Ends and Means

Hello everyone! Believe it or not I'm still alive. I'm so sorry that it's taken so long for me to update, but I've been busy completing uni and even spending a year studying abroad in Japan.

As an apology for taking so long, I've decided to give you a very long chapter (8790 words!). I'd say I hope you enjoy it but this isn't going to be a fun one to read, I'm afraid. It is essentially a torture chapter, after all. I don't really write gore so there's nothing too bad in here but I have to admit that I scare myself with just how capable I seem to be with coming up with strong, psychologically-damaging methods of torture. Shudders.

A big shout out to all those people who have either pmed me or left a review asking me to update. It was you guys who inspired me to once more take up this story, and I hope you will continue to both support me and bully me into writing. Lol.

Without further ado, the long awaited next chapter!

P.S. Beware the swearing! Dun dun dun!

Chapter 25: Tick Tock

Despite the desperate and likely dangerous rescue mission he would soon be undertaking, Harry soon found himself overcome with boredom. He had been in the air for what he guessed was a couple of hours now— he couldn't actually check the time since his watch was still broken and he didn't dare risk casting the Tempus charm in case he got busted by the Ministry for doing underage magic again. However long it had been was time enough for Harry to become fed up with simply sitting idly on Atlas' back only occasionally having to steer, so he had taken to admiring the view spread out beneath him.

The light of the gibbous moon cast a silvery glow over the mosaic of trees, land and water patterned below him. Since he was wearing Xenophilius' headdress, he was also able to see the faint pinpricks of magic here and there, shining out like golden embroidery on the dark landscape.

Although it was a cold night especially so high up in the air, his thick winter clothes, which Xenophilius had had the foresight to cast a warming charm on prior to his leaving coupled with Atlas' warm presence was enough to keep Harry pleasantly comfortable whilst he continued his observations. The herd of thestrals were like silent shadows flitting around him, their breath and the flapping of their leathery wings the only sounds he could hear apart from the whoosh of the wind rushing passed his ears. All in all, it was definitely the most boring and relaxed start to a rescue mission he had ever had.

Unfortunately, the people who he was intending to rescue weren't having such a pleasant time.

"Come, my dear. Don't keep us waiting," Voldemort gestured regally from his throne. "Proper etiquette must be observed, after all. So ladies first."

Trembling, Ginny began to take reluctant steps towards the wheel, Wormtail's wand still trained on her neck. When the distance became too great, she was forced to let go of Draco's hand and she almost wept at the loss of that small comfort. Finally reaching the dreaded wheel, she shared one last look with Draco before she steeled her nerves and spun the wheel.

Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick

… … … Tick.

… … … …Tick.

… … … … …Tick.

… … … … … …Tick.

Peering through her tears, she forced herself to read what awaited her friend.

Five minutes to enjoy a drink.

"Oooh, this is a good one," Voldemort leaned forward in his chair and rubbed his hands together. "Being in the drink!"

Ginny watched with trepidation as the circle of Death Eaters momentarily broke apart to let in another masked member, this one carrying a silver goblet. As he approached, the swirls of purple smoke wafting from the brew became visible and she saw Draco begin to shake slightly.

Unable to stand the thought of him facing this alone, Ginny flung herself away from Wormtail and his wand, and ran to stand by Draco. Grabbing his arm, she hugged it to herself even as his own hand twined with hers in a death grip. Neither looked at each other, but instead, stared at the hated masked face of the cup-bearing figure in front of them.

"Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink!" the Death Eaters chanted around them.

"Drink!" ordered Lucius Malfoy as he placed his wand against his son's pale neck.

Sill unable to watch, Ginny buried her face in the nape of Draco's neck, choosing instead to glare at the tip of Lucius' wand, which rested beside her lips. Hugged so close to him, she felt rather than saw Draco reach forward to take the goblet. From the corner of her eye, she noticed Wormtail close in on her, his wand once more taking up its place against her neck.

"Drink," Voldemort whispered from his throne, his voice barely reaching their ears.

And Draco drank.

"This really is amazing," Harry whispered to himself as he stared at the gleaming outline of his wings. After a while, the landscape he was flying over had begun to blur into a big blob of sameness, so he had instead turned his attention towards the study of Xenophilius' recreation of Ravenclaw's Diadem and the magic it allowed him to see.

His wings were objects of fascination for him as he could now see the interplay between the magic of the feathers themselves and the silvery sheen blurring his wings' shape caused by the Moon Stealth potion.

Tearing his gaze away, he turned to examine the herd of thestrals around him, curious to see if they exuded any magic at all. At first glance, he dismissed the notion. Although thestrals were magical creatures, the diadem only seemed to show active magic. Hence, although he could see the presence of the charms and incantations woven into his wings (and from their colours make a reasonable summation as to what kind of magic it was), he could not see the unused magic residing in either the thestrals or even within his own body.

After taking a few more moments to study them; however, Harry noticed that he could in fact see something magical around the thestrals. It was very subtle; not a bright light but more of a strange, shifting shadow overlaying each creature. He would not have noticed it at all if it weren't for the strong moonlight. He had dropped his gaze down to Atlas' back and had by chance noticed that although his upper arms and chest were rather brightly lit, his hands and lower body were not despite there being nothing above or around him to block the light and cause a shadow. He began to experiment, shifting his body back and forward and even asking Atlas to stop flapping his wings and just glide for a bit in order to see if the shadow shifted as well, but it didn't. No matter what he did the shade remained, eerily floating around the thestral's body.

"I wonder what kind of magic it is," he mused to himself. "I've never seen shadowed magic before. Is it just really faint, weak magic or is the diadem not powerful or refined enough to see it properly?"

Ignoring his rider's contemplative mutterings, Atlas continued to silently lead his herd, following the ominous green thread that connected the Boy-Who-Lived to the Man-Who-Refused-To-Die.

Ginny shuddered as she held Draco tighter as his body continued to spasm. Screams ripped intermittently through the air as the potion continued to work its way through his system, its progress marked by the threads of black tracing through his veins with every beat of his heart. Still Ginny held onto him, crushing his left arm between her body and his. She hoped to offer at least some form of comfort to him and simultaneously prevent him from doing any great injury to himself. She didn't; however, do anything to stop him from flailing around his right arm, watching with no small amount of satisfaction as it managed to catch the Death Eater in front of them with a solid hit. Quickly the surrounding Death Eaters stepped out of reach, all except for Lucius who kept his wand resting where it was. Ginny continued to glare at it even though inside her heart was breaking for the suffering boy in her arms.

Suddenly, due to a particularly violent spasm, Draco's free arm twisted behind him and smacked his father firmly across the cheek. That brief moment of distraction was all Ginny needed. With a sharp crunch, Ginny's teeth encircled the tip of Lucius' wand, desperation lending her the strength to bite cleanly through both the wood and dragon heartstring core inside.

Seeing what she had done, Lucius roared and shoved her— and consequently, Draco— to the floor.

"I'll kill you, you little bitch!" the pale-haired man bellowed as he chucked his now useless wand away and snatched up Wormtail's, ignoring the man's protests.

Despite the terror she felt as she looked up at the murderous man in front of her, Ginny refused to cower. If these were to be her last few seconds in this world, then she would be strong. She would die knowing that she had fought 'til the very end, and that although she hadn't been able to kill him, looking into his eyes now she could tell that she had destroyed him. Lying on the ground with her arms locked around his only son and his wand tip still resting inside her mouth, she had, in a sense, stolen away two of the things that meant the most to both him and his reputation: his family and his magic.

As he levelled his wand at her, Ginny let a smug grin steal over her features. She was proud. Not that she was a Gryffindor, or a Weasley or even that she was a witch. She was proud of herself: that she would be the one who finally caused Lucius Malfoy's cold, controlled composure to shatter so completely and that realisation washed everything else away.

"You've lost, Lucius," she smiled, utterly content with herself for the first time in her life. What did anything else matter when you were moments away from death anyway?

Snarling, Lucius drew breath and spoke.

"Avada Kedavra!"

When the herd of thestrals began their descent, Harry was overcome with a brief moment of startled bewilderment as the sudden change in altitude forcefully snapped him out of the dumb stupor he had fallen into.

At one point during the trip, the wind had picked up and he had been afraid that that the recreation of Ravenclaw's diadem would be blown off his head. Planning to put on the diadem every once in a while so he could check that they were still on course following the green thread of light that connected him to Voldemort, Harry had stashed it within the mokeskin bag around his neck for safe keeping. It wasn't long though before he had realised that Atlas seemed to be able to sense and follow the thread without Harry or the diadem's assistance. Thus the diadem had remained tucked safely away and Harry had been left with nothing to do.

He didn't know if it was because he had been sitting still doing nothing for so long or if it was a side effect of consuming Felix Felicis, but at some point during his flight, he had forgotten just what it was he was about to do. Berating himself thoroughly for forgetting such an urgent issue, Harry forced all other thought out of his mind and concentrated on observing his immediate surroundings.

Atlas was now flying closer to the ground affording Harry a much clearer view of the landscape. Beneath them lay what Harry knew must be a forest, but seemed to him more like a pool of shadow pulsating in time with the wind. Compared to the darkness below him, the manor they were approaching appeared rather inviting with its pale, stone surface gleaming in the moonlight and a small pond glittering serenely on its grounds.

Harry was not taken in, however. He knew very well how deceptive external appearances could be, and there was little doubt in his mind that what awaited him inside would be anything but pleasant. Ginny and Draco had been in Voldemort's custody for several hours by now, and he shuddered to think what they had been subjected to.

"Hold on just a little bit longer," he murmured into the night. "I'm coming for you."

A flash of acid-green light flared into everyone's corneas and then nothing. Silence filled the room as a body dropped onto the floor, eyes staring blankly. An empty silver goblet rolled noisily out of a hand's slackened grip before coming to halt as it hit Ginny's feet.

The red head gaped at the dead body in front of her, her horror eclipsing any feeling of relief she felt at having had survived.

"You forget your place, Lucius," Voldemort commented silkily as he lowered his wand. "Mr Malfoy and Miss Weasley are my guests, not yours. I hope this fact does not slip your mind a second time else I will be using you next time. Consider this your one and only warning."

"O-of course, my Lord," Lucius replied shakily as he stared down at the corpse before him. "I did not mean to overstep your authority. Forgive me."

"It is only on account of your past service to me that you are still alive," Voldemort continued as he watched the pale-haired aristocrat bow his head in chastised submission. "Though I understand your… frustration with this blood-traitor, your lack of self-control has just forced me to sacrifice a loyal follower."

"Again, I beg your pardon, my Lord," Lucius grovelled.

"Return Wormtail's wand to him."

"Yes, my Lord."

"Perhaps some manual labour will help you calm your temper, hmm? You will remove Burgis' body from this room and deal with it appropriately."

"Of course, my Lord."

"Oh, and Lucius?"

"Yes, my Lord?"


Wincing as the man's screams of agony echoed around the room, Ginny finally broke from her stupor and turned her gaze to the Draco's pale form beside her.

"Are you okay?" she whispered as she quickly checked him over. Although his screaming had subsided, his muscles would still spasm sporadically every few minutes and sweat was puddling around him.

"T-the pain's… starting to… go away," Draco choked out as he blinked barely lucid eyes.

In the background, Lucius continued to convulse and scream.

"Is there… Is there anything I can do for you?" Ginny asked as she tried to ignore the sight of her friend's father continuing to convulse in pain.

"C-could you…block my ears please?" Draco rasped as a tear welled in one eye, stubbornly clinging to his eyelashes. "He may be a bastard… but he's still… he's still my…"

"I know," Ginny murmured quietly before carefully placing her trembling hands over his ears. She leant her forehead against the crown of his head as she grit her teeth and waited.

After what seemed an age but really was just a few moments, Voldemort released Lucius from his spell and sent him from the room, dragging the body of the man whom had unwittingly and unwillingly become a human shield for the Dark Lord's guests.

Ginny removed her hands from Draco's ears and helped him sit up when she saw Voldement had turned his attention back onto them.

"I do hope you'll forgive for that unpleasant little interlude," the Dark Lord apologised insincerely. "But you needn't worry. We shall endeavour on and continue our game."

A cheer rose from the crowd as Voldemort once more took his seat and gestured to the waiting wheel.

"Now, I believe it is young Draco's turn to spin for Miss Weasley."

Another roar of encouragement came from the watching Death Eaters as Wormtail bore down on Draco with his wand drawn. With no other choice, Draco—with a fair bit of assistance from Ginny— levered himself up and stumbled onto the platform. With a shaking hand, he reluctantly spun the wheel.

Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick

… … … Tick.

… … … …Tick.

… … … … …Tick.

… … … … … …Tick.

With bated breath, Ginny watched as her fate was decided. She couldn't hold back the faint thrill of hope that shot through her when she saw the black segment labelled 'Five minutes to escape'drawing nearer, but it was short-lived as the wheel stopped just two segments shy on a brilliant orange segment.

"Five minutes creeping and crawling," Voldemort read aloud with a sadistic grin. "Ooh, Lucius will be most disappointed he missed this one. It will be… most entertaining, I'm sure."

Uncertain as to what was going to happen to her, Ginny flinched back when the Dark Lord aimed his wand at her.

"A word of advice, my dear," the grin on his face stretched horrifically wide, "don't get squashed."

Ginny had no time to even scream before the spell hit her and then there was a twisting, turning pain ripping through her body. She could hear Draco's yells and jeering laughs echoing strangely around her before her hearing started to fade and her eyes rolled up into her head. All she knew next was darkness.

Whilst Ginny's mind retreated inside itself to escape the pain, Draco could only watch in sickened fascination as he witnessed the effect of Voldemort's spell. Gone was her red hair and soft skin, replaced with a shiny carapace and a pair of twitching antennae. Where once was only two legs, there was now six, each thin and sticklike. Her body had shrunk too and was now the size of Draco's big toe.

"Doesn't she make a lovely cockroach?" Voldemort asked him as the Death Eaters around them roared with perverted merriment.

Draco's mouth opened to reply but nothing came out. He was too repulsed by what he had witnessed to even begin to think of something to say.

At Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall had repeatedly stressed the dangers and complications of human transfiguation. Although turning someone into a toad may be a common threat heard amongst Wizarding folk, the actual application of human transfiguration on others was almost unheard of. And for good reason too. Not only were such spells ridiculously complicated, but also they could easily become fatal to both the caster and the victim should a mistake be made. In addition, using human transfiguration spells on anyone but yourself was widely considered to be highly immoral and could result in the caster becoming a social pariah.

Draco knew first-hand was it felt like to be transfigured against his will. The imposter Mad-Eye Moody's transfiguring him into a ferret was a memory that still stirred feelings of panic and embarrassment, and he hated the fact that Ginny was now being subjected to the same shameful treatment.

"And this isn't even the best part," the Dark Lord continued as he took in Draco's disgusted demeanour. "What do we do when we see a cockroach crawling on the ground?" he turned and questioned the masked mob in front of him.

"We step on it!" the crowd screamed in response as they all raced forward.

What occurred next could only be considered to be absolute mayhem as everyone left, right and centre hiked up their robes and began to chase the terrified insect around the room. Draco would have found the whole spectacle humorous if it were not for the fact that Ginny was stuck helpless somewhere amidst the chaos. The roach had quickly gotten lost amongst the stamping feet as it darted to and fro, fleeing for its life.

"I'm afraid a large portion of my followers seemed to have had a drop too much fire whisky with dinner tonight," the Dark Lord commented idly as he and Draco watched the madness from the safety of the dais. "Still, I suppose it's all right. Tonight is a night of celebration after all. I just wish some of them would show such lively enthusiasm when they were sober…"

Bemused by the idle chitchat, Draco just nodded absent-mindedly as his eyes continued to scan the ground for any sign of Ginny. His concentration was broken; however, by the Dark Lord's next words.

"Watch out," Voldemort advised as he pulled Draco back a pace to avoid being hit by the flailing arm of one of the more energetic Death Eaters.

Thrown by the uncharacteristic act of kindness, Draco's eyes narrowed as he tried to work out the man's ulterior motive.

"I don't want you to get hurt when it's not your turn," the Dark Lord answered, easily reading Draco's thoughts from his expression.

Draco shivered as Voldemort's eyes lit up maliciously.

"And I'm glad to see that you've decided to join in on the fun," Voldemort chuckled darkly as his gaze slid from Draco's face to land on the boy's foot.

Draco glanced down to see what had caught the Dark Lord's eye.

Beside his foot was a cockroach.

"Ginny! Thank Merlin," Draco breathed, relieved his friend had escaped from the throng of madly stomping Death Eaters.

All feelings of relief soon left him as Voldemort's words filtered into his mind. Swiftly crouching down to get a better look at his friend-turned-roach, Draco let out a gasp of horror as he finally understood what he had done. When he had been pulled back a step by the Dark Lord, Ginny must have already been standing behind him for pinned beneath his shoe was the tip of one of the cockroach's spindly legs.

Before Draco could even begin to process what he had unwittingly done, Voldemort spoke again.

"Five minutes is up."

The cockroach before him began to morph once more. Slowly, Ginny's body transformed back into its human form and size, perfectly whole but for the crushed foot that was still beneath his shoe.

The deranged crowd of Death Eaters applauded him as he carefully pulled his foot off of Ginny's mangled extremity before collapsing onto the ground beside her to check her breathing and pulse. Both were steady but her complexion was ashen as blood pumped out from the remains of her foot. Ripping a strip from the bottom of his shirt, Draco used it to create a makeshift tourniquet in an effort to prevent the redhead from bleeding out. He daren't even touch the mass of blood, bone and skin that was now her left foot.

"Well done, my boy," Voldemort patted him on the shoulder, causing Draco to flinch backwards. "I think you've just managed to prolong her life somewhat, which is excellent because we need her alive to spin the wheel. Wormtail?"

A quick jab with his wand and Ginny's pain-filled eyes were forced to open.

"Gah!" she panted as her face screwed up in agony. Tears coursed unwaveringly down her cheeks.

"Your turn to spin the wheel, my dear. Let's not keep young Draco waiting."

Ginny's sad eyes met Draco's for a heartbeat before she reached behind her and weakly spun the wheel.

Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick

… … … Tick.

… … … …Tick.

… … … … …Tick.

… … … … … …Tick.

"Five minutes upside-down," Voldemort called out as he twisted around to level his wand at the Malfoy heir. Draco swallowed and braced himself.

About 200metres from the main building, Atlas and his herd finally landed, taking shelter within a copse of trees. Wasting no time, Harry slid off Atlas' back only for his legs to collapse underneath his weight. Swearing quietly, he began to furiously massage his legs in order to restore circulation and regain some strength and warmth in his numb limbs. His ministrations worked, and after a brief and painful few minutes of pins and needles, Harry managed to lever himself upright and remain standing. A few moments of pacing to steady both his gait and his nerves later found Harry was ready to go. He had just stepped determinedly forward to begin his journey to the manor when he was halted by Atlas' grabbing the back of his cloak is his mouth.

A surprised "Wha-?" escaped his mouth as he was tugged forcefully backwards. Looking back, Harry saw the star thestral eyeing him with dark, chiding gaze before it turned its head to eye the area directly in front of Harry.

"Is there something there?" Harry asked scrutinising the same spot. Seeing nothing, Harry reached into the mokeskin bag around his neck and retrieved the replica Ravenclaw's diadem. He jerked back in shock when he saw just what Atlas had saved him from walking into.

Before him was a blazing wall of golden enchantment. Looking carefully, Harry could also see threads of both silver and black woven into the construct.

"The wards," Harry breathed kicking himself for not remembering the likelihood that his destination would be strongly protected. "I'm lucky you were here to stop me, Atlas. The whole mission would have been over before it even began otherwise."

Atlas regarded him steadily in reply.

It wasn't difficult for Harry to interpret the look.

"I'm not being careful enough, am I? I'm relying too much on the fact that I've drunk Felix Felicis that I've almost compromised my common sense with my cockiness. Shit, I'm such an idiot. Ginny and Draco are in danger and I've done nothing but get swept away in the fake confidence provided be a lucky potion. Pull yourself together, Potter. Luck does not equal assured victory."

Slapping his cheeks to wake himself up, Harry once more thanked Atlas before pulling his attention back to the wards stretching in front of him.

"Even if I can see the individual spells that make up the wards, it's useless if I can't identify them or don't know how to counter them. Even if I did know the counterspells, I doubt the wards failing would go unnoticed by Voldemort and his Death Eaters. So… my best bet would be to somehow get through the wards without setting them off at all. But how?"

Frowning, Harry looked around him for some sort of inspiration. His eyes eventually landed on a thestral standing patiently beside the wards. In the light of the golden wall, Harry could once more see the shadowy haze that drifted around the beast's body. His frown morphed into an inquisitive tilt of lips when he noticed that although the thestral kept it's physical body away from the wards, the shade of magic around it would occasionally touch and even penetrate the wall as it continuously shifted.

"I know that most people ward their houses against both people and offensive spells and such," Harry reasoned aloud, "but there must be some forms of magic that are allowed through. It would probably have to be really subtle magic, such that the wards wouldn't be able to sense it… Maybe if I…"

Harry called a portion of his magic up out of his core and let if drift around him, careful that none of it touched the wards. Slowly, Harry began to force the haze of his magic to change to match the wards in front of him. He could feel sweat dripping down his face as he urged his magic to mimic the play of gold, silver and black.

"There," he panted as he finally finished. "Let's see if this works."

Carefully, Harry urged his magic forwards. He held his breath when the haze met with the wards, only to sigh in relief when there was no immediate sign of alarm or retribution. Spreading his magic across the ward to create a big enough space for him to easily walk through, Harry tentatively reached out and touched that area of the wards. Once more, nothing happened. Buoyed by this success, Harry removed Ravenclaw's diadem from his head and stored it away before cautiously stepping through the wards. The night remained undisturbed around him.

"I did it," he breathed, relief rolling off him in waves. Behind him the thestrals began one by one to walk through the gap in the wards, Atlas in the lead. Reaching him, the star thestral crouched down clearly waiting for Harry to mount once more.

"You're all coming too?" Harry queried, as he slid onto the creature's back. A plan bloomed in his mind.

"That just might work."

'Just five minutes. Just five minutes. Just five minutes,' Draco chanted in his mind as he shut his eyes and tried to ignore the pressure building up in his head and the roiling contents of his stomach. He felt his body dip in the air as another Death Eater caught him with a spell before another spell sent his body flying through the air, only to be caught by someone else's spell once more and the whole process repeated.

When he had heard that he was to spend five minutes upside-down, he had felt a large degree of trepidation but that had at least been tempered by the fact that his punishment seemed quite straightforward and a great deal more bearable than what he had been subjected to earlier. What he should have taken into consideration; however, was the fact that the Dark Lord's mind was a twisted, sadistic thing and that nothing in life was ever as simple as it seemed.

Upon the Dark Lord's prompting, the five minutes upside-down had soon devolved into a bastardised version of catch, with Death Eaters taking turns flinging his helpless body across the room. The motion sickness this treatment caused combined with the raging headache of having all the blood rush to his head left Draco in a continuous haze of pain and disorientation.

At long last, the five minutes was up and Draco celebrated the reclaimed familiarity of having his feet on the ground by unceremoniously vomiting on the shoes of several nearby Death Eaters. This action would have likely gotten him cursed if not for said Death Eaters remembering what had happened to Lucius earlier in the game.

"If you're quite finished, it's your turn to spin the wheel again, my boy," Voldemort reminded from his throne. Draco glared at him as he brushed a sleeve over his mouth to remove the lingering vestiges of vomit. He slowly began to pull his body forward with his arms as he focused his gaze on Ginny's wan form and the wand Wormtail still had trained on her defenceless body. He knew that he had no choice but to spin that blasted wheel, but he'd be damned if he didn't take as long as possible just to give both himself and Ginny a little more time to recover before the next round.

Eventually reaching the wheel, Draco gritted his teeth and spun the blasted thing.

Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick

… … … Tick.

… … … …Tick.

… … … … …Tick.

… … … … … …Tick.

"Five minutes to kiss and make up," Ginny read in a breathy whisper, her fear shared by Draco. Both had a very bad feeling about this one.

"Ooh, this is one I'm sure you'll both enjoy," Voldemort promised, rubbing his hands together. He slanted a look at Ginny, his red gaze beaming into hers as he raised his wand once more.

"Let's see what you're made of, my dear. Imperius."

Utter terror raced through Ginny's veins before it was smothered under a wave of numbness. She suddenly felt nothing but calm, happy to simply be in the moment. Distantly she thought she could hear a voice that sounded quite like her own screaming something at her, but it was like trying to hear underwater and she soon gave up. A whisper right next to her ear caught her attention, however.

"Kiss young Mr Malfoy," it coerced softly.

The screaming voice in the background continued to bellow unintelligible words at her but the voice was drowned out by the much closer, much more intimate one.

"Look at poor Draco. Look how hurt and scared he is. A kiss would make all his pain go away. A kiss would make everything better again. So kiss him. Kiss him with all your might. KISS HIM!"

And with those two words the last of Ginny's free will was wrenched away. Her body rose shakily, and— like a zombie— she shuffled forward with her injured leg dragging sickeningly behind her towards the Malfoy heir.

"Oh sweet Merlin, Ginny. Please snap out of this!" Draco pleaded when she reached him, his eyes desperately searching hers for some form of sentience. He was met; however, with a blank stare and bloodless lips pulled into an unnatural pucker.

Unwilling to put up a fight and possibly further injure Ginny's damaged body, Draco shut his eyes, cradled her body so that he took the weight off of her mangled foot and let the Imperiused girl do as she had been commanded.

Wolf whistles and jeers were directed at the pair when Ginny regained control of her mind once more. She was startled to find herself locked in Draco's protective embrace, both of their chins dripping with saliva and lips swollen. It didn't take her long to put two and two together. Tears glittered down her cheeks as she observed Draco's tightly shut eyes and furrowed brow and the reality of the situation crashed down upon her.

"D-Draco..? I… I'm so… I-I—" she cut herself off, unable to continue as her shoulders began to heave with sobs.

She tried to wrench herself out of Draco's arms, certain that he would want nothing to do with her any more. After all, how could they ever look each other in the eye after something like this?

"You… You did nothing wrong," Draco murmured, refusing to release her. He had finally opened his eyes, but wouldn't bring himself to look at the girl.

"I'm the one who… who couldn't do anything to help you. None of this is your fault. I…I'm…" he burrowed his head into her shoulder as the words caught in his throat.

Before Ginny could even begin to protest, Voldemort's voice cut through.

"As fun as it is to watch you two cling to each other like limpets, the game isn't over yet. The wheel's right next to you, my dear. Why don't you give it a spin?"

If looks could kill, the Dark Lord would have been dead several times over, but alas, Ginny's glare didn't have that power and she was forced to comply with his order.

Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick

… … … Tick.

… … … …Tick.

… … … … …Tick.

… … … … … …Tick.

Draco's heart momentarily stopped when he read his fate.

"Five minutes with Lucius," Voldemort smirked enjoying the blonde's obvious panic. "Unfortunately; however, due to your father's lack of decorum earlier, he will not be available to play with you tonight. So you'll have to spin again, Miss Weasley."

"N-No," Ginny shook her head.

"What did you say?" Voldemort questioned quietly, his eyes narrowing.

"I said 'no'," Ginny reiterated, her chin quivering but her voice steady. "It's not our fault that Lucius acted like he did and got himself kicked out of the game. So let's just skip over Draco's turn and move onto mine."

"Ginny! What are you—"

"We muck up the game if you're given two turns. That's not fair!"

"But that'll mean that you'll—"

"It's fine, Draco."


"She has a point, my boy," the Dark Lord cut in smoothly. "It wouldn't be fair to Miss Weasley if you got another go. So let's move on, shall we? Your turn to spin, Draco."

Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick

… … … Tick.

… … … …Tick.

… … … … …Tick.

… … … … … …Tick.

"Five… Five minutes to escape," Draco breathed when the wheel finally stopped spinning, shock colouring his tone. His eyes met Ginny's for the first time since Ginny's last turn.

"Escape," Ginny repeated, her heart welling with hope as she ignored the boos from the audience of Death Eaters. "Escape."

"Well, it seems fortune is on your side, Miss Weasley, but let's see how far it extends," Voldemort suggested silkily. "Before you go, I'd like you to spin the wheel once more. That way we can keep Draco here entertained while you're busy running away."

Unease tainted the hope she was feeling but she had a plan. If she could spin the wheel with the right amount of force, maybe she could get it to spin one complete revolution so that it landed on the same segment and they could both have the chance to escape!

Bearing this in mind, Ginny carefully calculated how much force she thought she would need, before spinning the wheel.

Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick…

The wheel spun in a rainbow of colours

… … …Tick.

The black segment with Five minutes to escape came closer.

… … … …Tick.

The black segment was so close Ginny could almost taste it.

… … … … … …Tick.

"Just one more! Just one more!" she chanted under her breath, her excitement rising.

… … … … … … … …Tick.

"YES!" she cheered as Draco blinked at the wheel in shock. "YES! YES! YES!"

… … … … … … … … … … … …Tick.

Silently, the herd of thestrals ghosted through the corridors of the manor. His wand gripped tightly in his hand, Harry's eyes continuously scoped the area for movement as he allowed Atlas to decide where they went. So far they had seen neither hide nor hair of anyone. Although this was a stroke of fortune for them, his gut told him that this did not bode well for Ginny and Draco.

"N-no! NO!" Ginny screamed as she stared up at the wheel in horror. "It was on the black! It landed on the black!"

She turned to Draco frantically and grabbed his shoulders.

"You saw it, didn't you? It was on the black! It was!" she cried, shaking him.

"You're right. It did land on the black," Voldemort cut in smoothly, a diabolical light in his eyes. "But only briefly," he continued happily. "It seems you used just a little bit too much force when you spun, my dear, and now young Draco gets to enjoy the fate that you chose for him"

With obvious relish, Voldemort pointed happily at the golden segment the wheel had stopped on.

"Five minutes to die."

As those words issued from the Dark Lord's mouth, a wave of resignation swept over Draco, prompting him to release a sigh and close his eyes. All throughout the game, Draco had been furiously trying to stave off the feeling of hopelessness that had been clawing at his heart. Of course he had been scared for his and Ginny's lives. Of course he had felt angry at the situation and at the people putting them through this torture. And of course, his survival instincts had kicked in making him want to escape at any cost. Such emotions; however, were hard to hold onto and draw strength from when he knew deep down that they had never had a chance.

He had grown up being told horror stories about what happened to people who betrayed or defied the Dark Lord. His father had made sure he learnt very early on that there would be no mercy given, no excuses accepted. As a result of this conditioning, it had been a constant struggle to maintain his composure, but he had had done his best for Ginny's sake. Despite the pain and anguish unleashed upon her, she had yet to lose that spark of hope and life in her eyes, and he admired her for that inner resolve and had tried to mimic it. His attempts had probably been feeble at best, but the fact that he had lasted this long without succumbing to despair was a feat he would never have thought himself capable of.

He was proud of himself; proud that he had defied both his upbringing and the Dark Lord, and proud that he had torn through his prejudice and befriended Ginny Weasley, for it was she that had given him the fortitude to endure this all with some shred of dignity.

His gratitude to her warmed his heart and shattered the icy numbness of resignation that had gripped him. If he was to die then he would make damn sure Ginny's escape was successful. She deserved to survive this.

An odd keening sound pulled him from his introspection as beside him, Ginny's legs collapsed beneath her.

"What have I done?" she whimpered, her hands tugging harshly at her hair. "What have I done!?"

"It's not your fault," Draco whispered to her as he knelt down in front of her. "None of this has ever been your fault, Ginny. Never ever blame yourself for any of this!"

"But I—"

"But nothing! You have been nothing but been strong throughout this ordeal and I want you to hold onto that strength for just a little bit longer. You have to escape, Ginny. You have to get away from here as fast as you can and not look back. Don't ever look back!"

"I can't! I can't leave you here! Draco! Draco!" she sobbed into his shoulder.

Draco pulled her tightly into his embrace as he continued to speak softly but clearly into her ear.

"You must, Ginny. You must promise me that you will get out of this alive. And that means leaving me behind. I may die, but I'll die knowing that you are alive and safe. Don't you see? You must live for my sake, Ginny. I want you to live and enjoy your life as much as possible for me. That way I can share in your joy even though I can't physically be with you. But I'll be with you inside your heart so you must promise to be happy for me. Please, Ginny. For me."

A small whine of heartbreak echoed around the room marking the moment when Ginny finally acquiesced to Draco's request.

"Thank you," Draco breathed against her shuddering shoulder. "Thank you."

"I think that more than enough time for goodbyes, don't you?" Voldemort broke in, using a silent summoning charm to pull Draco to him.

Ginny gasped at the abrupt loss of her friend's warm embrace.

"Your five minutes to escape starts now."

"Go, Ginny! Go now!" Draco yelled from his position next to the Dark Lord. "And remember, don't look back!"

A strangled sob broke free from her throat as Ginny pulled herself up and turned away, racing to the door as fast as her mangled foot would allow her. When she reached it she paused momentarily, keeping her back to the room's occupants.

"Goodbye," she whispered, her tone of voice tortured but resolved.

"Goodbye," Draco breathed in response, his voice equally piteous but unfaltering.

Without looking back, Ginny began to run through the labyrinth of passages in hopes of freedom, the screams of Draco Malfoy echoing hauntingly behind her.

The muffled thump-drag-thump-drag noise interspersed with the occasional wheezing sob was the first sign of life Harry heard since his entering the manor. His heart raced as he prepared himself for whatever lay ahead. With noiseless feet, Atlas and his herd of thestrals continued their silent race through the hallways easily locating the source of the disturbing sounds.

Veering down a corridor Harry hadn't noticed, they went up a flight of stairs then rounded a sharp corner.

The noises were louder now; bouncing off the walls it seemed to come from everywhere. It took barely a moment for Harry to spot the cause.

"Ginny!" he called, rushing off Atlas' back to catch the red head when she threw herself back against the wall, startled by his sudden appearance.

Around them the thestrals swarmed, creating a protective barricade in case any Death Eaters came.

"Harry? Harry! Harry!" she raved over and over, collapsing against him when he neared.

"Sweet Merlin, Ginny. What have they done to you?" Harry gasped, overcome by the state of her injuries. Her clothes were little more than bloodied rags, her complexion pale and her foot! But it was her eyes that made Harry's heart clench. Even though she was looking at him straight in the eye, her gaze was unseeing. It was as if she was both with him and elsewhere at the same time. To say that Harry was unnerved was an understatement.

"Don't worry about me," Ginny half-yelled, as if his question offended her. "Draco! You have to save Draco! They're going to kill him! They're… They're..!"

"It's okay, Ginny. I'll save him."

Whilst rubbing consoling circles on Ginny's back, Harry used his free hand to reach into his pocket and retrieved the portkeyed quill that Xenophilius had given him.

"Ginny, I want you to hold this quill and say 'treble' for me, okay? You're brother's already there waiting and he'll take care of you. Don't worry about Draco. I'll be along with him shortly."

With nerveless fingers, Ginny fumbled the quill out of his hand and into hers. Pulling back out of Harry's reach, Ginny took a deep breath.

"B-both of you come back safe, Harry. Please," she begged, hugging the quill to her.

"We will," Harry vowed.

With a stiff nod, Ginny muttered "treble" and vanished from sight.

"Let's go," Harry called to the thestrals as he pulled himself back onto Atlas' back. Once more they began to quickly navigate the seemingly endless maze of corridors.

All too soon another sound reached Harry's ears. Gritting his teeth, Harry did his best to maintain his focus even as the sheer agony lacing Draco's screams pierced his heart.

"At least he's still alive. It means he's still alive," Harry chanted to himself as his hands clenched so hard into fists that they turned white.

Finally they entered a passageway with an open door at its end. Through the doorway, Harry could see the huge room was packed with Death Eaters, all of them facing away from the door as they watched some sort of spectacle up front. Considering the pain-filled screams emanating from that part of the room, Harry easily surmised just what spectacle the Dark Lord's minions were viewing so attentively.

Pulling Atlas to a halt before they entered the room, Harry regarded the thestrals around him.

"You all know what to do," Harry began, not even bothering to keep his voice quiet as any noise they made was drowned out by Draco's voice.

"I'll blast a hole around the door so it'll be easier for you all to enter. Remember, we have to be quick for this to work. We go in, we get Draco and we get out again. Don't stray from the group no matter what. We all ready? Good. Reducto!"

A blast of red light left his wand and blew a large chunk out of the wall, significantly increasing the size of the doorway.

"Charge!" Harry yelled, his arm sweeping down in front of him to gesture them forward.

The Death Eaters who had noticed the disturbance at the back of the hall turned to look in curiosity, but before they could even react to the sight that met their eyes, they found themselves getting stampeded by a large herd of thestrals. The pained yells of the trampled; however, attracted the attention of the rest of the Death Eaters and spells began to fly. Fortunately, the Death Eaters were so closely packed together within the room that there was very little room to manoeuvre and so any spells that did get cast usually ended up hitting another Death Eater.

Using this confusion and unpreparedness to his advantage, Harry and Atlas led the herd through the crowd to the front of the room, allowing their natural forward momentum to carry them even as countless Death Eaters got crushed beneath their feet.

Voldemort's stupefied face when Harry and Atlas burst free from the masses was amusing to say the least, but one look at the twitching pile of robes and blood lying at the Dark Lord's feet was enough to stifle any sense of humour.

Knowing the thestrals wouldn't be able to stop or even slow their pace, Harry spared a moment to hope that Draco was unconscious before summoning him with a flick of his wand. Draco's yell of surprise and pain told Harry that he wasn't.

"Let's go!" Harry yelled to the thestrals as he caught Draco's battered body. Holding onto the boy securely with his left hand, Harry shot off another Reducto at the nearest wall and he and Atlas led the charge out of the hall.

Despite the firm grip Harry maintained on Draco, the blood coating the blonde's skin made gripping difficult and it didn't help that Draco let loose a cry of pain each time his body was jolted.

Worried about how pale the Slytherin was, Harry dug around in his pocket until he found the coin that Xenophilius had turned into a portkey.

"Draco. Draco," Harry continued to call until he finally got the injured boy's attention. Several yells from behind him and a stray beam of red light that brushed over his head alerted Harry to the fact that the Death Eaters had begun to chase after them. Despite this realisation, he kept his attention fixed on his schoolmate's barely lucid eyes.

"This portkey will take you to where Ginny is," Harry explained as he carefully placed the coin into Draco's hand, wrapping the boy's unresisting fingers around it for him.

"Ginny's… safe?" Draco asked, a little bit of light returning to his eyes.

"Yes, and you will be too. Just say 'croquet'."

"And what… what about you?" Draco inquired as his head lolled back against Harry's shoulder.

"I'll be fine. I'll fly back with the thestrals and should be with you again in a couple of hours."

"P-Promise? Promise me you w-won't… let that monster get you…"

"You have my word," Harry replied. "Now go!"


In the blink of an eye, Harry's arms were empty once more.

Ducking low to avoid the stream of spells that were flying haphazardly through the air, Harry swung his head around to see how they were faring.

Although a lot of Death Eaters had been incapacitated (either momentarily or permanently) by the earlier stampede, there was still a large number of uninjured minions giving chase with Voldemort in the lead. The Dark Lord's face was a thunderous scowl as he chased after them, a continuous stream of different coloured spells bursting from his wand. Harry watched in horror turned fascination as the spells hit the retreating thestrals only to harmlessly dissipate upon contact. He resolved to ask Hagrid at a later date if a thestral's hide was spellproof or not.

His momentary lapse in concentration cost him; however, and Harry was forcefully reminded that although the thestrals were apparently impervious to Voldemort's spell, he was not. A long gash sliced into his left arm, catching him by surprise and almost unseating him.

"The Felix Felicis must be wearing off," Harry murmured as he prostrated himself against Atlas' neck so that he made a smaller target for the Death Eaters to aim at.

It was several more terrifying minutes of getting clipped by stray spells before they found an exit and Harry felt that it was safe to raise his head and look behind him.

As soon as their feet hit earth, each thestral would unfurl its wings with a snap and leap into the air, flapping furiously.

Through Atlas' heaving wings, Harry could see the snarling, angry faces of the Death Eaters beneath them as they futilely persisted in shooting off spells. It was too late though. There were far too many thestrals between Harry and the dark wizards for any of the spells to successfully get through and the ones that hit the thestrals just flickered out.

He saw a few Death Eaters try to pursue them on brooms, but as soon as they got too close to the herd, the nearest thestral would ram them back out of the air.

"We made it," Harry breathed to himself in disbelief. "We made it!"

Pumping his fist into the air, Harry let out a loud whoop of relief as he and the thestrals left the dark manor and its horrors far, far behind.

Unbeknownst to Harry, his enthusiastic fist pump had had an unexpected side effect. A single, black feather had been dislodged from his wings, and even as he continued to shout with joy, it fluttered away into the dark of the night. Whether it was due to the effects of the Felix Felicis wearing off or because it was ordained by fate itself, that lone feather was soon plucked from the air by a furious Voldemort.

At first, the Dark Lord ignored the feather, preferring instead to focus his attention towards the retreating figures of the thestrals and the bane of his existence. However, his attention was soon wrested away from their increasingly distant forms by the reaction his magic was having to the feather.

Ignoring the exclamations and questions of the Death Eaters surrounding him, he concentrated all his magic onto the feather, seeking to unravel its mysteries and discover why his core was responding so emphatically to the fragile object. He soon had his answer, and after pausing a moment or two to allow the full extent of this new knowledge to sink in, a primordial rage swept through his being, escaping the confines of his body in the form of a lingering, wrathful roar.

AN: So yes, another chapter (finally) done. You'll all be pleased to know that I've sat down and planned out the rest of the chapters for this story (if everything goes as planned, it should wind up to be about 40 chapters long). I've even got a little notebook filled with plans, drawings, class schedules, prank ideas, etc for Ends and Means. Haha.

This chapter's question: if you had a magic wand, what core, wood, etc would your wand be made out of?