CHAPTER 15- The Memoirs of the Visitor
The hunger we feel on a daily basis is rarely ever acknowledged, the basic need for companionship, the basic need for the affirmation of our own self-worth. It is so deep-seated we do not recognize it unless we are completely deprived, and when this hunger is fed, it gives us a kind of euphoria.
In this euphoria, we are blind.
I asked once, at the onset of this, for you not to judge too harshly. Perhaps it is really myself I was reminding.
Fool that I was.
Fool that I still am.
He had made a promise.
He had, from her first visit, begun formulating a plan of action, the plan of his own salvation. Slytherins took no chances, and in that regard, this was no different than every other endeavor he'd ever undertaken in his life.
But overall, there was a difference.
This time, it was his life he was fighting for. His soul.
And the woman on the other side of the glass was his warrior.
He had made his promise, and as each day passed and each visit with it, Draco knew it would be impossible to keep.
Would you hurt her?
One hundred and eighty-eight stones, and for each one, a sin. Each one but the last.
He had one sin left to commit.
Day by day, he'd felt his dependence grow, and with it, his desperation. Time seemed both longer and shorter without her, the moments of a day stretching by, but the days of eternity spinning in the breath of a second.
Eternity was of great concern to a man whose eternity was possessed by others and damned by all.
In the week since her surprise weekend visit, he'd spoken almost exclusively of Quidditch, and in a sort of self-imposed torture, he had relived the moments of his life when he'd been most free.
Had Lucius Malfoy known his son so loved the sport, he would never have encouraged it, to be sure. But encourage it he had, in the name of power, and so a young man who had known no happiness got his first taste of it, and in tasting it, realized how bitter the rest of his life truly was.
And now that bitterness was doubled, made more pungent by the taste of the friendship he'd gotten in his days there.
Strengthened, he knew, by the taste of her, the very one he had promised not to hurt.
As he'd replayed those moments, he could see her mind had been elsewhere, and he'd seen more and more of that look in her eyes, that one he didn't want to see.
The one that meant he would never be able to keep his promise.
He had yet to finish his confession, but when he did, his need for his warrior would be sated, and his plan of salvation would be finished. The weight would be lifted. He had only to finish it, to tell one last big tale, and then he could stop seeing that look through the glass.
After that final story, he could try to keep his promise.
One hundred and eighty-eight.
In a small, silent home miles away, a home which had seen seven births and countless laughs, tears, and arguments, a home which held thousands of gadgets between its walls, Ginny Weasley approached two people who had months ago begun to suspect—and fear—that she had become a stranger to them.
Her father was bent over a bewitched Muggle radio, the pieces hopelessly strewn about before him, the wires occasionally trying to tie themselves around the tools he'd used to take it apart. A pair of glasses perched precariously on the tip of his nose and his eyebrows were hiked to maximum altitude as he took one last poke at the beleaguered object before him.
Molly was knitting, having moved from jumpers to knit key fobs. She had been, of late, very vocally opinionated in the matter of her children (including Hermione and Harry) being immediately able to find and identify the keys to their flats.
No one had bothered to point out their abilities to unlock their doors with their wands.
But both tinkering and knitting stopped cold when the woman who had only recently been a girl stepped into their midst, hands clasped behind her, eyes wide and grave. Words trembled unformed in the air, three red heads poised to hear what the others had to say.
She'd thought for many days, weeks, on how to start this, how to begin her own confession to the people she'd loved her whole life. She'd pondered every angle, tried out every combination of words, and still she'd not come up with anything eloquent enough to describe her anguish at the split that had somehow happened in her life.
"I don't understand what's happening," she stated simply, the unplanned, whispered statement as effective as a shout might have been.
Molly laid her knitting needles along side one another, clasping her fingers around them tightly enough to turn her knuckles white, and she regarded her daughter with a mixture of compassion or confusion. "We're hardly the ones to explain to you what we don't know ourselves," she said sternly, unaccustomed to speaking any other way.
But Arthur stayed silent, his own understanding far greater than his wife's or daughter's. He'd heard the reports, even seen some of the guards' recollections, and he knew what had happened.
His daughter had come to care for a prisoner. His little girl had befriended a man who might very well not have possessed a single redeeming quality.
And underneath his own particular brand of muddled anguish, Arthur Weasley felt some pride, for his daughter had shown the compassion he'd tried to instill in her. He was only human, however—it was only natural for him to wish she'd shown her compassion elsewhere.
"Why don't you try to explain it to us," he said softly, sending his wife an imploring look. He wanted very much to hear her words for what had passed.
For what even a blind man could see was still passing.
The words were surprisingly easy, telling the stories as they had been related to her, in some places word for word, and before Ginny was even halfway done, her voice was faltering with the emotions behind it, and a strong, work-roughened hand clasped hers, lending her the strength to finish it, at least as far as she knew how.
In the flickering firelight of the Weasley Burrow, Arthur Weasley watched his wife and daughter link hands and listened to the tale he'd never even thought to guess at.
He was waiting for her.
It struck her, that waiting. In the twenty-four hours that had passed since she'd seen him last, much had happened. She had told her parents everything—or almost everything; she had watched a classmate of Bill's, wounded by the wand of Lucius Malfoy, respond more than favorably to a treatment; she had sat by Luna Lovegood's side and waited for something, anything to come from the young woman's mouth, but nothing did on this day.
Ginny had been left with her own thoughts and more importantly, her feelings, and in the past day, she had come to terms with nearly all of them.
But seeing him wait for her nearly had her undone, her heart rising in her throat, her stomach knotting with… expectation? Surprise?
For she had become accustomed to a certain way of things, accustomed to the unique rhythm they'd found and bound between them, and changes at this point, no matter how small, set within her deep unease.
She opened her mouth to greet him as she sat down, a simple 'hello,' or a 'good evening,' the niceties they'd never bothered with, niceties her heart insisted on.
But he wouldn't allow her to bother with it this time, either.
"I'm ready to finish this," he said, his voice deceptively negligent as he crossed to sit near to the glass. She wasn't the only one who had spent countless hours formulating words and sentences, paragraphs and entire stories. He had internally practiced his tone, his inflection, his expression.
He had stared at the one hundred and eighty-eight stones, and to them he had practiced the words he would give her.
"What?" Ginny leaned forward in her chair, sure she'd misheard him, her heart skipping slightly at the proclamation. So close was she to the glass that her knees touched it, the green cloth of her robes pressing flat against the partition.
His eyes snapped to hers, insistent and hot, the silver now molten. "You asked me 'why,' Weasley, and now I'm trying to answer you."
He had meant to look elsewhere for this last bit, had meant all along to keep himself separate, detached. But his eyes locked on hers, and he clutched onto the color that had become familiar to him, the only warmth he'd been given in an eternity of iciness.
If he could hold onto that, he could finish this.
"I fought because I didn't have a choice," he said, wondering if she could possibly understand that. "I followed the man who had shown me nothing but hate, and I liked the idea of it." He saw her flinch, just a bit, and he nodded matter-of-factly. "I liked the idea of war, Weasley, because I thought you… all you… warriors for good… would know better."
He paused here, and she wished avidly for something to say, for something to slow down this rush of words. She had wanted this, had wanted this story for so long, she didn't remember why she had so yearned for it in the first place.
"I thought you'd know to kill us."
He stepped onto the flat expanse of ground with his father, unmasked in the sea of the masked, one of the few who had not donned any sort of disguise.
He felt his stomach turn as he watched his father curse his first victim, a short, round-faced woman whom Draco had never before seen.
And then things broke apart, spinning around him and in him and through his head with a fervor he couldn't deny but couldn't keep up with, and he spoke words he'd been taught long before, words that had, until now, been just that—words. But paired with the wand, and paired with the sea of ready victims, his words became weapons, and he began to strike them down.
And very soon, he began to see clearly why he had no mask, why he had wanted no mask.
This was his freedom.
This was his way out.
"I thought," he told her in a choked voice, "The more I did, the more I cursed, the more guaranteed it was." He balled his hand into a fist and struck his thigh, wincing with the renewed frustration of the moment.
"I thought one of you could do it. One of you who were so sure, so right."
And though she'd have given anything for ignorance at that moment, it evaded Ginny, and she understood.
"You thought one of us would kill you," she said dully, feeling her heart cry out for him, for the horrifying want he must have had, for the glint she'd seen in his eyes that day.
That glint which had been ready for the end.
His father's voice pounded through his brain, the hatred that surrounded one little boy, one green-eyed little boy who had managed to harm one of their own, and with that voice, he found the abandon to stride into battle.
With that voice, he understood the ruthlessness of a person fighting for their cause, and in that ruthlessness, he saw his own exit.
harmed wizard upon witch upon wizard, and still no one had moved to strike
And then he saw her.
"I knew you wouldn't do it, Weasley," he said, his eyes still fast on hers, the smirk now flitting over his lips, counterfeit smugness, a mask all its own. "After all, you'd had the opportunity plenty of times before."
"I never would have," she whispered, her eyes welling with tears. Was this what she'd waited so long to hear? That their worthy opponent had been looking not for battle, but for a sick sort of mercy?
"Are you admitting I'm right?" he asked, his voice infused with surprise. He was grateful for the moment, light and personal, and it heartened him enough to go on. "But I thought for certain one of your family would, and when your brother crossed wands with me…"
He'd grown tall in his final days at Hogwarts, his body lean and muscled, his once-awkward freckled face now sculpted into a determined scowl.
Ron Weasley wasn't the easy mark he'd once been, and for that, Draco was thankful. If no one else could finish it, perhaps Weasley could, with all the years of animosity and hatred spanning between them.
But there had been hesitation in Ronald Weasley's eyes, and that hesitation had let through the curse Draco had never intended to use.
Draco's voice had dropped to a whisper, and a silvery-blond head bent close to a coppery red one so she would not have to strain to hear him. "Is this the answer to your 'why'?" he asked, his voice throaty and raw. "Is this what you were asking me?"
Ginny's eyes overfilled, the tears slipping down her cheeks, and as she let them fall, she shook her head. She didn't know anymore what she had wanted from him. She only knew she'd gotten much more than she'd asked for, and she'd never get what she'd truly ended up wanting.
At the sight of her tears, Draco's hands curled into fists behind the glass, his fingernails pressing aching crescents into his palms as he willed it over, as he willed her gone.
As he willed it all to be finished, down to the last stone.
"I cursed him good, didn't I?" he asked, self-loathing and fury now evident in the fierce whisper. "As well as I knew how, and still it wasn't enough."
"Don't do this," Ginny answered, leaning forward so quickly she rapped her knees into the glass, making them both wince.
"I'm going to finish this," he said firmly, his voice skipping back up to a higher volume, a hard, conversational tone. "Don't interrupt me." Please don't cry, he thought, watching those tears. Just a few more minutes.
"I thought it would be one of your brothers who would come to finish it, come to avenge Ron," he said, the name sounding stilted in that cultured voice, stilted coming from those lips that had only used surnames before. "But it was Longbottom who did it, stupid Squibbish git." His voice hitched unsteadily with the insult, and a horrified expression shifted over his granite countenance. "And that was my last chance, I knew, to make it count. So I killed him."
He swallowed hard, trying to void the lump in his throat, suddenly parched with the expulsion of the ineloquent, terse phrase. He'd needed to get it out, needed to say it, needed to get it over with. But it wasn't quite done.
"And no one would do the same for me," he said accusatorily, eyes pleading and wide on hers.
And he found he had nothing else to say.
The silence yawned between them, gaping despite their closeness, widening the bare inches between them, and he saw her eyes soften, her head tilt slightly as she regarded him with emotions he refused to identify, refused to acknowledge.
Emotions he had claimed didn't exist, neither in her nor himself.
"Don't look at me like that, Weasley," he said, a panicked note slipping into his voice. "Don't give me that look."
How was it possible to ache so much for a man who had no one else? To care so much for someone whom no one else had seen fit to care for?
How was it possible to love someone who had harmed so many, to grieve for one who had caused so much grieving?
Unable to look at him in any other way, Ginny finally broke the strange lock their eyes had been held in, dropping her gaze to her lap where her tears had darkened her robe in spots.
Strands of her hair fell in her eyes unheeded as she tried to control her emotions, and as they did, Draco's body betrayed his mind.
From behind the glass, one hand, once pampered, raised to brush the hair out of her eyes, his reflexive actions betraying his callous attitude, his face unreasonably hopeful.
So convinced was he of their proximity, so conflicted within himself, his fingers encountered the glass with enough force to jar them painfully, causing him to cry out.
Her eyes flew to his again, her mouth slightly agape.
Ginny Weasley had perhaps done many foolish things, but she was no fool, and she recognized the moment for what it was.
Something—she—had moved Draco Malfoy enough to make him want to touch her. To reach out.
Before she could speak, he threw hasty words at the glass, the panic now open and evident in his eyes.
One more promise to keep, please…
"Go, little one," he said in a near-shout, cradling his throbbing hand with the other, his feet carrying him back, away from her. "Get out of here." The confused hurt that passed over her face made his stomach turn, but he knew it was only the beginning of how much hurt he could inflict. "I'm finished, Weasley. My confession is over." He searched his brain for something, anything to drive her out. "I'm finished with you."
"No," Ginny said flatly, shaking her head. "That's not it."
He laughed, a sharp, incredulous bark of air that sounded less like mirth than misery. "What, Weasley, is this your story now? It's mine, and that's it. It's over." His eyes saw every detail as she pulled her lip between her teeth, trying to control the tremble that coursed through her mouth, the tremor of additional tears, and he pushed just a little harder. "Did you hope to teach me something, then? Perhaps that renewed, idiot notion of love?"
His smirk, following on the heels of his farcical question, broke her composure, and with swift steps, she was at the glass, the soft, cutely pretty face mottled with moroseness and anger. Her breath coming in gusts, she slapped her hands against the obstruction of glass, her palms facing into him, and for a moment she could feel the magic of the wards shivering into her hands.
"Stop this!" she shouted. "Stop being such a buggering prat! Must you be so stubborn? I can try to help you!"
And this time when he stepped to her, she did not step back. Something in the tilt of his head, the sudden flash of uncharacteristic softness in his eyes, rooted her on the spot as he raised his own hands, placing them delicately just opposite hers.
"This dance is over, Ginny," he breathed, tilting his head just a bit farther, completing the illusion of a couple standing together, unhindered. Their breaths feathered and fogged the glass between them, and he added one more word. "Go."
She removed her hands first, curling her fingers into her palms as though to capture the feeling. "I'm coming back," she said, an idea forming in her mind. He shook his head once in a negative gesture, but she shook her own back. "No. I don't care what you say. I'm coming back."
Her steps as she retreated were quicker than usual, lighter than they should have been, and he knew she'd not spoken lightly. A wounded, pained roar tore from the man behind the glass, a man whose soul should have been lightened by his confessions but had instead been weighted by his confessor.
The cry left him gasping, weakened, and Draco raised his eyes, now unguarded and haunted, to the stones, counting them to calm himself.
He had business to attend to.
Her approach on this day, on this evening, was not hesitant as it had been before. On this day, there were no memories of those wounded and those past. There were only thoughts of the future, fueled by the righteous indignation to which Ginny clung tightly. Tell her not to come back again, would he?
She'd come back, and when she did, she'd have answers for him. Answers and hopes and possibilities.
She'd show him an "idiot notion" or two.
But her heart was in her throat as she raised a hand to open the big doors. It should have been no surprise—and no threat—to her when the door opened before she could do it herself, but a thin shriek flew from her lips as a dark shape shifted from the interior of the dimly lit monolithic castle.
"Pity the fool who dubbed Gryffindors courageous," a voice drawled from within the gloom. "Though I don't suppose it's diplomatic to persist in playing favorites."
Ginny would never in a million years have dreamed she'd be warmed at the voice of Severus Snape, but the drawl was so like Draco's, the condescension so familiar to her by now, it heartened her.
Besides, slimy git or not, this was the man she wanted to see.
"Pity the fool who dubbed Slytherins cunning," she retorted, stepping inside and shaking back her hair, looking her former professor in the eye. "I know one who managed, despite all his cleverness, to land himself in prison."
That remark, she noticed, got quite a reaction. She wasn't particularly proud of the passing look of regret she saw in the new headmaster's eyes, but she was encouraged by it.
If he still felt that much for his captive house alumnus, he could help her. More importantly, he would help her.
And seeing that sadness pass through his eyes, Ginny did something that sent the twins' voices jeering in her mind.
She reached out to the man who had done more than enough to earn her trust and the trust of her family. Laying her hand on his shoulder, she looked at him imploringly, wondering if he could even be moved underneath the stoic, sarcastic exterior.
"He's the reason I'm here," she said. "You have to help me." Taking a deep breath, she tried to infuse her voice with confidence as she spoke from her heart. "You have to help us."
He glanced at her hand on his shoulder, his eyebrow arching into the dark masses of hair that had fallen over his forehead, and she felt her stomach turn over nervously.
"I know that, Weasley. If I didn't, I wouldn't have opened these doors for you."
With a swift turn, his robes flitting as dramatically as they ever had, he turned and walked away from her, one pale hand beckoning impatiently for her to follow.
She didn't realize she'd been holding her breath until she let it out.
He didn't say a word as he led her to the headmaster's offices, only kept his pace quick enough to have her nearly running in his wake. Once she was there, he pointed negligently at a chair and tried to ignore his own unease.
Here was the one person in the world who knew now how his favored student was. Here was the person who could tell him what he wanted to know.
But he would not ask her; if Severus Snape knew anything about the Weasleys, it was that they would begin to talk (unceasingly, more often than not) if left to their own devices.
This one was more contemplative than most, he thought.
After a few moments, however, the silence unnerved Ginny. She wasn't certain how to begin, but she'd be pelted with Dungbombs before she'd waste any more time with silence.
Silence had cost too many too much in this world.
"Ah… how are things?" she asked lamely, wanting only to warm up to her topic. "How do you like being headmaster?"
Snape templed his fingers and regarded her coldly over the elegantly shaped fingertips. "Let us dispense with the idle conversation, Weasley. Even a… what was it? 'Greasy git?' Yes, even a greasy git knows the urgency of the situation. The formalities are not only unnecessary but taxing to my patience." When he saw her face flush a horrified red, he felt a little bad.
Only a little, though. Her thoughts had been clear enough when she'd stood before him in the doorway.
But her embarrassment was passing, replaced quickly by hauteur. "If you know the urgency of the situation, why is it you've done nothing about it? Why is it you've not visited, you've not inquired? Don't you think it's a bit strange, Headmaster, for me to be his only visitor when he considered you his only friend?" The words were out before she could stop them, tumbling one over the other in a rush of emotion.
Though she might regret them later, she wasn't about to do so now.
He was stricken by her proclamation, his eyes widening almost imperceptibly at her words. Friend? His only friend?
Because he could not bring himself to think overly much on that particular topic, he addressed her accusation.
"In case you weren't paying attention all your years at Hogwarts, Miss Weasley—" He paused and raised an eyebrow in a manner suggesting she hadn't paid attention—"Draco Malfoy was part of my responsibility, one I clearly did not live up to. And in case you were somehow unaware of what happened in the final battle, I was the last—and only—person to strike Lucius Malfoy. I hardly knew how I would be received by a young man I'd failed and possibly orphaned."
It was the most she'd ever heard him say outside of a classroom, and Ginny's gape was completely involuntary.
Who knew he had a heart under all that black?
"I find it completely reprehensible a witch of your background can't even keep her thoughts mildly shielded," he said with an exasperated sneer.
A heart he had, and an aching one, at that.
"What is it you suggest I do? I'm afraid I'm not cursed with the overly idealistic nature and outrageous imagination that Gryffindors seem to treasure." But he was cursed with a strange sense of hope. The determination in the young Weasley's eyes bore thinking on, and her father had enough influence to help her if anything…
He shoved back his thoughts, reminding himself of his lack of imagination, and regarded her coolly.
"Whether you like it or not, Professor, you've become a bit of a hero. You can shut yourself away up here and ignore it, but the fact is, you played both sides successfully and came out on our side." She'd prepared the speech in a pinch, and now her voice was starting to waver in the face of his unblinking stare. "All I want is your advice. Your expertise. You know him better than almost anyone…" But not better than me, she thought. "And the people believe you. Surely he can stand trial before the Wizengamot again, this time tell his story. Surely you… we… can make that happen."
And as two unlikely allies discussed, argued, and debated, miles away a prisoner who had broken his silence for her broke his silence to another, speaking in tones that were commanding though hushed in the confines of his cell.
If the guard listening to Draco Malfoy's commands felt anything amiss, anything wrong, he did not show it.
He did not realize it.
The sun had almost completely set by the time she made it out of Hogwarts, and though it was Ginny's first instinct to run—to skip—all the way to Azkaban, she forced herself to think calmly, coolly.
She forced herself to think as an adult, for the decisions which had led her to this point were very adult, indeed. She would need to be strong in the coming months, to not only convince the man behind the glass of his chances at freedom, but also to convince everyone outside the glass—especially those who loved her—of his right to that freedom.
But for an evening, she thought, for one evening, she could be frivolous.
Severus's agreement to help her called for celebration, and there was only one person in the world to celebrate it with.
On a whim, her breaths shallow with suppressed joy, suppressed hope, Ginny Apparated to Diagon Alley first, swinging into the twins' shop, her cheeks flushed and eyes bright.
"Hello, loves," she said, browsing through the things on the shelves and throwing a wink at her brothers.
Things could be right.
Things could be normal.
Mustn't jinx it, Gin, she scolded herself lightheartedly, plucking a packet of WeaselyWeed Seeds from the shelf before her and tossing it onto the counter.
Surely he couldn't say no to her, couldn't tell her to leave, when she held hope for him.
She held love for him.
Fred and George exchanged a look over the counter at one another, eyebrows identically quirked. When was the last time she'd been so happy? Though neither of them spoke the query, the answer sent a sigh of sadness through the normally joyous faces.
It had been far too long since she'd been so giddy. It had been far too long since she'd looked as carefree as she should have.
"What gives with the Weeds, Gin?" Fred asked, bagging them without taking any payment. The flower seeds, an original invention by the twins, had the ability to sprout wherever they landed—and stay indefinitely.
"You know they're the very devil to get up, Gin," George said. "We should know—"
"Since they were under our bed for a year," Fred finished.
Ginny drummed her fingers on the counter restlessly, a smile plucking at her lips. "I know. But it's the closest I can come to giving him flowers." Seeing the confusion pass over their faces, she shook her head and leaned over the counter, planting kisses soundly on each of their foreheads. "I'll explain later. Give Ron a holler in the back and give him my love, will you?"
And with that, she'd skirted her way out of the shop, leaving both a void and a mass of awkwardness.
"Ah… think we should have told her Ron's not here?" George asked, the note of cheer in his voice suddenly sounding false.
"No, mate," Fred said just as tinnily. "I think she'll find him."
He counted the stones on the walls again, this time focusing on the last one, the bottom right corner.
He was done speaking with the guard, certain his request had been followed.
Timing now was crucial, and he only hoped that idiot Weasley would arrive in enough time to be there for her.
She would need him.
Time—and timing—were of great concern to a man whose soul was eternally damned.
As Ron Weasley stepped through the gates of Azkaban, Ginny walked light-footed along the cobbles of Diagon Alley, trying to puzzle out what she would say. She'd told him she would be back, so he'd hardly be surprised at that, but…
But there was a chance, and a good one, he could be saved. A chance he could be released, and then he would know.
Then he would know what she hadn't the courage to tell him, would know what he hadn't the courage to believe in.
With a shaky, indrawn breath, Ginny withdrew the package of WeasleyWeed Seeds and slit it open with a thumbail, peeking inside at the contents—
And her breath tore out of her in a sharp gasp, her eyes suddenly flung to the sky, and everything in her seized onto a single, gibbering train of thought.
Wrong, wrong, something wrong…
The bird in the cage, love for the bird in the cage, the cage…
The packet jerked in her hands, spilling seeds and flowers over Diagon Alley in a riot of color around her feet.
She stood in that position, mouth open in a silent, gasping scream, eyes rolled up, her body completely beyond her control for a moment.
She can feel the power from man to wand and back again, despite the glass, maybe even because of it, the power arcing between him and her in waves almost tangible…
His hands heat the glass as hers do the same from her side, and a shiver passes through both of them, not from the wards, but from them, from the bond his sins have forged between them, the power that words have made without wands…
The packet fell from her fingers, the scream finally releasing itself from her throat, and she Apparated blindly to the prison.
He felt it before he heard it, that shiver in his long bones that always made him ill. How many times before had he felt it in his life?
Wasn't that why he'd become an Auror? For that feeling?
Kingsley Shacklebolt had never hated that knowing as much as he did at this moment, when his strides carried him to a corridor already filled with shouts and screams.
She Apparated at the front doors out of habit, her hand already in her wand to check it at the desk, the pattern long since established in her mind.
This had become her place, and she had become part of it. She knew the rules as well as the ones of her home, but this night, now full on dusk, with her breath coming in sharp gasps and her mind a jumbled whirl, she saw there was no one at the desk, only a heavy parchment laid there, freshly sealed.
Ginny paid it no mind, her panic driving her forward, her mind confused but her heart knowing, knowing so surely…
The corridor was filled with people, and unthinkingly, she raised a green-clad arm to push through the men who had gathered there—
You don't belong here, this isn't your place—he doesn't want to see you, this is only for me—
"It's a Mediwitch, let her through," someone said, and the crowd parted for her as easily as if she'd uttered a spell.
Her eyes could not focus on the scene before her, her progress suddenly thickened, slowed to an unimaginably sluggish pace. There were men in the cell with him, people in the small cell, their backs to the wall he'd spent so much time focused on.
There couldn't be that many people in there, she thought. There just wasn't enough room.
"No, no, no," she chanted under her breath, putting up both hands to press on the glass—
And this time there was no glass, there were no wards, and she spilled forward with a shocked gasp, seeing him lying on the floor, his robes bright and unmistakable on the damp stones of the floor—
On her knees, Ginny looked up through the curtains of her hair, unable to comprehend what she saw before her, the men gathered so closely around him, so still, so unmoving.
"Oh, gods," Kingsley said from behind her, trying to move forward to grab her, to take her, to get her away from it, but she had already crawled to his side, unheeded by those trying to aid the wizard too late to aid.
She couldn't see, at first, what they were working at, what they were all doing to him, to the man she'd come to save. All she saw was his robes, those horribly beautiful red robes.
But the air was tinged with something, its odor not that of damp stones or constant confines. Bright and metallic, coppery and somehow foreign in this world where so much harm came bloodlessly.
Those red robes which so effectively masked the blood that soaked them, and the single object that had penetrated his heart.
Those who had not seen her enter the cell heard the howl, the scream so basal it made the hair on their necks stand up, made their eyes water with the sheer pain of it, and then in the midst of their hands were her hands, small and freckled, shaking but competent.
She grabbed the long, straight piece of metal, her fingers slipping over it, sliding on the slickness of his blood, and the sharp edges sliced into her hands, bringing forth her blood to mingle with his.
He was still.
He was so still.
For the first time since she'd entered the cell, Ginny looked at his face—
"This dance is over, Ginny."
—and realized what he'd done. His lips were pale, barely standing out against the pallor of his skin, and the silvery-blond wings of his hair had fallen haphazardly across his forehead.
There was silence from the guards who had failed the watch him, silence from the guards and Aurors now gathered to see their mistake as Ginny pressed her hands to his chest, feeling nothing left to spark, nothing left to charm, nothing left to kindle, and let her blood mix with his.
She made one last, futile effort to pull the wickedly sharpened cot leg from the body of he who had spoken to her, her hands wet with their combined blood; finding the task impossible, she lifted the hem of his ruby-colored robes and brought it down on the metal, tearing the roughly-woven cloth.
With shaking hands, she tore a strip off the robes and balled it in her hands, letting it soak up the signs of her efforts and his.
And when a pair of strong hands grabbed her and turned her, she stood and turned into them, letting her brother hold her.
That which had been unimaginable only seconds, minutes, hours before fell into a place with a minimal amount of fuss.
It wasn't too hard to figure out what had happened to the troubled young man in Cell 1 of Azkaban, even though none of them had ever seen anything like it before. They had never thought such a thing was possible in this world, in their world. In this world, all the harm you could do came from a slim stick of wood and a few magic words. In this world, the common only became the uncommon when enchanted.
But now it was clear: common circumstances could turn quite uncommon under the pressure of desperation and great emotion.
Though it was clear what had happened, it was not clear why.
Ginny was led away from the cell easily enough, and those present concluded her shock gave her that resigned, detached behavior. But it was not shock which prompted Ginny to follow her brother away from the cell, away from the throng, but knowledge.
There was more of Draco in the cloth she clung to than in the shell of his body, and so she clung to the scarlet scrap with the strength she had left to muster, already digging in her mind for a moment, a hint, an indication of his actions. She was already searching inside herself for the fault.
Arthur stood at the front doors of the prison, his hand on Paternoster's shoulder, his presence silent but reassuring as he tried to comfort the man on whose watch Draco Malfoy had done the unthinkable. His face long and tired, Arthur watched his two youngest walk out of the impossibly long corridor, their own faces shock-pale in the moon-washed entryway.
"He told me not to let you in," Paternoster said shakily, his eyes fixing on Ginny's. "That on the desk, there—I wrote it down for him. He left it."
Arthur watched her eyes, owlishly huge, skitter to the parchment on the desk, and for a moment, he felt like crying himself.
Was there no limit to the losses? No end to the suffering?
A notion of Arthur Weasley's had failed yet again, and this time it had cost his daughter a great deal. He would have reached out for her, would have comforted his little girl, the princess he had doted on, but he knew his son could do a far better job. He satisfied himself by picking up the letter that bore her name, testing its weight by bouncing it in his hand, and handing it to his daughter.
He'd not trusted her judgment before, but he would trust it now. If she wanted to open it, to read it, she could.
It was her instinct to be silent, to nurse the throat which was already aching and raw from the range of the day's emotions, but she thought better of it.
Silence had been their enemy, silence and time.
"Thank you," she spoke simply, wincing with the force of the words. Not waiting for privacy, she slid her finger under the seal—
And for a moment envisioned flowers spilling over her feet, flowers that had been meant for him.
The first of the sobs came now, dry and coughing, tearless but intense, and Ron stroked a hand down her hair, at a dead loss.
He'd been summoned just minutes before the chaos had broken out, an urgent Ministry owl dispatched to the twins' shop on hasty wings, its message simple enough.
Draco Malfoy requests your presence.
And now, Ron supposed, he could see why. Why wouldn't he want to be present for the last actions of his torturer? So Ron's torturer had… invited him.
Ginny unfolded the letter, letting the moonlight strike fully on the harsh black letters, so few of them, so few to explain what had happened, too few to tell her what she wanted to hear, too few to tell her how to bring him back, how she could have fixed things.
Too few, by far, but the few words rent her heart all over again.
I told you not to come back, but of course I knew you would.
You told me it existed, and I rolled my eyes. For this, little one, is not the place I would have liked to first witness it. It's unfair to find out a Weasley is right about something—
It's unfair to know it exists but not be able to experience it.
You're free from your obligations.
Tell your brother my word was my promise, and I kept it as best I could.
Forgive me this last sin.
I am obliged for the dance.
How long ago?
How long ago in my life has it been since I heard those first words from his lips, since I read those last words he had spoken, not to me, but to someone else?
It doesn't matter. Four days passed the same as four years, and forty would do the same.
He thought he was doing me a favor, of this much I am sure—you're free from your obligations—for that is what he thought it was, an obligation, a weight, a burden. And it would have been my burden and my pleasure, for as many years as he was imprisoned.
But he freed me with a promise I've never heard, with a word I'd known nothing of.
In the time that has passed, I've made knowledge my comfort; I have found many cultures and many beliefs, both Muggle and magical, about the afterlife, about what happens to us when we leave this world.
It had never seemed important to me before, but nothing seems more important now.
Of all the things I've read and seen, the most beautiful—and the most fitting for him—is the idea of the Elysium fields, those lush, vibrant, fertile fields where warriors seek their reward when their battle is done.
And where else would he be, when his whole life was but a battle?
I fight my own battles as well as the ones he left.
One of us has to be the salvation.
One of us has to be good enough for both of us.
And I'm trying, Draco.
She has long since become a living legend, a Healer in all black, her green robes forsaken for the darker colors of mourning.
Around her arm she wears a ragged red band, and she is not known as the Healer.
She is known as the visitor.
I can't begin to thank my faithful readers enough for reading this—this chapter was a monster to write, and I can't tell you how much it drained me. Before you send me flames regarding the ending, please consider this: I knew from the moment I started this story how it had to end, and every time I thought of it, it tore me apart. I cried more tears over this story than I've ever cried for anything else I've written, original or fanfic, and I tell you honestly I tried everything within my power to change the ending.
Sometimes these characters get inside you and tell their story, and you are just the keyboard. As a writer, I learned to accept that long ago. Hell… I even made my betas weepy. So—many thanks to sugarbear_1269 and Violet Jersey, who held my hand through this thing. You guys are the greatest.
As follows is a sort of "soundtrack" to my journey through this story, and I wanted to share it with all of you. Click on the song titles for lyrics.
The song that started it all: Josh Groban, "My Confession"
Josh Groban, "Si Volvieras a Mi"
Jane Siberry, "It Can't Rain All the Time"
Evanescence, "Even in Death" (Thanks, Joan!)
Evanescence, "My Immortal"
Michelle Branch, "One of These Days"