Disclaimer: I do not own any of the spells, characters (apart from Leo and Elizabeth), or situations herein. Credit to JKRowling and whoever else owns the HP books.

Warning: There are descriptions of blood loss, limb amputation and general violence within, so just be warned, it really isn't too graphic.

LIFE AFTER DEATH:

Chapter Thirteen: First Blood.

"That's her taken care of," the man muttered to himself, a hint of a laugh behind his voice as he turned his gaze to the small boy. He was the spitting image of his father, except for the fact that the boy was leaning over his mother and crying, and the Dark Lord never cried. It was quite amusing when he thought about it, the image of the Dark Lord breaking down at the sight of the fallen redhead. His outrage would be quite magnificent, he couldn't see him remaining calm since he had been outsmarted, and his failure would lead to the girls' destruction. Revenge was sweet, especially since he was going to gain an entire army out of it.

"Mummy? Mummy?" Leo repeated over and over as he tried to shake Ginny awake, but to no avail.

"Step away from her now, boy," he ordered coldly, "she won't wake for a while. Now, move." He drew his wand from his robes and pointed it straight at Leo with a threatening glint in his eyes.

Leo still didn't budge, he wanted to stay near his mother, even though she was unconscious he still felt safer being near her. "No!" he said stubbornly. "You hurt my Mummy!"

He was about to curse the boy until Zokori, his House Elf, entered the bedroom looking overly alert and greatly distressed. "M-Master…" he said breathlessly, waving his long, green finger feverishly behind him, "the Dark Lord is arriving!"

"Ah! Excellent!" the man said triumphantly. "Things are finally falling into place… now, Zokori," he said commandingly, making the House Elf stand to attention, "I give you permission to use your magic, go and deal with those other house elves."

"Yes, Master."

Once the vile House Elf had left the room, he turned back to Leo, who still clung to his mother side desperately. "I told you to move away from her, now!" he shouted, and it made Leo jump with surprise, but all he did was glare back at the hooded man once recovered from the shock. "You choose to be insolent, then I'll punish your mother instead!" He lifted his wand again with sharp precision, and shouted "Crucio!"

Ginny's unconscious body began writhing terribly, her limbs moving in a nightmarish, disjointed fashion. Leo could only look upon his comatose mother in unmasked horror, and it wasn't until Ginny began screaming in her inert state that Leo leapt into action.

"Stop it!" he screamed. "Leave my Mummy alone!"

The whole atmosphere of the room began changing in that single moment as Leo stood by his mother snarling at the man with absolute contempt ridden into his features. Things started flying about the room, objects of blunt and sharp nature swirling dangerously about them, windows smashed, and the air smelled like an electrifying storm was about to unleash its unmerciful wrath upon them.

But, the hooded man disregarded it all and laughed shrilly, as if he hadn't laughed in along time and his voice box wasn't used to the effort. "What are you going to do? Kick me in the shin? You're just a little boy!" he ridiculed scornfully, laughing again as he bellowed another "Crucio!" at Ginny.

Leo screamed "stop it!" again as Ginny's disjointed movements continued with even more fervour. A red glow suddenly surrounded the child, his anger increasing with every second that Ginny was in pain, and when the mans' shrill, cold laughter pitched, Leo roared with rage and ran the black-cladded man daringly.

At first he was quite shocked at the boys' reaction, but he quickly gathered himself and flung a Stunning Curse at the charging child. "Merlin!" the man gasped in awe as his spell bounced off Leo as if it were nothing but a fly, and it was thrown at the wardrobe, making it burst open and splinter fiercely.

"You won't hurt my Mummy!" Leo snarled.

"You can't do anything to me!" the man said as if offended, but there was doubt in his tone, and it made him remember that, even though the boy was soft, he was still the Dark Lord's son and that made him a descendant of Salazar Slytherin; of course his magic would be powerful, however dormant it was! "I'll kill your mother, boy!" he shouted. "So, step back! Avada Keda - !"

Leo ran faster, and screeched a deafening cry, and the last thing the man saw was a blinding flash of white light as he was thrown full force into the wall behind him, a resounding crack thumping through his head. Leo was thrown back too, but he landed right by Ginny, unconscious with an unaware and innocent face once again.

The room settled into its original state of calmness, and the objects that had been zooming about the air above the three immediately clattered back to the ground; a wooden brush hit Leo's shin, a velvet and satin pillow fell onto the disguised mans' head, and a few of Ginny's toilette items fell onto her abdomen. The splintered wardrobe was in absolute ruin, with all of Tom's cloaks, suits, and dinner jackets strewn about the room as if they had been simply discarded without a moments thought. Despite the powerful activity of the room having completely ceased in tune with Leo's consciousness, there was one thing in the bedroom which still quivered with life, and that was the man who caused all the mess.

He was shuddering against the hard wall, but not because he was cold or scared, he was shuddering with raw anger, and he was going to direct it at the unaware boy. How dare he? he thought vehemently. A mere boy attacking someone of my power like that! He got to his feet with some needed effort, and he soon realised that his left arm was broken with a dissatisfied grunt, and his right ankle felt twisted. No matter, I won't need them to use my wand.

"You little brat…" he growled maliciously, his pale face contorted with an ugly, murderous look as he limped awkwardly over to the boy. How could he feel so weak?! How could a boy of his age have power like that?! He could become more powerful than the Dark Lord his own father well, I'll just have to eradicate this problem right now, along with his harridan of a mother. "It's a shame," the man said sibilantly, a smug edge to his tone as he stood tall over the much smaller child. He raised his wand slowly, the way a masked executioner lifted their sharp, deadly axe before striking with the killer blow, preparing to murder the boy with a slick twist of his wrist; quick, painless, but effective. "It is a shame…" he repeated, stalling his wand as if contemplating mercy, "such a powerful child, I would have liked to have raised you as my own, along with your sister, but you are too dangerous… you could turn on me and I shall not risk that…. You will die, by my hand! Avada - !"

"Relashio!" shouted another voice, and a jet of red, stinging sparks flew straight at the man and struck his arm with searing heat. He staggered back, a strange sound in his throat as he dropped his wand and saw his own blood seep out of the wound that appeared on his arm. "I wouldn't do that if I were you, Snape!"

The man paused his movements to retrieve his wand, and felt around his head; his hood had fallen from his face. No matter, he thought, that bastard may have surprised me, but he'll regret it! "Hmm," he scoffed, "you finally made it then? Well, you're too late…" he sneered coldly.

Tom moved into the bedroom and glanced at where Ginny and Leo were laying motionless, but he knew they weren't dead, he had seen enough to confirm that. "I don't think so, you pathetic excuse for a wizard," Tom laughed his sharp, cruel laugh. "Felled by a boy!"

Snape's face muscle twitched, a vein in his head throbbing with anger at Tom's insult, but he calmed himself, the Dark Lord was the one who should be fuming. Now, he merely smirked back at his enemy. "I'll admit, the boy took me by surprise," he conceded, "but when he turns that power on you, you won't be laughing as easily as you do now!"

"The child won't turn on me," Tom replied surely, his cool smirk mirroring Snape's. " I am his… role model, shall we say?"

Snape laughed this time, but it was dark and mocking. "Until your little redheaded Weasel over there turns him," he snarled persistently. "Oh, I am the Great Traitor, but she is so much more, why she could have been a Slytherin."

"Ginny is loyal to me," Tom muttered, standing more serious now. "She obeys me, she can't hide anything from me."

"So soft… so soft, it's quite a shame, really," Snape said derisively. "Little Miss Weasley over there would have been the cause for your downfall," he said slowly, keeping the Dark Lord's attention until he was sure his ankle was better, "had I not stepped in for her!" He picked up his wand in a quick flash, and shouted a curse.

Tom yelled "Protego!" and the purple light heading for him rebounded and struck the four-poster, causing it to burst into flames. He sneered vexedly and shot his own violent curse in Snape's direction, and within a few minutes they were in the midst of an all out duel, the winner only coming out with his life.

The room was amass with flashing lights, explosions, and smoke coming from all directions of destruction caused by rebounded curses. Ginny and Leo still remained unconscious, their skin blackened with the fire's smoke, and a few cuts from splintered wood, but somehow they were still unharmed. Tom noticed his wife and son again, and managed to get his shoulder slashed by one of Snape's hexes.

"Damn!" he snapped, ignoring the blood splashing down his arm as he fired the Blasting Curse at his opponent, who easily dodged it, but had moved away from the prone figures of Ginny and Leo. Tom smirked and fired the same curse again and again until they had both circled the room, leaving Tom in Snape's place, and Snape in Tom's.

"Ha! You can't protect them and fight me at the same time" he roared with laughter, and Tom saw his opening; all was fair in love and war, and in this case, striking when his enemy was acting like a fool.

"Impedimenta!" he yelled, the force of his jinx and the hatred of the person he was casting it at made it all the more powerful, and Snape was sent flying into the oak chest of drawers, which he smashed painfully through. Tom lifted his wand again to cast the Killing Curse, but then he remembered that he needed the location of Elizabeth. He faced Ginny and Leo instead, and muttered "Mobilicorpus." He watched their sleeping bodies float up into standing position away from the hot flames, and into the guarded corner of the room. "Protego Totalum," he hissed. And once he was sure they were safe, he slashed his wand through the air in the direction of the bed and the flames immediately ceased.

Snape groaned, and shook his head, thankful that he hadn't landed on his broken arm, and he shook his head to try and get rid of the dizziness. How could I have let my guard down like that? Well, he won't get lucky again! He used his wand to remove the pieces of broken wood off himself and wondered in amazement how his back hadn't broken.

"Come on and get up, already! Tom said impatiently, the look on his face haughty and scornful. "I've decided to have a little fun with you, it's been a while since I've had a duel with an able opponent."

Snape finally pushed himself up into standing position with a leering face and a contemptuous stance. "Your cavalier attitude shall be the end of you, you'll regret allowing me to time to recover," he sneered. And with a quick slashing movement, his wand shot out another deadly, unearthly purple light, but Tom quickly threw the spell aside with a simple flick.

"Is that all?" Tom said dismissively, and he flicked his wand once more, issuing another set of fiery red sparks zooming towards Snape, who deflected the spell as easily as Tom had done.

Snape's face lit up then with a sudden realisation as he continued to throw aside Tom's spells. "Come on," he goaded, "you could do better than that," he taunted, throwing his own hex. "Or you're not planning to kill me, eh? Of course, you want to know where your precious daughter is!" Tom snarled in response and threw another Impediment Jinx at his enemy, but this time Snape rebounded it back, and the curse hit Tom with full force, flinging him against the wall just as painfully as Snape. "The only problem is," laughed Snape harshly, "I'm duelling to kill!"

Tom staggered to his feet, recovering quicker than Snape had, and he looked up in just enough time to see furious, blazing flames shoot out of the end of his opponent's wand. The fire roared, blowing ash everywhere as it galloped toward him with amazing speed in the form of a Chimaera, eating everything flammable in its path. The heat of it was almost unbearable, and for the first time in his life, Tom felt the need to scream. There isn't enough time to repel it!

The fire drew closer, the Chimaera bellowing ferociously as the flames licked at his flesh painfully. Then, suddenly, "Protego horriblis!" The flames rushed through Tom, swallowing him up as the fire blasted through the wall of the manor, a sudden rush of wind blowing the smoke and dust all about the bedroom.

Snape smirked once there was no sign of the enemy, and muttered that counter-curse, the Chimaera disappeared mid-flight in an instant as the caster stood triumphantly. "And so I win," he muttered. "Foolishly, but a win all the same."

"I wouldn't start celebrating just yet, Severus!" Tom's voice came sharp and enraged from somewhere in the thick fog of smoke and ash. "It'll take more than Fiendfyre to get ride of me!" And before Snape knew what was happening a blue light blasted through the dust and sliced cleanly through his broken, left arm.

An ear-splitting scream pierced the air as Snape's arm thumped pathetically to the floor, blood spurting messily over the ground and pooling into a puddle. Tom's cruel laugh rang throughout the bedroom as Snape's screams ceased to be replaced by low and painful erratic panting. "I may not be aiming to kill, but I can remove all your limbs until you beg for mercy," he sneered murderously as he stepped out of the smoke and moved toward the wounded Snape, who still held his wand tightly, his only lifeline.

He laughed still, jerkily so, but it ended in coughing up blood. "You should have aimed for this arm… Sectumsempra!"

Tom stared in bewilderment. "'Sectum' what? Ahh!" he shouted with pain as the spell connected with only his side, but a couple of gashes were agonising enough coupled with the stinging after effect.

"Dammit! I missed!" Snape hissed as he watched Tom's blood merely trickle; the cuts weren't deep enough. That should have been enough, his mind panicked, that child's blow must have weakened me more than I thought!

"So…" Tom growled, "you've got a few tricks, well, so do I, and you'll regret using that curse!" But, before Tom could complete his own spell, Snape twirled his wand hastily and screamed his hex, and army of arrows shot out dangerously towards Tom, who quickly dodged them, and threw his curse back at him, the duel getting back into full flow once more.

In the far corner of the bedroom, Ginny was slowly starting to wake, her eyes flying open as she heard explosions and smelt smoke. She groaned as she tried to sit up, her muscles were aching all over for some unidentified reason, but she lifted herself all the same, and she saw Tom duelling… he was duelling Professor Snape! Yet, somehow, she wasn't really surprised, and there wasn't time to dwell on the revealed identity anyway. She gasped then as she saw Leo laying a few centimetres away from her, and blanched as she didn't remember him being asleep. She crawled over to him and checked his pulse, sighing in relief as she found that he was still alive.

Ginny held him in her arms, and stroked his head lovingly; she could only imagine what had happened while she lay on the floor, helpless. Then her gaze went back to the heated duel going on in front of her; neither one seemed to be letting up. But, did she really want to Tom to win anyway? Didn't she want him dead? Yet, if Tom died, she surmised, that would mean she would also perish, and that simply couldn't happen because her children needed her, Ron and Hermione needed her!

She resolved herself, and stood with determination. She had to help Tom.

The duel was escalating, and Snape wasn't sure whether he could hold out for much longer, it was time to end this and use the Killing Curse, if he could… but then he had a sudden, cunning and brilliant idea, he couldn't believe he had forgotten about it! He swirled his wand as if painting a fine picture, and suddenly a bright, blinding flash of white light enveloped Tom, whose eyes widened at this unknown spell.

Tom gasped, panicking again at this surprise attack, it was another one of Snape's tricks! But it was too late, the spell had done its job, the light had rendered Tom blind to everything coming his way, including the green light of the Killing Curse! "And, now you will die!" Snape bellowed dramatically. "Ha, I don't even know why I didn't think of that in the beginning. Avada Keda - ahhh!"

Snape's screams tore through the air again, but they sounded strange and gurgled, as if he was screaming through liquid. "What the hell?" Tom barked, and he heard Snape roar "y-you… wench…! How dare - ah - you…!" His voice choked suddenly but there was fear behind the bitter tone, and Tom could imagine him clutching at his throat in desperation, it sounded like he was being strangled or something.

Then all noise stopped after the sound of sharp breath expelling a desperate gurgle, and then a thump reached Tom's hearing, and the bright light began to subsidise, his vision returning when he heard another sound, a sob. "G-Ginny?" he said unsurely, and he staggered forward, blinking rapidly to get rid of the green and blue spots flashing in front of his eyes.

Sure enough, there sat Ginny beside the lifeless body of Severus Snape in a heap and crying violently; there was an arrow pierced through his pale neck, straight through his jugular, with blood pouring rapidly out of the fatal wound. Tom stared down at Ginny with admiration, it was her first kill and he hadn't even witnessed it, but he could see the after effects. She was spattered with that worthless scum's blood.

He kneeled beside her and placed his hand on her shoulder, ignoring the dull pain in his, but she flinched sharply away from him, sobbing even harder. "Ginny, it's me, Tom," he said clearly, moving over to her again, and she looked up at him, sniffing, both their faces covered in ash, but hers had tear stains running down her cheeks.

"I-I killed… P-Professor Sn-Snape…" she said weakly.

"I know," he replied softly, drawing her close, and having blood on her conscience seemed to make her all the more appealing to him. Now, she could understand and relate with him. "And if you hadn't," he murmured, "he would have killed the children, so don't cry over it."

Ginny looked over at Snape with wide eyes, and clutched at Tom, her body falling against his, forgetting his words. "H-How could I…?" she whispered, new tears falling and splashing onto Tom's dirty shirt. "I killed another p-person…."

"Ginny, if you hadn't killed him, you would have died," Tom said soothingly, "he would have taken Leo and slit his throat mercilessly." Ginny recoiled at the violent imagery, but looked up at him again. "Now we'll be able to find Elizabeth."

"L-Lizzy?" she said as if just remembering. "Oh… my poor baby…" she rested her head against Tom's chest, and cried now for a different reason; what if Lizzy was dead? Snape could have been lying to her for all she knew. "We have to find her quickly, Tom!"

He stood then, holding Ginny up with him as he became more serious. "It'll be easier to locate her now, the caster of the spell is dead," Tom muttered firmly, "only I was planning to get the location out of him." He gestured to Snape's lifeless body, which seemed even whiter than before.

Ginny stared sorrowfully, but Tom guessed that it was less to do with killing Snape and more to do with locating their missing daughter, but then her eyes lit up. "No, he brought his House Elf with him, he went off with Snape to take care of our house elves. They were fighting," Ginny explained at Tom's questioning look. "He'll know where Lizzy is!" she said excitedly.

Tom looked down at her appreciatively, and stroked the side of her face, before pulling her in for a fiery kiss, and Ginny forgot all about the body on the floor and kissed Tom back, his hands pulled her body closer to his and hers settled around his neck as they celebrated the end of that nightmare together. But, it wasn't over just yet, they hadn't got Elizabeth back yet. Tom withdrew from Ginny, and smirked his triumphant smirk as he revelled in Ginny's murderous capabilities.

"What about Leo? I don't know what happened… but, he's unconscious," Ginny said quietly, worriedly. "I seemed to have missed a lot."

Tom scoffed. "You did," he muttered as he walked over to Leo, "you did." He picked his son up with ease, and with a proud air as he handed him over to Ginny, who held him close. "Don't worry, he'll be fine, I'll get Lucius to send a medic over while I find this House Elf."

"Tom, he isn't going to betray his Master though, is he?" Ginny said doubtfully. "He is a House Elf."

"Everybody has a price. Even house elves," Tom replied smugly.

Ginny nodded shortly. "What are you going to do if you get the location?"

"When I get the location, I will gather some of my followers, just in case, and retrieve our daughter," he stated, "and bring her back to your waiting arms." He lifted his wand at her suddenly. "Scourgify,"he muttered, and he smirked, "that's better." Ginny looked down at herself and Leo, they were clean again, and she watched Tom say the spell again with the wand pointed at himself. The effects were instantaneous. "I should get going. Take him to bed, Ginny." He kissed her once more, and sprinted from the bedroom in haste.

Ginny stared after him, then sighed, finally, she was going to have her baby back. Before leaving the demolished room, she looked back at the white figure of her former Potions Professor and whispered "I'm so sorry…."

---------------------------------------------------

Lizzy had been found in a battered cradle at the location the House Elf had choked out, his big, yellow eyes bulging as he betrayed his dead Master. From what Ginny could gather, the place was a desolate, and uninhabitable house on the outskirts of East London, just by the River Thames. But, the little baby was completely healthy, and as happy as when Ginny had last saw her, which made her just as happy as the child.

Tom had returned to the Manor, with Lizzy against his chest, looking like some sort of twisted, dark hero, especially with the red raw gash on his once flawless cheek. But, Ginny only had eyes for her daughter once she was placed into her arms; she supposed it would have been a touching scene were it not for Leo lying unconscious in his bedroom still, for reasons she wasn't entirely clear on. All she knew was that when Leo had finally woken up, Tom patted him on the head and looked upon him proudly, the way a father should look at their son. She had almost cried with joy upon witnessing that.

That was why, a few weeks later, she was questioning whether she could really go through with Hermione's plan. She did want her brother and friend to be free, of course she did, and she wanted Tom's reign of terror to come to an end, but whether she wanted it to result in his death… she didn't know. But, there were so many other things involved, people were involved, namely her children. Leo had been desperate for his fathers' attention, she didn't know if she could just take that away from him now that he had it, and then Lizzy would never even know him. Then she wondered whether she really wanted them to know Tom, to recognise him as their father. Was he really deserving of his children? No, she thought, he really wasn't. But, it wasn't her right to decide for her children, even though she was their mother.

There were other things too. He seemed to be changing for the better, he hadn't ruined any families for a while as far as she knew, and the last time he'd left a city in ruins was about a year ago. It still didn't excuse his behaviour though. But, when Lizzy had been taken from them, he was the only thing which seemed to make any sense, he'd been the proper husband and consoled her when she needed to be consoled, he held her when she needed to be held. He'd returned Lizzy to her waiting arms just like he promised, and had even acted like a proper father throughout the whole ordeal.

But, Tom was still Lord Voldemort, for he could be the nicest person when he wanted to be, but whenever he lost his patience with her, she'd get a glimpse of the tyrant that lived within him, his true self. He was always 'Tom' to her, but she knew that once killing was involved, he was 'Lord Voldemort' to everyone else. Reckless, homicidal, practically a maniac. But, there was always going to be 'buts', he'd ensured that when he made her become pregnant, he knew her well enough to believe that she'd question herself if she ever thought of betraying him.

He was a sly, sly, Slytherin bastard.

Yet, she thought with a wry smile, I can't even resist him sometimes…. He had walked past her eyesight when she thought that, and had given her a devilish smirk. She turned away from him so her back faced him as he sifted through some items in the drawer of his bedside table.

"Tired, Ginny?" he questioned in a casual voice.

"Yes, a bit," she lied, her back still to him.

"Oh, that's a shame," he said sardonically. Ginny rolled her eyes, he probably just wanted to sleep with her, not that her voicing her drowsiness had ever stopped him before. "Your brother and the Mudblood," she sighed irritably, "have just completed their first mission, and were wondering whether they could see you. But, if you're too tired, they'll just have to wait until the end of their second mission."

"What? Oh, no, I'm not that tired," she said brightly, sitting up again to look at him.

"No, you need to rest if you are tired," he said, and she could see with some frustration the playful glint in his cold blue eyes. "Lizzy will probably wake during the night, then you'll be tired for breakfast tomorrow."

"I really don't mind, Tom," Ginny insisted with a smile.

"But, wouldn't you rather spend some time with our daughter?" he said pointedly, and she could already see the shadow of a smirk at the corner of his mouth. "After all, she has only been returned to us recently."

"She is sleeping at the moment," Ginny replied, having to bite her tongue to stop herself from saying something really insolent. "And, I'll have to wait until they return again, and Merlin knows how long that's going to be. Lizzy won't even know I'm gone."

"Perhaps our son will benefit from a visit from his mother instead?" he questioned, the look on his face knowing she was growing impatient.

"I read to him this afternoon, Tom," she said exasperatedly. "Will you please just let me visit them? I won't come back late, I promise."

His smirk finally crossed his mouth, and once he was sure that he had Ginny in the palm of his hand, he nodded. "Fine, you may visit them," he said clearly.

"Thank you," she sighed in relief.

"My pleasure, Ginevra, there is a carriage waiting outside for you." He grabbed her arm before she could leave the room, and pulled her to him. "Don't be late," he ordered.

"I won't," and to ensure her departure, she reached up and kissed him gently on the lips. "Bye, Tom."

-------------------------------------------------------

Ginny stepped out of the wooden oak carriage, the footman took her hand as she stepped down onto the gravel driveway that led to the door of Ron and Hermione's house. The garden looked as though it was being cared for since her last visit when the grass had been near brown, and the plants had been lifeless. The small, square house looked in better shape too, and it seemed as though it had been repainted.

The portly looking footman bashed the ugly-shaped door knocker three times before standing back a bit behind Ginny. The butler answered the door after a few moments, and gestured them inside. "Wait by the carriage, Howell," Ginny instructed in a gentle voice. "I'm not going to be too long."

"Yes, my Lady," he replied, bowing elaborately before making his way back to the carriage.

Ginny stepped inside house, and took off her cloak, and before she knew what was happenning, she was being Rugby-tackled by Ron, who squeezing so tightly she thought she would burst. "I... can't... breathe, Ron!" she choked.

"Sorry, Gin," he said sheepishly, letting go of her. "Hermione and I heard about Snape, and we just didn't know whether you were OK or not. Besides, you don't visit that much anymore..."

"Well, I have been busy, even though you might not think so, but I can't find that stupid Contract, anywhere," she said irritably. "And then, Snape comes along and kidnaps my daughter, so, as you can see, I've been distracted."

"Hi, Ginny," another voice rang through the hallway, and further down, poking her bushy head out round a doorframe, was Hermione. Ginny repeated the greeting back as Hermione came out from the room she had been occupying, and hugged Ginny almost as tightly as Ron had. "I was really worried... When we heard about Snape trying to kill you, I lost my head a bit," she said with a weak smile, then she straightened up. "If only he could have helped us out before going insane, and then he had to go and get himself killed by the Dark Lord; as if he stood a chance."

Ginny grinned at the last part, obviously that was what the Contract had made her say. But, then she realised what Hermione had said just before that; "get himself killed by the Dark Lord." She had killed Snape, not Tom... she guessed that he had been telling all his followers that he had done the deed, and she didn't really care, she didn't want anything to do with murder anymore. But, should she tell Ron and Hermione, they were family, yet she did not think that she could handle the looks on their faces if she did admit to it. She sighed, and decided that she would just continue to let them believe it was all Tom's handiwork.

"Snape's always been insane," Ron replied to Hermione's comment in a distasteful tone, proving that any mention of the old Potions professor could still bring forth the sour look occupying his face at the very moment; it was rather funny when Ginny looked close enough. "Anyway, I don't care if he would've offered his help because I wouldn't accept it; he betrayed us, if you don't remember."

"Look, we can't stand around nattering," Ginny said insistently. "I've got to back soon."

"Ginny's right," Hermione muttered, "let's sit in the living room." They went through the door closest to the front door, and sat on the plump, soft-looking chairs before speaking again.

"Tom said that you just came back from a mission," Ginny began quietly, looking to both of them curiously since they seemed to have become startled at her choice of conversation. "What's wrong?" she said nervously. "Ron? H-Hermione?"

"Ron looked down, and she noticed his body tense up. "That's right," he said through gritted teeth. "He sent us on a mission... but -."

"B-But, we aren't allowed to talk about it," Hermione whispered, and for all that she tried to hide it, she looked ashamed.

"What did he make you do?" Ginny said worriedly, but she shook her head; they couldn't tell her even if they wanted to. "Whatever it is, is it really worth all this, is it really worth trying to defeat Tom?"

They both looked at her, Ron's eyes angry as though he wanted to profess his absolute and utter loathing of the man he was forced to call 'Master'. Hermione's were just desperate, also calling out to Ginny and saying to her what her mouth could not. She felt so sorry for them all of a sudden and wondered whether they would have been better off dying that fateful night. Whatever Ginny thought about her situation with Tom, it had to be a whole lot better than how Ron and Hermione were tied to him. Tom could make them murder people if he wanted to... Perhaps, she thought, that's what their mission was...

"I-If he forced you to..." she swallowed loudly, trying to stop herself from crying, "k-kill people, it's not your fault, you have to obey him or you'll die yourself. You couldn't have known that he would make you do such a thing." At least you didn't kill someone of your own free will.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Ron and Hermione mulling over Ginny's words until they felt ready to talk properly again, and Ginny was thinking about how cruel Tom could really be. She couldn't believe she had forgotten how nasty he was.

Ron coughed nervously. "W-Well," he began once more, making the two women look up at him, "let's not talk about that anymore. Hermione and I have something important to tell you about the Contract." All three leaned in closer to each other in a secretive fashion. "See, we can talk about it now since he has changed the whereabouts of it."

"What...?" Ginny said dumbly. "Why didn't you say something as soon as you saw me, you dolt?!"

Ron flinched. "S-Sorry."

"We can talk about it," Hermione interjected, "but not about where it is. Because we can't betray our... Master's wishes..." she ground out.

"What, you mean you actually know where it is?" Ginny gasped excitedly.

"Yeah," Ron answered, "we were there when he hid it, we had to be there when he hid it."

"You were there?" she said in bewilderment. "How strange..."

"We can also tell you that... unfortunately, it's not a piece of paper anymore," Hermione sighed, but Ginny couldn't see anything in her eyes that could suggest where it could be. "But," she looked worriedly at Ron, "it can still be destroyed."

Ron nodded in a solemn manner, and Ginny wondered why they seemed so sad about the Contract being broken; she could only put it down to having to act like it would be a sad occurence or something of that nature. And it was confusing; it wasn't a sheet of paper anymore, but it could still destroyed... that could only mean that it was another object.

"Hermione said that there are still loopholes," Ron added, "it's still the same Contract, you just can't see the writing and parchment. Anyway, it means we can give you clues about it, but they have to be very subtle..."

"That's right," Hermione said seriously, her gaze fixed on Ginny. "That means you have to listen carefully to everything we say, and watch what we do as well, because we could be giving you hints. We've already given you some."

Ginny gaped at her. "Y-You have?" she said, her ears turning pink. "Oh... I guess I'd better go over the conversation again. But, first, can you tell me whether it's in the Manor?"

"It's not in the Manor," Ron replied.

"Could it be an object then, if not a piece of parchment?"

"Obviously," Hermione answered exasperatedly. "If it's not paper anymore, and it can still be destroyed physically, then it's got to be something you can touch."

Ginny thought for a moment to herself, then realised something that made her a bit uneasy. "Tom didn't tell he'd changed the Contract," she said quietly, almost sounding like a scared little girl. "He didn't say anything about it at all."

"And should he have?" Hermione said bemusedly.

"I-I don't know..." Ginny could feel herself trembling. What if he doesn't trust me anymore? she though hysterically. "I've got to go, I'll think abiut everything we've said when I can," she said hurriedly, her face looking completely terrified. She gave them both a quick hug, and rushed out of the house with Ron and Hermione closely following her hastily, both wondering what had gotten into her as they exchanged shocked looks.

"Ginny," Ron said as soothingly as he could, "calm down -!"

"I've got to leave," she interrupted. "Tom will get even more suspicious of me... oh no... he doesn't trust me anymore, I know it!"

"Snap out of it, Ginny!" Hermione demanded, and she tugged on her friends arm and shook her slightly. "Listen... women have secrets, they share them with their friends normally. When men have secrets, the general idea is to keep it to themselves, and this is the Dark Lord we're talking about here."

"It's true," Ron said reassuringly, and he pulled his sister into a warm hug. "It'll be OK... keep it together for us, we know you're strong."

Ginny sniffed as Ron let her go. "Th-Thanks, Ron, I needed that," she muttered, her voice quivering with panic. "I don't know what I was thinking. But, I do have to go, it's getting late."

"Alright," Ron said gently. "Be careful out there, Ginny."

"You too," she replied, "and you, Hermione."

Hermione smiled, and waved as Ginny walked toward the carriage, and got in, and as it pulled away from the house Ron and Hermione looked at each other with worry before going back inside. As Ginny rode home, that small niggling doubt lay dormant, just for now.

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A/N: I'm really sorry that this took so long, but here it is anyway. I did intent to put more at the end of this chapter involving Ginny's visit to R and H's house, which I have already written, but I really need to sleep now, so I'll edit this chapter tomorrow night or the day after with the visit. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed. Good night… falls asleep.

OK, the next chapter, I have no idea when that's going to be posted, but as you can see I am faithful to my story, and will only give up when I am totally and utterly out of ideas and inspiration, but I plan to complete this fic. It will be my last one because I want to explore original fiction from then on, but fanfiction has helped my writing style improve dramatically. I look over this story, and then Warfare and wonder why the hell anyone actually read it, because the writing is so poor; I have actually redone Chapter 2 of Warfare, but it still has the same story, I've just improved the writing, and I'm looking over Chapter 4 at the moment. So check that out from time to time and spot the changes.

PS. I'm surprised that anyone has given me any reviews at all because I've neglected this fic something terrible. PSS. Check my Livejournal for any chapter info and cookies for chapter 14.