Harry had lost all track of time after Fenwick had started cutting Ginny; he only knew it had been the longest night of his life. Ron hadn't shown up yet, and if things had gone as he had hoped they would, there would already be a team of Aurors present. Harry's hopes had been waning slowly with each cut that appeared on Ginny, and as the painkillers had completely worn off, Harry had given up all hope for himself.
The pain was excruciating; he felt as if his insides were on fire, and every move he made was like a knife twisting his intestines. Even shallow breaths were painful, and it was beginning to feel like he wasn't getting enough oxygen. If his lungs were failing and help wasn't going to turn up soon, even getting him to St. Mungo's wouldn't do much good.
It hadn't silenced him. No matter how painful it was, how exhausted he was, and how he was practically suffocating himself, Harry kept struggling against the ropes around him. He also kept up a steady stream of threats and swearing, and even if it had been more impressive if he hadn't been gasping for breath, Fenwick seemed wary. Of course, the man had assumed Harry would have given up by now, and if it wasn't for Ginny, Harry would have.
Ginny had, at first, alternated between flinching in pain and pleading at Fenwick to stop. No reference to Sarah helped, and Ginny had quickly given it up as useless. She had slowly grown quieter, and in turn, Harry had become louder. Now Ginny was silent and slumped over in her chair, pale as a ghost, but at least she was still shivering and breathing. It was a small comfort; Harry knew she was bleeding out, and it wasn't going to take long.
Fenwick knew it, too, for he finally stepped away from her, eyeing her with a speculative gleam in his eye.
"Since you've been so vocal this evening, I think I ought to ask for your opinion, Mr Potter. Should I just slice her neck open to speed it up a little, or do you think she would appreciate a few more moments here?" he asked. Harry's rage was almost like a cloud in front of his eyes; his vision grew hazy and the details of the room blurred.
"I told you not to touch her," he grunted out; it only amused Fenwick.
"That doesn't answer my question. Well, I think we should get it over faster," he commented, pointing his wand at Ginny again.
For Harry, it seemed like all time had stopped. If Fenwick cut Ginny's throat, she would die. If he didn't do it, she might die, but she most definitely would if Fenwick cut open a major artery. But what was Harry supposed to do to stop the man? He had no wand and he was lying on the floor, with his arms and legs bound.
When Fenwick started to flick his wand, Harry acted on instinct alone; he rolled closer to Fenwick and kicked the man with both of his legs as hard as he could, aiming for the knees. Several things happened at once -- Fenwick's legs gave out with a sickening crunch, the spell aimed at Ginny hit Harry's abdomen, and a crash sounded from one of the other rooms of the house.
One last thought registered in Harry's mind before he knew no more: it hadn't been rage, after all, that had blurred his vision, but asphyxiation.
It took an hour.
It had taken ten minutes to figure out if making the Portkey was even possible, and actually creating it with as little information as they had took an hour. Sixty minutes, during which Ron was constantly painfully aware of the fact that his sister and his best friend were with Joseph Fenwick, the man who had sliced up Death Eaters and stored them in tin cans.
Narcissa Malfoy had stayed in the Ministry and agreed to give her statement instantly, saying that she would like to visit the Department of Magical Law Enforcement as few times as possible, as she did not want to start rumours. Ron had listened to her story for a moment, and it certainly hadn't eased his anxiety; Narcissa described Fenwick as a bitter, ruthless man who was convinced Harry and Ginny had wronged him somehow, and said he seemed to be obsessed with the idea of paying back in kind.
"I have never seen a man so focused on achieving a goal" were her exact words. Considering her family had once provided a place for Voldemort to live, Ron found the comparison rather disturbing.
It must have been the longest hour of his life. Ending someone's life completely and irreversibly took only two words, and it didn't take an hour to do it. At first, Ron had been counting how many times over Fenwick could have already done it. The incantation kept playing in his thoughts like a leaking faucet; the steady "drip, drip, drip" was replaced by "Avada Kedavra", and as he thought of this metaphor, Ron was fairly certain he would never be able to stand looking at faucets again. His only consolation was that if Fenwick had wanted to just kill them, they would have both died a lot sooner.
Now, at 22:40, when the Portkey was finally done and the team of Aurors was ready to depart, Ron wasn't eagerly anticipating taking off. Of course he wanted to save Harry and Ginny. He just wouldn't be able to stand being there if it turned out that it was too late to save them.
"On the count of three," Ron said, as the Aurors were preparing for take-off. There were six of them, plus Ron, all holding on to a memo that had been closest by when the time to create the Portkey had come. It was as if someone else had taken over his body and was doing the talking for him; Ron felt like a mere passenger. "One, two, three..."
He tapped the Portkey with his wand and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement disappeared from around him. The next thing he knew, he was crashing onto a table in a small kitchen he didn't recognise. None of the Aurors had remained standing during the landing, and the sight of them quickly scrambling to their feet would have been amusing in less dire circumstances.
"Start with this floor," instructed Ron quietly. "If you find the hostages or Fenwick, alert someone immediately."
Ron had barely left the kitchen before he faltered in his steps; Harry's wand was lying on the floor of the hall, looking for the entire world as if he had just dropped it there. Ron's momentary stop stilled the other Aurors - they all cautiously looked around, trying to see what had disturbed Ron. That was when they all heard it.
There was a small, almost inaudible moan of pain coming from their right, from behind a closed door.
Disregarding all caution, Ron took off at a run and blasted the door open, almost coming to a full stop when he saw what had been hidden behind it.
Ginny was tied to a chair, limp and lifeless, bleeding all over the floor. Harry was lying next to her, his face ashen and his eyes closed, with no signs of life, blood still gushing out from a deep gash in his abdomen. Behind the two of them lay a mousy-haired man, half-sitting on the floor with one of his legs bent at a strange angle, reaching for the wand that had obviously fallen from his grasp and was now just out of his reach.
It took Ron all of two seconds to recover enough from the shock to Stun the man.
The team of Aurors became a flurry of activity; four attended to Harry and Ginny, two to each, and one slipped and slid over the pool of blood on the floor to get to Fenwick. One stayed by Ron, whether to catch him should he pass out or to restrain him from attacking the unconscious bastard behind the nightmare, he didn't know. Both were viable options.
"There's a pulse," called out one of the two men surrounding Ginny; Ron knew his name, but couldn't recall it at the moment. He didn't care, either, really. Ginny was alive. The tightening in his chest eased a little.
"Get her to St. Mungo's, then!" He knew he was shouting, and he knew it was probably unnecessary, but he was nonetheless glad to see that the three promptly disappeared. There was no popping sound to signal Apparition, so Ron assumed they had used the emergency Portkey every Auror on duty had. It was a good idea, as they had no idea what the wards over the house were like.
The Auror that was kneeling by Harry's neck was too quiet, and Ron's momentary relief vanished.
"How is he?" he asked, his voice trembling slightly. He wasn't encouraged by the fact that the Aurorís hands were visibly shaking as she searched for a pulse. He didn't need an answer. He didn't want to hear it. "Get him to the hospital, now."
The detached feeling was back. Harry couldn't be dead. Harry couldn't die. The sheer horror of the thought froze him; there was no more anger, no more fear. He was suddenly perfectly, eerily calm.
"Take Fenwick to the Ministry, and tell Shacklebolt what has happened," he told the two remaining Aurors. "Then come back to go over the crime scene. I'll be in St. Mungo's if anyone needs me."
He didn't wait to see if his instructions were being followed, he just turned on his heel and walked out of the room, back to the hall and to Harry's wand. He picked it up and pocketed it. Harry was going to want it back; the bloke was ridiculously attached to this wand.
The first thing Ron had done when he arrived to the busiest wizarding hospital in the country was taking the envelope that contained the instructions on curing Harry's infection to the witch that worked at the reception. He had garnered his share of hostile looks as he strode past the queue, and he had had to shove aside the grumpy old wizard currently at the head of the line, but when he had handed over the envelope and told the witch that she needed to take it to whoever was responsible for Harry Potter's treatment, all the muttering had stopped.
Perhaps he shouldn't have shouted it, because the entire lobby seemed to have heard him. Every single person grew silent, except for the little boy in a corner who had a case of loud hiccups and lilac bubbles coming out of his ears each time he made a sound. It only took a moment for the whispering to start. People craned their necks to see Ron better, as if staring at him would give them all the answers. The receptionist moved faster than Ron had ever seen her move, running away from her desk and through a door adorned by a big "Staff only" sign.
After that, Ron had to wait. He sent a Patronus to Grimmauld Place, with a message that told them where he was and only alluded to the seriousness of the situation. Nevertheless, his family, Andromeda and Teddy were there in minutes, demanding to know what had happened and how Harry and Ginny were. At this point, they were all huddled in a corner, with Ron sitting on one of the uncomfortable hospital chairs and everyone else gathered around him.
"It seems Ginny nearly bled out, but she was alive when we got there. Harry was cut open, too," he said, this time keeping his voice low enough that no one outside the circle heard. The lifeless tones sounded foreign to him.
"How was he? Was he still conscious? Did he tell you what happened?" The questions came rapidly, all from different members of his extended family, and Ron couldn't tell who said what. He could barely make out the words.
"We couldn't even feel a pulse," he said dully. Hermione's knees gave out and she fell into the chair next to Ron's with a loud 'thump'. George, or at least Ron thought it was George, made a strange choking sound, and there were several gasps and little noises of disbelief. Ron didn't look up; he didn't want to see their faces. He had seen enough today.
Nobody said anything for a long while; the only sounds coming from the entire group were Teddy's small sobs and the occasional sniffles from the adults. Kingsley Shacklebolt dropped by, sombre and defeated, to ask for news. When Ron said that there were none, the Minister promised to come back later.
A little after midnight a weary Healer approached the group, with a chart in her hand.
"That doesn't look good," muttered George on Ron's left, almost low enough for Ron not to hear, but not quite. Having his thoughts voiced by someone else tightened the knot in Ron's chest.
"Mr. Ronald Weasley?" the Healer asked, coming to a stop in front of Ron, who nodded at her to tell her to keep going. He took in the Healer; she was obviously tired and had purplish bags under her eyes, and she definitely didn't look like a person who had just saved a national hero. Quite the opposite, in fact. Ron tried to banish that thought from his mind; he didn't even know what the Healer was there about. She could have had questions about the envelope, for all he knew.
"Mr. Potter has listed you as next of kin." Her words quite effectively killed his hopes. He was rather surprised, actually; he knew Ginny had been his 'next of kin' while they were together, but after they had broken up, Harry had changed it. Ron had thought Harry had listed Hermione, or maybe Andromeda, but he hadn't considered it would be him. It was stupid, really, since as far as he was aware, he had spent the most time with Harry in the past two years.
"How is he?" asked Ron, and the Healer hesitantly eyed the large group around them. "They're family, just tell us, please."
"Mr Potter had a severe infection in his stomach, spleen, liver and lungs. It looks like it started with his stomach and only very recently spread to the lungs. Because of the infection and the strain it caused on his organs, they were greatly weakened, and there was plenty of inner bleeding, probably caused by him moving around too much. That means he was suffering from blood loss even before the cutting curse." The Healer paused for a moment, and at this point, Hermione was holding on to Ron's hand so tightly he was fairly certain she was cutting off his circulation.
"The cutting curse cut through his stomach and his abdominal aorta, which means the blood loss got worse. We have so far managed to stop the bleeding in the artery, but healing the infection and the damaged organs has been more difficult, and that holds true especially with his stomach. Because of the exsanguination his heart has stopped beating twice after he was admitted, but we have managed to revive him. We have also replenished his bodily fluids." Ron was now gripping Hermione's hand tighter than she had been earlier.
"And... how is he, now?" he asked hesitantly, his voice gruff but thankfully not trembling. He had no idea why he cared about whether his voice shook or not.
"His condition is still critical, but he is stable at the moment. He is in the intensive care ward, and we are constantly monitoring him. Mr Weasley, the instructions you brought saved his life."
Ron had to laugh. He probably looked like he had lost his mind; he had just heard that his best mate had technically been dead at three instances that day, and he had to laugh, because it had been Fenwick's instructions that had saved Harry in the end. It had been Fenwick that had caused that bloody infection, it had been Fenwick that had cut Harry up, and it had been Fenwick that saved him. Ron was nearly hysterical at the thought, and he decided he wanted to be the one who told the bastard the reason Harry was still alive.
After waking up, Ginny's first observation was that her brain was sluggish. She was sluggish. Her body wasn't functioning properly; her muscles were weak when she tried to move, and she couldn't find the energy to sit up. For a woman who made her living by playing a sport, such feelings were particularly unfamiliar and unwelcome.
"Ginny?" It wasn't Harry's voice. It wasn't Fenwick, and it wasn't Ron. It was her mother. Her mother hadn't been in Fenwick's house. Her mother wouldn't have come to Fenwick's house. So Ginny was out, too. If she was out, where was Harry?
Considering how tired she felt and how slow her train of thought was, it was somewhat surprising that she got to Harry so quickly. Or it would have been, had it been someone else than Harry that she was thinking about.
"Mum?" She had to blink twice before her eyes would remain open.
"I'm here," her mother responded, and Ginny turned to the source of the voice. Her mother had pushed a chair as close to her bed as it could get, and was holding on to Ginny's right hand. Her father was there, too, and Bill, and Charlie, and Percy. Ron wasn't. George wasn't, either, but George wasn't particularly fond of seeing his siblings drained and unconscious, so that wasn't as alarming.
"Harry? Ron?" Her voice, too, sounded tired and drained.
"Ron and Hermione are with Harry, dear. They thought someone should be with him, too, when he wakes up." Her mother's voice was trembling. That wasn't right. Molly Weasley was a rather emotional woman, yes, but there should be no reason for her to be fighting back tears when she spoke of Harry and Ron. There should be no reason for Harry to have to 'wake up'. That implied he wasn't conscious. Waking up and tears wasn't a good combination, and even Ginny's sluggish brain seemed to know it, because the rush of adrenaline that realisation gave her woke her up good and proper. She needed to be awake for this conversation.
"Wakes up? What happened to him?" The last scene she could recall had involved Harry literally kicking and screaming, because there had been no other way for him to fight Fenwick. What had the bastard done to him? She tried to sit up, but Bill quickly stepped forward and pressed his hand on her shoulder. It didn't help her anxiety in the slightest.
"Ginny, you lost a lot of blood so you're still weak. You should take it easy," he warned her quietly. "Fenwick cut open one of Harry's arteries, so he lost a lot of blood, too, and that infection complicated things. They got him here on time, though, so he ought to be fine in a while."
It sounded like a prepared statement, something Bill had learned by heart, and that didn't ease Ginny's mental discomfort, either.
"How serious was it?" she asked, staring at Bill, because of everyone present he and Charlie were the likeliest to give her straight answers. She needed to have straight, honest answers.
"He very nearly died, Ginny," replied Bill, and although his tones weren't the slightest bit accusing, Ginny felt like it was her fault. She had started the whole mess in the first place. She had been the one who recruited Sarah Fenwick to the DA. She had taken her for dead after the Battle of Hogwarts. She had been in St. Mungo's and spoken with Joseph Fenwick's mother after Sarah had finally died. She had been the reason Harry had surrendered. She was the reason Harry had almost died.
When her mother told her to get some more rest, she didn't argue. She didn't insist on them taking her to see Harry. She just closed her eyes and pretended to sleep, going over the things she should have done differently and the consequences of her mistakes. She was incredibly grateful that Harry had survived, because if she found the guilt suffocating now, she didn't want to think about what she would have done to herself if the outcome had been different.
She knew nobody believed she was sleeping; her silent tears were proof of the fact that she was awake, but her family didn't talk to her. That was fine with her. She needed a little time to herself and her morose thoughts at the moment, anyway.
When Harry woke up, he was expecting pain. He was hoping for pain. He knew dying was completely pain-free, after having gone through it once, so if he was hurting, he would know he was alive. He wasn't hurting.
He cautiously opened his eyes, hoping against hope that he wasn't in King's Cross. He knew he would much prefer some kind of a medical setting. The first thing in his line of vision was a blurry image of a Weasley twin. He froze; this was not good at all. The last thing he remembered was suffocating after what felt like years of physical agony, and he woke up to no pain and a Weasley twin? He blinked. The twin did not become clearer.
He wasn't wearing his glasses. He wasn't wearing his glasses, so his vision was blurry, and the twin was George; he could see the hole where the ear should be. He sighed in relief, and this got George's attention.
"Harry! Took you long enough!" He could hear the tones of relief in George's voice under the exuberance. It must have been bad.
"Good to see you, George. How long was I out?" His throat was scratchy and his voice hoarse, but he supposed George understood the message.
"Three days. You know how to pull off a dramatic rescue mission, I'll give you that," joked George, handing Harry his glasses. The room turned clearer the instant he put them on; he was in a private room, with only George for company at the moment.
"How are the others?" he asked, and George grinned.
"All loads better than you are, I'm sure. Fenwick is in custody, Ginny is getting discharged today, and Ron's around here somewhere, too. I think everyone's with Ginny right now. To be honest, she's much more exciting company than you were. Andromeda and Teddy are the only ones who aren't here, they're putting their house back together, I think. Or Andromeda is, and she refuses to let Teddy out of her sight at the moment," said George.
"Has someone gone through the house? An Auror, I mean? I didn't do a very thorough check when I was there." Harry was worried about Andromeda and his godson; if Fenwick had left a trap in their home...
"Which house do you mean, Andromeda's or Fenwick's? Trust me, they've inspected both. Multiple times," replied George, and Harry could feel himself relaxing at this assurance.
"How's Ginny?" George chuckled at Harry's question.
"If I had known you were going to start interrogating me the moment you woke up, I would have made Ron stay here, too. Ginny's all right. They've healed the cuts, and she has a few more scars, but she's fine. As I said, she's getting discharged, probably as we speak. I think her first order of business was to come and see how you're doing," he answered. "Seriously, mate, don't you want to know about yourself? I already told you that you were hurt the worst."
"I don't think I dare to ask you what is wrong with me," joked Harry, rolling his eyes. "You obviously want to tell me, though. Try to limit it to the physical injuries, please."
"Ah, I see your sense of humour survived, too," retorted George dryly. "Remember when the Healers told you to take it easy because of the unhealed wound in your stomach? Yeah, you should have listened to them. That infection and trying to stop Ginny from bleeding to death didn't go well together. You had a lot of inner bleeding, and then with the cutting curse, you almost bled out. And your lungs had just given out, too, when Ron got to you. So now you're in for all kinds of potions and a few weeks of strict bed rest, and rest assured there are plenty of people willing to tie you to that bed. Ginny is among them, but I don't really need that particular image."
"I see my near-death experience hasn't brought your mind out of the gutter," Harry shot back, and George sighed.
"As disgusting as it is, seeing that Ginny is my sister, I much prefer thinking about the outcome where you and Ginny are close enough that she could tie you into a bed. It would be a vast improvement of the previous situation where you both ran away from places the other might be," he said. "I still wonder how you managed to do it so successfully. Our world is ridiculously small, after all."
"Well, it wasn't easy, but I had inside information," said Harry with a wink, refusing to take the subject seriously. He knew he had told Hermione that he would be fine with letting Ginny go when it was safe for her, but now that the moment had come, he realised he wouldn't be able to do it. On some level, he had known it all along, he had just stubbornly refused to admit it. Ginny Weasley was a permanent fixture in his life, whether she was physically present or not, and he had had more than enough of staying away from her.
"Yeah, Ron," chuckled George, nodding. "Speaking of Ron, I promised him and Hermione I'd fetch them once you were coherent. Will you be all right for a few minutes?"
"Yeah, of course," replied Harry, and so George left.
It didn't take long before he had another visitor; it just wasn't who he had been expecting. Instead of his two best friends, Ginny stood in the doorway, hesitantly leaning in. His surprise must have shown on his face, because her expression turned from neutral to slightly disappointed, and he hastened to fix a smile on his face. It encouraged her, and she finally stepped in.
She looked just the same as Harry remembered; the only noticeable difference that Harry could spot was a barely-there scar in her arm, peeking out from under the sleeve of her T-shirt. She wasn't alarmingly pale anymore, and although she seemed nervous, she looked to be just fine, like George had said. He almost hadn't believed it before he had seen it with his own eyes; she had been dying the last time he saw her...
"You are a bloody idiot." Ginny hadn't even sat down before she started talking, and her blunt statement made Harry laugh out loud.
"It's nice to see you, too," he retorted, and she smiled slightly. "By all means, make yourself comfortable." She had still been standing by the foot of his bed, and at his invitation, she sat down on the edge of his bed. His eyebrows rose involuntarily at her boldness, but inside he was pleased. She wasn't going to run away from him.
"You almost killed yourself! Do you have any idea how worried I was? I had to wait for two days for you to wake up, and they wouldn't even let me come see you before now!" Ginny's smile completely disappeared as she started talking again -- or rather, ranting. She quickly cut herself off, though, and Harry had to wonder why. Was she still that awkward around him?
"I've told you before, I'm not going to just let you die. I have told you that, right?" asked Harry, frowning as he couldn't instantly remember. "Besides, I knew Ron was coming. You don't have nearly enough faith in your brother."
"You trust him a little too much. Do you know how hard it is to create a Portkey based on a tracking charm, when the charm leads to an Unplottable house? I've heard that lecture about a dozen times during the past few days. Ron hasn't been too pleased with you," said Ginny seriously. She was twisting her hands nervously in her lap, and Harry was dying to reach for them.
"Thank you," Ginny continued quietly after a moment. "You saved my life. Again."
"You don't need to thank me, it was partly a selfish thing," replied Harry, and she frowned slightly.
"Selfish?" she repeated, and Harry nodded.
"Extremely selfish. I was mostly thinking about what I would do if you died, and I couldn't come up with anything that wasn't completely pathetic," he said honestly. She chuckled, shaking her head.
"Does that mean you're not going to start shouting at me for lying to you for so long?" she asked hopefully, and Harry grinned.
"I think we've both had enough of that. I still firmly believe we have some serious issues with communication, but we can work on that, can't we?" Ginny stared at him for a moment, shocked, before the brilliant smile Harry loved the most spread on her face.
"Wow. I was expecting to have to beg for weeks before you would even consider trying again. Are you sure you're willing to let it go so easily?" She was still smiling radiantly, but there was a note of hesitancy in her tones.
"Well, I've thought about it a lot, and I definitely preferred this option. Ask Hermione, she'll tell you I'm hopelessly addicted to you," Harry assured her, and her smile turned to a smirk.
"Addicted, eh?" she asked, and Harry nodded again, his grin widening.
"Her word, not mine. I think 'in love' sounds a bit healthier," he retorted, and was rewarded with her musical laughter.
"I love you, too," she told him softly, and Harry finally reached to take her hand in his.
There was a while of comfortable silence that Harry broke.
"Has anyone started looking for the cameras in our flats?" he asked, and Ginny shook her head.
"They've focused on Andromeda's, since she and Teddy were the only ones who have needed their home right now. We've been here, so your colleagues didn't think our places were a priority," she replied. Harry nodded, thoughtful. He had been expecting that response, and it only enforced the decision he had subconsciously come to days before, back when he was forced to leave his flat.
"I don't think I'll go back there. It won't feel much like home, since I'll always know Fenwick was watching me there for years," he said quietly. "I was thinking of moving permanently to Grimmauld Place. Kreacher would like it."
"Yeah, it sounds like a good idea. You'd have more room, too," agreed Ginny, nodding along. Her words gave him an idea; perhaps he was mad to even think of it, but he wanted to try it, nonetheless.
"You're right, it is bigger. I might get lonely. Do you reckon you could move there with me?" He was glad he sounded somewhat casual, even though he was a nervous wreck. It may have been too soon to suggest it, but the way he saw it, they had wasted two years as it was. What was the point in going slow, when they had never really been able to do it before?
Ginny was silent and still for such a long time Harry was getting worried; or perhaps it only felt so long because he was waiting for a response. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of uncertainty to him, she smiled.
"Yeah, of course. I would be a very poor girlfriend if I let you get too lonely, wouldn't I?"