Difficulties of Avoidance

by dead2self

A/N: Apologies! Between going out of town, getting a new nook and discovering library ebook borrowing, and general writer's block, it's been awhile. I've been reading way more than I've been writing lately. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this chapter. I feel like I got out the details of what I wanted to happen, but its one that I'd like to go back and touch up the actual writing, since it's characterization heavy and that's important. Anyways, enjoy! As usual, reviews are an incredible encouragement and are very much appreciated.

Ginny spent a class period resting in the hospital wing, watching Pomfrey flit around for a missing batch of Skele-gro. It became too hard not to laugh, so Ginny performed a miraculous recovery and returned to classes.

Though she had missed the mail at breakfast, Colin had caught a letter for her. She opened it at lunch to find Fred's reply to her question of carrying food. Shockingly, he prattled on about being unable to encourage his baby sister to break school rules. She read it twice for some sort of code, but could make no sense of it. Her only theory was that the twins thoroughly distrusted the owl post, and was abruptly unsure if her letter had been as innocuous as she had believed. She planned to ask them at the wedding and put off sending letters until then.

Happily, going to get her potions became a ready excuse for walking about the castle at uncommon times. She had to be careful about citing it to too many professors at different times, but it worked like a Confundus Charm with Harper. She had only to breath a mention of the hospital wing to put him a spitting rage that nonetheless directed him in the opposite direction. He seemed determined to prove that he did not care about her health, a change that Ginny welcomed. She could only imagine the pantomimes that Gregory and Demelza would produce if they saw Harper fluttering around trying to carry her every time she looked slightly winded.

It came as no surprise that Tom thought her and Luna overbearing as well. He predicted it would take several days and another handful of potions to fully recover, but his familiar acerbic tongue took only one.

"Soup? Surely even you could manage a simple Nourishment Draught that would aid me far better."

She had charmed a bowl of soup purple and poured it in an old potion vial to smuggle it up to the Room straight from dinner. Riddle claimed to taste residual potions in it. It was hardly her mother's chicken noodle soup, but as far as Ginny was concerned, soup was necessary to nurse her cranky patient back to equally vicious health. And Nourishment Draughts were not easy.

"I'm not planning on becoming a Mediwitch," she answered. "If I can't cure it with a Pepper-Up, I'd rather defer to St. Mungo's."

"An elementary knowledge of medical skills can allow one to be discreet," he told her. "With the amount of cursework you sling around, it is astounding that it has never crossed your mind." Riddle stirred in his bed, scowling down at his offending ribs. Ginny imagined they were still sore, but he quickly redirected his irritation to her. "Astounding, and yet not surprising. I admit my curiosity – what did you tell the matron about your curse? That was not the work of an ordinary student."

Ginny was not about to boost his ego, so she told him the truth - mostly the truth. She would leave out how Slughorn had found dusty vials of the necessary potions by sheer chance tucked at the back of the potions lab. Riddle probably guessed how close she had come to dying, but she would not let him appreciate it any more than necessary.

"She was appalled at such Dark magic," she answered, "but between the Petrified students and the near-Dementor attacks and a student murdered by Lord Voldemort and—" She swallowed thickly, and finished counting off on her fingers. "—near werewolf bites, I think that Madam Pomfrey has seen just about everything. In fact, she mentioned she was familiar with the curse after the Department of Mysteries my fourth year."

"The time my Death Eaters overran the Ministry of Magic," he commented with a thin smile. Since recovering he took new pleasure in bringing up unpleasant memories, but Ginny did not mind him bringing up this one.

"You're right – the time Voldemort couldn't take a prophecy away from a fifteen year old boy and lost a duel to Dumbledore that cost him a handful of his closest followers. I was there."

Riddle snarled, but that shut him up until he was finished with the soup. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed, but the threat of Riddle approaching while holding glass was enough to raise Ginny's wand. Quidditch could not help her forever, and that vial looked heavy.

"Stay over there, Riddle. I think we can both agree that you are more dangerous now and even though I don't want to hex you—" Riddle snorted. "—well, not viciously anyways. You're still sick and I have a conscience. The point is, you're going to spend a lot less time unconscious if you keep a safe buffer between the two of us."

Her thoughts summoned two replacement chairs for the charred remains their fight had left behind, and she motioned to the wooden chair. "An couple arm's lengths should be good enough, I suppose. Drop the vial first."

Ginny knew that he contemplated throwing it, but instead he set it on the floor with a clatter and lowered himself back into bed. His lips strained into a grimace as he hauled the blankets over his shoulder and turned to the wall. Ginny heaved a sigh at his melodrama but summoned the empty vial and Scourgified it. It was probably for the best – they were trying to smuggle food straight from dinner to avoid the after-hours restrictions and it would be suspicious if she disappeared for too long.

The next morning Luna emerged from the room with a frown. "He would not talk to me," she said, voice small.

"He's just sulking," Ginny reassured her. "He's done it before."

Luna offered a smile, but her normally wide eyes were half-mast. She watched her shoes all the way down to breakfast. Ginny thought it might be storming outside, but a glance out the window showed only fog rolling over the ground. As they walked through the Entrance Hall, the thunder rumbled from the Great Hall.

They entered a Great Hall in outrage. Some Slytherins had taken up a cheer that was washed out by the jeers coming from the Gryffindor table. Dennis Creevey stood as tall as his tiny frame would allow on the bench, shaking his wand so violently that red sparks shot from it. Ginny cast a glance at the Head Table. A copy of the Daily Prophet had unfortunately found its way atop the candelabra that centered on the table, and behind it McGonagall sat stiff-necked, making no attempt to douse the flames or end the yelling match that escalated between the Slytherin and Gryffindor tables.

"What is going on?" yelled Ginny, and was answered only by Colin shoving a newspaper into her hands. Ginny hardly expected much from the Daily Prophet, but what she read made her cry out with indignation.

"New Evidence Uncovered in Death of Dumbledore: Severus Snape Innocent?" read the headline beneath a picture of Snape blinking beadily at the camera. If it was meant to be a look of repentance or long-suffering, Snape wore neither well. Looking across the hall, Ginny finally caught a snatch of the Slytherin cheer – "Justice for Slytherin!" intermixed with "Filthy lying Griffindors!" She shot to her feet beside Dennis, screaming, "Traitors! Friends of murderers!"

Perhaps her red hair made her an easy target, but she was immediately hit with three jinxes at once. Ginny hit the table, scattering dishes with jerking arms and tentacles growing out her ears. With a roar, the Gryffindors fired back, and the Hufflepuffs dove beneath their table. Several Ravenclaws in the crossfire followed their example, others yelling for order, but their own Head Girl was slinging curses point blank at the Slytherin table.

"THAT IS ENOUGH!" roared McGonagall from the Head Table, stilling the room. Her wand was to her throat and the terrible expression on her face as she stood at full height stopped the dueling. "I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH AN UNCOUTH DISPLAY OF MAGIC IN ALL MY DAYS AS A TEACHER." Picking up on the mood, the ceiling of the hall thundered and crashed, disregarding the foggy weather Ginny had observed walking down. McGonagall's glare flicked to the ceiling, but when she spoke again, she was no longer screaming. Voice still amplified, she intoned, "I will have one hundred and fifty points from both Slytherin and Gryffindor." She cut off the resounding groan with a swift glance, nostrils flaring, and continued, "An additional fifty points from Ravenclaw. Miss Lovegood, you are the Head Girl. Dueling in the Great Hall is simply unacceptable behavior. We will speak further after breakfast."

The Ravenclaw table grumbled while Ginny climbed off the table and glared at Harper. She was sure he had been dueling too, but the sheer number of Slytherin students must have hidden him. Sure enough, he was nodding along with McGonagall, staring down Luna like a wolf about to eat breakfast. Luna had gone pink to her ears, clashing horribly with her hair, which had turned violently orange and shocked out straight in all directions. Ginny herself smacked Demelza twice in the stomach before her friends could reverse the Arm-Flailing Jinx on her. McGonagall looked like she wanted to go on, but the collection of strange ailments throughout the hall prompted her to send students to the hospital wing instead. Ginny got an earful from Madam Pomfrey, as if she had asked to be jinxed just to exasperate her condition.

The entire school was in a foul mood, excepting the Hufflepuffs who had pulled ahead in the House Cup for the first time all year. This combined with McGonagall's murderous atmosphere in Transfiguration class put Ginny in a sour mood the rest of the day. She smashed meatloaf for Tom into a vial at dinner and turned it green under the table. It looked nothing like a potion, but she did not think that even Harper would empty her bag. She hurried up to the Room, catching Luna's eye in the Entrance Hall. Harper was currently engaged convincing her to turn in her badge, a crusade he had taken up after breakfast. Luna's hair still had an orange tint, and her face showed she was not having a good day either. Ginny slipped upstairs before Harper saw her.

When she levitated the bottled meatloaf to Riddle, he snatched it from the air with reluctance. "Better than soup, isn't it?" she snapped at the look on his face.

Riddle regarded her through half-lidded eyes. "Is it another thrilling gossip column on the tragedy of Ginevra Weasley?" he asked.

"Ha ha," she droned. "Worse than that."

"I can hardly imagine." He shifted to sit straighter and caught her eye. "It seems pointless to keep secrets any longer. Do tell."

That was true at least, so Ginny crossed her arms and said, "They're claiming Snape is innocent, that Harry was just mistaken when he witnessed Snape murder Dumbledore."

"Ah," said Riddle, a smile growing on his face that said he was connecting dots that Ginny had not. "Brilliant."

"I want to send a letter to the editor that gives him boils for a month," she shot back, determined not to dwell on Tom's fear tactics. "Any desire to help with that?"

"Intriguing, but no." He attempted to slurp meatloaf out of the vial while Ginny remembered that she should have brought a fork. Still, not even Tom Riddle could look dignified with a potions flask full of meatloaf, and a reminder that he was human was welcome amidst ever more frequent jabs at her paranoia. Along those lines, his sickness could not have been timelier.

"Are you going thank us for saving your life?" she asked at the thought, though she expected his response. She fell back into the armchair while he stiffened.

"I healed myself," he barked, but her gall propelled him closer, within the circle of chairs around the low table. He set the meatloaf aside with disdain – for her question or the food, she could not make out. "You had no idea what you were doing."

"If I hadn't been here you would have stayed wrapped up in your blankets, knowing how to cure yourself and dying anyways." His weight was gathered on one back leg, like he might pounce at any moment, so Ginny kept her wand trained on him and motioned to his new wooden chair.

Riddle gave the chair a dismissive glance. "The injury you caused and your neglect was the cause of my illness. I see no reason to be grateful. Had I a wand, it would have posed no issue."

"I suppose we know you haven't got a spare tucked away," she said, jabbing her finger at the chair.

"I no longer have a need for that wand," he said. Raising an eyebrow, he settled into the chair and propped one foot upon his knee, a picturesque nonchalance. "I will incapacitate you and steal yours."

Ginny's heart thundered into an unsteady gallop, but she spun her wand around her fingers with a flourish and caught it. She raised an eyebrow back at him. "How do you plan on doing that? I've got six brothers, Riddle. I'm sorry, but you're not going to wrestle this thing away from me."

"You speak with undue confidence," he answered, waving away her claim. "I am giving you fair warning, Weasley, just as before. Never let it be said that I am not a gracious foe."

Ginny could not restrain a chuckle. Riddle regarded her with a steady eye, lips not twitching a millimeter. "If not that, at least one with a sense of humor." He remained still and she ventured, "Not a joke? You really think you're a gracious person?"

"Your life has been spared more times than you know in the last month," he said. "Although you irked me daily, I did not kill you blindly."

"Well sign you up for the Order of Merlin, First Class!" Ginny crowed. She swept her arms wide like an announcer at a Quidditch match. "Ladies and gentlemen! Tom Riddle did not try to kill me at the slightest annoyance – only when he was sure he wouldn't have to face the greatest wizard of our age. Fifty points to Slytherin!"

Riddle's mouth turned up in clear long-suffering patience as he cocked his head towards her. "You may be glib if you like, but please spare me your attempts to project your frivolous morality on me."

"Frivolous? I think the majority rules that trying to kill people is wrong, Riddle."

"A majority of people believes that killing me would be quite the opposite. Indeed, your friends are likely plotting murder as we speak."

"That's not the same," Ginny insisted as she watched Riddle's brow inch higher. "Oh no, don't pretend you have the moral high ground," she continued, cutting off his response. "Whoever makes a Horcrux loses the high ground on principle."

Riddle did not answer, but regarded her like a child running around with her mum's wand. Sensing that their conversation was closed, Ginny asked if he was planning on finishing his dinner. He was not.

Ginny was trying to Scourgify stubborn bits of green meatloaf from the glass on her way back to the common room when she found Harper and Luna in a heated whispered argument on the landing of the grand staircase.

"What was that light you shot off?" Harper hissed as Ginny tried to slip past. She may as well have been leading the basilisk across the landing the way his mouth twisted when he caught sight of her. "Of course, Weasley is up here!"

"I'm in Gryffindor," she said, taking no care to keep her voice down. "It's Gryffindor Tower. We're all up here."

"You know what I mean." He turned back on Luna and suddenly his wand was in his hand. She had never dueled him in class, but it turned out Harper was proficient at non-verbal spells – Ginny hit the floor in a Full-Body Bind before she had a chance to blink. Luna let out a short yelp, but cut off when Harper turned the wand back on her, spine ramrod straight. From the floor, Ginny could appreciate that Harper actually looked dangerous.

"I did not want it to come to this," he breathed to Luna, "but you are ruining everything I've worked for since fifth year. But what would you know of that?" he asked, eyes glinting. "For Merlin's sake, you weren't even a prefect before this year. But I know you are doing something dangerous and I simply cannot allow you to discolor my record, not when a career can be built on a exemplary year as Head Boy."

Luna was not moving, arms tight against her side and watching the tip of Harper's wand with glassy deer eyes. Wand, Luna, draw your wand! Ginny thought, but her jaw was locked shut.

"Do not be frightened," continued Harper. "I promise I will only direct you to McGonagall's office to tender your resignation and explain what you have been plotting with Weasley all year. I won't make you do anything else. Of course, you will not be able to remember this conversation, either of you, but it's for the best. Whatever you're doing, you obviously have no control over it and I'm just putting a stop to it before you get yourselves killed."

Before Ginny could fully digest what Harper intended to do – the various disasters it would cause – Luna opened her mouth. "I have never had the Imperius Curse placed on me, Thomsen Harper," she said as though they were discussing this month's Quibbler, "but I have read about it. Resisting the curse requires great strength of the mind and sense of self. I doubt you are much practiced at the curse and I am confident in my natural ability to fight it, though I have no practice." Her voice struck their air like a quavering bell. Harper's wand wavered and Luna took a step closer so that it was nearly touching her chest. She tilted her head to match his gaze. "Perhaps you can make me talk to McGonagall, but you cannot control me the rest of the year. If you don't let Ginny up and leave us alone, I swear I'll—I'll kiss you in the middle of the Great Hall! I swear I will."

Harper's breath hitched and had Ginny not been frozen, her jaw would have dropped. She was fairly certain Luna had never snogged a boy in her life, but she could easily imagine Luna marching straight to the Slytherin table and planting a matter-of-fact kiss on the Head Boy. From the horror on Harper's face, he was picturing the same.

"Beyond that, once I'm free I'll tell McGonagall how you've been helping us from the beginning. It will be our word against yours, and you are a Slytherin. Who is she likely to believe?" Harper mouthed a protest soundlessly, coloring from anger, and Luna blinked slowly in contrast. "You can make me forget this conversation, but not that I dislike you. We will want to bring you down with us."

Ginny saw the wheels turning in Harper's head. He was truly trapped now – if he cursed Luna his reputation was at risk, but sparing her left him with two girls he had threatened with the Imperius Curse.

It was truly one of Luna's finest moments, but they did not get the chance to appreciate it. Harper's jaw locked and he stabbed his wand at Luna, who jerked back, eyes going cloudy. Then Ginny felt the Bind fall away like concrete draining from her veins and was halfway to her feet before her mind went white.

Blinking fiercely to clear her head, Ginny spotted Harper backing away from an apparent argument with Luna. Harper looked capable of murder, so Ginny tried to slip past unnoticed. She need not have worried. Harper grunted, "Just don't come crying to me when Weasley gets herself killed," and swept back in the direction of the dungeons.

"What was that about?" Ginny asked, coming forward once he was out of earshot.

Luna shook her head, pawing at the air around her ears, mumbling, "Curse these Wrackspurts—Oh, I don't know; I think I may have stopped listening around the middle bit. I often stop listening to Harper."

"Knew you were in Ravenclaw for a reason. So, why were you up here?"

"Oh!" cried Luna, eyes going alight. "The Patronus. That's what we were arguing about – he spotted a bit of my Patronus when I shot it off and chased it this way."

Ginny frowned. "We'll need to be more careful. In fact, tomorrow I suppose we should just leave him with enough food to last the weekend. It will be too dicey trying to shoot off a Patronus at the wedding." Luna agreed and quickly Ginny relayed that Riddle was both talking again and threatening to steal her wand. Delighted, Luna left for her common room to prepare a new Wrackspurt ward for Tom as a morning peace offering. "I've just noticed they are all over the seventh floor," she confided in Ginny, who did not have the heart to tell her that Tom would think it was foolish.

It was only delaying the inevitable, for Luna emerged from the Room in the morning still carrying the strange sash of radishes she had fashioned. She reported with a brave smile that Riddle refused to acknowledge her again. Luckily, breakfast provided some humor. For whatever reason, Harper fairly dove beneath the Slytherin table when Luna passed, upending a plate of bacon into Astoria Greengrass' lap.

Still, Harper's antics were nothing next to Riddle's.

Between them, Luna and Ginny had managed to smuggle leftovers from every meal up to the ticklish witch's passageway and Ginny headed straight there after dinner to move it all into the Room. Luna redirected foot traffic by citing Peeves in a murderous mood, and Ginny slipped into the Room while juggling enough food to serve a small family.

"Good evening Ginevra," said Riddle next to her ear.

It was a close thing that Ginny did not drop every ounce of food, but she channeled her shock into a yell: "Two arm's lengths!"

"Yours or mine?" he asked, not backing away.

Judging his arms longer than hers, she snapped, "Yours, of course."

"My apologies for the confusion," he murmured, stepping back the appropriate amount. Ginny recognized the polite tone as a shadow of Riddle the Head Boy, the first boy she had encountered in the diary.

"Stop that," she said, levitating the spare food to an empty corner of the room.

"I am doing nothing unsavory, surely," he said. "I thought perhaps you would join me for dinner."

"Stop pretending to be polite. And I already ate," she answered, studying his demure smile. "So you're talking to me, but you won't talk to Luna?"

"I am polite," he said, ignoring her question.

"Did the fever mess with your head?" she asked. "I don't have time for this. I just need to make sure you're settled for the weekend since I'm going away for Bill's wedding."

"Please, Ginevra," Riddle answered, taking a step between her and the door, "I must insist. I will not keep you long, but I think it is time we have an honest conversation." She was almost relieved to see the predatory smile peel back his lips. This, at least, was familiar.

Huffing, Ginny stomped across the room and sat down. Riddle had angled the two chairs to face each other without the table separating them, though they remained a proper length apart.

"Allow me to set the tone," said Riddle as he joined her. "Yes, you are correct. It seems to distress the little fool."

It took Ginny a few moments to realize that he was answering her question about Luna. She bristled under his amused stare. "Being ignored won't faze Luna. She's more resilient than you think."

"You do not treat her as such, and she takes notice."

That needled unpleasantly in Ginny's stomach. "I thought you were going to be honest. I've seen honesty on you before, and it's not pretty. Isn't there usually more spitting and broken bones involved?"

"You'd like me to tell you I want to kill you? I thought you did not wish me to repeat old history. I apologize – I do indeed want to kill you, to duel you into submission, and cast the Cruciatus Curse until an Imperius is not necessary. That has been my most fervent desire for some months now."

Ginny's stomach turned and Riddle laughed at her. Luckily, she had still stuffed tonight's dinner into potions vials and watching him try to coax shepherd's pie stuck to the bottom into his mouth made Ginny laugh also.

"Why don't we talk about the elephant in the room?" Ginny said as he scowled at her humor. "Voldemort is back." Tom got a carrot to the eye when he tipped the jar back, and his cursing gave Ginny time to measure her words. "What does that mean… for you? To you?" she asked.

"Need you ask?" he said, scrubbing at his face. He set the food aside and sat straight. "If I have been brought to the future, then I clearly have need for myself. I will gladly heed the call when I escape."

It was the first time Tom had spoken about joining Voldemort and Ginny regretted asking the moment he opened his mouth. Fear settled in her stomach like a stone. When she could say nothing, could think of no way to spin the conversation away from their inevitable failure, Riddle cast her a well-acted sympathetic glance.

"This must dishearten you, dear Ginevra. You want to change me. To turn me on myself."

Ginny blinked out of her stupor. She had not been aware that he had gleaned that information from her head. "You want me to apologize?" she sneered.

"Hardly. It is a rational endeavor, albeit a fruitless one." Ginny just managed to bite back replying, "I know," and watched him tap a finger on his jaw. Still, there was a growing buzz at the back of her head – anger, annoyance, something that made her skin feel too tight. Riddle leaned forward on his knees, every tooth showing and eyes glittering.

"I'll tell you what I plan to do, so that we may be equal and honest with one another. I will be the perfect prisoner. I'll suffer your inane questions and help with your homework. I won't lay a finger on Lovegood, so you need not worry. You will doubt my sincerity and remind yourself that I've told you what I am doing. But you will wonder – hope – what if he has changed? But I will not have forgotten my promise."

"Every hex, every broken bone, right?" she recited, staving off a shudder with levity. "Guess you'll have to add another few bones to the tally. And your plan has a problem – I don't think it's possible for you to change," she admitted. "I can't speak for Luna, but I can't imagine you being anything but a completely soulless prat. That's not the point." She met his eye with mettle daring him to try to understand what she was thinking. It was a puzzle that she had not realized she was assembling until those words left her mouth, pieced together with pillow lines on his face, broken bones, forged essays, potion bottle dinners, and even the nightmares from her first year.

"Since we are being honest, what, Ginevra, is the point?"

"Haven't you worked it out yet? We're protecting ourselves, but we're protecting you too, you git!" she snapped. "You have no idea… if there was so much as a whisper that a young Lord Voldemort was living at Hogwarts, you'd be dead before you could say Dementor's Kiss. And that's if Voldemort doesn't find you first."

"Do not patronize me. I am Lord Voldemort."

"Of the past. You said it yourself: the Voldemort of the present, the one who pulled you forward out of time, has other plans for you. You say he needs you, but I suspect it's not in your best interest."

"What is in his best interest is my best interest," Tom snarled. "We are the same person."

"You have changed a lot, Riddle. You're emancipated, ugly, and your soul is ripped to shreds. You—"

"—are ridiculously powerful. Just like I've always desired." Ginny trembled slightly as his dark eyes blazed down at her. He had shot to his feet. "What I am now has been, and always will be, my greatest aspiration. If by using my younger, fuller self I become more powerful, it is only to my gain."

Ginny was surprised to feel herself shaking with anger, not for all the things Tom Riddle had done, but because he was willing to sacrifice himself for—for what? She leapt out of her chair. "You—You're—You're insufferable!" she sputtered.

"You're simply unable to grasp the complexities of the situation."

"You don't know what you're talking about. You don't know him—"

Riddle's cold voice cut her off. "I know myself better than anyone else. Do not be presumptuous."

He spoke with a finality that was chilling, but Ginny was not quick to back down either. Planting her fists on her hips as she had seen her mother do countless times with her brothers, she shouted, "You should stop being presumptuous. He's going to kill you!"

Tom regarded the blazing-eyed girl with an air of exasperation. "I can't die; you, of all people, should know that."

"The Horcruxes are all going to be—"

"Do not be so confident in your boy-hero and that coot's best-laid plans. In any case, if I am killed, I suppose my consciousness would merely merge with that of my present self. In the best case scenario, my soul would also be absorbed, thus negating what little damage your Horcrux-hunters manage to dole out."

Raking her fingers through her hair, Ginny finally threw her hands in the air and shrieked with frustration. "How can someone who's so smart be so bloody stupid!" she screamed. "Maybe some people don't want you to become some hanger-on spirit in a barely human, deformed old man! Maybe some people don't want you to screw up your life! Maybe I would prefer that you stay you and not become him!"

Ginny had forced him to take a step back, and for once, Tom looked completely baffled. His hands were relaxed and hung at his side without him noticing, but he was carefully scrutinizing Ginny. Calculating, she noticed, not touched. "What?" he snapped. "Don't you hate me?"

Ginny glared fiercely. "Well, I should."

"You are not speaking sense. Explain."

"I don't like you either, if that's what you're asking. You are a very intelligent, very gifted wizard Riddle, I will give you that, but you know nothing about people."

"Please, I know more about people than—"

"You know how to manipulate people, Tom; it is not the same thing. You do not have the slightest inkling of what a relationship with another human being is like. What you have become now, Lord Voldemort, is the furthest extreme of that flaw. You still haven't gone that far." Ginny saw rage building in Tom's lips, but she pushed on, the words tumbling out of her mouth before he could stop them. "Yes, he is powerful, but for what purpose? He can't be happy. Take a step out of yourself for just a second and ask yourself: what do you really want?"

"I want power," Tom answered without pause, but Ginny imagined the faintest hint of doubt in the set of his mouth.

"Of course you do," she said sadly. For a moment it seemed the conversation was over. But then Ginny asked, "Why?"

Silence stretched between them until finally he said, "So you are calling me Tom again? How nostalgic."

"What do you care what I call you?" she grumbled.

"I do not want you to get the impression that we are friends, Weasley."

"No worries there. I don't think you could have a friend if you tried!" They locked eyes, toe-to-toe and glowering, and simultaneously realized that they were breaking Ginny's two-arms-length rule by a wide margin. Riddle shifted forward like a cat while Ginny backpedaled gracelessly.

"A-Alright then," she stammered, furious that her voice betrayed her. "So you've got enough food, I've got a wedding to attend… Fixing to be an excellent weekend."

It hardly seemed possible, but the Burrow was in a state of chaos more advanced than Christmas. Ginny found herself grateful that Hogwarts had not allowed her to miss classes, for she arrived on the eve of the wedding after most of the chores were through. Fred and George were still hard at work charming together an impossible number of golden balloons and they mouthed 'traitor' at her over her mum's shoulder while she trundled her things through the kitchen.

Four beds had been fitted into Ginny's room for guests, so tightly packed that Ginny could hardly open her own door. It took some effort and cursing to push her trunk through the opening, but when she clamored through over it, she spotted a familiar head of hair, even more frizzy than normal.

"Hermione!" Ginny cried, scrambling across two beds to reach her. Hermione glanced up from her reading just as Ginny tackled her in a hug. The both sat up laughing after Ginny dislodged herself from between two beds and Hermione stowed the hefty black tome she had been reading inside a small beaded bag. "How are you?" asked Ginny. "For some reason I didn't think I'd see you until tomorrow."

"Yes, well, with Grimmauld Place being the way it is, Mrs. W—Molly insisted."

"Molly?" Ginny laughed. Hermione sniffed, pulling her shoulders back.

"We graduated nearly a year ago, and we are members of the Order. It's only right that we are a first name basis with the other members."

"So Mum is insisting?" Ginny asked and watched Hermione deflate.

"Yes," she admitted. "I suspect she thinks that if she ties us closely enough to the Order, we won't go away."

"Go away?"

"No one else knows about the Horcruxes," she said. "And we've had rotten luck finding any with everyone hovering. We've been waiting for the wedding, but we'll be off on our own to follow some leads."

"Don't tell me any more!" Ginny said, thinking that she did not want to avoid Riddle's eyes again. "I don't want to know. Just in case."

"Oh, right," Hermione said, flushing. "Er, so how is Hogwarts?"

Thankful for the change of subject, Ginny told her about their arguments with Harper and her confrontation with Slughorn. They both had a good bout of anger over the Daily Prophet (which Hermione reported was well in the Dark Lord's pocket), and Ginny related the incident in the Great Hall to the horrified former Head Girl. Hermione told her about the Minister of Magic's surprise visit a few days earlier and the incident with Dumbledore's will. They had all been staying at the Burrow since Dumbledore's death, as the Order worried that the headquarters was compromised at Number 12, Grimmauld Place. Ginny felt a small stab of resentment that Dumbledore had considered her an Order member for taking care of Tom, but she had not heard an inkling about Order business in months. Hermione assured her that they would have owled, but the heavily infiltrated Ministry was watching the post.

Both girls carefully avoided any direct mention of Harry Potter or Tom Riddle. They talked until Fleur and her sister Gabrielle entered the room in a nervous flurry, insisting on absolute silence so that the bride could get a full night's sleep. Ginny was grateful for Hermione's tact, but she could not help letting her thoughts turn to Harry when silence fell. It would probably be best that she not talk with him, but knowing he was sleeping just a few floors above her put her stomach in knots. It was the first time Ginny had been thankful that Fleur asked her to be a bridesmaid. It would keep her busy most of the day.

By noon, Ginny decided it would also be the last time she had any goodwill towards Fleur for the honor. Her hair had been tugged every which way and curled around a wand until her scalp tingled. It did not help that she was getting ready next to Gabrielle Delacour, who made Ginny feel like a shrivelfig in comparison. Worse, amidst the rapid French between Gabrielle and her sister, the name "'Arry Potter" came up often. In the very least, their dresses were beautiful. Ginny would not have put it past Fleur to choose pink dresses to clash with Weasley hair, but instead found herself in a fabulous golden dress.

Ginny managed to get into the kitchen for lunch, but her brothers and Harry were already outside waiting for the guests. She shared the table with the sniffling Madame Delacour, who looked stunning even while dabbing away tear streaks. Then, before she knew it, she was being hustled outside for the ceremony. She spotted a red-haired boy from Ottery St. Catchpole, and with start realized that it must be Harry, disguised for the wedding. He did not see her, but she noted his seat. When the ceremony started and he could not tear his eyes from her, she thought she might thank Fleur after all.

The wedding was beautiful and with Muriel making comments about her dress, Ginny kept entertained. She winked at Harry once before she remembered that she was not meant to be talking with him, and a wink would probably lead to a dance, which would probably lead to a conversation. It was better to focus on Bill, who was beaming like Greyback had never happened, and Ginny struggled to keep her eyes dry.

Once the reception was underway, Ginny gravitated to the twins and their friends, who were always good for a laugh. Fred and George reassured her that they were fully supportive of her rule-breaking and taught her a spell that would keep messy food safe inside a bag. They practiced by ferreting the wedding cake away for some time until Mrs. Weasley looked apoplectic. Ginny spotted Luna's father in blinding yellow robes and wished that Luna could have come; she would probably have an explanation for the gaudy dress. Ginny took turns with Lee Jordan guessing at it, and ended up on the dance floor with him when the twins disappeared with some stuffy veela cousins.

Several partners later she spotted Harry looking rather sour, and Ginny contemplated going to introduce herself to new "cousin Barny" to relieve him of Aunt Muriel's company. She excused herself from a dance with Charlie and started across the dance floor, when a silver linx dropped through the canopy over the reception. Ginny stumbled back from it as it landed, gleaming, in front of her. Dancers froze around her as the Patronus opened its mouth, issuing Kingsley Shacklebolt's voice.

"The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming."

A/N II: Here's to spoiling the seventh book! Huzzah!