This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros. Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
The End of the Beginning
Ginny stood in the small room waiting for something to happen. A number of deep, rumbling sounds had echoed down the corridor, but it was impossible to tell just what had caused them. Ron had been relieved to see her return, but when he saw that she was alone, his face fell.
"What's happening?" he asked. "Did it work?"
"I don't know," she replied flatly. "Harry and Josef sent me back. They were still working on it when I left."
"What about the cloaked wizard?" he continued. "Do they know where he is? What will they do if he doesn't fall for it?"
"I don't know, Ron," Ginny replied in a strained voice. "You can ask Harry when he gets back."
The room descended into a deep, tense silence. The old man was standing comfortably at the table, paging through a stack of books. In one hand, he was clutching a long bundle of fabric which could only be the broken shards of the Jewel of Darkness. He noticed her staring at it and returned a challenging glance. It felt as if he were trying to ask her if she wanted to take it from him.
A deep rumble shook the stone floor and it took all of Ginny's concentration to keep from crying out. Hermione, who was sitting on the floor with her back against a bookshelf, looked up at Ginny with a sympathetic expression. Slowly, a small tear formed at the corner of one of her eyes and began trickling down her pale cheek. Ginny felt her hope draining away. Before she could turn and run back down the corridor, she heard the sound of boots walking with a slow even pace.
Ron backed away from the door and raised his wand, but Ginny stood her ground. There was no point in running. If it was the cloaked wizard, then no amount of distance would save them. It was best to simply accept fate. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them, she saw a shadow moving toward the doorway. Her heart froze for a moment, then began beating again quickly.
It was Josef. As he walked toward the room, Ginny searched the corridor behind him, but found no sign of Harry. Josef's eyes met hers and his pace slowed.
"Where's Harry?" she asked.
Josef stopped in the doorway and returned a sympathetic expression. "It's done," he whispered as he handed the black stone talisman back to her. "We've got the time we need. We should seal the entrance for now. We can return if we ever find out how to fix or use the Jewel."
"You didn't answer my question," she said in a stronger voice.
"It's over, Ginny," replied Josef. "You're safe now."
"It's not over," Ginny replied, her heart pounding in her chest. "Where is Harry?"
Josef slumped against the wall, stared at her, and slowly shook his head. Fear wrapped an icy hand around her heart. Leaping to her feet, she turned toward Ron and Hermione, unable to speak. Ron was just as shocked, but Hermione had a look of mournful acceptance. More tears rolled down her cheek as she looked at Ginny and nodded slowly. Hermione had known this was going to happen.
"No," Ginny sobbed. "No, he wouldn't— He can't be—" It was getting hard to breathe. "It's not true!" she shouted. Her skin felt hot and cold and numb all at the same time. Everything hurt and yet none of it mattered. She stumbled toward Josef, her jaw clenched tightly to keep herself from crying out. "Where... is Harry?" she asked again.
Josef's eyes returned a look of care and concern. "Harry stayed behind," he explained softly. "He... wanted you to be safe. He wanted us all to be safe, but I know he did it to protect you. He did it so you could finally live your life and be happy."
She dropped her eyes to the floor in an attempt to hide her pain. "Did it... did it take him?" she asked.
"I don't know," Josef replied. "I have to assume it did, but I—"
"You didn't see him die?" she asked.
"No," he replied. "I tried to convince him to follow me. When he wouldn't, I tried to stay and fight with him, but he made me promise to leave and protect you."
Ginny's heart began pounding even harder. "If you didn't see him die, then he might still be alive." She pulled her hood over her head and began walking toward the dark corridor. Josef immediately stopped her and forced her to look up at him.
"It's over, Ginny," he said softly. "Harry wanted it to be this way. This is the way it has to be. I know you're in pain, and you're not thinking clearly."
"Was Harry?" she shot back. "Why didn't you stop him?"
Josef frowned. "You don't understand. He did this—"
"No, you don't understand," she shouted. "This... thing, it never wanted Harry. It wants me. I'm the one it's after. Harry sacrificed himself so I wouldn't have to. I should be the one left behind!" she cried as she pulled away from him. "I'm the only one that can make it stop. We have to go back for him."
"No, you can't," he replied. "The door is sealed."
"I have a key," Ginny said, holding up the black stone talisman.
Josef froze. "You can't use it again, Ginny. Even if he's still alive, that thing is in there with him. If you open the door, it will escape. It will kill Harry, it will kill us, and then it will come for you and there will be no one to stop it. Harry knew that. He did this so you could live your life. You can't go back for him."
"He went back for you!" she shouted, tears burning her eyes. "We all did. He was willing to risk his life for you, even if all he could do was see that you had a proper death."
"Ginny," he said, reaching out to her again. "This is different."
"No, it's not," Ginny said as she spun away from him again and stumbled into the Priest. As the old wizard reached to catch her, she reacted wildly, pushing him away and sending them both to the floor. As she stood up, a glint of light caught her eye. As the old man stumbled backward, he struck the table, toppling his stack of books. From its spot on top of them, the bundle of cloth had fallen to ground, causing one of the corners to unfold and reveal a single gleaming facet of the dark Jewel within. Her eyes locked onto it for only a split second, but the moment seemed to stretch on for minutes. Thoughts of pain and anger began to twist themselves into a desperate plan.
She felt Josef's hand close on her shoulder and heard his voice speaking to her, but her mind paid no attention to the words. She was waiting only for the contact —just the slightest reason to jump to action. With a single convulsive motion, she twisted away, throwing herself to the floor again, though this time her fall wasn't so random. Feeling the brittle edges of ancient, crumpled parchment against her arms, her hands quickly searched for their target. A second later, she found it: a long bundle of rough fabric. Fumbling with it quickly, she felt razor sharp edges brush against her palms. She nimbly pulled both shards of the Jewel from their protective cocoon and slipped them into her pocket. Fending off another attempt to help her to her feet, Ginny folded the cloth into a large ball again and left it near the books.
Once she was back on her feet, Ginny looked around the small chamber. Everyone was looking at her, but their expressions were ones of pity and sadness, not accusation or shock. Her heart was racing. Had none of them seen what she'd done? Josef was speaking to her again, but she still wasn't listening. Her eyes were locked on the corridor.
"Ginny?" Josef called out. "Ginny, just relax for a minute and think, alright?"
"No," she replied, inching toward the doorway. "I'm going back for him."
Ron limped forward to stop her, but Hermione quickly reached out to grab him and hold him back. In the instant Ginny was distracted, Josef had pulled his wand. Before he could cast a spell, she lunged toward him, throwing her shoulder into his stomach. He bent over and stumbled as she recovered and shoved him out of her path. Off balance and taken off guard, he fell forward. He struck the ground and lost the grip on his wand, sending it skidding across the floor to the old man's feet.
"Don't let her leave," Josef commanded, looking at the old man. "You know what is at stake. Don't let her destroy everything you've worked for. You have to stop her."
The Priest simply watched Ginny step closer to the door. "I will not," he said in a firm tone. "We cannot control our fates. It is not my duty to try and change hers."
Encouraged by the man's passive response, Ginny's pace quickened and after she managed to step through the doorway, she turned back one last time to look at the others. Ron was still being held back by Hermione, though it was hard to tell by his expression whether he was worried that Ginny was leaving or sad that he wasn't following her. Josef was visibly upset and he was already scrambling across the room to recover his wand.
Ginny began running down the corridor as quickly as she could. As she ran, her hand slipped into her pocket to ensure that the two shards of the Jewel were still there. Feeling their cold edges against her skin, she hesitated, trying to convince herself that she was doing the right thing. What if Josef was right? If Harry was already gone, what could she hope to accomplish? She already had an answer to that question, but it wasn't easy to accept. Had it finally come to that? Was she really no different from Evelyn in the end? No, a voice inside her replied, she wasn't giving up. She was accepting her fate.
"Ginny, stop," a voice commanded from the direction of the antechamber.
She had waited too long. Josef had caught up to her and he had his wand pointed directly at her, as if he were preparing to hex her. "I'm going back to Harry," she announced in a wavering voice.
"I can't let you do that, Ginny," he said softly. "There have been plenty of sacrifices already. One more isn't going to make things any better."
"You don't know that," she replied. "You've heard him say it before. From the very start, he's always wanted me."
"And you think that if you give him what he wants, he won't destroy the world like he's promised?"
"It's our only chance," she told him. "That chamber won't hold him forever. He'll escape sooner or later, just like he did before."
Josef inched closer to her. "That might take thousands of years."
"And what does that matter?" she replied. "Do you think they'll be able to stop him in a thousand years?"
"Maybe they will," he countered. "We don't know what might happen in the future. We can't fight every battle there might ever be, Ginny. We can only do our part. There will always be great witches and wizards. If he ever escapes from the chamber, I'm sure there will be someone to stop him."
Ginny reached into her pocket to clutch the Jewel. "What if that person is me?" she asked. "What if I'm the one who can stop him and I don't even try? I might be the one responsible for destroying the world. Is my life not worth that? How could I live with that? How could you? Are you willing to risk that?"
Josef replied without hesitation: "Yes."
"I wish I had your confidence," she said, her voice heavy with sadness. She blinked slowly as she looked at him. "It's just not worth it to me, Josef. I didn't think I'd have to explain it to you. I just know that I'm the one who can do this. If it's possible, I have to try. If I don't, then I've condemned Harry to thousands of years of torture. What other choice do I have?"
"Come back with me," he answered immediately, lowering his wand for the first time. "Leave this place. Live your life. Be happy. Don't let Harry's sacrifice be in vain."
"I love him," declared Ginny. "It took me too long to admit that. I lost him once. I can't lose him again."
"You can," Josef said. "You're stronger than that, Ginny. This doesn't have to be the end of your life. You can find someone else to love. He's not the only one who cares about you."
"No," whispered Ginny. "No, Harry's the only—"
"I love you," Josef declared in a clear voice. "I didn't— Until this year, I never really knew what love was. My parents certainly never taught me. But when I saw you at that train station in London, I— There was something about you that I'd never seen before. You were so sad, but when your friends called out to you, you smiled and for the first time, I felt happy. From that day, everything I've done, I did to try and keep you safe. Like you, it took me a long time to realize that I was in love and I don't want to lose that either."
"No," Ginny said weakly, shaking her head as tears ran down her cheeks. "No, no, no. I can't deal with this, not now. I'm sorry, Josef. I have to help Harry before it's too late. We can talk about this later."
"No, we need to talk about it now, Ginny, before you make a big mistake," Josef continued. "All I ever wanted was for you to be happy. This was never my plan, but this is how things have turned out and throwing your life away isn't going to help either of us. This is Harry's fate. He understood that. I think he finally realized that you were never meant for each other."
"No, that's not true. He loved me," she cried.
"Did he?" he challenged her. "Did Harry truly love you? Could you ever really know what drew him to you? He was drawn to you, that much was true, but was it really love? From the moment he first defeated Voldemort, he was poisoned by evil. It has controlled him and shaped him since that night. You heard the Priest. He has been holding a piece of the cloaked wizard for almost twenty years. It's impossible to separate one from the other. They are the same being now. That was Harry's fate. I knew it from the day I met him."
"I don't believe that," Ginny replied. "Harry fought Voldemort for years. If this was his fate, then why didn't it end seven years ago in the Chamber of Secrets? That would have been the perfect time, wouldn't it? Harry fought him then, he fought him again in Little Hangleton, and in the Ministry and at Hogwarts and he always won. I know he's fighting him right now and if there's a chance to save him, I have to try."
Josef raised his wand. "I can't let you do that, Ginny," he warned her. "If you go to him, it will be the death of us all. I don't want to hex you, but I will. I won't let you risk everything I've fought for."
Ginny stared back at him. "Would you rather risk the future of the entire world? What if it's true and I'm the only one who can fix this? You're risking the lives of every future generation of wizards for a few hundred years of safety."
Josef's expression was hard and cold. "That's a price I'm willing to pay. I've sacrificed more than my share already. Let someone else finish my work." He let out a short sigh and aimed his wand. "Please, Ginny. Come back with me. Don't make me do this. I'm tired of attacking the people I care about."
With her eyes still locked on his, she took a step back and watched the muscles in his arm stiffen in preparation. She couldn't leave Harry and couldn't stop Josef. She couldn't win. It was all pointless and yet, she refused to give up. Harry always fought and if she had to fail, then she wanted to do it on her own terms. Josef had always been a good friend to her. He had always protected her. If he truly did care about her, then perhaps he wouldn't have the heart to attack her now.
Ginny took another step away from him. A momentary grimace flashed across Josef's face and his arm coiled to fire off a hex.
Just as Josef began flicking his wand at Ginny, it leaped from his hand, leaving him unarmed and totally surprised. He and Ginny both shifted to look back down the corridor leading back to the antechamber and found Hermione standing there, her wand drawn and ready with a look of stoic resolve on her face. With a growl of frustration, Josef strode toward her and his wand which lay at her feet. A second later, Hermione's wand flashed again.
"Locomotor Mortis!" she shouted.
Josef's legs froze instantly, leaving him in a precarious pose, stuck halfway between Ginny and Hermione and several feet from his wand. He glared at Hermione in helpless anger, then turned back to Ginny with a pleading expression.
"Don't do it, Ginny," he begged her. "You're all that I have left."
"No, I'm not," she replied softly. "Leave this place. Live your life. Be happy. I'm sure you'll find someone else to love. I have to do this for Harry and for you and for every witch and wizard the cloaked wizard has ever touched." She took another step away and watched for Hermione's reaction. Her friend lowered her wand slowly and nodded in grim acceptance.
Turning quickly, Ginny began running down the corridor toward the chamber. She had wasted far too much time already. Perhaps Josef was right and it was already too late. As she spotted the doors at the end of the last stretch of corridor, she forced herself to accept that it no longer mattered. If she was too late, then there was nothing anyone could do. She grabbed a torch from the wall and increased her pace.
Harry felt himself awake suddenly. Though he knew he was conscious, the disorientation he felt was almost suffocating and he could barely see. Stumbling about nearly blind, he managed to find the floor and then his balance. Slowly the shapes around him began to become a little sharper. He was in a decently sized room. There were two darker patches which looked like doors and the walls seemed to curve around him.
His mind desperately searched for some explanation for this. Deep within his thoughts, he knew he had the answers, but no matter how hard he tried, they wouldn't come to the surface. Walking slowly and carefully toward the nearest wall, he spotted something that he instinctually recognized as important. It was a large circle carved into the stone wall and intersected by three other lines. Two of them were short and the one at the very bottom was lengthened to reach down toward a set of other carvings. He found four figures, shaped like people in various poses surrounded by a large snake biting its own tail. Slowly, he reached out toward the bottom-most carving. Its graceful, delicate lines had been painted a pure white and ringed in a crimson halo. His fingers brushed up against the carving and he felt an image flash before his eyes: A beautiful young woman, crying and screaming, her bright red hair glowing with fiery light.
Pain shot down his arm and he jerked his hand back quickly, but the burning, ripping sensation was slow to fade. Grasping his left arm, he backed away from the wall, hoping that might lessen the pain. His foot struck something heavy and he spun around quickly, trying to keep his feet. Lying on the floor was a large chunk of metal, its circular surface polished to a perfect shine. Immediately beyond it was a large floating sphere of black emptiness. The sight of it chilled Harry's blood. Looking into it was like staring into death itself.
His stomach turned and he doubled over with the intense sensations which coursed through him. His arm throbbed as the pain grew. Stumbling away from the dark sphere, he made his way toward the closest doorway. The door was closed and sealed so completely that he couldn't even make out the doors. Stepping back, he began searching for some way to open it and came to an abrupt stop. Stretched across the wall on the far side of the doorway was the portrait of a young woman.
It was her. It was the woman who he'd seen just moments before. Opposing emotions flooded through his body: joy and fury, wrath and relief. As the storm raged inside him, he could do nothing but stare up into her eyes. Who was she? Why was she there? It felt as if he already knew the answers, but they always seemed just out of reach. In their place, new questions rose to the surface. Where was he? How did he get there? Who was he?
A deep grinding noise interrupted his efforts. It wasn't until he noticed the flickering light entering the room that he realized the sound had come from the nearby door. A figure was standing there, holding a flaming torch in one hand. He squinted into the light and saw the face of a young woman glaring at him. Her hair was bright red and her eyes were focused on him with a piercing gaze.
It was her. It was the Angel.
The pain in his arm intensified, but he found that he could no longer move. A hot wind had surrounded him. It seemed to be everywhere, blowing in every direction yet never touching him. The young woman took a step toward him and a dark tide rose up to swallow him. The world swirled away and Harry felt himself fall away into darkness.
"Harry?" Ginny asked as she took another hesitant step into the chamber. He was standing just a short distance away, but he still hadn't said anything to her. He was just standing there, staring at her, his green eyes flickering in time with the flames of her torch.
She paused again, waiting for a response. As the silence stretched on, her thoughts returned to the doorway behind her and the black stone talisman which lay on the sandy floor just outside it. The door was still partially open and she knew it was her only possible escape route. Harry still hadn't responded and Ginny felt her hope beginning to drain away. Was Harry fighting? Was it even possible? Her eyes drifted off to the center of the room and she saw that the golden ring which had been hovering around the dark sphere was broken and scattered across the floor. Harry had fought. The only question left was just how much of him remained. Ginny's attention returned to the door. She hadn't come with the intention to run away. There was no reason to waste time entertaining such thoughts now that she had arrived. If she failed, none of it would matter. Nothing would save her or any of her friends.
"Why have you returned?" Harry asked, though it was not truly Harry.
Ginny's heart felt like it would explode if it beat any faster. She forced herself to take another step toward Harry. "I've come to give you what you wanted."
A curious smile spread across his face. "This is... unexpected," he said. "I must say that I am a little disappointed. You never were the sort to give up so easily. What was the point of all of it, then? All those lives ended, and yet here you are, surrendering yourself to me."
"Not me," Ginny said firmly, "the Jewel of Darkness." She held up her other hand, and in it were the two shards of the Jewel, held together by her tight grip so that they formed a single, long, crystal. "You promised me long ago that if you were given the Jewel, you would spare Harry's life."
The smile on his face widened. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I did."
"I have the Jewel," she announced. "I'll give it to you if you let Harry go."
"That was not the agreement," he replied smoothly. "I only promised Harry's life. I can no more let him go than you could carve out your own heart. I am Harry." he said with a hissing laugh.
The sound of his laughter sickened Ginny. "Then you'll never have the Jewel," she spat as she hid it behind her back and glared at the thing that wasn't Harry.
This made him laugh even more. "Is that supposed to upset me?" he asked. "The Jewel is broken and powerless. It was never what I truly wanted. It was simply a means to an end. My interest has always been in you, not the Jewel."
"I'm here for Harry," Ginny said, "not you. Those are the terms of the agreement."
"Then I reject your terms," the wizard replied without hesitation, "though, perhaps, another agreement could be made. What else would you give for Harry's life?"
"I only have the Jewel," Ginny replied defiantly. "That's all I'll give you."
His eyes began to glow a little brighter. "Would you give you life for him?"
Ginny opened her mouth to answer, but stopped herself when she realized what the answer was. The wizard in front of her smiled at her as if he'd heard her thoughts.
"What if you did not have to make the choice?" he asked. "You could have both of them, your life and your love. You could even keep the Jewel. Consider it... a souvenir, if you like."
Ginny's throat was dry and she struggled to swallow. "And just... what would I have to do?"
"Nothing," he answered lightly. "Nothing at all."
"What purpose would that serve?" he replied. "Think about it, Ginny. No more sacrifices. Everyone could get what they want. You will have Harry. Harry will have his life. You will be as rich and powerful as you like."
"Why should I believe you?" she asked. "After all the threats, all the people you've killed, the countless lives you've destroyed—"
"—But not yours," he interrupted. "I have never hurt you. Any pain you suffered was caused by you or your friends, never me. I was the one who protected you."
"Is that what you want me to think you're doing now?" she said, raising her voice. "You offer me Harry's life and my own, and ask for nothing in return. But that's now how it works, is it? There's always something. Do you think I would blindly accept? Did you think I had forgotten what you did to Mira? Or Valencia? Or Hermione? So what is it? What's the price? What do you get?"
"An end," he snarled back at her. "You can't imagine the pain I've endured. There is nothing I wouldn't give to free myself of it, but all you have to do to free me from it is simply walk away."
"He will go with you," he said, though his tone was suddenly more cautious. There was something he was trying to avoid telling her. "Tell the world whatever you like," he continued. "Tell them that I am still locked in this chamber. Tell them Harry defeated me. Or tell them that you defeated me all by yourself. It matters little to me and I doubt you desire the fame such a statement would give you. All you want is Harry and that is precisely what I am offering you."
His tone had caught her attention and she began to understand. "I'll have Harry, but it won't be really be him, will it?" she asked. "It'll be you."
"Harry and I are the same now," he answered. "I already told you that. We cannot be separated, but he is still here. It was necessary, I am afraid. In the past you have been rather uncooperative. I was not willing to risk that happening again."
"And if I refuse," she began, "then you'll kill Harry."
"If you do, then Harry will suffer the same fate that I do."
Ginny's eyes dropped to the floor of the chamber. "I suppose I have no choice then, do I?"
He stepped closer to her, with a caring expression. "You will be happy, I promise you. You can live without pain or fear or sadness. It can all be yours. All you have to do is accept it." The light in his eyes faded until they were the same emerald eyes she had loved for so many years. "Will you do it?" he asked softly. "Will you leave with me?" With one arm he reached up to caress her cheek. His touch was warm and gentle and she couldn't stop the wave of pleasure that ran though her at the sensation.
She took a deep breath and looked into those familiar eyes. "I do love you, Harry," she said, "and I'll miss you."
With every last ounce of her strength, she swung her arm out from behind her back. Her eyes caught a brief flash of light as the torch light glinted off the Jewel before the needle-sharp tip plunged into Harry's chest.
A horrible roar filled Ginny's ears and she felt something heavy slam into her chest and she stumbled backward. In the light from her torch, she could see him staring back at her with an enraged expression. The Jewel, still embedded in his chest, was glowing with a faint greenish light. Somehow, it the two pieces had remained together and as she watched she started to understand why. The crack between the shards was glowing brighter, filling the room with an eerie light. Growling in pain, he looked down at the Jewel and reached for it as if he were going to pull it free. With a sharp howl, his hand jerked away in agony the instant it touched the Jewel.
He recovered quickly and looked up at Ginny. His eyes had changed from bright green to inky black and he began snarling at her as he advanced on her slowly, Ginny took a step backwards toward the door and he let out a fierce roar, expelling a plume of oily smoke from his mouth. She stared into his empty eyes and felt herself trembling. It wasn't Harry. It was something else. She looked down at its chest. The Jewel was glowing a little brighter than before. Something was happening.
The attack came before she had any time to think. He leaped at her, throwing her against the wall behind her. His mouth opened, exposing a row of black fangs and filling the air around her with a dark, sour vapor. One hand pressed against her chest, pinning her to the wall, while the other reached out to grip her jaw and push it to one side, exposing her neck. Ginny struck blindly at him, but she could feel herself weakening. Her vision was starting to fade. An intolerable heat was building on her neck. She felt his fangs brushing against her skin, and then, in her desperation, her hand bumped into something sharp and wet: The Jewel.
He, too, knew what she'd found and he recoiled enough for her to see into his eyes again. He was afraid. She knew it was her last chance. Bracing herself, she reached under his arms and wrapped both hands around the sharp crystal. She had expected it to hurt her as much as it had hurt him, but to her, it was merely uncomfortably hot. Pushing forward with all her strength, she drove the Jewel deeper into his chest. He let out a deafening roar and backed away from her, but she pressed forward, continuing to put all her weight on the Jewel. He retreated toward the center of the room but she kept her hands locked on the Jewel. As they stumbled closer to the large black sphere, it seemed to pulse and grow. For a moment, she feared that he meant to throw her into it. She pulled back a little, preparing for his treachery.
The attack never came. Instead, Ginny's reaction seemed to make him aware of just how close the sphere was. He struggled to halt their progress, then spun violently in an attempt to break free. Ginny clutched at his robes and took the opportunity to drive her knee into one of his, knocking him off balance immediately.
The two of them fell to the ground, but Ginny refused to let go. Screaming with all her pain and anger and sorrow, she put all her weight onto his chest and drove the Jewel even deeper. Again and again, she twisted the Jewel until it wouldn't go any further. Finally spent, she tumbled to the ground, putting Harry between her and the black sphere. Less than half the Jewel was still visible. It was still glowing but the light inside it was darkening quickly. The other half was buried deep in his chest. His body had stopped moving some time ago.
She was shaking with fear. Her whole body trembled and she was having trouble breathing deeply. When she looked down to figure out why her hands were cold, she found them covered in a thick liquid. Most of it was viscous and dark, but some of it, especially the smears which covered her forearms, was beginning to fade to a bright red color that she knew all too well. It was blood —Harry's blood. Crawling forward, she looked down at the body and found it staring up at her with vibrant green eyes —Harry's eyes, without any of the cloaked wizard's malevolence. She felt a moment of hope, but as she stared into them, there was no response. They remained completely still as though locked on the ceiling above her.
Ginny collapsed backward and stared at the body in numbed shock. His chest was still moving, as he was breathing, but it seemed that each breath took a little longer than the one before. For what felt like an eternity, she simply laid there, staring at Harry's body and the black Jewel embedded in it.
The sound of footsteps woke her from her mourning and she turned toward the door to find Ron hobbling into the room with one leg wrapped tightly in bandages. Behind him was Hermione and the old man. As they jumped into the room, she saw Josef step into the doorway. He looked at her, then at Harry's body. When he turned back to her, his face was filled with sorrow and sympathy.
"It wasn't him anymore," she whispered.
Ron kneeled down next to her gingerly, reaching out to see if she was alright. Most of the blood on her hands was fully red now and she tried not to think of what she'd just done. Josef noticed her looking at her hands and quickly cleaned them as he asked her what had happened and whether she'd been hurt. After checking her cloak for damage, Ron struggled to stand up again and turned to look at Harry.
"The Jewel mended itself, I see," the old man commented as he stood against the wall, looking at Harry's body. "I wonder if it was made to do just that."
From his spot at Ginny's side, Josef threw a sharp glance at him. "Does it really matter?" he asked. "It's over. We've had enough of your games. Take your Jewel and do whatever you like."
"I cannot," the old man replied, "and I'm afraid it's not over just yet."
"It's over for us," Josef shot back, but the old man just shook his head.
"I wish that were true. You see, the Jewel is not a weapon, it is only a cage. So long as it exists, so does the cloaked wizard. Ffor now, it is binding all of his power, but he is not helpless," explained the old man. "This is exactly how the ancient wizards hoped to transport him back here. They didn't know that it was imperfect. It was a matter of days before they were turning on each other. Above all, it is raw power, but it promises the ability to accomplish all things and satisfy every desire."
Ron's lips curled into a disgusted grimace. "Then we should destroy it," he said, but before he could get one inch closer to the Jewel, Hermione's voice cut through the chamber.
"Ron, no!" she shouted. "Stay away from it! Don't touch it!"
This caught everyone's attention and they found Hermione sitting against the wall near the door, crying uncontrollably and pleading with Ron to back away. Josef and Ginny were confused, but the old man was quick to explain.
"She's quite right, Ron," he said. "It is dangerous to touch the Jewel in this state."
"What would happen?"
"No one really knows," the old man admitted. "It was said that everyone who handled the Jewel died a painful before they were able to describe it."
"So no one can touch it?" asked Josef. "How are we supposed to get rid of it? Do we destroy the body, too?" The old man didn't answer and seemed to be momentarily lost in thought. Josef became impatient and removed his cloak with a flourish. Wrapping it around one of his hands, he approached Harry's body.
"I was wrong," the old man announced suddenly. "Not everyone who touched it has died. There is one person who has survived, isn't there, Ginny?" In an instant, Ginny found the three wizards staring at her. Hermione had been looking at her just a few seconds before, but now she had collapsed again, covering her head and muffling her sobs against her knees. The old man looked at her expectantly. "You put the Jewel there, didn't you, Ginny?" he prompted. "You held it and it didn't hurt you."
"No, it didn't," she answered weakly.
"Then you should be able to remove it," he said, stepping back to clear the path between her and Harry.
Ginny stared at Harry and wondered if she'd be able to do it. Just the sight of what she'd done was enough to make her feel like she was going to be sick. She didn't know if she could stand to actually touch the Jewel again. Silence filled the room as everyone waited to see how she would respond. Slowly, she began to remember why she'd come back to the chamber. She returned to end it, no matter what it cost. Holding her breath, she walked forward and kneeled down next to Harry.
The old man followed her and took a position at her side. Before she could reach out toward the Jewel, he leaned forward to put his hands on Harry's shoulders. With Ginny watching him in confusion, he leaned forward and began whispering in Harry's ear.
"I know you can still hear me, Harry. Your friends are here. If you care about them —if you care about everything they care about— then you must do one last thing: Hold on to your memories, Harry," he pleaded. "Think about how you got here, every mystery you solved, every secret you uncovered, every place you've gone and how you got there. Focus on them. Hold them as close as you can. And most of all, Harry, concentrate on your memories of how you got here. Do not let him have them. Ginny's life depends upon it." When he was finished, he leaned back and gave Ginny a quick nod.
She took deep breath and wrapped one hand around the Jewel and found it so hot that it felt as if it were searing her skin. She jerked away, gasping in pain, but when she looked down at her hand, her palm was pale and clean without any marks at all. Reaching out again, gripping the Jewel and feeling the intense heat radiating from it. The sensation was distracting and troubling, but she managed to push it out of her mind. It wasn't hurting her. It was just another trick to keep her from destroying the cloaked wizard.
She tried to pull the Jewel free, but it was buried too deep. Reluctantly, she leaned forward, pushing against Harry's chest while she tugged again. The Jewel lurched slightly, inching out of the wound slightly. A trickle of blood followed it. Ginny felt ill and prepared for one last pull, when she felt something on her other hand. It had been faint, but noticeable. She waited in silent anticipation. It happened again. Ginny opened her mouth to scream, but her throat tightened, choking her.
"Ha— It's a... heartbeat," she gasped. "He's still alive!"
Wasting no more time, she braced herself against the floor and pulled on the Jewel with all her might. It finally slipped free, sending Ginny tumbling backward onto the sandy floor. The moment the Jewel was removed, Harry's body trembled and his back arched as he took in a long, rattling breath.
Ginny could barely believe what she was seeing. All the time he'd been lying there, he had been alive, waiting for her to free him. Casting aside the Jewel, she crawled back to Harry's side and found him blinking his eyes in the flickering light as his arms flailed across the floor. He took another gasping breath and paused to speak a single word:
Ron rushed forward, leaving Hermione to sob against the wall. The old man joined him, kneeling down next to Ginny and looking gravely at Harry's injury.
Josef hovered nearby, watching the scene in disbelief. "It's impossible," he whispered. "How can he—"
Harry's arm reached out to grab Ginny's wrist, but his hand slipped away. When he tried again, he could barely lift his arm. Ginny could see that he was weakening. He opened his mouth to talk, coughed up a mouthful of blood instead. Gasping again, he finally managed to speak.
"I'm... sorry. I never meant..."
"I know, Harry. It's going to be alright," Ginny told him. "We'll get you out of here. Just don't give up."
"This is wrong, Ginny," Josef said. "It's not natural. He died. He died for a reason. If he's still alive it means that it might be alive, too. We can't risk that. I know you loved him, he needs to be—"
"He needs help!" Ginny cried as she stared down at Harry's chest. Without the Jewel in it, the last of his blood was quickly flowing out of his body. Harry's glassy eyes stared up at her, looking just as surprised as everyone huddled around him. "Please, someone, do something," she begged. "I don't have my wand. We need to get him back to the camp."
Ron looked at her with a grave expression. "Ginny, he's not going to make it back to the camp."
"He will if we treat the worst of it right now," she replied in a desperate voice.
Ron shrugged. "We couldn't even mend my leg," he replied. "What do you think we can do to help him?"
"We can try!" she cried. "You might not be able to, but he can," she added, pointing toward the old man.
"No, Ginny, I cannot," he replied flatly.
Glaring bitterly, she pleaded with him. "You saved Evelyn and she still threw her life away. Harry's fighting. Why won't you even try to save him? Is his life worth so much less than hers?"
The old man shook his head sadly. "That's not it at all, Ginny. This is the way it was meant to be. There is no point in trying to change fate."
"No," she spat back at him. "I've had enough prophecies for a lifetime. This only happened because you made it happen. You chose this path for him and he followed it because he thought he was making the world a better place. He did, and all I'm asking now is that you try to let him live in the world he protected." She spun around and found Hermione. "You can't believe in any of this," she said. "Harry saved your life. Please, Hermione— Please do something."
Tears streamed down Hermione's face and she couldn't even raise her head to look at Ginny's face. "I— I know how much you love him, Ginny, but I— I can't."
"You can't even try?"
Hermione shook her head as her whole body shook. "You can't understand what— what you're asking," she sobbed. "Please, Ginny— please forgive me. I can't. Ron can't. No one can. It's too important."
"Then I'll do it!" Ginny screamed, lunging toward Ron in an unsuccessful attempt to take his wand.
"This cannot be fixed with a wand, Ginny," the old man said in a stern voice. "This is an injury beyond the skill of any Healer. Hermione is right. You cannot heal him. No one can heal him."
Ginny turned around and found Josef standing over Harry. There was something odd about his voice. It sounded more confident and forceful. There was an unnatural power to it. As she began walking back toward him and Harry, he looked up at her.
"What is Harry's life worth?"
Ginny didn't know just what had prompted the question, but she answered without thinking: "Anything. There's nothing I wouldn't give for Harry."
Josef responded by extending his right hand toward Harry. Ginny watched in confusion as it began to glow with faint green light. Below it, Harry's blood changed color from deep red to black. Ginny's first instinct was to cry out, but she stopped suddenly when she noticed that the wound was starting to close up. The skin around the deep puncture began to mend and the bleeding stopped completely. Harry's chest began rising and falling again, though the rhythm was still erratic.
"But how—" she gasped. Looking up at Josef again, she noticed that his left arm was held stiffly at his side and clenched tightly in his fist was the Jewel of Darkness.
"Josef, what are you doing?" she asked. "The Jewel, you can't—"
"I am giving you what you want," he interrupted. "You want Harry to live and this is the only way that can happen." Even as he spoke, he withdrew his hand and Harry's miraculous healing came to an abrupt halt. His body shuddered and his arms flailed as he began bleeding once again.
"Why— why did you stop?" Ginny asked.
"You said that you would give anything for Harry's life. You've seen that I can give it back to him, but all things have a price." He held up his left hand, showing her the Jewel wrapped inside it and a dozens veins of black corruption slowly crawling past his wrist. "I cannot stop it. Soon, I will lose control of the power I have taken."
"Then finish healing him now," Ginny demanded.
"And what will happen then, I wonder? Why should I give my life for his?" he asked in a low voice. "He has everything he wanted: fame, fortune, friends, family —more than one. For all the bad fortune they claimed he suffered, I couldn't help but wish that my life had been more like his. Now you're asking me to give him even more. Why him? Why does he get everything that I am denied? Is this some sort of punishment for what I've done?"
Ginny could barely take her eyes off Harry as he struggled to cling to the last threads of life, but something in Josef's voice caught her attention. "What did you do, Josef?" she asked.
"When I was young, all I wanted was the chance to find my own happiness. My parents had other plans for me. They wanted me to turn into them... to become a dark wizard. When the Brotherhood came, I only wanted to escape. I didn't want them to kill my parents, but... when it happened, I didn't feel sad."
"Josef, you already told me about this," she replied. "It's not—"
"Don't you see?" he whispered. "It's the same thing over and over. All I wanted was happiness, but every time I got close, things only got worse. The Brotherhood was no different than my parents, and there was no way out. I found a way out, but I had to destroy them all to do it. Every dream I had was being shattered, one by one. There was only one left," he said, looking longingly at Ginny. "I thought it might finally end. I thought I could save us all and finally be happy. I thought I was doing the right thing. It seemed like it was the only way. After all he'd been given, it was time for him to make the final sacrifice. I didn't expect Harry to understand. It was supposed to end. I was supposed to be happy."
Ginny stared at him in horror. "You left him here as— as some sort of bait? And then when I tried to come back for him, you—" Ginny's jaw dropped. "You weren't try to save us. You were trying to get rid of him."
"I did it to save you, to keep you from becoming that," he growled, pointing behind him at the portrait on the wall. "All I want is to be happy and all I need for that is to have you. I'll heal him if you'll leave with me. Despite everything I've done, I've never hurt you and I've never stopped loving you. I can understand if you don't love me now. It will take some time, but we have plenty of that."
"This isn't you, Josef. Don't let it control you," she pleaded as the first tears rolled down her face. "You can still fight it."
"I don't want to," he declared confidently. "I have willingly chosen this path. There is no fighting it. You are the only one who can control it. If you refuse me now, it will consume me and in time, it will return to kill you and Harry. Your choice is simple: agree to leave with me, or condemn Harry and everyone you know to death."
Ginny tried to steady her breathing. "That's not much of a choice."
"Is it really so horrible a future? I love you and I know you can love me," he announced forcefully. "We will have no need for gold. We can live wherever we want, however we like, for as long as we desire. There is nothing I cannot give you."
Between her and Josef, Harry's movements were slowing again.
"If I agree," she began, "you won't hurt him? You will promise to heal him and never attack him again?"
Josef's eyes flickered with green light. "I give you my word. His death would bring me no happiness. You are the only thing I desire. Will you come with me, then?"
"As you said, I don't really have a choice."
"Swear it to me. Promise yourself to me and only me."
"If that is what it takes to save Harry's life..." Trembling with fear, she stood up and stepped over Harry's body. Behind her, Ron was calling out to her, begging her not to do it.
"This isn't what Harry would want," he said.
Ginny paused to look at him. "He'll die if I don't," she said. "We'll all die. He wouldn't want that either. What other choice do I have?" Behind Ron, Hermione was staring back at Ginny with a knowing look. She said nothing at all, but nodded slowly. Somehow, she had known exactly what was going to happen. Perhaps she had known what Ginny had to do. All Ginny could do was hope that she and Harry would forgive her.
She turned around and found Josef watching her with frighteningly intensity. Ginny felt numb. She took one last breath and began walking toward him. His eyes flared hungrily as she approached and he smiled as she came to a stop just inches away from him and reached out toward his arm just above his elbow, where the dark curse was still spreading.
"You agree, then?" he hissed. "You will give yourself to me in exchange for Harry's life?"
Ginny didn't answer. She couldn't. Her throat had tightened so much that she could barely believe. In her mind, she kept trying to convince herself that she was doing the right thing. Gathering all of her strength, she looked up into Josef's eyes. Carefully, she reached out to him, placing one hand on his shoulder, and reaching up to his neck with the other. Josef appeared uncertain for a moment, but it disappeared when she pulled his face down to hers.
Ginny closed her eyes and felt Josef tense up as their lips touched. Ginny pulled him closer and slowly, he began to relax again. Intense sensations began flooding into her. She could feel Josef's fear and desire, but underneath it was a endless, consuming rage. She felt it clouding her mind, but she fought back. She couldn't let it control her —not while she still had one last chance.
Forcing her eyes open, she found Josef engrossed in the kiss. With a quick turn of her wrist, her hand slipped under Josef's jaw and she pushed his head back as fast as she could. Even without his newfound power, her strength was no match for his, but the action was enough to momentarily throw him off balance. With an enraged snarl, he stumbled backward, giving Ginny just the opportunity she had been hoping for.
Her hands locked onto the arm holding the Jewel while she hooked a leg behind one of his knees. Leaning her weight against him, he tripped and began falling backward. Ginny forced his arm away from her, twisting his entire body as he fell.
The black sphere was only inches away and as Ginny pushed his hand closer to it, it swelled until Josef's hand and the Jewel it clutched plunged though the surface and disappeared completely. The sphere crackled with energy and released a blast of hot air that shook the chamber. An inhuman scream broke out of Josef's throat and his entire arm came to an abrupt halt. Ginny's momentum sent her crashing into him and she felt a spike of pain as her jaw struck his arm and bit down hard on her tongue. She felt her body go limp and she tumbled to the ground. When she opened her eyes, she found herself lying beneath the sphere with Josef recovering his balance nearby. His hand was still buried within the sphere and he didn't appear to be able to retrieve it.
"What did you do?" he howled as he tugged at his arm. He was pulling on it with all his might, but he couldn't free himself. The was growing and as it slowly swallowed his forearm, the dark veins which had spread from the Jewel were now racing up his arm at an alarming pace. Josef's eyes widened and he let out a panicked scream as he saw what was happening. After a few more desperate tries to pull himself free of the sphere, he stopped and glared at Ginny with glowing green eyes.
"Why?" he shouted through quickly blackening teeth. "After all I've given you. All I wanted a life with you. Why is that so horrible?"
Ginny's eyes burned as she watched him writhing in pain. "Look at what you've become," she cried. "How could you? You promised me—"
"I loved you!" he roared. "I sacrificed everything for you! You said you'd give anything for Harry's life. I did this for you and you betrayed me. I won't face this alone. We will be together." As he shouted this, he lunged at Ginny. She dodged him and tried to run away. After just two steps, she came to a halt as her cloak tightened around her neck and she was jerked backward violently.
Josef was clutching her cloak with his free hand. Ginny tried pulling herself free, but he was far stronger than she was. Slowly, he was dragging her back toward him.
Ron dashed toward her. "Diffindo!" he shouted, aiming his wand at the clasp which tied to cloak around Ginny's neck. She saw a flash of light and felt a sensation like something hot and sharp had grazed across her neck. The spell rebounded instantly, leaving a deep cut across Ron's cheek.
He'd forgotten the cloak was charmed, but his attempt had awoken Ginny's mind from its panic. She took one last breath and fought back against the cloak while her hands fumbled with the clasp. Ron, ignoring the blood flowing down his face, returned and added his strength to hers. Within seconds, the force pulling her back disappeared and she felt herself falling forward. She struck the floor and her head rang from the pain.
She felt strong hands pulling her back to her feet and lashed out at them. The more she fought, the more persistent they were. The ringing in her head disappeared beneath a loud roar. She blinked her eyes and saw Ron bent over her, struggling to pull her away from the source of the noise. She wasn't prepared for what she saw when her eyes returned to the center of the chamber.
Josef —or whatever he was becoming— was frantically fighting to free himself. The sphere was still growing and it had engulfed his entire arm now. Meanwhile, the dark veins had spread all throughout his body and he was now staring back at her with eyes that blazed with emerald light.
"I will make you pay for this, you deceitful whore!" he howled, his face disfigured with rage. As he shouted, he spewed thick clouds of inky smoke which were swiftly pulled back into the dark sphere, feeding it and making it expand even faster. A series of sharp snaps echoed through the chamber as the surface of the sphere inched across his ribs. Snarling in pain, he extended his free hand toward Ginny. "You have taken everything from me. You don't know the pain you've caused," he snarled, "but I only need to take one thing from you to make you understand." Only then, as his the green light gathered around his hand, did Ginny realize that it was not focused on her, but on Harry.
She let out a panicked scream and leaped to her feet in an attempt to put herself between Josef and Harry. By the time she had, she noticed that it didn't really matter. Josef's attack was failing. The pulse of green light which extended from his palm was being driven back as if by a strong gale. The sphere was growing at an alarming pace now.
The dark surface had reached Josef's head. He glared malevolently at Ginny and opened his mouth to let out an inhuman roar of hatred and pain. As if to silence him, a strong, swirling wind filled the chamber, pulling sand from the floor and whipping it about, scouring Ginny's skin where it wasn't covered by her nightgown. The wind strengthened quickly, extinguishing the torches and forcing Ginny to cover her eyes.
An instant later, Ginny's ears were filled with an empty silence. She opened her eyes and saw absolutely nothing. For a moment, she wondered what had happened when her eyes were closed. Had the sphere swallowed her as well? Was Josef still nearby? Was she dead? If she was, why was her heart beating so quickly?
"Ginny?" Ron shouted through the darkness.
"I'm here," she answered, "though I'm not really sure where that is."
"You have gone nowhere," a voice announced. A moment later, a bright, clean light sprung out of the black. At its center was the old man. A second light appeared seconds later. This time, it was Ron. Ginny looked about her and found the very same chamber she remembered, though the swirling sand had dulled the paintings on the wall quite a bit. Remembering what had happened, her head spun around to look at the center of the chamber.
There was nothing there. Josef was gone and so was the sphere. The only thing left as proof that she hadn't imagined all of it was the broken remnants of the large golden ring which had once hovered around the sphere. The gateway was gone. She didn't know just what to think about that and other, more important things quickly rushed to the forefront of her mind.
She turned around and saw the faint outline of Harry still lying on the ground. However, to her surprise, she found Hermione rushing to his side. Ginny watched in uncertainty as Hermione leaned over Harry and pressed her hands against his chest. Perhaps the cloaked wizard's attack had kept her from understanding what had happened to Harry. Ginny ignored her own pain for a moment to watch sympathetically as Hermione realized the tragic truth.
"We can still save him," she cried out to Ginny. She pulled a small vial out of her pocket and quickly poured the contents onto Harry's wound. In the dim light, Ginny could see a puff of green smoke rise into the air. Within seconds, Harry's wound started to heal.
"You— you had that this whole time?" Ginny cried. "Why didn't you—"
"I wanted to," Hermione shot back. "Do you know how hard it was to sit there and watch him— I couldn't help him. If I would have... I could have been destroying everything."
"What are you talking about?"
"The cloaked wizard showed her what would happen," the old man said as he joined Hermione by Harry. "She couldn't let herself or anyone else do anything that would stop what she'd seen from happening. If Harry had been saved, then there would have been no reason for Josef to pick up the Jewel."
Ginny watched the old man and Hermione prodding Harry with their wands. "But... why is that bad?" she asked. Spinning around again to look at the center of the chamber, a more important question came to mind: "What happened to him? Where is Josef?"
"He is right here, of course," answered the old man. "The better question is not where he is, but when."
"When? You mean he—" Ginny's mind was too confused to even finish the question.
The old man sat up for a moment. "When the ancients created the Jewel of Darkness, they intended to carve out a section of the world and turn it into a prison. However, they failed to comprehend the infinite expanse of time. They clumsily ripped out as much as they could imagine and in doing so, they created the Death Gates and a flawed prison. By replacing the Jewel, you have repaired the damage."
"What about Josef, though?"
Leaving Hermione to work on Harry, the old man stood up and walked toward Ginny. "No one has ever been able to tell exactly what happened to him or just why it happened," he began. "The only thing that we know is that he was thrown back into this cave sometime in the far past. It seems reasonable to assume that he was returned to the point the ancients guessed as the oldest time imaginable. It's impossible to know just when that was, but various clues have led us to believe that it is somewhere on the order of fifteen thousand years ago."
"Fifteen thousand?" she choked. "What about the cloaked wizard? Is he with—"
The old man stepped closer to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "You need to understand what happened here, Ginny. The thing you knew as the cloaked wizard is gone. Your ordeal is over. Josef's, however, has just begun. His pain and hatred will consume him and the dark power he was given will weigh him down. Death will not find him and he will sit here, brooding in this chamber until nature, in an attempt to balance itself once again, creates the very first wizards."
Ginny gasped in shock. "You mean he— It was always him? It was Josef?" She pulled herself free of the old man's grip, searched the walls of the chamber and found the blurred portrait of the woman. "So, the Angel was—"
"You, Ginny," the old man said. "She was always you. That is why he sought you. That is why he hated Harry and why Voldemort was so focused on him."
Ginny's blood went suddenly cold. What had she done? She looked into the eyes of the woman on the wall and saw herself just as she was today. She remembered talking to Miraphora and seeing the fear and pain in her eyes. That was what she had done to Josef. "What have I done?" she sobbed. "It never ends, does it? It just keeps happening again and again."
"That is the nature of the world, Ginny," said the old man. "It is the cycle of creation and destruction."
Ginny trembled with the horrible knowledge of what she'd done. "He knew it, didn't he? All he wanted was for it to end. That was why he hated me so much. How couldn't he? I'm worse than he is," she whispered. "I've caused so much pain in the world, I just can't—"
"No, Ginny, you saved us," Hermione interrupted. "His anger and hatred sparked the birth of the very first wizards. Without him, you wouldn't be here and neither would I, or Ron, or Harry. If you would have saved him, you would have destroyed the magical world. You had to do it, Ginny," she said in a comforting voice.
While she had no trouble hearing the words, it was much harder for Ginny to accept them. She had despised the Angel for months. She had hated that the cloaked wizard was so convinced that Ginny was the one to blame for his pain. Finding out that it was all true was almost too much for her to bear at once. Was she really a hero? She felt like a monster. Why had she done it? Had it been revenge? Or just hatred for what it made her do to Harry?
Thoughts of Harry broke through her despair and she immediately turned around to look for him. She found him lying in front of Hermione looking deathly pale and motionless. A large rip in his robes exposed his chest, but the wound that had been there before was gone. After a tense moment of waiting, she saw his chest move just slightly. He was breathing. It was shallow, but steady.
"He's— Is he going to—"
Hermione stood up. "He's not doing well, Ginny," she announced, "but he's not bad, either. I've done the best I can. He still needs a Healer, but I think we can move him. There are a few potions we left back at the camp which might help us get him to St. Mungo's."
Ginny felt a flutter of happiness. It did little to remove the guilt which sat upon her, but it was a small ray of hope in the darkness she had been living in for the last year. There was still a chance for happiness. Ron and Hermione pointed their wands at Harry's limp body and carefully raised him into the air. As they began levitating him toward the door, his eyes fluttered open just long enough to glance at Ginny. The three of them passed by, leaving Ginny and the old man alone in the chamber.
Ginny's eyes looked around at the walls one more time. Only now did she recognize the paintings and carvings for what they really were: the last attempts of a deeply troubled wizard to keep a hold on the last of his memories as time and darkness consumed what was left of him. She was overwhelmed with a deep sadness. Did he understand the what the consequences of his actions would be? How much of him was really left by the time his spirit encountered Ginny in the hallway at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place? How much had he forgotten?
Her gazed stopped on a small thin object laying near the wall. She stepped toward it and recognized it as Harry's wand. Above it, in a coincidence that Ginny had trouble accepting, she saw the collection of symbols they'd found in the book. It was supposed to be a message. She was certain of it now. But to whom? It seemed simple to say that he left it as a way of reminding himself who had imprisoned him there, but why had he left it? If his only intention had been to stop the cycle, then any number of actions would have been enough. He could have simply killed her in the Chamber of Secrets or killed her parents instead of Harry's.
She walked closer to the wall and kneeled down by the set of four figures. Reaching out, her hand grazed the blackened surface of the figured which had been described as the Demon. "Was it him?" she asked aloud. "Did he hate what he'd become?"
"It is difficult to say," the old man replied. "Who can ever know the thoughts of a man in complete isolation? And yet, I think it is clear that, at some point, he came to understand his purpose. When they found him, he was powerful beyond measure, but not violent by nature."
"Then why is this figure so scarred?"
"Because it represents Harry, and his hatred for Harry never fully cooled," the old man replied. Ginny cocked her head to the side and stared at the carving again. Her hand reached out to point at the one separated from all the rest. The old man shook his head. "No, I think that is me," he offered, "or perhaps Antonin. It doesn't really matter. There is another figure there that you've never considered: the Ouroboros. That is the symbol Josef used to represent himself. It represents eternity and perfection, and life and death. More importantly, it represents the cycle of rebirth and the natural order of the world. I think we can be confident that at some point before Josef was drowned in the weight of his own eternal power, that he understood not only what had happened, but the necessity that it happened again."
Ginny looked at the symbols again. The detail on the giant snake surrounding the lower four figures was more intricate than any of the others. Only the carving of the Angel approached it. She stared at that other figure, the one which was meant to be her. Looking at it now, she couldn't help but believe that it had been left as a hint to her. From across thousands of years, he had been trying to tell her to do what she needed to do.
A gentle hand fell on her shoulder. "Come along, Ginny," the old man said softly. "We should leave now. Harry needs a proper Healer and the help of a respected Ministry official will help us avoid any unnecessary questions."
After picking up Harry's wand, Ginny stood up slowly and walked toward the doorway. As she stepped through, she saw the black stone talisman lying on the floor. The old man paused to watch her as she pushed the door closed and pressed the face of the talisman into the circular indentation. With a faint grinding noise, the crack between the doors sealed. She removed the talisman, calmly slipped the chain around her neck, and walked away from the chamber.
Well, there you are. If any of you are still reading, I'd like to thank you for the persistence needed to read through three long stories. I hope it was enjoyable. Now, I know that there will probably be quite a few people who don't like how this ends. All I can do is tell you that this was how it was supposed to end from the very beginning. The cyclic nature of the story was the primary theme of the story. If you re-read the story, you'll see a number of hints and foreshadowing for this really far back. Most of the important action scenes from this chapter were actually included in various other chapters in the story as things like vision and dreams. I enjoy it, and it all just makes me like Josef as a character even more. However, I understand if others are disappointed.
To answer the most common question: No, I have no plans for sequels to this story or 'Harry Potter and the Book of Magical Maladies'. I don't expect to write any more stories in the Harry Potter universe. If this is disappointing to you, then understand that it's really just because the completion of the canonical story has sort of crystallize the universe and it's harder to make interesting stories from it. I've got no other stories that I'm writing at the moment, but that doesn't mean that you won't see anything in the future.
Now, my work on this story isn't quite complete yet. I'll still be here to answers questions and if there is any interest, I'll be compiling all of the chapters, re-edited, into one single document (PDF and OpenDocument) with hundreds of footnotes to point out various hints, jokes, mistakes, anecdotes and explanations for things that you probably didn't catch the first time around. If you're interested in this, you'll have to send me an email (or PM via the local messaging function here) and I'll send you an email with the location of the file once I've finished it.
Again, thanks to whatever readership I have left. Thanks to all the people who beta'ed for me (there were quite a few) and thank you to everyone who took an active part in the story by asking questions or providing feedback. I hope that I've provided people with some entertainment.