Title and Chapter:Galatea Chapter One: "Burning Down the House" (1/?)
Keywords:destiny, adventure, Pendragon, mythology, post-Hogwarts
Spoilers:All four books
Summary:Galatea is the second act in the Mórrígna trilogy. Five years after the events in The Rebirth, Draco Malfoy is finally ready to overthrow the Dark Lord and take his place as the head of the Death Eaters. Ginny Weasley, an Auror disillusioned with the light side, is the last thing he needs to turn his dreams into reality. But Draco has underestimated Harry…and Voldemort. Get ready for adventure, angst, romance, humor, and a bad-ass Celtic goddess – it's going to be a wild ride. [Sequel to The Rebirth.]
Disclaimer:This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note:Galatea is the sequel to my first fic, "The Rebirth," and the second fic in what has been dubbed The Mórrígna Trilogy. Since Galatea is a sequel, please do read "The Rebirth" first to cut down on confusion. It's a great story; I promise you won't be sorry. Thanks to Danette and DRI, my beta readers, and to all of my lovely muses at the HP Pendragon yahoo group. If you'd like to join them, point your browser to groups.yahoo.com/group/HPPendragon. I'd love to see you there. Remember, folks, feedback makes me a better writer, which translates to a better story for you to read.
Burning Down the House
The condemned man savors his final smoke
How good does that tobacco taste?
don't they know that
a man with a hellhound on his trail
deserves a cigarette?
--from "burning down the house" by Max Blagg
In the days of ancient Greece, there lived a sculptor named Pygmalion. Unimpressed with the local specimens of feminine beauty, he created a statue, formed in the image of his deepest desires. On the feast of the goddess Aphrodite, he asked her to send him a bride, but in his heart he longed for the marble of his creation. That day, the goddess brought the cold stone to life, a woman molded into a man's ideal, born to fulfill another's desires. Her name was Galatea.
* * * * *
Ginny stood in the middle of a lightly wooded area. It was a beautiful place, peaceful and calm. The golden sun filtered lazily through the leaves, lightly dappling the ground with pools of warm glow. In the distance, she could hear the cheerful rush of water.
She was confused; she must be in the Otherworld – no other place looked like this, had this aura of timelessness – but it was so unlike the Otherworld she'd visited the past five years. There were no soldiers or weapons here, and Mórrígan was nowhere in sight. Perhaps if she could find the stream, there would be people nearby who could give her directions to the goddess's camp.
The stream was a silver-blue ribbon winding through the emerald grass. Its water looked very tempting, but Ginny knew better than to eat or drink anything from the Otherworld. She slipped off her shoes and waded in a small way, though, enjoying the coolness of the glassy water as it flowed through her toes and lapped at her ankles. A ways down the stream, Ginny made out the crouching figure of an old woman doing her wash.
Taking her shoes from the bank, she stepped out of the water and walked through the springy grass, calling out to the laundress. The Otherworldly denizen took no notice. Ginny's steps slowed, and then stopped all together as she drew closer. Gods above…
The woman's hair was sparse and iron gray, sticking out from her head in stiff wires. Beneath the cursory cover of her hair, the woman's scalp was scabbed and red. Her clothing was tattered, a ragged red dress under a faded green cloak. Her sleeves were rolled up so she could wash the garment; her fingernails were long and red, and filed to sharp points. Ginny's breath caught in her throat. It was the washer at the ford, the Mórrígan's crone face. This woman washed the clothes of those destined to die in upcoming battles. The Pendragon bit her lip, wanting very badly to run away. She closed her hand around her dragon ring, screwed up her courage, and said, "You sent for me?"
The woman turned and smiled in welcome, and Ginny stumbled back a step. The washer's eyes glowed red and her teeth, as pointy as her fingernails, were smeared with the crimson of mortal blood. Mórrígan was the most gruesome thing Ginny had ever seen. Despite her age, the goddess's voice was strong. "Why don't you come closer?" She held out her hand and beckoned Ginny to her side, and the Pendragon saw the scar that slashed across its back.
"I'd rather not," she replied, keeping her distance.
"Do I frighten you, Virginia?" the crone asked, cackling with delight.
"A little," she answered, eyes wide, unable to look away. Experience had taught her that it was generally a bad idea to lie to the Mórrígan.
"Good." The goddess turned back to her laundry.
"What are you washing?" Ginny asked, craning her neck, trying to see without having to come any closer.
"The first casualty."
"In what battle?"
Mórrígan held the fabric up, and water ran from it onto the ground. Ginny's eyes took it in at a glance – a dark blue shirt trimmed with red at the neck and sleeves. There was a small hole near the bottom hem, and the garment was stained red with blood. "In your battle, Virginia." The goddess stood, stooped over with age, and slowly stalked toward Ginny, the bloody shirt held out in front of her. Ginny backed away; Mórrígan reeked with the unbearable stench of death. "There will be many more where this came from. You will keep me very busy indeed, before all is said and done."
Ginny woke with a start. Through her bedroom window, she could see the afternoon sun riding low in the sky. It would be night soon, the biggest night of her Auror career. Tonight, after years of being his victims, they were finally going to capture the mole. She rolled out of bed and dressed quickly, eager to get to work and start the operation.
* * * * *
The pulsing lights in the Muggle dance club flashed their color patterns over the writhing, gyrating bodies of the people on the floor. Ginny tugged self-consciously on her low-cut white shirt; she usually wore Muggle clothes, but never ones like this. Her black trousers were skintight and low waisted, leaving her midriff bare. Over the ensemble, she wore a black leather duster of Ria's. It would keep her tattoo concealed for now. Ginny didn't want to blow her cover before they'd cornered the mole and his Death Eater contact.
Her eyes scanned the crowd, searching out Agent Fintan. She had to admit, this club was a perfect meeting place. The loud music and the blinking lights would ensure that any business could be conducted in relative secrecy. Yes, Fintan had planned his betrayals well.
"What can I get you?"
Ginny turned to the bartender. "Sorry?"
"What do you want?" he asked, his words invested with the nasal twang of an American accent.
Ginny blinked. But she had been standing next to the bar and, looking around, she saw that most of the Muggles had drinks with them. She had to blend in. When in Rome… "Soda water with lime, please."
"Hitting the hard stuff tonight?" he teased.
"Not when I'm working," she answered, tucking her hair behind her ear.
The bartender's eyes turned speculative. "You're a working girl?"
She nodded, dropped some Muggle money on the bar, and turned to walk away. He reached over the counter and caught her arm. "My shift ends at two. Maybe you and I could…"
She pulled away. "Sorry, I have plans."
As she turned toward the crowd once again, she nearly bumped into Harry. Did I mishear, or did you just tell him that you're a working girl?
Iam a working girl, Ginny answered. I'm a girl, and I'm at work.
He laughed out loud. Gin, you just told him you're a…what would your mum call it? A scarlet woman.
Ginny nearly dropped her drink. You're joking. Stupid Muggle slang. Just then, she spotted Fintan sitting at a small table in the corner. She raised her transmitter charm to her mouth. "He's here. Get in position."
Harry checked his medical Portkey, a circular disk three inches in diameter that he wore threaded onto his belt. In the event of a life-threatening injury, the Portkey would transport him instantly to St Mungo's. Portkeys were the only way to get to the Wizarding hospital anymore, as it was protected by airtight anti-apparition wards.
The field agents had been over the plan dozens of times. It was delicate work, arresting a Dark Wizard in the middle of a crowd of Muggles without anyone getting hurt. Agent Plato strolled up to the table and leaned down to whisper something in Fintan's ear. As the mole turned, Ginny watched the Auror discretely fire an Imperius curse. Plato quickly gave his instructions, and then the Aurors all settled down to wait for Fintan's Death Eater contact to appear.
Three hours later, the mole still sat alone. "It's no good," Ginny said into her transmitter. "They must have gotten wind of the sting. Let's take him in."
Plato and Saturn strolled over to the mole and led him out of the club without a fuss. Imperius worked wonders when it came to easy arrests. Aurors left their stations throughout the club and streamed outside, congregating on the sidewalk. "We weren't going to get anywhere tonight," Ginny said, pulling her leather duster tighter around her. "Just take him to a holding cell. I'll meet you all there. I'm parked in the back."
She turned and walked down an alley that ran along the side of the club. "She's parked?" Saturn said, turning to look at Harry. "Parked what? A broom?"
"Her car," he said shortly, reaching into his pocket for an incarceration Portkey.
"Why doesn't she just apparate?" Saturn pressed.
"Because she doesn't want to," Harry replied, pressing the Portkey to Fintan's skin. The man vanished. "Job well done," he told the group. "We've caught the mole. I'll see you all back at the Division." The crowd split up, each heading for a different safe-point, where disapparation would go unnoticed by the Muggles.
* * * * *
As she neared her car, Ginny fished around her pocket for her keys. It was a short drive to the Ministry; she'd probably beat some of her fellow agents, if they had to walk around the city until they found a deserted place to disapparate. As she neared the automobile, a blast of red light hurled through the air, tearing the sleeve of Ria's coat and opening a gash on Ginny's left arm. She ignored the sudden burn of pain and whirled around to find herself facing ten Death Eaters in full masks and robes, wands drawn.
Ginny turned and ran.
Her feet pounded against the pavement and the duster blew out behind her. She could hear them closing in; her only thought was to lead them as far away from the Muggles as possible before the inevitable confrontation. She ran down alley after alley, through twists and turns, around countless corners. Ginny had no idea where she was, but the avalanche of footsteps running after her gradually decreased. The Death Eaters dropped off one by one, unable to keep up. If she could just outrun most of them, she could easily fight the two or three who were left.
Sucking in great gulps of air, her throat burning, Ginny ran until she couldn't run any more. There was only one following her now, and they raced down a deserted, dimly lit alley. She turned abruptly and faced the Death Eater who stopped short, wand drawn. "Go on then," Ginny gasped. "Let's see what you can do."
She didn't need to ask twice. A hex rocketed through the air. The Auror ducked beneath the light and threw herself at the Death Eater's midriff, knocking her to the ground. Ginny grabbed the woman's wrist and slammed it into the pavement, cracking the bones and sending her wand skidding off into the darkness. The Death Eater's sleeve was bunched up around her elbow, revealing her mark. In the dim light, Ginny made out that the shirt beneath her robes was blue, with a thick red stripe on the edge.
With a scream of pain, the woman drove her elbow into Ginny's breastbone, knocking the wind out of her, and scrambled to her feet. "What are you going to do?" Ginny taunted, standing to face the woman. "Your wrist is broken. Your wand is gone."
"You don't have a wand either," the woman said.
Ginny grinned demonically. "I don't need magic to fight. You, on the other hand—"
So fast Ginny had hardly seen her move, the Death Eater was pointing a Muggle gun straight at Ginny's head. "You're going to come with me."
The Auror froze. "What if I don't want to?"
The Death Eater released the safety. "Then I'll shoot you and bring you along anyway."
The gun trembled; the woman was nervous. "You couldn't shoot me," Ginny said, inching closer. "You don't have the courage. Look at you; you're a wreck."
"Come one step closer and I swear to the goddess I will," the woman said, her voice shaking.
Ginny said in a silky-soft voice, "I don't believe you."
The woman fired, and chips of brick scattered like shrapnel from where the bullet struck the wall. Ginny didn't flinch. "You missed."
"That was a warning shot," the Death Eater said, shaking in earnest now. "The next one goes in your leg."
"You know what?" Ginny asked, taking another step. "I still don't believe you."
"That's too bad."
In that split second, Ginny saw something in the woman's eyes, the determination, inward steeling of her resolve…she meant what she said. Before the Death Eater could fire, Ginny launched herself through the air, tackling her opponent, sandwiching the gun between the two of them. They grappled with each other, both struggling to grasp the weapon. It was either the Death Eater or Ginny – she was the Pendragon, and could not afford to become Voldemort's prisoner. As soon as Ginny felt the curve of the trigger, she pulled.
The Death Eater's body jerked at the impact of the shot, and then went limp. Ginny scrambled from beneath the woman and flipped her over. The bullet had gone through her stomach; Ginny's white shirt was soaked with red blood, even though she'd only been beneath the Death Eater for a moment. She worked the woman's fingers free of the gun and, with her other hand, pulled off the metallic silver mask.
The Auror's mouth opened in a silent scream. The Death Eater was Shannon. Ginny's mind froze, unable to contemplate what she knew to be true, but her body immediately swung into action. Without hesitating, she grabbed her friend's wrist and disapparated.
* * * * *
Harry sat in an empty conference room, working on his report. He'd had a creeping suspicion that all was not right with Ginny, and had been thinking for the past ten minutes or so that he should perhaps go look for her. Just as his fears exploded in a full crescendo, there was a pop and she appeared on the other side of the room, crouched beside a prone body. "Gin?" he said, jumping to his feet and coming around the table. "What hap—gods and goddesses!"
"Hurry up," Ginny said, rising to her knees and lunging for his belt. Her fingers, made clumsy by her hurry, pulled at the buckle.
"Gin," he said, staring wide-eyed, "is that Shannon?"
"Get it off!" she screamed. Her hands wouldn't work.
"Your Portkey! I need your Portkey!"
Harry was frozen. He couldn't move past the thought that Shannon, who he'd counted as his friend, had a Dark Mark on her arm and was bleeding all over the tiled floor of the Ministry's conference room. "Why did you bring her here?" he asked, dazed. "Why didn't you use your Portkey?"
Ginny finally got his belt undone and wrenched the disk off. "I deactivated it," she said, pressing the metal, rune-side down, to Shannon's chest. Her friend vanished, whisked away to St. Mungo's emergency ward.
"Last month." Ginny sat back on the floor beside the small puddle of blood. Her eyes stared straight ahead.
"Why?" There he got no reply. "Maybe it wasn't her," Harry said, sinking down beside her. "It could've been Polyjuice, or—"
"It was her," Ginny interrupted flatly. She was in emotional shock; Harry recognized it. Her eyes flew to his, but Harry couldn't see Ginny looking out at him. There was only panic. "Catherine is coming. Heal my arm."
"What? How do you—"
"I can hear her coming, and I'm bleeding silver all over Ria's coat so hurry up and fix it," Ginny snarled in a tone he'd never heard from her before. Wordlessly, he tapped the gash with his wand, and the blood vanished just as the door swung open and the chair of the division walked in.
"Report," she demanded, then noticed the red blood on the ground. "What the hell?"
"Agent Fintan is in custody," Ginny said tonelessly, pulling herself to her feet. "I also apprehended one Death Eater. The extent of her wounds required that she be sent to St. Mungo's."
"Jezebel," Catherine said slowly, "procedure says that all prisoners are sent to holding cells and triaged for treatment at the Ministry." Ginny didn't respond; there wasn't even a flicker in her eyes that showed she recognized what the senior Auror was saying. "Where did this blood come from?"
"From the prisoner."
Catherine stared at Ginny, then turned to Harry, a questioning look on her face. He made no move to explain.
"Jezebel, what was the nature of the Death Eater's injuries?" Catherine asked slowly.
"I shot her," Ginny replied, looking straight ahead, not making eye contact. Harry sucked in a sharp breath.
"You…shot her?" Catherine asked incredulously. "With what?"
Ginny set the gun down on the table.
"But…how did you—"
"You'll have my report tomorrow," Ginny interrupted, turning on her heel and leaving the room. She slammed the door shut behind her, so hard it swung right back open.
Catherine looked at the door, and then to Harry. "Midas, tell me what's going on."
Harry took a deep breath. "It was her friend."
Catherine looked at him for a long moment, and then shut her eyes and sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. After a moment, she turned and swept from the room. Harry was left alone.
* * * * *
Ginny jerked open her desk drawer and frantically rummaged through the papers. There had to be a packet of fags in here somewhere; there just had to be. She slammed the drawer shut in frustration and yanked the next one open. Third time was the charm. Her hand shook so badly it took her five tries to light the match, then she sat back, eyes closed, and sucked in a lungful of smoke.
Ginny looked up as Catherine came in, carrying a glass of water. The division head shut the door behind her and set the drink on Ginny's desk. "I thought you might need it."
Ginny didn't reply.
"Jezebel," Catherine began, "how did you get a Muggle gun?"
"There are procedures to follow—" she cut off as Ginny blew a stream of smoke into her face. "This is a no-smoking building, Jezebel."
Ginny dropped her cigarette into the water glass. It extinguished with a hiss.
"As I was saying," Catherine continued gently. "There are procedures to follow. I know that now is probably the worst time to be talking about this, but there may be an inquiry to determine whether or not you should be disciplined. Aurors can't just go around shooting people—"
"If you have a problem with it, sack me," Ginny interrupted, her eyes fixed fiercely on Catherine's.
The division head would be insane to let Ginny go; Jezebel was the best Auror in the department. Considering the fight they were fighting, sacking her wasn't an option. "You know I won't do that."
Ginny stood and picked her bag up from its place on top of a file cabinet in the corner. "You'll have my report in the morning."
"I'm not through talking to you, Jezebel," Catherine said, jumping to her feet.
Ginny didn't answer, didn't look back as she left the office.
* * * * *
A solitary light burned in the Magical Games and Sports office. Ria had worked late nearly every night for the past three weeks, pouring over the financial disclosure documents for the professional Quidditch clubs. Now was the time when teams negotiated new contracts for their players, and Ria was in charge of making sure no one exceeded their salary cap.
She looked up as the door eased open, and then smiled in welcome. "Gin! Thanks for stopping by; I was desperate for a break. All this small print is making me cross-eyed." As her friend stepped into the light, the smile faded from Ria's face and she was on her feet in an instant. "What's going on?"
"Something's happened," Ginny said, her voice nothing more than a hoarse whisper. "Something terrible…"
"What is it?" Ria asked, gripping the back of her chair. She'd never seen Ginny look this way before, and her friend was splattered with blood.
"There was an operation tonight. Ria," Ginny paused, then forced the words out of her mouth, "Shannon was hurt."
"Shannon?" Ria asked incredulously. "Our Shannon? What was she doing at an Auror raid? Is she all right? What was…who conducts a raid when there are innocent bystanders around?"
Ginny slowly shook her head. "She wasn't an innocent bystander, Ria. She…" Ginny's voice failed her.
Ria paled, and raised her hand to her mouth in horror. "It's impossible. It couldn't be, Gin. You're wrong. It's some kind of mistake." Ginny didn't speak. She just stood, hands hanging limply at her sides, gazing sadly at her best friend. Ria felt tears prick her eyes. "No," she whispered. "Where is she now? How badly is she hurt?"
"She's at St. Mungo's," Ginny whispered. "Ria…I shot her. I didn't know; I swear I didn't know. I never would've—"
"Oh my God, Gin," Ria said, folding her friend into an embrace. Ginny was trembling fiercely, shivers of guilt and shock. "Come with me. We can go to Mungo's and wait for news."
"I can't," Ginny gasped. "I can't be there; I've no right."
"There has to be an explanation," Ria said, holding her friend tighter.
"She's a Death Eater," Ginny said, her voice thick with pain. "How do we explain that? I saw her Dark Mark. She's a Death Eater, and we never noticed. How could we not have seen…she's our friend, and we never saw it!"
"I'm going to Mungo's," Ria said.
"I need to get my car. I left it behind."
"I don't know," Ginny whispered.
Ria nodded, and looked Ginny in the eyes as she said, "I promise I'll write as soon as there's news. My owl will find you."
* * * * *
Mike lounged in his kitchen, sipping a mug of coffee and reading the morning newspaper. According to the Prophet, Agent Jezebel had caught another Death Eater last night. So what else is new? Mike thought, turning to the comics. Ginny had been on a rampage the last few months, bringing in Dark Wizards hand over fist. He was chuckling over Martin Miggs when someone pounded on his door.
He padded over to answer, and saw Ginny standing in his hall. Her hair was mussed, her eyes bleary, and her shirt splattered with red. "Come in," Mike said quickly, stepping aside. "Are you all right? What happened to you?"
"A raid," she slurred, staggering inside.
"You're pissed!" he exclaimed in surprise. "You smell like a cheap pub."
She swung her bloodshot eyes to his face. "I smell like a very expensive pub. Single malt scotch, aged sixty years. Do you have any?"
"No," he said, leading her into the kitchen.
"Oh." Ginny's face fell. "Do you have anything to drink?"
"We have coffee," Dana said, sweeping into the room, clothed in a fuzzy blue bathrobe, her wet hair wrapped in a towel. She snatched Ginny's car keys out of her hand as she walked by. "Lots and lots of black coffee. And you're going to have some."
Ginny slumped down in a kitchen chair. "What're you doing here?" she scowled.
"I live here, remember?" Dana said, sliding a mug across the table. Ginny made a face at the strong smell, and her second urged, "Drink up! It'll do you good."
"I heard you caught another Death Eater last night," Mike said, his brow still creased with concern. "Congratulations."
Ginny laughed, a sound that, if Mike and Dana hadn't already been worried, would've made them so. "Thank you very much."
"You should be proud of yourself," Mike continued.
"Proud?" Ginny asked bleakly. "What's there to be proud of?"
"Well, you know. Bringing in a Dark Witch, ridding the world of evil and all that."
"Evil," Ginny repeated in a whisper, taking a sip of her coffee. "Sure."
There was a tap at the window, and Dana slid the glass open to let in the gray owl. It fluttered across the room, dropped an envelope in Ginny's lap, and, on its way out, snatched the piece of bacon Mike held in offering.
Ginny tore the envelope open and read the contents, her face not changing a bit. "I have to go." She stood and started for the door.
"You can't go anywhere," Mike said, jumping up and barring her way. "If you show up at the division in this state, they'll sack you for sure. Stay here for a few hours and sleep it off."
"I have to go," she repeated, ducking beneath his arm and heading into the entryway.
"I have your keys," Dana said, jogging after Ginny. "You can't go anywhere until you've sobered up a bit."
"I'll walk," Ginny said shortly, pulling the door open and disappearing into the hall.
Mike and Dana stared at each other. What was going on?
* * * * *
Gwen poured milk over her dry cereal and blew a kiss at Esme, who was busy fishing a teabag out of her mug. The intercom buzzed and Esme walked into the entryway and pushed the button. "Hello?"
"It's Ria. Let me up. It's important."
There was an edge to Ria's voice that Esme hadn't heard before. She pressed the button to buzz her into the building, and then opened the door to see Ria walking purposefully down the hall. "Is Gwen at home?" she demanded.
"Yes…" Esme replied. "What's going on?"
"Ria!" Gwen said, poking her head into the entryway. "You're just in time for breakfast. Come on in."
"Gwen," Ria said, her self-control hanging on by a thread, "come into the living room. I need to talk to you."
"Is everything okay?" Gwen asked, following Ria through a door at the far end of the foyer.
Ria sank into an armchair. "You'd better sit down."
Gwen frowned. "What's going on? What's happened?"
"Sit down," Ria repeated quietly.
Her friend dropped onto a sofa and Esme took a seat beside her. Both of them looked at Ria with expectant concern.
Ria was sure that this was, without a doubt, the hardest thing she would ever have to do. "Something bad happened last night. The Auror division had a sting operation. Gwen, Shannon was shot."
"Shot?" Gwen echoed, eyes wide. "With what?"
"A Muggle gun. She was sent to St. Mungo's and the doctors tried to fix her. They tried, Gwen. But—"
"No," Gwen whispered, shaking her head.
"She died in the operating room," Ria choked out, her voice shaking on the words. She thought she'd cried herself out at the hospital, but tears once again welled in her eyes. "Shannon's dead, Gwen. She was a Death Eater."
A muffled sob was Gwen's only response. Esme pulled Gwen close, cradling her head and whispering nonsense words, trying in vain to calm her down. "Who did it?" Gwen choked out, her words muffled by Esme's shirt. "Which one of them killed her?"
The tears spilled out of Ria's eyes and she fisted her hands in her lap. "It was Ginny. She didn't know. Shannon was wearing a mask."
Gwen jerked away from Esme and stared. "What?" she whispered, her grief for her dead friend quickly replaced by concern for the living one. "Oh gods. Where is she?"
"I don't know. I went by her flat before I came here, and she wasn't there."
"You're telling me she's all alone after…" Gwen dashed her tears away with the back of her hand. "We have to find her. Where could she have gone?"
"There was no one at Harry's either. That was the only other place I could think of."
"We'll check the Burrow then," Gwen said. "And if she's not there, we'll go to Mike's." She would grieve for Shannon later. Right now, Ginny was her biggest concern.
* * * * *
Mike and Dana resumed their breakfast, more subdued than they'd been before. They were both worried out of their minds for Ginny, but what could they do? A frantic pounding on the door sent Mike running for the entryway; he hoped she'd come back. He jerked the door open and found himself face to face with Harry. "Where is she?"
For once in Mike's life, a sarcastic barb was not forthcoming. "I don't know."
"Have you seen her? Has she been here?"
Mike nodded. "She was here maybe half an hour ago, pissed out of her mind. She looked like she'd been on a weekend bender."
"Did she say anything important?"
Mike shook his head. "She got an owl, read the note, and then left."
"Did you ask why?"
"You know she doesn't explain herself, not ever. I've learned not to ask."
Harry was nearly frantic. He had to find her. She was in no state to be wandering around London by herself. "Think hard. Did she say anything that might tell you where she's gone?"
He shook his head. "We talked about the Death Eater she'd brought in. I asked her about her latest capture—" Harry sucked in a sharp breath and Mike frowned. "What?"
"It was Shannon," Harry said.
Mike leaned back against the wall, staring at Harry in shock. "You're joking."
"Oh goddess! I congratulated her!"
Harry pressed his lips tightly together, but didn't say anything. He couldn't think of anything to say, and it was obvious that Mike felt bad enough without any help from Harry.
"You'll find her?" Mike asked urgently. "You have to find her."
Harry nodded. "I'm going home to change, and then I'll keep looking. I'll owl you when she turns up." He didn't like Mike, but Ginny was the younger man's closest friend. He had a right to know when she was found.
* * * * *
Harry jogged down the hall of his building. He felt her the moment he stepped out of the lift; she was in his flat.
He eased the door open and quietly shut it. She was playing the piano. He recognized the piece, Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. It was low and beautiful, composed for the organ. He walked into the living room and looked at her back, hunched over the keys. Harry stood there, entranced, watching her play, her fingers skating across the keys. The music seemed to well from someplace inside of her, flowing out through her hands and his instrument. He bathed in the sound, waited until the last cord died away.
He spotted an empty glass on an end table and silently crept over. Mike had said Ginny was pissed; was she still drinking? He picked up the tumbler and smelled it; the strong, bitter stench of sobriety potion stung his nostrils.
When the song finished, Ginny turned her head to the side, presenting him with her profile. There was a moment of silence. Then, "I didn't know where else to go."
Harry set the tumbler down. "You heard me come in?"
"I heard you coming five blocks away." There was another pause, and then Ginny sighed. "I dare say you have a thing or two to say to me."
"Are you sober?"
"Good." Harry took a deep breath, and then launched into the lecture he'd been preparing since she stormed out of the conference room. "What the hell are you playing at, disabling your Portkey? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is? What were you thinking? You could've been—"
Harry blinked, surprised at the interruption. "What?"
"Shannon died." Ginny's words were flat and expressionless. "I got the owl at Mike's. I killed her."
"Oh, Gin," he murmured, walking across the room to stand beside her. That's when he realized she was still in her clothes from the night before, her shirt now stiff with the dark brown of her friend's blood. Through her eyes, he could see that something inside of her was utterly shattered. "Christ!" he exclaimed before he could think. "Gin, I'm so sorry."
She shook her head, tried to speak, but couldn't quite manage it. What to say in a situation like this?
Harry slid onto the piano bench and wrapped his arms tightly around her. The warmth of his body contrasted sharply with the numbness of her mind. Her grief was too deep; she felt it too bitterly. "Pain shared is pain halved," Harry whispered in her ear. "Give it to me, Gin."
She trembled. Ginny was balanced on a razor's edge, and she was going to fall. On one side, there was nothing but the black loneliness but on the other, Harry waited to catch her. During Auror raids, the Dementor attack on Hogwarts, her fights with Mórrígan, the Chamber of Secrets, she had never been so afraid as she was now. This…this was a precipice. There was no turning back. "Let me in," he said, squeezing her tight. Ginny took a deep breath. And threw herself over.
Something snapped inside of her, uncoiled and snaked through the link. Harry felt her pain rolling through him. He took it on gladly, feeling that she'd finally set herself free. She shuddered in his arms, and a muffled sob reached his ears.
She cried for the first time in over five years. Great, panting, choking sobs that wracked her small frame and left her gasping for breath. Ginny cried for Shannon, for Osiris, for Seamus, Zalba, and Mundungus, for all the Aurors she hadn't been able to save. She cried for Ria and Gwen, whose best friend had killed their other best friend. She cried for Dana, who lived for revenge, and for Mike, who never knew what it was to have parents who loved him. She cried for Harry and the years of mistreatment he'd endured at the hands of the Dursleys, the years of emotional limbo he'd endured because he loved her. And finally, Ginny cried for herself. For the childhood stolen from her by Tom Riddle and the adolescence lost to her destiny. She cried until she had no tears left to cry and then she stilled, sagged, exhausted, into Harry's embrace.
The front of his shirt was soaked through, but he didn't notice. She raised her eyes, washed with salt tears, and gazed at him, lost, but not alone. Her expression was unguarded and open. The grief and guilt were still there, but beneath those feelings, something in Ginny had been released. The heavy weight she'd carried around her heart for the past decade, so long she'd ceased to notice its presence, had dissolved in those tears. Harry gently swept her cheeks with his thumb, wiping away the damp tracks. "A shower would help you feel better. I'll get you some clean clothes." And he'd burn that bloodstained shirt.
She nodded, and let him lead her to the bath. He turned the water on and waited for it to warm up, then gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead. "I'll leave something outside the door for you to wear."
Ginny let the hot water pour over her. She washed all traces of Shannon's blood from her body and bathed away the stench of liquor and cigarettes that clung to her hair and skin. She scrubbed until she could scrub no more. Poking her head out the door, Ginny spotted neatly folded robes on the floor of the hall. They had been black once, but repeated washings had faded them to a comfortable gray. She pulled them inside and held them up; the length unfurled to reveal a red and gold Gryffindor patch over the breast pocket. His old school robes. A lion for courage.
She pulled the robe on over her bare skin and fastened the clasps, then wandered into the hall. She heard voices, and followed the sound to the living room.
Harry knelt in front of the fireplace. "I'll be there soon. Twenty minutes at the most."
Dumbledore's head was in the flames. "Come via the Three Broomsticks. The elves are cleaning the fireplaces today. I'll meet you in the entrance hall." With a pop, he was gone.
"You're going to Hogwarts?" Ginny asked, hugging her arms across her chest.
He stood and turned to face her. "Only for a while. I'll be right back. I need to talk to Dumbledore."
Ginny nodded and took the mug of tea he offered. She felt the magic inside; he'd put in enough sleeping potion to knock out an elephant. "You'll be back when I wake up?"
He smiled gently. "You'll never know I'm gone."
"Tell him," Ginny started, but she choked on the words and had to begin again. "Tell him I killed a Death Eater and that I hope he's happy. Tell him that from me."
Harry nodded gravely. "I was planning on it."
She thought he was teasing her, but his face was deadly serious. She looked into the tea; it seemed innocuous enough. "It'll be good for you," Harry told her. "Trust me, it's just what you need. It'll make you feel better."
Her smile was thin. "Do you promise?"
She couldn't argue with that, so she raised the mug in silent salute and drained it. He took it from her fingers and set it down on an end table, beside the empty tumbler of sobriety potion. "Come on," Harry said. "You can sleep in my bed."
Ginny trailed after him obediently, stood beside the bed as he turned down the covers, and then crawled inside, allowing him to tuck the duvet snugly around her shoulders. He didn't leave, but sat down beside her. The mattress dipped under his weight and Ginny sighed. She felt different compared to earlier that morning, or even compared to a week ago. There were so many emotions, countless layers of feeling circling her mind. But she was safe with Harry. She wasn't alone, for the first time in years. There was comfort in that; refuge from the pain, the crushing guilt. And with that knowledge warmly encircling her heart, Ginny's eyes closed in sleep.
Harry gently kissed her cheek, then went out to the living room, tossing a pinch of floo powder in the fireplace. "The Three Broomsticks."
* * * * *
Harry wrapped his cloak more tightly around his body, setting his teeth against the cold January wind. He mentally rehearsed what he was going to say to the Headmaster once he reached the school. It was going to be one of the most difficult conversations of his adult life, and he was not looking forward to it. Still, there were things that needed to be said.
Harry was so engrossed with his own thoughts that he nearly walked into the tree branch that dipped low over the road. He started to move around it, but found his feet rooted to the ground. Pulling out his wand, Harry looked frantically around for the source of this spell, but the area was deserted. The snowdrifts on either side of the road were unspoiled by human footsteps, and the clear, sharp blue of the sky was the opposite of menacing.
A flurry of wings, and then a crow alighted on the branch, just at eye level. Harry knew, without knowing how he knew, that he was in the presence of a deity. Her voice, splintered and wild, spoke in his head. You go to speak to the old man.
He stared, and her tone grew sharp. Are you dim witted, that you can't answer me? You're worse than Virginia. At least she has a tongue in her head, although it's usually disrespectful. I sincerely hope all mortals are not—
"I'm going to speak to Professor Dumbledore, yes," Harry interrupted.
The bird seemed satisfied with this answer. It fixed him with one beady, all seeing eye. You know what you must do. Why do you hesitate to do it?
"I don't know what you're talking about."
At that, Harry felt as though an invisible hand fell on his shoulders and pressed down, so heavily that he couldn't help but fall to his knees. The cold wetness of the snow soaked through his trousers. From his spot on the ground, he raised his eyes to the bird. Do not lie to me, mortal.
Harry knew that the Mórrígan would settle for nothing less than complete honesty, but he didn't know how to put his concerns into words. "She's the best Auror in the division, even though…well, she's the best. She's an integral part of the fight to bring down Voldemort. Dumbledore needs her."
I need her more.The bird fluttered its wings in agitation, shaking snowflakes loose from the branch. They floated down and lighted in his hair, stark white against the deep black of the wild locks.
"I don't understand."
At this, the goddess gave a frustrated sigh. Yes you do. Why is it that mortals are always telling me they don't understand what it is I'm telling them, when they know perfectly well? Your Virginia does the same thing. He stared, and the bird fluttered its wings once more. You are a brave young man. You know what you have to do.
The goddess flew away, and the hold on his shoulders vanished. He scrambled to his feet and hurried toward the castle.
* * * * *
Harry shrugged out of his cloak and sank into a chair. "At my flat. I gave her enough sleeping potion to put a normal person out for a week, so it should last for at least a few hours."
"I saw the Prophet this morning," Dumbledore said, pouring two cups of tea. "The capture of the mole is a relief to us all. And she's caught another, has she?"
Harry added three lumps of sugar. "It was Shannon Cannon."
Dumbledore stopped mid-pour, splashing tea all over the small table. He hurriedly righted the pot. "It was her friend whom Ginny sent to Azkaban last night?"
"Don't believe everything you read in the Prophet," Harry said coldly. "She sent her friend to St. Mungo's."
"Shannon was hurt?"
"Shannon was killed."
Dumbledore exhaled, a long, sad breath. His eyes were closed as he asked, "And she blames me, does she?"
"Yes. She's not the only one."
The old man's blue gaze locked with Harry's green one. Gone was the young boy who idolized his every move and always looked to him to make things right. A man sat across from the Headmaster now, with different priorities and the courage of his convictions. He wouldn't be handled as a child anymore, wouldn't blindly accept as gospel truth whatever Dumbledore might say. "How could I have known that Shannon was one of them?"
"You're the one who forced Ginny into this life. It wasn't her choice, and it's obvious that whatever it is she's here to do, she's not going to accomplish it by being Agent Jezebel."
"If I hadn't channeled her power to the fight against Voldemort, who knows where we'd be right now?" Dumbledore said. "She's the most powerful mage of our times."
"She's on the edge of a breakdown!" Harry snapped. "And that just shows what you know about her."
"What are you talking about?"
"Do you know that she hasn't done magic in over a month? That I haven't even seen her with a wand in that time? Her power is so strong…her ring focuses it, and then her wand focuses it again…she broke someone's leg last month, doing a simple healing charm! She can't expose that she's the Pendragon; you've drilled that into her hard enough. So she copes with the development of her powers by refusing to use them, putting herself in danger, placing her destiny as the Pendragon second to being an Auror! And this is all because of your insistence that she conform to what you think she should be. Her abilities have been stupidly mishandled, causing her goddess knows how much pain, but not any more."
"What do you mean?" Dumbledore asked, knowing he wasn't going to like the answer.
Harry's hands fisted in his lap. This was it. "After I leave here, I'm going straight to the Ministry and I'm going to give Catherine Ginny's resignation."
"You can't do that," Dumbledore said sharply.
"I will do that. The fight against Voldemort…we can handle it. The light side still has you, and me, and Ron, and the rest of the Division. It'll be fine."
"We need her powers, Harry. Don't you understand that?"
"She wants out so badly she disabled her own emergency Portkey. You don't care about her powers, not really. You never wanted a Pendragon," Harry said, standing and pulling on his cloak. "You wanted a super-Auror. The division forced her to become something it's not in her nature to be. It's like shoving a square peg into a round hole. She's tried her best to fit, but it just won't work."
He grasped the door handle, and Dumbledore said, "Voldemort killed your parents. Ginny is the best chance we have to defeat him."
"Ginny is not a chance," he said without turning around. "She's a person who's afraid and hurting and needs to make her own decisions for once. She, not the fight against Voldemort, is my topmost priority. I should've done this a long time ago."
The Headmaster sighed, knowing there was no way to dissuade Harry from this course of action. "You'll owl me with any news?"
He turned and looked over his shoulder at the old man. "I will. I promise." Then, with a sweep of his cloak, he was gone.
* * * * *
The room was silent. Draco's gaze played over the faces of his faction; they all stared at Delia, who had been the one to break the news. They were a close group, and the loss of one of their own shook them all. Blaise in particular was a wreck. "I gave her the gun," he muttered, knifing his fingers through his curls. "Last year, Ginny froze when she saw the gun; I thought it could work again."
Draco squeezed his friend's arm. "Keep your eyes on the goal," he told the room at large. "Shannon was one of Ginny's closest friends. Ten to one says our Pendragon will spend the next few weeks seriously questioning everything she's ever been told about Death Eaters being evil. We can turn this to our advantage."
"Don't you ever stop strategizing?" Blaise asked miserably.
"No," Draco replied without hesitation. "And if we don't fully exploit Ginny's inevitable uncertainty, Shannon will have died for nothing. Is that what you want, Blaise?"
His friend was silent for a moment. Then, softly, "No. That's not what I want."
"All right then," Draco said, satisfied. He turned back to the room at large. "Let's hold off on another kidnap attempt. We have to give Ginny some time to rationalize away all the propaganda Dumbledore and Potter have been feeding her."
"Draco," a Death Eater said urgently, "do you really think we can afford to wait? The Dark Lord is planning another sacrifice—"
"I know, Elliot," Draco said, running his fingers through his hair in agitation. "I assure you, it's foremost in my mind."
"We can't let him…do you know how close he is? I heard from Mrs. Lestrange that this time—"
"I know!" Draco interrupted. "I'm second in command of the entire damned organization; you think I'm not paying attention to what's going on? The sacrifice will go on as planned, and there's nothing we can do about it. Not even if we took Ginny Weasley tonight. We'd still have to convince her, make her see things our way. That could take months. If we don't spend the time now and let her do half our work for us, our jobs will be infinitely harder once we do manage to take her."
"You're saying that we're just going to let him—"
"I'm saying that we don't have a choice," Draco sighed, looking around the room at his followers. "I don't like it any more than you do, but the Pendragon should be able to undo much of the damage."
"You hope," Blaise whispered loud enough for only Draco to hear.
Draco turned to look at his friend and nodded, eyes half closed with exhaustion. "I hope."
* * * * *
Harry used Alohamora to open the door to Ginny's flat, then quietly shut the door behind him. He didn't want to alert her neighbors to his presence.
The place was small, and crowded with books. They covered every available surface, and were also stacked in countless piles on the floors of every room. Ginny didn't sleep well, he knew. She often had insomnia, and when she did manage to get to sleep she was plagued by nightmares more often than not. The books had kept her company through years of long, empty nights. They carried her away to worlds where she was not the Pendragon, where she was not Agent Jezebel, where she was nothing but an observer of the lives of others. She read voraciously, devoured the words, hungry for the escape they afforded her.
He poked around until he came up with a few tattered paperbacks – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Taín – remnants of her youth. He flipped open the cover of the mythology volume and read the inscription, scrawled in untidy penmanship. Happy Christmas, Ginny, from your friend, Mike Fletcher. He found a canvas bag and dropped the books inside, then went into the back, to her bedroom.
It, like the rest of her flat, was cluttered and untidy. The bed was unmade, tangled sheets bunched at the end of the mattress. Clothes were all over the floor, and he waded through them to her bureau, sorting through the drawers, pulling out things for her to wear. He chose comfortable trousers and jeans, button-down shirts and pullovers. He located a pair of trainers (and quite a few dust bunnies) under her bed, then rooted through her top drawer for socks. She'd need underclothes as well; Harry felt strangely guilty and intrusive, sorting through the scraps of lace and cotton, but soon those, too, were packed away.
He thought he should perhaps clear out her kitchen, not knowing how long it would be before she came back here. He was surprised to see, however, that her refrigerator contained only a bottle of soda water and half an orange. A search of her cabinets turned up a box of powdered breakfast drink and some vodka. "Gods, Gin," he muttered under his breath. "How the hell do you live like this?" But he knew the answer. She didn't live like this. She barely lived at all.
He found her toothbrush and cosmetics bag, gave the flat a once-over to see if he'd forgotten anything she might need and, convinced he'd thought of everything, Harry left for the Ministry.
* * * * *
Ginny stirred, then cracked her eyes open just enough to see that she wasn't in her own bed. After a moment's confusion, her memories rushed back. She killed Shannon. She got pissed out of her skull and showed up at Mike and Dana's flat. She cried in front of Harry, opened up her emotional barricade and shared her anguish.
The guilt and grief were still there; she felt them keenly, spearing through her chest, sticking in her throat. But underneath, she felt better than she'd felt in years. Something inside her, something fundamental to what made her Ginny Weasley, had altered permanently. And this made the weight of her guilt even more impossibly heavy. What right did she have to feel relief, when Shannon was dead because of her? The ever-present darkness sculpted by Tom Riddle's master hand had faded to a shadow of its former self; how dare she glory in her newfound lightness of being when her friend had been a Death Eater and Ginny had never noticed, never had the chance to talk her out of it?
They said that when people are branded with Voldemort's mark, nothing and no one matters to them anymore. They're lost to the Dark Lord forever. But it wasn't true; it couldn't be true. Shannon wasn't like that. There were plenty of people who mattered to her. Just a few weeks ago, Ginny had attended a birthday party for Shannon's niece, aged two. That little girl mattered to Shannon; she doted on her brother's daughter, spoiled and cuddled and loved her. And the entire time, she wore a Dark Mark on her arm. Somewhere along the way, someone had lied to Ginny about the nature of Dark Wizards. They couldn't be a homogeneous group; no group was. If there were differences of motivation and temperament within the Auror Division, as Dana Silvermoon was living proof, then there must be within the Death Eater ranks as well.
She had no idea that she was playing right into Draco Malfoy's hands.
"You're awake," Harry said softly, helping her sit up. "You must be parched."
She was. Dry mouth was an unfortunate side effect of sleeping potion. Ginny gladly accepted the glass of water he offered, and sipped it slowly, wetting her tongue, letting the liquid slide down her throat. "What time is it?"
Ginny groaned. "Catherine was expecting my report hours ago. I need to get to work."
"She's not expecting your report," Harry said, sitting on the bed, facing her. His eyes were very serious.
"What do you mean, she's not expecting it? I made a…capture," her throat caught on the word, "last night. Procedure is—"
"I turned in your resignation."
The water glass slipped from Ginny's fingers. It landed on the thick carpet with a dull thump, its contents darkening the luxurious fabric. "I'm sorry?"
"I'm not," he said, reaching out and loosely threading his fingers through hers. "You don't have to go back there, Gin, not ever again, unless you want to. It's your choice now."
She didn't know what to say. "This is why you wanted to see Dumbledore." Harry nodded, and she asked, "How did he take the news?"
"What does it matter?"
It didn't. What wild knowledge to have – for once in her life, it didn't matter what Dumbledore wanted her to do. She didn't have to follow his orders; she wasn't an Auror anymore. That brought practical considerations crashing through her mind. "Um…I need to have a job, Harry. I have to pay my bills, you know, and my rent, and—"
"You can stay here as long as you'd like," he interrupted. "I stopped by your flat and packed some things, enough for a week. You shouldn't be alone just now anyway. You can stay until you find a new job, or even…"
Forever. The word didn't make it to his lips, but it was in his eyes.
"I'll stay for a week," she breathed. After that, she didn't know. Harry had given her freedom. She didn't know how to thank him. I killed my best friend, she said, tears pooling once again in her eyes. What kind of terrible person am I, that I can feel so lucky after what I've done?
Gin, he said softly, pulling her into his arms. There was an undeniable intimacy that went hand in hand with talking directly into each other's minds. You're not a terrible person. You've been miserable for so long that you've forgotten what it feels like to simply be…sad. The words felt like a vise around his heart. How awful for her, that grief at the death of a close friend felt like elation compared to the black emotional pit she'd been living in for years. It's all right.
"Harry," she said, her cheeks damp with tears, "what am I going to say to her parents?"
He pulled her into his lap and she curled up against his chest; he rocked her gently back and forth, stroking his hand over her hair. "They already know, Gin. I saw Ria this afternoon at the Ministry. She and Gwen went to the Cannons' house this morning, and were with them when Catherine arrived to break the news."
"Catherine did it herself?"
"They're prominent members of the community," he said softly. "She thought it would be best if they heard it from the Division head. Ria wanted me to tell you," he paused, cleared his throat, "the funeral is in two days, at the Temple to the Otherworld. She thought you'd want to know."
"I can't go," Ginny said flatly, fisting his shirt in her hands. "How could I go? Her family…I can't show up and add to their pain. Let them say goodbye to her without her killer in the room."
"Ria said you'd feel that way." He held her until she calmed somewhat, then spoke again. "She and Gwen are coming by later. They want to see you, and make sure you're all right."
"I can't see them," Ginny whispered, silent tears running down her face. "How am I ever going to face them again?"
"They're worried sick about you," Harry told her. "They don't blame you for what happened. Not at all. Ria said that after Gwen found out the news, her first thought was to find you and make sure you were all right."
Ginny sniffled, "That's Gwen. She's not like other people."
"I know. Neither is Ria. They love you, Gin. They want to say so to your face. It's the only way you're going to believe it. Will you see them when they come by?"
"I don't know."
He didn't press her. It wasn't a flat out refusal, which was good enough for now.
* * * * *
Gwen and Ria looked nervously across the room at Ginny, who sat on Harry's sofa, knees drawn up to her chest. The silence stretched out for a nearly unbearable length of time before Ginny, her lower lip trembling ever so slightly, whispered, "I'm so sorry."
The two young women raced across the room, smothered her in embraces, words of reassurance and compassion, tears and vows that the three of them would always be the best of friends. That afternoon, the burden of Ginny's guilt grew a little bit lighter.
The next week was full of visits; Ria and Gwen spent several hours a day in Harry's living room. Sometimes Esme would come too; sometimes she'd tactfully stay behind to allow Shannon's best friends to mourn in private. An endless parade of Weasleys also tramped through the flat. All of her brothers had come to keep her company at least three times, except for Charlie who was in Germany on a mission for Dumbledore. But he owled twice a day, just to see how she was doing and let her know that his assignment was going well.
Her parents came too, to persuade her to come home to the Burrow. Her mother was a conservative type, and couldn't help but disapprove of her daughter staying with a man, even if that man was Harry. "Come home," she'd said. "You need to be with your family."
The first words to fly to Ginny's lips were that this was where she belonged right now, that Harry understood and sympathized much better than her parents ever could, for all that she loved them. But those feelings were too new. She couldn't, wouldn't, damage their delicate fragility by saying them out loud. Instead, she shook her head and promised to owl regularly, and her parents had to be content with that much.
One afternoon, Harry went to answer a knock at the door and found Mike Fletcher standing in the hall. "Is she home?"
"Yes," he said, not moving to let the younger man in.
Mike pressed his lips together in frustration. "Can I see her?"
"Hang on." Harry shut the door in Mike's face and went out to the living room, where Ginny was curled up in an armchair, finding comfort in the familiar words of The Taín. "Mike wants to know if you're up for a visit."
She slowly shut the book, looked up at Harry, and nodded. He turned from the room, jerked the door open, and stood aside. "She's in there," he told Mike, motioning with his head to the living room door.
Mike scooped Ginny up in a fierce hug the moment he saw her. He didn't speak, didn't offer any words of comfort or consolation, just held her. He couldn't comprehend the kind of pain she was in right now. He'd spent the last week trying to imagine how he'd feel if he'd accidentally killed Ginny, and came up empty each time. There were no words to express what she must be feeling and by extension, no words to make it better. All he could do was to be there for her.
After an hour of idle, empty chat, Mike cleared his throat. Ginny asked, "Did you come here to say something specific?"
He wondered how she knew. "Come to my flat, Gin. You can stay there; we have a second bedroom."
"Hear me out," he interrupted. "Everyone knows how Potter feels about you, and you're…vulnerable right now. It's not a good idea for you to stay with him."
"Are you saying he might take advantage of me?" Ginny asked with a wry smile. She'd never heard of anything so ludicrous.
"No!" Mike flushed. He didn't want to think about Harry and Ginny together like…that. It was a nasty mental image. "I just mean that you need some distance. Emotions are hard enough to understand usually. Even more so when you're seeing him every day, and dealing with Shannon, and…I just think that my place would be better for you. He might not want to take advantage, but you're grateful to him, and you could wind up mistaking gratitude for…something else."
"Well," Ginny muttered, "that's not insulting or anything. Trust me, I'm not mistaking gratitude for anything other than what it is."
"But how do you know?" Mike asked urgently. "I wouldn't be saying this unless I thought there was reason to be concerned. Let me pack up your things. Stay with Dana and me for a few nights before you go back to your own flat. Your car is still in our lot anyway; you need to get it back."
Ginny looked at him uneasily. "Do you really think I'm so confused?"
"I think you wouldn't know it if you were. How could you, here? Come with me. Let us take care of you for a few days. What harm is there in that?"
She looked at her hands for a long minute, and then reluctantly nodded. Mike jumped up off the sofa. "I'll get your things."
He jogged into the kitchen, where Harry scowled over a peanut butter sandwich. "You're finally leaving, then?"
"I am," Mike said. "And I'm taking Ginny with me. Where are her things?"
Harry was out of his chair like a shot. "You're what?" he asked, his tone dangerous.
"She's coming to my place. She can't stay here with you, not considering the way you feel about her and how vulnerable she is right now."
"And she agreed to this?"
"Of course she did," Mike said impatiently. "She's sensible enough, isn't she? Where are her things?"
"In the bedroom," Harry said, flopping back into his chair. "All over the floor." His tone turned irritated. "Oh, for gods' sake. Don't look like that. I've been sleeping on the sofa."
Mike gave a curt nod, and then disappeared back into the hall. Harry sighed with frustration. She was leaving, and there was nothing he could do about it. Damn Fletcher to a hundred different kinds of hell for this. The bastard knew exactly what he was doing, Harry was sure.
He couldn't stay here and watch her leave. He just didn't have it in him. So Harry did what was probably most cowardly thing he'd ever done; he walked quietly into the foyer, took his coat from the coat rack, and silently let himself out. He'd come back in a few hours, when he was sure they'd be gone.
* * * * *
Several hours later, Ginny lay in the guest bed at Mike's flat, looking at the ceiling. She couldn't sleep. There were too many thoughts swirling around her mind, keeping her awake, demanding her attention. Mike had offered her distance. Well, now that she had it, she might as well use it.
You're vulnerable right now, Mike had said. Only last week, that would have been the worst, most deadly insult anyone could have leveled against her, rather like the word weak was with Mórrígan. But now? What was so wrong with being vulnerable? She had opened herself up to Harry. She shared her pain with him, and she felt better afterwards. There was none of the shame and degradation that accompanied her conversations with Tom. Harry had eased her pain – it seemed like such a fundamental, simple revelation, but in reality it rocked her to the core.
She was different. And it was a good difference.
He'd given her patience, understanding, compassion, her freedom…while she slept, he'd gone to Dumbledore, to the Ministry, and given her choices back to her. It wasn't firestone earrings or a gown from Gladrags, but it was the most precious gift she'd ever received.
The power to determine her life was finally handed back to her, and what had she done? She'd let Mike make a decision for her, a decision she wouldn't have made if it had been left to her. Her friend meant well, but Ginny hadn't wanted to leave Harry's flat, not really. It wasn't too late, though. She had choices now. It was such a marvelous thought. She could hardly believe it wasn't about to be snatched away.
But what to do? It had been so long since she'd had control of her life. From now on, if she were unhappy, it would be no one's fault but her own. And goddess above, she was wretchedly tired of being unhappy.
Harry loved her. He'd loved her a full quarter of his life. And she loved him too, for much, much longer than that. He wanted to share in every part of her, but she was afraid. No, she had been afraid. But…the darkness had faded. Her inner temple, the place within that housed everything that made her who she was, had exploded in a conflagration of tears and pain and Harry and now she had the rare, precious opportunity to rebuild. The Chamber of Secrets would always be with her, but it was no longer all of her. What was there to be afraid of now? He'd made her feel better. And, really, what was anything else compared to that?
She'd done enough pondering for one night. Her nature wasn't leant to introspection; she preferred actions to thoughts. Ginny climbed out of bed, wriggled into her clothes, and barged out of her room. She stood in the hall for a moment, at a loss, then raised her right hand. "Accio keys."
Her car keys flew out of the living room and she snatched them neatly from the air. Ginny couldn't hold back the small thrill in her stomach at what she was about to do, and she quietly let herself out of the flat.
* * * * *
Harry knew the moment she entered the room. Without his glasses, she was nothing but a blurry shape but it was Ginny, without a doubt. He sat up and reached over, flicking the lamp on.
Ginny blinked at the sudden light, then looked at Harry who sat up in bed, his emerald eyes pinning her to the spot. His chest was bare and his hair tousled. She could just barely make out the scar beneath. "I thought you went to Mike's."
Ginny was suddenly nervous, her throat dry. What if he wasn't glad to see her? "I changed my mind," she whispered.
She took a step closer to the bed, then another, until she stood beside it, looking down at him. "And I came here instead."
He didn't move closer to her, didn't betray by expression or words any part of what he was feeling. "Why?"
Ginny thought that this was, somehow, the most important question she'd ever been asked and that she'd damn well better be able to come up with a satisfactory answer. She knew then that there was only one reply he'd accept, but it didn't seem like enough. How could three words, eight letters, contain the kind of emotion that was coursing freely, riotously through her? How to express her fear, her elation, her uncertainty and self-consciousness, her gratitude and friendship and grief, the exquisite sharpness that closed around her heart when she looked at him, and everything else she was feeling?
At her hesitation, his eyelids slid closed and he sighed. "Gin, I don't know what you're playing at, but there's only so much of this I can handle. Why did you come back here?"
She opened her mouth, and the words slid out of their own volition, sprang from the very deepest corner of her heart, where she'd locked them away all those years ago. "Because I love you."
He visibly tensed. His eyes flew open and he lunged for the bedside table, fumbling for his glasses. Once they were perched on his nose he looked up at her, eyes wide, once again the eleven-year-old learning that he was special, that he belonged to a world of magic and wonder. His voice was nothing more than a hoarse whisper. "What did you say?"
"I love you," she repeated, tears springing to her eyes at how very liberating it was to finally allow herself to tell him so. "You're my choice, Harry Potter."
With a rough cry, he snaked his arm around her waist and jerked her down onto the bed, covering her mouth with a fierce, hungry kiss. There was passion and desire, lips and tongues and teeth, mingled breath and unrelenting emotion. I'm not going to let you take it back, he said in her mind.
I'd never want to, she answered, her fingers tangling with his hair. She felt an odd dampness on her cheeks and realized she was crying again. Skating her palms around to frame his face, she found that he was too.
Ginny couldn't hold back a soft moan as his fingers quickly divested her of her clothing, and she stretched her hand towards the bedroom door. A flash of silver, and it slammed shut, closing them inside.
* * * * *
A/N part two: Has anyone ever told you you'd make a great muse? Come join the HP Pendragon yahoo group! We have cookies, outtakes, writing challenges, fanart, and the best group of muses on the planet. Plus, they get to read new installments several days before they're posted to the websites. I'd love to see you there. groups.yahoo.com/group/hppendragon is the place to be.
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The chapter has now ended.