lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 17

it was his subconscious wishing for things that were never meant to be.
Perhaps it was the hope that Hermione’s words had flared within him.
He’d begun to hope that maybe he could survive this fight — and he knew
he couldn’t afford the luxury of such thoughts — not if he was going to
remain strong enough to do what had to be done.

It wouldn’t do to dwell on dreams — no matter how pleasant the dreams
might be.

He still had one more Horcrux to find before he could even think about
the final battle.
Hermione had said he’d have to trust them.

Trust them? Didn’t he? Dumbledore had said that this great power of his
was love. Could that love mean learning to trust in his friends
implicitly? …To know that someone else would actually be there to catch
him if he fell?

Harry lifted his head from the desk and ran a shaking hand through his
unruly hair. He just didn’t know, and he was too tired to think about
it anymore.

He felt angry and had nowhere to direct that anger at present. With
everything else Voldemort had done to him, did he have to leave a piece
of himself behind, too? Was it just to gloat?

And how could Harry have been so stupid to have never seen it? Did
other people see through the eyes of people who’d Cursed them? Did they
feel their attackers’ emotions? How could he have missed it? Dumbledore
had practically laid it out for him in his second year when he said
that the reason Harry could speak Parseltongue was because Voldemort
had transferred some of his own powers to Harry when he’d tried to kill
him as a baby — he’d transferred some of himself.


Picking up Marvolo Gaunt’s ring from out of his backpack, he rolled it
in his hands, studying the lightning bolt crack in the stone. The crack
looked remarkably similar to Harry’s scar.

He lightly traced it with his finger.

He’d assumed the stone had become cracked when Dumbledore had destroyed
the Horcrux within the ring, but what if that wasn’t the case at all?
What if the scar had been there from the moment Tom Riddle had placed a
piece of his soul inside it. What if the shape marked the item as a

Harry scrounged through his trunk, not caring how much noise he made in
the silent room. Finally locating Helga Hufflepuffs cup, he pulled it
out and examined it. It was blackened and scorched, so he used one of
his socks to try and clean it up. After some time, his diligence paid
off. It was difficult to see, but there, on the inside rim was the same
lightning bolt mark.

If he still had the locket, he’d bet he’d find it there, too.

So…the item he was seeking was inside the castle, had most likely once
belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw, and bore a lightning-shaped mark.

It certainly helped, although the task was still mind-boggling.
Hogwarts was a big place, and there were rooms that even the Map didn’t
know about — like the Room of Requirement.

They’d spent the past several weeks searching and had barely made a
dent in the vast number of rooms within the castle. Hell, there was no
guarantee it was even in a room. It could be one of the hundreds of things in the hallways for all he knew. After six-and-a-half years
living here, he was still finding corridors he hadn’t known existed.

They’d started in the most likely place — the Ravenclaw common room,
but they’d finally conceded there was nothing there. They searched the
Slytherin common room next, both Harry and Ron feeling an odd
familiarity upon entering the dungeon dormitory.

Harry had watched and re-watched the memory of Tom Riddle returning to
Hogwarts to apply for a teaching position and being turned away. He was
convinced that Riddle had used that trip to hide his Horcrux inside the
castle. He’d known Dumbledore would never give him the job — there had
to have been another reason for his visit. Harry had even made an
unsuccessful return visit to Dumbledore’s portrait to ask his former
Headmaster if he remembered anything else.

February had progressed into March, and all of them were feeling
discouraged. They’d come so far…but this last hurdle was wearing them
all down worse than the rest of the hunt.

They’d taken time out to celebrate Ron’s birthday by having a feast in
the Great Hall reminiscent of the feasts they’d grown accustomed to
during the school year. According to Ron, he couldn’t have had a better
birthday if he’d picked it himself. The Aurors staying at the castle
joined in the celebration, as did the Slytherins, although the latter
group sat at a table secluded from the others.

Perhaps the highlight of the night was the arrival of a small group of
Aurors bringing a thin and haggard-looking Kingsley Shacklebolt. Madam
Pomfrey had ushered him off to the hospital wing before he’d even
managed to say hello. Still, it was a small victory for the Light side.

The time since had been spent searching the castle to no avail.

Another chorus of loud snoring shook the room, causing Harry to fling
his belongings back inside his backpack with disgust. There was no use
trying to sleep here tonight. Pulling his woolen blanket around his
shoulders to combat the night’s chill, Harry padded down the stairs
toward the common room.

As he passed the room that Draco and Dudley were sharing, he could hear
them arguing in harsh whispers. Staying hidden in the shadows, Harry
cautiously peered into the room.

The two boys were sitting cross-legged on one bed, a deck of Muggle
cards splayed out between them.

"So, this Imprus Curse can make anyone do anything you want?" Dudley
asked, leaning forward.

"Imperius," Draco said, sneering, "and yes, that’s the idea. The
Ministry deemed it an Unforgivable after the last war, but I’m certain
the Dark Lord has changed that."

"Im-per-i-us," Dudley said slowly.
"How can three of one card possibly beat two separate matches?" Draco
asked, scoffing. "Are you making these rules up as we go along?"

"No. I’m not making it up," Dudley replied, exasperated. "It’s Poker.
Three of a kind beats two pairs. Everyone knows that. It makes more
sense than that game you showed me that explodes in your face no matter
what card you use."

Draco chuckled, obviously relishing the memory of Dudley’s introduction
to Exploding Snap. "Fine. If that’s the way you’re going to play," he
said, rolling his eyes and aiming his wand at his cards.

Dudley flinched and shut his eyes.

"There," Draco said, laying his cards between them.

"That’s not fair," Dudley shouted. "That’s cheating. You can’t use
magic in Poker!"

"I think I just did," Draco replied, folding his arms behind his head.

"It’s not possible to have two sets of three of a kind," Dudley
shouted, his face turning alarmingly red.

Harry pulled his head out of the door and continued toward the common
room. He had to shake his head several times to process what he’d just
seen. Who would’ve ever imagined that Draco Malfoy and Dudley Dursley
would become mates? Harry was certain it was only due to circumstances,
but still…

Dudley had adapted much better to life at Hogwarts than Harry would
have imagined, although his fascination with the Dark Arts, while
expected, was alarming. The teachers who had remained behind had all
taken him under their wing, and he was receiving a private magical
education while he was in hiding. The rift between Dudley and his
parents appeared to widen everyday. Harry wondered what would happen
when this war was finally over and everyone went back to their own
lives. What would happen to Dudley?

Scratching his head, Harry stopped in front of the one and only empty
room left in the boys’ dormitory. What would it hurt if he just slept
in there instead of using the couch again? He slipped inside the dorm
and plopped down on one of the empty beds, pushing the thoughts of
Dudley from his mind. He neither cared nor felt responsible anymore. He
didn’t want the Dursleys to be killed in all his mess, but he didn’t
feel any desire to know their future plans, either.

Curling into a ball, he tossed and turned before finding a comfortable
spot and once again fell into an uneasy sleep.


On a mid-March evening, Harry once again sat in the library with Ron,
Hermione and Ginny, reviewing their notes about which parts of the
castle had been searched. Harry had brought his backpack with the
Pensieve stored inside, and they’d viewed the memory of Tom Riddle’s
visit to Hogwarts.
Yet again, they’d come up with nothing. When Harry moved to put the
Pensieve back in his backpack, Ginny assisted him by moving several
items out of the way. As he lowered the heavy basin into the magically-
enlarged backpack, he heard Ginny gasp.

"What is it?" he asked, turning to face her.

She was staring at the small portrait of the Founders that he’d found
in the attic at Grimmauld Place.

"I don’t believe it," Ginny said, her eyes widening.

"What?" Hermione asked, peering over her shoulder to look at the

"We’ve been searching through book after book to see if Rowena
Ravenclaw was pictured more than once with a particular item, and it’s
been right under our noses the whole time," Ginny said, her face

"What has?" Ron asked, perplexed.

"Look! On her head — it’s Auntie Muriel’s tiara — or rather, the
original," Ginny said, pointing.

"You think the Horcrux is in Auntie Muriel’s tiara?" Ron asked. "But
it’s not even real. It’s worthless, really."

"Not Auntie Muriel’s, you dolt," Ginny replied, smacking him on the
back of the head. "The original. Why couldn’t it be the tiara that he
used if it was significant enough that a copy was made of it?"

"Oww," Ron said, rubbing the back of his head. "Mental, you are. So
what if it is the tiara, we still don’t know where to find it, do we?
Have you seen a tiara lying loose around the castle anywhere?"

"Yes!" Harry said, sitting bolt upright, his heart hammering in his
chest as his excitement mounted.

"What?" Ron asked, dumbfounded.

"You have?" Hermione asked.

"Where?" asked Ginny.

"In the Room of Requirement, when I hid the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions
book from Snape. I hid it in there and put the tiara on top of a statue
so I could find it again," Harry said, recalling the panic he’d felt
that day so long ago.

"You touched it?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah," Harry said, pushing back his chair so quickly it toppled over.
He began taking long strides toward the library door.
"Wait, Harry. How do you know it was one if you touched it and nothing
happened?" Hermione asked, running after him.

"I don’t," Harry replied. "But I’m going to find out."

"Maybe that’s why you picked it in the first place," Ron said, the only
one not panting in order to keep pace with his stride. "Maybe you were
doing that sensing thing you do even then without realizing it."

"Maybe," Harry said curtly. "I wasn’t thinking much about it at the
time. I was more worried about what I’d just done to Malfoy, and what
Snape was going to do to me for doing it."

"Or maybe it’s like the wardrobe in the Hufflepuff museum," Ginny said.
"Maybe it only reacts negatively if the magic senses you intend it

By the time they’d reached the entrance to the Room of Requirement,
they were all panting slightly — excitement and adrenaline reflected in
their expressions. This might be it.

Harry paced back and forth in front of the tapestry three times.

I need to go where my Potions book is hidden.

Harry recited the phrase three times but nothing happened — the door
did not appear.

"What’s wrong?" Ron asked.

"I don’t know," Harry said, his frustration building.

"Do you remember what you asked for when you hid it?" Hermione asked,
frowning. "Try using the same phrase."

Harry searched his mind to remember what he might have said. He’d
wanted to get rid of his Potion book.

I need a place to hide my book.

Harry repeated the phrase three times. He knew from the gasps of the
others that the door had appeared. Opening his eyes and wrenching it
open, he led the way inside.

"Bloody hell," Ron said, pulling up short as the sight of the massive
city-sized room full of hidden stuff. "Look! There’s tons of Fred and
George’s stuff here."

Harry turned to see a pile of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes products
haphazardly thrown in a corner, as if the owner had been in an extreme
hurry and simply dumped the stuff inside. Harry could picture someone
being chased by Filch and trying to get rid of the evidence.

"Harry, how do you possibly expect to find it in here?" Ginny asked
incredulously. "This is massive."
"I know," Harry replied, lurching down the center alley. "I used some

He could hear Hermione in full prefect-mode tut-tutting about all the
forbidden objects.

"Some of these things are dangerous," she said, appalled.

Harry turned right at the stuffed troll but came to a sudden stop when
he reached the Vanishing Cabinet that Draco Malfoy had used to lead the
Death Eaters inside Hogwarts on the night Professor Dumbledore was
killed. Its door hung open obscenely, and it was moved slightly into
the aisle, evidence that it had been used in the not-so-distant past.
Professor McGonagall had said she’d had Professor Flitwick cast a Charm
to seal it so that it could never be used again.

Harry clenched his jaw and continued moving, the others right on his
heels. The silence amongst them hung heavy in the air. They’d all
recognized the significance of that cabinet. He didn’t stop until he’d
reached the cupboard with the bust of an ugly old warlock perched on
top. A wig and a tarnished tiara crowned the bust.

Before taking the bust down, he opened the cupboard and reached behind
a cage with some unidentifiable remains left inside.

"Eww. What is that?" Ginny asked, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

"Dunno," Harry replied, pulling his beat-up old Potions book from
inside and flipping through the pages.

"What do you want with that?" Hermione asked, raising her nose in the
air and scowling her disapproval.

Harry shrugged, stuffing the book in his pocket. "It might be useful.
Now that we know it was Snape’s," Harry said, spitting the word like a
swear, "it might give us a clue how to find him."

"That’s highly unlikely, Harry. Even if it did have an address
somewhere, it would be his childhood home, not his current address,"
Hermione said.

Ignoring her, Harry reached up and took the bust off the top of the
cupboard, placing it on a rickety old table with uneven legs. He
started to lift the tiara off its head, but Ginny grabbed his arm,
stopping him.

"Don’t touch it!" she cried.

He shrugged. "I touched it to put it on there and nothing happened."

"Even so…it can’t be you who touches it now. Just in case something
goes wrong," she said, wincing slightly.

"She’s right, mate. You have to be the one go on," Ron said.

Harry balked. "Don’t be ridiculous. We have to look at it," he snapped.
"Let me do it," Ron said.

"No!" Harry said, reaching out and grabbing the tiara in his hands.
Nothing happened, the metal was cool and extremely dirty.

"Har-ry," Hermione said, stamping her foot. "What have I said about
trusting us to do our part and not acting impulsively? Have you been
listening to me?"

Harry scowled, knowing she was right yet unable to stop himself. It
would only make them angry to know he had no intention of letting any
of them get hurt in his place. Closing his eyes, he let his magic flow,
feeling the weight of the heavy metal in his hands. His ears were
ringing and chills ran up his spine.

"This is it," he said, feeling both nervous and excited.

Ron pulled the Spell Detector from his pocket and placed it on his
nose. "Blimey," he muttered. "It’s loaded with Dark Magic."

"Let me see," Hermione said, ripping the Detector off Ron’s face and
examining the tiara herself.

"It looks just like Auntie Muriel’s," Ron said, grimacing. "See how
those patterns look like spiders?"

Harry used his sleeve to try and polish it, looking for the lightening
bolt shape. It was pointless, however, it was too badly tarnished and
would need a good cleaning.

"So…if we can hold it without a problem…how do you suppose we’re going
to destroy it?" Ron asked, still frowning at the jewel-encrusted piece.

"I wonder…" Hermione said, drumming her fingers on the table.

"What?" the others chorused.

"Well, it’s meant as decorative headwear…perhaps it needs to be placed
on your head," she said, cringing.

Harry shrugged, lifting the tiara towards his head. This time, Ron
stopped him.

"No, Harry. You have to be the one to battle Voldemort — everything
depends on it. You can’t risk an injury. I’ll do this one," he said
grimly. "Fred and George used to make me wear Auntie Muriel’s all the

"Ron," Hermione said, grabbing his arm.

Harry felt panicked. He didn’t want to let Ron do this, but he didn’t
know what else to do. He locked eyes with his friend and solemnly
With shaking hands, Ron raised the tiara and placed it atop his head,
wincing as he did. Although they all held their breath, nothing

"I thought for certain that would work," Ron said shakily.

Hermione grinned, leaning against him. "You do look frightfully cute
with that on your head though," she said. "Do you have any other pieces
I might want to borrow?"

Scowling, Ron ripped the tiara off his head while Harry and Ginny

"What now?" Harry asked, staring at the tiara in Ron’s hands.

Hermione took it from Ron, staring at it in silence for several
moments. "I suppose…" she said slowly.

"What?" Harry asked, desperate for an idea.

"Maybe it has to be worn by a woman," she replied.

"What?" Ron asked sharply. "Why would you think that?"

"Well…it did belong to Rowena Ravenclaw and despite your stunning
appearance, tiaras are traditionally worn by women. I think Voldemort
is sadistic enough to force anyone finding the Horcrux to sacrifice his
mate," Hermione said, frowning.

Both Ron and Harry stared at her, gaping.

"Well, do you have any other ideas?" she snapped. "I’ll just put it on,
and we’ll see what happens," she said, swallowing heavily.

"No, Hermione," Ginny said, grasping Hermione’s arm. "If something goes
wrong, you’re better at figuring out how to fix it. We need you for
that. You know it. My magic didn’t register before, so maybe it won’t
trigger this — or at least not as strongly as intended."

"No," Harry said, shaking his head. This was getting out of hand.

Ginny scowled at him. "You’ve both tried, and it hasn’t worked. Do you
have any other suggestions?"

Harry gaped, wishing inspiration would strike, but he somehow knew they
wouldn’t be able to remove the tiara from this room.

"It’s either me or Hermione, and I think she’s the bigger risk on this
one," Ginny said firmly. She stuck out her chin, but Harry could see it
tremble slightly. For all her bravado, Ginny was as frightened as the
rest of them.

Taking a deep breath and flashing an unsteady grin at Harry, she placed
it on her head. For a moment it did nothing, and Harry thought they
were back at square one, but then it began to shimmer, growing brighter
and brighter until the glare was so blinding that he had to shield his
He gasped, feeling his chest constrict as if he was being crushed. He
had the unmistakable impression he was traveling, although it felt
nothing like a Portkey or Apparation. He tried to hold out his arms for
balance, but found he was completely immobilized.

The room shifted around them, and he felt as if he were spinning out of
control. Just when he thought he couldn’t take it anymore, it stopped.
His head still spun, but his vision cleared, and a bone-chilling cold
swept over him.

Harry blinked several times and noticed that they’d been transported to
some kind of ice palace. The cathedral windows with the heavy draperies
that had been in the Room of Requirement were still in place, but the
walls and furnishings were completely made of ice. The thick shrubbery
he could see outside the ice caused him to think they were somewhere in
the Forbidden Forest, but he’d never seen anything like it.

Goose bumps arose on his flesh as his eyes frantically sought out Ginny
and the others. Ron and Hermione each stood looking around with the
same gobsmacked expression he was certain covered his own face, but
Ginny remained perfectly still, her mouth frozen in a silent scream.

"Ginny," Harry said, his voice hoarse.

She didn’t respond, but the tiara she still wore shimmered again before
transforming into a hissing serpent, coiled around her head. It was
black with an obscenely large head and deadened opaque eyes.

Harry froze, while Ron shouted and took a step toward her.

"Don’t move," Hermione hissed, grabbing Ron by the arm.

The snake raised its head, swaying from side to side as if ready to

Ginny’s eyes rolled back, and she collapsed to the floor, her body
stiff and shaking violently.

"She’s seizing," Harry said, panic overwhelming him. Sprinting towards
her, his Seeker-reflexes allowed him to dart his hand out and seize the
snake around its neck before it could bite. Try as he might, however,
he couldn’t pry it from her head. He wrapped both hands around the
smooth, soft skin, but the snake wouldn’t budge, instead wrapping
itself tighter around Ginny’s head and causing her to groan. Harry
could see small trickles of blood leaking out from beneath the snake’s

Ginny finally stopped seizing and her head lolled lifelessly to the
side. Ron grabbed her hand and tried to wake her, but she remained

"Where the hell are we?" Ron asked, panic stricken. "We have to get her
out of here."
"I know. I think we’re in the Forbidden Forest, but I can’t get this
snake to let her go. I’m afraid to try Cursing it in case I hit her,"
Harry said, his teeth chattering from the cold.

"You can’t cast any spell at it, anyway," Hermione said. "That…snake is
still the Horcrux, however it’s enchanted. There’s no telling what you
might do to Ginny if you try a Spell."

"So what do we do?" Harry asked, his eyes wild. He tugged again at the

"Harry, you have to calm down. We won’t do her any good if we panic,"
Hermione said, her own voice sounding rather hysterical.

Before Harry could even take a deep breath, Ron was tossed into the air
and flung several meters across the room. He crashed onto the icy floor
and slid into a table made of ice.

Hermione screeched, and Ron barely had time to rise to his hands and
knees before the invisible attacker again hurled him into the air. He
landed with a crash, shattering an ice pedestal that contained some
kind of sculpture. His head began to bleed, and he blinked in
confusion, obviously dazed.

"Ron," Hermione said, her breath visible in the icy air. She sprinted
towards him, cradling his head in her lap and wiping away the blood as
her body began to visibly shake.

"Hermione, don’t move," Harry said, but it was already too late.

His glanced around wildly but knew he was trapped. If he released the
snake, it would strike either him or Ginny, if he didn’t, they were
both sitting targets for whatever else was in the palace with them.

Hermione’s scream caused him to look up in time to see an ugly gash
appear on the side of her face. She hissed in pain and pulled Ron more
securely underneath a raised platform.

In the next instant, Harry felt excruciating pain in both legs as
something pinched them, yanking him into the air. He was forced to
release the snake from the force of the tug, but fortunately, whatever
had him moved so fast, it pulled him away just as the snake’s fangs
snapped in front of his face.

Harry shouted as the thing released him, dropping him to the floor with
a thud. How could he fight something he couldn’t see? He was struck in
the chest by a powerful blow and then knocked in the other direction.
Whatever it was had multiple arms.

Ignoring his aching ribs, he raised his wand and aimed it in the
general direction from where he’d just been thrown.

"Sectumsempra," he shouted. He hoped if he could at least make it
bleed, he’d have a better chance of seeing it.

Ice flew in bits and shards around him as several more pedestals were
shattered. Harry was struck again, skidding backwards and slipping on the slippery floor. He slid until his body connected painfully into the
platform sheltering Ron and Hermione.

He groaned, his ribs aching too much to ignore.

"Diffindo," he snarled, rolling on his side. Nothing happened, and he
still had no idea where the creature was.

"Stupefy," Hermione said, aiming her wand behind him.

A high-pitched squeal filled the chamber, causing Harry to cringe and
Hermione to slap her hands over her ears. The platform shielding Ron
and Hermione splintered into a thousand pieces. Screaming, Hermione
used her body to shield Ron’s.

"Leave them alone," Harry shouted, firing yet another Cutting Curse in
the general direction he suspected the creature to be.

Sharp pinchers grasped him around the thigh, drawing blood and causing
him to swear violently. He was dragged across the floor as the pressure
around his leg tightened. He could see the smeared trail of blood
across the ice from where he was dragged.

Trying to pull his leg free, he reached out and grasped onto the
pincher, shuddering as he felt something hard and thin and slightly
furry. The creature flung him in the air and tossed him again. He
landed, slightly dazed, beneath one of the high, arched windows. Harry
used the heavy burgundy drape to pull himself up, his leg screaming in
protest beneath him. His weight was too much for the curtain and it
tore off its hanging, bunching in a pile around him.

Dragging it with him, Harry crawled back into the center of the room.

"Come on," he said, panting. "Come and get me now, you bloody wanker."

"Harry! What are you doing?" Hermione cried.

"Shh," he hissed, motioning her to be still. "Come on. I’m right here."

Harry felt something brush against his arm before the cruel pinchers
dug into his shoulder. He gasped in pain, but bunched up the heavy
drapery and flung it high in the air. It fluttered down and landed on
top of the creature, forming the unmistakable outline of a very large

Ron, still delirious, panicked completely. He began kicking his legs as
he tried to stand, but couldn’t get his grip and kept slipping on the

"Spider. It’s a spider," he repeated frantically. "Have to get Ginny.
Have to get her out of here. Spider."

Hermione desperately tried to calm him, as Harry turned his attention
back to the spider.

"Incarcerous," Harry bellowed.
The burgundy material wrapped itself around the struggling spider
several times, trapping it in place with heavy binding. He watched as
the creature’s struggles finally slowed with its exhaustion.

Grunting in pain, Harry pulled his abused body across the floor and
crawled back to where Ginny still lay, unmoving. Frost had built up in
her hair, and she was trembling from the cold.

His own teeth chattering, he pulled his torn and bloody robe off his
shoulders and wrapped it around her as best he could, careful to stay
out of the snake’s reach.

It watched him with cold, emotionless eyes, hissing and testing the air
with its forked tongue, although it made no move to strike. Harry
conjured a stick and tried again to unravel it from her head, but the
snake wouldn’t budge.

Harry’s body ached, and his injured leg throbbed, but the worst agony
came from his chest. How was he going to get this off of her, and what
was it doing to her in the meantime? He never should have allowed Ginny
to help him. He knew this would happen. He knew it.

Ron and Hermione joined him on the floor in front of Ginny, Ron leaning
heavily on Hermione, his expression still dazed and confused.

"What are we going to do?" Harry asked, looking at Hermione hopefully
and feeling very much like a small child.

Hermione’s worried gaze raked over her three companions, all of them
battered and in various states of distress.

"First step is to get that snake off her head," she said, placing her
wand to Ron’s temple. "Episky."

The bleeding stopped, and the wound sealed remarkably tightly. Ron
groaned and raised his hand to his head. "What did you do?" he asked.

"Just a Healing Spell. I’ve got rather good at them," she said quietly.
She turned to look at Harry’s shoulder, but he jerked away.

"Ginny first," he said.

"Harry, I don’t-"

"Ginny first," he insisted, feeling hysterical. "What’s that?"

He pointed to thin red streaks appearing along Ginny’s temple and
running down her face. One of the streaks had nearly reached her neck.

Hermione gasped, looking up at Harry with wide, panicked eyes. "Oh, no.
I think it’s poisoning her."
Chapter Twenty-Six


Oh, no. I think it’s poisoning her!
Hermione’s words rang in Harry’s ears repeatedly, fading in and out as
if he was moving a great distance away. He ran his hand through his
unruly hair, absently smearing blood on his forehead. The rope bracelet
that Ginny had woven for him felt too snug around his wrist, almost
like it was burning him. He didn’t know what to do. He was going to
lose Ginny despite all his efforts. He felt as if he were choking on
his own breath, the panic bubbling in his chest and ready to consume

“Harry!” Hermione shouted. Her voice was insistent, and it forced him
back to reality.

He blinked, dazed, desperately trying to drag his eyes away from
Ginny’s still form and the sinister-looking red streaks creeping down
her face so that he could meet Hermione’s gaze.

“Harry, you need to speak to the snake and make it let go of her,”
Hermione demanded, shaking his shoulder roughly.

Ron stared back and forth between the two, breathing heavily. The dark
freckles on his face stood out so starkly against his pale skin it
looked as if someone had smudged them there with a quill.

Speak to the snake? Parseltongue!

Harry could have slapped his head for his own stupidity. How could he
not have thought of it sooner? He had to get control of himself. Ginny
couldn’t afford for him to come undone now. He could do this; she
needed him.

Violently shaking himself out of his stupor, he turned and stared at
the snake’s overly-large head, narrowing his eyes and taking a deep

“Release her,” he demanded.

The snake’s head jerked up, swaying to and fro as it stared at him.

He wondered if the snake could detect the pleading quality in his
voice. He knew some animals could detect uncertainty in a human, but
didn’t know if that was the case with snakes. He wasn’t about to take
the chance.

“Release her. She’s not a threat to you,” he said, stronger this time
and without blinking.

The snake’s tongue tested the air before it hissed and slowly unwrapped
itself from Ginny’s head. It slithered away, coiling under a table and
still hissing uncertainly. It appeared to be rethinking its decision
and drew back, ready to strike.

Ron shifted into position to shield Ginny’s prone form from the hissing
serpent, while Hermione immediately began trying to rouse her. That
left the snake for Harry. A movement on the other side of the room
caught his eye, and he noticed the invisible spider once again
struggling inside its bonds.
His mind raced, remembering how spiders and the Basilisk that had once
lived inside the castle were natural enemies. Perhaps snakes and
spiders in general could be turned against one another.

Barely aware of what he was doing, Harry quickly raised a shield around
his friends. In a flash, he Banished the draperies binding the spider
and then cast a Blasting Hex at the snake, flinging it forcefully
through the air. It collided with the invisible spider, causing the
spider to emit a high-pitched squeal of rage.

The snake twisted and struck, its mouth opening massively wide, and its
sharp fangs sinking into some unseen part of the spider. The room
flickered again, and suddenly the spider became visible. It was furry
and brown and not quite as large as Aragog – but big enough to draw a
horrified gasp from Ron.

The snake hit the floor with a thud before slithering away, leaving a
bleeding and furious spider staring directly at Harry. He clutched his
wand tightly in his sweaty palm.

“Inversum,” he shouted.

A golden mist appeared in front of the spider, hovering in mid-air. The
spider ignored it, taking a step forward into the mist before stopping,
bellowing its rage and confusion. The Anti-gravity Spell had
disoriented the spider, but Harry didn’t know how long it would last or
when the spider would realize it only had to take a step to regain its

“Accio snake,” Harry said, finding it difficult to take a deep breath.

The snake was yet again hurtled through the air, twisting and hissing.
Harry’s hand darted out, snatching the creature around its large head.
It writhed uncontrollably, trying to break free from Harry’s grasp.

With another whine of rage, the spider broke free of the mist and
barreled toward Harry. Forcing himself to remain calm, he ignored Ron’s
frantic shouting and let the spider get closer before tossing the snake
in the air. Casting a Levitation Spell, he dangled the snake directly
in front of the spider’s eyes, distracting it. He then carefully led it
away from where he stood, using his body to shield the others.

Concentrating intently to control the panicked snake, he led the spider
as far away from them as it could possibly go when a thought suddenly
occurred to him. He’d used the Basilisk to destroy the diary, the
dragon to destroy the cup, and the Inferi to destroy the locket.
Perhaps this spider could be used to destroy the tiara.

He stopped moving the snake away from the angry spider, leaving it
dangling in the air, furiously writhing.

The spider reached out with its tentacles, snatching the snake and
bringing it toward its mouth. The snake hissed and fought to get away,
but it was powerless. The spider bit down on the snake’s middle and a
blinding light filled the ice castle.
An ominous rumble echoed around the chamber as a web of cracks began to
appear in the ice, spreading and moving around the entire structure.
The rumble built into a crescendo and the entire place shook under the
tremendous roar. Large chunks of ice began falling from the ceiling,
shattering as they hit the floor.

The snake transformed back into a tiara, and the spider carelessly
tossed it aside, no longer interested. It tried to scurry away from the
cracking ice, but in its haste struck a crumbling wall. The wall
buckled and crashed around it, raining heavy chunks of ice onto the
creature, crushing it.

Harry ran toward his friends, using his own body to cover them. He
strengthened the shield around them, completely blocking them from the
falling debris until the structure had entirely collapsed.

“Is it dead?” Ron asked, breathing heavily as he grimaced at the legs
of the spider, poking out from the pile of ice.

“I think so,” Harry said, pulling himself up and hurrying toward Ginny.
He gently put his hand on her head, brushing her hair back. Angry
purple bruises showed starkly on her pale skin where the snake had
tightly gripped. The red streaks marring her skin had reached her neck,
and were moving toward her shoulders and back.

Harry scooped Ginny into his arms, cradling her body tightly against
his chest. His sore shoulder screamed in protest, and he could barely
breathe through the pain in his ribs, but he only dimly registered it.

“We have to get her back to the castle. This place is utterly
destroyed; I don’t think it can return us,” he said in a voice that
didn’t sound like his own.

“That was some powerful shield, Harry,” Hermione said, stunned. She
still hadn’t risen from her seated position on the floor.

Something in her voice made him glance sharply at her face, but he
couldn’t read her indecipherable expression. Could it be fear that he
saw in her eyes? He didn’t know, and he didn’t have time to think about
it just then.

Nothing mattered at the moment but Ginny.

“Ron, get the tiara,” Hermione said, pulling herself together. She
pointed at the discarded piece of jewelry sitting harmlessly in the

“How are we going to get back?” Ron asked, trotting over to the tiara
and scooping it into his hands.

Still cradling Ginny, Harry lifted a jagged piece of ice from the
ground. His ribs throbbed from the movement, causing him to gasp.

“This worked when we got the cup, I don’t see why it won’t work again,”
he muttered, transfiguring the shard of ice into a broomstick and
handing it to Ron.
“Good idea,” Ron said grimly, his eyes glued on Ginny’s still body.

Harry lifted another piece of ice and repeated the spell. He lifted his
sore leg over the broom, holding Ginny tightly in front of him.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to hold her, Harry,” Hermione said
nervously. “Your arm is bleeding, and I think you might have some
broken ribs.”

“I’m fine,” he said shortly. “I won’t let her go.”

Before they had time to protest, he rose in the air and took off like a
shot, flying high above the trees in an attempt to find the castle. Ron
and Hermione followed behind him on the other broom, Hermione clutching
Ron’s waist tightly. She’d used a Point Me spell with her wand.

“This way,” she shouted, pointing in the direction she wanted him to

Harry took off, letting the cold wind whip his hair. His robes were
wrapped tightly around Ginny, but even that wasn’t much protection
against the winter night air. He pulled her closer, trying to use their
body heat to keep them both warm. It suddenly occurred to him that the
last time they’d shared a broom he was the one who was unconscious. He
was determined that they’d try this again one day when both of them
could enjoy it.

Ginny was going to be all right. He refused to let his mind consider
the alternative, as it seemed wont to do. She was going to be fine. She
had to be. Leaning forward, he pushed the broom faster.

He didn’t know how long the spell keeping the ice as a broom would
last, and he wanted to be as close to Hogwarts as possible if the spell
failed. Concerned, he lowered his height to a safer distance to survive
a fall – just in case.

He didn’t have to worry about it, however. The spell lasted just fine.
They reached the castle without incident, and he flew directly onto the
front steps. Harry suspected that the chilly night air helped them. He
wondered if the spell on the broom would have ended if the temperature
had been warm enough to melt the ice that he’d Transfigured.

He leaped off the broom and hit the ground running, keeping Ginny
tucked close to him. His shoulder and sore leg screamed in protest, but
he ignored them, concentrating instead on taking short, shallow
breaths. He could vaguely hear Ron and Hermione shouting to him as he
ran, but he never slowed his pace.

Gasping by the time he reached the hospital wing, he burst through the
doors. His legs were shaking so badly that he feared he might drop
Ginny right at Madam Pomfrey’s feet.

She turned when he entered, her expression stern. She looked ready to
scold whoever had entered her quiet and orderly hospital wing with such
a fuss. Instead, she became immediately businesslike when she saw their
battered appearance.
“There,” she said, pointing to the nearest empty bed, her efficient
gaze raking over both Harry and Ginny. He assumed she was trying to
decide which one of them needed medical attention first.

Kingsley Shacklebolt was resting in the bed next to Ginny’s, his back
supported by several pillows. He appeared much healthier than the last
time Harry had seen him. He sat up in his bed and curiously watched the
commotion unfold, his gold earring glinting in the candlelight.

“What happened, Potter?” Mad-Eye Moody asked. Harry hadn’t even noticed
him standing in the doorway to Madam Pomfrey’s office.

Ignoring the others, Harry moved away from the bed after laying Ginny
atop it. He grabbed Madam Pomfrey’s arm and pushed her toward Ginny
just as Ron and Hermione burst through the door behind him. His chest
was constricted too painfully to speak.

Madam Pomfrey took his arm and tried to lead him toward another empty
bed, but he pulled away from her, pointing at Ginny.

“I’m fine. Ginny needs help,” he gasped.

When Madam Pomfrey bristled and continued attempting to lead him away,
Harry refused to budge. He dug his feet firmly into the floor.

“Please!” he cried desperately.

Something in the tone of his voice gave her pause. Her stern expression
softened so briefly that Harry wasn’t even certain he saw it. Leaving
him alone, she turned and began running her wand over the streaks on
Ginny’s face.

“She’s been poisoned by a snake,” he said, wrapping his arm around his
aching ribs.

“A snake?” Madam Pomfrey asked, turning around quickly.

“Yes. Do you have a Bezoar?” he asked.

“A Bezoar won’t work on a snake bite, Harry,” Hermione said, leading
Ron to a chair by Ginny’s bed. “The poison hasn’t been ingested.”

Madam Pomfrey raised her chin, studying Hermione intently. Finally she
nodded and began directing questions to her instead. “What kind of
snake was it?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione replied. “It wasn’t a natural snake; it had
been Transfigured. After it was killed, the enchantment ended.”

“I see,” Madam Pomfrey said, pursing her lips and returning her
attention to Ginny.

“I have a Pensieve,” Harry said, his eyes darting between Madam Pomfrey
and Hermione. “Would it help if I showed you a memory of what the snake
looked like?” he asked.
“If it comes to it,” Madam Pomfrey replied, waving her wand above Ginny
and muttering to herself.

Harry’s knuckles turned white as he tightly gripped the rail of Ginny’s
bed. He was startled when Moody grasped his elbow and pulled him toward
a chair.

“Why don’t you sit down, Potter? You look dead on your feet,” he said

“I’m fine,” Harry lied, sinking into the chair anyway.

“He needs to be checked over,” Hermione said. “Both his leg and his
shoulder are bothering him, and I think his ribs are broken. Ron, too,
took a nasty blow to the head, but I used a Healing Spell on him.”

“The Spell on his head is good,” Madam Pomfrey said, bustling around
the room and pulling various phials and instruments from her cabinets.
“You controlled your breathing while casting it. It’s nice work. You’d
make a fine Healer one day.”

Hermione’s cheek pinkened and a small smile tugged at her lips before
it dropped completely, her eyes filling. “I didn’t know what to do for

Madam Pomfrey huffed. “Well, if it’s any consolation, I don’t know
quite what to do for her yet, either. I want you all out of my way
while I determine the best course of treatment,” she said, ushering
them all toward the door. “Go on, out in the corridor with the lot of
you. Mr. Potter, if you try to escape before I have a good look at you,
I’ll follow you into Gryffindor tower and conduct my exam in the common
room for all to see.”

Harry couldn’t even manage a blush. “I want to stay with Ginny,” he
said softly.

“You can come in as soon as I’ve finished with her. Go on,” Madam
Pomfrey said, and her tone left no room for argument.

“Come on, Harry. We’ll wait right outside,” Hermione said, gently
tugging on his arm.

He limped into the corridor, blindly following Hermione.

“I need to go tell Mum,” Ron said, groaning. “Merlin, she’s going to
have kittens.”

The three of them sank wearily onto the floor outside the door to the
hospital wing. Harry was having trouble catching his breath. The
adrenaline rush was wearing off, leaving him tired and vulnerable. His
body ached, but he didn’t want to take the time to tend to it yet.

“Tell you what, Weasley,” Mad-Eye said, entering the corridor with
them. “You stay here in case Poppy has any questions, I’ll go and fetch
your parents.”
“You will? Thanks! I really appreciate that,” Ron said, sighing

Moody nodded before turning in the direction of Gryffindor tower, his
wooden leg thumping on the floor as he walked.

Harry leaned his head against the wall, allowing his eyes to drift
closed. When Professor Dumbledore was suffering from the effects of
that liquid from the cave, he’d wanted Harry to bring him to Snape, not
Madam Pomfrey. He’d also said it was Snape who’d saved his hand after
he’d hurt it while getting Marvolo Gaunt’s ring.

While Harry wasn’t certain Snape had actually helped Professor
Dumbledore at all, perhaps Madam Pomfrey didn’t have enough experience
with Dark Magic to be able to help Ginny. She had managed to save
Hermione after she was burned, but with a lot of help and research from
the Order. She’d sent Ron to St. Mungo’s to be treated after he’d
suffered the Cruciatus.

“We need to tell Professor Dumbledore’s portrait about what happened.
He might have a suggestion that could help Ginny,” Harry said, trying
to rise. His legs simply refused to support him.

“I’ll go,” Hermione said, pressing her hand on Harry’s uninjured
shoulder, forcing him to remain seated. “You just stay there.”

Harry nodded mutely, unable to muster the energy to protest.

“Ron, be certain he doesn’t leave until Madam Pomfrey has a chance to
take a good look at him. You need your head checked over, as well,”
Hermione said sternly.

Ron nodded with a faint trace of a smile. “My head is fine. Even Madam
Pomfrey said you did a great job. She couldn’t have done better
herself,” Ron said.

Hermione flushed. “She didn’t say that, exactly,” she said. “I’ll be
right back. Take care of Harry.”

She turned and hurried down the corridor.

Ron smirked. “Looks like I’m on Harry-watch, mate,” he said.

Harry scowled. “I already said I wasn’t going anywhere,” he said,
disgruntled. “I’m not leaving until I know Ginny is going be okay.”

Ron’s face sobered instantly. “She’s going to be all right. She’s too
stubborn to give up now,” he said, elbowing Harry slightly.

Harry lowered his eyes, unable to meet Ron’s gaze. He absently picked
at a spot on his jeans where blood was seeping through and saturating
the fabric. The spider’s pincers had apparently dug in deep.

“Harry,” Ron said, elbowing him again.

“I shouldn’t have let her come,” he said, his voice low.
“Don’t start this again, Harry. You’ll only hack everyone off. We all
knew what we were getting into and did it anyway. This isn’t your
fault. In fact, I think it was because you were so worried about her
that you created that shield that protected us all when that ice palace
collapsed. I still don’t know how you did that, mate,” Ron said.

Harry furrowed his brow, finally meeting Ron’s earnest gaze. “I dunno,”
he said. “It just happened.”

“Well, it was lucky for us, then,” Ron replied.

Harry sat up straighter. He hadn’t even considered the shield he’d
created. He’d only been focused on Ginny at the time.

For he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…

Harry struggled to get to his feet. His legs shook beneath him, and he
was left gasping by the time he could stand.

“What are you doing?” Ron asked.

“That Romanian book. It’s full of Dark Magic. Maybe there’s something
in there that can help, Ginny,” he said.

“You’re not leaving, Harry. Hermione will kill me if you do,” Ron said,
also standing and blocking Harry’s way.

“Ron! It could help Ginny,” Harry said, frustrated that his body was
too weak to duck by Ron.

“Then we’ll have someone bring it here to us,” Ron said firmly.

“Bring what, Mr. Weasley?” Professor McGonagall asked as she turned the
corner and approached them.

“A book in my dormitory. It has loads of information on Dark Magic. It
could help her,” Harry said, pleading.

Professor McGonagall’s eyes efficiently swept over both Ron and Harry.
“I’ll have a house-elf bring us the book,” she said. “Now, I just left
Miss Granger in my office. She said you two would fill me in on what
has happened.”

Harry and Ron looked at each other warily, realizing Hermione had found
a way to ensure they stayed put after all.


A loud, clanging sound jerked Harry into awareness. He sat up straight,
wand at the ready and tossing his head from side to side, seeking a

“Sorry, mate,” Ron said, picking up a tray from the floor. “Didn’t mean
to wake you. I forgot this was perched on the arm of my chair.”

Harry blinked his eyes groggily, trying to clear his sleep-addled
brain. He must have nodded off at some point despite his best efforts to stay awake. He was seated in a comfy armchair in the corridor
outside the hospital wing. He vaguely remembered Professor McGonagall
conjuring them as he told her an abridged version of what had happened.
He’d mainly informed her that they’d stumbled across a Dark item that
Voldemort had left behind in the castle.

She had pursed her lips but apparently accepted the tale. She’d Healed
Harry’s legs and shoulder for him, although she said Madam Pomfrey
would have to mend his ribs. She’d had food trays sent up for both Ron
and Harry, and Harry suspected there might have been a Sleeping Draught
in his juice, because he hadn’t stayed awake much longer afterwards.

He remembered a frantic Mr. and Mrs. Weasley arriving outside the
hospital wing, but they’d been ushered inside, and he hadn’t seen them

“How’s Ginny?” he asked, his panic rising once again. Absently, he
noticed that it was much easier to breathe than it had been. Madam
Pomfrey must have Healed his ribs during the night after all.

“No word,” Ron replied grimly. “I slept for a bit, too, but they
haven’t told me anything since I woke.”

Harry stood up, attempting to work out his stiff muscles. “I need to
find out what’s happening.”

“Ron! Harry!” Hermione said, walking around the corner. She was
accompanied by the crotchety old barman from the Hog’s Head. Harry now
knew that he was Professor Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, although
they’d never been properly introduced.

“Hermione!” Ron said, relief evident in his voice. He stood to embrace
her quickly before demanding, “Where have you been?”

Excitement glittered in Hermione’s eyes. “Well, after I spoke with
Professor Dumbledore’s portrait, he suggested-”

“This where she is?” Aberforth interrupted with a scowl, hooking his
thumb toward the door to the hospital wing. His thumbnail was dirty,
and his hands appeared to be waterlogged.

“Yes,” Hermione said, her hand fluttering to her hair. “Madam Pomfrey
should be inside with Ginny.”

Aberforth nodded without a word and pushed open the door.

“What’s he doing here?” Ron asked, staring after him.

“Professor Dumbledore told me to get him,” Hermione said, somewhat
breathlessly. “He said Aberforth had more experience with Dark Magic
than Madam Pomfrey, although she’ll actually be better at any Healing.
He suggested they work together. Of course, it took awhile to convince
Aberforth that I was serious, and he still insisted we visit the
portrait so he could hear it for himself.”

“Grouchy git,” Ron mumbled.
Harry didn’t care how grouchy he was if he could help Ginny. “I gave
Professor McGonagall that Romanian book on the Dark Arts,” Harry said.

“Ooh, that’s a good idea, Harry. How are you two? Has Madam Pomfrey had
a chance to mend your injuries?” Hermione asked, her dark eyes raking
over them in careful detail.

“Yeah. She was out here just a bit ago checking my head,” Ron said.
“That’s what woke me up. She fixed your ribs, too, mate.”

“Why didn’t you ask her about Ginny?” Harry demanded hotly. He tugged
on his bracelet – for some reason the stone felt uncomfortably hot.

“I did! She didn’t answer me, just went about her business and went
back inside without a word,” Ron said, disgruntled.

Hermione wearily sank into the chair next to Ron’s, resting her head on
the wall behind her.

“Have you slept?” he asked, his tone softening.

“Not yet,” Hermione replied, keeping her eyes closed.

“Why don’t you go on back up to the tower and take a kip. We’ll send
for you if anything changes,” Ron said, gently taking Hermione’s hand
in his own.

“I’d rather stay here,” she said, sounding as if she were already

Ron shifted, allowing her head to settle on his shoulder.

“That’s nice,” Hermione mumbled.

Harry looked away, roughly rubbing his forehead. He wished he just knew
something. What could be taking so long? Madam Pomfrey could heal
broken bones in a matter of seconds, what could be wrong with Ginny
that was taking this long to heal? A little voice in his head argued
that it took much longer to heal some injuries. Look at how long Ron
had been in hospital when he’d been poisoned, and they’d know the exact
cause of that right away.

He took a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves. He hated waiting –
he always had. He just wished he could see her. She’d always come to
see him when he was the one in hospital.

“All right, mate?” Ron asked quietly.

Harry shrugged. “Feel a bit useless.”

Ron snorted.

“What?” Harry asked, looking directly at him for the first time.

“Just that it’s normally all of us out here waiting while Madam Pomfrey
patches you up. It’s only right that you should have to see what it’s
like on the other end,” Ron said, grinning.
Harry scowled. “Seems to me I remember doing this for you not all that
long ago,” he said sourly.

“Yeah,” Ron said, sighing. “We’ve certainly kept Madam Pomfrey on her
toes recently.”

“And given her an excuse to see Mad-Eye,” Harry said, a slow, half-grin

Ron snorted. “I’d like to know what injury he has that the treatment
requires getting a leg over.”

Harry choked, struggling to contain his mirth and feeling tears form in
the corners of his eyes.

“And get the thought right out of your head, Potter,” Ron said, his
laughter dying on his lips. “Whatever treatment my sister needs, that
most certainly won’t be it.”

Harry’s grin melted, his amusement fading as reality washed back over

Ron lightly elbowed him in the ribs.

Some time later, a large disturbance inside the hospital wing drew Ron
and Harry’s attention. Raised voices near the doorway caused both boys
to look up expectantly. Hermione stirred, lifting her head from Ron’s
shoulder, blinking her confusion.

Aberforth Dumbledore stormed outside the hospital wing, an irate
Professor McGonagall close on his heels.

“You can’t just leave them with that, Aberforth,” Professor McGonagall
said, her voice shrill.

“Why not? The girl is dying. My saying it doesn’t change anything,”
Aberforth said, only half turning.

Harry’s breath caught, a shrill whine reverberating in his ears.

“So you’re just going to walk away?” Professor McGonagall asked

“I didn’t say that. I can’t concentrate with all that caterwauling. I
need to go somewhere quiet to think. I’ll get back to you,” he said,
raising the Romanian Dark Arts book in his hand as if to show he was
going to read it.

“There wouldn’t be such a fuss if you hadn’t shocked them like that,”
Professor McGonagall said sternly. “They are the girl’s parents, after

“That poison is slowly shutting down her internal organs. Without the
snake, it’s hard to find the exact potion that can counteract the
venom. If you want my help, stop throwing a wobbly and let me get to
it,” Aberforth said cantankerously.
“What are you on about? D’you mean Ginny?” Ron asked, unable to contain
his emotions any longer. He leaped to his feet, blood rushing to his
face. “What did you say to my mum?”

“Bloody hell,” Aberforth said, throwing his hands in the air. “How many
of them are there, anyway? Place is crawling with you red-headed lot.”

“What are you saying about Ginny?” Ron asked, hunching his shoulders
and glowering at Aberforth, who didn’t appear cowed in the least.

“What I said is the bald truth. Your sister is being poisoned from the
inside out. There isn’t a lot of time if you expect to have a chance to
save her. How much of it do you want to waste here?” Aberforth asked.

“Ron! Let him go,” Hermione said, grabbing Ron’s arm and pulling him
back. She rested a soothing hand on his back, whispering softly in his

Ron took a deep breath, his shoulders slumping. Aberforth turned on his
heel and walked away. Professor McGonagall glanced at them all, her
eyes suspiciously bright before turning and re-entering the hospital

Harry sat through it all unmoving. His world had tilted on its axis
when Aberforth announced Ginny’s imminent death, and he’d yet to get
his bearings. His chest ached with pressure, and he sat stock-still
trying to control his heart rate. As his thoughts raced, a fierce
determination settled over him.


Not again.

He wasn’t going to lose Ginny, too.

“Where are you going?” Hermione asked, and he suddenly realized he was
on his feet with no recollection of moving.

“Library,” he said shortly.

“The library?” Hermione asked, clearly stunned.

“What was that Golpy’s Law?” he asked. “From Potions last year.”

“Golpalott’s Third Law,” Hermione said automatically. “But it won’t
help, Harry. It’s designed to find an antidote for Blended poisons, not
snake venom.”

“How d’you know what it was?” Ron asked, seizing on the hope Harry
offered. “It wasn’t even a real snake.”

Hermione shook her head, grasping both Ron and Harry’s arms as if she
was caring for small children. “It’s a wonderful idea, Harry, but we
don’t even have anywhere to begin.”
Harry felt frantic. He had to make her understand that he needed to do
something. Sitting here and waiting was making him barmy. He jerked his
arm away, feeling it slap on something hard in his pocket. Furrowing
his brow in confusion, he reached down and pulled out the tattered copy
of the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book.

Grasping it as if he’d found hidden treasure, he returned to his chair
and began frantically flipping through the pages.

“That’s not going to help you, Harry,” Hermione said.

Although he didn’t look up, he could hear the disapproval in her voice
and knew she was frowning. There was nothing written in the book about
antidotes except for the note to use a Bezoar, which had already been
discounted. It took some time, ignoring Hermione’s huffs and Ron’s
eager inquisitiveness all the while, but eventually, Harry found a
brief note about animals in a section near the back of the book.

When pitting animals against each other, all magical creatures have a
single natural enemy. Find the correct one and the battle can go either

Harry sat up straight. A single natural enemy. The spider killed the
snake. His memory was filled with the vision of Professor Slughorn
siphoning the venom from Aragog last year. He’d said it was really
valuable, and that it would still be there if the spider had just died…

“I have to go back,” he said, rubbing his hand over the stubble on his

“Huh? Have to go where?” Ron asked.

“I have to go back to that ice palace. D’you think you can remember how
to get back there, Hermione?” he asked eagerly, hope and adrenaline
filling his veins.

“What? Why would you want to go back, Harry?” Hermione asked,
concerned. She’d gently taken his arm and looked as if she thought he’d
gone barking mad.

“The book says that all magical creatures have a natural enemy. Snape
was probably pitting them against one another to learn which would
survive. It doesn’t matter right now. That spider was the snake’s
natural enemy. I need to go back and get some of the spider’s venom,”
Harry said, pulling away from Hermione and sprinting toward Gryffindor

“You think venom from that dead spider is going to save Ginny?” Ron
asked, horror spreading across his face.

“Harry, this is mad. You can’t trust anything that’s in that book,”
Hermione argued, struggling to keep up with him.

Harry stopped short, spinning around, furious. “I am going to do this.
Are you coming with me or not?” he demanded, his blood pounding.
Neither Ron nor Hermione looked happy about it, but they ceased their
arguments and meekly followed him to Gryffindor tower.


Getting the venom had been easier – although admittedly disgusting –
than Harry thought it would be. Given time to ponder it, Hermione had
decided the idea held merit and had gone to the task with her usual
enthusiasm. Harry had to give credit to Ron though. His friend had
obviously been repulsed, but he’d clamped down his fear and did what he
had to do for his sister. Harry supposed that for Ron, it was similar
to facing a Boggart, and he had to respect him for that.

They’d run into Aberforth as they entered the castle, excitedly shoving
the phials of venom into his hands. At first he’d appeared disgruntled
and rather annoyed by their existence, but gradually he became
interested in their tale. He took the phial from Harry’s hands and
curtly told him to follow him.

They’d entered the hospital wing and went directly into Madam Pomfrey’s
office. Harry carefully kept his gaze averted from the still figure on
the bed surrounded by her family. He knew he’d never be able to pull
himself away once he went to her, and he had to be certain this would

Ron and Hermione tip-toed over to Ginny’s bedside, taking positions on
each side of a crying Mrs. Weasley. Harry followed Aberforth into the
office, Madam Pomfrey close on his heels.

“What is that? What are you planning?” Madam Pomfrey demanded, pointing
at the phials Aberforth was holding. Madam Pomfrey obviously did not
enjoy having her supreme reign over the hospital wing infringed upon.

“Spider venom,” Aberforth snapped.

“You can’t be serious. You’re not giving an untested potion to my
patient. You could kill her,” Madam Pomfrey said, aghast.

“She’ll die anyway if we don’t try something,” Aberforth said, and
Harry found his dispassion disturbing.

He remained quietly beside Aberforth’s side, doling out ingredients as
the old barkeep asked for them. Madam Pomfrey’s disapproval melted as
her interest in what Aberforth was brewing grew. The two older people
chatted as they brewed, but Harry barely heard them. His mind was
solely focused on one person in the other room. He’d been desperate to
get to her when Madam Pomfrey had first kicked him out of the hospital
wing, but now that she was so close, he was hesitant. He didn’t want to
see his Ginny so lifeless and without her sparkle.

He swallowed hard and continued handing Aberforth ingredients. When
they finally emerged from the office, the same group of Weasleys was
still huddled around Ginny’s bedside. Bill and Fleur clutched hands as
they stood behind Ron and Hermione.

“She’s growing weaker, Poppy,” Mrs. Weasley said tearfully, clutching
Ginny’s hand. “She seems to be struggling to take a breath.
Madam Pomfrey nodded and briskly shooed Ron and Hermione out of her way
as she approached the bed. She lifted Ginny off the pillows slightly
and snapped at Bill. “Hold her up like that. Let me get this potion
into her.”

“What’s the potion, and what’s it going to do?” Bill asked, although he
did what he was asked.

“It’s made from the venom of the spider that killed the snake that
poisoned her. The two venoms should attack each other rather than
continuing any assault on her,” Madam Pomfrey said, spooning the
steaming brew down Ginny’s throat.

“More venom?” Mrs. Weasley gasped, clutching Mr. Weasley’s robes.

He patted her back soothingly. “Will it work?” he asked, his voice
tired and strained.

“It’s the best hope we’ve got,” Madam Pomfrey replied grimly.

Harry had been silent during the exchange, finally getting his first
good look at Ginny. She was ghostly pale against the crisp white
hospital linens and even the vibrant color of her hair appeared dull
and listless. There was no sparkle, none of the usual warmth or fire
that he associated with her.

He dropped his eyes to the floor, unable to look at her for very long.
When Madam Pomfrey finished giving Ginny the potion, she moved back,
leaving an open space near Ginny’s head. Harry felt Hermione’s hand on
his back, gently guiding him forward.

He kept his head lowered, unable to meet anyone’s gaze.

“All we can do now is wait,” Madam Pomfrey said, sighing. “There’s a
battle going on within her bloodstream. If one of the venoms can
destroy the other, the surviving venom will be diluted – weakened from
the battle. We then have to hope that Ginny is still strong enough to
fight it.”

Harry lifted his hand, gently brushing away the hair sticking to
Ginny’s cheek. “’lo Gin,” he said gruffly.

“Oh, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley cried. “Ron tells me you saved her again.”
She raised her arms and moved to embrace him

“Don’t, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry said, recoiling from her. “We don’t know
if she’s going to be okay, and if she hadn’t been with me…” Harry broke
off, unable to continue. He looked away, blinking furiously.

He heard Mrs. Weasley sigh heavily, collecting herself. She laid a
gentle finger under Harry’s chin and forced him to turn around. “While
I’ve been sitting her fretting, I’ve been blaming myself for letting
her get involved, too. I knew something like this would happen.”
Harry flinched, knowing she had every right to blame him but also aware
that he couldn’t handle her turning on him just now.

“I had a bit of an epiphany when Ron told us what happened and how you
all went after that object You-Know-Who left behind. I realized that I
could never have stopped Ginny if she was determined to do something.
Ever since she was a small child, she had her own mind. I have a
special look – my ‘mum-look’, if you will. I could always cow the boys
with that look – except for Fred and George, mind – but it also never
worked on Ginny. I can see her with her hands on her hips, pigtails
bouncing on her head and a scowl on her face if I tried to get her to
do something she didn’t want to do,” Mrs. Weasley said, smiling sadly.

Harry snorted. He could picture just the look Ginny would’ve had on her
childish face.

“You couldn’t have stopped her, either, Harry. No matter how much you
want to protect her, she’s her own person, and she’s determined to make
her own decisions. Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, my little girl has
grown into exactly the kind of woman I’d always hoped to raise her to
be. This isn’t your fault any more than it’s my fault – or Ginny’s
fault for wanting to do the right thing. The fault lies with You-Know-
Who alone.”

Harry looked at the floor, breathing deeply. Although he tried to stop
it, he couldn’t help it, and a small sniffle escaped.

Mrs. Weasley leaned over and kissed the crown of his head. “Why don’t
we all wait outside in the corridor and give Harry a moment alone with
Ginny,” she said, ushering her family from the room.

Harry watched the slow, agonized rise and fall of Ginny’s chest until
the room was quiet. Slowly, he looked up to face her, lightly stroking
her cheek with his fingertips.

“Ginny,” he whispered, “you can’t bail on me now. You promised. You
promised you’d be here to show me how things are supposed to be. We’re
supposed to be happy and have time to do things together and grow old
and make babies and…”

Annoyed, he swiped at his eyes and blinked again. He waited a moment,
allowing his breathing to slow.

“You’ve got to see me through to the end of this. I need you to do
that. I need you to remind me why.”

He took off his glasses, unable to stop them from fogging and wiped his
eyes again.

“It’s strange…to need someone this way,” he said, sniffling. He wanted
to explain it to her properly, tell her how much she meant to him, but
he couldn’t get the words to form. “Strange in a good way, though. Oh,
Ginny. I’m rubbish at this. You know that. You keep telling me about
the life we’re going to have after all this is over. I want that life.
I want it with you.”
He wiped his nose again, staring at a distant spot on the window until
he could regain control.

“You need to be here to make that possible, so you fight. Don’t give
up. I know how much of a fighter you can be, and you need to fight now.
Fight for all it’s worth to get that happily ever after…and I promise
to do the same. All right, Ginny? Can you do that for me?”

She hadn’t moved, and her labored breathing hadn’t changed. He wished
desperately that her eyes would just flutter or that she’d squeeze his
hand, but neither of those things happened.

He grasped her limp hand firmly and laced their fingers together. He
rested his head on the bed beside her pillow, breathing in her scent.

“I’ll hang on for both of us,” he said softly.


After a tense hour waiting in the corridor outside the hospital wing,
Hermione felt ready to jump out of her skin. She hated not knowing what
was happening. She knew that Mrs. Weasley was right in ushering
everyone outside to give Harry some privacy with Ginny, but the
uncertainty was killing her.

Mr. Weasley had insisted that Mrs. Weasley needed to get something to
eat, and he’d walked her down to the Great Hall. Bill and Fleur had
joined them, but she and Ron had chosen to remain behind. Although she
didn’t come right out and say it, she’d been worried that Harry might
need some moral support when he emerged.

Shannon, George, Fred, and even Iris had all stopped by to check if
there had been any progress, but neither of the twins had been able to
sit still and wait. Ron had promised to get word to them if anything

Ron had sat in the chair next to her, absently scrubbing some of the
tarnish off the tiara, but he’d promptly fallen asleep, leaving her
nothing to occupy her thoughts. The spider venom had to work! She
didn’t even want to consider the alternative. If it failed…neither of
her boys would ever be the same.

Pushing out of her chair, she paced the corridor, listening to Ron’s
loud snores. Finally giving in to her curiosity, she leaned her head
against the door of the hospital wing, pushing it open and gingerly
peering inside.

Harry sat in the chair beside Ginny’s bed, his head resting on the
corner of her pillow. He was awake, but his eyes looked droopy and
close to shutting. He held Ginny’s hand in his own, gently caressing
the side with his thumb.

Hermione’s heart clenched, and she had to put her hand over her mouth
to quiet her gasp. He looked so lost and all alone that it made her
heart ache. He’d lost so much already. Fate couldn’t be that cruel to
bring him this far – this close to the end – only to snatch the one thing that had kept him going. Hermione was certain that Ginny was
Harry’s hope for a better future.

She quietly shut the door, leaning her head against the wall in the
corridor, feeling as if she was intruding on an incredibly personal
moment. As they’d grown up together, she’d always felt the obsessive
need to mother Harry, to watch out for him and make certain he was
okay. She knew at times it drove both him and Ron mad, but she couldn’t
help it. Perhaps it was because she knew no one else was doing it.

It had been different with Ron. She’d worried about him and fussed over
him, of course. Merlin knew he needed a bit of fussing to get his
homework done on time. Still, it wasn’t the same. Everything was always
different with Ron. She always felt the need to take care of Harry, but
with Ron, she always felt as if he were the one taking care of her.

He was so fiercely loyal and protective of both her and Harry. Although
she’d never admit it to him, she was always secretly pleased when he
defended her against Malfoy or any of the other Slytherins. By the same
token, it had hurt so much worse during the whole Lavender Brown
debacle when he taunted her ‘know-it-all’ ways.

Hermione shook her head. Now was not the time to go over that whole
saga again. This was about Ginny. She didn’t even want to think about
losing Ginny. Hermione had never had a close girlfriend before – not
even in primary school where the other children had tended to mock her.
Ginny had changed Hermione’s life, much the same way Ron and Harry had.
Maybe not as completely since Hermione had learned something about
having friends before she met Ginny, but she’d had a positive impact

And she’d certainly had a positive impact on Harry.

Harry always got a soft, glassy-eyed look on his face when he was
thinking about Ginny. Hermione had noticed it their last term at
Hogwarts, and it had been ever-present during their time at Privet
Drive. Hermione had found it kind of cute to see emotionally-repressed
Harry walking about with a lost puppy-dog expression.

Having Ginny in his life had been good for him. No matter how hard
Hermione had tried to be the one to offer him some comfort, she had to
admit that Ginny was the one who’d always been able to reach him. She
could make him laugh in a way Ron and Hermione never could.

Hermione had seen strong glimpses of the man Harry was becoming this
year, but he still needed some guidance and reassurance. She’d thought
Remus would fill that role, but he’d also been ripped away from Harry.
After that had happened, Hermione had finally realized that the role of
guiding and supporting Harry was left to her, Ron and Ginny. They were
his lifeline, and he needed them all desperately.

Ginny couldn’t break that lifeline now. The venom had to work. Hermione
wasn’t certain Harry would survive if Ginny died, no matter how much
she and Ron were there for him. Ginny had told her that Harry always
kissed her as if it would be the last time he ever got to do it, and
Hermione suspected that was true. He didn’t think he was gong to
survive the final battle
She felt a twinge of guilt for allowing that feeling to fester within
him, but part of Hermione’s plan hinged on that idea. Harry couldn’t
work Occlumency. He’d tried and repeatedly failed, so Voldemort was
certain to see inside his mind once the final battle began. If Harry
thought the plan was to destroy himself, Voldemort would think the same
thing. Hermione was counting on it.

She’d been formulating an idea with Professor Dumbledore’s portrait
since she’d arrived here. He’d been really helpful in pulling her
thoughts together. She’d discussed it with Ron and Ginny, and they both
knew what they had to do. The only variable was Harry.

Hermione snorted, feeling a new appreciation for the Order’s
frustration in keeping tabs on Harry. What she was planning was meant
to save him, but she had to worry about him mucking up the plans most
of all. She could understand his desire to protect them – he’d lost
everyone else – but he was going to have to trust them for her plan to

He had to be able to make a leap of faith at the most crucial moment.

She only hoped that he could do it.

Hermione had made a promise to herself after the disaster at the
Department of Mysteries to have some faith in her own judgment and not
blindly follow Harry’s lead. He was quite a force to be reckoned with
when he was angry, and his fury tended to intimidate Hermione when it
was directed at her. Still, he wasn’t the only one growing up, and she
knew her idea could work. She’d been right in telling Ginny about the
Horcruxes, and she knew she was right now.

But all of it would be mute if Ginny died. Harry wouldn’t have any
desire to go on after Voldemort’s demise. Pushing open the door, she
again peeked inside. Harry had since fallen asleep, but Hermione had to
blink twice to be certain what she was seeing.

Ginny’s eyes were still closed, and she appeared to be sleeping, but
her fingers were gently running through the strands of Harry’s hair.

“Madam Pomfrey!” Hermione hissed, alerting the matron. “I think Ginny’s
waking up.”


Several days after Ginny’s brush with death, she was still in hospital
recuperating. To everyone’s great relief, she was making definite, if
slow, progress. Her organs were healing, but she was still too weak to
get out of bed. Her breathing remained labored, and she suffered
frequent loss of breath if she spoke too long.

She bore an angry red welt across her forehead and scalp where the
snake had held her. Madam Pomfrey said there most likely always would
be a scar, but fortunately her hair would hide most of it. Its mere
existence infuriated Harry. He seethed that all this had marked her,
much like it had done to him. Still, it could have been so much worse
and for that, he was grateful.
Harry had taken to using his Invisibility Cloak to sneak into the
hospital wing. He’d curl up in the empty bed next to Ginny’s and was
actually sleeping better than he had in the loud dormitory. He felt
better knowing he was beside her, just in case anything went wrong.

The gray light of dawn was beginning to seep through the windows,
signaling it was time for Harry to return to his dormitory. He
stretched languidly and pulled himself out of the bed, carefully re-
tucking the corners of the sheets so Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t know he’d
been there.

He leaned over to kiss Ginny’s forehead and was surprised when she
opened her eyes.

“Hey,” she said, sleepily. “D’you have to go already?”

A slow grin filtered across his face. “I didn’t know you knew I was
here,” he replied, whispering.

Ginny smiled, still keeping her eyes closed. “I can always tell when
you’re here, Harry.”

“Why? Do I stink?” he asked, raising his arm to sniff only half-

Ginny snorted and finally opened her eyes. “No, you prat. You don’t
stink. Your scent is very nice, actually.”

“Er…that’s good…. I think,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “How do you

Ginny shrugged. “Still tired and a bit sore, but stronger all the time.
My left leg keeps going numb, but Madam Pomfrey thinks it’ll recover.”

“You really scared me, Ginny,” Harry whispered, tugging at a stray
thread on her blanket.

“Sorry about that,” Ginny replied, glancing up at the tone in his
voice. “The Horcrux has been destroyed though, right?”

“Yeah. It’s just a tiara again,” he replied, thinking about the thin,
lightning bolt mark that he’d found on the inside of the piece after
Ron had finished polishing it.

“So…what now?” Ginny asked, and Harry could hear the tremor in her

“Right now we concentrate on getting you better. Don’t worry about
anything else, Ginny,” he said, locking eyes with hers.

“You’re not thinking about slipping off without us, are you, Harry? I
couldn’t take that. I need to know you’re not going to do anything
rash,” Ginny said, her voice very low and husky.
“I’m not going to do anything until you’re well, Ginny,” he said, and
he meant it. He had to be certain she was well on the road of recovery
before he could even consider leaving her.

“Good,” Ginny replied, snuggling back beneath her covers. “What’s
happening back in Gryffindor Tower?”

“Not much. The strangest thing is that Draco and Dudley appear to have
become mates. It’s weird,” Harry said, scratching his head. “Who
would’ve ever thought Malfoy would befriend one of the most Muggle-
borns of all Muggle-borns?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Well, both of them are used to having a pack,
right? Didn’t you say that Dudley also had a little gang of followers?”
she asked. “They’re both just looking to make a connection. Plus, they
both hate you.”

Harry snorted. “Yeah, there is that. You know, there were times before
Pansy arrived that Draco had been almost…bearable. He wasn’t even as
nasty about the things he learned during Occlumency as he could have
been. Now, with Pansy and Dudley – he’s got his fan club back and has
returned to gitdom.”

“He never left gitdom, Harry,” Ginny said, refusing to give an inch.

Harry covered a smile and changed the subject. “You know who seems to
be getting along surprisingly well is Fred and Iris.”

“Yeah, well…who didn’t see that coming?” Ginny asked, unimpressed.

Harry’s jaw fell open.

Ginny giggled and patted his hand. “Silly boy. Fred and Iris were both
left out after Shannon joined us here. Besides, Fred always likes a
challenge. Do you know that Mum is worried about how close George and
Shannon have become? She doesn’t want them to get up to anything

Harry laughed, remembering seeing the pair sneak out of more than their
fair share of broom cupboards.

“Yeah. She’s obviously missed the fact that they’ve made it a mission
to shag in every room of this castle,” Ginny said.


“What? You’d be amazed how much people talk when they think you’re
incapable of hearing them,” she said primly.

Harry laughed nervously, wondering how much he’d let slip when he
thought Ginny was sleeping.

“Don’t worry, Harry. I’ll always keep all your secrets,” Ginny said.

“I really need to get back to the dormitory before I get caught here,”
Harry said reluctantly.
“Just stay a bit more and talk to me while I fall asleep,” she
whispered, as if knowing he could never refuse her.

“What would you like me to talk about?” he asked.

“Tell me that dream again…the one on the beach,” Ginny sighed

Harry smiled as he once again began relaying the story of the two of
them walking hand in hand along the surf without a care in the world.

It was a nice dream for someday.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Matters of the Heart

As winter slowly released its icy grip from the Scottish soil, signs of
new life appeared throughout the forest and across the Hogwarts
grounds. Small green buds began to pop out on previously barren trees,
and the first hearty flowers poked their heads from the earth.

Ginny’s recovery was moving along, albeit slowly. She still struggled
for breath whenever she overexerted herself, and her leg had proven
more stubborn to heal than had been expected. She walked with a
definite limp. Madam Pomfrey had said something about a pinched spinal
nerve, but as yet, she hadn’t found the correct solution.

Ginny had adapted to the uncertainty about her leg well – better than
anyone would have expected. But she chafed under her forced confinement
in the hospital wing. Feeling frustrated and impatient to leave, she
was prone to snap and even throw various objects at anyone within reach
whenever she was denied her request to return to Gryffindor Tower.

Madam Pomfrey had been reluctant to release her before she was certain
that Ginny’s breathing difficulties could be managed. Mrs. Weasley
followed Madam Pomfrey’s instructions to the letter, further testing
Ginny’s already-strained patience. According to Ginny, the only
positive aspect to the whole ordeal was that all the restorative
potions she’d been required to take had had the wonderful side effect
of speeding up her hair growth.

Ginny’s fiery hair now reached halfway down her back, and she again was
able to pull it back into her familiar ponytail. Once she’d realized
the effect, Madam Pomfrey had even given a much smaller dose to
Hermione to hurry along her re-growth, as well.

Ginny had made good use of her time in confinement, catching up on all
the schoolwork that she’d been neglecting. Between her mother,
Hermione, and Professor McGonagall’s visits, she was bound to score
well on her end-of-term exams. While Ginny revised, Harry had been
spending his time training with the Aurors. He knew the time for his
final confrontation with Voldemort was growing ever nearer, and he
wanted to feel as ready as he could for when that day arrived.

His stomach still twisted in knots whenever he thought about it, but he
knew what had to be done. He’d finished his letters to Ron, Hermione and Ginny and knew they’d take care of Hedwig after he was gone. He’d
been trying to practice the Occlumency exercises that Draco and
Narcissa had shown him, but still felt it was useless. All he needed to
do was break into Voldemort’s mind once – that would be enough. He
planned on going to the Department of Mysteries and letting the tosser
know he was there.

He’d even considered again asking Draco for help but decided that would
be a last option. Harry thought he’d rather face Voldemort than have to
owe anything to the Slytherin prat.

On the morning that Ginny was finally scheduled to be released, Harry
and Ron met her in the hospital wing.

“Out of bed, you lazy wretch. We’re here to spring you,” Ron said,
grinning as they entered the door.

Ginny turned her head and promptly stuck out her tongue at her brother.

“Oh, that’s mature,” Ron said, plopping into the chair beside her bed.

Harry leaned over and gave Ginny a quick kiss before taking the other
chair. “How does it feel to finally be getting out of here?” he asked,
grinning. She’d been complaining to him nonstop for days.

“Brilliant,” she said, sliding her legs over the side of the bed and
standing up, fully dressed. Harry could see the necklace he’d given her
for Christmas glittering in the sunlight streaming in from the window.
“Let’s hurry before she changes her mind.”

“Hang on. Mum will curse me if I take you out of here, and she doesn’t
get to be part of it. She’s bringing her camera,” Ron said gleefully.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Oh, brother! What’s got you so chipper this
morning, anyway? Where’s Hermione?” she asked.

“Dunno. She was supposed to meet us in the common room, but Fleur told
us she said to go ahead without her,” Ron replied, frowning.

“Those two were definitely up to something,” Harry said, pleased to see
Ginny looking so healthy. “D’you know anything?”

Ginny shrugged. “How would I know? I’m the one who’s been stuck in

“Yeah, but you always know everything,” Harry replied.

“And don’t you forget it,” Ginny said, waggling her eyebrows.

Harry chuckled, taking her hand and swinging it back and forth. His
heart always felt lighter when he stood near her. The hospital door
opened again, and Bill entered, followed closely by Fleur and a dark-
haired Hermione. For the first time since her accident, she wasn’t
wearing her red wig.

“Hermione!” Ron said, sitting up straight. “You’ve got your own hair.”
“Well spotted,” Hermione said with a small smile, her cheeks turning
pink. Her hand automatically fluttered up to tug on a stray curl.

“’Eet looks lovely, does eet not?” Fleur asked, beaming as if she alone
was responsible for Hermione’s hair growth.

“It always does,” Ron replied, staring at Hermione critically. “It’s
different though.”

Harry stared at Hermione, realizing Ron was right. Her hair nearly
touched her shoulders, but it wasn’t as full as Harry remembered. It
was still wavy but sleeker somehow.

“It grew in less bushy,” she replied, beaming. “I read that it happens
sometimes, particularly after medical hair loss. Chemotherapy patients
experience it all the time.”

“Keemo-what?” Ron asked, blankly. “It’s nice to see your own color
again. It makes your eyes shine more.”

Hermione looked at the floor, blushing, but her smile never dipped.

Ron’s ears colored brilliantly when he realized what he’d said.

“She does look splendid,” Bill replied easily. “And I think we can all
be thankful the twins weren’t here for that display.” He gave Ron a
light shove in the shoulder, causing his brother to stumble into

Ginny snickered. “You do look lovely, Hermione, but I’m sorry to see
the red go. I liked having a ‘sister’.”

“Thanks, Ginny,” Hermione said. “The potions have really hurried it
along, and Fleur cut it for me this morning.”

“Doesn’t eet look magnifique?” Fleur asked, fussing with Hermione’s

Hermione pulled her head away and moved to stand near Ron. “So, are you
ready to be released? Madam Pomfrey is certain you’ll be all right,

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