A/N: This is the end. A million thanks to Gabriele:
without his formatting work, this story would never have seen the
light of day, here at FanFiction net.
Editor's Note: This isn't really an update, since the story is all done and finished, but I have a special little tidbit for you all on the autor's profile site. Just click on the author's name and go check it out! And don't forget to review.
• • • • •
Arthur went back to Four Winds with Ginny, to sit through what remained of that long night, and to wait. Ginny curled herself into Draco's armchair and watched the library fireplace. The August air, coming in through the open French doors, was warm and humid. She did not light the fire, but instead waited for the first sign of telltale green flames to come shooting down the chimney. On her lap, she held the little blue volume of MacNiece poetry. At intervals, she tried to read it but the words kept running together, and made no sense to her, and in the end she gave it up. Lolly brought them tea and toast, which sat on the tray and grew cold. Still, Draco did not come home. When the edges of the horizon began to soften with light, and the first notes of birdsong broke the stillness of the night like pebbles pocking the surface of a pond, Arthur stood up and gathered his cloak.
"I'm going in to make a few discreet enquiries at the Ministry, Ginny. I have a friend in the MLES, and another who's an Unspeakable: they'll be able to nose around without being too obvious."
"Dad, tell me honestly… what do you think happened to him?"
"Not a thing," Arthur said firmly. "Put that worry out of your mind: Draco's going to be all right. Likely, he's just lying low for awhile, or perhaps he has something else up his sleeve altogether: something we haven't guessed at yet."
But Ginny was not so sure. When he'd left Four Winds the night before, Draco had been intent on going to see Arthur; of that, she was certain. He had been in no frame of mind to suddenly change his plans somewhere between Floo grates. "Let me know the minute you hear something," she told her father.
He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "You get some rest and leave the worrying to me. I'll be in touch."
She tried to rest, and eventually she did doze off, tucked into Draco's side of the big bed, with the heavy, velvet curtains pulled tightly around it, to block out the morning sunlight. First, though, she stationed Lolly in front of the library fireplace with instructions that she was to be awakened immediately if there was any news.
Some hours later, she awoke on her own, feeling thickheaded and disoriented. She knew at once that there had been no word of Draco: if there had been, Lolly would have come and told her. She turned over and stared at the scarlet bed curtains, despair seeping through her and filling her, like water through a sponge.
"Draco, where are you?"
She was answered only by silence.
Her father flooed in at noon, to tell her he'd been able to find out nothing, but that he was still working on it. "Is there any chance, Ginny, that Draco might be hiding out somewhere?"
She could not answer him: she did not know.
It was not until after her father had gone that it occurred to Ginny: she had the name of The Baron. If he had Draco, it would be a start towards finding him. She was still wearing the same jeans she'd worn the afternoon before: she groped in the front pocket, pulling out the parchment scrap Draco had given her before he left. She had not looked at it, at the time, but now she sat down on the sofa and unfolded it.
Craig Dunbar-Wilkes, it said. Ginny waited, expecting to feel a chill, or a thrill of fear at holding in her hands the identity of such an infamous and powerful person. What she felt instead was a flash of resentment. How dare this man demand the things he demanded of Draco? How dare he ruin their lives by keeping them – both of them – captive to his whims? She refused to fear him. He was nothing but a name on a scrap of parchment, and there had never been any reason to be afraid of a name: Harry had taught her that. She crumpled the parchment scrap in her hand, and stuffed it back into her pocket.
Harry. She considered contacting him. He would be able to find this man at once – they knew he was on the Isle of Wight, after all – and if the Baron had Draco, they could get him back. She hesitated. Her father thought Draco might be hiding out. If he were, he would not thank her for stirring things up, and calling attention to the fact. He especially would not thank her for involving Harry Potter.
She sat there, weighing the options, and in a flash of inspiration the answer was clear to her: Quicksilver. She would go to Lowen Kincaid and David Gordon, and tell them everything. They would be able to find Draco.
Lowen and David came as soon as they heard the news that Draco was missing. They were his best mates, and it was difficult for Ginny to tell them their friend had not been everything they thought he was. Her father stood with her, though, as she did it. Together, they recounted the story of Dark of the Moon, of The Baron, of Draco's deception. And all the while she was talking, Ginny had an agonising sense that she was betraying her husband. She felt like an executioner, putting the seal of death on what had once been a wonderful friendship. It couldn't be helped though; she didn't know where else to turn.
Lowen and David took the news quietly. When she had finished speaking, the two cousins looked at each other in silence. And then they both said at the same time, "What are we waiting for? Let's go find him, and bring him back." Ginny could not hold back the tears.
"I'm going with you," she told them. It was something she had already decided: she could not sit still at home and do nothing while her husband might be in mortal danger.
All three men protested at once, her father the most loudly and vehemently of all. She was adamant. "If you won't take me with you, I'm going alone." They stared at her, aghast. "We're wasting time," she said coolly. "I'm ready to leave now. Is it going to be with, or without the rest of you?"
They tried to argue, but she was firm. Hadn't she fought in the war, the same as the rest of them? And wasn't she a Ministry Auror? And wasn't it, after all, her own husband whose life might be in danger?
In the end, they agreed only because they couldn't stop her anyway. Arthur took the parchment with Dunbar-Wilkes' name on it. "I'll run this through my contacts," he told them all. I should know his whereabouts in an hour."
• • • • •
An hour and a half later, Ginny found herself standing in an Apparation Port on the Isle of Wight, in front of a shop that sold women's shoes.
Her father consulted his notes. "Just down this street, then." He looked at Ginny with some concern. "Sure you won't wait here, until we return?"
She rolled her eyes, and elbowed her way to the door of the Port, stepping out onto the pavement. The air was chilly and dim in the gathering dusk, and up and down the thoroughfare lights had already begun to wink on in the shops. "Where are we?"
"Which way, then?"
Her father opened his mouth, hesitated, and with a shrug, closed it again. 'Good,' Ginny thought: he was through trying to argue her out of this. Arthur turned up a side street and Ginny followed, Lowen and David falling into step with her, one on either side. She understood their concern, and flashed them each a wordless look of thanks.
The street was narrow, and gloomy under the widespread branches of giant, ancient oak trees. Small homes of stucco, or stone, gave way to larger ones, spaced farther apart. At the top of the street, they came to a high, iron gate, through which they could see the largest house of all. Arthur halted in front of it. "This is it."
Ginny looked up at the house. For the home of a mafia Lord, she thought, it looked surprisingly modest. It was a mere two stories, built of native stone. White pillars supported a first-storey balcony, but that did not seem unusual: there were several similar homes in the neighbourhood. What was most impressive was the high, stonewall by which the house and its grounds were cordoned off from the rest of the street. It stretched away to the right and left of the gate, and appeared to completely surround the property. Ginny pulled her wand. At once, it began to hum and vibrate in her hand: the grounds were surrounded by Imperturbable Charms a good two feet thick. In unspoken consent, the four of them shrank back into the shadow of the high wall.
"It's covered with Imperturbables," Ginny told them, in a hushed voice, "and there'll be anti-Apparation wards too, I expect."
Arthur, David, and Lowen looked at each other. "Best start thinking of how we're going to get in," her father said.
"Nothing easier." Ginny said it without hesitation. "We'll go in underground."
The men stared at her. David was the first to ask. "What makes you think we can do that?"
"Because," she answered, "I built a network of spells like this just last winter: it was around a children's home, in Portugal. My job was to make the whole compound as secure as possible. I can feel it in my wand: the enchantments around this place are similar to the ones I built around that children's home."
"So, you can break them, then?"
"No, I'm not a Breaker, I'm a Builder. But I think I can figure out a way through them, and I think that way is to go in underground. The Imperturbables probably don't extend very far under the surface; if we can get right up against the foundation, we can Apparate through the wall."
"So," Lowen cleared his throat, "a Talipedes Charm, do you think?"
"I've never done one before."
David and Lowen spoke at the same time. "I have."
"Tunnelling will kick up a load of dirt on the lawn," Arthur said. He peered through the gate again. "Although the whole East side is in shadow already. Do we want to try that route, then?"
"I'm in," said David.
"Me too," Lowen and Ginny said at the same time.
They crept along the outside of the wall, staying well-concealed in the shadows, and rounded the corner. When they were halfway along the east wall, Arthur held up his hand to halt them.
"This looks about right. Best do it quick."
David took a sounding of the ground with his wand. "The walls don't go down more than a metre," he said, "But let's say two, to be on the safe side."
Lowen pushed back the sleeves of his Muggle sweatshirt, and rolled his head once, to loosen up his shoulder muscles. "Right, then." Training his wand on the ground a few feet away from the wall, he muttered, "Talipedes terra!"
At once, a hole appeared, and as it steadily grew the earth began to pile up around their feet, until it reached their knees. Two minutes later, Lowen stopped, panting and perspiring. "That's hard work, that is. How far down are we, David?"
David took another sounding. "Go down another thirty centimetres, for good measure."
Lowen wiped his forehead with his sleeve, and trained his wand on the hole again.
When David pronounced it deep enough, Lowen kicked aside some of the dirt, and sat on the edge of the hole. "Give me a few minutes to tunnel under the wall. If it's safe for the rest of you to come down, I'll send back red sparks." He lowered himself into the blackness.
It was nearly dark by now, but Ginny could just make out the heaps of earth being pushed to the surface of the grass, as though a giant mole were tunnelling underground. At the edge of the wall the piles stopped. She watched the hole, holding her breath, and could sense David and her father doing the same beside her. Would Lowen make it under the wall?
A moment later, a sparse shower of red sparks appeared at their feet.
"All right, then!" There was a note of triumph in Arthur's whisper. "Gordon, you go next and give Lowen a hand. You next, Ginny, and I'll bring up the rear."
When it was her turn, Ginny sat on the edge of the hole and dropped down into it, hitting the bottom before she expected to. Down here, it was very cold with a darkness that seemed to press in on her like a thick, clammy blanket. She shuddered. "Lumos." The tip of her wand lit up, and before her she saw the mouth of the tunnel.
It was low, and though she was not tall, she had to duck her head to keep from scraping the top. David and Lowen, she discovered, when she came upon them a few moments later, were digging on their knees.
"Check our direction, Ginny," David panted over his shoulder at her.
She placed her wand on the flat of her hand. "Point me," she said. The wand tip swung around to indicate North; the tunnel was still going in an eastward direction. "Looks good," she told them.
In all, it took them nearly an hour to dig through to the foundation of the house. When they finally reached it, David and Lowen sank back against the wall, exhausted. "Give us a minute," Lowen wheezed. "We'll splinch ourselves if we try to Apparate in like this."
While the two of them caught their breath, Ginny ran her wand lightly over the circle of exposed stone foundation. Nothing. "We were right!" she said triumphantly. "There are no wards or spells this far down."
"I'll go first," Arthur said. "We don't know what's on the other side of that wall. Let's pray that it's not The Baron's bedroom. Once we're all in, we'll split up – the usual operation. Ginny, you'll stay with me. You all have your earpieces…" he reached into his pocket, and pulled out a flesh-coloured plastic dot, which he handed to her. She slipped it into her right ear. Her father leaned over and tapped the side of her head. "Audio." At once, Ginny ceased hearing his voice in the tunnel, and heard it instead, inside her ear. "Give a shout if you find him. If not, we'll regroup back here in ten minutes."
She put her hand on her father's arm, and he twisted his wand. The next second, they were standing in a cool, dark place. A moment later, Lowen and David joined them. They listened carefully; all was silent.
"I think it's safe to light a wand." Ginny heard her father's voice in her ear, and then they were gazing around themselves at floor-to-ceiling racks filled with dusty bottles. It was the wine cellar. Arthur gave a terse nod to the other men, and they melted away into the shadows, each of them going in a different direction. He motioned to Ginny, and headed for the door across the room.
Cautiously, they pulled the door open, and peered out. They were looking into an empty corridor, lined with torches that flickered and flared, throwing strange, menacing shapes dancing over the walls. There was no one in sight, and they stepped out into the passageway.
"Leave the door open," Arthur said in her ear, "so we can find it again when it's time to leave." He started off to the right, but all at once, Ginny was overcome by the nearly tangible certainty that they should be going to the left, instead.
She put her hand on his arm. "No, this way, Dad."
He looked at her strangely. "Why?"
"I don't know. I just… I'm sure this is the right way."
Her father frowned, but said, "All right, then." They moved to the left. At the end of the corridor, the passageway turned right, then right again. As they followed it, treading close to the wall with light, noiseless steps, Ginny felt the growing conviction that they were indeed coming closer to Draco. There was a kind of sixth sense awakened in her that she did not understand. It was as if the element of Wind in him were feeding the element of Fire in her, and pulling her towards him. It was, perhaps, what had been happening between the two of them all year long, and she was just now recognising it for what it was.
When they came to a place where the corridor branched in two different directions, she turned left without hesitation. She nearly passed by the room before she realised it was the right one. "Here, Dad; he's in here!" She was nearly trembling now, from nerves and anticipation. She was as certain that they would find Draco behind that door as she had ever been of anything.
Arthur tried the door handle. To Ginny's surprise, it turned easily in his hand. The room was not lit, and from out of the darkness, a horrible smell assaulted them; the odours of blood and vomit, and of burnt flesh. Ginny's skin crawled. She gagged, and clapped her hand over her nose and mouth.
When her father's wand lit up the room, Ginny felt the blood drain from her head. She reached out to steady herself against the damp stone wall. Draco was indeed there, though his face had been beaten so badly as to be hardly recognisable. He lay on a bare mattress, his arms and legs shackled to the wall, though this hardly seemed to be necessary. He was completely limp, and for one wild second, she thought he was dead. She flew to him and dropped to her knees. "Draco!" He was breathing. Just barely, but he was breathing. She buried her hands in hair that was filthy and matted with blood, and turned his face towards her. "Draco, can you hear me?" His eyes were staring and unfocussed, and he did not move.
Behind her, she heard her father speaking to David and Lowen, by way of their earpieces. "We've got him. Let's get out of here." He pointed his wand at the shackles around Draco's wrists and ankles, and they fell to the mattress. "Let's go, Ginny." He pointed his wand next at Draco. "Levicorpus!" Together, with Draco floating between them, they started back along the passageway, the way they had come.
Behind them, they heard a shout and at the same instant, a jet of red light streaked past and hit the wall ahead. Reflexively, Ginny ducked. The Stunner ricocheted off the wall and whistled back over her head. She dropped into a crouch and spun around.
"Expelliarmus!" she cried, pointing her wand blindly. The man at the far end of the corridor cried out again, and she knew she had scored a hit.
And then, at the same time, she and her father shouted, "Stupefy!"
It was over before Ginny could take in what had happened. The man lay in a heap on the floor of the passageway, his wand lying where it had landed, on the stones.
"Wait here," Arthur told her. "He may be pretending." He approached the man cautiously, pausing to kick the fallen wand back in Ginny's direction. Ginny picked it up and in one, vicious motion, broke it over her knee.
"It's all right," her father called, after a moment, "he's unconscious. But let's get out of here before he wakes up."
She was propping up Draco, who had started to fall the moment Arthur's wand was off him. Now, she heaved him to a half-sitting position against the wall, and ran to her father. She looked down at the unconscious man on the floor. He was small and wiry, with protruding front teeth he had tried to minimise by growing a moustache. His eyes, behind wire-framed glasses, were closed. "Do you suppose this is The Baron?" she asked.
"From the way he's dressed, I'd say he's someone of importance," her father replied.
Ginny considered the man. He was dressed in robes at least as fine as the ones Draco usually wore, but otherwise he looked so perfectly… normal. He didn't look frightening in the least. This great legend was, after all, only a small, sorry-looking man, and they had felled him with the simplest of spells.
"Come on; someone's bound to miss him, and come looking for him." Ginny helped her father levitate the man into the room where they'd found Draco. With a flick of their wands, they dumped him unceremoniously onto the bloodstained mattress. Arthur locked the manacles around his wrists and ankles with a satisfying click.
"Make them nice and tight," Ginny advised him. They closed the door behind them, leaving the unconscious Baron alone in the dark, and went back to Draco.
It was the sight, again, of Draco's bloody face that galvanised Ginny's momentary feeling of triumph into something different. Kneeling beside him, seeing the eyes that were still glazed and unblinking, as though he were dead, Ginny felt a pure, livid fury course through her veins. The man in that room had done this thing to Draco. He had no right. It was suddenly not enough just to win. She wanted The Baron to know who had beaten him. She put her hand into her coat pocket, and felt it close around a tube of lipstick. "Wait, Dad."
Before her father could stop her, she turned and slipped back into the dark room. She lit her wand, pulled the cap off the lipstick, and carefully, on the wall above the man's head, where it would be clearly visible to whoever found him, she drew the sign of Mercury's wings.
Somehow, they got Draco back to the wine cellar, where they found Lowen and David waiting for them. Between the four of them, they managed to levitate his limp, battered form along the tunnel, and back to the lawn outside the stone wall.
"Don't bother going back to the Port," Arthur said tersely. "We'll Apparate from here."
And then they were back at Four Winds, the four of them packed into the little Apparation port, with Draco propped up between them.
"Lolly!" Ginny shouted. At once, the house-elf appeared.
At the sight of her master, Lolly gasped, and began to make little, whimpering sounds in her throat.
'Oh lord,' thought Ginny, 'don't go to pieces on me now.'
"Get hold of yourself, Lolly," she said sharply. "Help us get him to the bed, and then go call Healer MacLeod."
Together, they levitated Draco up the stairs, and onto the big bed, and Lolly flew to call the Healer. Anxiously, Ginny examined her husband's face, while her father and David and Lowen hovered in the background. The blood appeared to be seeping from a gash across one cheekbone. He was still wearing the black cashmere turtleneck he had left in, though it was filthy now, and stiff with dried blood. Carefully, she trained her wand on the fabric, and cut a line up the centre of it. She pushed the shirt aside. At the sight that greeted her, Ginny felt her knees give way under her.
He had not just been beaten, he had been tortured. In the place where the Quicksilver tattoo had been, the skin had been systematically flayed away. Across his stomach, someone had burned the letters DMS into his skin. The flesh was charred black there, and beginning to fester around the edges. Ginny felt bile rise up in her throat. She ran to the bathroom and was violently sick in the toilet. Afterwards, she sank to the floor and leaned her back against the cool porcelain of the bathtub, pushing back the darkness that threatened to engulf her. Trying just to breathe.
Her father knelt beside her, and she leaned her head into his shoulder until she felt strong enough to stand on her own. Healer MacLeod arrived just then, and after a brief, hushed consultation with Lowen and David, sent them all out of the room.
In the corridor outside the bedroom, Arthur turned to her. "Ginny," he said urgently, "we don't have any time to spare: you and Draco are going to need a Secret Keeper."
She nodded, unable to speak.
"Gordon, Kincaid, you'll serve as witnesses." David and Lowen came and put their hands on Ginny's shoulders, and she bowed her head while her father began to speak over her the words of the ancient magic that would hide them from The Baron. By the time the Healer opened the door to beckon them in, it was over. She and Draco were safe.
• • • • •
In the bedroom, Ginny's eyes flew at once to Draco's face. His eyes were closed, and his face was cleaner. He looked peaceful. "How is he?"
Healer MacLeod shook his head gravely. "It doesn't look good, I'm afraid. He's been badly beaten, and sustained a good deal of damage to his internal organs."
"But… but you can fix that, right?" She heard the quaver in her own voice.
The old man smiled wearily at her, but his voice, when he spoke, was kind. "I'm only a Healer, Ms Weasley, not a miracle worker. There are some things that, once broken, can never be put together again."
Hot tears rose up in her eyes, and her nose burned with the effort of holding them back. "No," she whispered. "He will get better. He will. You wait and see." She stepped around Healer MacLeod and went to Draco's side. She picked up his hand, which lay cool and limp in hers, and said it to him. "You'll get better, Draco. You'll be fine." She looked up at the Healer. "Would it be better if we moved him to St Mungo's?"
"We can if you like, however, there's nothing they can do for him there that I can't do here. I'll stay as long as it takes, of course, and see him through this."
"Thank you." She hesitated before asking the next question. "Can you tell what they did to him?"
"Some of it."
"Then… maybe I could have a little time alone with him, and afterwards we could all have a cup of tea, and you could tell us about it?"
"Of course." He spoke gently. "I'll wait in the kitchen. Take all the time you want." The old man backed out the door, and Arthur, Lowen, and David followed him.
Only Lolly remained with her. Ginny looked at the little house-elf, who had been standing at the foot of the bed all this time, fidgeting uncomfortably. "Would you like to speak to him, Lolly? I think maybe he can hear you, if you do."
The house-elf's eyes grew wide, and uncertainly she approached the side of the bed. She reached out a finger and touched it to Draco's cheek, then let her hand fall back to her side. Ginny saw that tears were leaking from the corners of her bulging eyes, and streaming down the ancient, leathery cheeks. "Master must get well again," Lolly whispered. "Lolly does not know what she will do if Master does not." She turned away, and with her little shoulders drooping, trudged from the room.
When she had gone, Ginny closed the door behind her, and climbed up onto the bed beside Draco. Carefully, she pulled the quilt aside and lay down beside him, fitting herself to the length of him and resting her cheek against his shoulder. She half-expected him to turn to her and put his arm around her as he had done so many times before. Instead, he lay there, absolutely, frighteningly still except for the occasional rasping breath.
The room was very quiet.
"Draco, you will get better."
But he made no sound, no move, and after awhile, Ginny slipped out of the bed and went downstairs to talk to the Healer.
He was able to tell them nothing she hadn't already surmised. Draco had been beaten and someone had used the Cruciatus curse on him, repeatedly. Some of his internal organs had been lacerated and he had lost a great deal of blood. That was all they knew. And so there was nothing to do but to wait and see what would happen.
Lolly fixed up Ginny's old room for Healer MacLeod to sleep in, but Ginny herself insisted on staying at Draco's side nearly every hour of the day. After three days of this, when there had been no change at all in Draco's condition, she sent the Healer home, assuring him that she would call for him as soon as there was a change.
David and Fiona Gordon came most days to see Draco, as did Lowen and Betsy Kincaid. When Ginny tried to apologise, through her tears, for Draco's deception of them over the years, they brushed her apologies aside. Everyone had skeletons in the closet, they told her firmly. What was important was that Draco had meant to change. They had always known him as a good and brave man; as part of Quicksilver. It was how they would go on thinking of him.
Her mother and father came every day as well. One day, after Draco had been home a week, and had neither declined nor improved, Molly told Ginny that her brothers were asking to see her.
"They feel so badly about your birthday dinner, Ginny. They're concerned about you, and about Draco. They want you to know that."
But at the mention of her brothers, Ginny felt something hard and bitter rise in her chest. She shook her head. "They were hoping something like this would happen: Fred nearly said as much, the day I told them all I was married to Draco. Well, they can gloat as much as they please now, but they can do it on their own; I don't want them around."
"Ginny!" her mother protested. "What a thing to say! Your brothers can be harsh but they never actually meant that they wanted something like this to happen. You know that's true."
But Ginny shook her head. She had enough to think about right now: she wasn't ready to face her brothers on top of it.
She spent most of the days that followed reading aloud to Draco. The days slipped into a week, and then became two weeks as she read him Kidnapped, and Treasure Island, and Gulliver's Travels. Once or twice, she tried to read poetry, but found that the words stuck in her throat. It was too difficult, and she went back to the easier adventure stories instead. He never responded, never so much as flickered an eyelid, but she was certain he could hear her. And so she read doggedly on, stories she knew he would like. She told him often that she loved him. At intervals, she slipped to her knees beside the bed and prayed, wordless, pleading prayers for God to bring him back to her.
Lolly bathed him every day, caring for him as she had when he'd been a baby; changing the linens and the bandages, singing little songs in a language Ginny could not understand. At night, Ginny lay down on a cot beside the big bed and tried to sleep. More often than not, though she lay awake for hours, holding his limp hand and listening to his harsh, shallow breathing. Waiting for something to change.
Their one-year anniversary came and went, and one day Ginny realised with some surprise that she and Draco had been married exactly a year and a day. They had made it: the curse that had hung over their families for hundreds of years had been broken. After all the turmoil leading up to it, in the end it had happened so quietly and unobtrusively that she had nearly missed it.
She recalled that day, over a year ago, when she and Draco had met for the first time at the Blue Onion Pub: how much she had dreaded the year ahead! And Draco had said to her, "It's a year of our lives, do you hear me? A year. We can do anything for a year." Now, she looked at his battered, beloved face lying still and pale on the pillow, and thought, 'No, Draco, not this. We had no idea we'd come to this.'
It was during the night that Ginny felt the change in Draco. She had been sleeping lightly, dreaming that she was running across a wide moor. She was running, running, towards the foot of a mountain, but never coming any closer to it. She was alone on the vast sweep of the plain, and there was nothing to do but to keep on running… And then the wind began to blow. Only, it wasn't a wind that blew towards her, but rather from behind. And it was not blowing over her at all, but through her. An icy draft was sucking through her, pulling something vital away from her…
"No!" She sat up in bed, her nightshirt soaked with sweat, staring wildly into the blackness of the room. That wind; it was like the wind that had blown through her when she had drunk from Draco's chalice on her wedding day, only… it was different. There was something very wrong about this wind.
"No." She said it aloud – loudly – into the night. "No! Draco, do not leave me. Do not…" She groped for him with one hand, and with the other, found her wand on the bedside table. As her fingers closed around the handle she heard a tiny, clinking sound, felt the barest brush of metal, and froze.
The wedding ring she had worn for a year had come free and fallen from her thumb. Ginny's breath caught in her chest. She gripped the wand, afraid to light it. For a full minute, she sat in the darkness, with tears pooling in her eyes, spilling over onto her face, sitting very still lest something inside her shatter. No.
At last, she gathered her courage and took a deep breath: "Lumos!"
She knew as soon as she saw his face that he had left her forever. His features had not changed, but there was something missing, some inner light, some essence of who he was. Gone. She rested her hand on his chest. It did not move. There was no heartbeat. There was nothing at all.
She closed her eyes, giving in to the sorrow that welled up inside her. It rolled over her like a tide, bearing her up and carrying her out on waves of grief. "Draco," she whispered. "Oh, Draco." And she laid her head on his chest and wept, both for the things that had been, and for the things that would never be.
• • • • •
The next day, Ron came to see her. Mercifully, she was not alone. Betsy and Fiona were both there, and so was her mother, 'seeing to arrangements', as they put it. Lolly had washed Draco's body with infinite tenderness, and dressed him in his finest robes. Now, he lay upstairs, in the bedroom he and Ginny had shared, but the door was firmly shut, and she could not bring herself to go up there and look at him.
She was obeying her mother and trying to rest, when Ron came. Lolly admitted him, and he stood, hovering on the threshold of the sitting room where Ginny lay on a sofa. She sat up when she saw him. They looked at one another, and in his eyes she saw a wealth of emotions: sorrow, regret, shame. Wordlessly, she held out her arms to him and he came to her, kneeling down and letting her bury her head in his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," he said at last, his voice thick and uncertain.
"I'm an idiot."
"No, Ron. There was just too much history there… I should have understood."
"I'm sorry. Not just for the things I said and the way I acted, but… well, that all of this had to happen to you."
He sat back on his heels and looked at her. "Fred and George want to come, and Hermione and the rest of them. Can they?"
She closed her eyes. "Not today; maybe tomorrow. It's too much, today." She thought of something else, and opened her eyes. "Does Harry know?"
A little silence. Then, "Yeah. He's pretty hurt."
"Hurt? Why should he be hurt?"
"I don't know; because you never told him, I suppose."
She gave a short, hard laugh. "Why should I have told Harry? He and I were finished long ago: he had no claims on me."
Ron shrugged uncomfortably. "Maybe Harry didn't see it that way."
• • • • •
Later that afternoon, she found herself wandering through the house, picking things up and putting them down again, with no clear idea of what she should do next. She was avoiding the bedroom, and she knew it. It was cowardly of her, but she did not care: she could not face his body. Not yet.
In the foyer, she came upon the set of outer robes he had been wearing the day before he disappeared. She lifted them from their hook, and held them against her cheek. Draco's clothing; Draco's scent. She breathed it in, holding it inside her. For a moment, he seemed so real that she half-expected him to step out of the Apparation port and put his arms around her.
After a moment, she realised there was something stiff in the breast pocket: something that did not fold with the rest of the fabric. She reached inside and pulled it out. It was a creased and faded photograph. At once, she recognised it as the one that had been taken at Sarah's wedding, all those months ago. It was only half the photograph: the side with Sarah in it had been completely cut off. There remained only herself, ginger hair curling about her shoulders, waving and blowing kisses at the camera. Draco had had it all the time. Had carried it in his pocket, next to his heart. Now, she sank into the chair and held the crumpled picture to her own heart, overwhelmed in a wash of love and sorrow, and a sense of utter loss. After a bit, she looked at the photo again, and turned it over. The back was covered with a familiar, spiky handwriting:
September has come, it is hers
Whose vitality leaps in the autumn, whose nature prefers
Trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace.
So I give her this month and the next
Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered already
So many of its days intolerable or perplexed;
Who has left a scent on my life, and left my walls
Dancing over and over with her shadow;
Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls,
And all of London littered with remembered kisses.
He was a better man than the one she had married a year ago. She would always be proud that he had meant to do the right thing. She was grateful that he had learned to love her. It did not matter that he had never said it to her; she knew it as surely as if it were something he had told her every day: Draco had loved her.
And was she a different person than she had been a year ago? That was not so easy for her to see. She knew that life, for her, would no longer be as black-and-white as she had once thought it. Other than that, she could not say how she was different. Only time would tell.
• • • • •
She had Draco's body cremated. They had talked about it once, on one of the long, summer nights they'd spent lying under the stars. He had told her that this was what he wanted. Of course, he hadn't meant for it to be so soon; they'd both talked of death that night as though it were something hypothetical and far… distant. They'd survived a war, after all, and they were in love: weren't they invincible?
In spite of the fact that there would be no burial, Ginny felt she should have a headstone to commemorate Draco. His parents were long gone; he had no brothers or sisters; he had no children. She did not want him passing from the world with nothing to mark that he had ever been here.
She went to see a man at Magical Monuments, and asked him how much a nice headstone would cost.
"Ninety Galleons for our top design, Madam," he told her, working a silver toothpick between his teeth. "That gives you a polished granite stone with up to four lines of text, in the script of your choice."
"It's not enough," she said flatly.
"You want more lines then? We can certainly add them, at only five Galleons a…"
"No," she said, "I mean it's not enough money. I need to spend more."
"O-o-oh, I see…" the man coughed discreetly. "How much did you have in mind to spend?"
"Two hundred eighty Galleons, nine Sickles, and two Knuts."
The man's mouth dropped open, and the silver toothpick fell to the floor and rolled under the counter.
"It's sort of a joke," Ginny tried to explain. "A debt I owed my late husband."
"Of course. I see." Clearly, he did not see.
She felt she had to explain. "We had this ongoing tournament; Dragons and Dwarves. Have you ever played?"
"And my husband always won. In the end, I owed him two hundred eighty Galleons, nine Sickles, and two Knuts. I'd like to pay off my debt to him this way."
The man looked astonished. "Surely your late husband never meant for you to really pay him the money?"
"No, of course he didn't. But I think he would like the idea: I think it would make him laugh."
• • • • •
On a rare, beautiful day in October Ginny went, together with her parents, Betsy, Lowen, Fiona, and David, and scattered his ashes over the pool at the base of the waterfall. Afterwards, she sent everyone back to the house and stood alone for awhile, under a rowan tree, and watched the water spill endlessly from the cavern high above her. She thought of the winter night they had slid through the frozen cave on their brooms, diving and rolling in the air. If she tried hard enough, she could imagine she heard just an echo of their laughter in the water that roared down before her. As she strained to catch the sound of it, the sun broke through a cloud and a breeze ruffled the branches above her. Ginny closed her eyes and lifted her face to the heavens as the golden sunlight streamed over her, and around her the yellow rowan leaves rained down like a benediction.
• • • • •
Two days after the funeral, she went back to work. Little had changed in the office, but this came as no surprise because after all, no one there knew she had even been married. She found the normalcy a welcome relief from the sadness of home.
That same day, Harry came to see her. She was trying to concentrate on finishing an overdue report when she heard the light rap on her office door. She looked up, and was startled to see him standing there. She stood up, herself. "Come in."
He came, and took the chair she motioned him towards. She waited, expectantly, but Harry did not speak. Instead, he sat forward, with his elbows resting on his knees, and gazed silently at the floor. At last, she asked gently, "How are you, Harry?"
He looked up at her then, and she was shocked by the naked pain in his eyes. "I should be the one asking you that," he said.
She came around and sat on the edge of her desk. "Harry, I had no choice but to marry Draco Malfoy."
"I know. I don't blame you for that. I suppose…" He cut himself off and raked a hand through hair that was already dishevelled. He attempted a rueful grin, though Ginny could perceive little humour in it. "I suppose I just wish you hadn't enjoyed it so much."
"Yes," she said abruptly, "well, that's over now, isn't it?" She was not going to sit here and listen to recriminations from Harry Potter, of all people.
He didn't answer right away, but after awhile, he said, "I'm sorry, Ginny."
"What's there to be sorry about?"
"It's meant to be a condolence, not an apology."
"Oh. Well… thank you."
They sat until the silence grew awkward between them. Ginny got up and went around to the top desk of her drawer, unlocking it. From inside, she withdrew a wrinkled scrap of parchment. "I have something for you, Harry."
He took the parchment, opened it and read it, then looked at her, puzzled.
"It's the name of the man who calls himself The Baron."
Harry's eyebrows went up, and he started to speak, but Ginny interrupted him.
"There's more information too, in my late husband's private office. I don't have a key, but if you can find a Spell Weaver – someone who can get into the room without destroying the house – you're welcome to any evidence you find there. I want this man destroyed."
Harry whistled softly. "I think we can arrange that."
• • • • •
She sold the vineyards, and Journey's End, and put enough money into Gringotts to make her a rich woman by anyone's standards. That winter, Ginny moved back to London, where she let a flat in a quiet neighbourhood. She could not bring herself to think of selling Four Winds just yet. Instead, she hired a housekeeper and a gardener to keep the place in decent repair until the day she would decide what to do with it.
In the spring, Auror Special Forces offered her a post, and Ginny accepted. Her life moved forward, on the surface, as she had always hoped it would. She was learning new and exciting things at work. Most Saturday nights, she had dinner with her brothers and their wives at The Burrow. Harry came around more often, until he began to be a regular fixture in her weekend plans. It was almost as though her year at Four Winds had never happened: as if Draco Malfoy, and their love for each other, had existed only inside her imagination.
And yet, once a year, every year until she was an old, old woman with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Ginny paid a visit to a waterfall high on a fell side in the Scottish Cairngorms. She knew it had been real, and if she ever doubted it, she only needed to go back to that place to convince herself of it again.
Draco Malfoy had been real. For a short time, she had loved him with every particle of her being, and he had loved her back. Their love, she was convinced, had changed him. She knew it had changed her. As time went on and she grew older, she came to understand that there were many different ways to love another person. Some were long loves in the same direction, like the love she had for the man she grew old with. That kind of love had a time-won beauty to it like the rich patina of rare wood. Other loves were unexpected, burning hot and bright, and in the shortest time possible could reshape a person forever. Both were good; both were right.
Ginny revisited the waterfall until the year she died, when she was one hundred and forty-seven years old. Each year, she came alone and she sat, sometimes on a fallen log, sometimes on a stone. She listened for the old voices, let the memories wash over her, fill her soul, remind her. And every year she thanked God that the Curse of the Firstborn had been a part of her life. It had been a curse, yes, but it had been a blessing too. Not many people got to live the kind of year she had lived: to love the kinds of love she had known.
She was a lucky woman.
• • • • •
A/N: Thank you to all of you who've read and reviewed
with such enthusiasm, and sometimes, with an honesty that was
difficult for me to read, but nevertheless which helped me to become
a better writer.
If you've read this story, but never reviewed, why not do it now? I'd love to know what you think. Cheers!