A hiss of black smoke leeched out of the book, and oil too, and Ginny took a step back. Even with all the horcruxes she'd destroyed, this one seemed especially bad. She could see Granger glance uneasily back at the rest of the common room, but her study nook was sufficiently private no one seemed to notice anything was amiss. The silencing charm had to help but maybe Gryffindors were just used to smoke emerging from magical experiments gone wrong.

Given they had to live with Fred and George, that seemed more than likely.

"Look at the would-be saviors," the horcrux hissed. "Look at the heroes."

Ginny didn't have time to see how Potter and Granger reacted to the taunting because Tom had begun to slip out of her soul. She could feel him being pulled away by tidal forces of magic he'd set in motion fifty years earlier and she dug her heels in and grabbed onto him. "No," she said out loud as she refused to let him back out and into the diary. He scrambled back into the nooks and crannies where he'd hidden during their first encounter with his older self at Narcissa's Christmas party. Even there the death of the diary pulled at him. It wanted to consume him and all she could think was No.

"You'll never be free of me," the horcrux whispered. "You can't even remember what it's like to not have me there. I am a part of you, the best part, the only part that matters."

"No," Harry Potter said. His voice was a lot less shaky than she felt. "You're wrong." He pulled the dagger out of her hand and rammed it down into the diary again and again and again. "You're an infection, you bastard, and that's all."

"That's what you think," hissed the horcrux. "But what are you, really? Just a child no one trusts."

"They trust me," Harry said, but now his voice was a little weaker and he took a step away from the book. "They do."

The horcrux laughed. "They don't tell any of you anything," it said. Hermione pulled out her wand and pointed it at the book as if that would help but, at last, the basilisk venom in the blade of the knife did its work. The diary shuddered and settled down into being nothing but some damaged pages between a leather cover. Tom was still safely tucked away. Harry Potter wasn't a horcrux.

Ginny wanted a shower. By the way Potter was rubbing at his arms, he felt the same way. Hermione Granger was tried to make a joke as they all stood, unsure what to do next in the aftermath.

"You really shouldn't treat a book that way, Harry," she said.

They all looked at her. "Well," she said, sounding defensive now, "in general, you shouldn't."

Ginny poked at the diary. A puddle of something oily and dark surrounded it and though the tidy part of her that had been raised by Molly Weasley thought she should at least toss it into a bin she didn't want to get any of the ooze on her fingers. Maybe it would be better off left for the elves to handle with their magic. "There's only one left," she said. Assuming they'd been right about the idea there would be seven of them. She didn't want to think about having to track down more.

Two. You're forgetting me.

Shut up.

"One horcrux?" Granger asked. She managed to look a little put out by that. Her jaw thrust out and she folded her arms and Ginny wanted to shake her. If she'd wanted in on the destruction of the things, she should have tried harder before now. "You've been busy," she said.

"Snape helped," Ginny said.

"Snape?" Harry's mouth dropped open. It was unattractive.

Thank god you like blonds too. If you still had a crush on this one, I might have had to go back into the diary just to escape.

I think I told you to shut up.

They were both more than a little wobbly after his near destruction. It made him arch. It made her snippy. Hermione Granger narrowed her eyes. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"I'm fine," Ginny said. It would figure that Granger would catch her talking to Tom and, even worse, be suspicious. Everyone else just assumed she was drifting off into her own thoughts. "And, yes, Snape." Best to distract them both. They hated Snape so that would do it.

"But he's -."

"On your side," Ginny said. She let a mean little smile curl up the corners of her mouth. "Try to keep up."

Even better than Snape as a distraction was her brother. She'd been lucky that Ron hadn't been around before but that luck didn't hold. He came crashing around the corner and stopped abruptly when he saw her. "Ginevra," he said coldly. "Shouldn't you be in the dungeons with the rest of the snakes?"

"Oh, give it a rest, Ronald," Granger said. Ginny tried not to gape. "She came up to help us. Harry had… Harry had a problem and she took care of it and we're going now."

"Lord -," Ron began.

"Yes," Granger said. She turned her back on the destroyed horcrux and gave both Ron and Harry a shove toward the portrait hole. "Let's go."

Ginny must have hesitated a moment too long. She needed to go, of course, but Hermione Granger hadn't ever really had to have a conversation with Voldemort. She didn't know how terrifying he really was. Sometimes fear was wisdom.

Also, of course, she wasn't sure she'd be welcome with the Gryffindors. Even for a short walk down from the tower.

"Are you coming?" Granger asked.

"She's too much of a coward to face what's down there," Ron said.

Ginny stiffened, but before she could say anything, Hermione turned on Ron. "You don't know as much as you think you do," she said. "Just because someone's in another house doesn't mean you have to go around being," she paused and her anger seemed to drain out of her. "Being like that," she settled on.

Doesn't want to offend the boy she's got a crush on, Tom said.

"Let's go," Harry said. He held his arm out and Ginny realized with something akin to shock it was a courteous gesture meant for her. Maybe she'd read him wrong all these years.


They headed out the portrait hole and down to where Lord Voldemort lurked.