I'm sorry I took so long to post this. My work load is a little lighter this semester, so I was able to. My beta-reader's isn't, however (ancient Hebrew is evidently lacking in all forms of logic that we generally expect from languages, and is therefore quite difficult), so if anyone sees any errors, please point them out to me, and my appologies.
JK Rowling owns everything to do with Harry Potter! I am not making any money of of this! Disclaim! disclaim! caws the disclaiming bird. Ehem. Yes, well, anyway. On with the story.
Chapter Three: Veritas
He looked like a young man
But his eyes were old.
He touched me gently
But his hands were cold.
His voice was calm
But he was hunting for prey.
I started feeling dizzy,
And he watched me sway.
He stared at me with eyes black as coal,
The man who swallowed my soul.
The morning air
And the sunlight he stole,
The man who swallowed my soul…
…He said his kiss would make me whole,
The man who swallowed my soul.
The breath of life
From my lips he stole,
The man who swallowed my soul.
An excerpt from the song, "The Man Who Swallowed My Soul", preformed by Persephone
Ginny arrived in the infirmary and promptly fell face down on the cold, sterile floor, her weak frame giving out on her, despite her best efforts to steady herself after her unbalanced, whirlwind arrival. She just lay there for a moment, not wanting to get up, yet not wanting to stay where she was, either. A lump was forming in her throat, and tears of anger and shame filled her eyes with an unwelcome sting before she could suppress them. She made a small sound filled with disgust and hopelessness, and angrily swiped them away.
"No!" she growled, tearing at the skin of her arms with her nails. "No! I won't let you affect me again! I will not let you! I hate you! I don't want these memories!I want what you took from me back!You could have killed Harry--everyone I--I hate you!"
"Ginny?" came a tentative, but appalled appeal from the direction of the doorway. Ginny whipped her head around to face the unwelcome intruder, hastily clambering from her spot on the floor as she searched the unnervingly blank room for a sign of life other than herself. That voice seemed so familiar, but still…there was no one there. Was she going mad?
As if in direct response to her question, a shimmer of silver fabric caught the minimal light in the room, and first Harry's head, then the rest of him, emerged from under the cover of his invisibility cloak.
"Harry? What are you doing here? I…" she broke off, horrified that he had witnessed such an outburst of such blatant weakness from her. Like he needed to be bothered with anyone else's problems, when he had more than her entire family, combined. She was used to being strong in front of him, because she knew from her own experiences in dealing with trauma, as well as from observing him, that after the events of the last few years it was more difficult for him then people who hadn't been through something similar could comprehend, to deal with or understand anyone's distress but his own. Now she eyed him wearily, afraid that hearing words from her mouth that were probably so close to what was always on his mind would either enrage or break him. Fortunately, all she saw in his expression was a brief flicker of raw, honest pain before it was replaced abruptly and completely with concern just as intense and honest.
"Ginny, are you OK? What happened? What did he do to you?"
"It wasn't Voldemort, Harry, it was" she broke off as his eyes widened in surprise when she said his name, "it was Tom, from the diary. I can't believe I was so stupid, again! But I thought it was impossible, I thought he was gone--"
"I thought it was too, Dumbledore said I'd destroyed him for good…I'm sorry, Ginny!" he exclaimed, a sudden burst of anguish and guilt in his words.
"It's not your fault, I shouldn't have fallen for it the second time--"
"Well, I fell for his trap more than once, too, you know, put all of you in danger, and killed my godfather! At least nobody died because of what you did!" he shouted in a sudden passion, then clasped his hands to his mouth, backing away from her ever so slightly, as if he hadn't meant to say that.
"Harry, you didn't kill him! Don't say it! It was his fault and Bellatrix's, don't think for a minute that it was yours! Don't you think that Sirius felt just as responsible for your parent's death? You wouldn't have wanted him to blame himself,would you-"
"Look who's talking! Look what you were just saying! If it's not my fault, than it certainly isn't yours!" he exclaimed, running his fingers through his hair in agitation, and then turning to stare at her in surprise, shocking himself with the truth and clarity of his own words, not really ready to hear it from anyone yet, not even himself. He turned his back to her, his expression suddenly transported with grief, a wild, trapped look in his eyes. She knew exactly how he felt, and yet knew nothing of it. Some of his experiences were alien to her, thank Merlin, but some were so close to her heart that she felt as if she had experienced them herself. And she had experienced something very similar to what he was going through, the guilt of knowing he'd been used, tricked into endangering other people's lives, but her actions, miraculously, had caused no lasting damage, and so she could not know the extent of his grief and guilt. She could not know how it was to feel responsible for killing someone she loved; Sirius had been the closest thing to a parent that he had ever known, aside from her mother.
She wanted to hold him, say that it would be all right, but she felt she didn't know him well enough to do so, despite having spent most of every summer with him ever since she had been eleven, and felt a sharp pang of regret and loss as she realized how little she knew him despite her entire family's closeness to him, shaking her head in wonder and a little bit of disgust at her previous uncharacteristic timidity around the complex person she had belatedly discovered existed behind the mask of the seemingly perfect, archetype of a hero that had saved her from death in her first year. Instead she decided to attempt to comfort him with words alone, hoping it would be enough.
"Harry, I…guess I--" she broke off, forcing herself to believe the words she was about to say, to say them with more conviction than she had started to, "I was wrong to say it was my fault, because I would never say it was yours! If you hadn't been lured into that trap the first time, I would have died! I owe you my life, Harry, so don't let what Hermione said last year get to you! You wouldn't be you without your "saving people thing", it's what makes people love you so much, so don't you dare regret what you did, don't you dare regret that part of you!"
"So you heard that?" he said, laughing hollowly. The smile that stretched on his face was more of a painful grimace, and his eyes shone with grief, and despair equally as hollow as his laugh.
"Well, you weren't exactly hard to hear," she said in an amused tone, suddenly needing to lighten the situation, both for herself and for him. It wouldn't do either of them any good to just brood like this; she knew it hadn't helped him at all when he had been stuck alone for the last two summers with nothing to keep him company but his thoughts, and dwelling on things that she couldn't change certainly hadn't helped her any in the past.
He smiled at her reluctantly, the haunted look not completely dispelled from his gaze.
"Yeah, I'm sorry about that, yelling at you last year…at everybody. I wasn't exactly myself…er, I mean…I suppose I was, but--"
"I understand, Harry."
"Good, 'cause I'm rubbish at apologies."
"If you do don't stop being so hard on yourself and other people, though, I will hex you."
He looked up at her, his eyes still suspiciously bright, but glinting with amusement, now, and not grief.
"I'll keep that in mind, 'cause from what I've heard from Fred and George, I wouldn't want to get in the way of your Bat Boogie Hex--and it must really be something, if it even made an impression on them. I would have liked to have seen what you did to Malfoy, though."
"Should I stage a demonstration?" she said, smiling mischievously, the twinkle of amusement in her eyes oddly reminding him of Dumbledore.
They both laughed with genuine warmth for the first time they had seen each other that night, and then Harry gradually sobered, her momentary resemblance to Dumbledore (sans flowing, floor-length, silver beard) recalling him to the reality of the situation, and the reason they were both in the hospital wing at the moment. His smile and laughter gradually faded, but so did the guilt and despair that had been brought to the surface again when he had first seen her prostrated on the floor, screaming the exact things that had been spinning around and around in his head for months now. It was disorienting, seeing someone else accomplish in a few seconds what he had been trying for months to do, but he was not good at telling other people what he felt…it was pointless, burdening people like that…they didn't want to hear it most of the time, anyway.
Besides, though he envied her for her courage, he felt oddly protective of Ginny because she had the courage to be vulnerable, and could afford to let her guard down (though he knew she would be furious if she thought he thought she needed protection). That overt display of raw desperation and anger had taken him back in time, and she had been eleven again in his eyes, prostrated like the sacrifice she was intended to be at the foot of Slytherin's statue, with the shade of Tom Riddle watching the increasingly shallow rise and fall of her breath with hungry eyes. As he'd watched her unnoticed for those few seconds, she had reminded him so much more of the girl he'd saved from Tom Riddle in his second year who kept putting her elbow in the butter dish every time she saw him than of the girl that had followed him fearlessly to the Department of Mysteries last year, and had seemingly been unable to or unwilling to stop herself from telling him off when he was being…well, a bit difficult. She still evidently trusted herself too much, even after everything she had been through--just like he did, and, like him, couldn't bring herself to not trust her own instincts for long. This got her in trouble--Merlin knew it had gotten him in trouble enough times, but sometimes being impulsive and taking the responsibility of resolving situations yourself was necessary in order to continue living honestly.
He couldn't believe he had never seen this part of himself in Ginny, and felt a sudden kinship with her, because few people could understand that there were a few certainties about life that couldn't be accepted as certainties if the world was to carry on with any dignity. One of those certainties was the fear people like Voldemort would always use to try to crush people. People just couldn't accept that fear, let it hold them back and limit them, or Voldemort would have already won, and Harry suddenly felt as if Ron's little sister was one of the few people who was capable of understanding that. Scratch that. He suddenly felt that Ginny was one of the few people who could understand how important it was not to be controlled by certain fears. He emphasized her name in his mind. He couldn't just go around thinking of her as Ron's little sister all the time if they were to be friends, and it certainly seemed, as of late, as if they were becoming friends.
He had a feeling that he would find being friends with her a lot easier now that she had stopped squeaking every time he talked to her. Not that he hadn't liked her before, it was just that, all the squeaking tended to get in the way of productive conversation. Despite his legitimate excuse for not really seeing her as a separate entity from Ron before now, he suddenly felt as stupid as Ron must have felt when he finally realized Hermione was a girl, except this time the question wasn't, "you're a girl?", it was "you're a human being, and have an identity apart from 'Ron's little sister'?", which, he felt, was infinitely worse.
Shaking his head in renewed amusement, he decided it was time to stop avoiding the subject, to stop feeling guilty as she had suggested, and ask her what he had done to her now. It was nothing he could have prevented, he adamantly told himself, while attempting to banish the terrifying memory of her vanishing into thin air, leaving him behind with nothing but vapor in his grasp, helpless to do anything to help her.
"I certainly wouldn't miss it, but it'll have to be later. I hate to break the reverie that imagining a certain ferret getting hit with a Bat Boogey Hex tends to cause, but…I have to ask?"
"What did Tom do, this time?" She laughed humorlessly.
"Didn't try to kill me this time, miraculously--I honestly don't know why--he always seemed so fond of it. He just tried to stun me a few times."
"Stun you? But why, unless he needed you for something?"
"I haven't figured that out yet. Do you have any ideas?"
"I…don't have much information to go on. Why were you out there in the first place?"
"I--oh, this sounds so stupid now! I wanted to conquer my fears--"
"That is not stupid, Ginny. What of?"
She just stared at him.
"Well, besides him, obviously."
"Of--of somewhere he forced me to go in my first year," she said unsteadily, not looking him in the eyes.
"How did he even get you out of Hogwarts--by Portkey?"
She merely nodded.
"His thoughts--that's what they were for." he said sharply.
She nodded again, squeezing her eyes shut with a pained expression, then flushed in anger.
"I told myself to forget about what happened, to not let that git ruin my life, but ever since the Department of Mysteries last year--hearing day after day about his attacks on innocent people, I just can't forget anymore, suddenly, I can't get away from it, and--"
"You can't stop thinking about it, because it's with you wherever you turn." he finished her thought, instinctually knowing what she was going to say, because he felt the same way.
"Well, I had to do something to get past it, something to find a way to come to terms with what happened, so I went there again in hopes of conquering my fears--I just couldn't take feeling so helpless anymore!" As soon as she said this, she looked up at him apologetically. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have got all indignant on you--my problems are rather small compared to yours."
He flinched, as if stung, then just rolled his eyes in amusement at her insensitive comment.
"Thanks for the reminder."
She smiled weakly.
"I understand why you did it, though. If I thought I could get him out of my mind for good by visiting that--graveyard, or even the Department of Mysteries, I'd do it in a second. And you led them to him--exposed him, just like we did last year. Without you, they would've never found out about his existence until he was responsible for killing a lot of people. Where'd he take you, anyway?"
"I think we would all like to know that, Miss Weasley," came the calming but serious voice of her Headmaster from the doorway. Her gaze flickered to him for a moment, before settling on her father, who had entered into the room silently several seconds before, and from the pained expression on his face, had been listening in on their conversation long enough to hear what she had just said about feeling helpless. Her previous anger at him melted as she saw the concern on his face, and she slowly walked over to him, enveloping him in a tight hug and feeling as if she never wanted to let go. She knew she had to, however, and she forced herself from the comfort of his arms and turned to meet her Headmaster's patient gaze.
She frowned in puzzlement at him. They must have been too distracted to notice them entering the room. Unless, of course, for some reason the Headmaster hadn't wanted them to be seen. She narrowed her eyes briefly at Dumbledore in suspicion, meeting his light blue ones that were twinkling with amusement. For a second, the mischievous glint in his eyes reminded her of her brothers when they'd done something that they were confident she wouldn't find out about, and she raised her eyebrows at her Headmaster. It's not like she and Harry had been having a secret meeting, or anything; he needn't have made them invisible to find out her thoughts on what had happened, if that's what he had done.
"He took me to a cabin that Tom's mother and father lived in before he found out she was a witch, and before her parents discovered he was a Muggle. It works somewhat like the Room of Requirement, except it lets you see only what you want to see. I suspect that some of the people that rescued me tonight saw Dark Arts supplies, while I saw what he made me see when he took me there in my first year, and…Tom always sees that, too--the same thing, over and over again, and he can barely change it, because what he sees is a reflection of his mind, and since his mind was controlling mine at the time, I saw what he saw by default. His mother's family saw a wizarding manor as grand as their own when they visited their daughter and son-in-law, and his father's family saw a spacious Muggle Mansion."
"A very Slytherin thing to invent. I have never heard of such a spell, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had kept it within the Slytherin line...it must be something like the mirror of Erised, but extended…"
"Tom's mother invented the spell, sir. But he never shared the incantation with me."
"A house of illusions. Ingenious. The human mind is often undone by its own fantasies, finally, even one that appears invulnerable to all that is the outside world. What did Tom see, out of curiosity?" There was suddenly a calculating look in her Headmaster's eyes, much different from the good-humored front that he almost always put on around his students. The shrewd glint that momentarily flickered in his usually serene blue eyes before he could cover it up again told Ginny without a doubt that he was not really asking out of simple curiosity, but because the information would be useful in battle, so despite her reluctance to recall her memories of the place at all because of her most recent experience, she made a resolution to describe what he had let her see in as much detail as possible.
"It was always an empty castle, sir--except for the paintings. No comfort…no furniture, even stools, to sit down on, and no place to sleep, as if he didn't need to sleep at all…the portraits were odd…ironically, one of theoddest things about the place. It was obvious to me why some of the things had their place there…the Dark Arts materials, and such…but I guess the paintings meant something to him that only he knew the details of, though I could speculate. They were his favorites, all struck something in him, meant something specific to him that he wouldn't share…almost none were realistic portraits; there were portrayals of battles and supernatural wars between Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil, that sort of thing. He loved them, even though he wasn't the least bit religious. I think he found the idea of right and wrong funny on a certain level, and, though he wouldn't admit it, fascinating, because there were times when he'd just stare at them, enthralled, unable to pull his eyes away from the demon blood and white angel wings tarnished by time and faded by sunlight, his eyes shining with this queer light…it makes me shiver, remembering his expression…the look that he fixed them with, as if they contained the secrets of life and cheating death. Even now it unnerves me to remember it. The paintings of people were usually newer, from his time, usually by Picasso or Dali…he took joy in watching one distorted body blend into another and then become nonhuman: sometimes a broken mirror, sometimes a clock hanging in midair as if from an invisible wall. Paintings by Dali lined the ancient walls, every one that he'd seen and been fascinated by--as prints in Muggle publications, I assume. Ironic, really, that a Muggle artist should fascinate him so, but many things about him were. Ironic, I mean. Almost none of the figures in the paintings could speak, and when they could, they always murmured their praises to him, but under their breath, as if they were afraid or reluctant to say their words out loud.
"There were usually…legions of masked Death Eaters standing outside at attention, all looking up at the castle and him in awe. There were so many windows that their eyes could follow you everywhere…and there were just as many mirrors as windows. He mostly just saw himself in the mirrors, loved looking at himself as much as he loved looking at those paintings and his army, if not more, but occasionally his mum and dad would appear beside his reflection, and then he'd try to smash them but couldn't--every time he tried, his near-transparent hands would go right through the mirror, and he'd scream in frustration because it was a constant reminder that he was just a memory--" She stopped, taking a deep breath to steady herself and suppress the anger, disgust and sadness she felt when she remembered this, and, shutting her eyes, searched for the calm she needed to say what she had to saynext.
"Ginny, it's OK, honey, just tell us. We're here with you, now."
"I know dad, I--thanks," she said, pulling herself together. "Anyway, the Death Eaters--it appeared as if there were so many, but there was never anyone really there when I went outside to look." Here, her expression became even more troubled, haunted even. "Most of the Death Eaters were masked, butchosen few weren't…they looked as if they belonged to some of the prominent pureblood families…except--"
And here she broke off, suddenly unable to go on. The memory of it still churned her stomach four years later, and as she felt bile rise in her throat, she clamped her mouth shut, unsure if she could open it safely.
"I understand that the things you saw in there might be very difficult to share, but I assure you, Miss Weasley, and I'm sure Harry can attest to this as well from his previous experiences, that any weight you feel from this memory will lessen if you share it. You never told me of this house in your first year, held it within you all this time. Holding it in, I fear, has only made it worse, has driven you to deal with your experiences alone, cut off from the support of others. While trying to conquer your fears alone is an admirable show of bravery, fear is often most easy to defeat when you're in the company of friends. I therefore must encourage you to push your fear aside, and hide no detail of the experience from us any longer. You have done admirably thus far in your telling. Please continue, as keeping the truth hidden any longer will only cause you more pain."
She turned away, trembling, but as the Headmasters' truthful, butwarm words washed over her, soothing her like the trill of phoenix song, she suddenly didn't feel quite as horrified, nor, upon turning to face the open, concerned faces of the other occupants of the room, quite so alone in remembering what she had experienced with no-one but Tom to keep her company. She took a deep breath, steeling herself, and she looked the Headmaster in the eye and continued.
"They resembled theMalfoys, Blacks, and Notts of my generation, except…they didn't--they didn't have eyes! Yet they still somehow knew where to look, and their eyeless sockets followed him around the castle as if they could see through walls, as if they could see at all, in unadulterated admiration. It was the most horrifying thing…this will help you keep him from harming anyone else, right?" she asked, her voice suddenly fierce. "This will help you lock him up for good?"
"Your information will prove invaluable in dealing with Tom. He always did have a foolish habit of telling his enemies too much about his weaknesses, because he doesn't consider them to be weaknesses. Why did you keep this memory a secret, Miss Weasley, may I ask?"
"I didn't…as you know, Headmaster, I didn't remember much of what happened to me during the time that he possessed me in my first year. I only remembered what he wrote to me in the diary--that's why it took me so long to figure out what was happening to me. None of those memories ever came back, thank Merlin, except for the memories I had of the times he took me to that…place, and even those memories didn't start coming back until the summer after first year, in the form of nightmares. Even after they did, I wasn't sure if they were real. They seemed so surreal, so dreamlike, that I thought they were a product of my imagination, of my fear, or some strange fantasy he had left in me, a residue of his thoughts that was still clinging to my mind like a parasite even after he was gone. But then I remembered the ritual, and I realized…I realized it was real and that he had let me remember on purpose, and it made me feel like it had happened all over again! After a while, I got over it; I knew I couldn't let it affect me, prevent me from having fun, making friends, but after the Department of Mysteries last year, after Voldemort started attacking people's homes, ruining more lives, I suddenly couldn't stop thinking about it again…it was a constant reminder, and I didn't like how weakened I felt by this fear, so I decided I needed to visit the place again, to convince myself that it wasn't worth being scared of. I didn't like feeling like I suddenly couldn't rely on my friends, just because the attacks reminded me of how he had used me, and I wanted them to be able to rely on me, not someone living in the past, so I…so I went.."
Just then Molly Weasley walked in with Madam Pomfrey, each carrying vials of calming draught and a viscous orange fluid that had little golden crystals floating around in it.
"Ah, Poppy, Molly, I see you've brought the serum. Excellent."
Madam Pomfrey nodded curtly and started to make her way over to her patient, but was beaten there and all but pushed out of the way by a very angry Mrs. Weasley.
"Ginevra Molly Weasley! Have you learned nothing from your first year! I expected better from you, young lady, running off into the woods without so much as telling anyone where you went off too! There is a reason the Forbidden Forest is forbidden, and doing a Dark Magic ritual besides! You could have died, you could have been expelled! Have we taught you nothing of morals, of why Dark Magic is wrong! We shouldn't have to tell that, you know from first hand experience how it can hurt people--"
"Molly, your daughter has gone through a trying ordeal tonight. Though I am sure you are very concerned, may I suggest that you let her give you her explanations later, as the Aurors are going to be here any minute?" Dumbledore said, smoothly interceding out of necessity. He needed to take care of the mountain of legal issues that came with the presence of the teenage version of Lord Voldemort at Hogwarts, and had a limited amount of time to do it in, as much as he would rather spend that time with the Weasley family and Harry. He had also intervened because he had observed that Ginny was beginning to swell with rage, mirroring her mother in an uncanny way that spelled trouble. Though the small child in him would have found seeing them screaming at each other extremely amusing, the diplomat in him unfortunately had other ideas, and balked at standing by and passively watching as they tore each other to pieces. "I believe that Miss Weasley will need all the moral support she can get from her family and friends when they question her," he finished.
That last sentence had the exact effect he had intended, and the room fell to a dead silence for a moment before--
"Aurors are going to question my Ginny?"
"I didn't do anything!"
That last one was Harry, and while Albus was rather surprised how indignant he was on Ginny's behalf when he should have known that he wouldn't have asked one of his students to take a truth potion if it hadn't been absolutely necessary, at least everyone was focused on the issue at hand again. Mrs. Weasley was glaring at him, and Albus felt his irritation grow, but he fought to keep it in check by reminding himself that her anger at him merely reflected the depth of her love for her daughter.
"I do believe Ginny in everything she says, Molly. I know she is telling the truth. But legally, my subjective belief is not going to stand for much, and Aurors are generally less trusting than most. I believe you, Miss Weasley, but unfortunately, you need to convince those who won't. You will need to takethis truth potion--"
"What, you can't--you mean this isn't for Riddle, this is for my Ginny--"
"Tom will be given Veritaserum, Molly, but unfortunately, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement wants to question Ginny under the influence of a potion, too, though mostly as a witness, in order to prosecute Tom for his various crimes. Miss Weasley, the potion you will be taking is Sentireserum, which is not quite as potent as Veritaserum, because it can be fought against by those with an especially strong will. I do not suggest that you fight against it, Miss Weasley, though the sensation of having your will taken away from you is disorientating. The Aurors would find it suspicious, no matter how good your reason for fighting it."
Ginny grimaced, but nodded in resignation.
"I won't fight it. I guess they need all the information they can get to deal with Tom."
Dumbledore smiled in gratitude at her mature attitude towards the situation and nodded, then turned to face all the occupants in the room.
"I am afraid that I must be present for Tom's questioning. However," he said, turning again to Ginny, "I will be back to check how everything went later. Don't worry, Miss Weasley, your family, and I believe Harry, will be gratified to stay with you as moral support."
With that, he departed, and a tense silence settled on the room, as the remaining occupants waited nervously for the Aurors to arrive.
Next Chapter, Three Degrees of Deception: Tom shows his expertise at manipulating what should be absolute, while not quite to the level of manipulating nature, itself. (It's a weird title for a chapter, I know, but I do have my reasons behind it.)
"Hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity." Machiavelli, The Prince