"When I think about it, Virginia, you actually did me a favor by breaking things off with Potter."
Why did she have to listen to him? Was there something inside her that automatically responded to his words? A hand slipped behind her torn clothes, and she choked back a sob.
"My, my. Draco, I believed she liked that."
Slim fingers pawed at her skin, sharp nails biting and drawing warm blood. Shoved against the cold stone wall, she held back a moan of pain as the chains around her wrists chafed her skin.
Agony raced through every part of her body as her heart began to beat slower and slower with each shallow breath.
"Oh, yes. I had a point. Well, Virginia, now I know the extent of Potter's love for you. Sickening, really. It's not unlike what I had to see of his parents when I encountered them those few times. How many times, Lucius? Three, of course. Not counting their deaths, obviously. That hardly counts as an encounter; Potter's father hardly put up a fight at all, and all his stupid mother did was scream."
She had to say something, anything! Tom couldn't get away with saying these things, making it seem as if the Potters were weak, and Harry loving her was her fault. How was she supposed to expect Harry to love her? One of Malfoy's hands brushed the curve of her breast, and she shuddered, struggling weakly to move away from his hands.
A note of amusement came from the side. "Now, Draco, don't violate her. You may do as you wish with her once Potter is dead." Malfoy's touch left her completely at the order.
"He won't die," she whispered, voice raspy from her torture. To her eternal shame, Draco had made her scream, and scream for a very long time. The state of her clothes came from when she had tried to rip herself from her bonds physically while being subjected to the Cruciatus Curse. Her face was bloodied and bruised; her arm was still broken, a large piece of the bone now protruding from her skin.
Voldemort's red eyes bore into hers, despairingly confident and victorious. "I can assure you, my dear Virginia, that when Potter sees you in this condition, his rage will swallow up any sort of common sense he might have. His love for you will drive him to his ultimate destruction; how does that make you feel?" he asked silkily, wiping a bit of her blood off of her cheek.
A smile crossed his face, and he turned to his Death Eaters. "Why, it will be like the Department of Mysteries! Someone he loves is in great danger and he will rush to their rescue! Except, of course, this time it's not fake," he said with a sneer. His followers laughed, Bellatrix Lestrange with a bloodthirsty look in her eyes.
Squirming in her chains, Ginny pleaded desperately and silently to anyone for Harry to stay at Hogwarts, safe from Voldemort. If she didn't die before he got here, she knew she would if she had to see Harry die.
Voldemort turned back to her. "You know what will make this even sweeter for you, Virginia?" he asked, holding a very familiar wand in his thin fingers.
Her heart stopped for a second.
"I'm going to kill him with your wand. It only makes sense, since ours don't work against each other's," he added, smiling as her eyes went wide with horror.
Chin dropping to her chest, tears leaked from the corners of her eyes, making glistening trails through the slick blood. Only a few hours ago, she had been kissing Harry and thinking of the impossible; now she had nothing to sustain her.
Chuckling lightly, Voldemort sighed mockingly. "Ah yes, that kiss; I thought I was foiled then. You see, Virginia," he whispered, leaning close to her ear, "there is a way to stop me other than killing me. And you almost found it."
Unwillingly, she lifted her gaze, seeing the maniacal glee on his face. "And now you'll never know," he murmured, pointing her own wand at her. "Your whole life gone in one fateful encounter. Do you think you'll be saved now?"
She felt nothing but the anticipation of more pain. Any idea of salvation for herself was far from her mind. All she could think about was Harry.
Please, stay away! I'm not worth dying for, Harry.
The cold high voice echoed through the room. She stiffened, bringing forth a thought of Harry to sustain herself.
Grimacing, Harry raised his fist to his scar, pounding on his head to try to rid himself of the screams echoing through his mind. He had never heard Ginny scream like this, and he never wanted to hear it again in his life. This was a torture he had never experienced before; hearing someone you loved being killed second by second. When he heard Voldemort killing his parents when Dementors were near, it was only for a few seconds. This had been going on for hours. Was she strong enough to withstand an assault like this? Had she already been reduced to the state Neville's parents were in? He shuddered, hitting himself a bit harder.
A cold hand grasped his wrist. "Harry, stop hitting yourself. You have to stay alert," Hermione said softly, pulling Harry after the silent group trekking through the barren beaches of an island in the Orkneys.
"Keep your mouth shut, Granger," Snape hissed at them, turning his head from the rocky terrain in front of them. "And don't bother holding Potter back; he'll find a way to get himself killed anyway."
After spending the last three hours in the constant company of Snape, Harry's nerves were wearing quite thin, and he lashed out at the sneering Potions Master. "Why don't you bloody sod off, you bas-"
Three hands clapped over his mouth: one was Ron's, one was Hermione, and the other was Tonks, who was bringing up the rear of the group. Harry glared mutinously at the three of them, earning return glares.
Remus and Dumbledore shot Harry warning looks as Snape turned back around, back ramrod-straight, and led the group of Aurors and professors towards a castle perched on the edge of a rocky cliff. Arthur Weasley, whose eyes were slightly amused in spite of the situation, raised an eyebrow at Harry, face still pale from the shock of his daughter's taking.
"Will you stop it, Harry? You're going to be bloody expelled," Ron muttered as they stumbled over large rocks and boulders jutting up from the sand. The ocean waves crashed violently against the shore, reminding Harry of his own feelings at this moment. He was going to tear Malfoy apart the minute he saw him.
Tonks removed her hand from Harry's mouth, as did the others, and sighed, helping Hermione over a particularly rough patch. The wind whipped her dark-red hair around her strained face as they started a climb up to the path Snape was leading them to. "Harry, didn't I ever tell you not to attack in anger?" she asked quietly.
Harry stayed obstinately silent; Hermione rolled her eyes, grabbing onto Ron's outstretched hand to steady herself. "Obviously not," she said shortly with a glance at Harry as he followed her over a boulder.
"Then let's do this now. Harry," Tonks said, walking evenly with him. "If you attack out of pure anger, you're going to blind every other sense you have, and you'll ultimately fail. Right now, you're probably thinking about how much you'd like to rip out all the Death Eaters' throats, right?"
When he didn't answer after a few seconds, she shrugged. "I'll take that as a yes. Well, Ginny is in there, probably hurting; if you lose your head, she's going to die. If you think about a goal, then you'll have focus. Anger makes you lose focus, not gain it," she said, following the others as they headed up a path to the decrepit castle.
"Tonks, will you come here for a moment?" Remus asked quietly.
Nodding, she gave Harry a quick pat before speeding up to catch up to Remus. Harry frowned, rubbing his scar again; the screams had stopped. It was a minor relief, but now he wondered why. Had they stopped torturing Ginny? Was she dead?
The idea didn't even bear thinking about.
After the attack at the school, Snape gave the location of Voldemort's hideout and as soon as a group of Aurors had arrived, everyone had set off, including Remus, Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They had taken several Portkeys to this uncharted island in the Orkneys, and had spent the last hour walking from one side to the other in order to surprise Voldemort and his forces. Every minute lost was one less minute on Ginny's side, in Harry's opinion. He wanted to barge in, kill Malfoy and Voldemort, and save her before it was too late.
A thread of pain passed through him, and he shuddered. What had they done to her by now?
At the entrance to the small castle, Snape halted. "We should split up into two groups and go in two separate entrances. Voldemort will expect us through this entrance; there is another one I know of that he will not have guarded," he said briskly.
Dumbledore nodded, and turned to the group. "I will take one group and Severus will take another to the alternate entrance. Please split into two groups."
As the Aurors shuffled to either person, Dumbledore leaned to speak with Harry. "You, Ron, and Hermione go with Professor Snape. If you find Miss Weasley, get her out with this," he said quickly, handing Harry a rock. "It's a Portkey. Point your wand and say 'apple' to activate it."
Slipping the rock in his pocket, Harry nodded and led Ron and Hermione over to Remus, who was standing with Snape and a few Aurors Harry didn't recognize. When Snape saw them, a slight sneer crossed his face, but he led them on nevertheless. Pushing his hatred of Snape from his mind, Harry concentrated on Ginny. God, where was she?
"Why, I do believe we have company, Virginia. Let's go meet them, shall we?"
With a wave of his wand, Ginny was released from the wall and floated in the air in front of Voldemort. As he and his followers floated her out of the dungeons to the upper levels, she became aware of the sound of surf crashing against rocks, cold sea breeze creeping in through cracks in the stone walls. She was near the ocean. It didn't matter anymore. The last round of torture had ripped the spirit from her, casting it out of her heart to be stomped on. She didn't care about anything anymore; just as long as Harry didn't come...
They entered a wide hall, not unlike the Great Hall in Hogwarts, and at the other side stood Professor Dumbledore, flanked by Tonks and Arthur Weasley and a few others. Voldemort stepped in front of her, blocking her from their view. She didn't think they had seen the condition she was in; it hurt too much to think about her father seeing her like this. Because of her father's silence, she guessed he hadn't, and that was a relief.
"Dumbledore! I'm afraid you're a bit late; Virginia's already completely mine," Voldemort said darkly. She could imagine the smile on his face: evil, triumphant, menacing. She used to think that smile was innocent and clever; now she knew better.
"You could never lie well, Tom. Where is Miss Weasley?" Dumbledore asked, voice strong as steel.
I'm here... Thank god Harry isn't!
As he approached the room, Harry found it harder and harder not to race out and curse everything in sight. The grip on his wand was becoming hard enough to break it; his knuckles were the whitest he had ever seen them. Ron gripped his shoulder briefly, face pale as a ghost.
Snape led them straight to the entrance; they could hear Voldemort and Dumbledore conversing. As Remus took the head of the group, Snape slipped back. Harry noticed this, and his old anger filled him. "Where the hell do you think you're going?" he snapped as Snape passed.
"Well, the Dark Lord can't know I led you here, can he? I have to go back to the school so my cover does not fall apart. Wrap your mind around that, Potter," he said coldly as he disappeared down the darkened corridor.
Harry gritted his teeth painfully. "I hate that man," he muttered viciously.
"Keep your head, Harry," Hermione whispered.
Remus turned his head slightly. "We go out with Stunning Spells, all right? On my mark," he said softly.
"And where is Potter? Why is he not here, saving the love of his life? You see now, Dumbledore, that love is not a strength; it is the weakest thing you can feel," Voldemort crowed.
Moving out from the shadows, Remus motioned to the others and held out his wand, pointing at the nearest unsuspecting Death Eater. "Stupefy!" he shouted as the others joined in, catching some close Death Eaters by surprise.
Voldemort whipped around as a few of his followers fell to the ground. His eyes landed on Harry, and a smirk curved his mouth. "Well, if it isn't Potter," he murmured as his followers began to throw curses at their adversaries. "I see you have arrived."
"Where is she?" Harry asked hoarsely, raising his wand. All his hate and anger trained onto one person: Voldemort.
A cruel smile spread on Voldemort's face; Harry had a sickening feeling he was about to see something he wouldn't enjoy too much. "Do you really want her back, Potter? Is she worth it? Even if she's bloodied? Bruised? Violated?" he asked with a sneer, nostrils flaring.
Rage boiled over in his veins, overwhelming him, horrifying a deep part of himself. Adjusting his grip on his wand, he steeled his gaze. "If she is, then it only means more trouble for you. Where is she?" he growled.
Voldemort laughed. Draco Malfoy flicked his wand.
A small, broken figure floated out from behind the battling Death Eaters; her red hair surrounded her face, matching the color of most of her body. Scratches and cuts ravaged her usually white skin, seen from the rips and tears in her clothes that hung from her body in shreds. A quick glance revealed a splintered arm hanging at her side, bone poking up through the skin. Head lolling to one side, her eyes flickered upward to abruptly meet Harry's outraged and appalled gaze.
They were brown, dark chocolate brown, a brown he always wanted to get lost in; eyes that understood him, helped him, cared for him. It was her. The destroyed, crumpled girl floating in front of him was the proud, cheerful, loving Ginny he adored.
Inside him, a rage and anger he had never felt before rose up, blinding every thought except murder. He had never wanted to kill so badly; his whole being itched for blood, for vengeance. The entire world was silent except for this one need. It was like a bonfire, consuming him and everything around him. Thirsty for blood, he stepped towards Voldemort, wand outstretched.
"Harry, don't!" Remus yelled, but he took no heed. Everything else was in a different world; here, it was just him and Ginny, reaching out and taking her back from the hell she had been put through.
Malfoy paled as Harry neared him and Voldemort. Harry smirked. "I am going to rip you apart, Malfoy," he said with a feral growl, aiming his wand. "Stupefy!"
Watching as Malfoy sunk to the floor, Harry stepped over him, wand now trained on Voldemort. Malfoy could wait.
Voldemort scoffed, whipping out a wand from his robes. "Don't be ridiculous, Potter. How do you expect to defeat me, the most powerful wizard in the world?"
"I'd love to see how your wand is going to work against mine, considering they're brothers," Harry snapped back. Distantly, he could hear Bellatrix Lestrange scream for mercy, and hoped she would get none.
"Simple." Voldemort's malicious sneer widened. "I use someone else's wand."
As if hypnotized, Harry stared at the wand in his enemy's hand. It looked strangely familiar, like he had seen it in action before only a short time ago. Voldemort's gaze slid from him to Ginny and back, and a feeling of extreme disgust filled Harry. "You bastard," he spat.
"Oh, yes," Voldemort gloated, reaching out and tracing the area around Ginny's protruding bone with a thin finger. "I'm going to kill you with your girlfriend's wand! She was quite angry with me, I believe. But, a few rounds of the Cruciatus Curse cured that feistiness," he said. "She'll be of use to me again, for sure."
Knuckles white, Harry gritted his teeth. "Don't talk about her like that," he ground out.
Voldemort raised an eyebrow. "Why? Because you love her?"
"Yes!" Harry exclaimed, grabbing the attention of his fighting companions and catching Voldemort by surprise. "I am not going to let you touch her again. If you do, I will kill you," he snarled.
"You don't know how," Voldemort stated, looking a bit off-color.
Now it was Harry's turn to scoff. "Like hell I don't! Why don't you come here and see?" he taunted, waving his wand slightly.
Looking red in the face, Voldemort neared Harry, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "Don't provoke me, boy."
"Let her go, then." Harry leveled his wand at Voldemort.
Voldemort pointed Ginny's wand at Harry. "No, Potter. Your nobility is wearing thin on me. Crucio!"
Rolling to his side, Harry ducked the curse, hearing it crash into the wall. He raised his wand. "Stupefy!"
With a simple Shielding Charm, Voldemort deflected it back towards Harry, who was once again on his knees as he dodged it. His mind raced as he continued to duck and dodge Voldemort's attempts to curse him; why couldn't he remember any of the spells he had looked up with Dumbledore? He leapt into the shadows, watching and regaining his breath as Voldemort searched for him.
"Come on out, Potter, or it'll be your girlfriend suffering the consequences!" he exclaimed, grabbing onto Ginny with a long hand. She shut her eyes as he dug the tip of her wand into her neck. "Will you let another loved one sacrifice themselves for you?"
Sirius' pale face came to Harry's mind as he watched Voldemort glide through the fray, Ginny struggling limply at his side. How could he do this? Ginny was going to die if he didn't think of something to do. Could he live with her death on his hands? Go through life with her blood on his soul?
A cruel smile crossed Voldemort's face. "Your silence is your answer. Very well." He turned to Ginny. "You can be happy now, Virginia; your wish has come true. To save him, you're going to die."
"Ginny!" Ron called hoarsely, fighting his way towards her as Death Eaters threw curses at him.
Harry shut his eyes. He had to choose: his life or Ginny's.
There wasn't a choice.
"Don't touch her," Harry said as he stepped out in front of Voldemort. "Give her to Dumbledore, and you can have me."
Opening her eyes, Ginny shook her head at Harry, tears brightening her gaze. "Harry, don't do this," she whispered.
Voldemort flicked his wand, and she crumpled to the floor, a cry of agony piercing the din of battle as she landed on her injured arm. "Keep your mouth shut, girl!" he shouted.
He tried to smile at her, to reassure her; he didn't want her tears to be the last thing he saw of her before he died. "It's ok, Ginny," he said softly as he dropped his wand, eyes locked onto Voldemort. "I'm doing what I need to do."
"Harry, no!" Remus yelled as Hermione let out a shriek from across the room.
With a wicked smile, Voldemort leveled his wand at Harry's chest. "Just like your father, I see. Love is foolish. Say goodbye to Potter, Virginia; it's your fault he's here," he said.
Is this how James Potter had felt when he died trying to save his wife? Harry had to wonder as he faced Voldemort. The rage was gone; all he felt was a need to save Ginny. Did I ever tell her I loved her? I hope she knows. Ginny, go find Ron. Save yourself.
"Don't do it, Tom."
The faint but steely command came from Ginny, who was watching them both with pain-filled eyes. Harry shook his head, but she ignored him, getting to her shaky legs with a struggle. Glaring at Voldemort, she held out her hand. "I won't let you use my wand to hurt him," she said quietly.
"Don't try to be noble, girl! I told you to shut your mouth!" Voldemort exclaimed.
A small smirk curved Ginny's mouth, a sharp contrast to her bruised and bloodied face. "You forget, Tom: I don't have to listen to you anymore," she replied, causing Voldemort's eyes to widen. "Accio wand!"
Her wand flew from Voldemort's hand to hers. As Voldemort let out a yell of anger, Harry used his limited wandless magic and threw a Stunning Spell at him from behind. Managing to dodge it, Voldemort backed away from both of them, eyes narrow. "I'll get you, Potter, mark my words! And, I'll use your girlfriend to do it!" he exclaimed, pulling out his own wand and Disapparating with a sharp pop.
Immediately, the remaining Death Eaters circled Harry. Dodging their curses, Harry raced towards Ginny's buckling form, grabbing her around the waist and ducking into the shadows as flashes of light flew past him. As he adjusted his grip on her, he heard Ron's war-cry as the youngest Weasley boy attacked the Death Eaters with a vengeance, concentrating on the Malfoys mostly.
"You shouldn't have come."
Ginny's hoarse words flew into his ears, and Harry looked at her beaten-up face, searching for any uninjured place. "Nothing was going to stop me," he replied softly, finding a place on her forehead to kiss gently.
She shook her head, wincing painfully with the movement. "He could have killed you, and I'm not worth that," she whispered.
Pulling her closer to him, Harry buried his face in her neck. "If he told you that, he was bloody wrong, Ginny," he said fiercely. "You're worth all that and more to me."
"Harry, what the hell are you still doing here? Use your Portkey!" Ron called, hexing Lucius Malfoy as he came near to the shadowed corner.
Shifting his weight, Harry reached down and pulled the rock out of his pocket. Finding his wand, he pointed it at the rock. "Apple."
There was the telltale jerk from below his navel, and he and Ginny flew off in a burst of speed and wind, far away from the battle at hand.
The sun was shining in the Hospital Wing three days later as Ginny looked outside the window by her bed, watching her classmates take a break from their classes. She had her textbooks in front of her, but she didn't have the heart to study; she hadn't had the heart to do much of anything since the battle in the Orkneys.
When Madam Pomfrey was finally finished taking care of Ginny's most severe wounds, she had announced that it was a miracle the girl was still alive, let alone sane. The extensive damage to her body from the Cruciatus Curse had been enough to drive any normal wizard to insanity and even death; but Ginny was remarkably strong, and had managed to keep her health. The matron had a hard time of treating the splintered arm, and finally had to subdue Ginny with a Stunning Spell to keep her still enough to help the bone back together. It now rested in a sling by her side.
Because of her injuries, Madam Pomfrey had ordered a week of bed-rest, which was a week too long, as Ginny had sourly complained to her family. The whole Weasley clan, excluding Percy, had come to Hogwarts to stay with Ginny for the first few days, but now it was only her parents and Ron left; Fred, George, Bill, and Charlie had to go off on business for the Order, to Ginny's displeasure.
Ginny sighed, head throbbing slightly. Her brothers may have gone, but Harry had been at her side almost non-stop for the last three days. He had stayed by her during her treatment, letting her squeeze his hand until it was numb as she swallowed numerous vials of unidentifiable potions, each one more disgusting than the previous. During the day, when he wasn't in class, he sat with her without words, just holding her hand and sometimes kissing her forehead in farewell when Madam Pomfrey shooed him out before curfew. From what Hermione and Ron had told her, he wasn't going to meals, spending all his time either with her or in the library.
Ron was surprisingly content with the situation at hand, only scolding Ginny for not telling him and Hermione about her problems. He said nothing of Harry, which led her to believe that he had accepted the fact that Harry loved her; a fact she herself was having a hard time dealing with.
Tugging the shining ring from her finger, Ginny laid it in her palm and watched the mid-afternoon sun dance on the jewels, heart aching painfully. Voldemort's words had haunted her ever since she had been conscious enough to think about them, and she couldn't push them from her mind.
"I'll kill you yet, Potter! And I'll use your girlfriend, too!"
Thinking about it, Ginny knew there wasn't anything she could do to stop Tom from entering her mind at any time. The only thing that seemed to stop him was Harry, and using him was out of the question, since that was what Tom wanted. It was a cycle of hopelessness that she was going around continuously; wanting Harry, helping Tom accidentally, harming Harry, still wanting him. The choice was made for her by circumstance; what was she waiting for?
It was only that she wanted to bask in being near Harry for as long as she could before swinging the final stroke on their relationship. Who knew if she would ever be with him again in her life? In the time it would take to free her from Tom, he might move on, put his love for her aside and start over with someone new. The thought burned her, but she had to realize its truth; once she gave back this ring, there was no going back. Anything she and Harry would have had would be gone forever.
Slipping the ring back onto her finger, Ginny settled back against her pillows and opened her Potions book. At least she would always have the memories of his touch on her skin, his voice in her ear.
Could she survive on memories alone?
A stray tear slid down her pale cheek, which she didn't bother to wipe away. It landed with a soft plop on the page she was opened to, sinking into the paper and mudding the ink.
She would have to survive; she didn't have a choice.
The soft voice of the headmaster filled the room, and she looked up from her book with dry eyes. Smiling, Dumbledore stood a few steps away from her bed. She lifted the corners of her lips in a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Hello, Headmaster."
Dumbledore Summoned a chair and came closer to her side, sitting down beside her. "How are you feeling?" he asked gently, concern twinkling in his bright eyes.
"Every day I feel better," she said, soul burning under his steady gaze.
He smiled slightly, leaning back in his chair. "I'm surprised Harry isn't here right now," he said casually. "From what I can tell, he's been spending all his free time with you."
Looking back down at her book, Ginny felt her cheeks flame. "Maybe it's better he's not here," she mumbled.
There was a moment of silence; then she heard Dumbledore sigh. "Harry is someone who grew up without knowing what love was at all, Ginny," he began softly. "To see him at your side, offering all he can give you, and you pushing him away is something I may not be able to understand."
A sharp ache began in her heart. "I can make you understand, sir. Voldemort can use me! He's planning on it. I can't stay with Harry knowing I could be the one to kill him. Look how close he came to death a few days ago!" she exclaimed, looking up abruptly.
The twinkle was gone from the headmaster's eyes, and only pity and heartache were left to gaze at her. Her stomach did a funny lurch down to the floor. "Ginny, there are ways of dealing with this sort of thing. I'm sure we'll be able to find something for you," he commented soothingly.
Resolve filled her; she could not be comforted, could not be swayed. "You might not ever find anything, sir. Even if you did, it could be months. I can't let Tom have that opportunity to hurt anyone I care about," she said softly, glancing to the side of her bed.
She heard a shift, and a hand rested on her shoulder, cool and calming on her fiery skin. "You must do what you think is best, Miss Weasley. But consider the circumstances you're in. Harry cares for you a great deal; it would hurt him horribly if you threw that back into his face," Dumbledore said quietly.
Nodding, she didn't look up. With a wistful sigh, Dumbledore left her alone. Ginny gave a suspicious sniff as he left her, rubbing at her eyes before any tears could escape.
Coming back into the fold of students was difficult for Ginny, especially since the knowledge of her taking was widely known. She stuck close to Harry, Ron, and Hermione as May ended, using their skills to help her prepare for her O.W.L.S, which had finally arrived. The testing period drained her, and she always came to them with the fears of failing, which not even Hermione could soothe.
The last day of testing was a Friday, and the next day was a special Hogsmeade weekend planned by Dumbledore to give his students a well-earned break. In a week they would all be back at their homes, so it was the last opportunity to visit the town before the end of term. Everyone cheerfully signed up for the trip except for Ginny, who pleaded off, saying she didn't feel well. Ron and Hermione offered to stay with her, but Harry had already volunteered, letting his friends go off alone for the first time in three weeks. He felt the privacy was the least he could offer, with both of them being so utterly supportive of him.
After Hermione and Ron took off hand-in-hand for the village, Harry set about finding Ginny. This proved to be more difficult than he had expected, but after asking a few people, and getting just as many knowing looks, he determined she was in her dormitory.
Hmmm. The dormitory. He had gotten up there a few times, but hadn't tried his luck lately, since he hadn't had a reason to lately. His Confusion Charm was out of practice as well.
Standing in the common room for a few minutes, he stared at the girls' stairwell, eyeing it like an unsolved mystery. Finally, inspiration struck him, and he grinned widely. Racing up to his
dormitory, he grabbed his Firebolt and left the tower, headed outside into the warm June air.
After taking a quick glance around, he kicked off right below Gryffindor Tower, soaring upward until he was level with the windows. Flying around briefly, he saw a flash of red hair through one window, and halted beside it. With a quick identity check, he tapped on the window, smiling as Ginny came forward with a surprised look on her still-pale face.
"Harry?" she asked incredulously as she opened the window. He noticed that she didn't smile as much as he thought she would.
He raised an eyebrow. "Going to let me in, or shall I float out here all day?" he asked teasingly.
A slight smile curved her mouth, but it didn't travel to her eyes. "I haven't decided yet. I suppose I should, hmm?"
Nodding, he watched as she silently moved from the window, giving him space to maneuver his broom inside her room. Once he had touched down on her floor, she moved past him to close the window. "Any reason you decided to fly up here?" she asked as he set his broom against her bed and looked at her. She was leaning against the windowsill, arms across her chest. The neckline of the shirt she was wearing was low enough for him to see the very beginning of a scar she carried over her heart; it was where Voldemort had held his wand as he had tortured her with Cruciatus, as she related it. Nothing Madam Pomfrey had done could rid Ginny of it; he briefly wondered how she felt with a scar of her own before coming back to the conversation at hand.
"I thought you might want some company," he said as she came back to her bed, plopping down on its side. "Is there any reason you've locked yourself in your room?"
She didn't look at him as she answered, eyes fastened to the quilt on her bed. "I'm just packing. I want to be ready for Tuesday," she said.
Sitting next to her, he gently slipped her hand into his, feeling the cool metal of his mother's ring against his skin. "Are you that anxious to leave Hogwarts?" he asked softly, wishing she would meet his eyes.
A sigh rippled through her, a tired, weary sound he had never heard her make before. "I just want to be home."
He squeezed her hand slightly, unsure of how to respond to that. A month of the Dursleys awaited him---the last time he would have to see them, considering he was going to be a legal adult in the wizarding world in July and the spell protecting him would wear off. It was the first time he realized this, and he spent a few minutes in his own silent reverie. After this short time, he could turn his back on them, never looking upon them again in his life. The thought gave him pleasure at the same time it shook him; as much as he hated the Dursleys, they were one of the only constants in his life. What kind of summer awaited him if even that was ending?
"Harry? Are you all right?"
Ginny's voice brought him out of his thoughts, and he looked at her mutely. The look in her eyes was one of curiosity and sadness; he could tell she was wondering what was running through his mind. Taking a closer look at her face, it looked almost the same as before the attack, except paler. Her hair was always tied back now, something that drove him crazy every time he saw her; something about having his fingers loose in her hair tantalized him.
Considering his train of thought, he wondered if she would kill him if he kissed her right now. They hadn't kissed since that morning, before the Quidditch game, and he wasn't exactly sure where they stood in their relationship. But, he knew if he didn't kiss her now, he would regret it afterwards.
Leaning towards her, he saw her eyes widen before they fluttered shut, and she closed the gap between their mouths, pressing against him gently as her free arm went around his neck. Hands still twined together at their sides, they moved closer together as he prodded her mouth open, sinking into her as quickly as he had ever. With a gentle hand, he reached up to the ribbon holding her hair and tugged, feeling the locks tumble down around her face as she made a husky sound in the back of her throat and curled closer into his body. Twisting his fingers into her hair, he felt like he was coming home, losing himself in her and forgetting all his problems. It was a feeling he never wanted to lose.
Finally, their mouths separated with a soft sound; glazed eyes opened to meet their counterpart, a smile on his face. Her face was not quite as happy; he could see the beginnings of tears in her eyes, and panic flew through him. Oh dear Merlin, what did I do?
"Harry," she began weakly before burying her face in his shoulder, dry sobs heaving her shoulders. He wrapped his arms around her, finally releasing her hand from his. Bewilderment filled him; where did this go wrong? Just a moment ago everything had been more than fine, and now she was struggling to keep back her tears!
"Ginny, what's wrong?" he whispered into her hair, rocking her slightly in an act of comfort.
He felt her shake her head against him. "I can't do this to you, Harry! I just can't," she cried, voice muffled by his chest.
Blood running cold, Harry pulled back to look her in the eye, trying to resist the urge to enfold the shaking girl back in his arms. "What do you mean?" he asked quietly.
Slowly, she lifted her face to his, eyes bright. "He's still inside me, Harry; He will be until he dies, which might not be for years," she said softly.
His arms fell away from her as he stared at her in complete shock.
Well, there was no need to ask who "he" was.
"I can't put you, or anyone else, in danger," she continued calmly before grasping his wrists. "I love you, Harry, I really do; I need to do this, for you and for myself. Please, please don't hate me."
Her voice dropped to a whispered plea. He gazed at her, heart beating slower than he thought was possible. She was doing this to him again and for the same reason; funny, he thought he would be angrier about this.
But, he reasoned as her hands left his skin, what choice did she really have? There wasn't any known alternative to choose from; only Voldemort's death would completely end her suffering. Until that day, she could be a danger to everyone around her. It was a logical decision, one that he would make himself if put into her place.
Then why did he want to fight for her like this? Why couldn't his heart listen to his mind and leave her be?
He felt her press something small and round into the palm of his hand, and he looked down. It was the ring.
"This belongs to you, Harry; save it for someone special," Ginny said thinly, scooting away from him.
Glancing up, he saw a few silent tears running down her face, the despair she was feeling clear in her dark eyes. His heart swelled, and he shook his head slightly. He wasn't going to live without her a day more than what was necessary; he would find something to help her, or kill Voldemort over the summer with his bare hands.
With a soft touch, he took one of her hands and opened it to lay flat. Placing the ring in her palm, he smiled slightly at her as he closed her hand. "I did save it, Ginny. It was a gift for you; keep it," he said softly.
Her mouth opened in shock, jaw slack. Leaning towards her, he pressed a kiss to her mouth quickly before standing and grabbing his broom. "I am going to help you, even if I have to go to the end of the world to do it," he promised her quietly. Then he turned and left her room, closing the door softly behind him.
Ron's quiet words brought Ginny back from her memories to the compartment on the Hogwarts Express, the same compartment she had shared with Ron, Hermione, and Harry on the way to Hogwarts last September. She glanced out the window and saw Platform 9 and ¾ come into view. The train began to slow as the shuffling of students could be heard through the corridors. Harry, Ron, and Hermione got to their feet and began to gather their things; she sat and waited for the train to halt, feeling slightly reluctant to get off the train. Her desire to go home was overpowered by the longing for Hogwarts for just for a moment.
Harry bumped her accidentally, and his touch sent shivers through her. While their interactions since her Saturday confession weren't as icy as the ones after their break-up in March, Ginny still felt uncomfortable around Harry, like she was going to break her vow to herself and jump him at any time. The ring still graced her finger; she kept it on as a sign of hope to her and a reason to go on. He had promised her he wouldn't give up; she had to have faith in his words.
A hand touched her shoulder. "Come on, Ginny. Everyone's waiting," Hermione said softly. Ginny roused herself, gathered her things, and followed her friend off the train.
Her parents were the first ones she saw when she crossed the barrier, followed by Remus and Tonks, whose hands were suspiciously close to one another. Fred and George were there, grinning in a new set of dragonhide jackets that turned Ron purple in the face when he saw them. Also standing with the Weasleys were Hermione's smiling parents, Mr. Granger in a heated conversation with Mr. Weasley over wands as she approached.
Hermione giggled and leaned over. "They're perfect friends, really; Dad's obsessed with anything wizard, and your father's obsessed with anything Muggle," she whispered, eliciting a laugh from Ginny as they set down their things and began the usual hugs and greetings.
Watching Harry out of the corner of her eye, she smiled as he went straight to Remus after getting a hug and a handshake from Mrs. Weasley and Mr. Weasley respectively, embracing the man like a sort-of brother. Tonks winked at Ginny furtively before receiving a quick hug from Harry as well. Remus said something to Harry, and Harry looked farther off. Following his gaze, she saw the Dursleys standing as far away as they could possibly be from the happy group near the barrier, all looking very disagreeable. Mr. Weasley nodded to Remus, and soon the whole group was trooping over to the unhappy Muggles, Harry in the lead.
"Mr. Durlsey, so good of you to be here," Remus said smoothly as Harry went to stand by them. "Just wanted to let you know that the same ruled apply for Harry's treatment as last summer. If we hear of anything out of the ordinary, we will pop by."
"By any means necessary," Fred piped up, causing Mr. Dursley's face to go red with fury.
"Come on boy. Let's go," Dursley said shortly, turning away along with his wife and child.
Harry made the rounds, giving Ron an awkward embrace and kissing Hermione on the cheek. Ginny stayed by her mother's side, avoiding a farewell; her cheeks burned as her mother raised an eyebrow at her.
"We're leaving!" Dursley exclaimed from near the exit.
Rolling his eyes, Harry picked up his trunk and Hedwig's cage and began towards the Dursleys. Ginny watched him walk away from her, heart heavy; why hadn't she said anything to him?
As if he heard her thought, he stopped and turned, meeting her eyes. A small smile curved his lips, reaching his green eyes; eyes she adored. Those eyes were her undoing.
Shoving away her fears for one brief moment, she raced towards him, seeing the surprise on his face as she reached up and kissed his cheek quickly. Raising her left hand to her heart, she smiled. The ring sparkled in the sunlight of Kings Cross station, sending a spark of hope into her heart.
Harry smiled at her widely, then turned back to the exit, head held high. As she watched him walk away, hope stayed within her heart.
All she had was her hope.
Author's Notes: Whee! We're done! It is officially done! My baby, my pride and joy; I'm happy to be able to start on the sequel. I can't leave it like this, can I? I might be stoned. ^^ Right now, I'd just like to thank everyone who reviewed, especially Lizzie, who just keeps me going, my reviewers at Checkmated!, my reviewers at SIYE, especially Clearwater_Penelope, Delylah, and Melindaeo, and my reviewers at FF.net, especially Rocky, The Keymaker, and MrIntel. Thanks to all of you! You definitely kept me going through everything.
The first part of the sequel should be done by the end of February, I hope, so keep a look out. I'm not sure how long it'll be, but I don't think it will be as long as this one.
Finally, a most gracious and heartfelt thanks to my wonderful beta Anne, who has done a lot for me since we've met, even if she doesn't realize it! ^^ I'm eternally grateful to her for taking me on and dealing with everything I've thrown at her. She's not only a great beta, she's a good friend. I don't know what I'd do without her.
Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed! I hope you enjoyed this.