"You're not alone here, Ginevra," he whispered into her hair, soft and sweet. "You're never alone." Slow kisses down the curve of her throat that arched, arched so far back into him she could fall and die… His hands, light and lithe, tracing the curves of her waist lost beneath a sea of green silk, pressing with delicious pain against the sharp bones of her hips. She shivered, burned by the poison of his touch. Her nails dug bloody crescents into his arms. Red colours. Gryffindor colours. Now I've marked you too, she thought.
Their exchanges were different from those old diary days of soft words and elusive promises from the lips of an imagined boy dreamed up from ink and paper. Nothing elusive in the slide of pale limbs on a bed of stone, slowly destroying herself as she succumbed to the heady decadence of her own dark desires. Everything she loathed (craved). He was written beneath her skin. His eyes. His mouth. His hands. Cold, so cold.
Yet not so much was changed. His haunting words still had the power to destroy her. He built her up and tore her down again; he told her she was beautiful and strong and fierce, that she was wild and burned like fire; he told her she was a weak, pathetic little idiot that nobody cared about, that she was a naïve fool who now had blood on her hands and was responsible for the darkness in the world. No one else would ever want her, no one else would ever accept her, apart from me because I understand the darkness in you, I've seen it, I created it… they would never understand what binds us together, that you could never be as you once were because I am all you ever wanted, ever dreamed of, you poured yourself into me and I into you, and we can never be parted, my sweet, stupid… Ginny.
His hands were ice-cold against her upturned face. She had grown to hate the cold and hunger for it, the cruel tenderness of his sliding touch as familiar as the sight of her own (indistinct) reflection. His lips unexpectedly soft against her own, bending her body backwards as the veiled world blurred and swayed into green mist and the dark, dark, dark –
"Wait…" Ginny murmured. His lips continued a deadly caress down the line of her neck and she tried to think through the – pale fingers bit into her thighs and she choked – torturing, ecstatic thrill it provoked. Tried to concentrate through the mellow, drowsing darkness… (Tom laughed softly. You're trying to resist now?)
There was a strange, pulsing quality in the air. She had become attuned to this place now, understood its intricate workings, felt the elusive, ancient power that breathed beneath the surface. She closed her eyes and felt – a shift, like the parting of water –
Tom's glance flashed on her and she felt the probing fingers of Legilemency inside her mind.
"Who would come here?" He smiled. "Who would dare?"
Ginny stared at him and said nothing. But her heart was thudding. Never, in four years had anyone…
She looked up at Tom though lowered lashes. He said nothing, but his face was white and set. He's scared, she realized with a savage rush of delight. Something had come here beyond his knowledge, beyond his control, beyond his power –
The darkness at the Chamber entrance stirred. Tom's grip tightened on her wrist. A deeper blackness moved in the yawning serpentine mouth where the stalactites hung down like sharpened fangs and something – someone – stumbled onto the stone floor. Rubies glinted like drops of blood on the end of a drawn sword -
"Riddle," said a voice.
Ginny's heart felt like it would burst.
It was Harry and yet not Harry. His hair was longer, black and wild as it fell into his eyes, eyes that blazed hard emerald behind the cracked glasses. All angles and bones as she remembered, but he was tall, as tall as Tom almost. The lightning bolt scar still ran jagged across his brow, but she had scars too, scars beneath the skin (etched into her heart and soul) that no one would never see (because they weren't looking, Ginevra, I'm the only one who ever saw you, ever noticed, never forget that, never…)
Behind her, a movement like a shadow, an angular silhouette emerging through the clinging mist. Tangled black hair, long fingers. Dark murder in his eyes. A villain with the face of an angel. Both stood still, mirror images of one another. Twin doppelgangers, and the likeness caused a stirring, a strange, ethereal pain in her chest. One so hated. One so loved.
"Riddle," said Harry warily. His voice was different. Deeper. More confident. No dream, this. Not merely a name in her recollection. He was Harry. He was real.
"I knew you would come," Tom breathed, a strangely ecstatic expression illuminating his pale features. "I knew it. Though you took longer than I expected. But I knew you wouldn't disappoint me. And you have the sword? That's good, too."
Both were watching each other, wary, waiting for other to make the first move. The words burst from Ginny before she could help it. "Harry, get out!"
Harry's head flew up, pale with shock. He staggered backwards, staring at her uncomprehendingly. "You're alive –" he whispered. "All this time..."
"No thanks to you." She could hear the curving derision in Tom's voice. "Look at your champion, Ginevra. Is this your white knight? Someone who gave you up for dead, who didn't think you worth finding, not even to recover your bones for your poor, pathetic parents –"
Harry's face turned ashen. "We tried," he said hoarsely. "We tried for months, for nearly two years -" He looked at her helplessly. Ginny coolly wondered what he saw. A girl (no longer quite a girl) all red and white (who slept in a coffin of ice), shrouded in cool green. A fairytale princess whose story began in ink and ended in blood. So delicate, so dangerous. Then his jaw hardened.
"Ginny," he said. "Run."
She dug her feet into the stone (water seeping into her skin, so cool, so smooth). "No." And for a horrible moment, she was unsure who she was staying for.
Tom looked at her approvingly. "She won't run. Do you really think she would want to? That she could? She'll stay with me, as she was always meant to." (Always and forever) His calm certainty turned her blood to ice, deepened her bone-weary despair.
"You should be honored, Harry," he continued smoothly. "I've thought a lot about destroying you, how I would do it. You've not proven particularly easy to kill." He raised his wand, his eyes dreamy.
The air suddenly looped and curved, erupting. A wall of flame flashing red and gold between them. Tom snatched his hand back as though burned. "I suppose I should be impressed." His eyes narrowed. "You're not a child any more, are you, Harry Potter?" (We none of us are children anymore).
Suddenly, Harry was at her side, one hand on her arm, steady and protective. He seemed too sharp, too bright to be real in her world of whispering mists and elusive imaginings. "That should hold him off for a bit."
Ginny didn't tell him that his counter-charm had affected her too – made her feel like she was crawling out of her own skin.
"Ginny," he said. "About Percy - I'm so sorry -"
"It's alright," she said, and meant it. That had been long ago, when she was still a child, hot palmed and petulant, shedding futile, angry tears. How strangely distant it seemed now. When had she stopped being innocent? Was she naive for hoping Harry could heal her?
Harry continued to look at her anxiously. "Ginny. Has Riddle…?" The words were fumbled and awkward (the memory of a skinny boy with bottle green eyes, always so solemn and polite) but his face was hard and intense. Had he really been on the run for four years? "Has he hurt you?"
What could she say to that? He destroyed my world and built me a new one where no one could touch us, he took my body and soul, he shattered all my hopes and dreams and promised me everything, he made me poisoned and hopeless, and he will never, never leave me…
She could see him walking to and fro on the other side of the magical barrier, his eyes fixed unceasingly on her. Entrancing. Terrifyingly dangerous. "I hate him," she said in a low, fierce voice. "I hate him, I hate him –"
Harry's hand caught hold of her own, his grip firm and reassuring. Ginny felt her pulse throb at the brief contact and drew a breath in shock. Was it really possible that she was still in love with him?
She heard Tom's voice in her head, something he had told her in those final hours before death, when every word had been a betrayal. Love is an illusion, merely the refusal to admit that you are held in another's power –
"He's completely mad," Harry was saying, shaking his head. "Whether it's because he's alive when he shouldn't be, or because there's two of them walking around - it's turned his mind, somehow."
"He's still dangerous. The things he's done and going to do – oh, Harry – be careful! –"
An expression flashed across his face that she could not discern, set his features alight with a strange intensity. "I will," he said. "I promise." And he sealed the words with a kiss.
It was a brief, hard kiss that tasted of salt and fever and blood. Molten gold and polished wood and fresh grass, everything that was Harry went into that kiss. It made Ginny's head spin and she clung to his tense arms to steady herself. This wasn't drowning, this was flying, soaring over the world, out of the cloying mists and chill darkness and –
It was over far too soon. He pulled away, looking anxious and worried and earnest, in the way that only Harry could. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I shouldn't have – I don't know why I –"
"Shut up," she said, and he looked startled at her boldness. But of course, she had been a child when he saw her last.
She heard Tom release a hiss of breath through his teeth. Through the unhealthy flames, his face was lit with possession and rage, his dark eyes insane. "You don't think I'll let you take her, do you? That I would let you come between us?"
Harry stared. "You're mental."
Ginny gave a gasp that was almost laughter (the first time in four years). It was such - such a Ron thing to say.
"You know…" said Tom idly, twirling his wand between his long fingers. She could see him more clearly now through the dimming wall of flame and knew it would not be long. "She talked about you a lot, at first. But now -" he smiled cruelly - "It's not your name she calls out in the dark."
Fury flashed through Harry's eyes. "You –"
The last remnants of the fire died away. Tom spread open his hands, his face calm and serene. Only the eyes were alive, glittering with some secret, deadly amusement. "Kill me then, Harry. You must want to know what it's like. How it would feel."
"Fawkes," said Harry quietly.
The phoenix flew across the length of the chamber and it burned. It burned so bright Ginny had to look away. A gold feather fell into her lap. It smelled of Harry - blood and grass - and she clutched it tight in her hand. And it dropped something else that Harry caught, as swiftly as he would in a game of Quidditch.
Tom was looking at the bird, narrow-eyed.
"Dumbledore gave him to me. He's mine now."
"Dumbledore," Tom replied with a sneer. "He always was too scared to fight his own battles. Not that it matters now. This was always about you and me."
"Then let's finish this," said Harry. And in his hand he held Riddle's diary.
Tom drew a sharp breath. Turned as still and tense as a snake about to strike. "Where did you get that?"
"So it's true," said Harry. "This is what brought you back. So if I destroy it… then you die, too."
"No – no – accio diary –"
"Expelliarmus," said Harry calmly. And he raised the book and murmured something faintly. The pages began turning, fluttering, as though caught in a strong wind –
Tom started to laugh. He laughed and laughed and laughed. The whole chamber rang with it, the hollowed, terrible sound magnifying into infinity. Then, ignoring Harry, he turned to her. And Ginny saw it at last; he was riddled with love for her, and felt it like a sickness in his veins.
"Come here." He held out his hands, ink flowing in writhing patterns beneath the skin. His voice tugged her, pulled at the dark places inside her soul. Come with me. Side with me. Die with me. Ginny stared at him and said nothing.
His smile was frightening. "Won't you?"
Yes Tom. Never Tom. Her nails dug into her palms until they cracked and bled. His insidious tones sweet and soothing and compelling… (I can still give you the world. You want the world, don't you?) She didn't move.
"You ungrateful little brat," he said coldly. "You do know that he'll forget you again, don't you, just as he did before? He didn't come here for you."
Harry was staring at him in disgust. Tom turned to him smilingly. "She'll come back for me. She has no choice but to. For what is Ginny without Tom?"
"Happy," Ginny said, and for one shining, glorious moment, she meant it.
His eyes narrowed. "Is that what think? That you can lie to me? You're mine, Ginevra. Never forget that I made you - I can destroy you just as easily."
She grinned. Hard and bright and reckless. "Then destroy me, Tom."
He moved towards her, incensed (distracted) –
She threw a desperate glance at Harry, red hair flying over her shoulders. Now.
Somehow, Tom heard her. In a flash, he turned, raised his wand –
"Avada Kedav –"
As Harry plunged the sword into the diary.
There was a great rending, tearing, a shriek louder than the breaking of the world. But Ginny didn't hear it, because she was tearing also, invisible bindings snapping from her skin, her bones. She felt the blade as it buried itself in the heart of the book. A piercing, terrible light burst from its pages, illuminating the chamber with a blinding radiance. She felt the searing pain of it, and knew that Tom did, too, because his pain was hers, and his mind and will, the two of them bound together with ink and blood, inextricable, now and for always. And it seemed he held out his arms for her, inviting her to come to him one last time, so they could lie together in this stone tomb, entwined with one another for eternity. Then the mist whirled and writhed, and the image was chased away, dissolving into thin air. And she was dissolving, too, ripping apart at the seams like so many pages. Words flowed across her skin, ink opening her veins, leaking from her pores, pouring out her (Tom's) life's blood. Everything she had written into him, everything he had written into her, whispers and promises and old lies...
May 29th, 1993
You're not… going to win…
Oh, still alive are you, Ginevra? I thought you would be long dead by now. Not that it matters, I suppose. The end result will be the same. Take your time.
Harry will come…
I certainly hope so. That was the point of this elaborate set-up, after all. I want him here to see the grand finish.
He's… going to kill you…
You really are a stupid child, aren't you? Even supposing your Harry could defeat me, you will never be free of me. How could you be? I look out through your eyes. Everyone will see me in your dead face and know what you really are. You should be grateful, really. I have given you so much, Ginevra. I have made you… extraordinary.
Harry's warm hand on her shoulder roused her. She was surrounded by torn pages sodden with ink, the paper still smouldering slightly at the edges. There were traces of ink smeared across her face and arms, dripping onto the stone floor, clotting in her bright hair that was spread around her like a pool of blood.
"Ginny?" Harry was leaning over her, his thin face streaked with dirt. His hand was firm and steady on her shoulder, the sword lying at his feet, the inlaid rubies glimmering with a dull red fire.
"I'm alright." The words were dragged hoarsely from her dry throat. She picked herself up, casting an uncertain glance around the chamber. Darkness and silence surrounded them.
"He's gone. For good, I hope."
Ginny swallowed hard. Was she supposed to be glad? She was free of him, really free; she knew it from the lightness of her body, the detachment she felt from the chamber, just an old stone room like any other. Her shrill, ringing laugh reverberated off the hollowed walls, high and brittle and cold.
Something stirred in the gloom. Her heart pounded thickly and ink swam in her head (I will never let you go…) Lissome and silver-green, mirrored scales shimmering like finely tempered steel –
Something curled tight in her chest. Relief (disappointment). It was only the Basilisk, sliding fluidly toward them. She wondered if it too, sensed its master's absence and did not know what to do, did not know how to live. Such leashed power, now so unharnessed. (And so the last shall do what the first could not… the power is yours, sweet Ginevra. Do with it what you will. And know I will be watching)
Harry raised the sword. "Don't look –"
"Leave it," Ginny said fiercely.
He stared her. "But –"
"You have your pet. I have mine." Her hand traced the scaled head almost lovingly. Her voice was soft, reflective. "She was always more mine than his, anyway." It was all of Tom she had left. She would cherish it (love and whisper sweet words, then slowly destroy it and take sweet pleasure in its pain as she crushed it beneath her feet).
"Ginny…" Harry was still gazing at her uncertainly. His eyes. So vividly green, like cut glass. Both a reminder, and a curse. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes," she murmured absently. "I just want..." (what did she want?) "I want to go home," she managed at last. Yes. Home. She was sick of green stone walls and death. Harry looked relieved. He understood that (he understood so little and she knew so very much, such forbidden knowledge she had learned).
Ginny smiled at him, hard and bright. Her other hand came to rest on his arm, and she sensed her power there as well. "Let me see the world again."
He took her hand and led her into the sunlight.