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Chapter 15: End of Dreams
Harry Potter sighed. It was Hermione's turn to hunt and scavenge for food and she was getting herself ready. Not that she would be likely to find much in this rough scrubland except perhaps rabbits. There might still be some edible berries but the terrain was too open and dry for mushrooms. No trees grew here so nuts were off the menu too. Yet it wasn't the prospect of limited food that made Harry dispirited: it was the contemplation of an entire morning without company or purpose. What was worse, because there was no cover he had to be extra alert on his watch. He would have to wear the horcrux locket shortly and there was nowhere to put it down safely. No distinctive rock, stump, or post gave focus so to lay it on the ground or hang it on a low shrub risked losing it simply by walking away ten paces.
A shriek from behind him sent Harry running, wand raised and ready. He dived into the tent and from the sound of flowing water he knew Hermione was in their tiny washroom. As he burst in, Hermione squealed again. She had her top off but her back was to the door and the big bath towel hanging across her shoulders she hurriedly pulled down over her bare arms. "Harry!" She glared at him.
"Sorry!" said Harry, slightly pink in the face and turning away. "I heard you-- Are you hurt?"
"Your arm - looks sore."
"Oh... it's nothing - I scraped some skin off scrambling for those chestnuts yesterday. "My perfume - really makes it sting..."
Harry's body, tensed for action, relaxed and he grinned as he went out. "You must be the only hunter who wears scent when she goes out on safari."
He closed the door behind him and heard Hermione's muffled exclamation through it. "I'm a witch, remember! The rabbits come to me!"
Harry knew she couldn't hear him but he muttered as he left the tent, "You've still got to find where they are though." He plunked himself down on his stool amongst the clumps of grass and coarse weeds and looked vainly around for some relief from the bland view. He knew it could only get worse once he wore the horcrux. He did not look forward to it and had nothing to distract him from its effects.
When Hermione finally came outside she was wearing a light jacket to keep out the cool November air. She handed over the locket.
"What books did you bring Hermione?"
"Well, there's 'Ruination of Asbesh,' 'Seventeenth-century Potion Recipes,' 'Hogwarts: a History,' of course..."
"Never mind - I'll just sit here and envy being in Binns' class, I guess. You'll probably find I'm completely mental by the time you get back."
"Why so gloomy, today?" Hermione checked her bag and appeared satisfied.
"Just this place, I guess."
"Well, you go out searching then - it's no picnic."
"No - you had half the night watch and hardly slept before that - you look tired. I told you not to sleep with that damned thing--"
"I forgot - it was only two hours on the couch anyway - it's hard to organise the shifts with just the two of--. I'll never, ever, do it again, I promise."
Hermione was so emphatic that Harry looked at her strangely for a few seconds before responding. "You must get some sleep this afternoon, Hermione. I'll try to manage the horcrux all day. We'll find a better place tomorrow - an island or something where we can put it down safely for longer. I hate having it on me."
"Harry, do you think you've changed - do you feel different at all? I mean, any lasting effects after wearing this horcrux on and off for weeks?"
"No - only when it's actually around my neck - then it gets worse and worse. Why do you ask? Do you feel different?"
"Me? No - but..."
"Nothing. I'll be glad when we've destroyed it." Hermione shuddered and zipped up her jacket tighter around herself. "I'll try to get back early then we'll talk again about where we might find the sword."
"Look forward to it," said Harry, even more miserably as Hermione set out. The horcrux was already beginning to darken his mood further; he would definitely need Ginny's help today.
The burden of explaining to Luna could only be Ginny's and she was not looking forward to the encounter. How do you tell someone that they cannot be with the one they love? Ever?--Draco had said the curse was unbreakable. Ginny grimaced as she walked down the hospital wing corridor and her feet began to drag. Luna had always sounded so excited, so enraptured whenever she spoke of Neville that there was no doubt about the depth of her feelings. The cruel truth would break her heart, of that, Ginny was sure. Perhaps if she came back at lunchtime... The ward door opened and Madam Pomfrey emerged.
"There you are, Miss Weasley! She's been asking about Mr. Longbottom. I can't stall her forever and it's best if you--"
"I understand, Matron," said Ginny.
"She's still weak. Try not to... upset her."
Ginny frowned at Madam Pomfrey wondering how she was supposed to avoid doing exactly that. "Perhaps if we wait until she is stronger?"
Madam Pomfrey held the door open and her jaw tightened; there was no escape. Ginny felt she was wearing lead boots as she pushed through into the ward. She heard Pomfrey striding swiftly away - leaving her to her fate. Coward!
"Ginny!" It was a weak cry but it was Luna, awake at last, head turning on her pillow to see her friend. Ginny hesitated just inside the threshold, watching as Luna's gaze looked past her to the empty doorway behind. There was disappointment in her eyes.
"He's not coming, Luna." Ginny resumed slowly walking towards Luna's bed. The room was unoccupied apart from one heavily-bandaged patient being tended by Pomfrey's assistant at the far end.
Luna's face was expressionless. "He'll be along at lunchtime I exp--"
"He's not coming at all." There. She had said it flat out and it had not been too difficult. Ginny held her breath. She reached the bed and stood there waiting.
Luna smiled wanly. "He's so forgetful. I don't mind. He's Neville."
Ginny exhaled. "Luna - Neville can't see you..." She couldn't say the word 'ever.' She hesitated. "...for a very long time."
She could see Luna struggling to find an explanation that made it not matter; that made it not hurt. She saw her fail; saw her eyes sparkle at last and a blink released some silent teardrops.
"I'm so sorry, Luna." Ginny sat on the bed and leaned over to try to embrace her friend; comfort her. It was an awkward consolation, cocooned as Luna was in Pomfrey's neat, tightly-tucked blankets. Luna's hand wriggled out from beneath the sheets and rubbed her tear-streaked face. Ginny pushed her hankie into the hand and shared in the movement of trying to wipe away the sorrow.
"Somehow... somehow I knew he didn't love me - not like--"
Ginny sat up and shook her head too vigorously. "No, of course he does!" The lie came out involuntarily. Until that moment even Ginny was not consciously aware of what she had sensed deep down. Luna's weak smile told her they were sharing the same realisation. Yet Ginny felt forced to persist in the evasion. "It's not like that - he's been ordered to stay away. He's cursed by the Stone and it's making you sick - they'll find a way to fix it!"
Luna could only slightly shake her head but Ginny saw in her expression that her words were not believed. "A curse cannot destroy true love, Ginny, you know that. He never was in love with me - not romantically. He's just very caring and affectionate."
Ginny was unable to answer.
"Ginny, do you sometimes... write about me? In your diary, perhaps?"
"I don't keep a diary anymore, Luna. Never again."
"Why'd you want me to write about you?"
"It's the Ministry--"
"Oh, Luna, you don't still believe Umgubular--?"
"No - but they'll try something else you see - now they know Slashkilters won't come into the hospital. It's good in a way because Neville won't be distressed and he's better off with Hannah anyway. It's good..." Luna tailed off and her eyes faded into the distance.
"Oh yes. I was pretending to myself very, very hard because it was so nice to think it was me he loved but really I-- I knew all the... while... It was all pretend, I suppose. I don't th- think I c- can ever--"
"You can! Of course you can! There'll be someone for you--"
"But... I w- wanted N- Neville," whimpered Luna, yielding finally and fully to her emotions.
Then she did cry; really cry - and Ginny had to hold her tight as Luna was racked with uncontrollable sobs. Ginny wept with her long and hard; even Harry's unexpected kiss did not comfort nor distract her. Luna must have felt the tremor of the medallion too, pressed as it was against both their throats, because she begged Ginny to leave her; to answer Harry.
Ginny refused but somehow found herself hurrying away, glad to escape yet ashamed of deserting her grieving friend and fully confused by her own feelings. She glanced back as she pulled the door shut behind her. The ward assistant had come forward to tend to Luna; perhaps she would bless her with another sleep potion.
In the corridor there was only a shallow alcove to hide in but Ginny did not care. There was no one about so she lifted up her medallion ready to kiss it; ready to say, So sad. Need you, but the silver did not touch her lips. Harry's words, blurred by her tears, were already upon it:
Difficult morning. Need your support all day.
A wave of selfish resentment flowed over Ginny. Her emotions cried out to be comforted. Two things then happened together: an inner sense, a memory of something not quite right came to her - it was a dark threatening figure - and Harry kissed her again.
Please, Ginny. It's bad.
Fighting the alarm that threatened to overwhelm her, Ginny wrestled her feelings to a standstill, made herself strong again. She closed her eyes and kissed the precious disk:
Together. Always. With you, Harry. - your Ginny.
Harry's gratitude came back instantly and there was a flow of feelings between the young couple as when she had been at the Trysting Stone. Without asking for help, Ginny was reinvigorated, refreshed, in control of herself again.
The dark, threatening figure - she knew who it was now. She recognised that short, stocky stature and the way she swaggered about. It had not been the ward assistant who had come to stand at Luna's bed; it was Alecto Carrow.
A quiet fury took hold of Ginny. She did not hesitate; she cast a concealment spell upon herself and opened the ward door a tiny crack. The Death Eater's wheezy giggle as she taunted and laughed at Luna in her distress was way beyond what any Weasley could ignore. Ginny still held her wand - and her temper was as fiery as her hair.
"Confundo." She snarled the charm through clenched teeth and the power of her feelings drove the spell to hit Alecto hard. The sick, sadistic laughter stopped instantly. The Death Eater became too confused to understand where she was or comprehend what she saw. She stared around her with a puzzled expression and she began to babble.
"Silencio... Depulso... Obliviate."
Ginny was still at the half-open doorway, hidden by her concealment charm. She stood aside as Alecto, face distorted by doubt and now completely dumbstruck, passed by her.
Luna did not speak, did not call Ginny's name; she knew there was another patient in the ward. Ginny came forward and whispered to her.
"Banished to wander outside. It'll be hours before she recovers but she'll never remember she came to the hospital wing."
"Ginny - your wand. You used your own wand?" breathed Luna. Ginny's sharp intake of breath told Luna she was right. "Go to the Room. Get one of the spare wands. Make sure it's one that has not been used by the D.A. yet. Use it as your own for a while just in case they check."
Ginny breathed out again.
"Ginny, thank you - but will you do something else for me when you go to the Room?"
Ginny nodded numbly then remembered that Luna could not see her. "Of course." She had to bend low to hear what Luna whispered next.
Ginny had made a promise to Luna yet she hesitated before the wall, working up her resolve. Eventually she began to pace. The little door that appeared was homely and welcoming. Warm, yellow lights and softly-distorted images flickered through a pebble glass panel and a brass rabbit-head knocker invited her in with a smile. The door swung open.
Pleasant music quietly filled Ginny's ears as she gazed around at cream-clothed tables decorated with glimmering candles and place settings that seemed to beg the visitor to choose them. The tables were unoccupied yet were without any sense of emptiness or abandonment. Respectful, attentive figures moved always slightly out of direct view; they were a blend of eager service and perfect discretion. The room was very large but its low ceiling and soft lighting made each area seem cosy.
In a far recess, outside of the main lights, in a glow of its own, was a table, fractionally more secluded, more intimate, more romantic than all the others. Ginny could not resist being drawn towards it.
There was room only for two in this alcove and upon the red-cushioned L-shaped corner seat sat a tiny, blue, gift-wrapped parcel. On its label, Ginny could see Neville's name pathetically surrounded by hearts. Above, mounted between the wall-candles, were simple paintings: children at play; a country scene; a mountain view. Upon the table, a music-box opened and began to play for a tiny, dancing mannequin that looked puzzled and lost its step when it saw only Ginny.
The whole space was so filled with touching, naive elation, so Luna-esque, that Ginny turned to flee from her rush of emotions but then stopped and looked back. She stopped to do what Luna herself could not bring herself to do; to do what she had promised her.
"Evanesco." Ginny invoked the vanishing spell as quietly as she could but the result was as brutal: the gift was no more, gone forever. Around her, the Room sensed it would never be required; the tables faded away; the lights slowly dimmed; the music ended abruptly; the dream died.
Over the following weeks, no wands were tested. Alecto had returned to the school thinking she must have taken for a walk. Nobody had missed her except for her Muggles Studies class and they did not complain.
During this time, Luna resumed her lessons and did not fall ill again. She could not block out Neville from her thoughts but indulged the same self-deception that had convinced her that Neville's love was true - this time to pretend their separation did not matter. Yet she noticed he never forgot to kindly hang back from entering classes to let her choose her favourite seat first; could not fail to see his struggle not to glance towards her; saw how he avoided sitting with Hannah so as not to hurt Luna's feelings.
If Neville's love was not romantic, she'd have taken it anyway. He was caring, considerate, and his occasional forgetfulness, his vulnerability, appealed to her. Despite her pretence, she now thought of Neville more than ever. She ached with yearning for his company - to comfort him - and be comforted by him. So dreary were these weeks that she envied Alecto's loss of memory and longed for what she felt was inevitable.
That she was still being watched she had no doubt. That she would not live to share her life with someone as caring as Neville, she was certain. That she was resigned to her fate did not mean she was not frightened. She was - and badly.
"I'm sure you're imagining it, Luna," said Ginny. "You've not been directly involved with any D.A. actions for a while."
Ginny hugged her robes about her as she walked with Luna towards the Forest edge. It was the first Saturday in December and the morning was cold.
Luna glanced sideways at her friend. "Did you come to see me in the hospital - while I was still asleep I mean?"
Ginny looked back at her. "Of course I did! I came everyday!"
"Who else was in the hospital ward - was anyone else ill?"
"No, it was empty apart from... there was someone injured brought in. You don't mean in Madam Pomfrey's secret room do you? There are usually three or four in there, hidden from the Carrows."
"No - in the main ward. Which day? Which day was someone brought in injured?"
"Erm... The first day - it was Halloween - I came before the evening meal - not long after Neville said you were very ill."
"Who was it?"
"Oh Luna! You don't think the injured boy was spying on you do you!" laughed Ginny. "He could hardly--"
"Who was it?" persisted Luna.
"No idea. He was bandaged up like he'd been hit by a swarm of Bludgers. They carried him in on a stretcher."
"He was bandaged before he came into the hospital wing?" said Luna. "Don't you think that's odd? Who would bandage someone up and then take them to hospital? How did Madam Pomfrey examine him?"
"With great difficulty I should think!" laughed Ginny. "Come on, Luna! He was well out of it."
"How do you know it was a boy?"
"It wasn't a teacher! He was tiny - a first-year I'd think."
"Small and fat?"
"Luna - if he was a spy they'd have kept him there."
Luna stopped walking to look more closely at Ginny.
"What?" said Ginny. "He'd left the next day. Some spy!"
"He came in heavily bandaged yet was gone the next day? You saw him go?"
"The ward was completely empty the next morning, I remember. I picked up a nightcap off the floor near your bed and looked around. There was nobody else so I decided it must be yours. I put it in the drawer of your bedside table."
"Dippity had been playing with it. I completely forgot it. After I was dismissed from the hospital I went straight back to look for it. It was only a few minutes later."
"And?" said Ginny. "Look, I'm sorry, I thought it would be safer in there."
"And... the bandaged patient... was just leaving - ten minutes after I had left. They didn't expect me to come back. Arrived immediately after me - and left immediately after me."
"So he had to go back into hospital again." Ginny sighed. "Look, patients often have to keep going back for treatment..."
"Yes, of course - you're right," said Luna as they reached the fringes of the Forbidden Forest. "Oh look! Here's Audrey!"
The great tawny owl dropped lazily down to the ground from a sturdy beech tree and nibbled affectionately at Luna's feet; she was just too big to perch comfortably on the young girl's shoulder. Her mistress bent down, detached the scroll from the owl's leg and began to read.
"What does your dad think about it?" asked Ginny, curiously, as she gave Audrey a few owl treats.
"I've not told Daddy - he was worried enough already when I didn't answer him for a long time." Luna studied the message carefully then nodded to herself and bit her lip. Her face clouded.
"What is it?"
"Ginny, can you keep a secret for me?"
"Of course, Luna. What's happened?" said Ginny, now quite concerned by Luna's expression.
"I'm not coming back. I'm never coming to Hogwarts again." Luna's voice tailed off to a faint whimper. "I won't see any of my friends again..."
Ginny gaped uncomprehendingly.
"I never told you that Daddy was going to come and rescue me when Audrey didn't appear for a long time. When I got better, we decided it would be safer to wait a few weeks until Christmas - it would give him more time to find somewhere safe we can carry on printing the Quibbler." Luna paused, then continued despondently, "I won't be coming back after Christmas."
"Luna! Oh please, no! I'm sure you're--" Ginny felt sick at the thought of Hogwarts without Luna.
"Ginny, I know you don't believe me - but... promise me you won't forget me. And don't tell... anyone - they'll only be upset."
Ginny was very disturbed by the seriousness of Luna's manner. "We'll watch out for you, Luna! The D.A.--"
"No - they'll believe me even less. They won't want to--"
"They will if I tell them to!" said Ginny, fiercely.
Luna shook her head. She looked so sad that a sudden fear gripped Ginny.
"Oh, Luna! You're not thinking of... You don't want them to kill you, do you?"
Luna remained silent.
"Luna - you're hurting terribly because of... Neville - but--"
Luna attached a note of her own to Audrey's leg. "Goodbye, Audrey!" She said it with such finality that Ginny flared up.
"Luna! Stop this! I'm telling the D.A. no matter what you say. I'll make sure there's always someone with you between classes - wherever you go in Hogwarts! We look out for each other!"
"They're determined, Ginny. I don't think you can stop them. Remember we said the D.A. should not take unnecessary risks?" Luna watched as Audrey flew off into the Forest without a backward glance.
"You really think they'll... kill you?"
"Oh yes. I suppose they'll throw me off a mountain or into the sea - I'd like to see the sea again."
"Ginny, they are ruthless. Here at Hogwarts they are trying to control us. But they know now they can never control me. You-know-who's position is getting stronger. I think they might wait until next year. They'll just squish me like a bug eventually."
Ginny's eyes widened in horror. "You must tell your father to come and get you! What did you tell him?"
"I told Daddy not to worry and I'll see him at Christmas; it's only a few weeks."
Ginny thought about this as they silently walked back to the castle.
"You're trying to protect him aren't you? You think if he comes here that he'd be in danger. How could he possibly get you out of Hogwarts? - you can't go through the gate because of the protective spells and the Dementors."
"Daddy had a plan. He's very smart."
"Luna! He believes in Snorkacks for heavens' sake!"
"Exactly. He's very clever."
"We've two new D.A. applicants," whispered Seamus. "I can speak for one of them because she's a Gryffindor in my DASTARDLY class but the other one's a... Slytherin."
"You're joking!" snapped Ginny in a low voice, as she stopped spreading marmalade on her breakfast toast. "Aren't you?"
"We don't have any rule against taking in Slyth--"
"We don't need a rule!" hissed Romilda, keeping one eye on the watchful gaze from the head table in the Great Hall. "What would Harry think if we let a Slytherin into Dumbledore's Army!"
"It's too risky, Seamus," murmured Ginny. "Who is it, anyway? Someone trustworthy I hope. Maybe Draco? Goyle? Snape?"
"Har! Har! No, it's that sixth-year who started this term. His family's always had a home tutor but now it's compulsory to attend Hogwarts, he's--"
"He's just started here?" said Neville. With an inner sigh, he put aside the message from his gran that he had been reading. It was nice to hear from her but she couldn't say much more than to remind him to change his socks now all the owl messages were being monitored. He looked at Seamus. "Sounds like a spy, to me. How'd you know he wants to join?"
"He spoke to me in the library - said he'd been waiting to get me alone. He's taking a big chance you know. If the other Slytherins found out--"
"We'd be the ones taking a chance," said Ginny. "Tell him to go join the losers. Tell him--"
"He hates the Death Eaters - and he hates most of the Slytherins. Look, I'm not saying he's a saint - he thinks Muggles are inferior - but he's not stupid either. He says it's obvious what Alecto teaches in Muggles Studies is nonsense. And..."
"What?" prompted Ginny.
"He had a friend - a Muggle-born. A good friend - a good witch he says."
"They put her in Azkaban. Sixteen years old and they put her in Azkaban."
There was silence for a while. Then Seamus added in a very tiny voice, "She died. Just a few weeks... and she died. Lost the will to live."
"That's dreadful," grimaced Lavender. She struggled inwardly to imagine dying from pure misery.
"It's a great emotional cover story," said Ginny. "Very clever."
"You don't believe it, then?" said Seamus, his eyes narrowing.
"I don't know. Even if I did..."
"If I was getting someone to infiltrate us I'd use a Ravenclaw or a Hufflepuff," mused Neville.
"That's what they want you to think," said Ginny.
"What I was wondering," said Seamus, "is we set up a test or something - don't tell him anything important."
"What sort of test?" asked Ginny.
There was further silence, broken only by the crunching of toast and cornflakes.
"I've an idea," said Neville. "There's that spare classroom on the fourth floor. Let's have some dummy meetings there - just me, Ginny, Seamus, and erm... Luna... or... me. We play it down. Make out the D.A. is not very active now. He can-- What's his name, anyway?"
"Trevett? I've heard of the Trevetts - but they're very reclusive. I didn't know they had a son," said Neville. "Well, Trevett can start by feeding us information about anything the Slytherins are up to. Tell him nothing - you've not told him anything have you?"
"No - course not. Do I look like a fool? Everybody knows there's a D.A. but that's all."
"We could get him to do small tasks like that plan to hex Snape's wig," said Ginny.
"It's not a wig," scoffed Romilda. "You can tell."
"It will be after it's hexed though," smirked Ginny.
There was plenty of half-stifled laughter at the Gryffindor table and they had to end the discussion when the headmaster rose to his feet menacingly and glared at them.
"Ginny, can you hold back a minute?" Breakfast was over and students were piling out of the Great Hall and trudging off to their first lesson of the day. Neville hadn't got up.
Ginny was on her feet, checking her bag. She looked at Neville in surprise then sank back down into her chair. "What's up?"
"I'd like for... Could you... would it be possible for you to assign Hannah as temporary acting second-in-command in the D.A.?"
"No way, Neville!" Ginny looked across to the Hufflepuff table but Hannah Abbot had already left. "You can't just--"
"I mean, instead of me - in my place I mean."
Ginny stared at Neville.
"It's just until after Christmas," said Neville, then added, "hopefully. I mean, if--"
"What's this about?"
"Look, we can't carry on with me and Luna together in the D.A. and... I don't want to keep her out." Neville hesitated. "Ginny, she's not got any friends except us really - well not me now..." Neville's head drooped. "It'd be better if Luna goes to D.A. meetings and I keep away."
Ginny remained silent. Neville's face brightened slightly and he raised his head. "If they can break this curse on me at Christmas then it'll be alright after that - hopefully."
A sigh escaped Ginny's lips. "We don't know that for sure... We need to search again for that chapel... I asked Luna but she was as puzzled as we were. To be honest, I don't think she cares anymore--" Ginny stopped abruptly, aghast at what she was saying.
Neville shook his head. After a while he resumed. "It's hopeless. We looked everywhere. What more can we do?"
"Well, we can hardly go around asking just anybody. I asked Seamus. Did you ask Hannah? Are you... together with her yet?"
"No... Not yet... I..."
"You don't want to hurt Luna, do you?" Ginny smiled and patted the back of Neville's hand. "You are a... You're a good man, Neville. Hannah is very lucky."
Neville's face brightened even more. "I'll talk to Hannah today. I think she understands about Luna - but I'll talk to her and explain properly. I'll... talk to her. Yes... I'll... talk to her. "