Final Riddles

Disclaimer: Don't own Harry Potter.

FIRST THINGS FIRST:Sorry so much about the delayed update! Waaaaaah! This chapter would've come out several weeks ago if it weren't for my procrastination and those darn AP's. But thank you toeveryone who dropped off a review, especially Ra'iira The Fiend for being especially motivating for me to get this chapter done through a bajillion reviews (thank yous! –hugs-), who I will decide to dedicate this chapter to. xD

And aye, thank you billions to my awesome betas, Daughter of the Black and SylphJr! I would give both of you a winning lottery ticket if I could, but unfortunately, I've been down on my luck lately.

I'll also try to be more responsive in review replies this time around. xD Just a word of precaution, updates probably won't come for another month or so due to this being the testing period. X.x

Oh, in case you haven't noticed – I'm rewriting this thing again!

This is my what, second, third rewrite? I think second rewrite, third version. Hopefully it's better than the previous two, but I just came up with some insane plot twist, too lazy to turn it into a whole new story, so I combined FR and that plot twist. xD Ahahaha. I make no sense.

This version was also prompted by a belated discovery that Ginny's miraculous recovery from half-dead to alive was a little too miraculous, even with magic involved. So yeah. Besides this first chapter, nottoo much should be changed – but the writing style should be significantly darker, and Ginny a little less tangled into society.

Now onto the story. Enjoy (or not) and review regardless!

Reformatted: May 08 2011

Check my profile for status updates :D

Prologue: Color


Like the color of the inside of your eyelids when you try to go to sleep during a new moon, she had decided long ago when imagery was still vividly implemented into her lifestyle. But now – even if she could – she did not want to see past the cloying, dark mist, as some sixth sense foreboded that the sight was not one better than inhuman misery. No, no, not sixth sense. Common sense. Common sense declared the present ghastly, because what she was living wasn't much better.

There's a threshold to how much pain a person can suffer before they break from human to machine, and then from machine to grave. For countless unending nights, Ginny Weasley had been teetering on that border between death and routine – routine, as no God would have defined "life" to be such a hungry scavenge. To be desperate. To be so far past the ghost of intelligence's recollections that the mind can only process one thought at a time, and one thought stays predominant among the rest: food.

During those wavering moments when that foremost thought shines dull, she wondered briefly if she was insane to continue life this way. If it wouldn't be better to be dead, like she's sure her family already was. But those few flickers of brilliance, of stupidity, of hopeless failure were immediately forgotten as the next roll of hunger thundered through her body, and she could barely ask herself what the word "family" meant before her only care was to satisfy her stomach again.

In a near-unconscious stupor, she stumbled over nothing, her arms weakly flailing out. Her hand clasped onto something cool and smooth – and God, did the thing just pulse within her fist? – before she hit the ground, hearing only the shatter of glass and a breath of a cry before she lost control and slipped past the second threshold that distinguished routine from death.


Like the color of wincing brightness, an unyielding, blinding stream. It seared; it hurt; it refused to dim. Immediately, she squeezed her eyes shut again, but it did little good. It's still there, behind the black that she'd grown to be accustomed to. Omniscient. And – oddly – the first thing that comes to mind wasn't the question of food, but where in the world did such brilliance come from? Because it was too vivid to be natural.

So it couldn't be real. It couldn't be.

Was she dead? If so, heaven wasn't supposed to burn so much, was it? But she couldn't be in hell. Only her eyes were searing.

A shadow briefly passed over the blinding whiteness, and she immediately relaxed in relief. Her eyelids briefly fluttered open, and there was a blurry of colors in unidentified swirls that she couldn't distinguish.

"Great Merlin, she's awake!"

A woman's voice strung through the air, an oddly lulling melody to it. Startled, Ginny made a move to respond, but her throat was raw and it hurt to even grunt.

"Now, now, dear, just stay still. You've been through quite a lot, you know. Don't try and speak, and keep your eyes closed – go back to sleep, there's a lot more work I need to do on you…"

The same voice continued to soothe as gentle, warm fingers with slightly roughened skin tugged her lips apart, and a thick, cool liquid slid down her throat. Almost immediately, she relaxed, her mind unwinding, with the murmur of sleep in her ear.

Oh – God.

Nausea. Overwhelming nausea. Her stomach uncomfortably knotted in an ache she wasn't accustomed to. Her breathing hitched as the air around her grew hotter, stuffier, and – sweet Mary, she couldn'tbreathe. She was suffocating, Merlin, and her chest was protesting violently –

Suddenly, a growling current flew through her throat as she spewed out the contents of her stomach over white linen sheets, immediately fouling the air. Then another wave, and a third, with Ginny spitting remnants out of her mouth.

Merlin – was she dying? Was she heaving up her intestines? Had she contracted some strain of – of somedisease – that was killing her from the inside? Oh God, she wasn't ready to die. She couldn't die like this –

"Sweet Hufflepuff, you're not supposed to be awake for another week," a voice exclaimed, and the vomit before her vanished. Before Ginny could comprehend what was going on, a bowl of water was pushed into her hands. "Rinse out your mouth, dear, and I'll set you up with a potion that can calm that stomach of yours."

Bewildered, her gaze followed the arms linked to the bowl until it settled upon the face of a woman with rounded features and auburn hair.

"Rinse," the woman commanded before scuttling over to a cabinet beside a long row of beds with white, crisp sheets, and through the window she could see a desk and more cabinets, resembling something of an office. Was it an illusion? Nothing this spotless could have survived the war.

The woman returned with a vial in hand, scoffing as she met the bowl of water, still clean. "I said, rinse," she repeated sternly, and Ginny suddenly realized what the woman meant and hurriedly obeyed. Without a word, the woman stole back the bowl and Vanished its contents, fitting the vial she carried over into Ginny's hand. "Down that, dear, and it'll put your stomach to rest."

Ginny reached for the vial, but suddenly hesitated. Impossible; there was something altogether too innocent about the situation that tasted awry in her mouth. She ignored her stomach, which still turned violently, throwing a shrewd glance at the vial. It probably held poison. Lord, who knew what toxin she had just rinsed her mouth with? Drugged with Veritaserum, maybe. That woman had to be a disguised Death Eater. Ginny must've fallen unconscious and was found and captured. But –

"Where am I?" she rasped, her voice hoarse from lack of use.

The woman had the nerve to look startled before responding, "Why, you're in Hogwarts' infirmary, child."

Hogwarts? It sounded familiar. Hogwarts… wasn't it a school? No, no – it was a haven. No, that was too long ago. Hogwarts was –

With a frenzied cry, Ginny threw the vial to the floor and tossed the sheets aside, frantic to get away.

Hogwarts was a concentration camp.

Startled, the woman quickly spelled the spill away as she approached Ginny. "Get back in bed, young lady. You're not well enough to be up and about – "

"Get away from me! I swear, I – I – "

Shocked into petrifaction, the woman stilled, her eyes blank with confusion. Ginny frantically looked about for an exit. Left, right, left, right – she was defenseless, and that woman had a wand. She could barely hear the woman's voice in the background, attempting to calm Ginny down. Left, right – the door was behind the woman, and who knew what, in turn, was behind the door? She was trapped, oh God – left, right, left, right –

Those doors unlocked with a click as a tall, bearded man with half-moon spectacles calmly strode into the room. Ginny felt a twist at the edge of her heart; a recurring throb told her that she should know this wizard. "Albus!" the woman cried, her voice a mixture of relief and frenzy. "Thank heavens! I don't know what to do!" Her hands dropped to her apron, tugging at its already frayed edges. "She just suddenly stood up and began to yell; I don't know what's going on – "

"No need to fret, Thyla. I'm certain she will calm down in time…" the man began with a slight frown.

Albus? Albus – Albus… Dumbledore, a whisper supplied. Her mind flashed to the image pasted onto a Chocolate Frog card. Professor Dumbledore, she suddenly remembered. Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, leader of the Order. Epithets scrolled through her thoughts. Dumbledore, Order of Merlin, First Class. Dumbledore, assassinated by Snape. Ginny's eyes narrowed on the newest arrival, horror and disgust clogging her chest, stilling her, as she stared at those familiar blue eyes. No. Merlin, no. They wouldn't have the audacity to. God, God, it sickened her. "You," she bit out, her voice trembling in anger, "repulse me." Her hands clenched at either side. "How could you think – even for an instant – that you could qualify to assume the body of Albus Dumbledore, you bastard?"

Those familiar blue eyes darkened. "I beg your pardon?"

A dry laugh erupted from Ginny's lips, born from infuriation rather than mirth. "Don't pretend that we both don't know that Dumbledore's been dead for years now," she spat. "And now to discredit his name – !" She scoffed. It was a brilliant idea. Sick and brilliant. To turn the image of hope into an image of despair through the means of Polyjuice… Who knew how many Muggles he had killed and tortured under Dumbledore's guise? "As I said. You – you lot, you – you – Merlin!howyou disgust me."

The shadow that clouded his eyes flitted away, though they didn't regain its normal sparkle. "Miss – " He cut off, waiting for her to finish.

She jutted out her chin in response. "Bellatrix Black," she retorted as a defiant attack. His sharp gaze almost cut her; her skin was already stinging. It was almost like the real Dumbledore; he seemed to be able to tell when someone was lying, and when someone wasn't. But he wasn't the real Dumbledore. Stubbornly, she persisted, "It's true. I'm a moronic, bigoted arse."

His response was sharp – so different from the calm, knowing manner Ginny was used to associating Dumbledore's voice with. "This is no laughing matter, young lady," he said.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Ginny returned with a scoff. "Because I really find this situation bloody hilarious."

The man impersonating Dumbledore studied her with screened eyes. "Miss Black," he said with a subtle emphasis on the supplied surname, "can you share with us everything you know about Hogwarts?"

Her stomach was turning more oppressively than ever, but she pushed the pain aside as she eyed him suspiciously, attempting to realize his ulterior motive. Would he kill her if she proved to know too much? Her stomach murmured in agitation, breaking her train of thought.

Noticing her distrusting look, he attempted another tactic. "Can you supply us with today's date?" he inquired as gently as possible.

Ginny's head had begun to feel light and dizzy, and the ground beneath her began to tilt. "Dates are a kind of trivial thing when you're dying," she retorted, focusing her energy to remain strong. She couldn't collapse. She couldn't fall unconscious. The woman in the nurse's habit gasped sharply, a hand fluttering over her heart.

Odd behavior. As if the woman didn't know what was going on. As if she didn't know what she was doing.

"The last date you know?" he persisted.

Ginny couldn't think straight now; her mind blurred, and she accidentally let the truthful answer slip out. "July 31, 1999." Stand straight, damn it! Her feet were wavering, and now the ground seemed to be dancing with her head in a long series of pirouettes –

She didn't see the two exchange glances. She didn't see the newspaper that was summoned before it was held out to her. "Miss Black, you were discovered lying in the middle of the corridor some weeks ago. You seemed to have appeared from nowhere."

Middle… what did he say? Middle of nowhere? She took the newspaper, initially unable to interpret the hazy black characters etched against white. Daily Prophet – August 2, 1943. And suddenly, her stomach shuddered one last, great wrench as she heaved up one final time onto the headline news.

And then returned that familiar black.

Her world was spinning as she rolled over, determined to keep her eyes shut. Last night's dream slowly surfaced to her, visual flashes sequentially rolling through her mind. Odd – she normally didn't dream. She was normally too exhausted to be bothered with recalling details of sleep. And this nightmare was different from the rest… mortifyingly real without the pain of seeing George's once mirth-filled face frozen in horror and hate, his head –

Hurriedly, she shook the thought from her mind. George wasn't meant to look like that. He was supposed to be forever smiling.

Gentle fingertips guided her upright on the bed. Surprised, her eyes snapped open, and her gaze caught on a startlingly familiar brunette woman in a Healer's uniform. It was the Death Eater from her dream.

No, it couldn't be – she was supposed to be nothing more than a character from a nightmare! Her heart hammered loudly in her chest, each metronomic thump pounding shock into her eyes. "Oh, God," she murmured with a wide-eyed groan. "You weren't supposed to be real."

Submission – it was disgusting. It was clear in her tone. No, not submission. It was a realized admission that she was trapped, that she couldn't leave. And – Merlin, her spine lurched and curled at the idea of what the woman would do to her. But that mere notion sent angry flushes to her cheeks again. No, she refused to have her body experimented with, mutilated, for sadistic enjoyment. She would fight.

Yanking herself away from the woman's touch, Ginny rolled off the bed and dropped to the ground, barely registering the hum of pain in her bones from the thud of her landing.

The woman cried, "What do you think you're doing? Your bones have barely been strengthened as it is, and your muscles are still depleted – "

From the Hospital Wing office, the man impersonating Dumbledore entered with a concerned countenance. "My dear Thyla, what is going on?"

The woman stood, flabbergasted for a moment before hissing, "Albus, the Calming Draught didn't work!"

Calming Draught? That was why the admission was so readily available in her tone. Ginny retracted all her ideas about not being ready to die; she was willing to die, so long as it wasn't by their hands.

"Perhaps," the man speculated, his hard gaze focused on Ginny, "the… delusion she is under has a very strong emotional involvement." Delusion? She was under no delusion! She heatedly opened her mouth to retort, but he silenced her with a cutting stare. "It might be best to not interfere by magical means, but to wait in time until she accepts it."

The corners of the woman's lips tugged into a frown, her brows furrowed as she scrutinized Ginny. Who were they to talk – to act – as if she weren't there? "I'm not delusional," Ginny spat, anger driving her footsteps forward. "I don't know what mind game you're playing at, but – "

He raised a hand, and words escaped her. "I suggest that you let your body rest, Miss Black. I assure you, that no one will hurt you here." There was something in his tone that just demanded Ginny's trust and confidence, perhaps that he was so much like Dumbledore in his actions and words that she found it difficult to believe that it could be anyone but him. "Here," he continued, procuring a vial. "A sleeping draught. I can test it first if you want; examine it all you'd like."

Sleeping draughts… she had learned about them before, the details hidden behind a foggy frame. Dark blue, with tendrils of teal smoking in delicate patterns. But she couldn't recall enough to decide whether or not it had been tampered with; and she couldn't trust his offer to test take it. He had probably already taken the antidote. Because, she reminded herself firmly, this wasn't the real Dumbledore. This was a Death Eater.

"You were reported to have carried nothing with you when you appeared," he maintained smoothly. He paused for a moment before saying, "Thyla, would you excuse me for a moment alone with Miss Black?"

With a surprised nod, the woman disappeared into her office, securing the door closed. "Do seat yourself?" he offered, gesturing to the long row of beds. When she remained standing stiffly, he said as he moved to a bed, "I hope you can forgive me, then, for choosing to seat myself."

Ginny's brows furrowed. "What do you want?"

"It has nothing to do with what I want, Miss Black," he replied, his jovial tone taking a serious turn, "but a point. My point is, that I don't believe you are delusional, despite what I have told Thyla. I believe that you, indeed, are from what seems to be the miserable future. You were reported to have carried nothing when you appeared," he repeated, treading onward despite her move to retaliate, "but one of your hands was cut – seemingly by something akin to glass – and was dusted with sand."

"Sand?" Ginny echoed, frowning.

"The year is 1943, I am not dead, and no one plans to kill you. It will take time before you can realize and accept this, but until then, try not to push your body to limits it cannot stand in protest." With a glance at the potion still in her hand, he said, "Sleep will do you well. Good day, Miss Black."

He turned and left, following Thyla's earlier retreat to her office. She stood alone, troubled, staring at the vial, and she recalled briefly the end of what she thought to be last night's nightmare – a newspaper, dated to August 2, 1943.

He – Dumbledore, or whoever masqueraded him – did appear younger than she remembered. She hesitated to accede that she wasn't dead yet, and that she even had the energy to rebel supplied that she was being healed. That she was even brought to the Hospital Wing at all, and that she was vastly improved from her tomb-worthy state. It was too exhausting to constantly imagine backward logic, she decided as her mind drew a weary moan. And, pushing all thoughts away, she moved to a bed and downed the potion before an unwanted notion could surface, hitting the pillow and hearing only the shatter of glass as the vial slipped from her fingers and the breath of her own sigh, praying that her moment's worth of trust wouldn't push her past the second threshold that distinguished routine from death.

A shatter of glass, and then black. Where had she heard that before?