Chapter Twenty-Six: Abandon All Hope

I once got my hands on a bible that Harry found in a hotel he stayed at. He brought it back to me, thinking I would find it interesting to read about someone called Jesus who was probably a wizard and Harry also thought it might improve my muggle studies report.

Not that I needed it.

In either case, it talks about something called Hell.

According to the literal Greek interpretation, Hell isn't actually fire, brimstone, and all manners of tortures devised by some bored little demon. It's not Dante's Inferno (or lack thereof really) incarnate. In fact, it's just life without God, which apparently is enough to scare anyone into submission and chanting.

When I read about it, I laughed, thinking this weird missing of some invisible deity is what causes massive amounts of people to convert. Did they think they were going to miss anything those few years before they handed their lives over? According to a muggle person I once questioned the belief of God about, they said God hadn't given any sign of being around since Jesus died. It made me wonder why people choose to believe in something that hadn't moved from being a carcass in a sheet of cloth (no offense to the Christians but, hey, that was my translation of it). It made me wonder why everyone was rushing to get themselves a bible when Hell was just missing something that never really existed.

And then, suddenly, the bottom of Earth fell out and I was in Hell.

I lived it.

I breathed it.

I slept with it over my sprawled out, dreaming form suffocating every feeling in me till I felt like Jesus must have during those three days inside a tomb, getting the ability to rise again and finding that it was 'not yet, wait three more days…not yet, wait two more..not yet…wait fifty minutes.' Except the fifty minutes never ended and I was left there, breathing heavily, trying not to drown in my tears and weeping bouts.

Because when I was through with Tom, that's what my life was: a living example of hell. Every moment was spent being tense, wondering what was going through his head, wondering when he was going to strike or caress, wondering whether or not I still existed to him.

Hell doesn't have to be fiery torture to be torture at all, apparently. Just the thought of not existing to someone makes most people go crazy.

So for two days I wandered, as Dante did, through hell.

And on the third day, God rose again.

Or at least I did.

I awoke on the third day, my eyes puffy from the little to no sleep I'd had over due to the stress and pain of separation from someone who would normally be considered a soul mate. My hands were lying upon my stomach like a corpse in repose and my mouth was shut even when my eyes snapped open. I didn't sit up immediately, afraid that if I did the tears might arise with me from their sullen pools that were my pupils. I didn't even bother to open my mouth just slightly and release the stinging sense of morning breath.

I lay there and I simply breathed.

Then, slowly, Shona arose with me in the back of my mind with a slender yawn and a comment.

Good morning, Ginny. She barked solemnly and in my mind I saw her great red head lifting itself from her paws gracefully, assessing my physical and mental outlook and her red eyes twinkle in acknowledgement. I see that something's changed. For the better, I believe. No thoughts of jumping off the astronomy tower this morning?

No, I answered keenly and looked around without moving my head. From where I was I could see other beds lined up against the wall placidly. Their sheets were neatly pulled back, awaiting some visitor to slumber upon them. People that didn't move or breathe as far as I could tell took two beds. Those two were stiffer than boards and as lively as dead rocks. Looking at them, I realized where I was with a momentary shock that sent me shooting up from where I lay.

Everything rushed back to me. The loss of Riddle, seeing him on the stairs as I was going to the hospital wing, fainting right before him due to lack of sleep. What happened afterwards? Did he take me here? Did I wake up and walk here without realizing it?

"Rushton," a murmur came from my side and I turned my head so quickly from reflex that the bones in my neck popped. The figure in the chair winced at the disgusting sound and lowered its head to its hands. "Why must you cause trouble for me? First, you near break my arms from falling from a broom in a nightgown…"

Tom then. I could tell because the way he said it and the fact that I'd never ever fallen into anyone else's arms, really.

"Then I'm forced to share a bed with you and a compartment on the train. Afterwards, you fight with my ex-girlfriend…"

Who is also your daughter by me come back to make sure you fall in love with me and she is born but I won't interrupt you…darling.

"And make my job much, much more complicated by stealing Salazar's Gift…"

Wha? Well. This is new. This is something Nymeria never told me of.

I wanted to take his head from his hand, force him to look at me, and ask him what the bloody blazes he was talking about, but I refrained with a great dignity formally titled yawning. Underneath my bed, a sleepy whimper was heard and I knew Fenrir was beneath me in all his direwolf glory.

"We switched halves of souls and I turned out to be so attracted to you that it hurts. Then you consort with someone who looks rather dashingly like you to murder me…."

Again I desired to shake his head from his hands and ask what the blazes he was talking about and again I refrained by clenching my slender, pale hands into fists in the sheets.

"Then…you break what little bit of a heart I have left. Tell me, dear, sweet, beautiful angel Rushton, what am I to do with you?" he asked. Finally, he did raise his head from his hands and the face looking back at me resembled a war ground. And not the type that emerged in the middle ages. I mean the type where trenches were built, blood watered the earth as much as rain, and bombshells often missed the target. The type where forests were ripped away from the earth like the maidenhood of a little girl still unable to understand what was happening by a rapist. The war ground where barbed wire was used and planes slaughtered the sound of sweet birdsong.

There was no such thing as peace on Tom's face. Simply resignation to its fate and a simple question of "why?".

It was my first clue that Tom was beyond saving and I simply watched and refused to stop it.

Unlike most times in my life, I didn't answer his question with biting sarcasm or even a witty comment. I watched his face and drunk it in. This was my well of water in the desert that I had been abandoned in. This was the god I had been waiting for in Dante's Inferno.

"Tom," I murmured and reached forward, grasping his hand. Within a second, his was pulling me forward, towards him and I didn't pause to stop him or reprimand him. Our lips met, my soul healed for one instant, and then he pushed me back with a savage look on his face.

I felt heaven in his kiss and wanted more but I stopped myself thinking that too much paradise can lead to blasphemy which eventually leads to…Hell.

"Tom," I whispered again, this time my voice wavered and I knew the tears were coming back. Why, oh why, did I ever lay eyes on his stupid journal? Why did I take that timeturner? Why did I have to be born?

"Don't you dare ever say that name again, Rushton. From now on, you will address me as Lord Voldemort, whether you like it or not. If you refuse to, I won't hesitate to use to an Unforgivable Curse upon you." His voice broke over the word Unforgivable. A ray of hope shone through the abandoned, dark cathedral in my life.

"No, you'll always be Tom to me. You know that. Don't change this around." I shot back, forgetting my sorrow and just letting anger control me. There was fear in my voice too, so slim and fragile it could have been mistaken for caution. But fear is what it truly was because I was seeing Lord Voldemort starting to breathe and flex his wings. I was seeing Lord Voldemort's personality being shaped and I saw my hands, clawed and red with the blood of the innocents to be killed, shaping it like wet clay.

Tom, of course, knew me as well as I knew myself. He knew I was afraid but he just didn't know exactly why. "Are you afraid of me, Rushton?" he implored dangerously, eyes slipping to a red shade, "Because you should be. Any false move that you make and I will hurt those closest to you. Any wrong word and I shall treat them like the dirt they are. Whatever—"

The tears ran down my cheeks unchecked and without care. Like girls running from a snake they've unexpectedly seen in the meadow where they were playing, they ran from my eyes and onto my clenched hands. My mouth didn't open in case I might let loose a sob and call the nurse. Ultimate sorrow crouched on the doorstep of my life, desiring to take it over completely and redo the decorations.

"Stop it!" I yelped, shutting my eyes quickly and blocking him from my vision. Someone once told me that in one blink everything could change. I wanted my blink to last so long that everything would end right here and right now. When I opened them I wanted no one to be before me. I wanted simply Fenrir and Shona and peace.

I wanted to get out of Hell.

"Stop saying such things!" I yelled out and my hands flew like frightening doves from clenching my sheets to clenching the salt water streaming down. They tried to stop the flow with wings that were fingers and failed miserably. "You've broken me enough, Tom Marvolo Riddle, now get out!"

There was a silence in which the fall of tears upon the covers could be heard. Tom was looking at me, assessing the damage he'd wrecked, testing to see if the cathedral in my heart could be destroyed further. I wanted to lift my eyes and show him that it stood, proud as ever. But doing that would be lying to both of us and I was sick of lies. I didn't not know that I was hurting him as much as he hurt me. But knowing that as I do now, would I have stopped?

No, I wouldn't have because I think I wanted to hurt him as much as I was hurt so that I didn't feel so abandoned and alone in a cold, frigid landscape where everything was a move for time and I was such a outsider.

When I did raise my eyes, it was to stare at him angrily. There was no hate in my gaze and there never would be again but there was anger. Cold, icicle anger. "Go Tom. Go play with your harlots and your little minions. Go play with your chess pieces and the people who like your arms wrapped around their necks. I need to rest." I murmured and lowered the blazing blue shade of my eyes to the covers, observing with false interest the small puddle of tears that lay there.

Without warning, he gave a strangled cry and left me staring at the purest thing I'd ever seen since I entered his time.

Interlude...

A day passed in the hospital and my hell didn't turn into heaven or purgatory. I spent most of my time doing homework on a desk some boy made me as a gift or reading texts on Wild Magic. Nothing new passed before my eyes. No body even bothered to see me that day. So the entire day was donated to studying, crying, or sleeping after eating. My body was recovering from all the hits it had taken over the quarters and while it did that, the amount of paralyzed bodies in one day jumped from two to five.

There was talk, naturally, of forming an expedition of teachers to stalk this predator and put him in his place. But then Dumbledore, ever reasonable even in his youth, reminded everyone that it would leave the students even more vulnerable and give the predator more time to strike. Would it not be better if the teachers escorted the children in groups to their classes? It was logical and more precise. It was safer as well.

On the second day, I received Tom as a visitor. He was sitting by my bed when I awoke again like a corpse. My hair had been brushed out and fanned across my pillow like a shell found at the ocean's side. When I saw the brush in his hands I understood why.

Instantly my temper was up. How dare he! "Excuse me," I scowled, "but I didn't ask for my hair to be treated while I was sleeping. It was fine the way it was."

He snorted, a very strange thing for him, before placing the brush on my bedside table. "Rushton, your hair vaguely resembled the place where rats give birth. Even I, who has great affection for you still residing in my heart despite recent threats, found it hard to gaze upon you in such a manner."

I blinked in surprise and wondered if maybe Tom had multiple personality disorder. First he tried to kill me, then he threatened me and made me uniquely depressed and crushed my spirit entirely, and now he was brushing my hair and reminding me that I still have a place in his heart. This day was getting too strange for my liking, I decided and then made the smartest decision in my life: to be silent.

His black eyes stared at me a few more moments as if trying to decide what I most resembled and then blinked. "Your silence is bothering me, Rushton. Say something before I have to agitate you enough to make you scorn me."

So I opened my mouth and asked, "What is Salazar's Gift?"

His eyebrows rose like black clouds on a pale horizon. "It's simple enough. It gives a person control over a basilisk. I tried to retrieve just to make sure no one tried to interfere with my plans but you reached it first. Of course, because I am the heir of Slytherin I have a natural ability to command any basilisk but it was really just for precaution's sake."

I nodded and it made sense why I felt that strange tingling sensation in my palm when I touched that snake carving underneath Hogwarts. "Are there others like it?" I implored.

He snorted again and I didn't even waste my time wondering. "No, of course not. Salazar was smarter than that, Rushton. If he put them all over the place then it wouldn't really be a gift. It'd be more of a free-for-all than anything. You found the only one and quite frankly it won't rejuvenate its gift for another five thousand years so it'll possibly be lost in time till someone decides to explore Hogwarts and magically finds it. Naturally I do expect them to die shortly afterwards from not being able to find a way out but there's always the chance that whoever discovers it again has extremely good fortune and intelligence."

"So are you saying I would have died had you not arrived?"

"Precisely. This means you have good fortune. I haven't yet decided if you have intelligence." His gaze was mocking and amused. For once, I considered his comment without retorting first. There was a solemn silence and then somewhere in the distance a person sneezed.

I jumped from the break of sound and looked Tom. "Did you mean what you threatened?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because I meant it, Rushton, what kind of silly question is that?"

"No, I mean why would you threaten someone who would better be used as an ally?"

"I refuse to dignify that question with an answer."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Tom?"

"…."

"Oh for the love of all things holy and loving! Fine! Lord Voldemort?"

"Yes?"

"Do you have multiple personality disorder?'

"I repeat: I refuse to dignify that question with an answer."

"So is that a yes."

"No."

"So you don't have it?"

"Right."

"Left."

"What the…"

"You said right so I said left."

"How much medication do they have you on, Rushton?"

"I have no idea. I just take what they give me."

"I see."

"Well technically you don't because you're never around me when they give me stuff so you're really just assuming."

"Rushton?"

"Yeeeesss?"

"Stop being a smartass."

"Well, it's better than being a dumb one isn't it?"

"I suppo….Damn it, shut up, Rushton!"

"……….Tom?"

"…."

"Lord Voldemort?"

"Yes, Rushton?"

"I think they gave me too many headache curing pills."

"That's amazing, Rushton."

"What's amazing?"

"That you were thinking."

"Is it really?"

"Yes, terribly."

"Riddle?"

"Yes?"

"Why do you keep coming back here if I've…discarded you for trying to kill me?"

"Because….Because I still love you, Ginny. There's no helping it. I've emotionally condemned myself to you all for half of your soul. Not that the soul thing really changed much. Honestly I was in love with you from the first moment you literally fell into my arms but the soul thing did help."

"…….."

"Er…Ginny?"

"……………."

"Virginia?"

"……………"

"Virginia Rushton, are you asleep?"

"…………….."

"Blast."

Interlude...

I was let out of the hospital after Rose came and said she needed me for Wild Mage training in the Forbidden Forest. Well, obviously she didn't say that exactly to the nurse. What she actually said went along the lines that Virginia Weasley had some lessons she needed to catch up on that had to happen now or never and didn't Mistress Healsped think the exercise would do my muscles some good?

The nurse personally said she was sorry to see me go with such short notice but I was so pleased I could have purred. The last of Tom's visits to the hospital wing for me had been when I fell asleep on him. And that time…I could feel myself being gravitated towards him like some ship towards the siren's deadly song. Another visit of his, even if it was with the evil side of him, would have forced me to surrender my heart again, something I wasn't ready to do.

I needed a plan. Something to get rid of the basilisk with.

Salazar's gift was my original thought but Tom and Mina/Adora had the same gift so it would be pointless confusing the basilisk into directing its gaze where ever the person calling it was. Not only would we all end up dead but also I'd never get home.

Which was a negative thought.

Faraday, I thought, must have a plan. After all, she was more than five thousand years old, the daughter of the original Wild Mage Zeus and his lover Leda (I'd put these pieces together in my hospital bed.) She knew the rules and had been around when they had been established. She would know and I could reenact her ideas without a problem.

Rose helped me outside of the hospital wing doors to take me into the Forbidden Forest on the day of my release. Her hair was bound with a leather strap in a thick bun at the base of her neck. The lips that were so beautiful to behold parted in a buttery, pleased smile when her eyes saw me walk unsteadily towards her.

Within a few moments, Rose was chattering to me happily about all the going-ons in the caverns of the Wild Mages and what arguments Sheba and Faraday had gotten into.

Just as we reached the pale sunlit yards of the school campus, I questioned her. "Why don't Sheba and Faraday like one another? Both are ancient, right? Surely after all this time together they'd get over their differences."

Rose's smile, which had seemed fixated to her face like some mosquito whose found the largest supply of blood, flew away. "Sheba…Sheba was Ivan's lover at one point in the world's history. Actually, to be honest, Ivan and Sheba are the eldest of any Wild Mage I know of. They come even before Faraday or Zeus. Even before the Wild Mage's banned together and became rare."

She paused as if considering how to say it just as we entered the fringe of the wood.

"To give you an idea of how old Sheba and Ivan are…Did you ever hear of Neanderthals?"

I blinked, thinking. "Yes. They're about ten thousand or a million years before humans actually were considered 'evolved' and their time period was considered to have overlapped with the species till they died out before anyone could write or learn about them," I recited then exclaimed, "Sheba and Ivan are THAT old?"

Rose nodded. "Older than that, to be precise. By more than thirty three thousand years. You see, back when they were alive, there was no such thing as marriage or laws or anything. The world was based on instinct and emotions. It is how Sheba and Ivan became lovers, actually. Their emotions drove them to the point where they could only stand to be around one another if they could touch at the same time. They became official lovers when Sheba was only fifteen years old and Ivan was seventeen.

"By the time Sheba was twenty-two, she'd had two miscarriages, as the land and people were incredibly fertile then and Wild Mages could have as many children as they wanted before they died. Her heart was torn. For awhile, she shook her bed clean of Ivan and then just as suddenly took him back. She gave birth to a healthy boy child after that, at the age of thirty-six years.

"She doted on that son, naturally. His name was Jahi and never was he out of her sight. Alas, he eventually left her side just as naturally as he'd come into this world. Driven for a need of adventure and adrenaline, he went to a land now known as Greece and became known as Cronus, the god of time and so on in the Greek myths. You see, all the Greek gods are what are considered the first 'Wild Mages' though truth is that they just come from a different land where they were incredibly common. Sheba and Ivan are proof of this.

"In any case, Sheba never forgave Jahi or Cronus for leaving her. She tried for more children, but sadly each child died before the age of two. Sheba gave up and went to the court of Greece, seeking Cronus. She didn't find him, of course. His seventh son, Zeus, had murdered him. Hearing this, her grief was terrible to behold. She nearly rendered Rhea, her son's bride, apart just for giving Zeus life and when she came upon Zeus, she made him promise to give up his daughter to her because she wanted a child so badly to replace Cronus.

"Zeus agreed and laid with Leda in the form of a swan. Thus Faraday or Helen was born."

I didn't see, at this point, how on earth Helen could have earned Sheba's wrath and terrible anger and then Rose said something more.

"At the same time Leda gave birth, so did Sheba, who had returned to Ivan's bed rejoicing for the child she was soon to have sired by Zeus and birthed by the fair Leda. Sheba's child was another boy whom she called Merlain. He inherited his mother's desperation for love and beauty. He also was given her powers.

"When Zeus heard Sheba had a son now, he gave Helen quite freely up to the Greeks and then to the Trojans. Sheba never forgave Zeus for giving up what was rightfully hers and worst came when Merlain fell in love with Helen from afar and chased her all the way to Troy, even fought with the Greeks to attempt a piece of her.

"No sooner had the war ended then Menelaus, Helen's first husband, died of poisoning. She fled to Britannia, now the United Kingdom, and appeared as a goddess of light to the dark haired, pale skinned Bretons. They called her Brighid in Ireland and Gwenhwyfar in England. Within a few thousand years and a couple of centuries, Merlain found her again and followed her to the court of Arthur. As a magician, he watched her suffer through her newfound barreness, which had not been present before. He offered his services to her and begged her to love him. She took neither and gave nothing because she wanted to stay faithful to a husband for once. 'I am known as Guinevere now. I'm not Helen nor Brighid nor the paganistic Gwenhwyfar. I do not lay with any other man but my husband and I shall certainly not lay with a magician of old tricks,' she answered each of his pleas.

"When Arthur was slain by his son Mordred, Merlain called Merlin thought he could grab Helen then. He pleaded, he begged, he even groveled and pledged undying love. In order to get away from him, Helen-Guinevere entered a convent and took a vow of celibacy. And Merlain, in his despair, disappeared off the cliffs of the United Kingdom and never came back. Sheba believes it was all Faraday's fault. She blames her for every breath of agony Merlain took and never lets her forget it. Some day…."

Rose drifted off.

I realized that perhaps Faraday would understand me better than anyone. She would know what to do about Tom. She had dealt with all manner of men, even great Wild Mages like Merlain and Zeus, her father. She was the great-granddaughter of the wisest, oldest woman in the world, Sheba. She would know exactly what to do.

It was then that we arrived at the clearing before the entrance to the caverns of the Wild Mages and I heard my name called in a melodic sounding purer than any winter-bled spring.

"Ginny!"

"Faraday!" I cried out and held open my arms just as she did hers. With an embrace that a woman would give her long-lost daughter, Faraday gripped me close to her and I felt beneath her ample bosom her heart beating happily like a hummingbird fluttering against its silver cage to freedom.

"Ah, Ginny!" she exclaimed again and pushing me back at arm's length observed me. "Dear gods! You look so worn out! Your face is as red as your hair and your body is shaking. Rose told me that they'd put you in the hospital. Something about exhaustion and fainting spells and legs giving out but…dear me. This looks like something worse!"

Five thousand years of experience said she should know so I just nodded and let her lead me down the cavern's steps shakily. "Faraday, isn't there another way down these stairs?" I panted after having to lean against the central pillar to keep from toppling off the edge.

"Yes, actually, but this is training for physical feats you may have to perform later. Though…" she looked at me, her eyes glittering more beautifully than any gem, "Perhaps you need a bit of help this time. You've been in bed for a few days, yes? In that case, your muscles have relaxed."

I nodded, desperate for some small, teensy amount of help.

She provided it with a small rock about the size of my little finger. "Um…Faraday," I explained to her slowly, "That is a rock. It's a thing that you get on the ground. I'm not seeing how that will help us down here."

Her laughter bubbled through the cavern, filling even the shadowy places with light and warmth. "That's because you are looking and not really seeing, Ginny!" she exclaimed and murmured some ancient tongue over the stone. It winked at us, a slip of light around it that was so quick I wondered if I really saw it, and suddenly we were not on steps but on the cavern floor, with the runes and glowing green signs and the other Wild Mages around us.

"Wow…" I sighed, "I've got to get myself one of those." The ex-Princess of Troy simply laughed with a tilting back of her head and letting her long hair swoop down her back and shake like tiny beads on a string. How beautiful she was, even after five millennia, how Paris must have been smitten with her. How angered and jealous Aphrodite must have felt when she witnessed from the high mountain of Olympus the birthing of this Wild Mage. How precious this woman was to me, like a mother when I needed mine the most.

"Yes, well, in any case, I know you have a problem that you wish to solve, Virginia. Tell me in my apartments." The dragon Wild Mage said and gripped my frozen hand in her warm one.

Thus she led me through the caverns, down another, short flight of stairs and into a warm chamber with a bed of silk pillows and sheets laid out in a cut, smoothed out section of the cave. Candles were everywhere, filling the room which the scent of roses, honeysuckle, and thyme. I breathed it in, felt it touching my soul, and part of me relaxed further.

Before the shelf of a bed were four chairs of olivewood, all divinely crafted with no sharp corners but all rounded and carved with all manner of creatures on them. In the center of those was a table with a dragon carved into its center with its four feet holding indentations for bowls or cups. In the grasp of its mouth was a deeper indentation, to place a candle or something in it. Faraday had put dried flower petals there and cinnamon sticks to add to the aroma-therapy of the room.

The best of all were the tapestries that hung from rock pegs in the room. Helen had obviously created these tapestries herself. One displayed Persephone, niece and wife of Hades, another daughter of Zeus by his sister Demeter. Her ebony tresses spread to the floor in ringlets about her and her golden, summer heat eyes blazed merrily despite the scene of death and darkness around her. A hand was gripping hers, possessively yet lovingly. There that section of tapestry ended only to be joined by its sister weave, the portrait of Hades, whose skin was the skin of corpses and whose eyes were dark and cold like polished stone. Yet the look he gave his wife was one of such secretive tenderness my heart bled for the idea that Persephone had wanted to leave him behind forever.

There was another of cream-and-roses skinned Aphrodite, with her ruby lips parted slightly over the skin of a golden apple that had letters on it in Greek to display their sharp, predatorily designed nature that could bring pleasure or pain. Her eyes were wickedly seductive and were a precious, sea-foam green-gray-blue. Her hair was gold, flecked with the sea foam she'd been conceived in and her outfit was a ruby dress of Greek design with one of the shoulder cloths drifting over her perfect shoulder as if it wanted more than her shoulder and more than that bit of arm. I stared at her the longest and wondered if Tom would have loved and desired Aphrodite more than me.

No, something in me whispered, Mina was like Aphrodite. Poised for the seduction and the kill. You are the one who caught his heart instead. He wants the woman with the red hair, the goddess unpainted or unwoven. He hungers for the touch of the innocent lips of a girl whose innocence can never actually be removed for you are stuck in time, neither in one place or the other, but always on the edge of the moving things.

I listened, became confused and found myself being guided to one of the carved chairs that Faraday had pulled out for me. "Sit already. Tell me what is bothering you, Ginny." She murmured and cut a strawberry in fragments before handing me a piece, "Eat as well, you look half-starved." There was a look in her eye that suggested she was remembering another time and another place where something similar like this had happened. Her daughter Hermione, perhaps?

I bit into it, gasped at the potent taste, and then swallowed before starting. "Faraday, I need to…I need to kill a mythical creature. A basilisk to be exact. I can speak to it, I have Salazar's Gift, but sadly this ability to control it is in two others as well. Those two are paralyzing people like crazy, trying, perhaps, to kill them. It must be stopped before I return to my own time. I need your help. You have been around for five thousand years. You have seen all manner of creatures even before they were extinct. Surely you know some way to end a basilisk's killing spree?"

She stared at me, her eyes even with my own as she slouched slightly in her chair. Even that motion made her seem breathtaking in the candle light. "There's more. You're not telling me something…There's an emotional tie to this as well. I can feel it. Someone you love is tied into this. Was he or she paralyzed?"

I choked on the sudden lump in my throat. For some reason, I had left out Tom and Myrtle and Juniper and everyone I worried for. "No, not paralyzed," I coughed out and then said with all the heat I thought had left me when I entered Dante's Hell, "The man I love with everything the gods have given me is controlling it. I hated him at first, because of what he did to me beforehand, and then…Then something changed. I don't know what. Faraday…. Helen, it is as if…When I kiss him, it is as if I have been wandering in the dark and suddenly found the light. When I touch his hand or his face it is like my body is being submerged in cool water after spending five days in scorching heat. And the worst thing is I know what will happen to him. I know how horrible he will become and how much death he will cause. I have seen all of the pain he will bring to me and mine and I know that I'm a catalyst. But it is not enough to stop me from feeling the way I do.

"So I knew that I had to leave. I had to go back to my time where I belonged but…but he found me, talking to the one person that could bring me what I needed and he took my throat in his hands and I thought…Oh gods, Helen, I thought he was really going to kill me. I ended it then and there, thinking that maybe I truly meant nothing to him but a pawn. For the past week I have been lost, Helen. I feel like I am in Hell and instead of fire it is just loneliness and sometimes I just want to go to sleep and never wake up because it will mean I never have to face him again and think, 'I've lost you. I meant nothing to you but you meant everything to me and I messed it up.'"

I started crying. Great, gulping, childish sobs that made my speaking nearly indecipherable and Persephone blurred before me, twisting away from her husband's loving gaze because it was almost detestable to him. Was I like Persephone to Tom? My thoughts were hysterical in my grief but Faraday-Helen listened and never interrupted.

"I couldn't sleep or eat or drink anything, Helen. Not for a while. And then I was dismissed from class one day to rest or go somewhere, I've forgotten. I saw him. Ah gods I saw him below me about to go up the stairs. There was never anything more beautiful. I thought to myself, 'I want him, more than anything. I'm not complete without him.' And I saw in his eyes that he was trying to tear himself from me. And then I collapsed and I know he caught me because Mistress Healsped said he did.

"I awoke three days later and he was there, just sitting there with his head in his hands like I was disgusting to him or like he could not bear to gaze upon his sin. He told me such horrible things, Helen, and I said horrible things back because I wanted him to feel as I did even though we have each other's halves of soul. But he came back the next day, afterwards, and we talked for awhile and it was like taking a sip of water after wandering in the desert for fifty years without hope. He told me how much he still loved me and I feigned sleep because I couldn't bear to look at him because I would lose my courage, become undone, and throw myself into his arms crying and heaving out tears like I am now.

"And now I must end his outlet for pain. This basilisk that I'm sure he and the other person are using to either get back at me or just using to wreck terror. I know I have to stop him but what if in stopping him, I lose him entirely? What if I cause an even greater catalyst to this evil that is rising in him like a tide? I don't know what to do, Helen. I never have." I sighed, regained my breath and tried to regain my calm and then lost it again.

Faraday-Helen stood up, came around the table and chairs, and embraced me.

"You have love in your heart, Ginny, for this man. I felt this way but only once and it never came again. Not for the five thousand years I have lived. I felt it for Paris, son of Priam. Your feelings are more intense, because he is only your second love, I think, but mine were so similar. Oh Ginny, Paris once did something similar to trying to kill me once."

I stared at her through eyelashes heavily laced with saltwater. "What? But the Illiad…"

She laughed and birdsong filled the world. "I didn't tell Homer everything, silly. It would have diminished the stories of the heroes and focused it on Paris and I. But, yes, Paris almost killed me once, the night Hector died, in the tenth year of the war. I was sleeping and felt something prick my throat. My eyes opened slowly and I saw Paris, his golden hair streaming around his face like the sun's rays, tears saturated his face and landing in the hollow of my throat where the sword point was resting. 'Why shouldn't I kill you, Helen?' he demanded of me and I stared at him calmly. He asked it again and again of me till I reached out, touched his face and started weeping with him. I was never so scared because he truly meant to murder me then and end this war. It was there in his eyes and in the way he held the knife. And I didn't fight it because I felt so much to blame for Hector's death. When I started weeping with him, his resolve crumpled and he threw the sword against the wall and then kiss me so hard I thought we were both trying to kill ourselves with passion."

She smiled, thinly and kissed my forehead like a mother would her daughter who has taken her first running steps only to fall and scrap her knees. "This man loves you but he's afraid of you. I think he's afraid of how much you mean to him and he thinks that by making you cower, he has nothing to fear. Show him it is not so, Ginny. Show him that you love him no matter who or what he is and then, perhaps, he will use the basilisk against this other person and then…Then you will not be lost and wandering in the dark caves without a light. You will save him, I can feel it in my old bones."

I cried for relief and later, after being released from the hospital wing under Rose's orders (influenced by Faraday), I searched the castle till I found Tom, surrounded by Juniper and Richard and Jack, smiling charmingly.

My steps faltered and I longed to run away because despite Faraday's words, the idea of those hands once more wrapped around my neck scared the heck out of me. Instead, I raised my chin and waited till he saw me. Juniper, Richard, and Jack fell silent, following Tom's gaze, and began to talk amongst themselves as Tom floated past them predatorily.

I stared at him and when he got so close our noses were centimeters apart, I sighed. He gazed down at me, trying to understand the sigh and then smirked. Without warning, I grasped his hand and pulled him down the hallway a ways.

"Back for more, Rushton?" He murmured so softly only I could hear as we walked.

"But of course," I answered absentmindedly (slightly panicking), "I'm condemned to you, Riddle. And not just because of this soul thing. It's also because…" I hesitated as his eyes flashed red randomly and then took heart from what Faraday had said and continued, "It's also because I want to be. Condemned to you, I mean." Then suddenly my confidence faltered. "But…don't think that it means you can still go dragging me around during class hours by drugging me with Coranimagi and catching me while I fall down flights of stairs from exhaustion or—"

"Gods, Rushton, do you ever shut up?" He groaned and pulled me back sharplybefore hekissed me so fiercely I thought all my breath had gone out of me. And despite the fact we could have died for lack of oxygen and not cared and despite the fact that he had nearly killed me and said he would use an Unforgivable Curse of me and so on, I clung to him and kissed back with all the passion in my heart and soul till Hell was gone and I was in purgatory, waiting for my entrance into heaven.

Somewhere in the distance, I imagined a heavenly choir singing halluejabut I won't go that far.

When we broke off, gasping, I found that one of his hands had been entwined and crushed in my fiery hair and another was touching my thigh. A blush spread across my face and Shona asked me with delight, Child, are you worried he won't find your form acceptable or is that just your modesty kicking in? I assure you, you have nothing to worry about.

I blushed redder and Tom whispered, "Ginny, you resembling a cherry is not helping things at the moment."

I scowled and retorted, "Tom, you suffocating me a few days ago was helping anything at the moment and here we are, in the darkest niche of Hogwarts, kissing the breath out of each other till one of us collapses."

He chuckled lightly and I marveled over the sound. "You really do have something to say for everything," he muttered and kissed my cheek before pulling away and finding that my hands were not letting go of him. "Ginny, as happy as I am that you find me irresistible, you are going to have to will yourself, gods forbid it, to let go of me lest I find it in myself to smack the daylights out of you." He tried to pry my hands off to no avail and to my amusement considering he actually was much, much stronger than I was. Part of me thought he really didn't want me to let go.

"No," I stated calmly, "I don't want to let go. Ever. In fact, I'm going to keep you here till we die or until you apologize." My hands tightened their hold on his robes and Shona laughed.

For some reason, I wanted to pummel Shona for finding this funny because I was serious.

Tom looked surprised and demonstrated it by blinking. "I beg your pardon? Apologize for what? If you are referring to the suffocation, Ginny, I'm sure you've paid me back rather nicely by nearly…What's that muggle phrase? Oh yes, 'scaring the pants off me' when you collapsed on the stairs and refused to eat or take any liquids for a while. Not only that but when you left your bed this morning and I couldn't find you around the castle."

I blinked then grinned. "You came to see me in the hospital wing earlier? And you looked for me?" This was new to me.

He looked away, tried to feebly push my hands away from his robes and said, "Gods, Rushton, don't flatter yourself. You are the only one to give me a decent conversation in this damnable place without embedding me with water balloons, rotten eggs or confetti like Richard and Jack does. And Juniper is too cryptic for my tastes and Lorna... The gods had a field day when they created Lorna, I give her that."

As if the gods were agreeing with that statement, Jack suddenly shrieked, "Lorna! Do NOT touch the water pail! Or the paint! Oh….Someone…We need a rather large amount of tape and…another gerbil."

Lorna's voice came shrilly around Jack's in a marvelous tone of voice. "Oh my gosh! Jack! Look! The gerbil is doing CARTWHEELS! IN MY HAND!"

I stared at Tom.

Tom stared at me.

"Are we going to help Jack?" I asked with concern.

"Let the bloody idiots suffer for awhile, I say," Tom replied without any tone of voice. I secretly wondered if he was trying not to sound pleased that Lorna was giving them hell and then found his lips brushing mine again and him tugging me down the corridor to the dungeons.

"Um…Tom…" I murmured, "Where are we going?"

"You're sleeping with me tonight, Rushton," he said and his voice booked no argument. "I have spent the last week without sleep because of you and now I'm making sure you do not collapse or cause me any worry because you are going to fall asleep before me and wake up in front of me even with your horrible morning breath."

I opened my mouth, closed it, then opened it again, "Do I really have bad morning breath?" My voice came out squeaky.

"Rushton, I'm pretty sure you could kill a dragon with that secret weapon of yours." He smirked and as we passed the Ravenclaw entrance I hesitated before being swept along in the speedy walk of Tom Riddle. I tripped at one point, which just caused him to stop, swing me up into his arms and carry me down the rest of the way.

I was actually rather grateful for that. Just because, you know, suffering from hunger, thirst, and overall exhaustion kinda hurts the efforts of your first outing. Plus, well, having an emotional breakdown in front of a five thousand-year-old beauty queen because your boyfriend who is the Dark Lord happened to break up with you and cause that aforementioned torture session of exhaustion. After all that, you tend to be a little tired.

I can safely say that nothing happened at Riddle's room because as soon as he dropped me on his bed without much ado, he plopped down beside me and started to snore in a deep, I'm-exhausted-but-could-still-hex-the-hell-out-of-you way that simply made me shuffle under the covers and sleep like a dead woman.