This, Ginny Weasley thought grumpily to herself, is NOT what I had in mind for the evening.
There was a party about to start in the Gryffindor common room. It was end-of-term, after all, and exams were over; the fifth years were particularly excited as they were now done with the dreaded OWLs. Food was being found, beverages were being procured, the fire was being lit, and somebody was cranking up The Weird Sisters on the Wizarding Wireless Network. At least, this is what Ginny assumed was going on. She would have to guess, as she was nowhere near the Gryffindor common room at the moment.
Instead, she was with her brother Ron and her friends Neville and Luna, being held captive by several large and unfriendly Slytherins, all members of the Inquisitorial Squad put together by the new Hogwarts Headmistress (Headmistress!) Dolores Umbridge. Umbridge herself was nowhere in sight, which was not surprising as she had just left her office holding Ginny's other friends, Harry and Hermione, at wandpoint.
All of which led back to what Ginny found herself doing this evening, which was decidedly NOT enjoying a party. No, instead she found herself gagged and being restrained by a girl whose name she did not know, and listening to the smallest and most repulsive Slytherin in the room go on at length about his own greatness.
Draco Malfoy sat at Umbridge's desk; feet propped up, a self-satisfied sneer across his face. It had been a full five minutes, Ginny noted, since Harry and Hermione had left with Umbridge, and for no fewer than four minutes and fifty-five seconds she, Ron, Neville, and Luna, each gagged and restrained by a Slytherin, and outnumbered in total four-to-six, were stuck listening to the interminable prattling of Draco Malfoy.
"… Of course I knew exactly who it was when I heard the alarm," droned Malfoy. "Imagine. Breaking into the Headmistress' office to send a Floo message. Only that idiot Potter would be so stupid to think that he could defy the Inquisitorial Squad and get away with it, not to mention a fully qualified Ministry Official like Professor Umbridge."
Ginny fumed. This, clearly, were not the results they were hoping for when they hatched the plan to sneak Harry into Umbridge's office so he could use her fireplace to look for his godfather, Sirius Black, at 12, Grimmauld Place. Now, not only was Sirius possibly in terrible danger, but they were all looking expulsion in the face, and Harry and Hermione were marching off to Merlin-knows-where with Umbridge's wand in their backs.
As Malfoy droned on, a movement out the window caught Ginny's eye. She risked a glance, and could see Hermione marching directly across the grounds, with Harry nipping at her heels and Umbridge's squat little legs scurrying to keep up. Where were they going? Hagrid's hut? No, they walked right past it. So that must mean…
Ginny's eyes darted over to Ron to see if he had seen it, too, and his glance told her that he had figured out the same thing Ginny had: Hermione was leading Umbridge right into the Forbidden Forest.
This silent exchange went completely unnoticed by the Slytherins. Malfoy's mouth seemed to be running on a loop, and his cronies were by this point all carrying the same glazed-over, vacant expressions in their eyes. As Ginny counted it, this was the third time he had been through this particular part of his diatribe. She struggled against the grip of the girl holding her, whose name she thought might be something like "Beth" or "Blart" or "Belch", but knowing her struggles would be fruitless, she quickly stopped and reluctantly turned her attention back to Malfoy. Next he'd start in on how his father was a close personal friend of Umbridge's, she guessed.
"Of course, father and Dolores… I feel I can call her Dolores, as she is so close to the family… father and Dolores get along quite well. In fact, I'm almost certain it was his recommendation that got her …" Draco trailed off and turned his gaze to Ginny. She realized, belatedly, that she'd been laughing at Malfoy's predictable sense of self-importance through her gag.
"Something funny, Weaselette?" Malfoy's sneer turned to a look of disgust as he got up and crossed the room to Ginny in two quick strides. "I don't see anything in this room that a blood-traitor like you should be laughing at." This comment generated appreciative smirks from the assembled Slytherins, and increased struggles from Ron as he tried and failed to break free of Warrington's grasp. Not wanting to give Malfoy the satisfaction of seeing her react, Ginny simply met his gaze, though her pulse was pounding her anger through her temples.
"Maybe…" leered Malfoy, "you're just not familiar with the idea of a 'fully qualified' Ministry Official, seeing as how the only example you have is that pathetic failure you call a father." Ron's struggles grew more vicious. Warrington's grip drew tighter.
Ginny simply focused on breathing… in, out, in, out. Do… not… react…
"Or maybe you're laughing because you think your little boyfriend Harry Potter is going to come bursting back in here to save the day, is that it?" Malfoy leaned in to her; she could feel his breath on her face. It stank of garlic, which for some reason struck Ginny as odd. He pulled Harry's wand out from his pocket, and tucked the tip of it under Ginny's chin, raising her face level to his. "Potter," continued Malfoy, in a menacing whisper, "is finished at Hogwarts, is finished in the wizarding world, and is just plain finished. Period." Malfoy let that sink in for a moment. Ginny met his gaze, her eyes narrowed but her voice silent. Malfoy went on: "And you weasels… you're next."
Ginny wanted to pull free of the grasp that was holding her back, rip Malfoy's beady little eyes out with her bare hands, but she knew that she simply wasn't strong enough to break loose. So, she did the next best thing.
Her eyes rolling into the back of her head, Ginny Weasley's body went limp, and she fell to the floor, fainted dead away.
"What… what happened?"
"You dropped her!
"Wake her up! Wake her up!"
"What are you just standing there for? Slap her! Get some water! Do something!"
"She just fell!"
"Would somebody do something?"
"Her gag! Take her gag out!"
"No! She'll hex me!"
"You have her wand, you imbecile! Take out the gag! Oh, I'll do it. Get back!"
Eyes closed tight, lying limp, Ginny felt a pair of shaking hands quickly untie the gag that had been sealing her mouth shut. Her arms hidden under her body, she quickly slipped her right hand up her left sleeve, out of sight of the Slytherins. Still playing the role of the fainted damsel, she groggily opened her eyes to see an angry and pale Malfoy hovering directly over her. "What are you getting at?" he demanded. "Get up. Get up!"
Ginny nodded slowly, playing hazy… and then quickly pulled her real wand, not her fake Fred and George special that had been confiscated, but her actual wand out from her left sleeve, pointed it directly at Malfoy's nose, and shouted with all the force and pent-up anger she could muster, "Chiroptera Mucosa!"
The bat creatures exploded from Malfoy's nose with a vengeance that surprised even Ginny. Although harmless, the spectacle of a good Bat-Bogey Hex was not lost on the assembled, and the room quickly dissolved into chaos. The Slytherins automatically clambered to Mafloy's aid as he tried to wrestle the great green things off his face, screaming a high-pitched series of yelps. Ginny pointed her wand again, this time at Warrington. "Expelliarmus!" Just like that, Ron had his wand back.
Ripping out his gag, Ron followed Ginny's lead with a quick "Stupefy!" of his own, and Warrington fell. The Slytherins, suddenly realizing they were under attack, began to clumsily draw their own wands, but they were no match for the speed of the D.A.-trained Gryffindors.
"Stupefy!" Crabbe fell next, dropping Neville's wand in the process. Millicent Bulstrode tried to counter with her own stunner, but Neville ducked easily, snatching up his wand.
"Impedimenta!" Neville's jinx hit its mark, Millicent's legs locked up, and she toppled over onto Crabbe's unconscious form.
All that was left were the two girls whose names Ginny couldn't place. They looked at each other, looked at the remains of the Inquisitorial Squad, and then looked at the D.A., who stood before them with their wands leveled. "Your move, then," said a smiling Ron.
Luna's captor pulled a wand out from her robes and tossed it to Luna with a gruff, "Here." She and her nameless friend then ran from the room.
"Thank you!" Luna called out after the girls, and then turned to the others. "They were ever so nice." Ron and Ginny exchanged a glance, shaking their heads.
"Absolutely," agreed Ron.
"Nice?" asked Neville.
Ron strode over to Millicent and pulled Hermione's wand out from her pocket. "Thanks much," he calmly said. "Gin?"
Ginny bent over and picked up Harry's wand from the floor where Malfoy had dropped it. She turned to Draco, still struggling with the Bat-Bogies, and said, "I'd rather be a blood-traitor than a stinking blood-elitist, my father is worth a hundred Dolores Umbridges and a thousand Lucius Malfoys, and Harry Potter is not my boyfriend!" She stomped out of the room, muttering "git" over her shoulder as she left. Ron and Neville exchanged a smirk, but Luna looked surprised.
"He's not?" she asked. "Oh, I thought he rather liked her."
"Other way around, Luna," said Ron. "C'mon!"
The four D.A. members hurtled themselves down the corridors away from Umbridge's office as fast as their legs would carry them, flush with excitement and with Ron in the lead. They had run down three staircases and two secret passages, and were passing the entranceway to the Great Hall when Ginny suddenly stopped, causing Neville to pull up short behind her, and Luna behind him. Ron stopped as well. "What's wrong?"
She had noticed something… movement behind one of the tapestries. Ginny knew there was a secret passage there; it connected a portrait downstairs near the kitchens to a broom closet not far from Gryffindor Tower.
"Wait here!" Ignoring Ron's protests, she ran to the tapestry and pulled it aside. There, halfway up the concealed stairs, were Seamus and Dean, arms laden with food they had apparently just nicked from the kitchen; clearly, they were preparing for the party. "Dean!" hissed Ginny.
The two older boys jumped. Seamus dropped a few chicken legs; they rolled down the stairs to rest at Ginny's feet. "Gin!" said Dean. "Don't do that, you'll give us a heart attack!"
"'Ello, Ginny," added Seamus. "What happened to your cheek?"
Ginny put a hand to her face and felt several deep scratches there. Somehow she must have been injured in the scuffle with the Inquisitorial Squad and not realized it, but she neither knew nor cared exactly how it had happened. She said, "Listen, Umbridge has Harry and Hermione, and they're out in the grounds right now!"
"Ginny! Come on!" Ron did not sound his usual, patient self. Ginny knew she had to act quickly, but Dean and Seamus didn't seem to be picking up on that. They just looked at each other questioningly.
"Harry's in trouble again, eh?" asked Seamus. "Hope he hasn't gone and gotten himself expelled."
"You don't understand!" said Ginny. "This is something bigger than that!"
"Like what?" asked Dean. Ginny found herself at a bit of a loss to answer. She knew it had something to do with Sirius, but she couldn't tell Dean and Seamus THAT. If only Harry, Ron and Hermione weren't so bloody secretive all the time, maybe she'd have more an idea what was going on. She stole a glance over her shoulder and was alarmed to see that even Neville looked a bit impatient.
"Look, I don't know exactly what's going on, but we have to help! That's what the D.A. is for, right?"
"Ginny! Right now! We're leaving!"
"Give me a bloody second, Ron!" She turned back to Dean. Why couldn't the pigheaded boy just understand and come on already?
But that was not to be. "Ginny," he started in. She had heard that patronizing tone many a time, having spent her entire life as a little sister. It infuriated her on the best of days.
Dean continued, "It wouldn't be a week in the life of Harry Potter if he didn't have detention. I'm sure it's nothing. Now, come on. We're having a party!"
"End of exams!" explained Seamus.
Dean nodded. "The common room, a warm butterbeer, a little quiet corner for just the two of us… " Dean grinned wickedly. "What do you say?"
For a moment the thought of relaxation, good food and drink, a little quiet (or not-so-quiet) snogging… it was appealing. Without thinking, Ginny put a foot onto the stairway, her mind tempting her with images of the cozy Gryffindor common room.
Then she thought of Sirius's crumpled body, lying in the Department of Mysteries, with Harry and Voldemort dueling over it for his life.
No. Not Voldemort. Riddle. Tom Marvolo Riddle. Harry would face Tom Riddle to save Sirius, just as he had done so to save her.
Only this time, he wasn't going to have to do it alone.
"I have to go," she said in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. "It's all right. Enjoy the party. Save me a butterbeer?" And with that, she was off, leaving Dean and Seamus far less jovial than they had been moments before.
She ran back to Ron, Neville and Luna, who were by now waiting in the entrance hall. "What the bloody hell was that about?" demanded Ron. "We don't have all night here, you know."
"Stuff it, Ronald," said Ginny. "Can we move?"
"That wasn't a very nice suggestion," mused Luna as Ron and Neville pulled open the castle doors.
"No, just an appropriate one," shot back Ginny, and the foursome ran out into the night.
They didn't get too far before they stopped again, however. This time it was Neville, frozen in his tracks on the grounds just beyond Hagrid's hut, the imposing visage of the Forest looming over them.
"The Forbidden Forest?" gasped Neville. "But… but Hermione wouldn't go in there. It's against the rules!"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Neville, they go in there all the time."
Neville turned to Ginny, his eyes as wide as Luna's. "Well, Harry, sure, but Hermione…!"
Ron looked at Neville, grinning devilishly. For a brief moment, thought Ginny, he could almost have passed for Fred and George's triplet. Almost. "One thing you've got to understand about Hermione," said Ron, "is that she hates breaking rules… but only the rules she thinks shouldn't be broken."
"It's dangerous in there," Neville said in a hushed voice.
Ron continued. "Dangerous, right. Another thing about Hermione… she doesn't like breaking rules, but she doesn't mind taking risks. There's a reason she got sorted into Gryffindor and not Ravenclaw."
"Just like you, Nev," said Ginny, placing a reassuring hand on Neville's shoulder.
Neville shook his head forlornly. "The hat should have put me in Hufflepuff," he said, a touch of resignation seeping into his voice.
"It seems to me," Luna offered, gazing wistfully at a spot somewhere well above Neville's head, "that if the Sorting Hat should have put you into Hufflepuff, then it would have put you into Hufflepuff." Ginny smiled at this. Clearly Luna had been sorted into the right house. "Looney" Lovegood certainly had a knack for speaking the simple truth sometimes. Most other times she was as barmy as boiled goose, of course, but sometimes…
Neville considered Luna's words for a moment. Then, he seemed to make a decision. Nodding his head briskly, he set his jaw and looked Ron in the eye. "Right," was all he said.
Ron smiled, nodded in return, and turned to the forest. As they approached, Ron again leading the way, Luna turned to Ginny and commented:
"Ronald notices an awful lot about Hermione, doesn't he?"
Ginny smirked. "The only one who doesn't notice how much Ron notices about Hermione is Ron," she replied, glancing at Luna knowingly.
But Luna simply looked at her blankly, said, "Oh, I see," and then turned her dreamlike gaze back towards the rapidly approaching forest.
Internally, Ginny scowled. A perfectly good joke at Ron's expense, wasted. Harry would have gotten it, she thought.
As they entered the forest thicket, Neville turned to Ron, clearly trying to keep his stiff upper lip. "So, which way do we go?"
At precisely that moment, a monstrous bellowing echoed from deep within the Forbidden Forest.
It stopped them in their tracks. Even Luna looked surprised, mildly. Ginny looked at her brother, silently pleading him not to take them towards whatever made that sound, but knowing that that was exactly the direction in which they were going to head. Ron returned her gaze with a smile that confirmed her fears. He then turned to look at Neville, who was now white as a sheet, upper lip stiff no more, and said, "Which way do we go? Three guesses."
With that, Ron turned and ran towards the whatever-it-was that had made the bellowing sound. To their credit, Ginny, Neville and Luna hesitated only momentarily before following, nobody daring to speak a word. Not that she was overly knowledgeable of such things, but to Ginny that had sounded an awful lot like a giant. She tried to comfort herself with the thought that, whatever else was in store that night, nothing could be worse than facing a giant.
As they ran towards Harry and Hermione and whatever else awaited them, she was almost able to convince herself that this thought was true.
Clearly, there are things in this world that are worse than giants.
This struck Ginny as an odd thought to wake up to. Furthermore, as she lay with her eyes closed, she thought that the floor in the Department of Mysteries was far more comfortable than it had any right to be. In fact, she felt that with very little effort, she could simply sink down into the cushiony warmth surrounding her and fall right back to sleep. If only it weren't for those pesky Death Eaters…
The Death Eaters!
With a sharp gasp Ginny sat bolt upright, all thoughts of sleep banished from her mind, fully alert and reaching for a wand that wasn't there. It took her several confused moments to realize that she was not, as she had initially thought, on the floor in the Department of Mysteries, but that she was resting comfortably in the hospital wing at Hogwarts; at least, she had been until seconds earlier. Furthermore, there were no Death Eaters anywhere to be found; in fact, if she looked around the room, all she could see around her were a few occupied beds, and, sitting in a chair in the middle of the room, looking just as startled as she felt…
Harry got up and quickly strode over to her bed. "Yeah, Ginny, it's me. Are you all right? How do you feel? How's your leg?"
Ginny's head was spinning. Her leg? What happened to her leg? Was it still there? She felt down below her waist, somewhat frantically. Yep, still attached. So what… ?
Harry must have seen the confusion in her reaction. "Um… your ankle. You broke it. You were in the planet room, a Death Eater grabbed you, Luna used the Reductor Curse to get him off…"
"And Pluto blew up." Ginny grimaced, flexing her ankle. Felt as good as new, now. "It's starting to come back." Her head clearing, memories of her last conscious moments in the Department of Mysteries started to trickle back to her. "Luna got us out of the planet room somehow, then we were in that spinning room with the doors again, and then the brain room..." Suddenly something clicked. Ginny gasped. "The brains! Ron!" It suddenly became frighteningly obvious that she and Harry were the only two in the hospital wing. "Hermione! Luna, Neville, all of them! Are they all right? Where are they? What happened to…?"
Harry reached out a hand and touched Ginny's arm gently. "Relax. All six of us got out pretty much all right. Neville and Luna have returned to the dorms already. Ron and Hermione…" He pointed to the two occupied beds across the room. "Are resting."
Immediately, Ginny moved to jump out of bed. Her only thought was to check on her brother and her friend. Harry gently restrained her. "Ginny, no."
"Harry, you let me go right now, or I swear I'll hex you all the way to the States."
"Ginny, stop! They're fine. Madame Pomfrey says they just need rest, which is the same thing she said about you." With a faint smile, he added, "I don't plan to be the one she finds let you out of bed when she gets back."
Ginny looked around, noticing for the first time just HOW empty the room was. "Where is Madame Pomfrey? And… well, anyone else, honestly."
"Dumbledore just sent for her. He needed her help out on the grounds. I think he's found Professor Umbridge." At this, Ginny grinned wickedly. Harry managed another faint smile. "And your mum and dad are here. They spent the night. Fred and George just showed up and took them downstairs for a bite. I told them I'd keep an eye out up here."
And you no doubt haven't moved from this room since we were brought back from the Department of Mysteries, Ginny silently added. Aloud, she asked, "Er… has anyone else been in?"
Harry looked at her, puzzled. "The ward has been closed off to everyone, excepting emergencies. Why, expecting anyone?"
"No," Ginny replied, a bit too quickly. Dean popped into her head for a moment, but that was silly; they'd only been going out a few weeks at this point. He certainly didn't HAVE to come and see her. "No," she said, more firmly. "I was too busy lying here unconscious to really anticipate visitors, you know."
"Right. Well, you have gotten some get-well cards." Harry pointed to the table next to her, on the other side of the bed. Turning from Harry, Ginny inspected the cards. There was one from Hagrid, it looked like, and another from Colin Creevy. No surprise there. Natalie MacDonald, a second year Ginny was quite fond of, was good friends with Colin's brother Dennis, and had assured her that Colin fancied her. Poor boy.
Then there was a third card, with a goopy red heart on the cover. Grimacing only slightly, Ginny picked it up, careful not to let Harry see, and opened it, hoping desperately that it would not sing. When it thankfully remained silent, Ginny hazarded to open it all the way. It was apparently a leftover Valentine that had been conjured ever-so-slightly to say "Get Well Soon" instead of "Be My Valentine"; the charm had been cast by less than expert hands, it would seem, as the finished product actually read "Beg Weyll Soonintine", with Dean's flourished signature looking not unlike Professor Lockhart's underneath.
Jumping, Ginny quickly shoved the card under the covers, cursing herself at the same time. What did she care if Harry knew she was dating Dean? In fact, she had half a mind to giggle girlishly, say, "Look what Deany gave me!" and brandish the card in front of Harry's nose. Even as the thought crossed her mind, though, she banished it; after all, Dean had sent her a card, this was true. But Harry was the one who had sat here all night.
Turning back to Harry, Ginny was about to thank him for that, but stopped. Something wasn't right. Harry sat slumped on the bed next to her, gazing at the ground again. He seemed far too downcast, considering they were all safe, and it's not like Sirius was ever in the Department or in any sort of danger in the first place. Was he?
"Harry, what happened?" Harry didn't look at her. She tried again. "We're all safe. What happened?"
Still, Harry didn't look up. "Sirius."
Ginny gasped. "He… he WAS there?"
"No." Harry actually managed to look lower, if it was possible. "He came. Along with the rest of the Order. He came to save us."
Ginny waited patiently for Harry to go on. After a long moment, he did.
"We were fighting in the brain room when you were stunned. Neville and I ran into the next room, the one with the Veil on the dais, remember?" Ginny nodded. Harry went on. "The Death Eaters followed us, and we were about to… we had lost. We were done. That woman, Bellatrix Lestrange, she used the Cruciatus Curse on Neville…" at this Ginny gasped audibly… "… and I was going to give them the prophecy when the Order ran into the room, and then soon after, Dumbledore." Harry swallowed hard. Ginny thought from experience that he must have been swallowing back tears. "Then… that woman again… she was fighting Sirius on the dais, and he was laughing at her, and… she cursed him. Cursed him and…"
Harry stopped. Ginny was terrified to hear what had happened next, but she had to know. "Harry… Harry, please… what happened to Sirius?"
He looked up at her. His eyes were rimmed red, and though for the first time Ginny realized just how exhausted and even old he looked, no tears had fallen. "Sirius… fell through the Veil."
Tears welled up in Ginny's eyes. "Oh, no," she whispered. "So he's… he's…"
"No." The quickness and firmness with which Harry answered startled Ginny. "No. He fell through the Veil, but he's not… I mean, we don't really know what's through there, do we? The Department of Mysteries is still studying it, so it must still be… a mystery." Harry looked at her, hopefully, his eyes pleading with her to agree.
This was not good, Ginny thought. She didn't know for sure herself what was hidden behind the Veil, of course. But she knew what her instinct was telling her, and it was saying that Sirius had gone to the one place from which no magic could ever bring him back. Harry, though, did not seem ready to accept this.
"Harry," she began carefully, "I don't know what that Veil is, but I had assumed that if someone fell through it, then that would mean…"
"Sirius is not… !" Harry seemed unable to say the last word. He held Ginny's gaze, one she stubbornly held back. He may be in denial, she thought, and she may not be able to convince him of the truth, but she certainly wasn't going to pretend to accept his lie.
Moments later, Harry slumped down again. "Well, wherever he is, he's gone, and I don't know if he can ever come back." A few moments of silence passed again. Ginny was completely unsure of what she should say, or what she could say, to make Harry feel better. She decided on nothing. Eventually, Harry brought his gaze back to hers. "Ginny, I am so sorry."
"For bringing you down there," Harry said. "If I hadn't believed that stupid false vision, if I hadn't decided I needed to run straight to the Department of Mysteries to save Sirius, none of you would ever have been in danger, and Sirius wouldn't be… missing."
Ginny snorted, in spite of herself. "There's no need to apologize to me. It's not like you forced me to come along. In fact, I think I remember you telling me not to come, as it would be too dangerous, and I refused to listen. So don't apologize on my account."
Harry replied, "Yeah, but if I had just ignored the vision in the first place, none of this would have happened. It was just a stupid dream and I went running off after it."
"Well, if you ignored 'stupid dreams', then my father would be dead now, wouldn't he?" Ginny retorted. "So don't apologize for that, either."
"Well," countered Harry, apparently determined to blame himself, "if I didn't have some bloody fixation for 'saving people', like Hermione said, for running into dangerous situations half-cocked and playing the bloody hero, then you lot and Sirius wouldn't even have needed saving."
"Well," fired back Ginny, "if you didn't have, as you call it, a 'bloody fixation' for saving people, and if you didn't run into situations half-cocked and playing the hero, then you never would have come into the Chamber of Secrets after me, and I'd likely be dead." Harry opening his mouth to respond but closed it after a moment, seemingly out of ammunition. Ginny smiled triumphantly. "It's your turn, Harry."
Harry smirked in a half smile, half frown. "Just how often are you going to throw that whole Chamber thing into my face, anyway?" he questioned.
"As many times as it works," Ginny replied smugly. More seriously, she continued. "Harry, you aren't to blame for anything. Voldemort is." He began to protest, but she stopped him. "It's true. You may have a fixation on saving lives, but he has a fixation on destroying them."
This silenced Harry. He looked away. Ginny continued, quietly. "When Voldemort… " She stopped, took a breath, and started again. "When Riddle manipulated me, he offered me friendship, and comforting words, and he promised me that people would like me. He took advantage of the worst side of my nature, my insecurities. I don't blame myself," she said as Harry turned back to her, ready to offer protests she would hear none of. "I don't blame myself because he is an evil, evil creature, and that is what he does. He manipulates innocents to get what he wants."
She stopped, and studied his face. His eyes, his mussed hair, the lightning bolt scar on his forehead. Swallowing hard, she shook her head slightly to clear it, and went on. "But you… you're so good. There was no 'worst side' of your nature for him to manipulate. He took advantage of your desire to help other people, of your need to stop him. He could tempt you with nothing but the opportunity to help someone you love. That's why you can never be blamed for some evil thing he did. You might be connected to Voldemort, Harry, but you could never BE him. You are his mirror image. You're his opposite."
For a hard moment, Ginny's eyes seemed locked with Harry's. She was slightly breathless, although she had no idea why. She also wasn't sure where everything she had just said had come from, where she had come up with it. But she was unquestionably sure that it was true. It may have been her imagination, but she felt right then almost… connected to Harry, in some way. It was… surreal. Like nothing she had ever felt.
And it completely terrified her.
"Well!" she said loudly, as though to break the spell. "That's how I see it, anyway. I suppose." Harry was blinking rapidly. Vaguely, Ginny wondered if he had felt what she had felt. Determined not to dwell on the sensation, she nervously asked, "Maybe you disagree?"
Harry seemed about to respond when the doors to the hospital wing swung open. Ginny's mother and father swept in followed closely by Fred and George. "Ginny!" Molly Weasley covered the distance between the entrance and Ginny's bed in three large steps that seemed impossible for a woman of her diminutive stature. Quickly, Ginny was engulfed in the all-encompassing hugs of four extremely relieved Weasleys. When she could finally come up for air and look around, Harry had left.
Over the rest of the brief amount of time left at Hogwart's, Ginny resolved herself to cheering up Harry, as did Ron, Hermione and Neville. This proved to be difficult, however, as Harry simply did not seem to want company, never staying in one place long enough for anyone to do a proper job of cheer-upping to him. "We just have to give him time," intoned Hermione after one particularly frustrating incident. They had all seemed to be having a perfectly enjoyable chat around Ron and Hermione's beds in the hospital wing, discussing the idiots at the Ministry and taking the mickey out of Umbridge a few beds down, when Harry suddenly excused himself on the pretense that he had to go and see Hagrid. Nobody believed him, of course, but they let him go just the same. "Everyone mourns and recovers in their own way," Hermione had continued. Ginny rolled her eyes, but knew that Hermione had a point, in her practical Hermione-style. They would just have to give Harry time.
Fortunately, when it came time to board the Hogwart's Express and head home, Harry seemed considerably better, if not entirely cheered. Ginny spent the first half of the ride home in Dean's compartment with him, but when he and Seamus began having a largest-loogie contest she excused herself. It wasn't that she was disgusted, really, but it quickly became clear to her that she was going to see nothing impressive, and she was fairly certain she could beat them both with little effort, having been trained at the heels of the masters, Fred and George.
So she soon found herself in a compartment again with Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville, just as she had at the beginning of the year. To her surprise, she found herself so comfortable that when the time came and went by when she told Dean she'd be back, she hardly noticed at all, and made no effort to extricate herself back to his side, choosing instead to stay right where she was and finish her magazine puzzle. Somewhere in the back of her head, she mused that she really mustn't seem like a very good girlfriend. Glancing up at Harry ever-so-slightly, she pushed that thought completely out of her brain.
She was studying the puzzle, fairly certain she was losing her mind as she was convinced the answer to question twenty-three was "Crumple Horned-Snorkack", when something Ron was saying caught her attention.
"What's – er – going on with you and her anyway?" Ron had just asked Harry, quietly. Ginny glanced up from her magazine and looked through the compartment window just in time to see Cho Chang walking away. A little voice in Ginny's head, one she had been trying to ignore for a while now, said, "That's right. Just keep walking, dear." She pushed the voice out of her head along with those other, earlier thoughts.
Meanwhile, Harry responded to Ron, "Nothing." Ginny smiled slightly to herself, and looked back to her puzzle, which she noticed for the first time was in an edition of The Quibbler. Secure in her sanity, she happily penciled "Crumple Horned-Snorkack" next to number twenty-three.
"I – er – heard she's going out with someone else now," said Hermione tentatively.
"You're well out of it, mate," said Ron forcefully. "I mean, she's quite good-looking and all that…" Ginny shook her head in amazement at her brother as she glanced at a suddenly miffed-looking Hermione; honestly, Ron had no sense. He continued, "… but you want someone a bit more cheerful."
"She's probably cheerful enough with someone else," said Harry, shrugging.
"Who's she with now?" Ron asked Hermione, but it was Ginny who answered.
"Michael Corner," she said, looking forward to what Ron's reaction to this news might be. She did so love surprising her hapless brother with startling information.
"Michael – but –" said Ron, craning around in his seat to stare at her. "But you were going out with him!"
"Not anymore," said Ginny resolutely. "He didn't like Gryffindor beating Ravenclaw at Quidditch and got really sulky, so I ditched him and he ran off to comfort Cho instead." She scratched her nose absently with the end of her quill, basking in the pleasantly dumbstruck look on Ron's face. Turning The Quibbler upside down, she began marking her answers.
"Well…" began Ron, and Ginny glanced up. Ron sounded too happy. Why did Ron sound happy? "I always thought he was a bit of an idiot," he continued, turning back to the game of wizard chess he was playing with Harry. "Good for you. Just choose someone – better – next time." As he said this, he cast a meaningful look in Harry's direction.
Ginny was horrified. Horrified. A quick glance at Hermione showed that her horror was shared. Struggling, she kept her face completely neutral, and with her blood boiling she said to Ron, as vaguely as she could manage, "Well, I've chosen Dean Thomas, would you say he's better?"
"WHAT?" shouted Ron, upending the chessboard. Ginny looked down at her puzzle again, and it was only through sheer force of will that her cheeks did not turn as red as her hair. How dare he… the utter nerve… the sheer stupidity… he was mental! All this time she had spent convincing Harry, convincing everyone; hell, convincing HERSELF that her schoolgirl crush on "The Boy Who Lived" was over… and here her foolish, nincompoop, prat of a brother practically broadcasts to the entire compartment that she should "choose" Harry! As if Harry would be interested, even if she were, which she very well wasn't!
Are you sure?
That damned voice again… she pushed it down out of her mind. She hadn't meant to drop the "Dean Thomas" surprise now, like this, but Ron had just made her so angry… suddenly, a new thought struck her. She snuck a look over her magazine, casting a furtive glance in Harry's direction… but he seemed to either have missed Ron's implication or was ignoring it like a champion, and he furthermore seemed positively unfazed by the news that Ginny was dating Dean.
A twinge of disappointment hit Ginny's stomach when she realized this, and she angrily pushed that sensation down alongside the little voice.
As the train slowed down in its approach to King's Cross, Ginny realized that she had better go and say goodbye to the boy who had unwittingly caused such trouble in the first place. She hurried down the corridor to Dean's compartment, and after everyone had cleared out and the hallway was sufficiently empty, they spent an enjoyable five minutes snogging their good-byes. This, Ginny realized as she stepped off the train just a little bit more rumpled than she had been moments before, was precisely what the healer had ordered to clear her head and silence small voices. Hurrying down the platform, trunk in tow, she caught up with Harry, Ron and Hermione just as they got the go-ahead to pass through the magical entrance between platforms nine and ten. As they crossed through to another summer, Ginny tried hard to forget that Harry Potter was going to be spending large portions of it with her family at the Burrow. This, she told herself firmly, would not be a problem, as she was clearly no longer interested in him.
In an unrelated corner of her mind, she wondered if it were possible to snog with Dean via the Floo Network. Just in case she needed to do anymore head clearing before returning to Hogwarts in the fall.