Author's Note

Again, sorry for the long wait for the chapter, but I've been seriously overworked lately. Here's hoping you enjoy it!

Disclaimer – Harry Potter is the property of J.K. Rowling, not me. Only some original characters are mine.

Chapter Seven – Where You Least Expect It

Ginny ignored the slowly increasing numbness in her forehead as she pressed the stump of her palms into it in an attempt to will away all the exhaustion and mental stress from the last day with a dose of wand-less magic. It was fruitless, she knew, because it would take nothing short of a good 12 hours of dreamless sleep to bring back any of the emotional energy she'd expended over her brother, the love of her life and her best girlfriend. She had been so distraught over the situation when Bill had told her – shortly after dropping Hermione at St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries – that she had broken down in his arms and was still sniffling when she was brought into Hermione's ward.

The state of her friend had terrified her: Hermione had sported several minor cuts to the face and arms, that glowed an unnatural dirty red against the clammy paleness of her skin; there was a large, unsightly bruise on her left bicep, where –she learned later from Harry's account – she'd collided unceremoniously with the wall; but worst of all we perhaps the timidity of her breathing, the barely perceptible rise of her breast as she took small, almost invisible breaths. It was this lack of deep breathing that scared Ginny the most and convinced her unwontedly that Hermione was not simply sleeping off her injuries.

Comatose, the Healer had pronounced her. Ginny's entire body had nearly wilted under the shock of such a statement, but the Healer assured both her and Bill that her condition was extremely stable, and best of all, treatable. The only catch, Mr and Miss Weasley, he had said, is that Miss Granger still has traces of the curse she was struck with hovering around her, preventing us from breaking her out of this trance. Before we can begin the healing process, we'll need to break those curses…

Bill, the big sweetheart that he was, had volunteered immediately. His experience as a curse breaker in Egypt had taught him loads of Dark Curses, he had announced. But the Healer shooed this proposal away, saying that they'd have to do some tests on the curses first and foremost, before they could even hope to try and break it. They'd need to know exactly what the curse had done to Hermione to leave her comatose. The least it could have done was simply put her brain functions into stasis; the worst case scenario was that it could have shut down her brain functions entirely. This had chilled Ginny to the marrow, because – as the Healer pronounced gravely – it could lead to severely reduced functionality when she awoke, or even worse, none at all.

Bill had reassured her that this was not bad news, because there was simply the chance that her brain was in 'stasis' – it didn't help her keep calm when his voice had cracked here, as though he didn't exactly believe what he was saying – and that she'd be the Hermione of old again, with only a slight bit of trauma.

As bad as her own reaction had been – tears, desperate anger, resentment -, however, there was no question that Harry's had been worse, and Ron's twenty times so.

Both had effectively charged past the Healer into the room, with a security detail of Aurors tailing them both, trying to keep them calm. Their efforts had, naturally, been completely unsuccessful, but as soon as they both entered the room, they slammed to a halt and stared, haunted, at Hermione's pale form.

Ron had cracked first, whimpering her name and immediately moving to her side, clasping her cold hand and staring at her face with an expression of one whose puppy has just been run over. He stroked her hand softly and stared at her with slowly filling eyes, trying desperately to keep it together. It had been a harrowing sight, to see her Little-Big Brother Ron trying so desperately to keep from crying, from losing control.

Harry, on the other hand, hadn't moved. His eyes hadn't left Hermione, but all the colour was gone from his face. He had appeared to be wavering on the spot, and she had immediately left her chair to throw her arms around him, whispering "It's not your fault, Harry… it's not…" She knew, even in that moment of utter despair, that awkwardness between them, exactly what he was thinking, exactly who he was blaming.

Dispassionately, he had removed her arms from around his head, not looking at her, and pushed her gently aside, not wanting comfort. Then he had spoken aloud the room at large, even though he was clearly answering Ginny.

It is my fault. She's my friend, and I abandoned her.

Ginny had felt terrible at this, not knowing the details to reconcile him. But Ron had leapt to the defence of his actions immediately.

Your fault? How is this your fault, Harry? She wasn't… this isn't… I let this happen! Not you! You… it wasn't your responsibility… you didn't have to…

Anger. Harry got angry with him. She hadn't expected it.

Not my responsibility! Ron, she's my best friend… and I let that BITCH LESTRANGE GET TO HER!

No… no you didn't… I was the one… I was fighting her… I… I wasn't… I wasn't good enough… I couldn't protect her…

Ron had appeared utterly broken, a stark contrast from a furious Harry. The Aurors and Bill were standing well back, watching as Harry fought to retain control while Ron fought for a different kind of control.

It's not just YOUR JOB to protect her Ron! I'm her best friend, I'm supposed to be Harry Potter, I'm supposed to be some kind of saviour and I couldn't even protect my own best friend!

Ginny had cracked at that, her own tears returning afresh, as she tried to reconcile him, tell him that it wasn't his fault, that no-one's life was his responsibility. He would have none of it.



Ron. He was just as angry, then.

Yes it is… it always is…


This appeared to be the wrong thing to say. Everyone in the room at the time could see this was an argument borne of grief and exhaustion and a plethora of feelings neither young man could control.


This was definitely the wrong thing to say, because – and Ginny found herself cringing at the memory – Ron had snapped and inexplicably launched himself at Harry, slamming his fist into his best friend's face. She – along with everyone else in the room – had been truly astonished to hear the crack of Harry's jaw, as well as seeing the Chosen One, the Boy Who Lived, hit the deck after one punch. Only Ron seemed to understand, as he stared at his hand in numb disbelief, his face devoid of all colour.

Right on cue, Remus Lupin arrived, and – recognising what had happened – instructed the Healer to cure Harry's injury and wake him up. Harry then stumbled to his feet groggily, to find Ginny fussing over him, her eyes wide with fear for him. She had been forced to watch the internal struggle this attention brought out in him, but what pained her more than anything that night so far, was watching him screw up his eyes against her and push her away gently, clenching his teeth so as not to give in. It was a painful reminder of their status, and Harry's unwillingness to go into it. But his eyes were dutifully found Ron, sobbing in the corner with his hands over his eyes, and he climbed to his feet and walked over.

Ron's tear-drowned, sapphire eyes found Harry's warm, emerald eyes and he suddenly stopped crying, raising his hand to Harry, slipping back the robe to reveal a shiny copper hand with slight flecks of blood on the knuckles.

Look what that bitch did to my hand, Harry. What she did to Fred. What she did to Hermione… why? Why did we let her get away?

And Ron broke down again, as Harry pulled him into a bone-crushing hug and assured him that it wasn't his fault, that it was Lestrange's fault, and that nothing she could ever do would save her from their retribution.

Now, almost three hours later, Ginny reflected for the umpteenth time on what had happened when Ron had fallen asleep. He still lay snoozing at the foot of Hermione's bed, a pillow handily placed to balance his slack face on. He had played his part in relaying the events of that night, their words completely reviewed by Lupin and Tonks, forcing Harry and Ron to relive the traumatic experience of the battle; and then Healer Stubbs, who had needed the details exactly of the curse Hermione had been hit with, as well as the details of the curse Fred had suffered, had asked for relayed information as well. Harry, however, had deliberately exempted the information about his own personal showdown with Voldemort – for reasons known only to him, sadly – and had immediately left the room – and Ron, if Ginny allowed herself to use this a paltry excuse for his complete lack of recognition regarding her – to 'go for a walk'.

She hadn't yet worked up the courage to follow him, but it was tempting. She remembered the horrified look on Harry's face when he had heard about all the deaths and injuries suffered that night, as though he still completely blamed himself. That had wrung her heart in a way she hoped never to feel for him again.

We found seven unconscious Death Eaters, all of whom have been transferred to Azkaban, as well as four dead, the causes of which only one is known: that of Marcus Flint, who Hagrid crushed when he was finally Stunned. It had been Lupin who had been so formal about it.

Who was killed? The hollowness of Harry's voice was unbearable for her. She missed his joyful, soulful laugh, his delighted smile after a good snog…

We found Narcissa Malfoy in your room, Harry. She was pinned against the wall by a trapped table, but that didn't seem to be a cause of death. It looked like a wayward Avada Kedavra curse, to be honest…

That was me. I killed her with Avada Kedavra. The absurdity of Ron's statement hadn't even registered when she saw the quiet rage on his face, at himself and at the Malfoy he had murdered. She had known it was true, then, as much as she found it impossible to believe of her brother.

Podrice Gnarle seemed to have been hit with some kind of electric curse, which apparently, according the emergency Mediwizards, gave him a premature heart attack and killed him…

WHAT! Harry this time, and genuinely astonished. Ginny remembered being desperate to leap from her seat and wrap him in her arms when he realised that his Thunderbolt Curse had killed a man, when it was supposed to be non-fatal. Harry was not a murderer; he couldn't be… no more than Ron was…

Ingrid Kova was buried under the remains of the Dursley family bathroom…

Ron managed to trace that one to Hermione, which made each of the three of them indirectly responsible for the death of one of the Death Eaters, as well as Hagrid, the other member of their first year friendship. It scared Ginny, to think that this war had immersed them so deeply in it already that each had a death on their hands.

We found Goyle and Ferguson upstairs, incapacitated, as well as Malfoy – Draco, that is – who you took out, Harry. Rosier was out back, somehow up a tree. We found the other three – Yaxley, Bole and Derrick – in the kitchen, Stunned.

Ron claimed Bole and Derrick; Harry, Malfoy and Rosier. It didn't really matter though. The Death Eater casualties could have numbered in the hundreds and it wouldn't have taken away the pain of the losses the Order had suffered. Pomona Sprout had been killed, without any flourish, by Voldemort himself, and Dedalus Diggle had suffered a similar fate. Alastor Moody – Mad-Eye, the heroic Auror and champion of the post-Voldemort years – had been the Order guard on Privet Drive that night. He had been attacked, tortured and then kidnapped by the Death Eaters, who left his wooden leg behind with the message of what they'd done scrawled into it. Kingsley Shacklebolt had suffered a vicious Sectumsempra curse, from an unknown assailant, and had lost a hell of a lot of blood; and Hestia Jones had been burned alive by two particularly vicious Death Eaters. Worst of all, however, was the fate of Elphias Doge, who had been butchered indiscriminately by an ambush, and then stitched back together like some sick puppet and made to do battle as an Inferi.

She knew what would be troubling Harry. He'd be blaming himself for such an extensive list of casualties to the Order ranks, he'd think that it was his fault that all these things happened. Harry had wised up to the situation over the past year, no longer blaming every single event that the Death Eaters did on his own futility to help and his own targeted person, but not even Ginny could dispel the sense of guilt he must be feeling over the fates of his Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. No-one could deny that they were involved in this purely because of Harry. The thought was surely making him physically sick…

And yet… her musings about Harry had not been in vain. She had come to the conclusion that the Dursleys couldn't very well have accepted Harry without realising the consequences. Dumbledore would not have kept them in the dark, surely? Although no-one had ever told her why, Ginny couldn't help but think that Vernon and Petunia Dursley must have decided to keep Harry at some point; in fact, thinking about it like that made it seem almost understandable why they treated him so badly. They took him in to protect him, when they didn't want him, and therefore treated him horribly without actually kicking him out.

She would have to talk to Harry about this. He would need her, even if he didn't think he did. She couldn't let him sink under the weight of his own grief. She had to keep him afloat, not just for himself, but for everyone who was depending on him.

She shot a glance at Ron as he rose from her seat, smiling in spite of herself at the relaxed way he slept while still keeping his hands clenched tightly around Hermione's. It was wonderfully endearing and so un-Ron-like and romantic that it gave her strength for the train wreck of her own love life she was about to pull the survivors from.

"I won't be gone long, Ron, Hermione…" she whispered to them both, not exactly feeling sick at leaving them as much as she was at their combined plight, before slipping out of the room in search of Harry.

Harry was beginning to wish he hadn't had this particular brainwave. He could hear his cousin's whimpering from behind the divider around his aunt's bed, and he truly had no idea what he might say to Dudley. None of the Dursleys had ever given Harry any reason to feel any kind of remorse or sympathy for them, but he couldn't suppress the undeniable feelings of guilt about what his mere presence in Dudley's house had inevitably done to his family. His father was dead and his mother was on the brink of death, and they'd never done anything, really, to deserve it.

Harry had given a lot of thought to the whole night's events in the last few hours, after leaving the stricken Grangers with a brief account of what had happened to their daughter. Neither Mr nor Mrs Granger had blamed him, but Harry felt like what happened to Hermione was partly his fault anyway. He felt sick every time he remembered the way he had left her on her own to tackle Pettigrew and Amycus, and even worse at the way she'd trusted him to take them out. He'd clearly failed to do it quickly enough, leaving her open long enough to suffer a direct attack.

His thoughts on Ron had been much darker and harder to explain. Harry would never again have any doubts about Ron's loyalty and valour, where he was concerned. His best friend had risked all to get to him, to rescue him from a situation where his life was in danger. But Harry couldn't help feel uneasy at Ron's devotion to Hermione, in a way that made him sick at himself. He had seen how hard it had been for Ron to turn his back on Hermione and help him, but at the same time, he had made it seem much easier to stay with her. The thought of Ron's loyalty to Hermione made him more than a little jealous…

But then he felt sick with himself. This was Ron the prefect all over again. Who was he to feel jealous just because Ron showed as much loyalty to his other best friend as he did to him, Harry? Harry had no right to a monopoly on Ron's loyalty, and besides, Hermione had certainly needed Ron more at that point. Harry was gifted with strength from the Endowment Charm, while Hermione had been incapacitated.

If he was completely honest with himself, he knew the cause of his jealousy. He'd known it for around a year, and had stoutly refused to acknowledge it; it had even gone away during the last few months as Harry himself knew some of that happiness. Now, it appeared, his jealousy had returned in greater strength, no doubt bolstered by the knowledge of exactly what Ron and Hermione might have that he couldn't.

Because, in reality, Harry didn't feel threatened by Hermione's friendship with Ron; no, he felt threatened by what that friendship could become. Ron and Hermione… well, they'd been dancing around the issue long enough, but he, Harry, certainly wasn't going to play the particular song that would force them together. They deserved happiness, he knew, but he wasn't sure he could stomach them being together when he himself left Ginny behind; when he had given up Ginny because he had to, while Ron and Hermione get to stay together because he needed them.

Despite the fact that he hadn't felt this disappointed in himself since his internal tantrum over Ron's being made prefect, he acknowledged that it probably gave him a better chance of dealing with the feelings of unease for their friendship if he recognised and confronted them. He knew it was better to settle the matter on his own rather than blow up about it to either one, as he had done tonight with Ron.

Dudley's whimpering brought him crashing back to Earth. Harry felt sick, suddenly, remembering where he was and what he'd come to do. Gritting his teeth, he felt in his pocket for his wand, reassuring himself with its smooth strength, and then walked around the curtain so that Dudley could see him.

His cousin – still massive, still unhealthily bulbous in places but at the same time, oddly muscular in his arms and legs – didn't show any signs of having seen him. His watery, tear-stained eyes were focused on his mother, Petunia Dursley, who now drew Harry's eyes with a kind of horrific fascination.

Petunia had suffered terribly at the hands of Malfoy. Her pale, horse-like face was covered in criss-crossing pink scars, her bony cheeks sunken and bruised-looking against her papery skin. Harry could see the network of tiny scars continued unabated down her arms, and he felt a strong up-welling of guilt beginning in his throat. He watched the quiet flicker of his aunt's eyelids as her dreams troubled her, and could practically hear the creak of her bones as she turned her head. He must have made some kind of noise of distress, however, as Dudley's ear practically pricked up, and his eyes snapped to Harry's.

For a few seconds, Harry could only stare into the conflicting emotions of horror and fury roaring away in Dudley's eyes, before he was forced to say something to relieve the horrible tension of the situation. "Dudley…" he began sombrely, almost choking on the word, before he coughed and tried again. "Dudley… listen… I…" But Harry was struck by a previously unimaginable level of shame – at least, in regards to Dudley Dursley – when he realised he had absolutely nothing to say. He mouthed soundlessly for a few seconds before Dudley cut his futile attempts off.

"Your fault! This is all your fault, Potter!" he hissed, anger etched into his swollen features, the creases in his cheeks contracting in his fury. Harry was taken aback by the venom in his voice, as Dudley continued accusing him. "My dad took you in, you son of a bitch, and you're the reason he's dead!"

"Dudley… wait… it is my fault… but…" Before he could say anything else, however, Harry was startled to find Dudley's piggy fingers wrapped angrily around his throat, and the other hand balled into a slowly advancing ham hawk. Instinctively, Harry jerked out of the way of the flying fist and was only caught by a glancing blow, but this was enough to send him stumbling against the wall, caught off guard.

Dudley immediately advanced on him, slamming his fist into Harry's sternum, sending waves of agony up to Harry's brain and thoroughly knocking the wind from him, before Dudley's meaty forearm slammed itself into his throat, immediately cutting off his air supply. Harry grasped and scrabbled at his arm and face desperately, staring fearfully into Dudley's cold, smoky, grey eyes, the unfocused way his eyes seemed to bore through him…



Unfocused? Grey? No way!

Dudley was bewitched!

In the intervening seconds between Harry realising that Dudley's eyes were the wrong colour, and that he was under the Imperius Curse, the ward door slammed open and Harry briefly saw a flash of red hair before he suddenly remembered he had a wand. Clutching it tightly, he forced himself to cast "Expelliarmus" non-verbally, and was satisfied to see Dudley stumble away from him, surprised.

"Get your hands off him, you fat lump!" It was Ginny, Harry noted with intense relief. She had her eyes on Dudley, her wand raised threateningly. Dudley just stared at her, his eyes greedy with vacant malice, before he slowly advanced on her.

Instinctively, Harry threw his wand up to curse Dudley before he even got near her, but this was a mistake. Dudley reacted with all his boxer's instincts, gripping Harry's wrist and twisting it, sending further waves of agony up his arm and forcing him to drop his wand, which Dudley promptly caught. Astonished to see Dudley Dursley holding a wand – an item which had never failed to inspire terror in him during the entire time Harry had known he was a wizard – it was nothing compared to the shock of seeing him turn the wand on Ginny and roar, "CRUCIO!"

Ginny reacted admirably, clearly just as astonished as everyone else at the developments, but deflected the curse quickly before firing back her own hex. Dudley managed to block it with the Shield Charm, and Harry was simply gobsmacked to witness his former girlfriend duke it out with his fat, spoiled cousin in a Wizard's Duel. The resulting casualties happened to be the two Aurors who had come to see what the commotion was, having been Stunned by two perfectly aimed Stunners from Dudley. His magical skill seemed to stem directly from the curse, but Harry was starting to wonder exactly who was controlling him this expertly, and was this aware of what was going on – such as when to have Dudley duck and when to have him fight back.

His eyes scanned the room, looking for signs of perhaps a Disillusionment Charm, or an Invisibility Cloak. But inevitably, they were drawn back to Ginny Vs Dudley, as the fiery-haired witch struck Dudley hard in the face with a Furnunculus Jinx, causing him to sprout unseemly boils all over his podgy cheeks. Harry took the immediate opportunity to snatch his own wand from Dudley's hand, raise it at him and cry, "STUPEFY!"

The curse hit Dudley square in the chest, and he floated for a few seconds in a standing position, before crumpling the floor. Harry's eyes immediately scanned the room, but all he could discern was a quiet popping noise, only barely perceptible over his own heart hammering in his chest, which signified that someone had Disapparated.

What followed a few seconds of absolute silence, punctuated only by the noises that came from the rest of the hospital, as well as Harry and Ginny's heavy breathing. Finally, Harry felt it was time someone broke the weary silence, and he spoke up with a heavy heart. "He was… under the Imperius Curse, I think… I'm sure of it, I heard someone Disapparate from this very room!" His voice grew steadily stronger and more panicked, the more he said, and the Healer was not slow to realise exactly what he'd just said.

"Mr Potter, I assure you, our security is…"

"There was someone here, someone controlling Dudley! There's no way he could be that good a duelling without being a puppet to someone who was equally as good!"

"Mr Potter… while I admit – grudgingly – that it is possible to Disapparate from rooms in the hospital on this floor – mostly to allow our Healers a chance to escape any dangerous situations – you could only go as far as the hallways, so…"

"Then alert security! Whoever they were, they were invisible, and you need to set traps or something on the nearest Apparition point!" Harry was fuming with rage at the scepticism of the Healer, but it appeared he was coming around to Harry's point, albeit gradually.

"You're quite certain Dudley Dursley was incapable of such Duelling on his own? Perhaps he's been practicing on his own?"

"How is that possible? He's a Muggle!"

The Healer seemed absolutely astonished at this news, as he stared at Harry, then to the limp form of Dudley on the floor, and then to Ginny and finally Harry again. "A Muggle?"


He simply nodded, conjuring a note out of thin air and scrawling a message onto it, before charming it to fly to wherever it was he wanted to send the message to. It was the same system that was used in the Ministry of Magic, and Harry wasn't surprised to see him use it.

It was Ginny, however, who provided the most interesting point and the one Harry had meant to ask about as soon as the security situation was resolved. "Healer… er…"

"Alexandros" the Greek man said with a small smile.

"Healer Alexandros… I didn't realise you could use the Imperius Curse to give a Muggle magical ability…" She was frowning and looking down at Dudley, and Harry realised for the first time just how simply astonishing she looked with the afterglow of battle on her cheeks. Her freckled cheeks were a delicious-pink colour, and her tousled red locks framed her dancing chocolate eyes, alight with the thrill of the fight, and dragged out the deepest and most powerful emotions from them.

Still wondering exactly where the poetry had come from, Harry snapped his attention back to Healer Alexandros when he astonished both he and Ginny with some truly dumbfounding news.

"Well… you can't I'm afraid… for that spell to work the way it did, the victim would almost certainly have to have some magical ability in his blood…"

This left Harry and Ginny gaping at each other, with Harry's head reeling from the astonishment of it all. His eyes travelled to his bloated cousin, lying unconscious on the floor, as his mind struggled to process this most shocking information.

Dudley Dursley was a wizard?

Meanwhile, miles way, in a much darker and unhealthier place, another person who was unfortunately bound up in Dudley Dursley's sad story was thrown unceremoniously into his cell in Azkaban, hitting the stone floor painfully and immediately clutching his throbbing head, still bruised from being waylaid with the Stunner.

Draco Malfoy blinked away his pain as his escort from the Apparition point turned on their heels and stalked off, slamming the cell door shut behind them. He groaned audibly as he moved his head to better take in his cell, feeling his brain cry out in process at being asked to look and move at the same time.


The incredulity in that voice cut Draco to the core, as did its familiarity. He slowly revolved on the spot, taking in the fairly clean nature of the cell before his eyes fell on the double bunk bed and upon the man sitting on the lower one, his blonde hair falling around his truly astonished face. Draco felt immediately sick to see him, and completely unsure of how to react.

"Father…" he spluttered, completely at sea. Lucius Malfoy just smiled darkly, and spoke to him with a highly condescending tone.

"Not even a Death Eater for a year and already you're in Azkaban… dear, dear, Draco, I'm certain I raised you better that this…" He shook his head as though disappointed, and this stung Draco to the core.

"That's a bit rich, Lucius, considering how you've been in here for my entire tenure as a Death Eater. And, I'll have you know, I'm being sentenced on some trumped-up charge for having assisted in the murder of Professor Dumbledore… capturing the Malfoy son is the latest Ministry success, apparently…"

"And how exactly did they capture you, Draco? Were you too busy ogling the girls you were supposed to be killing? I suspect it was some failing of your age, some inability to call upon the Malfoy nobility… or worse, you were beaten by that Mudblood cretin, Harry Potter?"

Draco stared viciously at his father. Azkaban had certainly twisted his judgement, but it also interested Draco to know just how far out of the loop his father was after his cock-up in the Department of Mysteries. He didn't even know about the assault tonight.

"How's your mother?" he asked abruptly, and Draco was hit by a wave of nausea he hadn't expected.


He stared into the cold grey eyes of his father, and suddenly found himself unwilling to tell Lucius. That slice of revenge was his alone. When he re-entered Voldemort's service, it wouldn't be Lucius who would head the division designed to bring about the death of Ron Weasley and his entire blood-traitorous, vermin-infested family. It would be him, Draco.

"She's fine, father; perfectly fine. We'll see her in a week…"

"A week?" Lucius asked in surprise. "She's going to come and visit? Isn't that… that's plain reckless… I must write her and discourage her from this particular…"

"No, father; Mother isn't coming her to visit. But the Dark Lord is, and he's bringing his explosive along for the party."

Ah, Draco. One of my favourite characters. I hope I portrayed him OK, as I've never tried him before. Any problems with it, be sure to let me know!