I think a few of you got confused with Chapter 16. In a way, that's a good thing. I departed a bit from my normal style in order to bring you an opportunity to experience something the way Ginny would. So, everything was much faster paced and not as clearly spelled out. It ought to be somewhat confusing for you because it was somewhat confusing for her. Give the part another read and hopefully it'll start to make some more sense (once you know how it ends, you should be able to follow what was happening).

For those who aren't inclined to do that, below, I've addressed a few questions most commonly asked:

1. Why didn't Bellatrix try to use Crucio on Harry? Hitting him with it would obviously be a better way to get to Ginny than hitting Maeven with it.

This is a critical point to understanding the last part. Some of you picked it up on your own, but it's spelled out rather clearly in this chapter so I'd rather not discuss it here. If you have lingering questions afterwards, feel free to ask me.

On terms of the second half of the question, don't assume that hitting Maeven with Crucio isn't nearly as bad as hitting Harry. While Ginny does love Harry, Maeven is her Familiar and there's love there as well. Furthermore, Ginny and Maeven are connected in a way that Ginny and Harry are not. If Maeven gets hit Ginny experiences it, not just emotionally, but physically.

2. Phoenixes can apparate-why didn't Maeven just do that?

Many of you pointed out the scene in Book 5 where Fawkes apparated out of Hogwarts when Ginny's father was attacked. Valid point. However, in writing this story, I've tried to convey the fact that Maeven is very much like Ginny in a lot of respects. She has a good heart and means well, but at times she is still quite young and inexperienced. If you reread the story, you'll notice many instances where Maeven, to put it bluntly, screws up. For example, she failed to give Ginny warning before she exploded into flames on her shoulder during her first transformation, she failed to notify Ginny before leaving Hogwarts, she failed to cast a warming charm on herself while tracking Harry, she also forgot to cast a concealment charm on herself before going to get help, etc. Ginny blames herself for a lot of these things, but keep in mind that Maeven is sentient. She should have thought of much of this herself.

Maeven did not apparate back to Hogwarts for the simple reason that she did not think of it and, even if she had, would not have known how. Fawkes is as good as he is not by virtue of being a phoenix, but because Dumbledore has trained him over the course of decades. While powerful, phoenixes are not all powerful superbeings and Maeven has a ways to go before she reaches Fawkes' level.

3. Why did Ginny take the Crucio when it wasn't hurting Maeven?

Ginny threw open her link with Maeven because, even though Maeven recovers fast from Crucio, it is certainly not a pleasant experience for her. Ginny did it out of sympathy for her Familiar and because she wanted to give Maeven time to try and contact Fawkes.

4. What's the deal with this shield business to begin with? Why did Ginny suddenly appear in front of Harry? Why couldn't she disappear? For the love of God, what the hell did Dumbledore say to Harry six chapters ago!!!

Good questions, but can't say. :) Read below to find out more...

Chapter 17: The Ties That Bind

When Ginny regained consciousness several minutes later, she found herself in perhaps the last place she ever thought she'd be in her life.

"Severus! Where are you going?! The infirmary is the other way!" Minerva McGonagall's voice was uncharacteristically shrill, but Severus Snape didn't hesitate in his near run down the hallway and the only indication that he heard her was the way he slightly readjusted his grip around Ginny's body.

"No time, Minerva, we need to get her to Dumbledore!" Snape shouted over his shoulder, causing Ginny to wince. He needn't have gone through the trouble, as McGonagall had raced after them at lightning speed and had already caught up alongside him.

"Are you out of your mind? She might've been injured," McGonagall continued breathlessly. "We need to get her to Poppy. We don't know what's going on."

Ginny could feel his body tense. "Precisely, Minerva. Let Dumbledore be the judge of what happened. You know the alarms were triggered and the castle is in lockdown. Her phoenix was there and Longbottom caught her coming out of some trance, he says. Clearly she knows something useful."

As though on cue, Ginny heard the patter of hurried footsteps down the hall and she heard the sound of Neville and Ron shouting her name.

At this, Professor Snape did stop and he whirled on the two boys just as they managed to catch up.

"Longbottom!" he bellowed. "Put your shirt on and get back to your dormitory this instant, lest you desire detention until the day you leave school . Same goes to you, Weasley."

"Ginny needs our help, sir." Neville sounded out of breath, but firm. "We're coming with you."

"One hundred points from Gryffindor!" Snape shouted.

Ginny thought she heard McGonagall gasp.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we're coming," Ron said.

"Minerva, control your the members of your house." Snape sounded disgusted, but he took off hurrying down the hall again. Ginny could hear the retreating sound of voices raised in argument as Professor McGonagall tried to reason with Ron and Neville.

They were turning the corner to Dumbledore's office when Ginny suddenly heard-or rather felt, as her head was resting against his chest-Snape start speaking again. But this time, the tone was much quieter and more like his usual smooth baritone. "Can you walk, Miss Weasley?"

A curious question, and not one that she was sure she knew the answer to. She didn't even bother asking how he knew she was awake but instead opened her eyes and managed a nod, hoping that she wouldn't end up crumpling to the floor the moment he put her down again.

Seemingly sensing the trepidation in his young charge, Severus Snape set her down gently in front of the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to the headmaster's office but did not release her arm. She was surprised to feel a little dizzy, but little else. Fatigue was more of the issue. Her muscles ached when she moved, but otherwise, she wasn't feeling too bad.

A spasm of pain – almost like an aftershock from the curse – suddenly ran up her spine and Ginny had to bite back a surprised cry. Perhaps she wasn't entirely okay.

Luckily for her, Snape didn't seem to notice. He gave the proper password and, almost immediately, they found themselves whisked up to Dumbledore's office.

Tonks, Kingsley and Dumbledore were present in the center of the room. Ginny was a bit surprised to see Blaise Zabini standing silently in a corner, his pale blue-green eyes clouded in contemplation.

Snape walked her to the armchair directly in front of Dumbledore's desk and waved off Tonks who let out an exclamation of shocked relief.

"Miss Weasley, we're glad you could join us," Dumbledore said serenely. "I believe this belongs to you."

She felt a surge of joy when he reached over and passed her a squirming pink bundle. Maeven let out a happy, high-pitched chime the moment she was placed in Ginny's cupped hands. Almost immediately, Ginny began to feel a bit better.

Tucking Maeven into her lap, Ginny looked back up. "What happened to Harry?" she asked.

Kingsley looked at her. "How did you...?"

"Harry's in the infirmary," Tonks cut in. She ran a hand through her hair, which was short, dark and spiky at the moment. "He's out like a light, and will be for a while, but he should be fine."

"And Professor Lupin?"

At this, the Auror's gaze darkened slightly. "He's in the infirmary too. We- we don't know how he is just yet. We don't know what curse he was struck with."

"But...I saw it hit you, too," Ginny said quietly. "Shouldn't you go to the infirmary as-,"

She was interrupted by the rather loud, unceremonious arrival of Neville, Ron and a terribly exasperated-looking Minerva McGonagall who appeared to have been shouting at both boys the entire journey up to Dumbledore's office.

"Ahh, Mr. Longbottom and Mr. Weasley." Dumbledore sent McGonagall a look and she fell silent. "I've been expecting you." He beckoned to both boys who had stopped yelling and were now gawking at the crowd in the room. They suddenly looked almost...shy.

Ron's eyes fell on Blaise and he instantly looked guarded.

"Please, take a seat." Dumbledore waved his hands and two armchairs popped out of thin air next to Ginny.

Snape was seething in anger upon sight of the new arrivals, but he also kept his silence from his position in the corner standing next to Blaise.

Spotting Ginny, Ron and Neville eagerly scrambled for the armchairs. Neville snagged the closest one and reached out and clasped her hand in his own. She winced internally at the pressure. Under normal circumstances it was nothing but a friendly squeeze, however, Ginny's whole body felt sensitive and bruised and where he was holding her, it throbbed unpleasantly. Still, she couldn't quite bring herself to pull away.

"Now then," Dumbledore said, once the boys were settled. "You were saying, Miss Weasley, that you 'saw' Tonks get struck by the curse?"

Ginny nodded, then regretted the action as it set her head to spinning slightly.

"Why don't you tell us what happened?"

In the interest of time and the mild nausea setting in, she relayed her half of the story in as quick and simple a manner possible. She mentioned Bellatrix's torture of Maeven, but omitted the part where she herself had been hit by the Cruciatus Curse . She needed to find out what exactly had happened and she knew this was her best shot. If they ushered her down to the infirmary now in a fit of hysteria - as she was sure they would the instant they found out - she might never get the whole story.

"The ties that bind us to each other," Dumbledore said once she had finished. "Fascinating."

"What about them?" Tonks asked.

"Miss Weasley apparently can see them."

The occupants of the room reacted in varying degrees of shock, with the possible exception of Severus Snape who merely looked irritated and vaguely uncomfortable.

"That's how I knew, you see. Th-that's how I knew that whoever that man was with Harry-he wasn't Professor Lupin. When I looked between them there was nothing there."

"Can you see them now?" Ron cut in.

"No, I generally have to want to see them to-"

"You should have told one of us about this-" Tonks began.

But Dumbledore waved her silent. "There is time for this later on, once our fallen ranks have fully recovered. Tonks, however, is correct. This gift of Miss Weasley's could be highly useful to the Order."

"Why couldn't I leave once I got there, Professor?" Ginny asked.

Dumbledore looked at her thoughtfully. "Projection under duress, it seems. Rare, but it does happen on occasion."

Kingsley nodded. "Happens during Auror training once every few years. Usually someone panics during an exercise and accidentally projects. We try to teach it to the Aurors early on because it's tactically useful since you're relatively impervious to attack while being able to see and hear things as though physically present. Involves channeling yourself through a medium, though. In this case, I reckon it was your phoenix. That's tricky magic, and it would be easy to get ensnared if you don't know how to undo it."

There was a thoughtful silence.

"How did they do this?" Tonks said finally, although she didn't appear to be speaking to anyone in particular. "Who was that man?"

"I thought you caught both of the men," Ginny said, slightly alarmed.

Tonks shook her head ruefully. "We caught them, but the blonde one shifted form and got away. George wasn't expecting him to be able to change like that...not his fault. The other one was dead by the time we got to the infirmary." She sighed. "Voldemort doesn't take well to having his men captured. After Lucius, it seems like he's taking precautions."

"He did it through the Dark Mark?" Kingsley mused.

"Must have," Tonks said. "I still don't understand. My kind is so rare...the few others who are like me are registered at birth. Where on earth did he come from? And even if he can shift shape, he still shouldn't have been able to remove the amulet from Remus."

So that's why Professor Lupin hadn't been protected from the curse. Ginny pounced on the topic. "What was that, by the way? That shield that turned up in front of Harry?"

No one spoke for a few strained moments, until Dumbledore unclasped his hands and leaned forward. "You see, Miss Weasley, Harry and other members of the Order of the Phoenix are protected by a rather intricate network of spells. It's very complicated, as we must adjust the levels of protection from time to time to allow our members to conduct their business." He smiled slightly. "We've had an enormous amount of help in that from your brother Bill. All of the amulets are a bit different."

"Harry's was set to go off if he was knocked unconscious..." Ginny said slowly.

"Among other things," Dumbledore replied. "Does everyone have one?" Ron piped up, glancing around the room.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled slightly at the thinly veiled real question. "Just members of the Order and Harry. We did not include friends of the Order because of the delicacy of the balance involved and the fact that this system remains quite new."

"Why Harry?" Ron asked. "Did you know he was in trouble?"

Ginny felt something bothering her in the back of her mind and it became more pronounced at her brother's inquiry.

At this, Dumbledore looked a bit sad. "Yes, I fear that we saw Bellatrix Lestrange in Hogsmeade beforehand and we felt it best to include him in the network at that time. Naturally we had no idea she had the means to attempt something like this."

Suddenly, it dawned on Ginny. "Professor," she asked softly, "when did you give Harry his amulet?"

Dumbledore's blue eyes met her brown ones and she was startled to see sympathy and understanding in them. "On the day after the DA party, Miss Weasley. I called him in in the morning to give him his amulet. Later that afternoon, once we'd confirmed Bellatrix's presence in Hogsmeade, I called him back in and informed him of it."

The detailed nature of his response, which must have seemed a tad unnecessary to the rest of the group, made perfect sense to Ginny whose troubled mind had wandered aimlessly over this question again and again. Dumbledore clearly knew what had happened, and she didn't care how, as she was too relieved that she finally understood why Harry had had such an abrupt change of heart at Christmas.

"I still can't believe that man managed to get into Hogwarts." Tonks shivered as though repulsed at the thought. "And, after all, we don't even know if that was a man or what he really looked like. If he can shape shift, goodness, he could be anyone!"

"Yes, and the question is how 'he' did it," Kingsley said as he paced back and forth. "Remus hasn't left Hogwarts since Christmas and no visitor has entered the school without being personally screened by Dumbledore. Yet, he must have been here for a while if he knew about the automatic triggers on the amulets."

"Whoever did it must have been hiding in the castle since the start of the term...possibly the year," Snape said coolly.

"Impossible," McGonagall shook her head. "Someone would have noticed by now. The house elves have been conducting thorough sweeps twice a day. With staff and students all around, and Filch patrolling at night, someone would have reported something out of the ordinary."

"Yes, Minerva, provided that whoever was hiding wasn't supposed to BE here in the first place," Snape responded in an exasperated voice.

"Are you saying a faculty member..." McGonagall's voice trailed off.

"No." Snape said swiftly. "A student."

Ginny felt nauseous.

"You think one of the students did a thing like this?" McGonagall looked horrified.

Snape shook his head again with growing impatience. "No. I believe that someone posing as a student did this. Minerva, I fear one of our students did not come back this year and someone took their place."

McGonagall looked at Dumbledore. "We'll have to search the houses."

"It isn't anyone in Potions," Snape said quietly and, after a pause, all of the adults seemed to agree although Ginny had absolutely no idea why. "No one in Slytherin, either," he continued.

Ginny frowned. Why would Snape immediately discount Slytherin? If anything, that seemed like the first place to start looking.

"Now Severus, you're certain?" McGonagall asked.

"Yes, because I would know, Minerva." Snape replied, his tone set to cut steel. "That leaves sixth and seventh year students in Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw who aren't doing their N.E.W.T.S. in Potions."

"That's still nearly 100 students." McGonagall frowned.

"There was this girl..." Tonks said suddenly. She turned away from the bookcase, she had been facing, her eyes alight with memory. "She was..." With a frustrated sound, Tonks fluttered her hands in the air as though trying to find the words. "She was tall, thin, dark hair...entirely nondescript. Bugger. She was one of Remus's students." The Auror closed her eyes then and she shrank a few inches while her figure became leaner and her hair grew out darker and wavier. Opening her eyes a few moments later, she stared at the room. "Looked a bit like this."

With no idea why Tonks suspected this particular girl, Ginny was startled to realize she recognized her.

"Melinda Rockport," Neville wheezed. "Ravenclaw." He shot Dumbledore a terrified look. "She's in the DA class."

"Go summon Professor Flitwick," Snape told the nearest painting.

"Sherbet lemon ?" Dumbledore asked kindly, and Ginny almost lunged for the sweet dish. She was almost positive the headmaster had made the sweets using some sort of special restorative potion. She hadn't truly appreciated them until the period after her father had been bitten by Voldemort's snake. Dumbledore had gently cajoled her into taking a few and it had provided the most calm she felt during the entire episode. Gratefully, she took one of the proffered sweets.

Neville took five.

After letting Ron have a sweet, Dumbledore put down the dish and regarded them carefully. "Now then, why don't you two boys tell me what you were doing in the girls' dormitory?"

There was a pause as Neville and Ron looked at each other, each silently willing the other to go first.

Ron won the battle of nerves.

"Well, I was asleep, sir,-" Neville began.

"So was I-" Ron added.

"-and it was like I thought I heard something and it woke me up. I sat up in bed, looked over and saw Ron do the same thing-" Neville continued.

"That's when I noticed Harry wasn't in his bed," Ron said.

"-and all of a sudden, it was like I heard Ginny screaming my name," Neville said, his voice starting to quiver in what was clearly a terrifying recollection for him.

"No, she screamed MY name-" Ron began.

"Oh shush, Mr. Weasley, you'll have your turn," Professor McGonagall finally said in exasperation.

"It-it was so loud I expected everyone to wake up, but only Ron jumped out of bed at the same time I did and we just ran to the girls' dorms, sir."

"How did you get past the slide?" McGonagall asked sharply.

At this, Neville blushed and Ron looked rather aggravated.

"Well, Professor, Ron was ahead of me, you see. He runs faster because he's in better shape, I think..."

Ginny knew Neville had a tendency to babble when embarrassed. She shot a curious glance at her brother who continued to look cross.

"So he was leaping up the stairs, you see, and got up part way when...well, when they just folded under us and he tripped forward and I began sliding backwards so I...uhm..." Neville's voice trailed off.

"He hit me with a sticking charm and I stuck to the slide," Ron said in an annoyed voice. "The he climbed up my back, took off his shirt and stuck it to the top part of the slide and crawled the rest of the way up." There was a pause. "Left me on the slide, though." Ron clearly hadn't been able to resist this addition. "Stuck there, you know."

It was almost comforting to see Dumbledore look amused at a time like this.

Ginny glanced at her best friend, thoroughly touched.

"I'm sorry we set off the alarms and woke everyone up," Neville continued, "but all I could think was that Ginny needed our help. I reckoned someone else would get one of the professors when they heard her screaming, but I never stopped to think I'd heard her in my head and not...not out loud." He lowered his voice as though telling a secret. "You see, that's never happened to me before."

Snape made an odd grunting noise and Ginny saw him roll his eyes.

Graciously ignoring his Potions master, Dumbledore nodded sagely at Neville and turned his attention on Ron. "Now Mr. Weasley, what is your version of this evening's events?"

Ginny listened idly as Ron recounted a story almost identical to Neville's and as her attention wandered, her gaze gradually drifted to the corner where Severus Snape was standing by himself. It took her a few minutes before she realized he was sending her covert, unsettled glances via the reflection of a rather shiny bowl atop one of Dumbledore's shelves.

Mulling over the source of his discomfort, it suddenly occurred to her that he had been doing this ever since Dumbledore had said she could see the ties that bound people to one another. Always somewhat susceptible to temptation, Ginny allowed her eyes to slide shut and when they opened, she had to squint somewhat at the brightness and complexity of the threads that suddenly appeared in the room. It was no wonder that the Order of the Phoenix was a tight knit group, and Ginny was happy to see that they genuinely cared for one another, but she did her best to look past the series of crisscrossing, intermingling threads so as to focus herself entirely on Severus Snape.

What she saw broke her heart.

Instead of being surrounded by small, tenuous threads as she fully expected him to be, Snape was covered with thick, dark gold strands that sprang from his chest and stomach and connected to almost every single occupant in the room. What brought tears to Ginny's eyes, was that they all looked to be traveling in one direction-out. The only person with a reciprocal connection to Snape of the same blinding quality was, perhaps expectedly, Dumbledore.

Scrutinizing the threads more closely, Ginny found a few solid connections running from McGonagall and Blaise to Snape, but it was so much less than what he deserved-than what he clearly gave. Ginny felt the twinge in her heart grow and knew without needing to look, that the thread connecting herself to Snape was vibrating-and that she'd been caught.

Raising her eyes almost defiantly to his, she met his gaze and was satisfied to see his sneer briefly falter.

A sudden movement at the opposite end of the room caught her eye and when she looked to see what had caused it, Ginny's mouth fell open. She blinked just as Dumbledore said her name and the threads evaporated.

He was looking at her strangely then, as though suddenly very concerned.

"Miss Weasley, I'd like to speak with you at length tomorrow evening. Right now, let's all go to the hospital wing and see how our patients are doing. I'd also like to have Madam Pomfrey take a look at you. Professor Snape, why don't you escort Miss Weasley?"

She was unable to see his facial expression, but whatever look Dumbledore gave his Potion's master made Snape's face become much less annoyed and much more serious.

With little warning he strode across the room and picked her up again before quickly carrying her out the door.

They had set off at a fast clip down the hall and were already turning the first corner before she heard the voices of the others exiting Dumbledore's office behind her.

There were a few more moments of silence before Snape finally spoke.

"We all choose how we live our lives, Miss Weasley," he said, pitching his low baritone voice soft enough so that there was no chance that the others would overhear him.

"I know that, sir," she whispered back.

"I don't want your pity."

"I don't pity you, sir."

"Then what was that look that you gave me?"

"What look?"

"Don't play innocent with me, Ginevra Weasley, I know exactly what you were doing."

And it occurred to Ginny, then, that Snape was just as curious as she had been to see what the threads surrounding him really looked like. It would have been highly amusing had he not been using his deadly 'professor's voice' on her at that moment.

"Well, sir, I just hadn't expected Professor Dumbledore's connection to you to be stronger than his and Professor McGonagall's." Ginny wasn't sure if it was her imagination but a triumphant look flashed across Snape's features.

It quickly disappeared and he slanted a look in her direction as they turned a corner. "And...?"

"And I hadn't realized how much Blaise Zabini respected you." This was a bit of a white lie as she had already known from Susan that Blaise and Snape were close, but reckoned it bore repeating for Snape's benefit.

"Yes, well..." Snape coughed, "he is a Slytherin and I am head of his house."

"But Malfoy-"

"Mr. Zabini is also an apprentice of sorts," Snape cut in, clearly unwilling to discuss it more.

Ginny bit back a smile.

"So is that all, Miss Weasley?" he kept his voice lightly mocking, but even Ginny could discern the fact he was still genuinely interested.

"Well, sir..."

"Yes?" he let the word out on a sigh, as though bracing himself for the worst.

"I suppose the most surprising thing was that, next to Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, you seemed most closely connected to...Neville."

Snape made a vague choking noise and it effectively covered the snort of laughter Ginny hadn't been able to contain, despite her ebbing energy.

"I hadn't realized that you regarded Neville so highly-"

"I can assure you, Miss Weasley-,"

"-nor how highly he regards you," she finished quietly and whatever sarcastic comment Snape had been about to issue, died in the air between them.

It was a full minute before either of them spoke and Ginny was careful not to look in her professor's direction during that time because she knew he wouldn't appreciate the intrusion.

"I dare say I need not remind you, Miss Weasley, that certain conversations do not bear repeating." His voice had lost most of its silky charm and now he simply sounded tired.

"Of course not, sir, you have a reputation to protect." The comment was made without ill will and Ginny was glad to see him take it as such.


They arrived at the infirmary in no time and she was quickly ushered into the waiting comfort of Madam Pomfrey and her father.

"Thank you, Professor Snape," she called, as they took her from him.

He nodded at her, clearly assuming what she had said had been in reference to his carrying her.

She couldn't find the words to correct him.

The last thing Ginny remembered before she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep was Madam Pomfrey pressing a syrupy liquid to her lips.

When she awoke, it was to the gentle glow of light filtering through the white curtains that surrounded her. It was morning...possibly afternoon...and her head hurt terribly. Not quite willing to move her body just yet, she slowly traced the edges of the room with her gaze. It was empty and partitioned off on all sides by the long spotless curtains, save a few chairs that had been pulled up near her bed.

As her body came awake, she started to feel the uncomfortable heat against her back like that of someone who had been lying in bed in one position for much too long. And then, she heard the low murmur of voices just beyond the curtain that faced her.

"...Mum to his office, I don't know why."

Ginny was shocked to hear what sounded like Charlie.

"I knew we should've given her one."

Her heart leapt. Bill. Bill had come to visit her.

Someone shuffled into the adjacent room then, and her brothers fell silent. The slight movement swayed the curtain aside just enough so she could see a sliver of Bill's profile through its part.

She heard the scrape of a chair being dragged across the floor.

"When did you get here?"

Evidently Ron had just come in.

"Ten minutes ago," Charlie responded.

There was a long, uncharacteristic silence between her brothers when suddenly Bill spoke.

"You were supposed to look after her, Ron," he said, his voice quiet but somehow piercing in the unnatural silence that blanketed them.

"I did!" Ron sounded defensive and clearly dismayed. "I-she-I kept an eye on her even right before bed but she didn't even leave the castle! How was I supposed to know?!"

The silence dragged on and Ginny wanted desperately to alert them to the fact that she was fine and that Ron most certainly was not to be blamed, but she found she lacked the energy even to alert them to the fact that she was awake.

"And, I mean...well," Ron sighed, "at least it isn't as bad as last time. I mean, at least she didn't get hurt."

Ginny tensed.

"Ron." Bill said in the same slow, quiet voice, "she was struck with the Cruciatus Curse."

Ginny's heart shattered. So they knew.

"Wh-wha...?!" Ron sounded like he was choking.

"Madam Pomfrey said so. She said at least twice. Maybe more." Bill sounded so devastated that Ginny closed her eyes.

"But how did...she looked...I don't understand..."

"Please, Madam Pomfrey!"

Ginny's ears perked up at the new voice raised in desperation from across the room.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Longbottom." Madam Pomfrey's tone was sharp and unrelenting. "But there are too many people here as is, and we're only letting in family. Unless you yourself are injured, you are going to have to come back."

The next thing she heard was the sound of a chair scraping back and rapid movement.

"Wait, Madam Pomfrey," Bill's voice rang clearly across the room. "Let Neville through."

"Bill Weasley, you know quite well that-"

"But Neville IS family," he said firmly.

And Ginny smiled. Unfortunately, once her eyes were closed, it was very easy to slide into that warm, comforting darkness.

Unable to stop herself, she did just that.

The next time she woke up, her mother was in the room and promptly went into a teary-eyed frenzy falling somewhere between anger and joy that only mothers can manage.

Afterwards, Ginny was greeted by Bill, Charlie, Fred and George, and she was surprised to find that even Percy had taken time off from the Ministry to visit. It appeared that whatever ill will that had arisen between her brothers over her injuries had passed as Bill placed a hand on Ron's shoulder while they spoke to her.

She was shocked to find out that she'd been asleep all night, throughout the following day AND night and into the morning of the second day following the attack. She was also surprised to be told that Harry was being kept adjacent to her partitioned space and that he, too, had not been released from the infirmary. As she had only hit him with a Stunner, and she knew he hadn't been struck with more than a body bind by Bellatrix since his amulet hadn't gone off, she wasn't quite sure why he was still being held.

Stealing a glance at the curtain that separated them, she heard Bill, ever astute, mention that Harry was sleeping.

Reddening slightly, she nodded.

Once she'd managed to sit up in bed and have a bite to eat (more than a bite, truthfully, as she was famished but her brothers respectfully turned a blind eye to that), Bill handed her a number of boxes.

Ginny was incredibly shocked to find a necklace, pair of earrings, and an anklet. She was confused to find the last box contained the same Egyptian hieroglyphic bracelets Bill had given her for Christmas.

"They're charmed for protection," he said. "The necklace is from a friend of mine. You met her a long time ago. You were very little, but you admired it quite a bit at the time and she remembered. So, she owled it here when she heard what'd happened." Something akin to affection flickered in his eyes then, as he gazed at the delicate gold chain with the Arabic style pendant.

Ginny wondered what that was all about.

Glancing at his sister, he smiled. "The earrings and the anklet are from all of us. I retrieved the bracelets from your room. I had put a protection charm on them before I gave them to you over Christmas, you know. It would have alerted me if you were in trouble, had you been wearing them like I told you to."

She sighed. "But the bracelets were so pretty, Bill, I just couldn't wear something like that every day."

He frowned, as though what she was saying didn't quite make sense, but George cut in.

"Then put on the rest of it for now. They'll hide under your robes every day and the earrings are plain-Percy's choice."

Percy simply glanced in George's direction but didn't argue.

Somewhat reluctantly, as she knew the ornaments must've cost her brothers an awful lot of money, plain or not, Ginny donned them.

Her father entered then and a new round on conversation began until finally, a few hours later, everything had calmed down and the crowd dispersed.

Ginny lay back on her bed with her eyes shut, trying to conserve her uneven energy while her brothers, along with Neville, had gone to stand near the windows across the room, so as to give Ginny some quiet time to 'rest'.

She sensed movement suddenly, but by the time she'd opened her eyes, the curtains near her head were swaying and whoever had been there had moved on.

Wondering if maybe Harry was awake, Ginny decided to see if she could sneak a look. Waiting several minutes to make sure everyone was convinced she was asleep, she crept out of her bed and to the curtain.

It was strange standing upright after such a long time lying down and she felt a bit embarrassed when she had to clutch the white curtain to prevent herself from swaying forward. Gritting her teeth, she waited for the dizziness to pass and tried to concentrate on the soothing cold of the tiles under her bare feet.

When she finally managed to sneak out of her own partitioned area and into Harry's she was a bit surprised to see Hermione already there.

The dark-haired girl was lying on the bed sideways next to Harry, her face burrowed in his pillow. Ginny could hear her sniffling and knew she was crying. Harry was saying something to her in low tones, his hand gently grazing her hair.

Worried about Hermione, but feeling very much the intruder on this scene of quiet friendship, Ginny began to back out of the room very slowly. Unfortunately, Harry's eyes caught on the movement and his gaze flickered in her direction.

"Ginny." He looked more exhausted than Ginny had ever seen him, but the slow smile that spread over his face made his green eyes brighten and she felt her heart swell in affection.

Hermione quickly propped herself up. Her eyes were red rimmed and she looked like she hadn't slept in quite a while but she immediately beckoned to the other girl. "Ginny! Oh, how are you feeling?"

Ginny walked tentatively into the room. "Better," she said with a slight smile and started towards the armchair that had been pulled up alongside Harry's bed. She could only assume Ron had vacated it recently.

"No, no, Ginny." Even as she was speaking, Hermione was starting to roll off of Harry's bed. "Lie down here."

Ginny quickly shook her head. "I'm fine, Hermione, stay there, really. I'd be more comfortable sitting up now anyway."

"We could charm the bed to make it bigger..."

"No, of course not, I'm fine." She settled herself into the armchair. "I feel like I've been lying down for ages."

No sooner had she made herself comfortable, than Harry's hand reached out and grasped her own firmly. Their eyes met, and the look was one of silent assurance. His other hand lay slightly cradling Hermione's head. The trio stayed like that in comfortable silence for a few moments.

"Hermione," Ginny finally ventured. "Are you all right?"

At this, Hermione smiled slightly. "Of course...it's silly, really...I just..." She sighed. "I was just so worried about you all. I spent a good five hours trying to settle everyone down at the Tower before I went to find Professor McGonagall, but she wasn't in her quarters. I went to Professor Dumbledore's office, but he wasn't there. I bumped into Professor Snape and Professor Flitwick on the way back, but they wouldn't tell me what was happening. So, I went back to the Tower and then Dobby turned up and told me that your whole family was in the infirmary and I didn't know where Ron or Harry was and I...well...it was just a relief to find out everyone was okay. I've been coming by but neither of you have been awake until now and...well...it just seems we keep getting lucky." Her smile faltered somewhat. "Stupid thing to cry over, really."

"No," Ginny said quietly, "it's not." She knew exactly what Hermione was talking about. Ever since her experience in the Ministry, Ginny had become well acquainted with that strange sensation of gratefulness that became so strong, so piercing, that it had the power to move her to tears.

"You shouldn't be out of bed, you know," Hermione said at length. "Your brothers are going to have a fit when they see that you're here."

Harry tightened his grasp on her hand – whether to signal that she should go or to prevent her from doing so, Ginny wasn't sure.

"I reckon you're right," Ginny responded, but didn't stir from her seat. She was too busy appreciating ...well, Harry's presence. She realized that whatever had been going on, she'd been, yet again, very much shielded from it. It was embarrassing to admit, but she'd almost allowed herself to forget how seriously in danger he was-they all were-and it took a very near miss to bring it all back with startling clarity.

"I should go and find Ron," Hermione said, rolling off of the bed all of a sudden.

Ginny hadn't wanted to make her friend feel uncomfortable, but she hadn't been in the mood to talk. Intending to call Hermione back, she was startled with how quickly the other girl left the room. Yelling after her would alert Ginny's brothers, so she found herself holding Harry's hand and staring blankly at the place where Hermione had made her exit.

"Why don't you lie down?"

She looked down at him in silence for a moment as he shifted to fill the space Hermione had vacated and patted the newly empty space between them. His voice sounded tired and a little hoarse and she would rather that he rested, but she complied with his request because he had been the one to ask her and the need to be close to him was terribly strong just then.

Settling herself onto the bed, she was pleased that the sheets were still warm with the heat of his body and his scent clung to the pillow under her head. Shifting sideways, she couldn't resist cuddling against him and reveling in the feel of his solid warmth against her body.

He placed his arm around her waist, and she leaned her head on his shoulder and they lay there together in an almost shy silence.

"Harry," Ginny whispered, "are you all right?"

"Yes," He whispered back. "Just a little weak."

"I reckon my Stunner was a bit more powerful than I thought." She grinned cheekily against the fabric of his hospital robes and delighted in the light chuckle he let out.

"Proud of yourself, aren't you?" And before she could answer, he hugged her against him. "You should be. I owe you my life."

And at this, Ginny stopped smiling. "No, you don't, Harry."

"I can't believe how completely stupid I was. I mean, I asked him to see his amulet. That's what Dumbledore always said to do, but even when he did, I still didn't quite...I should've called someone else. If you hadn't been there..."

"I was."

"You saved me."

"We're even now, you see," she responded quietly.

There was a long pause.

"Not quite," Harry said, but then he failed to elaborate.

Deciding it might be best to drop the subject, she turned back to her original concern.

"Seriously, though, Harry, why are you still here?"

He sighed. "The magic that protected me and that came from the amulet is generated mostly by me. So are the alarms and the tracking used to tell the Order where I am. There wasn't any other way to do it and...well...it's incredibly draining."

"Why didn't you tell me about her? About Bellatrix, I mean. Dumbledore said that you knew back at Christmas."

And at this, Harry closed his eyes and leaned his head back fully against the pillow. "I don't know...I wanted to. I really did."

"Was it because you were afraid that she'd come after me?"

He made a face and shook his head. "No. No, that's not it at all. I knew that she could come after any one of us at any time. No way for me to stop that, really. I just suppose...well...that I didn't want you to worry. That I didn't want you to have to think about this all the time like I did."

The next question, unfortunately, couldn't be helped.

"And the reason you decided it was better for us to just be friends?"

There was a long silence, but Ginny had learned to be patient when it came to talking with Harry, and eventually her wisdom was rewarded.

"I-I suppose I didn't think it was fair, you see. To you. Because, I mean, if we were...if you became, well, as attached to me as I am to you and then something happened to me..."

Ginny took a short harsh breath and tightened her grasp on his arm.

"..if I were to die all of a sudden..."

"Shut up," she whispered violently, burying her face in his shoulder.

"No, listen to me, I didn't want you to have to go through that-with me dying and all. I suppose I thought about what my mum must've felt like right before..." He took a deep breath. "I mean...knowing that Voldemort had already got my dad first and that she was alone...she was all that was left...and...well...I didn't want that for you."

She knew she shouldn't cry into his hospital gown, as it would be bad form to soak his clothing, but the lump in her throat was terribly hard to swallow and the complete hopelessness she felt-her inability to protect him and shield him from all of this-was very difficult to take.

She felt his fingers stroke her hair and was somewhat comforted, but it took a few minutes before she could look him in the eye and say what needed to be said.

"You're an idiot, Harry Potter."

He nodded. "I know."

"A complete and utter idiot."

"Yes, yes," he responded matter-of-factly while brushing her hair off of her face.

Something about his deferential attitude threw her off guard and brought a spark of unexpected humor into her. "Thinking I'm going to wilt from pining away for you once you're gone."

He paused for a second and regarded her carefully as she smiled up at him, her eyes still filled with tears. "No, now that I think about it, I imagine you'd do quite well for yourself."

She nodded seriously. "I have options."

"Like Dean Thomas," he said. "Even if he is much too short for you."

"Michael Corner."

"Too daft." He noted her raised eyebrow and shrugged. "Besides, Cho might have something to say about that."

Ginny looked thoughtful. "Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of Draco Malfoy."

Harry eye's widened. "What?!"

"You know, sarcastic, terribly easy on the eyes, rich as sin, what's there not to like?"

Harry made a face. "I think Madam Pomfrey overdosed you with the dreamless sleep draught."

"Hm," Ginny said, "perhaps you have a point."

"See? You would wilt without me."

"I think you're right."


She ignored his comment. "Well, there's only one way to fix that."

"Which is?" Harry asked with a grin.

"Don't die." She gazed up at him seriously and saw his eyes lose some of their teasing merriment.

"I'll work on that," he said roughly, before leaning down and planting a firm kiss on her forehead.

The next thing Ginny heard was something that sounded strangely like a whoop of joy followed by the distinct sounds of laughter. This was then followed by something vaguely reminiscent to a small stampede as Charlie, Fred and George came tumbling into Harry's room. Percy and Neville trailed in after them.

"Caught you red-handed, Potter," Fred said.

To his credit, Harry didn't remove his arm from around Ginny or his hand, which was resting against the small of her back, and only stared back at the group of boys.

George was standing right behind his brother, holding what appeared to be a sheet of parchment. "Kissing our little sister on..." He squinted at the parchment. "The forehead?" He looked up and frowned. "Blimey, Gin, couldn't you have picked a bloke with better aim than that?"

Ginny smiled despite herself, as she felt Harry's hand reflexively tighten against her. Why he had no reaction to being 'caught' but was somehow offended at this accusation was beyond her.

She quickly schooled her features back into a scowl. "Bugger off, you." She looked at Charlie. "All right, which one is it? The necklace, the earrings, the bracelet or the anklet?" Evidently someone had slipped a tracking charm onto her jewelry, along with the protection one.

Charlie just grinned.

"Tell me or I'm taking them all off," Ginny warned.

"Take them off and we'll tell Mum," Charlie shot back.

"Tell Mum and I'll tell her how you charmed them," she retorted.

"Tell her that and you'll have to tell her why the charm worked." Charlie threw her an irritatingly dazzling smile.

"Three words," she growled. "Bill's clock hand."

There was a beat of silence as her words sank in.

Ginny had often found, in the scheme of things, that there were advantages to being small and going unnoticed. These advantages were most useful in cases such as these when brute force was not an option and she had to resort to the less honorable but wildly popular form of sibling coercion known as blackmail. As someone who both slept and tread lightly, she had information in spades. This was a particularly choice piece she'd been saving for quite a while.

Right before she'd returned to Hogwarts after winter break, someone had pulled a rather ingenious prank on Bill which involved charming his clock hand to not only give a general sense of where he was, but to provide a rather detailed, borderline explicit, account of what he was doing at any given time.

It had gone unnoticed until Ginny's father had returned home after popping out briefly to buy some groceries for his wife and found her standing in the hallway, her ears bright red, her mouth wide open, pouring a jug of pumpkin juice into a glass that was overflowing onto the floor. Judging from the quantity of pumpkin juice pooling around her feet, it was clear that this had been going on for quite some time.

Following her gaze to the clock, he immediately threw his jacket over it and ushered his wife into the kitchen before running into the sitting room to make an extremely embarrassing, ill-timed, but necessary call to his eldest son via Floo to inform him that he should cease any...strenuous activities...until the clock was fixed.

No one immediately owed up to the prank, although attention naturally centered around the twins. Bill was convinced Charlie was involved somehow, but there was no proof as Charlie was back in Romania at the time. Initially, the twins disclaimed all knowledge of the incident. Ginny knew she didn't do it and, as this was Bill, she knew her mother wouldn't suspect her because Ginny and Bill had always had an unspoken rule that they didn't engage in that sort of thing against each other. Ron swore he had nothing to do with it either. It wasn't until Molly Weasley had threatened collective punishment that the twins took credit for what had happened. Privately, they'd told Ginny that they only did it to save everyone else from getting blamed and because, if the real perpetrator was unwilling to take credit for something that brilliant well, their loss.

Despite the commotion that had resulted from the event, Ginny had remained largely silent. In truth, she knew exactly who was responsible. She had been awake a few nights earlier and was sneaking into the kitchen to snitch a biscuit when she'd had the great fortune of seeing, quite clearly, someone tampering with the family clock.

"It's the anklet," Percy said quietly.

At this, Fred and George's mouths fell open in identical looks of shock.

"No way...." Fred began.

"...all this time..." George whispered.

"...it was YOU!"

Percy rolled his eyes. "Not entirely." He looked at Charlie who merely shrugged and tried to look as though he hadn't the slightest clue what was going on, but failed miserably.

"Big brother!" Fred let out an exaggerated sniff.

"We're so proud!" George exclaimed.

Before he could stop them, Percy was accosted by the twins, who took turns hugging him so fiercely that his face turned red from the exertion. "Off! Off, I say!" He struggled against them.

Ginny took off the anklet and flung it in Charlie's direction. He caught it easily in mid-air.

George stood back. "Aw, come on Gin, you're such a spoilsport."

Peeling himself off of Percy as well, Fred shrugged. "Eh, no real loss. Wasn't anything that juicy anyway. Nothing nearly as good as if we'd planted it on Hermione. Bet you she and Ron are off snogging somewhere right now."

There was a brief pause as Charlie and Fred looked at one another before Charlie silently tossed the anklet to Fred who quietly pocketed it and tried to look innocent.

Ginny made a mental note to speak with Hermione.

It was then that Ron parted the curtain and wandered in. He glanced at his brothers mildly before his eyes fell on Harry's bed and he turned a bright shade of pink. Almost immediately, he averted his gaze.

"Ah, well, hullo...everyone," Ron said nonchalantly, while studying a part of the white curtain very carefully.

Charlie, who was standing closest, nudged him. "Don't you have something else to say, Ron?" He inclined his head slightly in Harry and Ginny's direction.

Ginny watched with a mixture of sympathy and amusement as Ron's eyes darted in their direction before going back to Charlie. "Well...uhm..."

Charlie raised an eyebrow.

Ron took a deep breath. "No. No, can't say that I do."

Ginny's heart swelled with pride for this unexpected support from her youngest brother and Charlie simply shook his head.

"Well, that settles it, Ronald. I'm sorry, but you're just not doing your job out here." Charlie looked gravely at Fred and George. "You know what that means, men."

Fred nodded sharply. "SubstituTION!"

George abruptly walloped Neville in the back so hard that he stumbled forward a few steps and gasped in shock. "That's right, Neville, old boy, we're trading Ron in for you. We like what we've seen, and we think you could do well here. You'll get used to The Burrow in due time, I'm sure."

Charlie came over and helped straighten Neville back up before putting an arm around the younger boy in a show of good-natured affection. "And, from what I understand, Mum made you an official Weasley Christmas Jumper this year so you're already halfway there."

"We'll send an owl off to your gran," Fred said. "I'm sure she won't mind. Ron's built for hard labor, you know. And if she wants something a little extra to sweeten the deal, well, we're more than willing to throw in a few gift baskets from the joke shop."

"Whatever it takes," George added in a stage whisper.

Ron glared at them.

Ginny almost said something out of loyalty to him, but the look of pure rapture on Neville's face at the prospect of being adopted - even in jest - stopped her.

The gentle murmur of the hospital ward was suddenly shattered by the sounds of raised voices.

"And furthermore, REMUS BLOODY LUPIN-"

Ginny and Harry looked at each other.

"I reckon Professor Lupin is awake," Ginny said dryly.

"So is Tonks, from the sounds of it."


Ron started laughing and Ginny glared at him.


This was followed by a brief rustling sound and a rather panicked shout from Madam Pomfrey.


Whether Harry winced at the sound of Professor Lupin's weak call or the dry, hacking cough the followed it, Ginny wasn't sure, but it caused her to slide off of the bed and head for the door.

"I'm going to go after her," she said quietly in response to the room full of quizzical looks.

As it turned out, Ginny didn't have to go too far because, seated right around the corner outside the door to the infirmary was Nymphadora Tonks. The Auror had her head in her hands and as Ginny took a seat next to her, she could hear the other woman moaning "I'm in love with a complete idiot" over and over again.

"Tonks?" Ginny gingerly touched her shoulder and jumped when her friend abruptly sat up and turned towards her.

"Does he have so much as an ounce of sense in him? A member of the Order, running after someone like Bellatrix UNARMED? He's a fool! A complete and utter fool."

"He wasn't thinking, Tonks-"

"Of COURSE he wasn't. Merlin have mercy on his soul if he WAS because then he's a half wit on top of being a fool."

"Yes, well-"

"Men aren't worth it, Ginny. Mark my words, get out while you can. Harry's a dear boy but he has that glazed, stupid look about him too. I'll bet if you went back in and asked him what he thought of what Remus did, he'd say it was 'brave' or some other such nonsensical word men use to cover their own blinding stupidity."

Embarrassed, Ginny felt her cheeks warm, "Harry and I aren't-that is to say, we're just friends."

"Good," Tonks said. "There's a smart girl, Ginny. Smarter girl than I, that's for certain. You allow a man to get to you, and the next thing you know, they're acting like fools at every available opportunity."


"Great Merlin, what are you doing out of bed, you FOOL?"

Ginny looked from Professor Lupin's haggard form standing in the door frame to Tonks' agitated face and sank down lower in her chair.

"I was looking for you." Despite being the object of her ire, he was clearly having trouble keeping a straight face.

"In your condition? Wandering around out of bed like that?" She seemed about ready to launch into another fit of hysteria.

"I reckoned I wouldn't have to go too far," he said quietly, and she fell silent.

"Yes, well," Tonks took a deep shuddering breath, "I imagine that's because I'm a fool as well."

He simply smiled at her and held out her hand. Almost reluctantly she stood and took it before casting a glance back at Ginny.

"Speaking of which, what are YOU doing out of bed?!" Tonks demanded.

And, as Ginny didn't have a particularly good explanation, she quickly found herself being led back to her own room and deposited under the watchful eye of Bill, who had returned with her lunch.

Staring at the white curtain that separated her from Harry, she felt a surge of happiness stronger than she had experienced in quite a while. A sudden burst of raucous laughter from behind the curtain made her smile. She couldn't wait until she could rejoin them.

For once, everything was starting to make sense.

End Chapter 17

Special thank you to my betas Anne and Marian. Also, thank you to Ninkenate, Ray, IceSugarHigh (made me laugh), eedoe, padraigin, FemmeDraconis, kranestad, emeralddream, and everyone who has taken the time to review and contact me. It means a lot!