Chapter 10. No Greater Sacrifice (August 13, 1995)
His feet barely seemed to touch the floor. Every swirl seemed to be dizzying euphoria.
If he'd thought about it, Harry could probably have guessed that this was a dream, but it was clearly unlike any he had experienced lately. He was in his own body. There were no Voldemorts or Legates, no charred Great Hall apocalypse, no cold stone dungeons. It wasn't the future or the distant past; it merely was. All that mattered to him in this unforgettable moment was that he was with Ginny.
Within their own treasured solitude of a low-lit ballroom, they moved together, arms-in-arms, making time to a slow, lilting ballad. He marveled how there was nothing awkward, no clumsy hesitation, no feet in the way. It was almost as if their bodies had become one.
He nestled his chin into her hair. “You enjoying yourself, Gin'?”
She nodded slightly, her face warm against his chest.
He sighed contentedly. “I never would have guessed that dancing could be fun...” He paused in thought. “Fun is barely even the word for it.”
With her pressed so close, Harry could actually feel her cheek curve into a smile. He grinned to himself for a moment before returning to contemplation.
Every time the strings or the oboes sobbed in just the right way, they uncovered a little more of… an emotion — one that he had never thought much about before, and that he had no experience with. And yet, there it was within him, seeking to be addressed.
“Ginny, could I ask you a question?”
Although the music was still playing softly in the background, she slowed to a halt and pulled back from him a bit — just far enough to look into his eyes…
In this low, moody light, she looked so radiant. Stunning!
Ginny giggled; her hand touched his face. “Harry, you might want to see Madame Pomfrey about that jaw of yours — it's fallen open again.”
Harry blinked, shut his mouth, and chuckled shyly.
Ginny's smile transformed into an engaging look. “So what was it that you wanted to ask?”
What was it that he wanted to…??
What indeed? Harry was suddenly struck by the realization that he didn't really know what to ask… how to express… It probably wasn't even a question, was it?
A statement? Declaration?
“Uh… I, well… I was wonde…” Harry wracked his mind for a safe and witty way to share what was on his mind. “No, what I meant to say was...”
On one hand, it pained him to not be able to tell her how he felt, but every way of expressing it seemed to be pocked with the emotional pitfalls that scar a person trained for disappointments. He exhaled in defeat. “Sorry, Gin'. I forgot what I was going to say. Never mind.”
“Don't give me that, Potter.” Ginny winked saucily, then offered him a conciliatory smile. “Whatever it is, you can tell me, Harry. Don't worry about finding the perfect words — just say what comes to mind, and we'll sort it out together, yeah?”
“Er, okay.” Harry swallowed. “Well… you see, I know that we've only kind of gotten close in the last few days, and I realize that a lot of blokes go months or years before they ever say anything like this to their girl, but...” He took a deep breath. “But, I figured maybe it's different for us because, well you know how we share each others dreams and all… and sometimes I worry that life is so uncertain and I may never get the chance, but I'm also worried that if I say this too soon you'll get angry or embarrassed or...”
Harry's awkward babble dwindled and he looked shyly away from Ginny's quizzical expression. She again reached her hand to touch his reticent cheek. “It's okay Harry. I promise I won't be angry or embarrassed. I won't tell anyone. But I do want to know.”
Harry fidgeted, steeled his jaw… then nodded resolutely to himself. “Okay, here goes… Ginny, I-I've never felt this way about anyone.” He inhaled deeply. “I think I lo… “
“Freak! Everybody look at the Freak!”
Dudley Dursley?! Harry cringed in horror. What's that idiot doing here??
The candlelight was gone. The beautiful music had been subsumed by the garish throng of obnoxious, leering knobbers, barking in voices bristling with scorn, anger, malice and mockery. Dudley and his thugs were circling, laughing, puffing out their chests and making obscene gestures. Most of Slytherin House, and a few Hufflepuffs, were parading about, brandishing “Potter Stinks” badges. In the background, a cohort of red-headed male Weasley brothers (there somehow seemed to be ten or twenty of them) shook their fists, shouting for him to get his hands off their sister. An irate Molly was fighting her way through the crowd, glaring at him accusatively. Then, suddenly at the fore of it all, was Colin Creevey's camera.
Harry winced, recoiling to escape the blinding…
Harry blinked! The first rays of the morning sun had just found a crack in the bedroom curtain, landing squarely on his brow.
Shaking off some final vestiges of the dream, he turned his head away from the glare. His eyes scanned across a wall decorated with Holyhead Harpies memorabilia, pictures of cute Pygmy Puffs, and some bold-lettered inspirational posters ( Ashes to Glory! I am… Phoenix! ). His gaze trailed downwards to the soft feminine warmth nestled into his side.
His brief joy at waking up next to the most wonderful person in the world vanished in a flash of dread. Merlin! What if someone walks in on us?!
Harry listened for a long breathless moment. He heard…
His own heart thudding. Argh — shut up heart!
Straining his ears to labour past the dull pounding, he heard… Ginny's soft exhalations against his chest… Hermione's light snores from across the room… the usual array of non-human groans emanating from the restive house itself, but nothing to remotely suggest that anyone else was up yet.
Three cheers for last night's party! Everyone was apparently still sleeping off their wild celebratory exertions!
As relief swept over him, Harry resolved to take at least a moment to savour his current situation. Waking up next to Ginny might be a very risky proposition in this house, but it was certainly delectable — a perfectly acceptable compensation for that crummy dream!
He gazed lovingly at the girl at his side — her hand still resting against his chest, hair fallen loosely about her pretty face.
He could not help noticing, however, that this very pretty face had a slight frown. He longed to somehow assuage it; to soothe away any underlying troubles. But he also knew that, after last night's extraordinary dream magic, she needed her sleep.
What could he do without waking her?
Very carefully, Harry lowered Ginny's hand onto the bed, and edged back until he was able to slide to the floor without disturbing her. Getting to his feet, he leaned over, and delicately brushed aside a lock of red hair, giving him just enough space to place a small kiss on her forehead.
As Harry straightened up and began edging toward the door, he took one last glance back toward the bed. Ginny's frown was gone, replaced by the hint of a dreamy smile.
Her hand, lying on the mattress, had begun creeping toward the place where moments ago he had been resting. Encountering only a bare sheet, her slight frown returned.
Harry gazed wistfully at his girlfriend, and at the empty place beside her, but he quietly shook his head and made his way silently out of the bedroom.
Ginny's eyelids flickered open at the faint sound of a latch clicking into place. As her eyes adjusted, she spied the empty, sunlit depression on the mattress beside her. Glancing toward the bedroom door, she felt a sudden sense of yearning.
In one sense, the emotion was irrational. She knew that the object of her desire was in the same house, probably less than a hundred feet away… but she still somehow felt unsettled… subdued...
She shook her head.
What's wrong with you, womanl?! Life is brill! You have Adventure… Romance! You've got Harry! Everything you always wanted, right?
Well, not exactly.
To begin with, it was hard to ignore the venue. If Ginny was to pick her favourite thousand places in the world to begin nurturing a treasured relationship, this dilapidated stress-warren crammed full of meddlesome cranks would not factor favourably.
Admittedly, this past week at Grimmauld Place had gone remarkably well — an Archives appointment whose preparations justified lots of time working with Harry in a room where few others dared to tread (the library); a party in Harry's nominal honour whose guests all seemed barely to notice Harry's prolonged absence (a certain poetic irony there), and a remarkably accommodating (if generally crabby) Hermione covering for them at every turn. But how much longer could that string of luck possibly last? Looking realistically at the rest of the summer, their prospects for intimacy seemed rather bleak.
But that was hardly the real problem, was it?
No. If that was their only worry, then life would actually be pretty rosy; a few more weeks in this dump, then they would run off to the comparative emancipation of Hogwarts — a castle spacious and convoluted enough for two crafty paramours to find occasional seclusion… especially if they could tap into her boyfriend's encyclopedic knowledge of the school, and his mysterious knack for disappearing.
She definitely need to ask him about that...
But yes, by many counts, their relationship seemed chock full smashing promise, but only if they both actually… lived to enjoy it.
Now, that was the real problem.
Despite all of the thrilling victories that she and Harry had claimed in their adventurous dreamscapes, the images that Ginny found most difficult to banish from her waking mind were those of the horrifically dystopic 1998 — a setting three short years from now when so much would come to a reckoning. Even under favourable circumstances, Harry (or even both of them) might still perish, and in the worst case, the world would be plunged into a holocaust of abominable mindless intolerance, with no memory that two daring, virtuous teens named Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley had ever even existed.
Would things really end up like that? Could that truly be the price of failure??
Oi! No pressure there!
Ginny exhaled, blowing a stray lock of hair from her frowning eyes.
Was this what it was like to be Harry's girl? Was this, in a sense, what it was like to be Harry Potter?
Having personally experienced the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny had always believed that she understood Harry better than did most of their fellow schoolmates. Although she knew few details of the strains he had been subjected to over the subsequent years, she never doubted that if Harry harboured the occasional dark sullen cloud, it would surely be for good reasons.
Yeah, right! They were cleary very valid reasons, but let's be honest — there was nothing 'good ' about them. These were bad ; very very bad, bloody harrowing nightmare reasons!
Ginny had long assumed (and now knew) that the secret concerns of Harry Potter were real enough and terrifying enough to drive his smug detractors straight off their snivelly, self-centered trolleys. Let the ponces call it 'an attitude problem', but what Harry suffered from was 'responsibility'.
And now Ginny did too.
And she could confirm what very few people her age truly seemed to grasp — that responsibility sucks!
Not only did responsibility suck, but among all of the exquisitely sucky forms of responsibility, the absolute suckiest was to assume a state of constant peril, selflessly guarding the fates of thousands of people, each of whom was completely oblivious to the protection received.
That was real responsibility.
The only consolation was that it could now be shared. Ginny knew that she could never have coped with the weighty burdens all by herself, but it seemed far more reasonable to shoulder it together with Harry. At the very least, she felt greatly heartened to know that this time the oblivious world would not have to ask Harry to tackle this brutal sentence alone.
In the time that she and Harry had been working together, it had seemed that they could assess, address, and even laugh about, daunting things that would reduce many strong people to shuddering sobs. Ideally, as partners they could cover each other's back and stay alive. Together, Merlin willing (or Jupiter, Amaethon, Scathach, or Camulos — Ginny smiled bemusedly at the diverse pantheon of spirits they were invoking these days) they would prevail.
And so for Ginny, the cost of having 'adventure, romance and Harry' was sharing a bit of responsibility. All they had to do was save the world from devolving into a murderous, totalitarian, purebred dystopia. In this, they would work together, sometimes with her in the lead; other times with him. She somehow seemed to have taken charge of scheming to out-maneuver the evil cabal that was attempting to obliterate Harry's future via some insidious temporal meddling plot. And then, all Harry would have to do would be to single-handedly defeat the most terrifying dark wizard of the past century.
Ah, but if those responsibilities didn't sound strenuous enough, there were always other challenges. For example, she and Harry were now expected to begin… house cleaning.
“Think of this as your big chance to finally make an important contribution to the war effort,” her Mum had admonished yesterday afternoon in a tone as peppy as the lady could fabricate these days.
Indeed, with the disciplinary hearing and Archives appointment out of the way, Harry's and Ginny's carefree existence would now transition toward vital support of the Order of the Phoenix, in the form of a critical mission involving clearing out and scrubbing down an old storage room (more private and less cramped than the kitchen) into which the resistance group could relocate their meetings.
According to Ginny's mum, this was noble work. They would hold their heads high (amidst the decades-old filth and debris) in the staunch conviction that their labours would hearten the fearless vanguard who would hold back the growing darkness!
Or that was the theory anyway.
More realistically, giving the old numpties some larger and cheerier quarters did seem a bit like piddling on Vesuvius. According to the meeting synopses provided by Fred and George (courtesy of the extendable ears), the most inspiring and operationally actionable component of the Order's comprehensive capabilities assessment went along the lines of “Oh lawdie lawd lawd! We're doomed doomed doomed!”
Ginny smirked to herself as a spate of sardonic wit raced to mind. She tucked some of the better quips away to use later this morning. After all, there was nothing better than irreverent humour to mask what was probably destined to be a rather foul mood among the newly formed Caretaker Corps.
Foul mood or not, a part of Ginny felt guilty about taking the mickey out of the Order. She did find it irksome that a toothless lion sought so stridently to shelter the teens from any news about the growing threat, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized the behaviour was actually more pathetic than disrespectful.
Clearly, the ominous secrets that the Order guarded so rigourously were… rubbish. From what Ginny could tell, the organization got very little intelligence from the Ministry — Kingsley and Tonks apparently tried hard to pry things loose, but Fudge kept very strict control on all of the information and resources whose existence he was determined to deny. More problematic still was the apparent fact that the Order couldn't even get anything useful from its own leader. According to the twins' snooping, half of the meetings in the kitchen had been spent fruitlessly begging Dumbledore for more information, and the other half (those which Dumbledore didn't attend) focused squarely on complaining about how little he was telling them.
Then, to cap it off, two other people in possession of rather relevant tidbits (including detailed previews of the final battle, and preliminary insight into key factors influencing Voldemort's ultimate success or failure) had also been tight-lipped. Of course, nobody had bothered to ask them.
On a couple of occasions, Ginny had thought about asking Harry whether they should seek an audience at an Order meeting to present their knowledge. Both times, however, she'd quickly and silently dismissed the idea.
Imagine trying to convince anyone that a Celtic Rebellion from nearly two thousand years ago would determine the outcome of the Second Wizarding War? Try explaining that she, most of the Order and a huge array of Death Eaters were scheduled to appear in the Hogwarts Great Hall in May 1998 to watch Harry face off against Riddle in a duel to the death? That Harry would debate with Riddle whether old snake face could kill him with Dumbledore's wand? That some future incarnation of Lucius Malfoy was meddling with the distant past in an attempt to rig the battle, or prevent it from ever occurring?
And shite, as if it wasn't bad enough approaching inflexible adults in general, but her Mum would be at the meeting! Ginny could barely imagine trying to convince the woman that a very mature fourteen year old girl was old enough even to have a boyfriend, let alone explain how she and her boyfriend met up every night in each other's dreams to battle ancient evils and try to uncover the fundamental magical truths upon which British Wizarding Society's future survival hinged.
For Ginny, the mere thought was enough to twist her stomach into knots.
“What the hell…?” Ginny winced as her mid-section lurched.
She frowned in consternation. True, she had been stressed this morning, but it had never occurred to her that she might actually become ill from it.
Ginny tried to calm the discomfort with some slow deep breathing, but she'd barely gotten to the second inhalation when another spasm hit. Wide-eyed, she burst from bed, and bolted from the room dressed only in her nightgown.
Luckily, the loo was a short distance up the corridor. Not bothering to flip the door latch, she raced straight for the toilet and suddenly found herself voiding the contents of her stomach into the grimy basin.
The door creaked open.
Mortified, Ginny lifted her head (pale and drenched in perspiration) to see who had just intruded on her. Standing above her, with an expression of sympathy, alarm and concern, was Hermione.
The kitchen was alive with smells, and sounds, of sizzling rashers, not to mention fried bread, poached eggs and a simmering kettle. Given the distractions of cooking, it was not surprising that Harry wasn't aware of the difficulties Ginny had encountered upon awakening. When she emerged in the kitchen a half hour later, freshly showered but still in her bath robe, Harry's smile of greeting dropped from his face.
“Ginny, you look peaked! Are you all right?”
Ginny attempted a game smile, but Hermione answered first as she followed Ginny through the door. “She's not feeling well Harry. Has Molly stocked the pantry with any anti-nausea potions?”
Harry stuck his head into the pantry. “Sorry, the potions shelf is bare, but I do always keep a supply of hangover tonic on hand for Sirius.”
Ginny laughed tremulously. “After last night's party, I'll bet that'll be a hot item. Don't worry about me Harry — I'll be f-fine.”
Harry frowned. “Ginny, did you nearly gag?”
From the previous pallour, Ginny's slight blush was obvious. “It's nothing — I swear. Just the rich breakfast smells perhaps.”
Hermione and Harry both shook their heads sternly. Harry retrieved a vial of tonic from the pantry. “You get first dibs on it, Gin'! You really need a good breakfast to recover from last night, and for that you'll need a good appetite.” He poured a dose into a juice glass and set it on the table for her. “Try it — you'll find it milder than pepper-up, and it works well for an upset stomach. It'll help with headache too if you have one.”
Ginny eyed it nervously; her blush fading to light green.
Harry quickly poured her a glass of pumpkin juice, and set it beside the tonic. “Chaser!” He smiled encouragingly.
Hermione picked up the tonic and held it up for Ginny. “Harry's right, Ginny. At least try the potion to see if it helps. It won't do any harm… errr, will it Harry?? ”
Harry met Hermione's inquiring eye and shook his head vigourously. “No, it should be harmless — I prepared it straight out of Molly's potions book.”
Slightly heartened, Ginny took the glass in her quivering fingers, inhaled sharply, and dashed it back.
She gazed thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment as the liquid made it's descent… then she grinned. “Wow. Are you sure you got this from my mum, Harry? It actually tastes okay!”
Harry grinned back in relief. “Sirius is very particular about how potions taste — I always add lemon and honey. So, do you feel any better?”
“Much better — thank you!” Ginny circled around the table, and arched instinctively upward to give Harry a grateful kiss… then froze, suddenly remembering that they had company.
“Ahem!” Hermione had her hands on her hips and an arched eyebrow. “Well don't let me stop you two. It's not as if I haven't figured out that you've started snogging.”
“Hermione! How dare you accuse us of…?!” Ginny's feigned outrage fizzled at Hermione's indignant brow. Ginny giggled. “Okay, okay — a quick smooch here and there.”
Harry smiled sheepishly. “Eh, well last night might have qualified as a snog, wouldn't you say? The word sounds so crude though.”
Hermione's pique faded with the silly banter, and within a moment she had crossed the room to her two friends. Smiling mistily, she pulled them into an awkward three-person hug.
“I'm so very happy for you — you're perfect for each other,” Hermione whispered breathily. Several seconds later, however, she pulled back abruptly, her sentiment replaced by a dour face. “You do realize that you'll still have to keep this quiet though, right? For the sake of your project, as well as any future hopes you might have.”
Harry sighed. “Yes, we know. There are things far more important than this girlfriend-boyfriend thing.”
Ginny nodded, taking a seat at the table. “Agreed. Things are coming to a head, and we can't afford to let anything, or anyone, get in the way of us working together.” She lowered her chin onto her folded hands.
Hermione pursed her lips. “Us working together… You mean the three of us, right?” She glanced from Ginny to Harry and back again. “Because if the three of us were working together, it would throw off any suspicion, and it would take these busybodies a lot longer to guess that you two were an item.”
Ginny stared at her. “How so, 'Mione?”
Hermione shrugged. “Well consider Ron, Harry and myself. We got on fine for years as a trio, with nobody ever insinuating that there was any romance.
“Hmm…” Harry poured three cups of coffee, and collected Ginny's emptied glass. “Well, nobody other than Rita Skeeter, perhaps.”
Hermione's nose went up. “Insects do not count.”
“Are you two really that delusional?” Ginny stared incredulously at Harry and Hermione. “Do you seriously think that just by banding up together, you three actually managed to disguise the sordid tryst… between Harry and Ron?”
Hermione sprayed her coffee; her expression crinkling in revulsion.
“Oi!” Harry buried his face in his hands. “Bleeding hangover potion must have gone off!”
Ginny shook her head. “No Harry, I feel great!”
“Great, you say?” Harry examined the half-empty vial skeptically. “Yeah, that's precisely what I'm worried about...”
Ginny took a moment to shake off the giggles before turning soberly to Harry. “So back to the question at hand — Hermione's already waded knee-deep into this Harry and she raises a good point. Are we a trio then?”
Harry shrugged. “I, uh… well yeah, okay. As long as you two don't go off snogging.”
Ginny burst out laughing.
“Ugh you incurable twits!” Too bleary to roll her eyes, Hermione reached out and gestured toward the vial in Harry's hand. “Harry, give me some of that. I'll going to need it if I'm to survive this breakfast.”
Having indeed survived the hearty breakfast, Hermione pushed her plate away and leaned back. “Ginny, Harry, can you describe the magical outburst in more detail?”
“Sure, I can give you the visual account.” Harry steepled his fingers. “This fellow Diras had just challenged the queen, and almost every eye was watching the moon, but I could feel Ginny's attention riveted on the queen, so that's where I looked to. The queen was just setting the grip on her wand, when I felt a jolt — a big spark — from Ginny… or the princess…”
“You're not sure which?” Hermione's inquiring glance darted from Harry to Ginny.
Harry shrugged. “No, it was kind of indistinguishable at that point.”
Ginny was frowning intensely. “I'm not sure either. I assume it was the princess's magic, but Merlin!” She shuddered. “Oh, did I ever feel it!”
Hermione examined her through thin slits. “Describe it please.”
Ginny closed her eyes. “Wracking spasms? From deep inside?”
Hermione grasped Ginny's hand. “Like this morning's nausea, Ginny? Could last night's magic have caused this morning's upset? An after effect, perhaps?”
Ginny opened her eyes and shrugged. “No idea, but that's as good a guess as any.” She gazed at her boyfriend. “Harry, could you continue? I must admit, I'm very curious what it actually looked like.”
Harry nodded. “So, I didn't actually see the power surge — perhaps because of the disillusionment spell, but I felt it course through the air, like a huge electric discharge. The queen jolted — she was clutching the wand almost like it was the lead for a spirited horse… or a dog too big and boisterous to handle.”
Hermione poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. “So the queen had no role in the resulting spells?”
Harry and Ginny both shrugged. “Probably not.”
“Have you considered...” Hermione stirred cream into her cup thoughtfully. “Have you considered that the strange Druid you described a couple of days ago might have chosen a wand, not for the queen, but for the princess?”
The table fell silent. Ginny frowned. “Interesting idea…”
Hermione smiled smugly. “That's why I'm here.”
Ginny ignored her. “It's possible, but I'm not certain. When he was testing wands in the cave, there was a definite spark to connect the strange wand with the queen, and the princess didn't really feel much other than, well, ennui…”
“Yet maybe the whole affair was queer and distracting enough that you wouldn't have noticed?” Harry interjected. “Or the druid somehow hid the effect? He clearly was more interested in Lanossëa than he was in either the queen or Heanua.”
Ginny chewed her lip pensively.
Hermione sipped her coffee and put the mug down. “Do you suppose the odd fellow from the Archives would know?”
“Probably not.” Ginny toyed with her spoon distractedly. “He's not really privy to much. He has glimmers and hints, and speculates quite a bit, but I guess he won't really get to understand everything in detail until… several years from now, by the sounds of it.”
Harry nodded. “And if he knew, I'm not certain what he would tell. Both he and the Druid seem to be a bit cagey.”
Hermione stood up to begin clearing dishes. “So what magic did Ginny, or the princess, produce?”
Harry smiled. “A fantastic show, really! Like a combination of fireworks and magical illusions? Fred and George would have been blown off their feet!”
“Images please?” Hermione prompted.
Harry leaned back and gazed toward the ceiling. “It was brilliantly tailored for the audience, which suggests that the princess must have controlled at least the magical intent. There were a lot of minor depictions that I didn't recognize, but the main feature was a huge glowing phantasm that I gathered must have represented the Celtic god Camulos. He was wielding the Iceni staff like Thor's hammer, smiting the Romans with great bolts of…”
Harry paused as his eyes met those of Remus Lupin, who had just entered the room unexpectedly.
“Sorry to interrupt, Harry…” Lupin's gaze swept the room and fell upon the red-haired girl. “Pardon me Ginny, but Professor Dumbledore has come to visit. He would like to speak with you.”
Ginny blinked; her pallour suddenly returning. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“Er yes...” Lupin glanced off toward the corner, not meeting Ginny's inquiring gaze. “He said that he wanted to speak about your course selection for the coming year.”
Ginny quirked her eyebrow. “Oh? Er that's odd. But okay, very well then.” She rose and turned to Harry and Hermione with a shrug. “I guess I'll see you two later. Have fun cleaning!”
Harry and Hermione both rolled their eyes.
Ginny frowned. She glanced toward the closed door through which her visibly nervous mother had peeked and subsequently exited, then refocused on the Headmaster. "Professor, I'm glad that you agree that my course selection is reasonable — I worked very closely with Professor MacGonagall in matching my electives up with my goals. Was there anything else you wanted to speak with me about?"
Dumbledore did not budge from the hearth, where he was distractedly examining strange old Black family bric-a-brac on the mantle. “Ah. Well Miss Weasley, there were some other loose ends. To begin with, perhaps you would accept my apologies for terminating yesterday morning's discussion so suddenly?” He turned to give Ginny a smile. “I was thinking that perhaps we might take a bit of time to wind the conversation down properly.”
Ginny's eyes brightened. “Oh? That would be wonderful, sir!” She reached instinctively for a quill and parchment laying on a nearby desk. “Would we be able to bring Harry into the conversation? I'm certain that he wou-”
Ginny blinked in surprise. “Er, sorry sir?”
Dumbledore's expression softened. “No, I fear that your mother has an important cleaning project underway, and I've already deprived her of one key participant. I fear the lady would be rather aggrieved if I borrowed a second fine worker.”
“Sir, that's rid-” Ginny was astonished by the lame excuse… but she was, after all, speaking to her Headmaster. Her gaze dropped to her feet. “Er, yes sir, that's right. Perhaps I can fill Harry in later?”
“Yes, that would certainly seem appropriate.” Dumbledore smiled. “Molly says that you have been spending a fair bit of time with our prodigious young friend? Working on this research project of yours?”
Ginny's expression brightening involuntarily. “Oh yes! It's our project really. A mutual interest we've developed in recent discussions. That's why I thought...”
“Yes, of course. So you and Harry are interested in the legend of the Elder Wand?”
Ginny frowned. She hadn't had many face-to-face conversations with the Headmaster, but nonetheless found it somewhat unsettling how often the man was interrupting. It was a standard feature of every exchange with Snape, but she found it strange conduct for someone with such a reputation for gentle patience.
Dumbledore cocked his head. “Apologies for the uncharacteristic brusqueness, my dear.” His face twitched congenially. “I fear I have not been sleeping well of late. All of this Voldemort tumult has occupied my attention greatly, and I fear my manners have suffered somewhat.”
Ginny stared at him for a moment. The explanation was reasonable. The conversation had been jarringly awkward, but perhaps neither one of them had been getting enough rest. Resolving to make the best of it, she poured her actress skills into a glowing smile. “No worries sir, I know what you mean. So yes, Harry and I have been curious about the Elder wand.”
Dumbledore nodded. “And so Harry is curious about how one would master the wand?”
Ginny bit her lip. “Er, I'm not sure I'd phrase it...”
“I'm referring to academic curiosity, of course.”
“Well sir…” Ginny fidgeted, uncertain of how to proceed in Harry's absence. “Harry and I are both interested in how anyone might come to use the wand. It would logically seem that if Riddle has returned, he will seek to consolidate his power. He will remember, of course, that you defeated Gellert Grindelwald and thus he would consider you a formidable foe. Similarly, Riddle has now faced Harry twice… no, I guess on three separate occasions now? And he's failed each time?” Ginny fixed her gaze on Dumbledore's penetrating eyes. “Under circumstances like those, don't you think Riddle would begin to look for any unique, undeniable advantage he could find?”
Dumbledore stared for a long tense moment… then smiled. “Very astute of you to ponder scenarios far off the beaten path. I agree that a fairy tale weapon of supposedly infallible power might indeed seem attractive to Mr. Riddle if he could find one. Tell me, Miss Weasley — do you and Harry believe that our adversary will actually find such a weapon?”
Ginny found herself nodding.
Dumbledore sat across from Ginny, gazing at her with engaged curiosity. “Do you have any basis for that belief?”
Ginny looked away uncomfortably. She felt a sudden longing to tell the old man all about their dreams, especially about the terrible dreams of the final duel, where Riddle sought to take Harry down with the Elder… with Dumbledore's wand. Dumbledore would take their story seriously, wouldn't he? He could help, right? He could make things all better — take all of this weighty responsibility off their…
No! Ginny bit her tongue in gritty determination. She was not going to tell anybody about anything, unless Harry was present, and unless the two of them had arrived at the decision together.
Ginny met Dumbledore's gaze with a hard look. “No sir. We have no real basis other than logic and imagination.”
Dumbledore's eyes flickered across her face, her hands… then they twinkled. “Very well, Miss Weasley.” He smiled. “I compliment you on your logic and imagination, then. Now, if I recall correctly, you had also wished to examine my wand. Is that still the case?”
Ginny's eyes widened in surprise. He had seemed so reluctant yesterday to let her handle his wand. Why the sudden change of heart? Nonetheless, she nodded. “Yes please, sir. I was just curious to see what it felt like and looked like up close.”
Dumbledore's smile seemed to sparkle jovially. “Certainly my dear. You are not the first to ask.” He reached into the left pocket of his robe, pulled out a dark, intricately carved rod and handed it to Ginny.
Ginny accepted it, stared, and frowned. It appeared exactly as it always had whenever she'd seen him wield it at Hogwarts, but for some reason it felt… cold. It emanated all of the same unwelcoming sensations one might get from picking up, say, a dead fish.
Still frowning, she rotated it axially, examining the midsection on all sides. It looked as she might have imagined — polished in places, mildly scratched in other spots from normal wear and tear. There were definitely no cracks or major blemishes though. She shrugged in vague disappointment and handed it back to him.
He pocketed it casually then took a seat and faced her in an unassuming, grandfatherly way. “So Miss Weasley, would you mind if I asked you one more question before I let you rejoin your friends?”
Ginny gazed across the room distractedly, lost in thought. She nodded off-handedly. “Sure, go ahead.”
Dumbledore steepled his hands pensively. “Miss Weasley, as you may be aware, I have in my office at Hogwarts a number of instruments that, among other tasks, I employ to monitor important protection wards such as the ones that I have designed to safeguard the residence here at Grimmauld Place.”
Ginny nodded, recalling the strange spinning devices she noticed seen in her rare visits to the Headmaster's office. She had always wondered what purpose they served.
“Well, from those monitors I have, somewhat incidentally, begun recently to pick up signals of rather unusual magic taking place here in this building…”
“Magic, sir?” Tiny hairs on Ginny's neck bristled. “There's a lot of unusual magic in this building. I feel it all the time.”
Dumbledore peered at her from beneath his eyebrows. “Yes, no doubt you and many of the others find this place somewhat unsettling because the building is, well, somewhat unsettled… However, I have been monitoring Number 12 Grimmauld Place for long enough to detect and confirm the signatures of ghouls, doxies, puffskeins, perhaps a Boggart or two, and numerous other dark objects that I sincerely hope you do not encounter. Yet for someone such as myself who has seen many things in my life, all of that nominally unusual activity now seems, to me, rather ordinary. No Miss Weasley, I am referring to some magic that is even more uncommon than any of that — power that has come to this house very recently; power that seems to manifest itself mostly at night.”
Dumbledore's eyes took on a piercing glint. “Ginevra, I am concerned that this magic might be a perilous threat, and I fear for your safety, Harry's safety, and I fear for quite possibly everyone living in this house. Might you, or Harry, have any theories about what might be the source of this strange power?”
Pinned by the Headmaster's bracing scrutiny, Ginny's breath caught. Her acting instincts struggled to hide any visible sign of fear, but the Headmaster's words seemed seemed to have a paralytic effect — her rib cage and spine seemed to atrophy as she fought against something almost suffocating.
“Strange night magic?” Ginny's vocal cords felt constricted. She felt them aligning, trying to talk about… about something she didn't want to. Finally, through force of will, she finally managed to loosen them just enough to say… what her inner actress told her was safe. “Strange magic? I don't know sir. Have you compared notes with the Ministry? They seem to monitor a lot too, judging by Harry's experiences.”
A fleeting frown flickered across Dumbledore's brow. He leaned back, gazing at her intently. “A worthy suggestion, thank you. But I do not believe the Ministry would have picked up what I have detected. Their scrutiny is oriented much more toward wand magic, and the activity here does not...”
Dumbledore paused a moment as his eyes again flickered distractedly over the strange artwork and artifacts in the Drawing Room, before returning to Ginny. “Er, yes, the power I have perceived does not resemble wand magic, or the accidental spells of children. Nor is it exactly like the behaviour of any charmed objects I have examined before.” His thick eyebrows twitched slightly. “I must admit that I remain puzzled as to its precise nature, Miss Weasley. And thus I was hoping that an intelligent and very observant young witch such as yourself might be able to assist me.”
Ginny suddenly felt a chill descend over her. The seeds of panic grew, as though she was about to hyperventilate. A conflict simmered through her — on one hand, a powerful urge to reach into the pouch of her jumper and pull out the heavy little object that she stored there… but bracing against that compulsion was her instinct to banish any thought whatsover about… that object…
Dumbledore sat up straight and began to lean towards her, an exacting, powerful glint in his eyes.
Ginny's fingers, trembling slightly. They found themselves slipping furtively past the seam of her pouch. Her middle and index fingers extended themselves, reached, touched…
Relief flooded through her as she was filled with the sense of care, concern and compassion. An image of Harry.
The paralytic tension dispelled from her muscles, Ginny burst from her chair, scattering the unused parchment and quill. She glared her Headmaster. “Sir, if you'd like to do a survey of unusual magic in this house, then I strongly advise you to call a house meeting. Put the question to Sirius, Professor Lupin, Harry, Hermione and all of my family at the same time. In that way, and that way alone, will you get a complete accounting of the creepy powers and creatures in this foul dump!”
Ginny turned on her heel, and stalked out of the room, leaving Dumbledore seated alone, scratch his beard pensively; the hint of bemusement on his face.
Gin', are you okay?!
Breathe Gin'… breathe! Hang tough for just a minute, and I'll…
“Crap!” Pulled abruptly from his trance by the clattering pail, Harry found himself disoriented, surrounded by the chaos of house-cleaning, and confronted with the unpleasant realization that he'd just kicked over two gallons of wash water.
“Oi! Harry, you dopey clod!” Ron moaned in anguish at the soapy splash stretching from his trainers up nearly to his knees. “Would you bloody watch where you're stepping?!”
Harry cringed. “Sorry! Truly sorry Ron, please let me...” In haste to make quick amends and escape the confused scene to go find Ginny, Harry reached unthinkingly for his wand, but Tonks was too fast.
“Oh no you don't, Potter!” Catching Harry's wrist in an iron grip, Tonks grinned and shook her head. “Don't be giving old Fudgie another shot at you. Save your magic for emergencies, and let me fix up the whinger for you.”
“Whinger? Me?!” Ron shot Tonks a sour look. “Why do I get the wigging? Harry's the clumsy tosser moping about all morning knocking over buckets!”
“Stand still, whinger!” Tonks brandished her wand, casting a nonverbal variant of Evanesco. The spell instantly banished all traces of the mess except for one long sudsy cone that, inexplicably, found itself up projecting upwards from Ron's forehead.
Tonks took a moment to admire her handiwork, then slid an affectionate arm around Harry's waist. “Everybody lay off Harrykins, orright, or else you'll have to tangle with me.”
“Huh?” Harry twitched at the unexpected embrace, but was distracted more by antics at the other side of the room — the twins writhing in silent convulsions as Fred pointed toward Ron's head.
Tonks winked in response to Hermione's quizzical expression. “Clumsy duck needs sympathy not flak. What I like is that he's blundered about so much this morning, it actually makes me look right graceful.” She chucked Harry's chin playfully, then glanced toward the doorway. “Ola! Wotcher, Gin-gin!”
Harry whipped around to face the newcomer. “Ginny! I was just about to...”
Her face tense and flushed, Ginny entered the chaotic storage room. “Hi Tonks. Hi Harry. Ron, your horn's on crooked.”
“Huh?” Ron glanced perplexedly at his sister, before flinching at the unexpectedly jarring sound of George snorting.
Walking toward Harry, Ginny's voice dropped. “Tonks, can I borrow Harry for a spot — we need to chat in private.”
“Sure luvs — have fun!”
Harry smiled gratefully. “Thanks Tonks! Library, Gin'?”
“Er...” Hermione eyed Harry and Ginny uncertainly. “May I come?”
Ginny and Harry exchanged glances. Ginny pursed her lips and shrugged. “Sounds okay, you think?”
Harry nodded. He glanced back toward Tonks. “We're taking Hermione too. Be back in fifteen or twenty minutes.”
Tonks smiled her assent.
Ron's stared in consternation at the departing trio. “Uh, me too?”
Fred shook his head sternly. “No way. Narwhal-boy stays and cleans… or else we all skive off.”
Tonks scrunched her face analytically for a moment and nodded. “Right. I need our ickle Ron-oceros to help steady that bleeding big dresser while we move it.” She waved distractedly at Harry, Ginny and Hermione. “Ta ta mates. Hurry back!”
“Come over to this side, Ronnie-corn,” George called. “Mind you don't hook yourself on the tapestry.”
“Huh?” Ron scratched his head in confusion, then frowned as he found his hand unexpectedly encountering a mass of sticky bubbles.
Face submerged in her hands, Hermione was emitting inarticulate mumbles.
Harry looked up from his pacing. “I'm sorry, Hermione, but I don't think either of us can make out a word you're saying.”
Hermione's vocalizations paused for a moment. She removed her hands disconsolately from her face and exhaled. “I hate this I hate this I hate this!”
Sitting on the window sill, her foot kicking idly at the floor, Ginny glanced at her friend. “Yes, well I'm not exactly bubbling with joy either.”
“Blast it!” Hermione picked fitfully at a hang-nail. “What do we do? Do we come out and tell him everything? I mean, he is Albus Dumbledore, after all.”
Ginny kicked the floor hard enough to elicit a blood-curdling shriek from Walburga, three floors below. “Yes, of course, he's Albus Dumbledore, 'Mione. Our Great White Hope, Leader of the Light and all that. If there's anybody on Earth smart enough not to completely bollix this, it would be him, right? But, blimey does he ever have me spooked! I thought talking to him yesterday was unsettling, but this morning was downright creepy. I swear, he was trying to bash his way into my mind!”
Harry gaped at Ginny in alarm. “Mind reading?!”
“You mean, Legilimency? ” Hermione interjected.
Ginny shrugged. “I suppose. That's what it felt like.” She paused and let loose a pained, sardonic laugh. “Bloody ironic, but early this morning I was feeling a bit overwhelmed, and I would have taken just about any decent excuse to track down some dependable adult to spill all of this to… someone to prop us up and shoulder a bit of the horrible weight of responsibility but… it would have to be somebody we can trust!”
Harry nodded and caught Hermione's eye. “Trust! You know me, Hermione. I don't just invest blind trust in people. It would have to be someone who'll believe us, who won't rush to dangerous judgments or bleat something important the wrong people. I especially won't trust anyone who might do something foolish and topple what's already a rickety cart.” He thrust his hands in his pockets and slumped discontentedly. “For years, it always seemed like Dumbledore was the one adult in the world who would listen to me and believe me, even when I told him things that nearly anyone else would find completely daft. The more time went on, the more I believed that I'd always be able to trust him to do or say the right thing, but what the hell's happened now?”
Both girls stared at him, uncertain whether they were expected to answer.
Harry glanced at each of them in turn, then returned his disgruntled gaze to the floor. “Well what's happened is that it's all blown up! There's no trust. Not a speck! For nearly two weeks, the man's avoided me at all costs — won't talk to me, can barely even stand to be in the same room as me. He practically even runs from me, for pity's sake! So now that he wants to find out what I'm up to, what does he do? He corners Ginny on some trumped up excuse, and tries to bully her! With bloody magic, no less! How the hell can we be expected to rely on him now? He's not handling any of the little things the right way anymore, so how can we trust him with something really really big?”
Ginny's face reignited. “Spot on! Trust, trust, trust — it's absolutely essential! If we let someone in on the secret of the brooch, and they turn around and confiscate it without carefully considering the consequences, then it's bloody well over. Goodbye! We're dead!”
“Dead.” Harry gazed blankly toward the ashes in the hearth. “Or worse.”
Hermione's eyes drifted from one friend to the other, chewing her lip in deep anxiety. “Yes, well, just because Professor Dumbledore has acted impetuously and inconsiderately doesn't necessarily mean he'll really do the wrong thing.”
Harry met her gaze. “Yes, and so what? Is that a chance we can afford to take?”
Hermione turned away toward the wall for a long moment and took a deep breath. “What if you could feel him out? Try to understand what he believes, and how he'd likely respond to a caper like the one you're involved in? Maybe we'll find out that he's genuinely prepared to listen to you and play it your way. If so, wouldn't he be a good ally to have?”
Ginny whipped a few stray strands of hair from her face and glared. “Yes, of course he'd be a fine ally. The best, right? But only if he's prepared to listen, and understand and support us… and there's no way to carefully feel that out!” Her hands balled up into tight fists. “Don't ask me to sit in front of him again and try to have another cozy little chat, because that dear old kindly arse is liable to pillage my mind. I'd be better off just writing out the whole story in triplicate for him, hand him the brooch with a detailed user manual, and just kiss my whole future away, yeah?”
Harry gritted his teeth for a moment, then exhaled. “You heard Ginny. She's not going to deal with Dumbledore any more, Hermione. And frankly, I sure as hell am not about to either.”
The room fell deathly silent, but for the ticking of somebody's watch.
Hermione stirred. Very softly, she cleared her throat.
Harry and Ginny both turned to the older girl.
Hermione very slowly raised her eyes to meet theirs. “There's another way.”
Hermione fidgeted a bit. “Er, well, you see, you could ask someone else — a third party — to gauge Dumbledore. You could ask someone that you trust, but also someone doesn't really know enough of the finer details of your situation. That person might be able to pick his mind a bit without, you know, compromising everything.”
Silence persisted for a while, before Harry threw his head back and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, that's okay in theory, but it's not exactly going to be easy to find a third party for that. Maybe Lupin but, for all he's a fine fellow, he truly idolizes Dumbledore, and that's not going to...”
Ginny shook her head. “No, I'm afraid this would also mean we'd need to expand our circle a bit, and that's a risk in itself, right?”
“I, uh, was kind of…” Hermione hung her head awkwardly. “… going to volunteer.”
Harry and Ginny both stared at Hermione.
Ginny walked over to her, with a puzzled look on her face. “But Hermione...” Ginny paused for a moment as the wheels continued to turn. “Hermione, if you were going to have a decent chance of standing up against Dumbldore's Legilimency, you'd have to… Er, we'd have to...”
Hermione sighed and closed her eyes. “You'd have to cut me out of the loop, Ginny.”
Harry shook his head over and over, dumbfoundedly. “Hermione, you — you like to, uh, well… you like to know stuff. You don't step back from the action. You need to be in the thick of things. You always have. That's who you are!”
“The offer stands.” Hermione snuffled slightly. “I believe in you two; I want you to succeed. Maybe you might prevail without any help from Dumbledore, and perhaps you'd be fine without me too, but, listen. Harry, Ginny — if you failed because you didn't get the help you needed, I… I'd never forgive myself.”
A hand rising to shroud her face, Hermione turned toward the door. “The offer stands. Take it or leave it.”