lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 18

isn’t she?”

“She’s certain I won’t be kept here one moment longer,” Ginny growled,
crossing her arms over her chest. “I’ve had enough.”

“That’s my girl,” Mr. Weasley said, beaming as he and Mrs. Weasley
entered the hospital wing. The area around Ginny’s bed was growing very
crowded. Harry began to move aside to allow Ginny’s parents to get
closer, but Ginny firmly grabbed his hand, insisting he stay where he
was. She squeezed it reassuringly.

“Oh, Ginny,” Mrs. Weasley said, elbowing her way past Ron and Hermione.
“I was so afraid this day would never come.” She wrapped Ginny in a
bone-crushing hug and began sniffling.
“There, there, Mum,” Ginny said, patting her mother’s back while trying
to extricate herself. “I’m fine and ready to get out of here.”

Mrs. Weasley pulled her camera out of her pocket. “We need to take a
photo to mark the occasion,” she said, suddenly in take-charge mode.
“Bill and Fleur, move around behind them. Ginny, don’t slouch. Harry
move closer, dear. You won’t be in the picture if you stand way back

A blinding flash went off, causing all of them to blink.

“I told Fred and George to be here on time. Those two can’t follow the
simplest of directions,” Mrs. Weasley said, scowling.

“Oh, Mum. Don’t be cross with Fred and George. It’s really not a big
deal. I’d rather just go,” Ginny said, her tone both hopeful and
resigned. Somehow, they all knew Mrs. Weasley was determined to make a
production out of this and no amount of excuses would change her mind.

Mr. Weasley smiled indulgently. “Why don’t you get in the shot, Molly?
I’ll take the next picture,” he said, holding out his hand for the

“Pictures? Did I hear pictures?” Fred asked, loudly banging the
hospital door open.

“You’ve started family pictures without us?” George asked, feigning
horror. “I always knew we were the black sheep, Fred.”

“Black sheep?” Fred gasped, his eyes wide with mock indignation. “I
don’t think we even count as sheep – more like a distant goat.”

“I’ll give you a goat,” Mrs. Weasley said sternly. “If you’d been here
on time like I’d asked you, you wouldn’t have missed the picture and
marred Ginny’s special day.”

Ginny rolled her eyes and muttered, “Good grief.”

“We’re here now, Mum. We wouldn’t think of mucking up Ginny’s special
day,” George said, his eyes sparkling mischievously as he caught his
sister’s expression.

“Leave your sister alone,” Shannon said, wagging a finger at George.
Her chestnut-brown hair was swept back into a ponytail that swayed as
she moved her finger. “Sorry we’re late, Mrs. Weasley.”

Mrs. Weasley deflated at the apologetic tone. “It’s all right, dear. I
know it wasn’t your fault,” she said, glaring at the twins.

“Why don’t you all stand around Ginny again, and I’ll take a family
picture?” Iris suggested, still standing in the doorway.

Harry hadn’t even realized that she’d arrived with Shannon and the
twins because she was standing so far back. She appeared rather
hesitant to enter, and from the looks on the assorted Weasley faces,
Harry couldn’t say he blamed her.
There had been a brief moment of shocked silence as everyone stared at
her, apparently lost for words. Fred finally broke the tenseness by
grabbing Iris’s arm and tugging her into the room. “Don’t be silly.
Everyone can be in the picture. You can charm it, Dad, can’t you?”

Mr. Weasley shook himself from his daze. “Er…of course. All right,
everyone, gather ‘round again,” he said, positioning the camera.

Mrs. Weasley, too, smiled widely at Iris and once again began issuing
orders. “George and Shannon, you stand on that side of Bill and Fleur,
behind Harry. Fred and Iris, you two go on their other side, behind Ron
and Hermione. Arthur, hurry with that thing and sit with me in front of
them all,” she said, sitting in the chair Harry had occupied.

“Where’s Charlie? How come he gets out of this?” Ron asked, grumbling.

“He’s back at the dragon reservation. He should return tomorrow,” Mrs.
Weasley said. “Arthur, is that ready yet?”

“Just let me get the focus right,” Mr. Weasley said, tinkering with the

“Just take the picture, Dad,” Ron said, rolling his eyes.

Harry began shifting his feet.

“Da-ad. I want to leave this place some time today,” Ginny moaned.

“All right, that should do it,” Mr. Weasley said, sprinting back toward
Mrs. Weasley and just managing to sit down before the camera flashed
several times.

Harry again blinked the spots from his eyes.

“There. Now that wasn’t hard, was it?” Mrs. Weasley asked, smiling.

“Let’s go,” Ginny said, picking up her small bag of toiletries.

“Ginny, can you walk all the way?” Mrs. Weasley asked fretfully.

“Mum, we’re only going up to Gryffindor Tower,” Ginny said, clearly
becoming annoyed.

Knowing the feeling of being stalled when he wanted nothing more than
to get out of the hospital wing, Harry took pity on her. Taking her bag
and slinging it over his shoulder, he offered her his arm.

“Shall we?” he asked.

Ginny beamed, linking her arm with his. “Let’s go.”

Sticking to Harry’s side and limping slightly, she strode purposefully
toward the door. From the corner of his eye, Harry saw Mrs. Weasley
move to assist Ginny, but Mr. Weasley grabbed her arm and held her
back, nodding at Harry.
Mrs. Weasley’s gaze wavered slightly before she nodded, taking Mr.
Weasley’s arm and following behind them.

The large group climbed toward Gryffindor Tower, chatting merrily along
the way. By the time they reached the portrait hole, Ginny was slightly
out of breath and definitely leaning more heavily on Harry than she had
at the beginning of their trek.

“Well, it’s nice to see you back, young lady,” the Fat Lady said,
glancing down at Ginny.

“It’s nice to be back,” she said.

“Hungarian Horntail,” Harry mumbled, ducking his head as the portrait
swung open. The common room had been prepared for a “Welcome Back”
feast in Ginny’s honor. The fire blazed invitingly, and there was food
and drinks spread out on several tables.

Ginny could barely contain her grin. “Hungarian Horntail?” she asked,
her eyes shining brightly.

“I didn’t make the password,” Harry said under his breath, feeling his
face heat.

“No, he didn’t, but you should see the disgust on Malfoy’s face every
time he has to say it,” Ron said gleefully.

“And we all enjoyed tormenting Harry’s aunt with tales of his glory,”
George replied, ruffling Harry’s hair. “Mum even offered to bring her
out to the pitch to show her where you beat that dragon.”

Harry pulled his head away, scowling.

“And Dudley’s eyes were about ready to bug out of his head,” Fred said,
grinning. “He’s not nearly as fun since he doesn’t spook so easily over
anything magical anymore.”

“Yeah. Testing our stuff out on him isn’t half the laugh it used to
be,” said George sadly. “Making your aunt faint is only funny for so

“Oh, I still enjoy it,” Fred said happily.

“Have you been testing stuff on Dudley?” Harry asked curiously,
disappointed that he’d missed it. “You’re still producing stuff while
we’ve been here, then?”

“Of course we are,” Fred said. “The mail order business is the only
thing that’s thriving since no one with an ounce of sense would be seen
in Diagon Alley these days. That’s severely limited our pool of
potential test subjects. George and I have had to revert to testing
things on ourselves again.”

“Oh, there’s a sacrifice,” Iris said, rolling her eyes.

“It is,” Fred replied. “You don’t know how much George and I have put
ourselves through testing this on our own.”
“Yes. Placing a hat atop your head to make your own head disappear is
so dangerous…and hysterically funny, I might add,” Iris replied in a
bored voice, although her eyes were sparkling brightly.

“Loads of people think those Headless Hats are funny. We’ve made
bucket-loads of Galleons off them,” Fred said hotly.

Harry couldn’t remember ever having seen Fred so off his game. Iris was
really winding him up. Harry suddenly developed a new appreciation for
the Slytherin girl. He, Ron, Hermione and Ginny all watched the
sparring between the two as if it were a tennis match while George and
Shannon had slunk off into a darkened corner.

“Well, loads of people thought Dolores Umbridge would lead them out of
the grip of the Dark Lord, too,” Iris countered.

Fred’s face became mutinous. “The Headless Hats and all Weasley
products never belong in the same category as Dolores Umbridge – may
she rest in Centaur heaven.”

Iris actually sniggered at that, and Harry had to bite the inside of
his cheek to keep his snort of laughter inside. He didn’t want either
of them turning their attention on him.

“I’ll concede you that point – they’re a step above Umbridge. But only
just,” she said primly.

“What do you have against the Hats?” Fred asked indignantly.

“Oh, nothing against them. I suppose plenty of people find it amusing
to see a hat floating around on its own. I simply prefer subtly in my
humor,” Iris said, casually pushing her dark hair off her shoulder. “If
you had, say…made the hats turn the wearer’s face into a celebrity.
That would be amusing. You could have a friend wear the hat to a party,
and you could impress the other guests with whom you know. See and be
seen, sort of thing. Create jealousy with a rival or potential love
interest if you show up with a professional Quidditch star, an
entertainer…or even Harry Potter.”

Harry had been grinning at the calculating look on both Iris and Fred’s
faces, but it turned into a scowl at mention of his own name. Ginny
elbowed him in the ribs.

“A Quidditch player, hmmm? Someone like Oliver Wood?” Fred asked,
raising an eyebrow triumphantly.

Iris dropped her eyes for a moment before shrugging. “Oliver’s old
news. I’d suggest someone more…current,” she said, her eye twinkling.

“That could work,” Fred mumbled, forgetting about his fight with Iris
and rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“Of course it would,” Iris replied, waving her hand in the air. “A more
Slytherin kind of practical joke.”
“You’re a devious woman, Iris Parkinson,” Fred said, smiling widely. “I
can work with that. Come on, we need to talk to George. He’s the brain
of the operation – I’m the gag man.”

“I can see that,” Iris smiled, smirking. She allowed Fred to take her
hand and drag her over to the corner where George and Shannon were
seated. George didn’t appear pleased with the interruption at all.

There was a moment of stunned silence before Ron turned to look at
them, his eyes wide, aghast. “They were flirting! Making eyes at each
other out in the open for all to see.”

“Oh, well spotted,” Ginny said, giggling.

Hermione smiled, patting Ron on the arm. “At least you did notice this
time, Ron. You’re making progress.”

“But…but… she’s a Slytherin,” Ron said, his eyes darting back and forth
between the girls.

“Well, The Sorting Hat did always say that the Houses needed to unite,”
Hermione said, barely able to control her laughter.

“It didn’t mean that physically,” Ron said hotly.

“You mean figuratively,” Hermione said automatically.

“That, too!” Ron shouted, sending both Hermione and Ginny into gales of
laughter. They collapsed on the couch, propping each other up as they

“Barking mad,” Ron said, shaking his head and moving toward the

Harry let his eyes roam around the room. He noticed Draco and Dudley
sitting in a corner, each watching the others in the room with a
similar expression that Harry couldn’t quite name.

When Draco noticed Harry’s attention, he sat up straighter, that
familiar, cocky expression returning to his features. “What are you
looking at, Scarhead?” he asked.

Harry rolled his eyes, ignoring the jibe.

“Don’t call him that,” Ginny snapped, moving to stand beside him. Her
eyes flashed fiercely, apparently taking more exception to the name
than he did.

“Would you rather keep the title for yourself?” Malfoy asked, smirking.
“Matching scars. Aren’t the two of you pathetically cute?”

Ginny’s hand instinctively went to the top of her forehead where the
red mark was visible, angering Harry.

“That’s enough, Malfoy,” he said, seeing red as he took a step closer
to the blonde. “This is her party, and you’re not to spoil to it.”
“Keep your knickers on, Potter. I’m not going to ruin your girlfriend’s
little homecoming,” Draco said, taking a sip of his Butterbeer and
keeping a wary eye on Harry’s wand.

“Hey, Ginny. Glad to see they finally sprung you,” Dudley said, peering
around Draco to smile at Ginny.

Harry had previously been amused by Dudley’s obvious crush on Ginny,
doubly so since his slow-witted cousin hadn’t yet caught on to Ginny’s
distinct coldness towards him. But he wasn’t in the mood now. He ground
his teeth together as he clenched his jaw.

“Dudley,” Ginny replied, coolly.

“Are you feeling better?” Dudley asked.

“If it makes you so miserable to be with all of us, Malfoy, why don’t
you just leave? Permanently.” Ron said, elbowing his way past Harry and
Ginny to stand in front of Draco with his arms folded across his chest.
“I mean, no one is going to fight to keep you here.”

Something intangible again flickered in Draco’s eyes before a sneer
crossed his lips. “I’d like nothing better than to stroll out that
door, Weasel, but once again I’m waiting for Potter to quit his
stalling and get this over and done.”

“So, you’re basically waiting for Harry to save your arse – again – and
feeling frustrated that he’s not doing it according to your timetable?”
Ron asked, rolling his eyes.

Malfoy’s face colored. “I’m biding my time to see what happens,” he
replied, scowling.

“No,” Ron said, shaking his head, a slow grin spreading across his
face. “I think you do believe Harry will win, you just don’t want to
admit it. It’s just like out at Azkaban – when the Dementors came after
you. For all your grandstanding, you turned to Harry to get you out of

“Dementors?” Dudley asked, his head swinging from side to side. “I’ve
seen those Dementors. They came after me, too – when I was with him.
Maybe he brings them out.”

He jabbed his finger toward Harry’s chest, looking to Draco for
approval. Harry watched them both stoically.

Harry was shocked to his core by Draco’s response.

“Lay off the Dementors,” the blonde said, scowling at Dudley. He didn’t
meet Harry’s eyes, but sneered at Ron. “I don’t want to talk about

“Why? Did I hit a nerve?” Ron asked belligerently.

“Ease up, Ron,” Harry said, knowing Draco’s memories of that expedition
couldn’t be any better than his own. “Let’s not spoil Ginny’s party.”
Draco’s eyes briefly registered surprise before he turned and stalked
away, joining Pansy as she walked down the stairs, scowling at the
gathered Weasleys.

“I’m going to get something to eat,” Ron muttered, moving toward the
food table.

“Are you coming?” Ginny asked, tugging on his hand.

“I’ll be right there,” Harry said, staring at Dudley who suddenly
appeared lost without Draco’s company. “Give me a moment.”

Ginny glanced warily at Dudley before nodding and joining Ron and
Hermione at the food table.

“Dudley,” Harry said, nodding. He wasn’t certain why he was even
bothering with his cousin. It was more than likely that Dudley would
start a row, but curiosity as to how Dudley was coping with his classes
was overwhelming him.

“I hear the professors have been giving you some magical tutoring,”
Harry said stiffly, nearly stumbling over the word ‘magical’. On Privet
Drive, it would have been considered foul language.

“Yeah,” Dudley replied, watching Harry warily. “They’ve been showing me
some stuff.”

“Good,” Harry said, feeling at a loss for words. In all his years on
Privet Drive, he’d never had a civil conversation with Dudley.

“They’ve told me some stuff about you,” Dudley said, his brow
furrowing. “None of them will hear a word against you. It drives Draco
barmy, mind,” Dudley said, his eyes roaming across the room to where
Draco stood with Pansy.

Harry’s heart warmed on hearing that his professors had sided with him.
That certainly had never happened in primary school.

“Yeah, well, don’t believe everything you hear,” he replied, shrugging.

“What happened with you and Draco and the Dementors?” Dudley asked.

“A couple of them attacked us – same way they did you and me,” Harry
replied, shifting uncomfortably. “Dementors are horrible creatures.”

“Yeah,” Dudley replied, shuddering.

“What did you see?” Harry asked. He’d always wondered about that – what
Dudley Dursley would possibly see when the Dementors came too close.

Dudley looked at the floor, shifting his feet. “Your cupboard,” he
said, barely audible.

“Pardon?” Harry asked, stunned.
“I saw your cupboard,” Dudley said, slightly louder. He shifted his
gaze away. “Only it was me inside…and my parents were saying stuff.
What difference does it make anyway? What do you see?”

Harry stepped back, surprised. Dudley feared his parents turning on him
and treating him the way they’d always treated Harry. He suddenly felt
a wave of unexpected sympathy for his cousin. “I hear my parents, too,”
Harry said softly, unwilling to say anymore.

“Does everyone hear their parents?” Dudley asked, confused.

Harry shook his head. “Not if you’re lucky,” he whispered. “I bet Draco
does, though.”

“Professor McGonagall told me your parents didn’t die in a car crash,”
Dudley said, staring openly.

“No,” Harry replied shortly. Hagrid had said the same thing when he’d
first collected Harry from the Dursleys, but he supposed Dudley had
been more concerned with the pig’s tail Hagrid had given him than to
pay attention to what was actually said.

“She said they were murdered by the same psychopath who’s trying to
kill you now, and that he tried to kill you when he murdered them,
too,” Dudley said, staring at Harry appraisingly. His eyes narrowed in
on Harry’s scar, as if just realizing its significance.

Harry didn’t know what Dudley was expecting, so he merely nodded.

“You make big enemies,” Dudley said, apparently impressed.

Harry couldn’t contain himself. He threw back his head and laughed.
Maybe it was the massive understatement, or simply because he was
actually having a conversation with Dudley about magical things.
Perhaps it was Dudley’s obvious respect over the fact that someone
could actually hate Harry that much, but it suddenly struck Harry as
absurdly funny.

Tears formed in the corner of his eyes as Dudley began glancing at him
the way he always used to do – as if Harry were some unstable time bomb
ready to explode. This struck Harry as even funnier, and he had to grip
the table for support. Dudley nodded warily and scurried away.

“Are you all right?” Ginny asked, appearing at his side.

Harry’s laughter finally faded into small chuckles. “Never better,” he
replied, kissing the crown of her head. “Come on. Let’s get something
to eat.”


Harry trudged wearily down the corridor, hoping to stop by the kitchens
for a bite to eat before seeking the warm comfort of his bed. He was
bone tired and felt as if he could fall asleep on his feet. He kept
being jarred back into alertness after his eyes would droop, and his
shoulder occasionally would brush against the wall as he walked. The day’s training had been intense. Kingsley Shacklebolt had run drills,
and Harry’s muscles were complaining of mistreatment.

Now that Ginny had recovered from her injuries, Harry felt ready to
confront Voldemort. He knew with the passing of each day that he was
stalling, but he just wasn’t ready to really say goodbye. He knew Ron,
Hermione, and Ginny wanted to be there at the end, but he was hesitant
to let them. What if Voldemort delivered a fatal blow before Harry
could manage to drag them both through the Veil? Voldemort would then
turn and immediately kill Harry’s friends. Harry wanted to at least
give them a chance to go deeper into hiding if his plan failed.

But what if Voldemort didn’t arrive by himself at the Ministry after
Harry formed the mind-link? His plan was to let Voldemort see him
alone in the Department of Mysteries, but that didn’t guarantee he
would react as Harry wanted. If he brought other Death Eaters with him,
Harry would need the help of his friends to keep the Death Eaters back
while he fought their leader. Harry was uncomfortably aware that
Voldemort’s plans involved capturing Harry rather than killing him.
Voldemort wanted to keep him a prisoner, safely tucked away. He
shuddered at considering that fate – death would be far kinder.

There was also the simple truth that he couldn’t quite admit out loud –
that he was afraid to die alone.

Running a hand through his hair, he sighed tiredly. Whether or not he
felt ready, it was time. He had to end this. The people trapped within
the castle needed to get back to their lives. Everyone needed this
shroud of darkness lifted. He was pleased that he and Dudley had
actually managed to get on in these final days. Knowing that Dudley
feared his parents treating him the way they’d treated Harry, he’d
avoided talking to Dudley where Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon could
witness it. Outside of their sight, however, they’d actually exchanged
a few pleasantries here and there.

Even he and Draco had managed a handful of civil words to one another.
Maybe that was the first sign of hell freezing over. Still, it felt
good to have all his affairs in order before doing what he had to do.
He’d given his letters to Hedwig and instructed her to deliver them
after he was gone. Knowing how unreliable Errol had become in his old
age, he’d told Hedwig to go stay with Mrs. Weasley after the end. She’d
always taken care of him, he was certain she’d take care of Hedwig,

“Hey! Knut for your thoughts,” Ginny said, walking around the corner
and joining him.

Harry started, blindly reaching for his wand.

“You look as if you’re in another world. I hope it’s a nice one,” she
said, slipping her hand into his own. Her limp seemed more pronounced
this evening, so he immediately slowed his pace.

“Sorry,” he said. “Long day. I was just heading down to the kitchen to
nick a bite. Care to join me?”
“No! You can’t go to the kitchen,” Ginny said, shaking her head. “I
have a better idea, anyway.”

“Why can’t I go to the kitchen?” Harry asked, slightly irritated as his
stomach growled. “What do you mean a better idea?”

Ginny tugged on his hand until he let her change their direction. “Ron
and Hermione are there on a date,” she said primly.

“On a date?” Harry asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes. Hermione and I decided that it had been too long since we had a
chance to simply spend some quality time with our boyfriends. So, we
each picked a location and planned our evenings,” she replied. “Of
course, I hadn’t planned on those Aurors keeping you so long that you
nearly missed ours.”

Suddenly, Harry didn’t feel quite as tired or annoyed. “And Hermione
chose the kitchen for their date?” he asked.

“Can you think of a spot Ron would find more romantic?” Ginny asked

“Point taken,” he said, laughing. “So, where are we going for our

“Upstairs,” Ginny replied as they climbed.

“I’d worked that part out for myself, Ginny,” Harry said.

“Then stop talking and keep walking,” she replied firmly.

Feeling eager, he allowed himself to be led all the way up to the
seventh floor. Ginny didn’t stop until they’d reached the Room of
Requirement. After she’d paced back and forth three times, she opened
the door to reveal the sprawling white, sandy beach of Harry’s dream.
It stretched on and on as if they were entering another place entirely.

“Ginny!” he gasped.

“D’you like it?” Ginny asked, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“I love it,” he said, trying to take it all in. “It’s perfect.”

“Take off your shoes,” Ginny said, slipping off her own and leaving
them by the entrance.

Harry complied and let the sand sift through his toes. It was soft and
warm, and Harry thought it felt glorious. He smiled happily as Ginny
took his hand and led him toward a small campfire on the darkening
beach. Remembering his dream, he glanced back over his shoulder and was
delighted to see two tracks of footprints – his larger than hers –
trailing across the sand.

The sun was still setting on this hidden Hogwarts beach, and Harry
enjoyed the way the colors splayed across the water. Ginny speared two
sausages on some wooden sticks and handed one to Harry.
He sat down and began grilling his dinner on the open fire. He and
Ginny dined on sausages, toasted marshmallows and an abundance of
chilled Butterbeer, laughing at each other whenever they managed to
catch their food on fire. After they’d eaten their fill, they rolled
their jeans up to their knees and waded in the surf, splashing each
other as they walked along.

It didn’t take long before Ginny began to get short of breath.
Concerned, Harry slowed down and waited for her breathing to regulate.

“I suppose there won’t be any professional Quidditch in my future,”
Ginny said, twisting her lips. “With this limp and the heavy breathing,
I doubt I’ll be high on any scouting lists.”

“It won’t be forever,” Harry said, thunderstruck. “Your breathing has
been much better recently. It’s just because we were running.”

Ginny giggled. “I’m only teasing, Harry. It’s not like I ever
considered professional Quidditch, anyway. I just like to play. You’re
the natural – maybe you ought to consider it.”

Harry scrunched up his nose. “And have to suffer through all those
interviews all the time? No, thanks.”

Ginny snorted. “I think you’ll always have that, anyway, Harry. Might
as well do something you enjoy for it.”

Harry smiled, realizing he’d been talking as if Ginny’s plans for a
future might actually be possible. He loved that she could make him
feel that way.

“What do you want to do after the war – after you finish school?” Harry
asked curiously.

“You mean besides making babies with you?” she asked, her eyes

Harry felt his own face color as if he’d spent the entire day in the
blazing sun. “Er…”

Ginny laughed out loud, shoving him toward the water again. “I don’t
know. Definitely not something that involves sitting behind a desk,”
she replied.

“How about becoming an Auror? Or maybe a Curse-Breaker, like Bill?”
Harry asked.

“Curse-Breaking sounds fun, but it’s dirty work with a lot of Goblin
rules. I don’t think I’d like that. An Auror might work, or a medi-
wizard for the Accidental Magical Reversal Squad,” she said

“What do they do?” Harry asked, furrowing his brow.
“Mostly clean up Apparation accidents, but basically rescue witches and
wizards who get themselves into trouble and undo whatever havoc they
managed to cause,” she said.

“I could see you doing something like that,” Harry said.

“I could rescue them, and Hermione could patch them up – we’d be quite
a team,” Ginny said, laughing.

“You think Hermione wants to be a Healer?” Harry asked.

“I think she’d be a good one, and she’s certainly developed an interest
since she got hurt,” Ginny replied. “And you and Ron would be the

“Yeah,” Harry said softly, feeling doubtful again that he’d be part of
their dream.

After the sun had set and the moon shone brightly across the water,
they returned to their campfire and sat on a blanket, listening to the
crashing waves.

“Enjoying our date, Mr. Potter?” Ginny asked, snuggling closer against
Harry’s side and resting her head on his shoulder.

“Best one yet,” Harry replied, pulling her closer.

“Oh, I don’t know about that. As I recall, my birthday was quite
charming. You even danced with me,” she said, chuckling.

“That’s why this one is the best one yet,” Harry replied, pressing his
fingers into her side and tickling her until she begged him to stop.

“I love you, Ginny,” he said happily, rolling over onto his back and
spreading his arms out wide.

Looking slightly disgruntled over losing their tickling match, Ginny
gazed at him for a moment before her features softened. She curled back
against him, nuzzling the side of his face. “Love you, too, Harry,” she

No longer tired, Harry was keenly aware of each spot where her body was
touching his. His skin tingled as his blood began pumping in his veins.
He rolled to his side, lightly tracing his fingers along her jaw.

Ginny gasped slightly, and tilted her face toward his. He leaned over
and captured her lips with his own, running his tongue slowly over her
bottom lip, seeking permission. Her mouth opened beneath his, welcoming
him to deepen the kiss. She ran her fingers through his hair, drawing
his head closer.

Her fingers felt like feathers and they lightly trailed down his face
and over his shoulders. Their passion built quickly, and Harry knew he
was close to losing his tight control. His hormonal teenage side was
tempted to throw caution to the wind and give in to his body’s demands,
but the one small piece of sanity that managed to keep even his raging hormones in check was the thought that Voldemort wouldn’t get to take
control of this moment, too.

He’d influenced and tarnished every other part of Harry’s life. When
Harry finally took that final step with Ginny, he was determined that
it would be on their terms and no one else’s – despite the fact his
body was ardently protesting the restraint. Hell, the anticipation
alone was enough to make him determined to return to her, somehow….
some way.

The moon shone brightly above, the gentle breeze ruffled their hair and
sand stuck to their skin and wet clothing, but neither of them noticed
any of it. Their complete focus was on each other as they kissed in the
surf until they had to return to their dormitories.


Over the rest of that week, Harry and Ginny returned to their beach
several times. They had even brought Ron and Hermione along a few times
so that they could enjoy the holiday-feel. Harry had decided he would
set his plans in motion the following weekend, but he was going to have
one fun-filled week with his friends beforehand. If nothing else, he
hoped it would leave them with good memories of him after he was gone.

After dinner one evening, Ginny insisted she had to get caught up on
some of the schoolwork she’d let slide while they’d been frolicking on
the beach. Ron and Hermione had disappeared together, so Harry decided
to walk down to Hagrid’s hut and pay a visit to his old friend. Hagrid
had never quite been the same after Professor Dumbledore’s death, and
Harry hoped that once the war was over, he’d regain some of his former

As he was walking along the path admiring all the new spring growth, he
noticed a brief flash of silver near the edge of the forest. His
curiosity piqued, he drew his wand and cautiously turned toward the
forest. He’d only just entered the brush when he saw the flash again,
and he realized who it was.

“What are you doing out here, Pansy?” he called, stopping in his tracks
and gripping his wand. He wasn’t about to allow the Slytherin girl to
lead him into the forest.

Pansy whipped around quickly, the hood of her silver cloak falling back
off her head. Harry was startled to realize she was crying. She had
thick black smudges beneath her eyes, and she didn’t bother to wipe
them when she saw Harry. Crying girls had always made him
uncomfortable, and he suddenly felt very wrong-footed.

“Pansy,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “Er… Are you all

“No,” she said, sniffling. “Have you seen Draco?”

“Draco?” Harry asked, perplexed. Thinking back, he realized that the
blonde hadn’t been in the Great Hall that evening. Now that he thought
about it, he hadn’t seen Dudley, either.
“He was supposed to meet me for supper, and he wasn’t there,” Pansy
said, turning around to stare at the trees. She began walking toward
them again, but Harry remained rooted to where he stood.

“Dudley wasn’t there, either. Maybe they just got involved in a card
game or something,” Harry said. “Why do you think he’d be in the

Pansy froze, keeping her back turned from him. “You might be right,”
she said hastily. “He’s been spending a lot of time with that Mudblood
buffoon lately.”

Harry knew that Pansy didn’t share Draco’s affinity for Dudley. She
frequently appeared put-out whenever she found the two blondes
together. Of course, she also appeared to detest her sister’s new
attachment to Fred. Pansy hadn’t given the impression she cared for any
of them very much.

As if realizing she’d just insulted Harry’s cousin, she turned around,
glancing at him warily.

“Er… I mean,” she said, faltering.

Harry scowled, feeling certain she was trying to hide something. “You
didn’t answer my question. Why do you think he’d be in the forest if he
didn’t meet you for supper?”

Pansy bit her lip, apparently struggling with something. “Why should I
tell you?” she demanded, as if finally deciding that being obstinate
was her best bet. Her eyes kept drifting toward the trees, as if she
was debating making a run for it.

“Because I’m the only one here who might possibly help you,” Harry
replied, knowing that none of the Weasleys had warmed up to Draco.

Pansy’s face faltered, and she began wringing her hands. Harry thought
she was carrying the melodrama a bit far but kept that to himself.

“Draco’s been feeling a bit desperate lately,” she wailed, burying her
face in her hands and sniffling. “I’m afraid he’s done something

“What do you mean ‘reckless’?” Harry asked, his stomach lurching.

Pansy swiped her nose with the back of her hand. “He’s been strange
since that stupid Welcome Back party for the Weaslette. He keeps
talking about his father and his choices. I have to find him,” she

“What about his choices?” Harry asked.

“For Merlin’s sake, will you quit with the questions and help me look
for him? He can’t be far,” Pansy said. “Come on. I haven’t looked over
here yet,” she said, pointing deeper into the forest.

“I’m not going anywhere with you, Pansy, until you tell me exactly
what’s going on,” Harry said, crossing his arms across his chest.
Pansy harrumphed indignantly. “Oh, some hero you are! You’d better hope
nothing has happened to him since it’s your fault if he’s in trouble,”
she said.

“How do you figure it’s my fault this time?” Harry asked, exasperated.

“You’re the one who’s supposed to end this, right? Draco is trapped
until you get around to doing it, and he’s too proud to sit back and do
nothing for long,” Pansy said, scowling.

“Not my fault if he’s an idiot,” Harry muttered, glancing at the
darkening sky. If Malfoy really had wandered into the forest, it would
be dark soon. Harry didn’t fancy wandering through the forest alone at
night, never mind with Malfoy or whomever he might be meeting hidden

“He’s not an idiot,” Pansy said, seething. “He’s got more brains in his
pinky finger than you can ever hope to have.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Pansy, it’s getting dark. If he really is out
here, we’re going to need some help. Let’s go back inside and see if
he’s there before panicking.”

“It might be too late by then,” she said shrilly.

“I know where there’s something back in the tower that will tell us if
he’s in the castle or not. It’s better than searching blind,” Harry
said, turning around. He only hoped that she’d follow him. He really
didn’t want to leave her out here alone.

“Don’t move, Potter,” she said, snarling.

Something in the tone of her voice made him stop and glance back over
his shoulder. She’d drawn her wand and had it pointed at his back. He
knew she was rubbish at dueling and hadn’t even managed to score high
enough on her O.W.L.s to participate in Defense the previous year.
Still, he didn’t want to take any chances. Turning around slowly, he
watched her closely as she moved forward.

“Don’t try anything, Potter. I’m not afraid to use this,” she said,
waving her wand in the air dramatically.

Harry kept his eyes on the moving wand, struggling not to snicker at
her overconfidence.

“Everyone thinks I can’t hold my own in a duel,” Pansy said, tossing
her hair. “But I got you, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, you got me all right, Pansy,” Harry said, slowly sliding his
feet forward. “What are you planning?”

“You’re going to come with me,” she said, aiming her wand at him again.

Harry noticed it was shaking slightly in her gloved hands. He vaguely
wondered why she was dressed so warmly. The night air really wasn’t all
that chilly. “Where are we going?” he asked, keeping his voice neutral.
Pansy’s gaze moved to the trees, seeking a place to enter. In that
moment of distraction, Harry drew his own wand in a flash.

“Expelliarmus,” he shouted. Pansy’s wand flew through the air in a
graceful arc, landing perfectly in his outstretched hand.

Shocked, the last thing Harry saw was Pansy’s smirking, triumphant face
before he felt the familiar jerk behind his navel. His stomach dropped
with dread as the portkey sped him away.
Chapter Twenty-Eight

Mortal Peril

Ginny suddenly slammed her book shut, shuddering. Glancing out the
common room window at the darkening sky, she rubbed her hands up and
down her arms, feeling chilled. She’d been intent on her revising when
a feeling of unease had overcome her. Something was wrong.

Shaking her head and chiding herself for her paranoia, she took a deep
breath and attempted to calm her racing heart. Opening her book again,
she took a deep breath and tried to re-read the paragraph on Human
Transfiguration that had been giving her trouble all evening. Her
nerves were frayed from all her revising – not to mention everything
else going on – and she was certain she was overreacting.

In addition to the huge amount of makeup work she’d had to do after her
lengthy illness, she was terrified for Harry and his coming fight.
Grasping her necklace and rubbing the stone in her fingers, Ginny
forced her eyes back to the book. After reading the same paragraph
three times yet retaining none of it, she conceded it was useless.
Nightmarish images of Harry’s imminent battle preyed upon her mind.

They all knew it was approaching like a thick mass of menacing storm
clouds shrouding the horizon. The mood felt much as it did before a
storm – everything was still and oppressed, and all living things had
hunkered down for cover. Ginny knew it was on Harry’s mind more than
he’d admit, and she could see the wheels turning behind his eyes as he
tried to discern the best way to keep the rest of them safe.

Stupid, noble, wonderful prat.

She’d never realized it was possible to love another person the way she
loved him. She only wished that he’d put half as much effort into
saving himself as he did trying to save everyone else. Tracing her
fingers along her lips, she remembered the passionate kisses they had
shared the previous evening…nearly every evening this week, as a matter
of fact.

Ginny frowned and sat up straight, her heart hammering in her chest.
Her mind raced as she pieced together the events of the past few days.
Why hadn’t she thought of it before? It was so like him to spend all
this extra time – all these stolen moments – with her just before he
ditched her to go do what he felt he had to do.
If he’d left her behind to go and battle Voldemort alone…Tom wouldn’t
get the chance to do anything to him, because she was going to kill him
first. He’d promised not to do anything rash. He’d promised!

Pushing back her chair, she left her books scattered across the table
as she sprinted to the window. After she’d begged off from going back
to their beach this evening, Harry said he was going to say hello to
Hagrid. Actually, at first he got that disappointed little boy
expression on his face that nearly changed her mind. Merlin help her if
he ever realized the full extent of his charm. In the end, however,
she’d stood firm and told him she had to revise.

Why her mum was insisting that Ginny prepare for the end-of-term exams
was beyond her. Usually the Ministry administered the exams to all
home-schooled students, but it wasn’t as if the Ministry was exactly
functioning normally these days.

Try telling that to her mum, however. Truly, Ginny had ulterior motives
for wanting to complete her sixth year studies. If she successfully
finished them, she’d be in the same position as the trio and perhaps
they could all return for their final year together – after Voldemort
was finished. Ginny clung to that dream like a talisman. The
alternative was too heart-wrenching to consider.

Shaking her head to dispel the dark thoughts threatening to overwhelm
her, she peered out the window. She could see a dim light burning in
Hagrid’s hut. Perhaps Harry was still there chatting with his friend…or
perhaps he was secretly saying goodbye. Abandoning all hope of
continuing with her revising, Ginny decided to find Ron and Hermione
and drag them both to see Hagrid. Perhaps they could all try and
convince Harry that they needed to confront Voldemort together – that
he couldn’t do this alone.

Leaving the empty common room, she hurried down the main stairs, her
feet barely touching the steps. Stopping on the third floor, she
maneuvered through the empty corridors until she’d reached a broom
cupboard hidden behind an armored knight.

Panting slightly, she wrapped her arm around her stomach, trying to
catch her breath. She had no time for her body’s weaknesses. Jerking
the door open and shutting her eyes tightly, she stuck her head inside
and hissed, “Come on out of there, you two. I need your help.”

“Ginny!” Ron bellowed, his voice echoing in the empty corridor.

Ginny pulled her head out of the cupboard, shutting the door and
crossing her arms around her chest.

“I kept my eyes shut, and I really don’t care if you have your knickers
on or not right now,” she said crossly. “We need to talk to Harry.”

If worry for Harry weren’t clawing at her insides, Ginny might have
found the situation funny. She ignored her momentary stab of guilt over
interrupting them. Ron certainly wouldn’t have hesitated to drag her
and Harry out of that cupboard if they had been the ones engaged
inside. He probably would have tried to knock Harry’s head off for
The cupboard knocked and banged for several moments before the door
swung open and Ron climbed out, his shirt un-tucked and ears blazing
red. Hermione followed him, hiding behind her boyfriend while she
clutched her robes tightly. She refused to meet Ginny’s eyes.

“What are you on about, Ginny?” Ron demanded, towering over her and
advancing menacingly.

Un-intimidated, Ginny poked him in the chest, hard. “Don’t get shirty
with me. This is important.”

“And it couldn’t wait?” Ron asked, scowling.

“I think Harry is planning on confronting Voldemort alone,” Ginny said,
watching Ron deflate before her eyes.

“What?” he asked blankly.

“What did he say, Ginny?” Hermione asked, finally moving out from
behind Ron, concern replacing her embarrassment.

Ginny gestured impatiently for them to follow her, explaining as they
walked. “It’s more the way he’s been acting all week. It suddenly
occurred to me that he’s been trying to say goodbye,” she said, feeling
a painful lump form in her throat. She wasn’t going to go act like a
girl and cry. She wasn’t! She had to pull it together.

“He’s going to ruin everything if he slips off without us,” Hermione
said, hurrying her pace. Ron’s longer legs had him several steps in
front of the girls.

“Well, since he has no idea what we’re planning, he’s kind of a wild
card, isn’t he?” Ron asked. “Since when has Harry ever done what he’s
supposed to do?”

“He’s gone to Hagrid’s – we can still catch him there,” Ginny said,
grabbing Hermione’s elbow and stopping her progress.

Hermione impatiently turned toward Ginny with questioning eyes.

“Your blouse is on inside out,” Ginny whispered with a smirk before
hurrying to catch up to Ron. She heard Hermione yelp before a quick
rush of air let her know Hermione had cast a spell to set her clothing
to rights.

They slipped outside and hurried down the worn path to Hagrid’s hut.
Ron banged on the door, which was opened surprisingly quickly by a
disgruntled-looking Hagrid.

“Oh. It’s you,” he said, turning his back and retreating inside.

Ron, Ginny and Hermione followed him. He sat at his massively large
wooden table in front of a bowl of squirmy black things that he was in
the process of shredding. The smell inside the hut was intolerable and
nearly forced the three teens back outside.
“Bloody hell, Hagrid!” Ron shouted, scrunching up his face. “What is

“Eh? Ah, it’s nothin’. Jus’ sommat I’m makin’ for the vegetable
garden. Helps the plants ter grow nice an’ big,” Hagrid said. “What can
I do for yeh?”

“Is Harry here?” Ginny asked, glancing around the small hut at the
sparse furnishings. It appeared empty.

“Nah. I saw ‘im talkin’ ter Pansy by the forest earlier. Thought he
might stop by fer a visit, but he didn’t,” Hagrid said sadly. Ginny
noticed two unused teacups by the sink, along with an uneaten plate of
Hagrid’s rock cakes.

“Pansy?” Ron asked. “What was he doing with Pansy?”

“Dunno. Like I said, he never came ter call,” Hagrid replied, staring
at all of them with confusion.

“Where could he be?” Ginny asked, alarmed. Her heart had started that
painful pounding again, and her palms began to sweat. She just knew
something was wrong. She held tightly to the aquamarine stone on her
necklace. It felt warm and comforting.

“What does Pansy have to do with Harry going after Voldemort?” Ron

“What?” Hagrid asked, alarmed. “He wouldn’t.”

“I don’t think the two are necessarily connected, Ron,” Hermione said,
biting her lip. “Let’s go back up to the castle and get the Map. That
will tell us where both Harry and Pansy are.”

“Was Malfoy with them?” Ron asked, his face reddening. “If he’s done
something to Harry-”

“Ron! Let’s not jump to conclusions. Come on,” Hermione said, tugging
on his arm.

“I’m goin’ with yeh. If summat’s happened ter Harry, I want ter help,”
Hagrid said, following them out the door.

As they raced back to the castle, they found Aberforth Dumbledore
pacing in the entrance hall.

“There you are,” he said crossly. “I’ve been looking for you.”

He was staring at Hermione as if she’d been purposely hiding from him.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Dumbledore?” she asked politely.

“Here,” Aberforth said, handing Hermione the Romanian book that Harry
had been trying to transcribe.

“Where did you get that?” Ginny asked suspiciously.
“Harry gave it to him when you were ill. I’d forgotten you had it,”
Hermione said, staring at Aberforth.

“I showed it to Albus’s portrait. He can read Romanian, you know,”
Aberforth said. “There’s one section that really interested him. He
wants to see you.”

“Of course!” Hermione said, gasping. “Why didn’t I think of it?
Dumbledore can speak loads of languages – even Mermish.”

“Hermione – the Map,” Ron said, impatiently. He was already on the
bottom stair.

“You and Ginny go get the Map. I’ll go see what Professor Dumbledore’s
portrait has to say,” Hermione said breathlessly. “I’ll meet you
outside Professor McGonagall’s office.”

“What about me?” Hagrid asked. “What can I do?”

“Can you check the forest where you saw Harry and Pansy, Hagrid? See
if there’s any sign of a struggle,” Hermione said.

Hearing Hermione say it out loud – knowing there was a chance that
Harry was in real trouble – caused Ginny to race up the stairs past
Ron. She’d get the Map and find his name somewhere. There had to be a
reasonable explanation for why he never went to see Hagrid, and what he
was doing with Pansy in the forest. There had to be.


When the Portkey released him, Harry crumpled with a thump onto a cold
stone floor. Sparing no time to orient himself, he scrambled to his
feet, dropping Pansy’s wand and brandishing his own. Hoping to reverse
the Portkey, he quickly reached for Pansy’s wand once again, but
nothing happened. He had a moment to notice that he was in a small,
stone cavern with a dank, moldy odor, causing him to suspect that he
was underground.

Then all hell broke loose.

Half a dozen Death Eaters surrounded him, all firing spells
instantaneously. Harry quickly created a shield to block the first
barrage, and three of the Death Eaters fell to his Stunners before more
of them entered the room. His shield began to weaken under the heavy
fire, and several of the curses broke through. He felt a Slicing Hex
slash deeply into his upper arm, causing his fingers to tingle. Before
he had a chance to raise another shield, his legs were slammed with a
Bludgeoning Curse, dropping him the ground.

Gritting his teeth, he managed to hang onto his wand, but one of the
Death Eaters cast a Petrificus Spell, immobilizing him. He lay on the
floor, battered and bruised, staring at the menacing faces surrounding
him. Some of them were unmasked, their hard faces showing a mixture of
anticipation and excitement at having captured him. Others simply
glared, leering as if they were finally given the opportunity to settle
an old grudge.
Harry swallowed heavily. He didn’t see a way out of this one. He had to
control his fear and keep his head. Lying on the floor, useless and
discarded, was what was left of Pansy’s wand. It had transformed into
one of the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes rubber chickens.

Damn! Pansy had thoroughly deceived him.

“How nice of you to join us, Potter,” a sly, oily voice murmured from
the corner of the room.

The hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end. He could only move
his eyes, but he could clearly see Snape standing above a cauldron,
slowly stirring its contents with extreme care.

“We’ve been expecting you,” he said silkily.

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. Expecting him? But he’d only come
across Pansy by chance…hadn’t he? Harry’s mind worked furiously, trying
to piece together the events of the evening.

Squinting his eyes against the dimness of the room, he looked around
the chamber again. Beneath a perch near the open doorway lay Errol, the
Weasley family owl. Harry didn’t know if he was dead since Errol
usually fell unconscious after a long journey.

“It’s the most unreliable creature I’ve ever had the displeasure to
meet,” Snape said, noticing Harry’s observance of the owl. “It passes
out after each simple delivery. What more can be expected from those
lowly Weasleys of whom you appear so fond?”

Harry wanted to spit at Snape, but Petrified as he was, he could only
glare at his former professor. His eyes flashed with suppressed fury as
he desperately tried to release the spell. So, Errol’s frequent
absences weren’t merely the result of old age. Pansy must have been
using him to communicate since the time they were all back at Grimmauld

Snape glided across the room, leaned over, and plucked Harry’s wand
from his slackened hand. He tucked it into the pocket of his robes,
patting it condescendingly.

“You won’t have need of that,” he said. He aimed his own wand, causing
Harry to flinch inwardly. “Finite Incantatem.”

Harry felt the spell being removed, and he sat up quickly, crab-walking
away from Snape toward the wall. He only stopped when his back hit the

“There’s nowhere for you to go, Potter,” Snape said, returning to his
cauldron, unconcerned. “Alecto, inform our lord that his guest has

The blonde sneered menacingly at Harry before leaving the room. Another
Death Eater grabbed Harry by the collar, roughly dragging him to his
feet. When Harry tried to pull away, the man slammed his meaty fist
into the side of his face, knocking Harry’s head against the wall and
causing him to see stars.
“You’ll find your fame and unearned glory mean nothing here. I’d
suggest you keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told. There is
nothing these fine witches and wizards would like more than to give you
a lesson in manners,” Snape said, caressing his measuring stick as he
stirred his potion.

Harry tried to blink the black spots from his eyes, refusing to be
goaded by Snape. He could feel blood trickling down his chin from a cut
on his lip, and he tried to concentrate on that to block out the
pounding in his skull. His left hand was still tingling, and he was
having trouble making a fist. His legs felt bruised, but they were
holding his weight. He wasn’t in the best shape to face Voldemort, but
it could be worse. At least, that’s what he tried to tell himself.

“What’s this? Nothing to say, Potter? No glib comment or sarcastic
words to bolster your false bravado?” Snape asked, sneering.

Harry smiled humorlessly. “I’m just saving my lines for the big show.
No need to waste them on the warm-up act.”

Snape flushed, and Harry was backhanded again by one of the Death
Eaters, knocking his glasses askew.

“You were warned to watch your tongue,” Snape said silkily. “Fernando,
show him how insolence is treated here.”

A masked Death Eater turned toward Harry, raised his wand, and hissed,

Harry was struck square in the chest, intense pain spreading from
impact out to all his nerve endings. He dropped to the ground, writhing
and trying to contain his scream. He bit down on his already torn lip,
the salty taste of blood filling his mouth. The pain built, overloading
his senses and turning all his bones to liquid fire. The scream that
was finally ripped from him felt as if it were tearing out his throat.

When the curse was eventually lifted – after what felt like an eternity
to Harry – he lay on the ground, panting and feeling blood trickle from
the corners of his mouth. Spitting it out, he raised himself up on
shaky arms, staring defiantly at Snape and the Death Eater who had just
cursed him so painfully. The man grabbed his arms, pinning them behind
his back. The stone he wore tucked inside the rope bracelet that Ginny
had given him for Christmas dug painfully into the underside of his

“I can see that lesson did little to control your arrogance,” Snape
said, sneering. His eyebrows raised thoughtfully as his head turned
imperceptibly toward the door. “Perhaps the Dark Lord will prove a
better teacher. He’ll at least enjoy breaking your spirit.”

Before Harry had the chance to reply, the other Death Eaters got down
on their knees, bowing their heads. The temperature in the room
plummeted as Voldemort swept into the room, his red eyes instantly
zeroing in on Harry. His misshapen white head gleamed, and his eyes
glowed hungrily. He slithered rather than walked into the room, and
Harry’s scar exploded with pain.
His hands were still held tightly behind his back, so he was unable to
cradle his head. Instead, he tossed it from side to side as he
attempted to shake off the pain. Harry did his best not to let his
terror show, but his heart was pounding so fiercely that he thought the
others were certain to hear it.

“Welcome, Harry. How nice of you to join us,” Voldemort said, his eyes
raking over Harry’s wounds dispassionately. He slowly raised a finger
to adjust Harry’s glasses back onto his face. Harry jerked away from
his touch.

“Yeah, it’s been a real pleasure,” he spat. “If you don’t mind, I think
I’ll be going now.”

Voldemort smiled lazily. “I think not,” he said, fixing him with a
stare that caused Harry’s blood to chill. “Is the potion ready,

“Almost, my Lord,” Snape answered, bowing his head.

“Excellent,” Voldemort hissed, and then he actually smiled. His skin
was too tight to smile properly, so the expression caused his teeth to
protrude from his mouth. The smile was so hideous and out of place on
Voldemort’s snakelike face that Harry thought if evil could be
captured, his face was exactly what it would look like.

Harry glanced uneasily at Snape, wondering for the first time exactly
what it was that the Potions master was brewing.

“You’ve been destroying some of my precious possessions,” Voldemort
said, raising a long, sinewy finger toward the gaping cut on Harry’s
arm. His fingernails were long and perfectly trimmed, yet they looked
rotted and decayed.

“I can’t allow that to go unpunished,” he said, his voice soft and

Harry swallowed, warily watching the finger as it moved closer and
closer to the open wound. He let out a hiss of pain, groaning slightly
when it first made contact, brushing lightly against the edge of the

“I thought they were the possessions of the Founding Fathers’ of
Hogwarts,” Harry said through gritted teeth.

Voldemort paused briefly before jabbing his finger deep into the cut,
causing Harry’s blood to coat his hand. Harry screamed, twisting his
head and trying unsuccessfully to pull away. Voldemort kept up the
pressure until Harry began to see black spots on the edge of his

“You’ve been nothing but a thorn in my side since your birth,”
Voldemort hissed in Harry’s ear, his breath warm and much too close.
“You’re like salt in an open wound. Do you know how that feels, Harry?”
Harry shook his head, gasping and unable to fully concentrate on
Voldemort’s words. His stomach began to roil, and he thought he might
be sick.

At last removing his finger from Harry’s cut, Voldemort flicked his
wand, and Harry felt a stinging sensation inside the wound. Soon his
entire arm burned with painful intensity. Tears sprung to Harry’s eyes
as he gasped, fighting the pain.

“It’s a raw burning, is it not? It distracts you and leaves you unable
to focus on anything else…anything more important, perhaps. That is
what your existence has become to me,” Voldemort said, still whispering
in Harry’s ear.

Harry bit down on the inside of his cheeks, feeling sweat drip into his
eyes. His back was drenched, and his legs began to shake. He had to
find a way to get his wand and end this now.

“You’ll have no need of your wand,” Voldemort said, running his finger
along his chin, smearing Harry’s blood on his own face. “I think it’s
time I put a stop to your interference…permanently.”

“What are you waiting on then? Go on and do it, if you can,” Harry
said, snarling. “You haven’t had much luck yet.”

Voldemort’s flat nostrils flared, his eyes glowing. Harry felt
reckless. If he could enrage Voldemort enough for him to lose control
and simply kill Harry now, at least he’d be mortal. Perhaps someone
else would then be able to kill him. He’d run out of other options.

“There you are, Potter,” a familiar nasal voice rang from the doorway,
distracting them all. “I bet you’re sorry you underestimated me, now.”

“What are you doing here, Miss Parkinson?” Snape asked, taking a step
toward the door and placing himself between Pansy and Voldemort.

With a casual flick of his wand, Voldemort pulled Harry from the Death
Eater’s grip and bodily slammed him against the wall where he left him,
hovering above the ground, spread-eagled, as if caught in a giant
spider’s web. Harry could move his head, but nothing else.

“Miss Parkinson, thank you for joining us,” Voldemort said smoothly,
his attention shifting to the newcomer.

Pansy visibly cringed, shrinking away from the malformed creature now
stalking toward her. Her dark eyes were wide, panicked, and Harry was
certain she’d never actually seen Voldemort before now.

“I…I d-did what you asked. I g-got Potter here, just like we planned,”
Pansy said, desperately looking at Snape. “I did everything you told me
to do.”
“You used the fake wand as a Portkey. I saw it here when Potter
arrived,” Snape said, casually flicking his hand toward the discarded
wand. “You did well, Miss Parkinson, but why did you follow him here?
That wasn’t part of the plan.”
“After the Portkey took Potter, I was still in the forest, and I had to
walk all the way to the gate,” Pansy said, pouting. “I wanted to see
what happened to Potter.”

Voldemort threw back his head and laughed. “This one has the heart of a
true pureblood,” he said, circling her appraisingly as he paced.

Harry’s heart pounded as he desperately sought a way to release the
spell holding him. His back scraped against the stone as he fought to
get free.

“We did what you asked of us, so now Draco is free, right? You’ll grant
him your pardon?” Pansy asked, visibly trembling.

Harry froze, his eyes widening into saucers. Draco? Draco was in on
this? Had he really decided his chances were better with Voldemort
after all? Bile rose in Harry’s throat over his own stupidity. He’d
actually believed the Slytherin git.

“Young Mr. Malfoy didn’t complete the task I’d set for him and him
alone. He’ll have to be punished for his failure,” Voldemort said,
tilting his head to the side. “Certainly you can understand that he
cannot be allowed to get away with insubordination. It would set a bad
precedent,” Voldemort said, watching Pansy closely.

“I understand that he’ll need to be punished, and he’ll gladly accept
that fate,” Pansy said, obviously feeling more confident. “I simply
want the promise that you’ll allow him to live in order to make up for
his mistake.”

“Indeed? And does Mr. Malfoy agree to his punishment as cavalierly as
you seem to do?” Voldemort asked, amused. The tension in the room was
thick – none of the Death Eaters had moved or barely even breathed.

Harry gritted his teeth. He certainly felt no kindness or empathy for
Pansy – it was her fault he was in this mess in the first place – but
he hated seeing anyone being toyed with this way. He knew Voldemort had
no intention of keeping his end of the bargain, why couldn’t Pansy see

“Draco will do anything to get back in your good graces, my Lord,”
Pansy said, bowing low to the ground.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Malfoy’s deeds are far too great to allow his life
to be spared,” Voldemort said easily, as if growing bored with the

It took a moment for his words to register with Pansy. When they
finally did, her face dropped. “What? B-but…that’s not what we agreed,”
she wailed, desperately looking at Snape.

“I’m afraid I’ve had a change of heart on the matter,” Voldemort said
in a falsely conciliatory tone.

“Miss Parkinson, remember your station,” Snape said, grabbing Pansy by
the shoulders and trying to lead her from the cavern.
“You promised!” Pansy moaned, turning on Snape. “I did everything I was
supposed to do so Draco would be free. You promised!”

“Get control of yourself,” Snape hissed.

“Severus, leave her alone,” Voldemort commanded. “Your compassion for
the young ones will yet be your undoing.”

Snape bowed stiffly and reluctantly moved a few steps away from Pansy.

“I do apologize that we cannot grant your first request, Miss
Parkinson. You have, however, performed admirably, and I would like to
offer you a place amongst my ranks,” Voldemort said, inclining his head
slightly, his delight in tormenting the girl obvious.

“I don’t want to live without Draco,” Pansy said, burying her face in
her hands and sobbing. “I can’t. It’s all been for him.”

“So be it,” Voldemort said coldly, casually flicking his wand. “Avada

“No,” Harry gasped, watching the sickly green light as it whooshed
towards Pansy.

Quickly lifting her face, her eyes widened in horror as she watched the
curse speed toward her with a terrible rushing sound, apparently
realizing she was about to die for her misplaced trust. The curse
struck her in the stomach, and she crumpled to the ground.

Snape’s head fell to his chest, his shoulders drooping.

“You are no longer their teacher, Severus,” Voldemort hissed. “Stop
trying to spare them life lessons. You spent too long in the company of
that dithering old fool, Dumbledore. He’s corrupted you - made you

“Yes, my Lord,” Snape replied, returning to his potion.

Harry could barely contain his snort of disgust. There was nothing soft
about Snape and even insinuating that Dumbledore had made an impression
on the greasy git was insulting to the Headmaster’s memory.

“Now that Harry is about to become my permanent guest, I’m ready to
move on to the next phase in my rise to ultimate power,” Voldemort

Harry raised his head, eyeing Voldemort warily.

“I imagine you are curious about my plans for your stay, Harry,” he
said, grinning evilly.

“Not particularly,” Harry said through clenched teeth. “I really don’t
plan on staying long.”
Voldemort tossed his head back and laughed mirthlessly. “Always the
comedian. Unfortunately, your fate has no use for your delightful sense
of humor.”

“My fate?” Harry asked, certain he didn’t want to know the answer.

With a wave of his wand, Voldemort summoned a long wooden packing crate
– a crate large enough to hold the body of a not-quite-fully-grown man.

Oh, no! No, no, no!

“Is the potion ready, Severus?” Voldemort asked.

“Almost, my Lord,” Snape answered, his eyes glinting when he caught
Harry’s panicked expression.

“Why don’t you have the honor of explaining the future to young Harry,”
Voldemort said, clearly pleased with the proceedings.

“If you’d paid any attention at all during your time in my class, you
would have already realized which potion I’m brewing,” Snape said,
using that same silky voice that he’d always used in class. “Since I’m
well aware of your dismal potion-making abilities, allow me to explain
it to you. The Draught of Living Death is a NEWT-level potion, and its
antidote needs to be administered immediately upon completion of
brewing. That means it would have to be brewed right here in this room
in order to awaken you before attempting an escape. A highly unlikely
probability, is it not, Potter?”

The Draught of Living Death! Of course. Voldemort couldn’t kill him
outright or he’d destroy his own Horcrux. This potion would essentially
keep Harry alive but still incapacitated and out of the way. It was a
win-win situation.

Voldemort smiled at Harry’s horrified dismay. Using his wand, he
released Harry from the wall and levitated him across the room to the
crate. Harry’s struggles were for naught; he couldn’t break the spell.
The crate’s lid lifted like a coffin, and Harry was roughly dropped
inside. His breathing became labored as he tried to control his panic.
This couldn’t be happening.

“While Severus continues to brew the potion, listen closely to my
orders, Harry. Listen to my plans to destroy the last of your
strongholds – the last of your protectors,” Voldemort said, his voice
thick with anticipation.

Harry shook his head, trying unsuccessfully to rise.

Voldemort turned to face the gathered Death Eaters. “Bellatrix,” he

“Yes, Master,” the hateful voice replied.

“You and Fenrir take our forces and claim Hogwarts as ours. Now that I
have the Potter boy, it’s time for Albus Dumbledore’s last stronghold
of power to fall, thus completely marking his failure and my rise to
glory. I believe the Aurors who abandoned their posts at the Ministry are there. Kill them all. Kill the Order members who are there, as
well, but bring Mr. Malfoy to me. Do what you will with his mother and
the remaining Parkinson women.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Bellatrix replied, cackling with glee.

Harry struggled vainly against the invisible bonds holding him.

“I’ll join you as soon as I see Mr. Potter’s eyes close for the final
time,” Voldemort said, smiling.

Harry watched helplessly as Bellatrix and the other Death Eaters filed
out of the room. Once it was empty, Snape turned toward Voldemort.

“It is ready, my Lord.”


Ron raced into his dormitory and dropped to the floor by Harry’s bed.
He grabbed the rucksack from underneath and quickly began rummaging
through Harry’s belongings. Finding the familiar piece of worn
parchment, he bolted back down the stairs.

Ginny was waiting for him in the common room, her face taut with
concern. When he found Harry, Ron was going to give him hell for
worrying his sister so badly. Ginny wasn’t prone to overreacting – he
was more likely to do that – although he’d never admit that to her.
Seeing her so obviously distraught caused the hairs on the back of
Ron’s neck to stand on end. If Ginny felt Harry was in trouble, he more
than likely was.

Ron hated not knowing what was happening – he never could stand feeling
out of control. How was he supposed to watch out for his friends if the
plan kept changing? He’d promised himself that he would see Harry
through this to the end, and he’d be extremely disappointed in his
friend if he’d cut Ron out at the last minute. It would be so like
Harry, however. He’d want to slip away quietly so he could avoid saying

The common room was full and loud. Charlie had returned from Romania,
and he was regaling Fleur, Shannon and Iris with tales of his dragon
exploits – embellishing as only Charlie could. The girls appeared
enraptured with his story, while Bill and the twins stood back with
their arms folded across their chests. Ron could tell by the
disgruntled expressions on Fred and George’s faces that Charlie was due
for a severe pranking.

His parents sat by the fire. His mum had her knitting needles, but he
could see that they were both quietly listening and chuckling over
Charlie’s tales.

“Oi! Ron! Where’s the fire?” Charlie called across the common room as
Ron hurried toward Ginny. “Aren’t you going to come and say hello?
You’ll love this one.”
“He’ll listen to your tall dragon tales later, Charlie,” Ginny
answered, dragging Ron by the arm. “I’ve got a story of my own I need
to share with him right now.”

She didn’t give Charlie or any of her brothers a chance to respond
before she pulled Ron out the portrait hole. They quickly walked down
the corridor until the came to a secluded archway. Ginny pulled Ron

“Open it. D’you see him?” she demanded.

“Hang on, give me the chance to get it opened,” Ron said, feeling
stressed. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

They watched as the Map revealed itself, and Ron was struck by how few
dots there were compared to when Hogwarts had been in session. Most of
the dots were converged in the Great Hall where the Aurors must be
having some sort of meeting.

He traced his fingers along the outline, methodically searching for
Harry’s name.

“There!” Ginny said pointing.

“You found him?” Ron asked, relief washing over him.

“Not Harry – Malfoy. He’s in one of the classrooms in the Charms
corridor with Dudley. I don’t see Harry anywhere,” she said, her voice
rising. She was clutching his arm so tightly, he suspected her nails
were drawing blood, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell her to let

“I don’t see Pansy, either,” he said grimly. “Let’s go talk to the

Taking Ginny’s hand, Ron sprinted ahead, tugging her along as he ran.
Ginny was panting by the time they stopped at the closed Charms door,
and she had to lean against the wall to catch her breath.

Ron turned the handle on the door; it was locked.

“Hey! Let us out!” Dudley whined from inside the classroom.

“Pansy, if that’s you, I demand you open the door and release us at
once,” Malfoy said, sounding extremely angry.

“Alohomora,” Ron said, but the door didn’t unlock.

“Is that you, Weasel?” Malfoy asked. “Don’t you think we tried that
already? Unlocking spells aren’t working. I can’t imagine how Pansy
learned to do that.”

“Move back, Ron,” Ginny said, pushing him aside, her eyes blazing

“What are you going to do?” Ron asked, warily doing as she’d asked.
“Move away from the door, you two,” Ginny said. “I’m going to try a
Blasting Hex.”

“It won’t work!” Malfoy shouted, sounding as if he was moving away
anyway. Obviously he’d learned from experience not to trust Ginny’s
temper. “I’ve already tried it.”

Ron turned his head from side-to-side, desperately evaluating his

“Dobby!” he shouted, remembering how the house-elf had helped them re-
enter the castle after their trip to Little Hangleton.

“Yes, Harry Potter’s Wheezy,” the little elf said, appearing by their
side. He was wearing the mismatched socks Harry had given him for
Christmas the previous year.

“Dobby, Harry’s cousin is locked inside. D’you think you could let him
out?” Ron asked.

Dobby stared at the door suspiciously. “Dobby thinks the great Harry
Potter would like it if his nasty cousin was locked inside,” he said,
crossing his arms. “Dobby likes him locked inside, too.”

Ron groaned, unwilling to mention that one of Dobby’s former abusive
owners was also locked inside the classroom. “Dobby, any other time I’d
agree with you and would probably ask that you help me lock Harry’s
cousin in there, but I think Harry’s in trouble. I need your help.
Harry needs your help.”

“Dobby will do anything to help Harry Potter,” Dobby said, his eyes
wide. He reached out and easily pulled the door open as if it had never
been locked. “How can Dobby help Harry Potter?”

Draco Malfoy and Dudley Dursley charged into the hallway, looking both
ways and appearing agitated. Both were rumpled, and Dudley was sweating

“You!” Dobby shrieked, pointing a bony finger at Malfoy.

Draco’s eyes widened in surprise. “Didn’t you used to work for my
father?” he asked, frowning.

Dobby turned his wide, mistrustful eyes on Ron. “Draco Malfoy is a bad
boy. What does he have to do with Harry Potter?” he asked.

“I think he might have some information, Dobby. Information that could
help us help Harry,” Ron replied, enjoying the disgruntled expression
on Malfoy’s face despite the dire situation.

“What is he doing here, and what do you mean, help Potter? What’s
going on, Weasel, and what does this have to do with me?” Malfoy asked,
clearly annoyed.

“Where’s Harry?” Ginny demanded, moving to stand in front of Malfoy.
Her hair was wild, and her eyes blazed fiercely. Ron noticed Malfoy
taking an almost imperceptible step away from her.
“How should I know? I’ve been stuck in that bloody classroom since
well before dinner. I have no idea where Potter is. It’s Pansy I need
to find,” Malfoy said, regaining his composure and moving to pass Ron
and Ginny.

Dudley remained against the wall, his face puzzled as he tried to
follow the conversation. He kept fingering his wand, caressing it as
they spoke.

Ron grabbed Malfoy by the arm. “You’re not going anywhere until you
tell me what I need to know.”

“Take your filthy hands off me,” Malfoy said, sneering.

“We can’t find either Harry or Pansy, Draco,” Ginny said, taking a deep
breath. Ron knew from years of experience that she was desperately
trying to control her temper. He also knew Malfoy was in big trouble if
Ginny lost the battle. His mum got the same expression on her face
before she exploded.

“Hagrid saw them speaking with each other by the forest, but now both
are missing,” Ginny replied in a stiff, measured tone.

“Missing?” Draco repeated blankly. “Pansy locked us in that room. She
said she had something she had to do and wouldn’t say anything more.”

“What does Pansy have to do with Harry going off to face Voldemort
alone?” Ron asked Ginny, perplexed.

“What? Facing him? If Pansy gets hurt because of Potter’s stupidity,
I’m going to- Ouch!” Malfoy yelped, grasping his lower leg and hopping
around on one foot.

Dobby, who had remained silent during the entire exchange stood in
front of Malfoy scowling, his arms folded across his chest.

“He kicked me!” Draco said incredulously.

“And Dobby will kick the bad Malfoy boy again if he keeps speaking
about Harry Potter that way,” Dobby said.

“Great. Another one,” Malfoy mumbled, rubbing his leg and rolling his

“What if Pansy caught Harry trying to leave?” Ginny said, addressing
Ron and ignoring Malfoy completely.

“Why would she lock them in the classroom, though?” Ron asked, jerking
his thumb toward Malfoy and Dudley. “What was it she had to do?
Something doesn’t follow.”

“Potter better not have taken her with him just to keep her quiet,”
Malfoy said. His words were cold, although his concern was obvious.
“I’m going to ask Iris if Pansy said anything to her.”
No one moved to stop him as he hurried away. Dudley stood looking
between Ron and Ginny for a moment before following Malfoy back to the
common room.

“What do you think, Ron?” Ginny asked in a small voice.

Ron thought she looked very young and vulnerable, and he suddenly
wanted very much to tell her everything was okay, but he couldn’t form
the words. This was bad.

“Let’s go find Hermione and tell her Harry’s not here,” Ron said,
gulping. He knew there was nothing Hermione could do to find Harry, but
if anyone had a good idea what to do next, Hermione would.

“He’s gone to the Ministry,” Ginny whispered, her eyes filling.

“We don’t know that,” Ron said firmly, trying to control his own
frantic heart rate. “We need to talk to Hermione.”


Harry’s labored breathing filled the nearly silent chamber. The only
other sound he could hear was the steady drip of water somewhere in the
distance. He remained stuck inside the packing crate, unable to break
the Immobilization Spell that Voldemort had cast upon him. He’d hoped
it would have weakened and given him the opportunity to escape, but it
remained as strong as when it was first cast.

“It’s finished, my Lord,” Snape’s silky voice echoed against the stone

Reeling, Harry’s heart raced, and he felt sweat break out on his
forehead. Visions of Muggle horror films about people being buried
alive flitted through his mind until he felt his panic would overwhelm
him. How was he going to get out of here?

His eyes frantically scanned the room, quickly moving past Pansy’s
body, which remained sprawled on the floor. The only way out that he
could see was through the opening behind Voldemort, but his wand
remained stuck in Snape’s pocket.

They were going to permanently incapacitate him and leave him in that

“Excellent,” Voldmort said, his crimson eyes flashing. “The potion is
very quick-acting. Would you like to hear what’s going to happen to

“Go to hell,” Harry snarled, feeling bile rise in his throat.

Voldemort’s grin widened. “In order to go to hell, one must actually
die – a fate which is not going to happen to either of us. After
Severus administers the potion, your limbs will grow stiff and heavy.
It will feel as if giant weights have been attached to them. You’ll try
to fight the exhaustion, of course, but you’ll be powerless to do so.
Your internal organs will shut down one by one until finally your heart rate will begin to slow. You should fall unconscious at just about the
time the first wave of my attack begins on Hogwarts.”

Harry swallowed, clenching his teeth. “You appear extremely confident
in your Death Eaters. Funny that, since they haven’t been at all that
successful against the Order in the past,” he said.

Voldemort’s grin faded. “Give him the potion, Severus.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Snape said, filling a phial with the thick black


Hermione climbed down the moving staircase from Professor McGonagall’s
office, her head spinning with all the information her former
headmaster had given her. She found Ron and Ginny waiting at the
bottom. Both were pacing like caged animals.

From the looks on their faces and the fact they were here alone,
Hermione knew they hadn’t found Harry. It was just what she’d feared.
Ginny looked as if she was about to cry, and Ron wrung his hands

“He’s gone, isn’t he?” Hermione stated, choking on the words. Oh,

“He’s not anywhere on the Map, Hermione,” Ginny said, her eyes filling.
“Neither is Pansy. We found Draco and Dudley locked in a classroom.
They said Pansy left them in there.” Her lower lip began to tremble,
and Ron wrapped his arm around her protectively.

“Pansy is missing, too?” Hermione asked, her curiosity overriding her

“She’s not on the Map,” Ron replied, his eyes pleading with her for an

Hermione wished she had one.

“He wouldn’t have taken her with him,” she said, chewing on her lip.

“What did Professor Dumbledore’s portrait say?” Ginny asked, sniffling
and obviously making a tremendous effort to pull herself back together.

“Oh!” Hermione exclaimed. “My suspicions were correct. The act of
murder always splits the soul, but it doesn’t always create a Horcrux.
Usually the murderer’s soul is fractured within his own body. Professor
Dumbledore said it changes a person, and perhaps that’s the reason it
appears to get easier for someone to murder again after the first time.

“He said creating a Horcrux is different. There needs to be intent, and
the object must be held in your hand at the time of the murder.”

“So how did Harry become one then? Was Voldemort actually holding
him?” Ginny asked, aghast.
Hermione shook her head. “I suspect simply having his hand on him would
have sufficed, and I can imagine Voldemort doing something like that
just to torture Harry’s mother,” Hermione said, shuddering. She didn’t
like to think how awful it must have been for Lily Potter to see this
madman laying his hand on the child she would die to protect.

“The way to create a Horcrux is to focus your intensity on the hatred,
and the act of murder splits the soul. In contrast, I think an act of
love should shield an object and hold it together,” Hermione said, her
excitement bubbling in her chest. “I think it can work.”

“Not if we’re already too late,” Ginny said frantically.

“We have to get to the Ministry,” Ron said, and Hermione could see that
he was just as panicked as his sister.

Hermione suspected there was something she was missing, but the
situation felt too urgent to dwell on it. They needed to get to the
Ministry and stop Harry from doing anything foolish if he had charged
ahead without them.

“All right, let’s go,” she said, clutching the small round object in
her pocket. It had been Professor Dumbledore’s idea, and Hermione
thought it would work perfectly with Harry – if only they weren’t too

As they barreled down the stairs into the entrance hall, they found
Draco Malfoy standing alone by the front door looking frantic.

“She’s not here. I can’t find her anywhere,” he said. “Iris said she
hasn’t seen her since dinner.”

“Get out of the way, Malfoy,” Ron said, bodily pushing the Slytherin

“Where are you going?” Draco asked, his eyes narrowing. “You’re going
after them, aren’t you? I’m going with you.”

“Not a chance,” Ron said hotly.

“You?” Ginny asked, surprised. “It’ll be dangerous, Malfoy.”

“I can handle myself,” Draco spat. “While you three go after Potter,
who’s going to rescue Pansy? I’m going with you until I can get her
out of there, then you’re on your own.”

Hermione was surprised by the depth of the feelings Malfoy obviously
had for Parkinson. She hadn’t expected that. He’d never been one to
willing put himself in any kind of danger. He usually let others do
that. Perhaps Draco had grown up more than she’d given him credit for

“You’re not going anywhere with us. There’s no way you’re messing this
up,” Ron snarled, hot-headed as ever.”
“Oh, stop it. You can decide who plays the role of the alpha-male
later. We have to hurry before we’re too late,” Ginny said, pushing
past both of them to exit the building.

The others followed in her wake, sprinting for the Hogwarts gates. A
large, looming figure emerged from the side of the road as they reached
it. Hermione gasped as Ron drew his wand.

“Oi! It’s me,” Hagrid boomed, his face showing in the moonlight as he
came closer. “There’s no sign of a struggle in the forest.”

“Thanks, Hagrid,” Hermione said, relaxing. “We’re going after Harry.”

“I’m goin’ with yer, then,” Hagrid said, nodding resolutely. He pushed
open the gate, and they left the safety of Hogwarts grounds.

They hadn’t gone very far when the unmistakable “popping” sounds of
Apparition filled the night air. Dozens of masked Death Eaters appeared
outside the gates, all of them with their wands pointed toward the

Hogwarts was under attack.


“Just relax, Potter,” Snape said, his eyes glinting. “Aside from some
thirst as the potion dries up your bodily fluids, you shouldn’t feel a
thing. I do hope I brewed it correctly or else the results could be

Harry clamped his mouth shut, struggling with the invisible bonds. It
couldn’t end this way. Dumbledore, Sirius…Remus…all of them would have
died for nothing. The Weasleys and his friends were being attacked
unawares. He couldn’t let this happen!

A bone-chilling cold born of sheer terror overwhelmed him. He was
suddenly struck by the realization that that the first time they’d
found a Horcrux, Hermione had been hurt, then it had been Ron, and
finally Ginny. It had been as if Voldemort had been trying to separate
them because they were stronger together. But this time he had
succeeded. This time, Harry was alone.

Snape lifted the phial, swishing the ugly, thick, black liquid inside
the glass.

“Bottoms up, Mr. Potter,” he said, roughly grabbing Harry by the neck
and forcing his head back.

Harry refused to open his mouth, and Snape hit him twice. Dizzy, Harry
managed to keep his mouth closed.

“You have a penchant for Muggle dueling,” Snape said, obviously still
feeling bitter over their last encounter. “How does it feel to be on
the other end? I could easily knock out some of your teeth. You won’t
be needing them.”
Harry’s mind raced. He had to stop this somehow. Ron and Hermione must
be wondering where he was by now, but how would they know where to find
him? What if they’d already been attacked and killed? Harry couldn’t
bear the thought. They had to be all right. Ginny! She had to survive.

Snape cast a spell, and Harry felt his jaw being forced open. He fought
it until his entire body shook, but it was no use. His mouth opened,
and Snape moved the phial toward his open lips.

No! No, no, no! Ginny, help me!

Smiling vindictively, Snape tipped the contents of the phial into
Harry’s mouth, allowing the thick substance to ooze slowly inside.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Voices Beyond the Veil

Ginny watched in horror as dozens of masked and cloaked Death Eaters
appeared outside the gates of Hogwarts. She stood frozen, mouth gaping
as more and more of them appeared, cackling and shouting rude comments
about the destruction of the school. Hagrid grabbed Hermione and her
and roughly pulled them both into the trees alongside the Hogsmeade
path. Ron and Draco quickly followed, both wide-eyed, as well.

The gentle spring breeze fluttered her hair as Ginny tried to calm her
racing heart. The stone she wore around her neck had been oddly warm
all evening, and it now felt as if it was burning her skin. She didn’t
have time to ponder it, however. Brushing the distraction from her
mind, she turned helplessly to Hermione.

“We have to warn everyone at the school,” Hermione said, her voice a
strained whisper. “They have no idea what’s about to happen.”

“We’ll never get through that group undetected, Hermione,” Ron said
grimly, watching as the Death Eaters began firing spells at the gate.
All the color had completely drained from his face.

“Unless… Yes, I think I can do it,” Hermione said, mumbling as she
moved away from them.

“I hate when she does that,” Ron said under his breath. “Where do you
think you’re going?”

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