Ginny thought about her wedding night before she went to sleep every evening, and she finally reached a conclusion. The past was just that: past. She couldn't hold his former transgressions against him any longer. It was though a weight had lifted. They loved each other and they could make it work. Though she knew he'd lost his job due to his renewed drinking, she was positive that they would find a way to sort it out. For the first time in years, she was free.
Hermione sat at her table, as she had so many mornings before, reading the Prophet. Neville and Luna were among the most recent of her acquaintance to make the front page by abandoning their spouses and running off to a foreign country. The Minister was sending Aurors to bring them back to Britain, and, eventually, Azkaban. She sighed.
From gossip at the Ministry, Hermione knew the Minister was at a loss. Forcing the community to marry at its bidding instead of their own will had done nothing except increase adultery rates across the country – not to mention the number of wizards being presented with children from marriages that had never been consummated. Hermione placed a loving hand on her stomach. After Viktor left, she'd tell Ron the news; they might just have to join Neville and Luna in America.
Looking at her watch, she knew she needed to wake Ron. Though he had married Pansy, and Dean had married Padma Patil, Ron stayed with Hermione except when Viktor demanded his bi-weekly visit. Dean, of course, stayed at Ron's home with Pansy, and it was rumoured that Padma had been seen late at night in Godric's Hollow on several occasions. Which reminded her, Viktor was due any moment for one of such visits, though she didn't know why he bothered. With another sigh, she stepped into the room and woke up her lover.
Hogwarts was shimmering with permanent icicles in the usual preparations for the holidays. Ginny was exuberantly packing her trunk, thinking of her little niece-or-nephew-to-be and wondering how soon she could convince Harry that she wanted theirs to be a real marriage after all. Perhaps the little one could have a small cousin by next Christmas. Term hadn't ended yet, wouldn't for two more days, but Ginny was too excited to wait. She finished packing and walked quickly down to the dungeons. A N.E.W.T.-level class was due to attempt the Polyjuice Potion that lesson and she wanted to make sure she had the ingredients handy.
The next few days flew by very quickly for Ginny. The majority of the students returned to the Hogwarts Express to visit their families for the holidays, and the remainder of them curled up in the worn comfort of Hogwarts' many armchairs for a fortnight of delightful times in the castle. Ginny sent her trunks onward to Godric's Hollow and walked quickly through Hogsmeade, stopping only once she reached Hermione's door.
She'd made up her mind in the long weeks before the holidays that she would throw a house party for Christmas. Merlin knew Harry's house was large enough and a week of friends and family underfoot all the time ought to keep him from the bottle. Once he was sober, she'd simply tell him she'd changed her mind and be done with it. She smiled nervously. If only it were really that easy, she thought.
The door opened and a slightly rounded Hermione appeared. "Ginny!" she exclaimed.
Pregnancy suited Hermione. Her face had softened; her hair was much heavier, making it less busy, and even her smile was gentler. Ginny choked down her envy.
"Hi! I can't stay long," she said quickly, dismissing Hermione's gesture to come inside. "I was just stopping by to ask if you and Viktor would be at tonight's dinner or tomorrow's?"
"We'll be there at eight sharp," Hermione told her. "Do you mind if I bring Prongs? I hate to leave her alone for the holidays."
"Actually," Ginny muttered sheepishly, "That's kind of the main reason I stopped by. Would you mind sending her over earlier?" she pled.
"Of course you can borrow her services," Hermione chastised. "She's a free elf, you know…all you have to do is ask her." She summoned the elf and explained the situation.
"Prongs is happy to help Mrs. Potter," came the squeaky little reply.
Ginny smiled: Mrs. Potter. She loved the sound. She hugged Hermione and Disapparated.
When she arrived in Godric's Hollow, she sent Dobby to light lamps while she began to clean the dark, dank house. In the sitting room, she vanished the bottles of firewhiskey from the shelf and set room to rights with a flick of her wand. Prongs was happily preparing dinner for the many guests invited to spend the holiday break with the Potters. Within an hour, the house gleamed and dinner was well on its way to perfection. Harry, however, still had not returned.
Ginny looked anxiously at the clock – it was nearly seven. Hoping he arrived in time to greet their guests, she retreated to the room she'd spent a brief hour in on her wedding night and took great care with her appearance. It was showtime.
Harry Apparated into his drawing room. All the lights were burning and the house was spotless. More importantly, his shelf was empty.
"DOBBY!" he bellowed, the sound echoing through the room. The elf appeared. "What have you been doing?" he demanded angrily.
"Missus Potter, she says we is having a house party. The guests, Harry Potter, sir, is coming any minute," the elf replied, frightened of the smoky tone his master's eyes had taken.
"Nice of her to let me know she was coming home – let alone that we were having a house party," he muttered, feeling distinctly annoyed with his 'wife' at the moment. Clutching a small bag to his chest, he hurried to his bedroom. Part of him wanted to sit there the entire evening and let her pull of her party her damn self. The rest of him was too desperate for even a glance at her to allow him to consider it. Through the wall came the sounds of Ginny bathing. He took a deep breath to calm a wave of desire so strong he wasn't sure he could keep his feet. It didn't work. He took several more, and found himself relaxing. He blocked the noise and hurried to change.
Twenty minutes later, he stepped out of his room to see Ginny standing, resplendent, in the hallway. Her robes were a faint silvery, silky material that floated when she walked. He gulped.
"Harry," she said warmly, holding out her hand, eyes shining with something indefinable.
His heart swelled with hope, but he quickly quashed it. It was too late. "Wife," he replied curtly, taking her hand and leading her down the stairs.
Ron escorted Pansy to the front door of his brother-in-law's house. The short ride in her car was the longest they'd seen each other since their brief marriage the month before. They hadn't spoken. Instead, he'd been remembering the 'meeting' he'd been summoned to in Percy's office that very morning.
The result of the Minister's infuriation with the outcome of his Marriage Law had forced him (in Percy's words) to add a clause to the original decree: any person caught having relations with a person not their spouse would be sent to Azkaban. The Minister wasn't going to wait for couples to run off – he was hiring a new branch of the Ministry. This branch would encompass agents who were to blend in with the crowd, and watch those under suspicion of adultery. When they had obtained proof, they were authorised to arrest and detain until a trial could be arranged.
Percy had urged Ron to comply with the new decree. He, Hermione, Pansy and Dean were the first names on the Minister's list. Ron had gone back home and warned Pansy and Dean of the coming danger, but Pansy, it transpired, was expecting. She and Dean would be leaving for Australia after the house party. Ron understood. He and Hermione were moving to the islands of Hawaii as soon as the party was over.
It was becoming more and more common. Over the two weeks preceding the party, some one hundred people had fled Britain to escape the law. The Ministry didn't have enough Aurors to send after them all. Those were just the ones reported missing. Many more spouses weren't alerting the Ministry at all. They simply waved good-bye and went about their business, the Ministry none the wiser. The Ministry was suffering more than just embarrassment. Employees were abandoning their jobs and disappearing. Nearly half of the Unspeakables were gone, and a quarter of those in all other departments had vanished. Diagon Alley was nearly deserted as people just dropped their old lives to spend their time with the person of their choice in a foreign country. If the Ministry didn't do something, soon the magical community would be all but extinct in Britain – which was precisely what the Marriage Law was supposed to prevent.
Ron reached the door and Harry opened it before he could knock. He led them into the great room, and Ron looked around in amazement. He'd always known that Harry was rich – it was a fact that had made him uncomfortable on more than one occasion during their Hogwarts days. The only thing that had made it bearable was the fact that Harry had never flaunted it – had, in fact, been nearly as embarrassed by it as Ron was. But the Great Room at Potter Lyceum was as grandiose as the old Malfoy manor had been in its day.
The walls were covered in exquisite silk paper, striped in gold, navy and cream, and the floors were a cream marble, polished until it shone, reflecting the light of the crystal chandelier above. The chandelier was brightened by the lights of no less than two hundred candles, and Ron could feel even Pansy gasp in delight at the grandeur of the hall.
Sitting in a grouping of navy velvet sofas and armchairs in a corner were Dean and Padma, as well as Seamus and his wife, Parvati. As far as Ron knew, they were the only genuinely happy couple invited. Hermione and Viktor were nowhere to be seen, but Ron could hear the twins coming up behind them, wives Angelina and Verity in tow. Finally, Ron heard his mother's vague voice weaving through the conversation. A short while later, Charlie arrived with his wife and Fleur. The growling of tummies echoed through the room, and Ron watched the door, waiting anxiously for Hermione and Viktor to arrive.
"Dinner is ready," called Ginny, entering the room. Ron thought his sister looked quite a bit better than she had of late. "Are we just waiting on Hermione and Viktor?"
"Yes, dear," Harry replied. Ron shot a glance at his best friend. He wasn't too sure he liked Harry's tone.
Ginny shuddered at the ice in her husband's voice. It was obvious Harry was still upset about their wedding night some two months ago, but she was determined to make the best of things. She had to stay at his house for the entire fortnight, and she wouldn't be miserable either. Perhaps she should tell him now that she'd changed her mind, she mused as Hermione led her husband through the door. She announced dinner and she and Harry led the way to the formal dining room.
As the hearty, simple fare was served, a buzz of conversation flowed through the room. She reached out with her left hand and drew Harry's arm to her, beckoning him closer. When his ear was level with her mouth, she bent to whisper.
"Harry, I've changed my mind."
"Well, it would be rude to send them all home now. You'll just have to tolerate it," he responded quietly.
"No! Not about the house party, you twit, about us," she whispered, her voice coming out as seductively as she could make it. "Will you help me make this a real marriage?"
A real marriage? Harry thought viciously. Now she wants a real marriage?
"It's too late, Ginny," he whispered.
"No, it can't be," she murmured forcefully. "Harry…"she paused, as if gathering her courage. "I'm begging you."
The images conjured by those three words forced Harry to relent. Besides, said the little voice in his brain, you need her nearby. He shut it down. He preferred not to think of it at the moment. He looked in her eyes and nodded slowly. Her face lit up, glowing with a happiness he hadn't thought to see there again.
Soon, dinner was over and their guests were following his wife to the Great Hall, where she had arranged for games and cards. Ron immediately challenged Viktor to chess, while Hermione curled up in a plush chair with a book, clearly refusing to get involved in a spitting contest. Harry felt, rather than heard, Ginny's stifled laughter. Seamus brought his guitar downstairs and began to sing the more haunting of his songs; songs of war, of pain, love found and lost, and victory sweet. Dobby and Prongs quietly served drinks.
To Harry, the evening seemed to fly by. Viktor, it turned out, was an excellent chess player, better than Ron even. Ron, of course, was sitting in a corner looking sulky. The other guests were milling about talking and drinking tea or champagne, depending on their tastes. Ginny's eyes met his across the room, the longing in them plainly visible to even his drink-fogged mind. It was time, he decided suddenly. They bid their guests goodnight and walked up the stairs in companionable silence. Fortified by the firewhiskey he'd ordered Dobby to give him, Harry opened the door to his bedroom and followed Ginny inside.
She turned towards him and seemed to glow with her unquenchable love. He quelled the impulse to spare her, to return to civilisation and spend the rest of his life bathing in that light. His life was in ruins, and it was her fault, and he would damn sure make sure she paid for what she'd done to him.
He pulled out his wand with an evil grin and shouted, "AVADA KEDAVRA!" A jet of green light illuminated her in the moment before she fell, lifeless, to the ground.
Hermione climbed the stairs slowly. It had been clever of Ginny to arrange for separate rooms for each person, as opposed to each couple. It gave them the chance to choose their companions for their hours of solitude or sleep.
As she passed the door to Harry's bedroom, she heard an indistinct shout, followed by a muffled thud. The next sound to reach her ears sent a bone-chilling rush through her body. Harry was laughing, evilly, maniacally, and without end.
"Ginny!" she shouted fearfully.
Receiving no answer, she blasted the door open and rushed into the room. Harry stood over the unmistakably dead body of his wife, laughing.
"STUPEFY!" she shouted, pointing her wand at his heart. He fell and Hermione ran down the stairs to gather the others, sobbing as she went.
Several weeks later, Hermione was sitting comfortably at her small wooden table, two newspapers in front of her. The first was old, dated the day after the horror at the house party, and the headline proclaimed: MURDER!
The second was dated that morning, and she was reading it carefully, heart filling with hope and regret.
the saddening events of recent months, ending with the murder of a
beloved Hogwarts professor, the Ministry has rescinded its
preposterous law, freeing hundreds of citizens to return to their
homes. Over three hundred witches and wizards fled Britain over the
past six months to escape the disastrous effects of the law. Rufus
Scrimgeour resigned yesterday, citing health reasons, and declares he
will take a long journey to an island to recover his strength. The
community was pleased to welcome Remus Lupin as Minister of Magic.
Rufus Scrimgeour resigned yesterday, citing health reasons, and declares he will take a long journey to an island to recover his strength. The community was pleased to welcome Remus Lupin as Minister of Magic.
If only this had happened before, she thought sadly. Her life was split into before and after. It was on a reverse countdown. Ginny's been dead for three weeks, two days, and four hours. The numbers continually updated themselves in her head. The shock had caused Mrs. Weasley to succumb to a catatonic state, lying as though lifeless in St. Mungo's. Hermione sighed. It was time for work.
Why, Harry? Why did you do this?
Harry, locked in his cell in the depths of Azkaban, sensed his opportunity had come. Summoning all of his not inconsiderable power, he transformed himself into his Animagus form and felt his body becoming slender. His limbs melded together to form one long, sinuous shape, and a snake slithered through the bars of his cell.
In the upper levels of the prison, he came upon Remus Lupin, newly instated Minister of Magic, there to inspect the security of the prison. Harry reared himself up and sank his fangs into the legs of the man who'd once been his favourite professor. The poison was instantaneous and Lupin crumpled.
Harry glided out of the prison and swam, serpentine, through the water. His destination was London, and revenge on those in his path. Every witch and wizard, regardless of blood, would pay for their crimes against him, for forcing him to become what he was. They would all die.