A/N: Another long break... I'm so sorry. Writing this final chapter was the hardest thing I've ever done, I just couldn't get it done. But I did, and here it is. Enough excuses – just read. I hope you've enjoyed the ride.
Listen To: The Only Exception by Paramore, OR Exogenesis Part 3 by Muse, OR Lack of Colour by Death Cab For Cutie.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Chapter Forty-Nine: Dust
Ginny pulled herself with exhausted aching arms towards Tom and knelt there beside him, looking at him. Just looking. He was totally still. His skin was white and stretched palely across his bones like a withering broken skeleton who had fallen apart long before his time. He was gone.
She gathered up all her courage and determination and every last ounce of strength she had in her tiny body, so weakened by the parasite – she gathered her strength and held steady. "I'm so sorry," she cried, squeezing her eyes tightly closed and pressing her forehead against his. "I am so sorry – I wish I could just – but – I can't, you know that I can't – but I'm sorry and I love you and I should have let you say it and I should have said goodbye and I didn't get back in time – and I can't let you – I can't – oh God, I'm sorry-"
She bit her lip so hard that she drew blood, and buried the tooth between his ribs.
Ginny's face crumpled and she pressed her cheek to Tom's, shaking. "Oh my God," she whispered brokenly. "I'm so sorry – I – oh my God-"
She just knelt there close to Tom for several minutes, crying onto his face, one hand still wrapped around the tooth embedded in his chest. After a while however she realised that she was still holding it; her stomach churned viciously within her and she feared that she was going to throw up again. She tore the fang from his ribs and felt acid rise in her throat when she heard it grate against bone on the way out. She threw it away, as far as she could into the distance. She vaguely heard it bounce of the stone face of some Slytherin ancestor but didn't care.
It was then that Ginny's arms gave out and she collapsed onto him, burying her face in the crook of his neck as she always had even when... even when he was – and now he - wasn't – "I'm sorry," she cried into the collar of his damp shirt. "Oh God, I'm so sorry."
Then, aside from the sound of her crying, there was an eerie echoing silence. The silence was not particularly noticeable in all its intensity until it was broken by a low echo of a hum. Ginny heard the hum but at first did not care. Then as it grew louder, she found that she couldn't ignore it any longer; with a little reluctance, she detached herself from Tom and turned her blotchy, tear-stained face back to the rest of the Chamber to see what was happening. She stared out into the greenish gloom in front of her, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. She felt empty and useless, but the humming unsettled even her. She reached up to nervously scratch at her neck, and found there a copper chain, polished silky and cool to the touch.
She had forgotten about the Time-Turner.
Ginny pulled it over her head and held it coiled in one blood-stained hand, staring at it. She didn't know why it seemed as though everything in existence was pointing, albeit subtly and musically, towards this. It wasn't as though it was any use to her. "What?" she croaked. "What am I meant to do with this?"
She didn't expect anything to answer, and so was unsurprised when there was only silence.
"That's great," she laughed bitterly. "That's just freakingfantastic, that is – thank you! Thank you, for reminding me I had this, and all the wonder and happiness it's bestowed on me. God only forbid I forget how much it's benefited my life." She laughed again, and found herself almost hysterical. She was crying, tears pouring down her face, but she was laughing, and she didn't know why. She would have said it was embarrassing were anybody around to see but as far as she could tell she was completely alone in the universe. "What do you want me to do with this?"
She looked down away from the Time-Turner at her lap, fighting back another wave of tears. She already felt the trembles starting up at the backs of her shoulders and in her fingertips.
"It's useless," she said shortly. "Usele-"
She cut off abruptly as she noticed that she was right – the Time-Turner was useless... or at least, very near to it, and not just because she was angry and resentful. There was a thin crack tracing elegantly from the bottom of the hourglass upwards. She tipped it in her hand and tilted it to the light so that she could better see the damage, and in this movement the crack darted further up the glass, spidering outwards in all directions like the forks of a lightning bolt.
Ginny held it very carefully in both hands now. She wasn't sure what she was meant to do now, but she hadn't really a plan for most of this evening, and her improvisation techniques hadn't worked particularly effectively. She had little else to lose – Marianne, of course, but she was safe. Their house, she supposed... her memories, but she wasn't sure she wanted those if this was the end.
She swivelled back to face Tom, still cupping the Time-Turner delicately in her hands and she realised that if she did this, then she would never be able to try again. In life no-one was meant to have second chances, and this Time-Turner had given her so many – second, third chances. With the Time-Turner intact, she at least would still always have the option of going back again and again to try and save him, even if she knew it would be futile. She at least had that option. She needed that option - or maybe that option would just drive her insane.
Her eyes fell again on Tom's motionless, blank face. She would have reached out to hold him again but her hands were full with decisions.
She tore her eyes away from him, tipped the Time-Turner brusquely into one hand, and crushed it. Glass bit into the soft skin inside her knuckles. Sand spilled out between her fingers onto Tom's chest.
Ginny tipped her hand over to look with quiet tearful eyes at the mess and chaos in her hands. The copper chain slithered away and pooled in a puddle on the floor. Crusting into the blood and water already beading her palms, it didn't look so much like the perfect white crystals of sand that it always had inside the hourglass. It just looked like old dirt. She sighed heavily, not sure what magic and miracles she had been expecting. She sank back onto the floor beside Tom, curling up beside him, and dusted off her hands.
She closed her eyes and she was gone.
Then light came back to her like she had been born blind and was opening her eyes for the first time – bright light filling her vision from the corners inwards, filling her head and filling a familiar scene. "I'm sorry," Ginny choked out, lifting her free hand to his face. Her fingers curled over his cold damp skin, shivering against his cheek. "I'm sorry – I am so... so sorry – I can't – I wish-" She brushed her thumb shakily across his cheekbone. A moment passed, then she bent low and touched her lips briefly to his eyes, the thin purple-grey lids and the dark circles beneath, cold hollow bruises.
She tightened her grip on the Basilisk tooth – it was slipping in her hand since her fingers were all coated with fine dust like sand - and held it straight. Her face still mere millimetres from his, breathing trembling, rapid, choked breaths over his skin, lips almost touching, she aligned the tooth over the softer dent of muscle between Tom's ribs. She gathered up all her courage and determination and every last ounce of strength she had in her tiny body, so weakened by the parasite – she gathered her strength and held steady.
"I'm so sorry," she cried, squeezing her eyes tightly closed. "I am so sorry – I wish I could just – but – I can't, you know that I can't – but I'm sorry and I love you and I should have let you say it and I should have said goodbye and I didn't get back in time – and I can't let you – I can't – oh God, I'm sorry-"
She bit her lip so hard that she drew blood, and buried the tooth between his ribs.
Then light again upon a very different scene. She was all at once running with damp skittish feet through the Entrance Hall, sliding on the large stone panels, and also watching herself running with damp skittish feet through the Great Hall as though from far away. It was similar to when Ginny had gone to see Dumbledore to find out what to do to save Tom – in fact, exactly the same – except that she was different. The dirt and blood was gone from her dress, and her freckled face held no smudgy tears or even any sense of despair; her eyes were instead filled with desperate confusion.
As she hurried across the stone floor, there, perfect timing, coming out of the Great Hall, was Dumbledore, engaged in cheerful conversation with a man who, despite being heavier, happier, and better-looking, was still clearly Snape.
"Professor Dumbledore!" Ginny ran towards them, her feet skidding messily across the clean floor-tiles. Not caring that he was a respected Headmaster, she frantically grabbed his arm to stop him. She left smears of wet sand across his sleeve.
"Ah, Miss Weasley," he said brightly, smiling. "How can I help you – you look most distressed!"
"Please, I need to talk to you alone," she blurted out, her words tripping over each other in their eagerness to be heard. "It's very important – please-"
"Very well," said the Headmaster, not doubting her sense of urgency, and turned to Snape with an expectant look on his elderly face. "Severus?"
Looking somewhat irritated at having been excluded, Snape left them alone with a melodramatic swish of his cloak. Dumbledore stepped away from the open doorway of the Great Hall, to where they would be less likely to be overheard. "Now, whatever is the matter, Miss Weasley?"
Ginny pushed her hair out of her face, and it suddenly struck her that she had no idea what she was going to say. 'I'm from the future, and another me – from an even further future – came and told me that I had to come and speak to you about saving Tom – which you never wanted me to do anyway – you wanted me to kill him – but despite you existing in an alternate universe, you would remember and understand'? She chewed her lower lip.
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Miss Weasley?" he repeated, waiting.
"Okay, that's the thing – I'm not Miss Weasley. Well, I am, but not the one you know. You used to know me though – I'm from the past – well, actually, the future – or is it the present now? From the past of a present that hasn't happened – that was meant to happen, but didn't – because I changed it." Ginny could hear how ridiculous it sounded, and she couldn't explain herself any better. She tried to remember what her alternate self was called, from when she and Tom had visited her family. "Victoria. You think I'm Victoria Weasley, right? But I'm not. I'm Ginny Weasley. Look, I have hazel eyes; I'm shorter, fatter, freckly..." She stared at him, willing him to see in her face and expression that she wasn't who he thought she was, imploring him to remember.
"Miss Weasley, I'm afraid I have no idea what you are talking about," Dumbledore said haltingly.
Feeling desperate, Ginny tugged at the Time-Turner around her throat and held it in his view. Distantly, in the back of her conscious, where the parallel, original Ginny lurked spectating, she noticed a thin crack slowly edging across the surface of the hourglass as every alternate universe was left behind and destroyed and-
Dumbledore looked up from the Time-Turner, his eyes suddenly perfectly clear. He stared at a space on the wall past her. There was not a trace of confusion or suspicion there, and relief washed over her as she realised that the other Ginny – the second Ginny – or rather, the first – had been right. Everything was going to be okay.
"I do remember..." he said, "but it is not a memory that is my own." He spoke as though repeating lines that had already been said many times before. "I have many memories that are all the same... and yet very different. You are not Miss Weasley as I believe you to be, neither are you Miss Peregrine as you would claim, or Mrs. Riddle, as you have come to be known. You are the original Ginny Weasley – from this era, not a previous one, though not this one – but you are a copy of the original. You-"
"Excuse me?" Ginny interrupted incredulously. "A copy of the original?"
His eyes focused and switched over to look into hers. He gave a heavy sigh. "I am really too old for all this nonsense," he said quietly, resting one hand on his aged forehead.
Ginny's face screwed up in confusion. "Please, sir, you're not making any sense," she said frankly, "and I have to find out how to save Tom – I don't understand why I'm here or what I'm doing but I just know... I just know that I have to. I have to." She paused. "And... and you have to help me bring him back. Please."
The Ginny looking over the scene knew how the conversation would progress from here. She not only remembered every instant, every word and every emotion of it from when she had lived it the first time, but felt it afresh here too. It was her heart that pounding with bewilderment and fear and all-consuming worry beneath her in the Great Hall. It was her eyes fogging over despite her brave pretences.
She glanced sideways at the cheerful expanse of the grounds. "None of this is going to change with him still alive – he's a good person – and I know that he has... a problem... but... but I can look after him. I can make sure nothing ever happens. The world's already been saved, right? That took four years. That was all of humanity. How much effort can it take to save one man?"
There was a pregnant silence. Then Dumbledore reached out and wrapped his long hands around the tops of her shoulders. He then said very quietly, "I think I know what you need to do."
An overjoyed smile cracked out on the second Ginny's face and there was a slow delirious smile fading out on that of the first.
Brighter now than it had been the first time, brighter than it had ever been, like staring into the sun unafraid. "I'm sorry," the other Ginny choked out, lifting her free hand to Tom's face. Her fingers pushed his damp hair back from his face and then twisted to lay the back of her hand against his cold cheek. She was trembling. "I'm sorry – I am so... so sorry – I can't – I wish-" Her hand curled into a fist and she lifted her hand to let her thumb graze lightly over his purple swollen lips. A moment passed, then she bent low and touched her lips to his.
She flexed her fingers on the Basilisk tooth and held it at a slight angle over Tom's chest, pointing towards between his ribs. Her free hand drifted to his face, her thumb brushing over his hollowed cheekbones. The skin wasn't smooth, interrupted by crunchy beads of sand; she wiped them away with her sleeve before stooping to kiss his face. She pressed her warm flushed cheek to his icy one and squeezed her eyes closed in an attempt to control herself. One last tear squeezed out from between her eyelashes nonetheless. Her hands shook and it required all her effort to hold the tooth steady. She breathed slowly, three times, and then dragged in one deep breath, summoning with it all the bravery she could muster.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered brokenly. "I have to. I have to. I have to. I..." Her voice wobbled, cracked and gave out. She twisted the tooth slightly in her hand, pressing it down so that she could feel it straining the material of Tom's shirt. "I love you," she croaked. Buried her face into his neck, and thrust the tooth deep into his chest, into the heart that he'd promised was hers.
It was like looking at a picture of herself looking at a picture of herself looking at a picture of- and on and on the feeling of spinning kaleidoscope confusion went. Everything was fragmentary and viewed from a great distance. The humming sound from within the Chamber was louder now, filling her ears and drowning on any lingering sense of real attachment to the scene below her; sounds were somewhat muted and fuzzy, words distorted.
A group of people were crowded together on the snowy grass near a dead wintry tree and the scene was at first unfamiliar – until she saw the thick, sticky blood crawling past the bodies bunched together. As the realisation crept slowly through her like a cold draft raising goosebumps, she could feel her heart beating painfully hard, blood fleeting through her veins, through her wrists until she felt a desperate need to cling onto something. She wouldn't have thought she would be able to stand it a second time but the all-consuming hush had created a sense of quiet within her.
Then she was suddenly in the midst of the crowd, surrounded almost claustrophobically. Her lips were moving soundlessly: "Grace . Grace- Grace – he's not – he's not breathing-"
Head snapping up to glance at her quickly, Grace snapped at her and then ducked down again. She was speaking fast, her voice low through the blurry quiet; Luke nodding beside her. There was a tension in everyone's bodies, like instruments strings pulled too tight and viable to snap with ear-piercing, earth-shattering consequences at any moment. Tom had stopped shaking. He was completely motionless.
There was yelling – Grace was holding one blood-stained lightly to Tom's throat and a flash of panic crossed her face. Her face contorted as she shouted and Ginny watched as a smear of blood that she had accidentally wiped onto her face cracked. There was something brutal about that image.
Then, disjointed and distant as she was, she felt an icy limpness on her fingers. She looked down and realised all at the same time that not only was she holding Tom's hand tightly in hers but that it had just fallen limp against the grass. This time when she realised what had just happened – what had just stopped – there was no overwhelming wave of panic and terror and despair. Instead there was an empty throbbing, like death had struck the inside walls of something hollow inside her.
Grace's hands shifted, knotted tightly over his ribcage and then she was crushing his chest, leaning up on her knees to push her weight more forcefully down. She was still shouting and then Luke pushed her out of the way with one shoulder to take over. This time there wasn't the horrifying sound of the cracking and splintering of bone, but she instead watched as the side of his chest started to cave in. She watched in calm wonder through the panicking eyes of the other – second? third? fourth - Ginny, trying to guess at how many ribs had broken.
Then she was rising up, hitting out at Luke, her mouth twisted in a cry of hysteria: "You're hurting him –oh my God, listen, just – stop hurting him-" Cold clammy hands that she could only half-feel clutched at her in attempts of consolation; she shook them off. One arm wrapped around herself, hugging her own waist. Her other hand hovered at her mouth and it was by her fingers that she noticed that she was shaking.
Tom was still, grey. His slightly parted lips were stained with blood. He had already looked skeletal even when conscious, but the breaking of ribs had caused him to look as though he had been dead for many years. Through my eyes, Ginny thought sadly, you have.
Grace and Luke were yelling at each other more than ever now. Luke had stopped compressing Tom's chest. Ginny was staring down at his body and she was confused as to why her vision was becoming blurry and distorted... then realised that she was crying. She was talking to herself, rambling nonsense, and then clinging to the hand of Tom's that was closest to her, twisting her fingers through his as though physically holding him might bring him back. Luke shook his head. He sat back on his heels.
Ginny wanted to close her eyes. She didn't want to see the rest of this at all. However, she was only a memory in a body that wasn't her own and the choice was not hers to make. The parallel Ginny kept hers eyes open and so from there she saw that things were in fact not as she had remembered them at all.
She scrambled at Luke, clawing desperately at the front of his shirt until she found enough to material to hold onto. She held it tight, reaching over Tom's body for him and, though their heads were close together, she turned her face into her shoulder. Choked words struggled up through her throat, threatening to suffocate her. "Go. Just... go." She pushed him violently away from her with such force that he tipped over backwards. Then she dusted off a thin coating of sand that she suddenly found crusting her fingers, lowered her shuddering hands to his chest and started pounding away, pushing all her upper body strength into every compression. She could feels his ribs shifting beneath her weight, making bile rise nauseatingly in her throat – but for all of this, nothing was happening. Nothing was changing. He was as still as ever – as dead as ever –
"Why isn't it working?" she ground out between gritted teeth. "Why isn't it working? Why are you still – why – why are you still dead?" she yelled at him. "Get up – get up – Tom, you little – you little shit, wake up! Don't do this to me – don't you dare-"
Another hand grabbed her but it was not the feeble I-wish-that-I-could-help-in-some-way hands of those unfamiliar party-guests awkwardly watching around her. Alden dropped to his knees beside her, gasping, out of breath, and clamped tightly in his arms was a fabric bag. The throbbing quiet stretched on but his voice came through it, wobbling and faint as thought underwater. "Sorry... late..." – Grace was shaking her head, looking devastated, her face blotchy with tears – her expression then changed to one of confusion – "but I found... in the kitchen-"
"What... those... not mine..." Grace's eyes were wide with confusion. Alden replied but the rest of their conversation went unheard to Ginny had gone very still. She was piecing things together in her head.
A package of surgical instruments that did not belong to Grace sitting on her kitchen counter. It seemed too convenient. Moreover, she had noticed a broad label on the fabric: SURGICAL EQUIPMENT.
It was written in Ginny's handwriting.
She wordlessly took the package from Alden's arms and laid it carefully on the floor next to her. It was secured closely with a long green string at the top which she untied with twitchy fingers; she unrolled the concertina interior. Indeed there was a collection of sharp-looking needles and scalpels and assorted medical things, all of which looked very pointy and dangerous, but what drew her attention most was the Basilisk tooth sitting on top. It wasn't the messy tooth she had used in Chamber, stained dark with blood and venom, but instead a clean, polished version as though it had come from a museum exhibition or a collector's shelf.
In her peripheral she saw faces of bewilderment. She vaguely heard someone saw "what the hell is that" as she picked it up. It was cool against her skin, grating lightly over the sand on her fingers, and the heavy weight of it against her palm made a part of the yawning emptiness inside feel a little less painful. She twisted it back and forth for a second, watching light from the Hartwin house's windows glint off its gleaming surface. Just thinking.
"Ginny..." Grace said quietly, scrubbing a tear from her cheek and then reaching out for her. "I'm sorry but-"
Then there were shrieks that at first echoed and then faded... hands that reached out for her in desperate alarm but never made contact... the tooth was already buried deep in Tom's broken chest. Her head dropped forwards in an exhaustion that made the prospect of anything but giving up seem a thousand miles away and sleep – or something like sleep – washed slowly over her.
There was a chaos of sound, roars that resounded like echoes in a cave; of violent movement as though being thrown across a space filled with fragile things; of impenetrable darkness that chilled her blood, reminding her of the blackness of the Chamber of Secrets through which she had been forced to struggle blindly, screaming for Tom. Her head spun. She couldn't breathe. She thought she was going to be sick. She wanted to press a hand to her mouth to hold herself together but couldn't lift her arm. She couldn't move anything.
Everything was still.
She stared up into the darkness and as awareness came back to her, whispering through her body like cold fingertips on warm skin, she realised that she was lying down. She was sinking into something soft. She lifted one hand from where it was lying lightly on her stomach and touched the surface beneath her. A warm mattress, sprinkled with a handful of what felt like dry sand.
She froze, her breath backing up her throat. A long moment passed while she laid absolutely still, waiting for some tell-tale sign that it was only a dream – or a hallucination – or a parallel life viewed through another Ginny's eyes.
She could hear someone breathing quietly near her.
Ginny sat bolt upright with a gasp, eyes wide. She didn't dare to breathe.
Something moved in the bed beside her, twisting over. "What..." he mumbled, clearing his sleep-raw throat. "...'r you alright?"
It was at that second that whatever had been pent-up so agonisingly inside her broke; her breath rushed out as though she had been punched, tears sprung to her eyes and she found herself completely speechless. She couldn't even move. She stayed sitting up, gazing through the darkness at a blank space in front of her, tears trickling silently down her face.
"Ginevra?" He shifted on the mattress and stretched one hand out to take hers, still crossed over her stomach. His fingers were cool, almost as cold as it had been when he was – but – had he ever been? – but here she could feel the blood rushing quietly beneath his skin.
He was real.
She let go of his hand and twisted backwards to face him but first reached past him to the bedside table, where she fumbled for her wand. She shakily pointed it at the lamps and turned them on, scarcely daring to believe it. It couldn't be possible. After all that she had been through, it couldn't have been this easy.
He flinched as the lamps came on, his free hand flying up to shield his eyes. "What are you doing?" he said, bewildered, screwing his face up slightly.
Hands trembling, she pulled his hand away from his face so that she could see him properly, and then he opened his eyes.
"What's wrong?" he demanded, worry sharp in his voice as he realised that she was crying silently. He sat up, raking his untidy bed hair back from his pale face – pale, but a natural pale, a healthy pale – an alive pale-
"Oh my God," she croaked. She reached out for his face, holding it carefully between both her hands, smoothing the skin beneath her thumbs. "Oh-" she began to repeat but her voice shook and gave out. She bit down on her lower lip so hard that thought she might draw blood, hoping that the pain might stop her from shaking. It didn't. Then, in a flash moment of childish fear, she whispered brokenly, "Are you real?"
Tom laughed; it was a nervous laugh, as though he wasn't entirely sure that she wasn't going to have a mental breakdown at any moment. "Of course I'm re-"
She didn't let him finish – a choked gasp came almost painfully from deep inside her chest - her face crumpled, no longer even attempting to hold back tears – and she sat up on her knees, leaning forwards and knotting her arms around his neck as tightly as she could, burying her face in his shoulder. She crushed her nose into the warm skin above his collarbone and cried. She didn't speak. She didn't try to explain what was wrong. She simply held onto him, terrified that if she let go then he would slip away again, and cried.
Gingerly, he put his arms around her, hugging her tight to him and it seemed as though on some level he understood. He didn't, Ginny knew that perfectly, and he probably never would - but none of that mattered.
"Ginevra," he said, his voice low in her ear and raspy from sleep. "If this about how sick I was... you know, don't you, that everything is going to be okay? I'm alright now. Marianne is safe. Nothing can hurt us. And..." He hesitated for a moment. "... and... I can't even hear anything."
There was silence in the room as Ginny's juddering breaths calmed but slow understanding crept over her as she realised what he meant. She lifted her head to stare him in the eye. "It's... gone." Her words were barely audible. Stunned.
It must have reflected something of their relationship that she was at first dumbfounded by the very idea of them being together without the constant threat of psychosis hanging over their heads. She couldn't begin to imagine how it felt for Tom to suddenly have a half-empty head.
He gave a light, nervous laugh and nodded. "How many times are we going to have to go through this? Every night?" he teased. "I am perfectly alright. We are more perfectly alright. Marianne – though I suspect she may wake up at any moment complaining at all the noise we're making – is too and there is nothing to worry about anymore."
His words finally sank in, echoing inside her with reverbs that shook butterflies from the walls of her stomach and filled her up with a calm ease. Every horror she had faced was fading away like ink writing on a palm too frequently rubbed. She traced every feature of his face with her eyes, not entirely sure why she was memorising his face when they would have what seemed like infinite time together. She noticed tiny beads of dust clinging to the end of Tom's eyelashes, almost like sand... but it was probably just crusted sleep. She used the tip of her index finger to brush them away and then pressed her lips gently to his.
It was over.
A/N: Yup... that's it. I'm sorry again it's taken me so long... I couldn't face writing it – every time I tried I just felt so uninspired and dead and I knew that it wouldn't be good enough... but here it is and I hope you've enjoyed it! I was tempted to do that whole thing where I list like everything that has ever given me an idea and all the music I listened to while writing but I can't be bothered... but thank you to all of you who came this far and stuck with me – God knows why – but thank you so much, I adore you all.
Also, on a kind of random note, I just want to share with you how extraordinarily tempted I was to make that final scene between her and Harry. Like, having her wake up beside Harry and realise that the entire trilogy was a crazy dream and that it's actually canon... but that would just be CRAZY. And very disappointing. So yeah, this is what you got instead.