A/N: This is a three chapter story I wrote for a LiveJournal challenge. It's loosely based on some lyrics by the song "Breath", by Breaking Benjamin: "So sacrifice yourself, and let me have what's left. I know that I can find the fire in your eyes." I am still working on the next chapter of Battle of Souls, but it's coming slowly because I also recently started not only my first original work but also my own business. But it's coming.
The corridor smelled like fear.
When Fred and George had been at school, it had often smelled like Dungbombs. In previous years, in the morning, one could smell the pancakes and sausages almost up to the Astronomy Tower. But right now, in the middle of a terrifying night in the middle of a terrifying year, the corridor smelled like fear. It was a smell they were all used to.
Ginny glanced silently at her companions, wishing yet again that they had Harry's Invisibility Cloak. Or better yet, that Harry himself, with Ron and Hermione in tow of course, would materialize out of the blackness and take over. Harry almost never got caught sneaking around the school after hours. Ginny had no confidence that she, Neville and Luna would be so lucky. Not this year.
Neville's footsteps seemed to echo everywhere, mocking Ginny's Muffling charm. Even Luna seemed to be breathing louder than usual as the three of them made their way past the Charms classroom and towards the hallway that would lead to the Headmaster's office.
"What about Bezoar?" Neville whispered. "Or Boonslang?"
Ginny shrugged. "We'll try them all," she muttered. This was the flaw in their plan (one of many, probably) – they didn't know the password that would get them past the gargoyle.
"Pepper Imp," said Luna quietly. Her voice was still dreamy and Ginny took comfort in that, letting herself believe that things were still fine.
"I doubt Snape would use candy," Ginny responded. "Potions ingredients are more likely." She tried to make her voice convey a confidence she didn't feel. Her head throbbed and she stopped for a moment to lean against the cool stone wall.
"You okay, Ginny?" Neville asked casually. He didn't sound concerned even though the bruise on Ginny's temple stretched almost to her cheek. It was part of the charade.
"Fine," she said, playing back.
"Pansy's gotten better at her curses," said Luna conversationally. She could have been talking about the weather. For the first time, Ginny noticed that the other girl was limping slightly as they walked along.
"How did you . . ." she began, then stopped. It didn't really matter.
Two months ago there would have been indignant outrage, nurturing concern. They would have attempted healing spells and hugged each other. Now, unless there was a lot of blood or someone was unconscious they usually pretended nothing was wrong.
"Hold on," said Neville. They were passing a large expanse of hallway that wasn't covered by one of the many tapestries or portraits that filled the castle. The three stopped and Ginny and Luna watched as Neville lifted his wand and pointed it at the wall.
He'd become so good at the spell that Ginny couldn't even hear a whisper of words before the sticky liquid shot out the end of Neville's wand.
DUMBLEDORE'S ARMY – STILL RECRUITING shone black on the stone in foot high letters after he was done. In a sudden glow of moonlight coming through a high window, Ginny saw Neville's face, wearing a tight, self-satisfied smirk as he walked past.
The trio reached the main corridor on the Seventh Floor in silence, but Ginny felt Neville and Luna stiffen on either side of her. From here it was only several dozen yards to the entrance to the Headmaster's office, but the way required them to cross a wide expanse of space empty of suits of armor to hide behind or secret passageways through which they could escape. Anyone walking up the staircase would see them.
For at least the tenth time Ginny wondered if she was going about this the right way.
When she'd first gotten to school in September, Ginny had treated this new Hogwarts like it was her fourth year all over again. She and the other former members of Dumbledore's Army had laughed at the ridiculous edict ordering every student to take Muggle Studies and made fun of the Death Eaters who called themselves teachers. There had even been a meeting in the Gryffindor common room to discuss the kinds of disruptions students could make in the classroom.
Then, on the third day of school Alecto Carrow Stunned a first year Gryffindor after overhearing her tell someone at breakfast that she had a Muggle friend back home. When Ginny had stood up and protested, the Stinging Hex Alecto shot at her ripped through her robes and opened a gash on her arm.
A week later Neville had been caught smuggling two screeching peony plants into the castle by a couple of Fifth Year Slytherins – which was how the students learned that Amycus Carrow had promised extra credit to anyone who performed the Cruciatus Curse on a classmate. It didn't surprise anyone that only the Slytherins had known about the offer.
No one talked in the hallways anymore, but everyone looked over their shoulders. There was no Quidditch – no brooms at all, thanks to memories of Fred and George's spectacular escape two years earlier. Most of the students went to class, answered the questions that were asked of them, did their homework, and kept their heads down. That at least a third of the student body was absent – replaced by new, mostly Slytherin faces – was never mentioned.
Ginny hated every minute of it. Students she'd been friends with for years suddenly avoided her in the hallways, as if she was a disease they could catch. Blood traitor. Harry Potter's girlfriend.
Ex-girlfriend, really, but she knew no one was fooled.
As they walked down the hallway, Ginny wondered – again - what Harry would think if he knew how terribly his ploy had failed. He'd needed to believe that breaking up with her would keep her safe and so she'd let him be stupid and noble at Dumbledore's funeral – and let him leave her two months later without protesting. It was the least she could do to help make his terrible task – whatever it was – easier.
Her only moment of weakness had been on his birthday. She had tried to put those seconds – and the memory of Harry's lips frantically tracing hers – out of her mind. It had been completely unfair of her to kiss him and she was certain she had imagined how enthusiastically he'd kissed her back or the disappointment reflected in his eyes when Ron interrupted them. As far as Harry was concerned, she knew, they had to pretend they had never been.
Pretending was nearly impossible at Hogwarts, where the story of their common room kiss the previous year had spread far and fast. Ginny had to settle for insisting, quite vehemently sometimes, that she and Harry had broken up permanently – and angrily – at the end of school the year before. She hated to badmouth him in public but she had already been questioned twice about his whereabouts and as the Death Eaters got more frustrated, their methods got nastier. What if she unconsciously had some bit of information they would find useful?
Now she was putting all of that subterfuge – not to mention her friends – at risk to try to get Gryffindor's sword. Ginny couldn't even explain to herself why it was so important that she try to get it to Harry; she just knew that she hadn't been able to stop thinking about it since the idea had occurred to her weeks earlier. Nothing personal mattered to her anymore – her grades, her friends, her personal safety were all insignificant. Ginny had found her purpose, and nothing was going to keep her from her goal.
But dragging Neville and Luna along with her was stupid. Of course they were as committed to fighting the current regime at Hogwarts as she was, but neither of them relished the idea of sneaking around the dark castle after curfew; they preferred to work in other ways. And yet, when she had first suggested the plan, neither had hesitated more than a second before agreeing to come with her.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Neville asked quietly, voicing Ginny's thoughts.
Ginny nodded automatically. "Absolutely. Harry's counting on me."
"You've spoken to Harry?" Luna's voice beside her was quiet, calm, and Ginny's determination wavered for a moment.
"No . . . not since the summer," she admitted. "But I can't just sit here and do nothing. Not when he's . . . when they are out there somewhere. I have to do whatever I can to help. No matter what." She looked at her friends, just barely able to make out their solemn faces in the dim corridor. "I'll understand if you want to go back, though."
"Shut up, Ginny," said Neville.
Despite herself, Ginny smiled. "Right," she said.
The trio barely breathed as they crossed the open hallway and when they finally stood in front of the gargoyle Ginny could hardly believe they'd made it. Neville and Luna began frantically whispering the names of potion ingredients to the statue, which remained resolutely closed. Ginny knew she should help them but she had to glance around first, certain that Filch and Mrs. Norris or worse, one of the Carrows, were about to swoop out of the blackness and grab them.
This was never going to work – what was she thinking? They should just go back. Before someone got really hurt.
She opened her mouth to tell Neville and Luna to forget it – they were never going to get past the gargoyle. But the words of surrender wouldn't come.
Instead, Harry's face swam in front of her eyes and Ginny found herself muttering angrily to the air, "We're here to help him, dammit. Open the fuck up."
Neville looked at her, concerned. "Ginny?" he asked, uncertainly.
She ignored him and continued to berate the gargoyle. Somehow, taking her anger out on the stone object made her feel better – she could relate to it, since she felt like stone most of the time anyway. Her words weren't eloquent – the underlying panic she felt made her inarticulate.
"Stupid, stupid gargoyle. Stupid password. What if there's a fucking emergency? What if Death Eaters have attacked the school?"
"I think they did that in September," murmured Luna next to her.
Ginny ignored Luna too. She was close to hexing the gargoyle; only the concern that someone would hear kept her from pulling her wand. "We need to get inside, dammit," she hissed. "Harry needs help."
The gargoyle shuddered. Ginny and Neville exchanged a silent glance.
"Harry Potter needs our help," she said quietly.
The gargoyle slid aside, exposing the twirling stairway.
As Ginny, Luna and Neville climbed on and began to rise, Ginny glanced back. It was probably her imagination, but the gargoyle seemed to be looking at her as if to say, "You only had to say his name."
Resolutely, Ginny looked forward. Of course. It was all about Harry now.