "If we capture him, we'd have to release him and rely on a memory charm to hold up and for Voldemort not to check for that sort of thing."
"He could easily turn it back around and use it on us," Sirius said, nodding.
This made Harry frown. "For all we know, Voldemort wants us to find this guy."
"He did a good job getting in the wards," Dumbledore provided. "So good that I would believe he thinks he's gone undetected."
"But you agree that it is possible he meant for you to detect him as well?"
"Sure it is possible. I cannot say one way or another." The old man's face appeared even older than usual at that statement. His countenance sad. Harry was once more concerned, but wanted to see this idea to its conclusion first.
"So with a capture, we can't be sure the intel will be of any use. If we merely observe, we can't be sure if what we are observing is meant for our eyes or not." Harry sighed.
"My two knuts," Sirius piped up. "I think we observe. It gives us more options. We can decide what to do with it later, maybe verify with Snape." The last part he seemed reluctant to say.
Fighting a smile at his godfather, Harry nodded. "I think you're right. I nominate Sirius to do the espionage this evening. I need my beauty sleep."
Dumbledore nodded. "I second the nomination, though for the record I believe Sirius needs more beauty sleep than Harry."
Sirius made an exasperated sound. "I already woke up in the middle of the bloody night for this discussion. Now you want me to spend more time awake, and insult me in the process? I have to teach class in the morning!" He peered at the headmaster, as if hoping appealing to the teacher in him would work. It didn't.
"We'll meet again in the morning to discuss what you learn," Dumbledore said, a hint of a smile on his face for the first time that evening. "And remember not to be seen. If Voldemort does intend for us to observe this man, we can't let him know his plan worked. That way, he'll have to confirm it another way, which may aid us in deciding what to do with the information we gather."
Sirius groaned, but stood and did as he was told. He left with just a glare at Harry.
Harry stayed behind in his chair, his smile dropping as he carefully watched his professor. After a moment, Dumbledore broke the silence. "Can I help you with anything else, Harry?"
"Are you alright, sir?" Harry asked, perhaps too tired to worry about tact or wonder if it was any of his business.
Dumbledore, still sitting in his chair, slumped a little at the question. "Harry, it is not a burden I wish—"
"Sir, please. If I can't help, I will leave it be."
Dumbledore sighed. He pressed his fingers together before wearily resting his forehead against them. "I'm afraid I don't know what to tell you, Harry."
"I assume it has to do with Magic?" Harry asked, expressing his fear.
The aged professor peered closely at Harry through his half-moon spectacles. He had never appeared older to Harry than he did now. "There was no Leader of the Light from whom I took the mantle," he said quietly after a moment. "I was the first chosen in nearly two decades. I never met my predecessor."
Harry stayed quiet, waiting for the man to formulate his thoughts. "So everything I'm experiencing is new, not just to my own feelings, but to my observation as well. I've lost a step, and I'm left wondering if this is life without Magic's guidance or if my age is catching up to me."
"And it has you doubting yourself," Harry said with a little wonder. How their roles had reversed. After the success of his raid on the Ministry building, Harry had never felt so confident.
Dumbledore nodded sagely. "Worse yet," he said tiredly. "I don't know why I'm even here."
"Sir..." Harry said tentatively. "We need you. Just because a mantle has been passed..."
"I've come to terms with why I was not fit to lead in this new war," Albus said with a wave of his hand. "It becomes more obvious to me every day that you are the better man for the job. The better man, period."
Harry felt somewhat embarrassed by the praise, but was more concerned about his mentor in front of him. The man continued, staring intensely at Harry. "So why have I been permitted to tarry in this world? What do I have to add that you can't do better than I?"
Harry hesitated before speaking. "You've spent your whole life in Her service, Albus," Harry said, not really realizing he used the man's given name. "Is there a chance she is giving you a chance to just be you?"
Albus' eyes grew moist as he appraised the boy in front of him. "I don't know who that is," he admitted. "Not without Magic."
Harry smiled softly at him. "You're a pretty smart guy. So figure it out."
It wasn't very many hours later that teacher and student—as far as those roles still existed—met again. This time, Remus, Tonks, and Kingsley joined them to debate Sirius' findings.
"I haven't seen the Death Eater before," Sirius explained after everyone was situated in the office, feeling rather small with all the visitors. "I'm guessing he is one of the foreign recruits Bellatrix brought over."
"Can you give a description?" the senior Auror in the meeting enquired.
"Short, salt and pepper hair. Clean shaven. About my height," Sirius rattled off. "His robes looked fine enough, but I couldn't differentiate between his style and Britain's."
Kingsley nodded as he made notes. "Could you tell what he was doing?" Harry asked.
Sirius took a deep breath. "He wasn't interested in getting closer to Hogwarts. But it was obvious he was scouting out all of the wards that protect and alert the school. He retraced his steps a dozen times casting all sorts of revealing charms and testing his own counters.
"So it was a surveillance mission," Remus decided.
"Maybe," Albus said. "Unless he wanted us to know he was there."
Tonks' brow furrowed. "You mean so we'll prepare for an attack here when it's going on somewhere else?"
"Wouldn't be the first time the tactic has been used," Sirius said darkly. The room grew silent, thinking of those lost in the battle of Dragonsby while the preparation had been made for South London.
"That battle swung the momentum of the war," Kingsley said, breaking the silence and pressing forward. "We've only just got it back, so I'm not keen on repeating a mistake."
"And I'm not keen on allowing my school to be attacked," Albus replied. "Though I admit this school has many protections that simply cannot be removed from the outside. It would be difficult to imagine Lord Voldemort launching a successful attack on the school."
"But if we hadn't known," Harry prompted. "How much damage could he do?"
Albus shuddered. "We'd win the battle. But the student casualties would have been enormous."
"Voldemort was fine losing the Battle of Hogsmeade to set up the attack at Dragonsby," Harry reminded everyone. "The lives of his followers aren't nearly as important to him as his perception. And a devastating attack on the school and the Order's leader could sway public opinion right back in his favor."
Remus nodded. "I agree. But we can't ignore the fact that he has deceived us before."
"But he doesn't know that we know," Sirius said, a slight smile on his face at the complexity of the situation. "And he won't act on anything without knowing."
"There's a spy in the Order," Albus said softly, and the group tensed. They all knew it, of course, but hated to admit it. "I am completely confident in this group here, but we cannot speak a word to others until it is time to act."
"That means he will resort to more conspicuous means of obtaining information," Harry said. "He's already tried to use Draco Malfoy a number of times to get information from me."
"Tonks and I will partner up at work for the forseeable future to watch each others' back," Kingsley said.
"I'll just stay at the house until you get home," Remus said to Tonks. "I've got enough work to do there to keep myself out of trouble." Harry hadn't known they'd moved in together, and raised his eyebrows at Tonks, who winked at him.
"Just being at the school will help, but Sirius, Harry and I will look after one another," Dumbledore concluded.
Harry laughed. "All of that said, we want to control what gets back to Voldemort. So if the situation presents itself, allow certain information to get back to him. Meanwhile, we need to find out what his complete plan is."
"I recommend double checking all the major wizarding town wards," Sirius said, looking at the two aurors. "If we'd done that at Dragonsby, we would have known something was coming."
Harry had a sudden thought. "With the loss of the Ministry building, their plans to overthrow the government might now fall to destroying those in power."
Kingsley nodded, and reached into his pocket to pull out the gold coin the six of them each held. "We need to be quick to relay any information we receive. This is now a battle of who knows more than the other side."
A few days later, Albus walked slowly back to his office from the dungeons. Severus had given him some interesting information. The timing of missing veritaserum was a little too convenient not to be related to the recent game of cat and mouse the Order was playing with Voldemort. The only problem is that Albus didn't yet know who the cat and mouse were.
Albus' thoughts were interrupted as he passed by Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the hallways. He had noticed that the two had become very close this year. Perhaps it was a consequence to Harry taking on so much responsibility in the Order that the two had been left to finally focus on themselves, and each other.
"Ah, Miss Granger, Mr. Weasley, how good to see you," Albus said as he stopped them in the corridor.
"Professor Dumbledore," Hermione replied cordially. "It is nice to see you as well. How are you?"
"As I'm sure you are aware, it is a stressful time."
"Don't I know it," Ron said with a smile. "End of year exams are a beast."
"Ron!" Hermione berated him while Albus chuckled. "Obviously he means the war."
Ron simple raised his eyebrows and responded. "Yeah. Hermione. I know."
Hermione dropped her head in embarrassment and Albus smiled at the pair. He was sure that in many circumstances, Hermione would have known he was joking, and found it quite funny herself. The presence of an authority figure likely made her slightly uncomfortable.
And with that thought, Albus remembered who he should be to these children. And while they were certainly mature for their age, they were still his students. And he realized he should be their teacher.
"And how are those exams going, Mr. Weasley?"
Ron shrugged. "Nothing like the OWLs. And I'm sure the NEWTs will be much worse next year."
Albus nodded, knowing the curriculum very well. He addressed them both with his next question. "And after that? What are your plans? Or hopes?"
Ron looked over at Hermione, as if this were a question presented in class, and he needed help with the answer. Hermione answered the question. "Well, I can't decide," she said, slowly at first. "I love to learn and research, so I've considered going into spell development or a job at the Ministry where I can help solve problems, like an Auror—but I couldn't be out in the field. More of a detective."
Now that she got started, she wasn't talking slowly any more. Albus couldn't help the broad smile that crossed his face. "But I've also grown to feel quite ashamed of the status of our wizarding society. The fact that You-Know-Who could gain so many followers and even have so many tolerant of his extreme views on blood status and magical creatures, it's a travesty. So I've considered doing something about it. Getting into politics and trying to create change."
Ron smiled at her lovingly as he shook his head slowly. But Albus was so happy to hear one of his students so passionate about life. "Well, I'd love to help you. As you may know, before the Ministry was taken, I had been taking advantage of Voldemort's attack to help make some changes."
"Your work for Werewolves and our Goblin relations was great," Hermione gushed, obviously having kept up to date on the political landscape.
"There will be much work to be done when we win this war," Albus continued after a nod of thanks at her praise. "But I also want you to experience research and development so you can know if that's your preferred pursuit. Would you mind if I gave you a research project for the summer and next year?"
Hermione's eyes widened with excitement and she nodded her head furiously. "Oh that would be incredible, Professor. Thank you!"
Albus nodded again, and felt an odd sense of contentment fill him. It filled a portion of his heart that had been growing emptier by the day since Harry had taken the mantel of Leader of the Light.
"And you, Mr. Weasley?" Albus said, suddenly craving the satisfaction of helping his students.
"Well," Ron started, and looked down at the floor. "I honestly have no idea. I mean, I love quidditch, but don't think I could play pro. I thought I could get into the Department of Magical Games and Sports. When it opens back up, of course. But I'm not set on that."
Albus nodded. "I know a few people in that department who are currently reassigned to the more pressing matters. But I've long said that there are few things that bring us together as a society more than sports. It will be a great day when the pitch lights come back on and thousands can gather together for a game. Depending on how this war concludes, I'd be happy to help you experience that profession."
Ron's face lit up. "That would be bloody amazing!" Hermione gasped and hit him on the arm. "Sir," he added hastily.
Albus chuckled again and nodded once more. "I'm afraid I've been shirking my Headmaster duties in light of recent events. I look forward to helping my students discover their passions once more when it's all over. But I'm afraid I must bid you farewell for the evening."
"Of course," Hermione replied. "Thank you, sir!"
And as they went their separate ways, Albus felt something for the first time in months. Direction.
It was no longer coming from Magic, itself. But Albus felt purpose. And that purpose brought a smile to his face. Happiness crept into his heart. And he thought that maybe, just maybe, he'd figure this out, as Harry had told him.
Ginny sat at her usual study table in the library, head buried in a book. It was nearly midnight, and curfew was about to end her study session. Just one more week, she thought to herself as a headache started to kick in. In just one week, she would be done with her OWLS and have a lovely couple of weeks to relax before going back to the Burrow.
Thoughts of how she would spend those two weeks—and thoughts of Harry, as the two were synonymous—kept her going through the grueling hours of her revisions. Suddenly, there would be about ten more hours per day. Ginny didn't know exactly what she'd do with all that free time, and no doubt she and Harry would both fill some of that time with other activities. But she imagined many lazy strolls around the lake, uninterrupted flying out on the pitch, and private...encounters with Harry in safe and locked rooms around the school.
She was just about to let her imagination get away from her when someone sat down at the table, bringing her head up sharply to see her visitor.
"Keep your hands on the table," Draco Malfoy said quickly. Ginny didn't know why she would obey such a silly command, but did notice Malfoy holding something in front of her to see. It looked like a mirror. But there was no reflection. Instead, she was looking at an image of a small room with Colin Creevey and Crabbe and Goyle. Colin had his hands tied behind his back, and his prosthetic leg had been removed.
On closer inspection, it was no picture. This was a two-way mirror, like Harry and Sirius had.
"Where is he?" Ginny asked, her voice deadly.
"The Shrieking Shack," Malfoy answered simply. Ginny was quite surprised that the answer was given so readily. "Show her that it's live, boys," he continued, obviously not to her.
Crabbe took a swing at Colin's face, and Ginny could hear the contact through the mirror. Colin whipped his head back up defiantly, and through her panic, Ginny felt proud of the boy. Blood ran down his cheek, where it had split from the contact.
"What do you want?" Ginny asked through ground teeth.
Malfoy stared back at her. This was not the petulant child of years past, bent on getting his way. No, this boy was haunted. Haunted by her and Harry's frequent victories over him throughout the year. Haunted by the much greater threat of Voldemort. Haunted by actions that he may not even want to do, but was being forced to do.
"You're going to join him," Malfoy said simply. "You're going to give me your wand, and I will follow behind you by about twenty feet. If I see one indication that you are seeking out help, he dies. If your hands aren't visible to me at all times, he dies. If you get out of my sight, he dies."
"You don't have in you to kill someone, Malfoy," Ginny replied, hoping to call his bluff.
"Maybe not," Malfoy said, his voice emotionless. "Maybe I've been pushed to the edge. Maybe it's the only way at this point. What I do know is that you petrified this kid with a basilisk. That your shield protected you just fine in Hogsmeade, but got his leg blown off. That you aren't willing to risk whether or not I will kill him."
"If you kill him, your bargaining chip is gone," Ginny said.
"You really think I can stick around Hogwarts after this?" Malfoy said. In years past, he would have said it patronizingly. Today, he sounded ill. It made Ginny even more scared of the situation. "No, I'm out of here no matter what. So I've already played my hand, Weasley. Now lay down your cards."
Ginny stared at the blonde man in front of her. She hated him. But in that moment, she hated his father and Voldemort even more. Draco had been forced into this. And while he'd made the selfish choice to preserve himself and his family name, he was really just a pawn. And by extension, now she was, too.
She stood, glowering at Malfoy. She set her wand down with a clatter on the table. Without another word, she stood from her chair and started the long walk to the grounds. She would need to avoid seeing anyone. And if she saw someone, she couldn't let on that anything was wrong.
Fortunately, she only passed one young Hufflepuff, who was rushing away from her. He was likely rushing off to get back in by curfew. Ginny racked her brain for how she could get out of this one. The obvious play was to attack as soon as she got to the shack. But with Colin there, it would be too easy for those Slytherin brutes to use him as a hostage. Even if she believed she could take the three of them without a wand—which was very unlikely—Colin would make it nearly impossible.
She thought of Harry's description of the path to the Shrieking Shack. The Whomping Willow, the rocky tunnel, the shack in shambles. Short of waking the Whomping Willow before Malfoy followed her in to the passageway, Ginny could think of no escape. And waking the tree was not something she knew how to do.
Through the castle, out into the cool night air, and on to the dangerous tree, Ginny's panic rose. She prayed with all her might that Harry would notice she wasn't back by curfew. He'd look in the library. And he'd see her things, still sitting on the table. He'd get help, and they'd find her.
Ginny came to a stop outside the radius of the tree's violent limbs. "You don't expect me to kill myself here, do you?" Ginny said, anger in every word.
Malfoy didn't respond. He merely waved his wand, and the knot at the base of the trunk budged. The tree went still. "Move," he said dispassionately.
And so the trek continued through the tunnel Harry had once described to her. Ginny's panic had dissipated into an odd, numb, acceptance. When the door opened into the Shrieking Shack, Ginny gazed around the room for an escape or a means of defeating her enemies, but she wasn't hopeful. She knew how this was going to end.
The room was mostly bare, save for a few chairs that occupied the beaten area. The walls were torn up—likely from years of a rat, dog, stag, and werewolf acting like teenage boys. There was no easy escape, and Colin was tied to one of the chairs with Malfoy's henchmen flanking him on both sides.
"Ginny, run!" Colin shouted when he saw her enter. "Don't worry about me!"
All that exclamation earned Colin was another punch to the face. Crabbe stayed with the poor boy while Goyle marched over to Ginny, murder in his eyes. He grabbed her by her hair and pulled her roughly to the chair. "You're gonna pay for what you did to my face, bitch!" He continued to grip her hair angrily, causing her scalp to stretch in pain.
Ginny glared at him, with fury in her own eyes. Without words, she did her best to communicate that he would pay for this action. Sooner or later, he would come to regret this day. He merely sneered back at her and stroked her cheek with his other hand.
"Goyle," Malfoy said certainly, causing Goyle's grip to lessen. "Now is not the time or place."
Her aggressor stared at him for a moment before nodding once and completely letting go of her. Malfoy waved his wand, and Ginny's hands were pulled together and bound behind the chair. He then turned and left the room.
Ginny's mind raced, wondering where Malfoy could be off to. But more than that, the odds were suddenly much better of an escape. If she could outsmart Crabbe and Goyle, she and Colin could escape before Malfoy got to his destination. Her gut told her that Malfoy was going after Harry. Having secured her, Malfoy could use Ginny as he had used Colin to trap her.
So she only had a few minutes to get out and take away Malfoy's leverage. She eyed Crabbe, who was holding the other two-way mirror. At the very least, she could destroy the mirror and remove the proof that they'd been abducted.
"It's cute the way you take orders from a kid half your size," Ginny said haughtily in Goyle's direction.
"Shut it," the overgrown boy responded, tightening his hands into fists.
"Or what, you'll tell Draco on me?" Ginny retorted with a scoff. "I'm sure you're too afraid of his disappointment to do anything to me."
"Ginny," Colin said warningly.
"Listen to your crippled boyfriend," Crabbe chipped in, looking nervously at Goyle, whose face was growing redder by the second.
"I didn't realize Draco was crippled," Ginny commented, keeping her anger at the word in check. "But I agree with Gregory, Vincent. You should listen to your boyfriend."
Goyle growled in response and rushed forward, grabbing Ginny by the shoulders fiercely. "Say one more wo—"
But Ginny didn't need to say another word. She tucked her chin and swung the crown of her head into Goyle's forehead. The boy recoiled in pain and a daze and Ginny leapt backwards, letting her chair tip backwards. She managed to get over the back of her chair with only a slight stumble and rushed at the surprised Crabbe just as he raised his wand. Ginny tried a roundhouse kick, though her weight distribution was off due to her tied hands. She still managed to strike Crabbe's elbow and sent his wand flying across the room. But the kick left her off balance, and Crabbe reached out and grabbed Ginny, turning her and pulling her to his chest.
She now realized that Colin was shouting, and doing his best to help, but he had been tied much better to his chair, and couldn't do much more than kick his leg out ineffectively at Crabbe.
Goyle had steadied himself enough to focus on Ginny and narrowed his eyes. Blood trickled over his right eye where his eyebrow had been split from her headbutt. Ginny figured it had worked once, so she tried again, jumping and throwing her head back at the same time.
She connected with some part of Crabbe's face, perhaps his nose. He cried out in pain and threw her to the ground. Without her hands to catch herself, Ginny landed right on her face, but rolled through the pain, taking the opportunity to swing her bound hands under her feet and in front of her.
Goyle reached her before she could stand, and pulled her swiftly to her feet by her robes. Ginny quickly decided who her primary target would be, and reached for the mirror that Crabbe still held in the hand not nursing his broken nose. She managed to pull it from his unsuspecting fingers and launch it across the room, shattering the mirror in a hundred pieces.
Her victory was brief, but grand. Then she felt a thick palm strike the side of her head. Crabbe once again had a hold of her hair and flung her back into her chair. Ginny was still reeling in pain and confusion when ropes loosely wrapped around her.
She wanted to mock Goyle for his poor magic, his inability to cast a third-year level spell with any skill. But she was in pain, and knew that goading him at this point would do nothing.
Crabbe, still holding at his bleeding nose with one hand, walked across the room to gather his wand and look at the mirror. Ginny couldn't help but wonder if she would have won had she gone after the wand. But her hands had been tied behind her at that point, and it would have been difficult to cast meaningful spells that way.
Goyle walked around Ginny and manually tightened the ropes painfully. Ginny sighed, knowing another escape was unlikely. But she felt proud of herself in that moment, that she had destroyed the mir—
"Crabbe?" came Malfoy's voice. "Why can't I see you?"
Shit, Ginny thought. She hadn't broken the audio ability of the mirror.
"Weasley broke it," Crabbe responded.
"Nice try, Malfoy,." It was Harry. Malfoy had found him. He was playing it cool, but Ginny knew him too well. Harry was scared.
"Make her talk," Malfoy said, his voice nervous.
Ginny looked at Colin and shook her head. He nodded and understood. They couldn't let on that they were there.
"Say somethin', Weasley," Goyle said, getting close to her face. She noticed with pride that he wouldn't get too close, though. Instead, she raised her eyebrows at him.
Then he hit her across the face. She was surprised, but didn't make a sound. She heard Colin gasp, and feared she knew what was coming.
Crabbe marched over to Colin, sneering at Ginny. "Speak or I'll hurt your buddy Creevey, here."
Colin shook his head vehemently at her. Don't say a word¸ Colin said with his eyes.
In her heart, Ginny knew it was only a matter of time before one of the two of them broke. And then Harry would come. But maybe...maybe Crabbe and Goyle could only do so much. Maybe she and Colin could withstand the pain.
Crabbe grabbed one of Colin's fingers. Crack.
Colin's eyes screwed shut in pain, but no words came out. Ginny wanted nothing more than to end it right then.
"Ginny, if you're there," Harry voice echoed in the room. "Tell me. It's not worth it."
Goyle grabbed Ginny's finger and she braced herself.
"No!" Colin shouted. Ginny glared at him, but she also couldn't believe the immense love she felt for her friend.
"Colin?" Harry shouted. "Just tell me if Ginny's there. Make her tell me."
"Ginny," Colin pleaded. "I can't watch them hurt you."
Ginny sighed. She knew Harry would come at this point even if he didn't know for sure. "I'm here, Harry," she said softly, resigned.
"What did I give you at Christmas?" Harry asked through the mirror, his voice pained.
"You gave me music for my oculin," Ginny said. She heard a sigh.
"Let's go, Malfoy."
And the next few minutes were excruciating for Ginny. She'd failed Harry. All these months, he'd been worried about a relationship with her for this very reason, among others. She'd wanted to be strong, to be able to withstand any attack—like she had a month earlier. But instead, she just proved him right.
Crabbe and Goyle looked so proud of themselves. Normally, Ginny would laugh at their attitude, given their bloody faces, even after having the obvious advantage in the fight. But they had beaten her, no matter how unfair the skirmish was.
The door creaked open once more, and Harry entered. His eyes darted around the room and took in the situation in an instant. His eyes grew murderous when he saw Ginny tied up. She wondered if a bruise had already started to form on her cheek where Goyle had hit her. He glared at Crabbe and Goyle, and Ginny thought she saw a bit of pride in his eyes when he took in their injured state.
"Sit, Potter," Malfoy said. Ginny briefly wondered if she'd used her one escape too early. Maybe if she'd held off, she and Harry could have taken the three of them down.
But Harry sat down obediently across from Ginny and soon he was tied to the chair as she was. "Before we get started," Harry said confidently. "I want the three of you to know that I am going to hurt you very badly when this is all over. I'm not above revenge."
Goyle scoffed and opened his mouth, but Harry cut him off. "And then, I'm going to hand you over to Ginny, and I'm sure you'll wish you'd never been born."
"No one's going to join your pissing contest, Potter," Malfoy said, trying to sound tired. "You lost. Now let's get on with this."
Harry looked up at Malfoy. Ginny had to admit his calm would be unnerving if Ginny were in Malfoy's position. "Just know that each time you hurt Ginny, you're only adding to your sentence."
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "She was never meant to get hurt," he said, and shot a glare at Goyle. He refocused his attention on Harry. "You, on the other hand..."
Harry nodded. "Let's get it on with, then."
And without missing a beat, Malfoy raised his wand and spoke in a whisper. Ginny didn't catch the spell, but she caught the steely resolve cross Harry's face. And she had a feeling she knew what he had cast—the same spell Harry had used to torture Malfoy just a month earlier.
Harry's face slowly tightened. His clenching jaw was the only evidence of the growing pain he felt. He never looked away from Malfoy, staring at him with an odd deadness to his eyes.
"Stop it!" Ginny shouted after what felt like minutes, but was likely only seconds. But enough time had passed for Ginny to know how much pain Harry must be in. Malfoy may not be able to cast the spell as powerfully as Harry, but it would still be immensely painful.
Ginny's outburst broke Malfoy's concentration enough to break the curse. Malfoy let out a growl of frustration and punched Harry across the face. Harry's head whipped right back into position to glare at Malfoy. Still, he made no noise, and expressed little emotion in his face aside from that dead glare he gave Malfoy.
Malfoy stared back at him murderously. "You're lucky this isn't the purpose of our meeting, Potter. I would make you scream, if I had the time."
Instead, he pulled out a vial from his pocket. "But I'll make you talk, all the same."
With a nod to Crabbe and Goyle, the two made their way behind Harry and handled him roughly. Crabbe grabbed him by the hair and tipped his head back. Goyle pinched at his cheeks and pulled at his jaw until it opened up. Malfoy stepped forward, and Ginny was surprised Harry didn't kick in his knee. He was standing right there; it would be so easy.
Maybe Harry knew it was all inevitable. And that any trouble he caused in this moment would only prolong the pain and worsen the damage done. In any case, Ginny watched as the veritaserum dropped into his mouth, and her heart stopped. All of the secrets Harry had. The prophecy and Order plans were in Malfoy's—and by extension, Voldemort's—hands now.
Harry's dead expression didn't change much, except that his eyes seemed to lose focus, and he turned from Malfoy's face to stare at nothing in particular right in front of him.
"Excellent," Malfoy said, a slight smile on his face for the first time. He turned to Ginny. "How about a little test run."
Just as Malfoy opened his mouth to ask a question, Ginny started shouting. She screamed, hoping the noise would drown out Malfoy's question. It worked for all of three seconds before she was silenced with a simple flick of Malfoy's wand. For good measure, he sent a stunner at Colin, effectively removing any chance that he would do something similar. Ginny glared at Malfoy, who simply turned back to Harry.
"What's your name?"
"Harry James Potter," came the reply, Harry's voice barely recognizable, devoid of all feeling. Ginny wanted to cry at how little control Harry had. She knew that was among his greatest fears in life, to be in a situation with no control.
"What do you think of Weasley, here?" Malfoy asked, a smirk on his face. Ginny glared at him with all the hatred she could muster.
"She's the most beautiful and incredible woman I've ever seen," Harry said.
Malfoy snorted. "How is she in bed?"
Ginny's eyes widened in disbelief.
"We haven't slept together," Harry answered. It made Ginny sick to sit through this interrogation, with no purpose other than to make her feel like shit.
"Really?" Malfoy asked incredulously and rhetorically. Harry, of course, didn't catch the tone and responded in the affirmative. "But you've thought about it?"
"Every day," came the response that made Ginny turn red. Of course, she suspected as much, and Harry often joked about it and said it right to her face. Even so, this is not how she wanted to hear it, surrounded by the Slytherins and Colin, even if he was unconscious.
"Even when you've been with the other girls?"
Ginny rolled her eyes before Harry responded, "There haven't been other girls since Ginny and I started dating."
"Damn," Malfoy said with a grin at Ginny. "Really hoping he wasn't the golden boy he pretends to be." Ginny merely raised an eyebrow at him challengingly.
"You love her?" Malfoy asked in response.
"I love her," Harry said, and Ginny thought he might have hesitated just half a beat. But she didn't think much on it because Harry just admitted to loving her for the first time. Of course, he'd expressed care and adoration in the past. But never had he spoken the word love.
And she hated that it came through veritaserum, even while the thought thrilled her to her core.
"Well, this has been fun," Malfoy said. "But I think the humiliation is enough to confirm it's working."
"What happened to my dad?" Goyle abruptly said from Harry's side. Ginny had almost forgotten he was still here.
"He was imprisoned when the Ministry was retaken," Harry responded.
"How was it retaken?" Malfoy asked, interrupting Goyle's follow-up question.
"Sirius Black and I apparated into the Death Chamber and cleared the atrium to allow reinforcements to help reclaim the building."
"How was my father defeated?" Goyle jumped back in.
"I kneed him in the face, bound him, and he was taken unconscious by Aurors to the detention cells."
"You beat my father without a wand?" Goyle asked incredulously.
"He's lying!" Goyle shouted at Malfoy.
"He's not," Malfoy said simply.
"How could this puny kid stand up against my father?" Goyle continued to shout. "He's clearly faking this whole thing!"
"Would you grow up!" Malfoy shouted back, silencing his friend. "How many times do we need to get beaten by Potter's crew for you to realize what's going on? His girl here beat the three of us in an ambush. Look what she did to your bloody face after being tied up? Who do you think trained her to do that."
He turned to Harry. "Potter?"
"I trained her, as she has trained me." Ginny felt a swell of pride at the discussion's turn of events. She was strong. Enough that Malfoy had to cheat more than he ever had to get an edge in their encounters.
"We've finally got him," Malfoy continued, as Goyle seemed to calm down. "We had to stop playing their game. But we've got him."
Goyle nodded after a moment and shuffled back to the corner, not wanting to be involved any more.
"Tell me the prophecy," Malfoy said at last, turning to Harry.
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...But immortality forever shields the Dark Lord...No defeat is eternal."
Ginny froze. That wasn't the prophecy. Was Harry lying? She didn't understand how that was possible. Had he lied to her?
This prophecy gave no hope. This prophecy claimed he'd always come back, just as he had come back two years earlier. If news of this prophecy got back to Voldemort, his confidence would be unfaltering.
Perhaps even to his detriment.
Ginny narrowed her eyes at Harry. Had he lied to his friends to give them hope, or was he lying to Malfoy to give Voldemort a false sense of security. Both options sounded a lot like something Harry would do.
"What do you know of the Dark Lord's plans?" Malfoy asked after a moment of internalizing the prophecy.
"We do not know the exact time, but an attack on Hogwarts is imminent."
"What are your plans to stop the attack?"
"We have secretly bolstered the protective wards to alert for all points of invasion; the Order of the Phoenix and select members of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement are on call with immediate access to the castle; traps have been set; inanimate objects have been charmed to provide additional protection at various teachers' commands."
Ginny's mind was racing. If Harry had been lying, why would he be giving all this information? At best, Voldemort would call off the attack. At worst, he would use this information to take away the advantage of the Order and launch a successful attack.
"Do you know of any other immediate plans of the Dark Lord?"
"Do you have any suspicions?" Malfoy pressed. Clearly he'd been trained on how word usage was vital in veritaserum interrogations.
"I suspect Voldemort will soon be desperate to destroy key figures of the Ministry."
Malfoy frowned. "What are you doing to prevent that?"
"Adding guards in public places, improving wards on their homes."
"That's it?" Malfoy prompted.
"The Order is stretched thin, and we have to prioritize."
Malfoy stared at Harry for a moment. Then he looked up to Crabbe and Goyle and nodded.
"This has been very informative," Malfoy said, and Ginny couldn't help but notice his trademark smirk was absent. He waved his wand and additional ropes appeared and bound her, Colin, and Harry even more tightly than before.
"Let's go," the blonde boy said, nodding his head to the trap door. Crabbe and Goyle left and Malfoy lingered for just a moment. He looked back at Harry. "Have you really seen my father's memory?"
"We have not been able to open the memory vault," Harry replied.
Malfoy scoffed. "Father said you were bluffing. It's a good thing, too, because I'm sure you'd have followed through with your threat. Will you send the unopened memory?"
"No," Harry replied.
Malfoy nodded, and he waved his wand once more and a stunner went out and hit Harry in the chest. His head dropped down as consciousness left him. He pointed his wand at Ginny next, and she braced herself for a stunner. Ginny felt her voice come back to her.
"We've been prepping this shack for a week to keep you all locked up 'til it's too late," he said, not with pride. He was simply stating a fact. Ginny glared at him for several seconds before he spoke up again. "I know you don't believe me, but I never wanted it to come to this."
"Fuck you," Ginny said firmly, and Malfoy flinched. If he expected her to feel sorry for him, he would be very disappointed. "Don't act like you have no choice. You've always had a choice."
Malfoy looked back at her. "Maybe," he conceded. "I've always hated Potter and his crew. But I didn't actually see myself doing something like this."
"You enjoyed it," Ginny ground out.
"I tried to," he said, managing to sound like he had failed. He paused for another moment, looking like he wanted to say something more. "I won't tell the Dark Lord where you are. I'm sure Black will find you all by tomorrow."
And despite herself, Ginny felt a small amount of gratitude. Sure he may have just successfully turned the tides of war again in Voldemort's favor, but they were outside of Hogwarts' boundaries, and would be easy pickings for Voldemort.
So Ginny just glared at Malfoy, not wanting to goad him into changing his mind. He sighed and followed his fellow Slytherins out of the room. And closed the door.
Ginny turned back to Harry to find him looking at her. "I thought he'd never leave."
"Harry!" Ginny shouted in a whisper, not wanting the retreating Malfoy to know he was awake.
Harry smiled back at her with a wink and the ropes fell off of him like he was shrugging out of his robes. He stood, and in his hand was his wand.
"He didn't take your wand?" Ginny asked incredulously.
"Not my real wand. Dumbledore alerted me an hour ago that those three and Colin had left the Castle grounds. Honestly, after my third year, you think Dumbledore wouldn't add some alerts to this passageway?"
Ginny shook her head, confused. "So, why didn't you save him?"
Harry waved his wand and Ginny's ropes dropped. He knelt down in front of her and grabbed her hands. He rubbed her wrists, which were red from the ropes. "While I was in Dumbledore's office, you were taken. I wanted to barge right in here and kill them all. The professors told me there was a better way to get back at them."
"By feeding them false information," Ginny concluded as realization dawned on her. "How did you do that?"
"Part of my training last summer was building up immunities to potions like Veritaserum," Harry said, then his eyes grew sad. "I didn't want to use you and Colin like that. I'm so sorry, Gin."
Ginny shook her head. She was so grateful that she hadn't been a part of yet another information grab by the enemy, she couldn't even think to be upset with Harry. "I signed up for this," Ginny responded instead. She reached up and grabbed held Harry's face. "I trust you. Now, Colin on the other hand, may actually deserve an apology."
Harry smiled softly at her and leaned forward to give her a kiss. When he pulled back, he glanced over to Colin as if to wake him up, but hesitated. He pulled out a galleon from his pocket and touched his wand to it. "Ginny, it wasn't all false information I fed them."
Ginny frowned. "What do you mean? You gave up a lot of plans and details, Harry."
Harry shook his head. "I had to get him to believe the Veritaserum was working."
She'd buried it deep, behind the relief that Harry had fed misinformation to Malfoy. After all, the war not turning back in Voldemort's favor was more important than her love life. But now that Harry had brought it up, Ginny had to face the fact that he had said "I love her" while being capable of lying.
"Harry?" she prompted.
"I love you, Ginny," he responded, cradling her face with his hand. "It's so obviously the truth that I couldn't not say it. And I hated that Malfoy heard it before you. I've known for months, should've been saying it for months. I love you."
Ginny crashed her lips to his. She couldn't believe the massive swing in her emotions in the past two minutes, and it likely fueled her passion. Harry returned the kiss enthusiastically, his lips furiously chasing hers at every turn.
Then, they pulled apart quickly, as if shocked.
"You have to warn the Order!" Ginny said immediately, her eyes wide.
Harry, however, had another problem with the situation, as he exclaimed simultaneously, "Shit, look at Colin over there. This is wrong."
Ginny glanced over, and a bit of guilt settled in her stomach at seeing her friend tightly bound and unconscious. Then she looked back at Harry and they shared a short laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
Harry stood back up and walked over to Colin. "By the way, the Order was listening in the whole time." He held up the gold coin he had handled previously. "So they heard everything as well. Figured I'd turn it off for our moment, though."
Ginny stood and caught Harry's hand before he waved his wand to release Colin. "I didn't say it, Harry. But I love you, too. So much."
He smiled brightly at her and pecked her quickly on the lips before turning back to Colin. With a wave of his wand, the boy awakened groggily and the ropes fell off his body.
"Hey Colin. How you doing, buddy?"
Ginny thought the question a bit rhetorical, given his bloodied face, his missing prosthetic limb, and black eye. But Colin answered anyway. "Depends on how this whole situation ended up while I was out."
Harry smiled. "It's a bit of a story; I'll tell you on the way back. But suffice it to say, we won."
Colin grinned and let out a sigh of relief. "Good. Now, I could use a good night's rest, if you don't mind."
Harry laughed. "It sounds like a plan."
But Ginny knew there was no good night's rest in tonight's plans for Harry. She had a feeling it would be a very long night, indeed.
"My Lord," Lucius said, having just apparated back from Hogmeade back to his home. "My son has sent his memory of his interrogation of Potter."
He had immediately gone to the basement, to where his master had reclaimed his old office. The room was dimly lit, and the Dark Lord sat at his desk staring at the opposite wall.
"And?" the Dark Lord prompted as he swiveled in his chair to face Lucius.
Lucius handed over a vial of a silvery fluid. "He said Potter bought the bait of a Hogwarts attack. And he gave him the prophecy."
A horrid grin grew on the Dark Lord's face as he reached out to take the memory. "While I view this, see to preparations for the battle."
"Yes my Lord," Lucius said. He turned to leave the office, wondering if this was the end of it all. One way or another, the war might well be determined by this night. If the losses were too great on either side, Lucius doubted the other could rebound.
A/N: So I've had the veritaserum scene in my head for a long time. I just loved the notion that Harry-whether from emotional uncertainty or a desire to protect those he loves-had to be forced to admit his feelings. I mean, we've all known his feelings, as has Ginny. But to actually say the words, it's somewhat fitting it had to come in a situation like this. Hope you enjoyed!