Hermione peeked through the partially closed door. Ginny was sleeping - her blankets drawn up to her chin. She’d taken the news of the loss of her teammates very badly. In her distress, she’d stressed the broken ribs, and Healer Smythe administered another sleeping draught. Hermione pushed the door open a bit wider and saw Harry asleep in the green overstuffed chair. Obviously, sleep had caught him by surprise - his head lolled to the side and his glasses were askew. As Hermione looked out into the night - as black as onyx in the new moon - she wondered why she’d expected otherwise. She stared again at him, his face looked so drawn. He hadn’t really slept in the two days following the attack. Conflicted, she hesitated in the doorway before pulling it closed behind her.
One squeak from the door’s ancient hinges was all it took, though. Harry startled awake, his wand instantly held out in front of him. He met Hermione’s eyes and lowered his wand.
“I’m so sorry, Harry. I didn’t mean to wake you,” Hermione backed out of the doorway.
Harry noticed the papers she clutched tightly in her hand, “No. I needed to wake up.” He glanced at Ginny before following Hermione into the hallway. Stretching, he added, “If I’d slept in that chair much longer, I would have needed to visit a healer.” He studied the tension in her face, “Did you need something?”
“I was hoping we could talk for a moment.”
“There’s a conference room in this ward. I doubt if anyone is using it now,” Harry led the way down the darkened corridor. As they rounded the corner, Harry wasn’t surprised to meet up with Ron. Finding the small room empty, Hermione closed the door and cast Muffliato at the door.
“Harry, I know this isn’t the best time, but I thought you’d want to be kept up to date on what we’ve learned,” Hermione placed the stack of parchment pages on the table in front of her.
Harry nodded as he sat down.
“I’ve been helping interview the survivors of the blast. It hasn’t been easy, apparently the store was very crowded, and everyone’s memories seem a bit blurred as to exactly what happened when. Thankfully, since it was an event for the general public to meet the team, several of the participants had cameras with them. I’ve gotten copies of all the pictures we could locate,” Hermione spread several pages in front of him. “Some of these were taken first thing in the morning, while they can’t help us discover exactly what happened, we can see where everyone was located. If you’ll notice - Carlisle, Goode, and Victoria were sitting at Ginny’s table,” she pointed at the team members as she continued to speak. “Ginny was here, on the end.” She flipped through to another photograph. Ginny was no longer seated at the table, “We think that this picture was taken just before the blast. If you look carefully, you can see Astoria in the background. She’s leaning down with her back to the table with the players. We can’t tell, but we assume that Cassie was in front of her. That would put Ginny well into the center of the room.”
“Which is why she wasn’t found with the rest of the team,” Harry added.
Ron nodded in agreement, “She still doesn’t remember anything?”
“Not really. She does remember the little girl handed her the autograph book, but that’s all.”
Hermione pursed her lips, “I doubt it would really help anything if she remembered. I’ve spoken with Astoria. She said that Ginny just came round to stand next to Cassie because the little girl was very soft-spoken. Apparently, Ginny was having trouble hearing her.”
Harry leaned his head against his hand and rubbed his temple. Just a random stroke of fate that kept Ginny out of the main force of the blast. She’d always loved her smallest fans. He could picture her coming out from behind the table, kneeling down next to the little girl. He’d seen her do it countless times when they were out in public.
“Harry, there’s more,” Ron interrupted his thoughts. “I’ve had a chance to speak with some of those who were there during the explosion. Gwenog and Mr. Boatswain were standing outside - next to the front door. They’d just walked outside to see how long the queue was. As they turned, the back wall blew in.”
Hermione slid another picture in front of him. This one had been enlarged to show more of the small details. The force of the blast was evident. An entire section of the wall was missing - pieces of it spread in a fan-shaped pattern atop the crushed table. She pointed at the table, “This is where Ginny would have been sitting.” A huge chunk of the wall crushed a metal chair. “Those investigating the blast believe that the rest of the damage to the building was accidental. Quality Quidditch Supplies was one of the oldest shops on Diagon Alley. The wood was old. It couldn’t handle the force of the blast. Whoever did this...they didn’t intend to bring the entire building down. It would seem that the Quidditch team was their main target.”
Harry looked down at the enlarged photograph. No, the team wasn’t the target. He stared at the debris on Ginny’s chair. She’d been the target. Victoria, Peter, and Harold - he took a deep breath - they’d still be alive if they’d been at any other table. “They were targeting Ginny, not the entire team,” Harry’s voice was shaken.
“We don’t know that for certain,” Hermione spoke softly.
“But we think you’re right,” Ron locked his eyes with Harry’s. As if answering an unspoken question, he continued, “a team of Aurors has already gone to investigate the place Charlie saw the group assembled. They didn’t find anything.”
Harry drummed his fingers on the highly polished wood of his desk. He hated playing this game - being forced to wait until the group’s next attack before being able to act. Not that this past month had been without activity....he’d attended each of the funerals of the victims personally either as a guest or just to watch those in attendance - looking for unexpected faces. He’d found nothing out of the ordinary. One memorial service was much more difficult than the others.
Ginny had been released from St. Mungo’s in time to attend Victoria’s service at her insistence, against Healer Smythe’s advice. Harry had watched as she’d dressed with care - her left arm still bandaged and in a sling. Ginny couldn’t be given too much Skelegrow as a result of the pregnancy. While most of her bones had healed with the minimal amount she’d been given, her badly crushed arm still needed more time to knit back together. Harry had helped her slide her Harpies jersey over the bandages and then tied on the black armband being worn by the team. She’d brushed her hair out and let in hang loose around her face. Her bright red hair showing more contrast than usual against her pale skin. Harry had taken her hand, and they’d flooed to the Harpie’s practice field where the service was held. As Harry had expected, they’d soon found themselves surrounded with the press and the curious. When the Potters were sighted, they were soon swarmed by the lot of them. Cries rang out from all sides as they made their way to the marquee in the center of the pitch.
“Ginny, how are you feeling?”
“Harry, have you discovered who was behind the attacks?”
“Ginny, what are your thoughts on the attacks?” Harry was surprised that questioner didn’t find himself the recipient of a bat-bogey hex.
“What’s with your arm? Will you be able to play next season?”
Thankfully, immediately after that question, Hermione arrived flanked by a Ministry security team and escorted them through the barrage. Ginny slid her hand from his and took her place amid the members of her other family - the Holyhead Harpies.
Martin and Andrew came in just before the service was scheduled to start. Martin’s face was pale and his eyes were fixed on the dark brown casket surrounded by sprays of flowers at the head of the room. Andrew seemed overwhelmed by everyone in attendance. Looking anxiously about the room, he found his grandparents and flew into his grandmum’s arms.
From his place at the back of the tent, Harry watched helplessly as Ginny’s head bent down and her shoulders began to shake. At the close of the service, she’d been exhausted and hadn’t resisted Healer Smythe’s earlier orders of going straight to bed.
Ginny’s recovery had progressed slowly. Often, when he arrived home at the end of the day, he’d find her sitting in a folding chair next to the lake. He’d tried to delay leaving her, but this morning he’d been greeted with news that he couldn’t ignore. Still stunned, he stared down at the Ministry Memo he’d received an hour earlier. The Wizarding World was rocked again that morning by another unexpected attack.
“Why Beauxbatons?” Harry sat hunched over his desk, the shadows under his eyes betraying his current lack of sleep.
“Does anything really surprise you anymore? I’m sure they did it for the shock value,” Ron looked absently out the window. “You should have seen Fleur this morning,” he shook his head. “I was at Mum’s house when Fleur flooed in with the girls.”
“You were at Mum’s?” Harry cocked his head.
“She invited us for breakfast. Everyone else was there. It’s Hermione’s birthday, remember?” Ron shot him a meaningful look.
“Oh no,” Harry hit his forehead with the palm of his hand. “Does she hate me?”
“Harry, she’s known you for too long now. She knows you have a lot on your mind.”
Harry continued to grimace. He’d have to ask Kreacher to go shopping later on today and deliver a gift to Hermione, “You were saying about Fleur, though...”
“She showed up in a right state. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She has cousins there, you know.”
Harry didn’t know, but he nodded for Ron to continue.
“She asked Mum to watch the girls so that she could go to her parents’ house. They didn’t have news on her cousins yet as far as I know.”
“I’ve gotten an owl from Madame Maxime,” Harry answered while Ron looked at him with curiosity, “She said all the students are fine. Only a few staff members were injured and the school itself was damaged.”
“This time,” Ron added.
“Yes,” Harry said with determination. “You know what I have to do.”
“Ginny’s not going to like this,” Ron warned.
“I can’t let that stop me. Do you know anyone else who is going to try to stop them?”
“Me,” Ron answered simply.
Harry’s head jerked up.
Ron looked at Harry with an exasperated expression, “You can’t honestly expect me to let you go alone. I’ll concede that Hermione needs to stay with Ginny, but you should know by now that I’m with you.”
“Hermione you have to stay,” Ron’s face turned a brighter shade of red.
“Ronald Weasley, I can’t believe that you’d stand here and insist that I stay behind. If I hadn’t been with you last time, neither of you would be standing here today,” Ron took a step back from the intensity of Hermione’s emotions.
“That’s true, Hermione, but we’re both a bit better at spells now than we were then,” Harry had offered.
“I suppose you think they’re just going to let Harry Potter and Ron Weasley waltz into their meeting,” she stormed at the pair of them.
“It isn’t like that. We’ll be in disguise,” Ron answered.
“Disguises can be taken away from you,” she pleaded.
“We know,” Harry realized he was about to break his word to Ginny, but he knew that was the only way to persuade Hermione. He crossed the living room of their flat and motioned for both of them to sit down. “Hermione, I need you to stay behind this time.”
“Why? So I can help with law enforcement here? Harry, don’t be ridiculous.”
“No, I need you to stay here with Ginny,” he knew Ginny didn’t want to tell anyone yet. If things went badly, she wanted to save everyone else the distress.
“Ginny can take care of herself,” Hermione insisted but she looked at the curious look on Ron’s face. “Why do you want me to stay with her?”
“We’ve already discussed this at St. Mungo’s. They were targeting her in the attack on Quality Quidditch Supplies. I think they might try to use her to get to me again, and I can’t let that happen,” he looked back and forth between his two best friends. “I promised her I wouldn’t say a word about this, but it’ll help you understand. Ginny’s pregnant,” Ron’s face paled at Harry’s last two words.
“My sister is pregnant?” he repeated.
Harry smiled and nodded.
“When did you find out?” Hermione’s voice was quivering.
“At St. Mungo’s after the attack. Healer Smythe told me then. That’s why they kept her asleep for so long. They wanted to make sure that nothing happened to the baby. We were both stunned to say the least. Ginny’s still worried, though, she won’t tell anyone. Her body was under a lot of stress these past few weeks. She wants to make sure everything’s going to be alright before anyone in the family knows about it,” he looked into Hermione’s sad eyes.
“Yes, well, that changes things immensely. Of course I’ll stay behind,” Hermione’s shoulders tensed as she stood, turned, and began to straighten the book shelves.
“Hermione, I know it’ll happen for you as well. You’ve only been married a year now,” Harry placed his hand on her shoulder.
Hermione brushed his hand away and softly asked, “When will you be leaving?”
“We’re not sure yet. That’ll depend on our meeting with Kingsley,” Harry approached her, but he saw Ron’s warning look and walked away.
“The trail here’s gone cold. Its been a month since the attack, and we still haven’t a clue as to who is behind this,” Harry slammed his fist onto Kingsley’s desk, receiving a warning glance from Ron. “We can’t just sit here and wait any longer. The only hint we’ve had is from Charlie Weasley. We have to go to him so he can show us where they were. Maybe there’s some clue they left behind. The French Aurors said the only clue at the attack on Beauxbatons was the scarlet Dark Mark. The attacks have to be connected. I want to go investigate for myself.”
The Minister stood and strode purposefully across the room. He placed his large dark hand on the mantle above his fireplace and stared into the flames. While there had been no additional attacks here, the wizarding community was in an all-out panic - especially today with the attack on Beauxbatons. With each funeral came a new public outcry for punishment. Kingsley felt a flicker of understanding for what Cornelius Fudge must have lived through after Voldemort had made himself visible once more. “How can I explain that my two most senior Aurors are leaving at a time like this?” he turned to face them, his face severe.
“Who else would you send?” Harry pleaded. “You remember what it was like when you were tracking the dark wizards or have you been in this office too long?” Harry’s last words were a challenge to the Minister.
“How dare you!” Kingsley’s voice rattled the windowpanes as he threw his hands down on his mahogany desk. “You know that isn’t true. I simply can’t spare you here.”
“We have a full compliment of Aurors here now. They should be more than adequate, but it won’t matter if we don’t find out who was behind this,” Harry stood and glowered at the much larger man. “We have to act soon. “
Kingsley stared into Harry’s determined face, “Who would you leave behind?”
“Everyone but Ron and me,” Harry watched as the Minister’s eyes flickered to Ron’s face for confirmation. “We can’t have too many people who know where we are and what we’re looking for.”
Kingsley sat back down in his immense leather chair and crossed his legs. Bringing his fingers together to make a tent, he slowly blew out a long breath, “When do you plan to leave?”
Harry and Ron looked at each other, “Tomorrow.”
“Does Hermione know this?” Kingsley’s eyes narrowed with suspicion.
It was Ron who answered the Minister’s question, “Since she’s the Assistant Head of Ministry Law Enforcement, yes.”
Kingsley turned to look at Harry, “And Ginny?”
“Not yet, but she will tonight,” Harry stood and shook Kingsley’s hand, “thank you.”
“Good luck,” Kingsley shook Ron’s hand and walked behind them as they left the office.
Harry wasn’t certain of the time. He’d been at work for hours. He knew that there was still so much to do. He’d spent most of the morning going over everything they knew about the attacks, which was very little, with Harrison and Bagwell. Still he felt as if he was leaving work undone. He spun in his chair until he was looking at the low cabinet decorated by various framed pictures. Hermione smiled and waved at him from behind her wedding veil. “Drat! Hermione,” he muttered under his breath. “Kreacher,” Harry called out into his empty office. He barely had time to shuffle to the next sheet of parchment on his desk before he heard the answering pop.
“Yes, Master,” Kreacher bowed slowly.
“I need you do do something for me,” he hastily scribbled a note, “take this note to Flourish and Blotts. Give it to the manager; he should remember the book I’m talking about. Then, take it as a gift to Hermione. Tell her happy birthday.”
“Of course, Master,” Kreacher nodded with a jerk and instantly disappeared.
Kreacher left Ron and Hermione’s flat just as Ron came home from work.
“You’re late tonight,” Hermione looked at Ron with concern.
“I’m sorry. I know you were expecting me to take you out to dinner,” Ron hung his head. “I just had some things I need to catch up on at work.”
“I never thought I’d see the day when you’d work longer hours than I did,” Hermione gave a hesitant laugh.
“It’s your birthday too. I’m a prat,” Ron kissed the top of her head.
“Thankfully, I think Harry feels badly for having you work late,” Hermione nodded toward the kitchen. Kreacher just delivered a meal and a gift.
Ron walked into the kitchen sniffing appreciatively, “I miss that elf.” He looked at the set of Hermione’s chin and began backpedaling, “I mean, it is nice to just have dinner ready so it saves us the trouble of cleaning up.” He stepped around Hermione to her seat at the table and puddled it out, motioning to the seat, he nodded to her, “Allow me.”
“Have you been reading that ‘How to Charm Witches’ book again?” Hermione looked at him suspiciously.
“I’ve long since outgrown that book,” he tucked her chair into the table.
“Are you going to open that?” Ron pointed at the gift with his fork.
“What is it with your family and opening gifts?” Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. “Can’t we wait until we’ve finished eating?”
Ron shrugged noncommitally, “So are you going to see what it is?”
“In a minute, Ron,” Hermione couldn’t hide her annoyed smirk. She took a last bite of her tart and stared at the rectangular box. “Alright!” she folded her napkin and placed it next to her place at the table. “Let’s see what Harry sent.” She tugged the ribbon to untie it and carefully peeled back the parchment paper it was wrapped in. “Its a book. How original,” she laughed but stopped in a choking sound when she flipped it over to read its cover.
Ron stood up and craned his neck to see the present.
“No!” Hermione breathed as she carefully slid her fingers over the leatherbound book. “This is too much. How’d Harry find it?” She held the first edition of “Hogwarts, A History” as if it were glass.
Ron shook his head appreciatively. He knew what inspired Harry to give such a generous gift. “I think I know why, though.”
Hermione looked up from paging through the book and one look at Ron’s face caused her smile to melt off her face, “Its been decided, then?”
Ron answered with a simple jerk of his head.
“When?” Hermione cringed.
“We’re leaving tomorrow. You might want to pack your bags tonight. Harry will be expecting you in the morning,” Ron reached out and placed a hand on her knee. “I understand it now,” he reached out and twirled a strand of her hair and tucked it behind her ear, “why Harry had to tell Ginny goodbye after Dumbledore’s funeral.”
Hermione looked at him - confusion written across her face.
“I didn’t understand it then. I guess I couldn’t, but now I do,” he exhaled and leaned back into the couch cushions. “I’d just wanted to be mad at him for hurting my sister, but it wasn’t like that. He couldn’t risk losing her - just like I can’t take the risk of losing you. If something happens and we get caught, if you were with me, I’d do whatever it took to keep you safe. I can’t risk someone having that kind of power over me right now.” He reached for her chin and brought her face to look into his eyes. He was sad to see tears rimming her eyes, “I love you so much that I’d do whatever anyone asked to keep you from getting hurt.”
Harry stepped from the fireplace and was filled with unease. The house was so quiet and still that it seemed deserted, “Ginny?” Harry called out and was answered by only his echo.
Kreacher popped to his side. Putting his finger up to his lips, he pointed in the direction of the master bedroom, “Mistress Ginny is asleep.”
Of course, no one else had been able to discern a visible difference in his wife as of yet apart from her unexpected weight loss. At first, that made the couple uneasy, but in the past few days, Harry had started to notice subtle changes in her behavior. She seemed to tire more quickly than normal. The smallest things made her cry. He wasn’t looking forward to the discussion he was about to have with her. He shook his head, already expecting the tears that would most likely follow. In the end, he knew she’d understand - even if she didn’t like it. That’s what made her Ginny.
He walked quietly through the house. The dark wooden floors didn’t squeak under his footsteps. When he entered the bedroom, he paused and looked at the small love-seat next to the windows. Ginny was asleep - somewhere between sitting and lying down. She’d obviously been caught by this nap unexpectedly. He walked closer to her and saw a book open across her knee. Curious, he picked it up and turned it where he could more easily read it, “Witch Weekly’s Guide to When You’re Expecting” was turned open to the chapter on the first trimester. Harry noticed her pillow under her neck - Kreacher’s doing, he suspected.
Looking at her wan face and decided to give Ginny a few more minute’s sleep. He stood for a moment and wondered how much weight she’d already lost. He’d known that morning sickness was part of the experience, but Ginny was experiencing all-day sickness. He wasn’t sure what they would have done without Kreacher who seemed to be getting real pleasure out of trying to find something that “Mistress Ginny” could eat. She’d already been thin before this new development in her life, and now she seemed to be losing more weight each day. He felt guilty about leaving her like this, but he couldn’t change his mind. Too many lives were at stake. He walked into his closet and changd out of his work robes. Then, he quietly stepped to her and laid his hand on her arm, “Ginny,””
Ginny jumped slightly and then smiled up at him, “I didn’t fall asleep again, did I?”
“Looks that way. Sorry I’m home so late. Have you eaten yet?”
Ginny nodded, “Kreacher makes sure I’m eating exactly according to schedule.”
Harry smiled a half-smile. At least with Kreacher there, someone would remember to force her to eat.
“I think he saved something for you,” Ginny offered.
“No, I had a sandwich in my office,” Harry lied. His stomach turned with the thought of what he had to tell her tonight.
“Is it that late already?” Ginny half-turned to look out the window. Gray light was attempting to filter inside the house.
“It isn’t late. A storm’s just moving in,” a rumble of thunder confirmed his statement. “Do you want to go sit where we can watch it?”
Ginny stretched and nodded and led the way downstairs where she stood in front of the massive picture window in their front room. Harry followed behind and draped his arm over her shoulder. For a long time, everything was still inside the house. The wind whipped the trees outside and lightning arced across the sky, but nothing even made the glass quiver inside the house.
“What’s wrong?” Ginny spun to face him, “besides the obvious, I mean. The attack on Beauxbatons was horrible. You should have seen Fleur this morning. Did the French Aurors find anything?”
Harry gently led her to the couch, “No they haven’t. Ginny, Ron and I have to go somewhere tomorrow. I’m not sure how long we’ll be gone.”
Ginny’s eyes narrowed, “You’ve been gone often enough before You’ve never seemed as concerned as now. What are you doing?” She paused, evidently she’d answered her own question. “You’re not?”
Harry couldn’t meet her eyes at firs, “We have to. No one else is doing it.” He spared her the details about the taunting notes, “Before it gets any worse.”
“Why? Haven’t you done enough already?” she jumped to her feet and reached out to run her fingers lightly over his scar. “Let someone else do it this time.”
“That’s the problem. No one is doing it. Ginny, these are Death Eaters we’re dealing with. If we wait, it’ll only get worse You know that, don’t you,” now he looked deeply into her eyes. “I don’t want to go, but that’s why I’m an auror. We have to go.”
“Just you and Ron?”
Harry nodded, “Hermione will be coming to stay here with you. I’m placing you under a fidelius charm - Hermione’s going to be secret keeper.”
“Is that really necessary?” Ginny’s eyes flashed.
“I’m afraid it is,” Harry reached for her hand and intwined his fingers with hers.
“Harry, I can’t just stay here all the time.” Ginny argued.
“Ginny,” Harry began.
“No fidelius charm,” she insisted. “I haven’t even met with Gwenog yet. I’m not going to be held hostage here. With all the protective charms we have in place around the house, no one can get close to me here.” Ginny ran her hand across her eyes. An errant thought flew through her head - the memory of another time she thought she'd been safe, “Do you think it has anything to do with Greengrass?”
Harry shrugged. In his mind’s eye, he replayed that day from years ago.
Ginny was lying on the floor, all the color drained from her face. Her hair was spread beneath her - a vivid red in contrast to her white cheeks. A tall, thin man circled her, apparently waiting for something.
Harry entered the dark chamber - his wand extended before him.
“You’re early,” Greengrass looked at his watch. “I thought Miss Weasley and I had hours more to chat. Sadly, though, she didn’t prove to be very cooperative.” The corners of his mouth drew up in a sadistic grin, “It was for the best, though. I’d have hated to get too attached.”
“What did you do?”
“I’m afraid you’re too late to save her. She was a bit too cheeky for her own good,” the man’s lips curled up in a sneer.
“Why you!” Harry closed in on Greengrass.
“Oh, by all means, kill me now.”
Harry stopped short.
“I’m simply one of many. Obviously, you don’t understand. Do you honestly think by killing me that your problems will be over? I assure you that your life will never be worth living,” he cackled, “Soon the wizarding world will see you for what you truly are....a pathetic failure who couldn’t even save the love of his life. Even after you’ve killed me, you’ll never be able to live in peace. You’d be surprised at how many of us there still are out there. If you should ever find someone to replace Miss Weasley, you’ll always need to look over your shoulder. You will always be alone. My friends will guarantee that.”
He stared resolutely back at Ginny, “But we really don’t know. Obviously no one has been helpful in Azkaban. Our only clue has come from Charlie, so we’re going to where he met them.”
“That’s why we had all the security at the World Cup?” Ginny looked at him grimly, “Charlie had heard something.”
Harry nodded again.
“Why don’t you just go arrest Malfoy and be done with it. Surely, he’s in on whatever’s going on. Spineless git, he’d probably tell you everything you needed to know,” Ginny fumed. “He had to be in on the attack at Quality Quidditch supplies. Astoria was there, I told you I saw her, didn’t I?”
Harry hesitated. At the healer’s request, he hadn’t told Ginny everything about the attack, and thankfully, at least until now, she hadn’t asked. He cautiously stepped closer to her and pushed her hair out of her face, “I don’t think he had anything to do with it.” He reached for her hand.
“Of course he did, he even had his daughter dressed in a Harpies uniform. I can’t believe I fell for it,” Ginny’s cheeks flushed with anger. “Just go talk to him. Do you need any help?” her eyes flashed, “I still owe him for a few interrogation sessions myself.”
“Ginny, he didn’t know about the attack,” Harry stood directly in front of her and locked his eyes with hers.
“How do you know?” Ginny still seemed doubtful.
He had to admit that Hermione had been right about keeping Ginny in the dark. It was much harder to face the truth now than it would have been earlier. “Ginny, Draco’s daughter was killed in the attack.”
Ginny’s brown eyes widened in shock, “No, I was standing right next to her. She couldn’t have. No, she -” Ginny’s knees buckled.
Harry reached out, grabbed her, and lowered her carefully to the floor, “Are you alright?”
“No,” Ginny repeated, “she was such a little doll - all dressed up. I’d stepped out to take a picture with her. Then...” Ginny’s eyes unfocused as she replayed the scene in her mind.
Harry sat helplessly by as he watched Ginny deal with her memories.
“Are you certain it was her? There were so many little ones there that day,” Ginny’s eyes pleaded with him.
Harry decided to spare her the news that he’d watched Arthur carry the girl’s limp body out of the rubble. Instead, he softly said, “I saw Malfoy at St. Mungo’s.”
“I can’t believe it,” Ginny tried to stand but was still uncertain on her feet.
Harry reached his arm around her and steadied her. He wrapped her in his arms as darkness fell on the house and they both stood watching the storm rage on.
Late that night, a dank, sour smell filled Harry’s nostrils. He raised the edge of his robes in front of his face to filter it out. He turned to Ron, barely making out his face in the feeble wandlight. The darkness was overpowering, creeping in on all sides. He stepped onto one of the crooked bricks on the pathway that led under the ancient castle.
How had he gotten here? The castle seemed familiar somehow. Harry’s thoughts were filled with the unspoken question. Was this the answer to their quest?
A raven fluttered next to them. Harry sighed at the unintended message. Did death await them inside? He and Ron continued to work their way down the cobblestone pathway. A whisper of voices became apparent. He looked over his shoulder at Ron who nodded and motioned him to continue. His pace quickened as he heard a familiar scream. No, it couldn’t be.
Ron heard it as well and he propelled himself forward, not waiting to see if Harry was following.
In the bowels of the castle, Hermione screamed again.
The two men ran, speeding down the slippery rocks. As they descended, the voices got louder - higher in pitch. They were excited.
“Call them now, bring them to us,” an unfamiliar voice cackled.
“No, I won’t,” Harry’s blood turned to ice.
Ginny’s shrieks echoed through the caverns. Then, her screams turned to sobs, “Oh, please no!”
Harry rounded the corner just as the woman leveled her wand again in Ginny’s direction.
Surprised at the sound, the shrew spun around to face him.
Harry’s eyes met Ginny’s and he stomach turned when he looked at the sheen of sweat glistening on her brow. How long had they been here?
Hermione stood next to her, her arms tied behind her back, a trickle of dried blood trailing down her lip.
“Well, it looks like we won’t be needing you after all!” she glanced back at Ginny, pity on her face, “Adava Ked-”
Harry shot up in bed, breathing heavily. His nightshirt drenched with his own sweat. He looked beside him and tried to slow his pounding heart. Ginny was curled in a ball next to him. He reached out to touch her hair, and was sad to notice that her pillow was still wet from her tears.
She stirred at his touch, “What’s wrong?” Her eyes focused on his ashen face, “Harry!”
“No, it was just a dream,” he took her hands in his, “promise me, though, no matter what you hear, you won’t come looking for me.”
“Why would I?” Ginny sat up in alarm.
“Please, just do it. Promise me you’ll stay here,” his hands clenched on hers.
“I promise,” he brought his lips to hers, but it wasn’t the gentle kiss from earlier in the night. This time his lips had an intensity and a passion that took her breath away. He tangled his fingers in her hair. Suddenly it didn’t matter if it was the middle of the night. He needed her.
Ginny was frightened at the intensity of his emotions. He gently ran his finger over the faint scar on her shoulder.
“I can’t let anyone hurt you again,” he whispered to her.
“You won’t,” she met his eyes and she realized why the fear had seized her. In his eyes, she could see it. The same message she’d seen the day after Dumbledore’s funeral...the unspoken words in her bedroom so long ago.....he was saying goodbye. Her eyes flashed, “Not so fast, Harry James Potter. You ARE coming back to me - to us.” She shot up in the bed and placed his hand on her stomach, “He needs his father.”
“He?” Harry hesitated.
“I just found out today. I’d been planning on waiting for the right moment. Looks like this is it,” she glared down at him, “Don’t do something noble that I’ll always regret.”
Harry stared into her eyes and remembered why he loved her so much. No tears - no pleading. She was simply steadfast in her determination that he would be coming home, “I’ll do my best.”
Ron and Hermione arrived early the next morning. Hermione saw the shadows under Ginny’s eyes, “Ginny, you look exhausted. Couldn’t sleep last night?”
“Something like that,” she unsuccessfully tried to hide a grin.
“Oh, I don’t want to know,” Ron shook his head and Harry burst out laughing.
Harry quickly forced himself to be serious, “We’ll be meeting Charlie first. After that, I don’t know where we’ll be going. Remember what I told you,” he looked sternly at Ginny, “do not come to look for us.”
Hermione flicked her eyes between the couple. She fought back a wave of panic as Harry went to stand at Ron’s side. The time for goodbyes was past. Each couple had taken care of that the night before. Now, it was important that they all put on a brave face for the next part of their journey together.
“Good luck,” Hermione reached out her hand and touched the tips of Ron’s fingers. She bit her lip and turned away as the two men disappeared out of sight. Hermione went and stood under the overhang of the front porch.
“Its harder for you,” Ginny walked quietly to stand at her friend’s side. She whispered. “I know you’ve always been with them. I’ve always been the one left behind.” She reached out and placed her hand on Hermione’s arm.
“How did you do it?” Hermione’s eyes were fixed on the spot where the men had disapperated. Her eyes still searching for something that wasn’t there.
Ginny brushed the tears off her cheek, “You just can’t let them see you cry.”
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