How can I tell her? Harry sat on an old canvas chair hugging a week-old Daily Prophet for company and thinking of Ginny. How could he tell her he had been careless with her picture and it had been destroyed? Worse: how to say he had knowingly put her at risk simply because he was so unhappy without her that he cannot... Cannot what? Think straight? Function efficiently? Fulfil the Mighty Tasks of the Chosen One? He knew it was none of those. He knew deep down it was only because he wanted to be with her.
After an hour the seat had begun to press and pinch uncomfortably yet it was not as painfully awkward as the atmosphere within the confines of the tent. He glanced sideways out of the corner of one eye. Hermione's head was angled steeply down into a book she was holding like they were bolted together. Harry couldn't remember hearing a page turn all evening so he doubted she was reading anything but her own anguished thoughts. Ron was sat at the canvas entrance, staring outwards into the night. Sometimes he looked at his watch but otherwise he was almost as motionless as Hermione. Occasionally, Harry suppressed a shiver as a cool breeze entered through the gap but he was reluctant to complain; in fact, disinclined to speak at all. In a sense he wanted to. He wanted very badly to apologise but he'd left it too long and it could only get harder to make the first effort at reconciliation.
Harry turned his chair half-sideways and twisted himself around to face the calendar hanging on the tent post almost behind him. He regretted it instantly. His intention had been to fake looking at the dates while furtively examining his medallion but he knew he'd given an unwanted signal of even deeper rejection to the other two by turning his back on them. He looked down briefly; the medallion showed a castle on the back as usual so he was reassured Ginny was not in serious danger. He turned the disk over to remind himself of her message around the perimeter Harry, it's alright. He absorbed it and committed it to his thoughts; it was something positive upon which to dwell.
He flipped the calendar sheet a few times and pretended he was studying it. He noticed each date passed had been ticked through in Hermione's neat handwriting with here and there a small coded notation - presumably to indicate a plan and its outcome. Harry looked with dismay at how little they had achieved. It was almost the end of September - two months since they had fled the wedding party - and it seemed they had made no progress at all. He turned the pages forward and their emptiness of any plans at all seemed to shout the futility of what they were doing. He tried to dismiss his negative feelings by filling his mind with Ginny's words once more then resolutely turned his chair back to face inwards.
How had Ginny managed to forgive him when she did not even know what he had done? She must have taken some trouble to have her photograph taken for him and now it was destroyed forever. He tried to imagine how it might feel if instead it had been Ginny who had apologised to him; if she had been as broken-hearted and regretful as he now was. He knew the answer immediately. He stood up and braced himself to speak.
Ron was looking at his watch once more. He got up and turned around, pulling off the locket as he did so. If he noticed that Harry was already standing he gave no indication of it but walked over to Hermione and said gruffly, "Your turn, I think."
Hermione did not look up but she reached out blindly and took the horcrux. Ron's face softened with both relief and regret as he let it go and he turned away with mixed emotions.
Harry forced himself to speak. "Ron... Hermione... I'm sorry. You were right. I was wrong. I should never have had that picture. I don't know what I was thinking."
Ron paused on his way to the sleeping area, gave the faintest nod at Harry, then continued his journey. It was not much but Harry felt his effort had not been entirely wasted.
Hermione half-looked up, trying to gauge Harry's expression but uncomfortable about looking straight at him - then she sensed he was facing the direction where Ron had gone. Harry's medallion trembled and Ginny's kiss pushed everything else into the background. His face must have lit up like a child on Christmas morning because Hermione threw down her book, came swiftly over, and hugged him. Harry, with a faraway look and a radiant smile on his face, half-hugged her back - unsure of the situation. He was still happily dwelling in the sense of Ginny's presence yet concerned that Ron might come back any moment and find Hermione in his arms and him with a silly grin on his face.
"What's going on, Harry?" she whispered, stepping back to look at his face again. He tried, dreamily, to turn away but she grabbed his shoulder. "I've seen that dopey look a couple of times before."
Harry said nothing. What could he say? He had apologised for the photograph but he had the bigger secret. If they knew he was actually in touch with Ginny - had actually met with her and hoped to again - what would they do?
He suddenly remembered that Hermione was the one who had originally thought of the idea - had created the medallions for Ginny and himself when she saw their distress as their birthday kiss was interrupted. She would be more than understanding of his connection with Ginny! - though not to meeting with her. A puzzling thought crossed his mind, How could she possibly have obtained and charmed the emblems so quickly? The tent flap shook a few times and another gust of cool air made its way inside the tent, making Hermione's Bluebell flames flicker slightly in their jar.
"It's magic, isn't it?" said Hermione, bringing him finally out of his reverie. "It can only be magic."
She put the locket around her neck but he could see her gaze was on the chain at Harry's own throat.
"What is that, Harry?" She had a determined, not-to-be-put-off look on her face.
"What, this?" he said, fumbling the medallion out slowly to give him time to think. His voice fell to a soft whisper. "It's... a secret..." He exaggerated the word secret to make it sound humorous and harmless. "Promise you won't tell Ron... Ginny gave it me. It's just an amulet thing - it reminds me of her - cheers me up when I look at it."
"A picture of a Roman soldier cheers you up?"
"Yeah, well... Just a joke... between Ginny and me. She says I'm her knight in shining armour and this is the nearest she could get. It's a laugh... makes me laugh. Makes me feel better when I think of her. Sometimes when I just think of her I feel happier." He looked closely at Hermione's face to see if she believed him.
Hermione wasn't laughing. She knew how useless Harry was at lying to his friends - probably because he had so little practice. Yet she knew some part of what he said was truthful - and it did seem to make him happy. She smiled and touched his face affectionately. "You're secret's safe with me, Sir Knight."
As she turned away her words struck a chord within him. You're secret's safe with me, Sir Knight. His heart sank with him down, down, down, into his unfriendly chair. He now knew the only way she could have made the medallions so rapidly - they had never been charmed for him and Ginny at all. Harry sensed the depth of Hermione's real sacrifice and her long-held secret. In his mind's eye he saw so clearly the young Ron when they had played through McGonagall's giant chessboard in their first year at Hogwarts. Ron had truly become her brave knight in shining armour. Had that been the beginning? - the seed of her love for him?
Harry looked across at Hermione who had stooped down wearily to open an old blanket chest. She must have made the medallions during the weeks before they left - not for him and Ginny - but for herself and Ron. She would have foreseen the possibility of separation during their search for the horcruxes. Poor Hermione - she could no more bear to be apart from Ron than I can from Ginny. Harry had taken the medallions from her without a thought and even cast the spell that hid the knowledge from Hermione herself.
It was Hermione's turn for the night watch. She wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, went out into the darkness, and smiled back just before she thoughtfully tied the tent flap behind her to keep out the cold air.
Harry gazed at that canvas flap for a long time after she had left. How long had she spent researching this special variant of the Protean Charm? Had she squirmed with embarrassment when thinking how she might present one of them to Ron and explain the necessity of the kiss with some feeble excuse? Oh, it's part of this ancient spell, Ronald. Yes, I know it's silly but I was unable to change it and we need some way to communicate. Perhaps in the end she had abandoned her plan out of shyness - or at least shelved it for some hoped-for future. And then, finally, she had forsaken her own hopes and dreams for Harry's and Ginny's sake.
Eventually and inevitably, thoughts of Ginny came to the forefront of his mind again and he looked down to read her message.
Good news! Tell you tomorrow!
It was still dark as Ginny and Neville walked quietly together through the hallways of Hogwarts. At the corner of an upper corridor they watched carefully. A flickering movement told them they had spotted someone hidden under a Disillusionment charm standing close to a statue.
"Luna?" whispered Neville.
"What if I'm not?" came Luna's sleepy voice.
"Then we're in trouble," said Ginny. "Come on, I can't wait to get this done."
Ginny led them to the next corner and they peered round. Now they were actually committing themselves she began to feel apprehensive.
"If I were a murdering headmaster I'd have concealed a Death Eater sentry right there next to the gargoyle," whispered Luna, "especially after someone left a stink pod there once."
"Yeah, wonder who that could have been," murmured Neville.
"Homenum Revelio!" whispered Ginny, softly, and pointing her wand down the passageway.
After a few seconds they decided the corridor was safe and they marched up to the gargoyle which opened one bleary eye at them but remained silent.
"Solanaceae," said Luna.
The gargoyle lazily turned aside and went back to sleep.
"See you in a few minutes, Neville," said Ginny. She felt uneasy about proceeding without him but someone had to keep watch and Ginny was determined that she would be the one to take the sword for her Harry.
"I'm coming up," said Neville firmly. "Makes no difference. If I keep watch here and someone comes, you're trapped up there anyway."
"Remember the portraits then," said Luna. "Silence when we get up there and stay Disillusioned."
The stairwell was gloomy - lit by a single torch that flickered in the updraft of air until the gargoyle lurched shut behind them. The illumination scarcely reached up to the door on the topmost landing and they hesitated when they reached it. Did headmasters rely solely on the password - or would the door be locked as well? Ginny raised her wand but Luna reached out and turned the handle. The door silently opened.
The headmaster's office itself was in complete darkness save for the pale rectangle of the doorway which Neville left open behind them. Not one ray of moonlight penetrated the narrow tower casements to relieve this blackness but the rhythmic breathing and the occasional faint snort of the sleeping portraits reassured them they would not be observed if they risked a small light.
"Dubia Lux," murmured Luna. A tiny glimmering strand of palest turquoise feathered like spider silk from the tip of her wand. It illuminated nothing in the circular room until Luna wafted it downwards to produce a small pool of light in front of her near-invisible feet. She followed it to the desk, now cleansed of its stains, and to the wall beyond it. She heard Neville stub his toe on a carpeted step but he made no outcry except for a stifled grunt and the portraits continued to slumber.
With her wand, Luna raised the glowing thread upwards and its tiny circle of luminescence silently climbed the wall. When it reached the glass cabinet that hung there, all three of them gasped. The Sword of Gryffindor had caught the faint light and returned it tenfold in glorious silvers and reds, flashing and flaring its ancient glory. It was an impressive sight against the black void of the room.
As Luna played the light over the sword, it illuminated the frame of the painting above it and perhaps the portrait stirred in its sleep. Luna knew whose portrait it was.
"Professor Dumbledore, sir," whispered Luna, "have we your approval?"
There was no answer and Luna dare not speak more loudly. Luna hesitated.
"Alohomora," whispered Neville, but the cabinet remained firmly shut.
"Wait," murmured Luna, unsure for some reason - but she was not heard.
Ginny had eyes only for the sword which glittered enticingly inches in front of her. It should be Harry's - she was sure of it! She placed her hands on the glass but could reach no further; so near and yet so far.
"Let's try the desk," whispered Neville, "maybe there's a key."
"If it just needed a key then the unlocking charm should have unlocked it," said Ginny without looking round but Neville was already tugging at the top drawer. It was unlocked but stiff; it scraped audibly in the silence as it slid open.
"Who's there?" It was a voice from one of the portraits.
The three youngsters froze motionless and silent.
"Go back to sleep, Phineas," grumbled another sleepy voice.
"I tell you there's someone in here!"
"What's that?" a third voice.
Another, deeper voice joined the exchanges, "Is it morning, already?"
"We have to go," whispered Luna.
"Fetch help - someone fetch help!" cried yet another voice.
Ginny could not leave without the sword. Her desperate desire to help Harry overpowered her common sense. She pointed her wand carefully at the glass and murmured as softly as she could, "Muffliato. Reducto."
The sound of the glass cracking and fragmenting to the ground was muffled by an unpleasant buzzing sound which did not escape the notice of the portraits at all. They lapsed into silence for a few seconds as if shocked. Ginny grabbed the sword handle and hefted the sword out of its case. She held it for a moment, feeling its weight, reluctant to relinquish it - but eventually she guided it to Neville. He hid it beneath his invisible robes and she saw it vanish from sight.
Luna extinguished her meagre light as they rushed out the doorway, leaving behind a renewed clamour of shouts and cries from the portraits. They crept down the stairs as stealthily as they could and Luna pushed ahead to check the corridor was still clear. Ginny's heart was racing.
"Solanaceae," Luna whispered and the drowsy gargoyle moved slowly aside. Fresh air surged in to refresh their confidence and raise their hopes. Luna poked her invisible head out then breathed excitedly. "Nobody here!"
"We've done it, Ginny!" whispered Neville.
Ginny took a deep breath. She felt a strange sensation of something unpleasant swooping over her, as if she were thrown into darkness for a moment. She had experienced that spell long ago when she and Ron had raided the Burrow's larder and she knew what it meant: they were discovered.
"Finite ... Incantatem."
It was a voice not from ahead of them but behind and above them on the stairs. It was cold and clinical. They knew that voice and it sent a chill through their hearts as they were revealed. It was the voice of Severus Snape.
He was stood, robes spread in the stairwell updraft, like a great black bat, silhouetted by the flickering torch beyond him. They could not see his expression but he could identify each of their white faces. He spoke slowly and carefully yet they could hear from its tone that he was not only angry - he was shocked.
"You will all come up to my office... NOW!"
All of Ginny's hopes died in that giddy moment. Her vision of Harry's astonished joy and admiration as she bestowed her mission-critical gift would never take place. Voldemort would not be slain. Harry would despise her for failing him - for failing the world. All was lost.
"What's up! What's happened!" said Ron, startled as Harry dashed into the tent and made a beeline for the sleeping area. Ron had his wand out in a moment. He abandoned the kettle he had been waiting to boil and ran to the tent entrance as if expecting a horde of Death Eaters to have been chasing Harry.
"Nothing!" Harry called back, "s'alright!"
"What's going on?" came Hermione's sleepy voice as she raised a tired head from her pillow.
"Alright? Alright you say?" said Ron as he went after Harry. He found him foraging in his footlocker. "I thought it was You-know-who at least!"
"It's nothing," cried Harry, though his expression was one of great anguish. He had retrieved something from the chest and held it close to him as he dashed back to the tent exit. "Just want to check on something - I'm still on early morning watch." He disappeared out into the darkness.
"'Nothing,' he says," said Ron to Hermione who had just joined him, a blanket hugged around her nightclothes. She had had little more than an hour's sleep and felt exhausted and dull. The locket she still wore did not help. Ron stared hard at Harry's footlocker, his mind whirling.
"What? What is it?" said Hermione hoarsely and rather grumpily.
"Dunno, I'm trying to think what he took."
"Oh, it's probably just that old Prophet for heaven's sake!" Hermione said scathingly. She headed back to her bunk.
"Wasn't the Prophet," muttered Ron to himself. "He's not going to race Merlin's Might just to read that lying rag for the twentieth time."
He went to the canvas flap and pulled it to one side to peer out. He could faintly see Harry sat on the old stool they had placed against a tree; he was reading something but it was too dark to see if it was a newspaper.
Harry peered sideways at Ron silhouetted at the threshold of the tent; Ron disappeared back inside when he saw Harry looking at him. Only then did Harry light his wand and examine his Marauder's Map.
Ginny, Ginny, where are you, Ginny?"
He couldn't find her quickly - she was not in her dormitory. Harry felt fear's icy fingers trying to grip him. He looked again at his medallion. There was no mistaking that it was a heavily-chained portcullis that was engraved there. He had been looking at the disk almost every half an hour and he was certain it had been a castle the last time he had looked. He turned the disk over and looked at the message but he knew it could not have changed from last night or he would have felt her kiss. Good news! Tell you tomorrow! What had she meant? Had it anything to do with the danger in which she was now placed?
Should he try to contact her? He knew he should not. If she was in danger then any distraction might put her at greater risk. He looked at the other side again. The portcullis was changing as he watched. A terrible despair sank to the very pit of Harry's stomach. The new image was sharply etched and quite clear - it was a dungeon. He snatched at his map again and scoured it with his wandlight held close.
There! She was in the headmaster's office! She was Snape's captive! What did it mean? Detention? It was not yet Five-thirty in the morning. What had happened?
He yearned to fly there; to break in, wand held high and dispose of anyone who stood in his way - but Hogwarts was magically near-impregnable. The tunnel from Honeydukes? The Shrieking Shack passage? But Hogsmeade he knew was patrolled by Death Eaters. Surely he could slip by, wearing his invisibility cloak? Then what? Break into Honeydukes and get into the secret passage? What if it was all a trap anyway? He stared miserably back and forth from map to medallion and back again. There are others there!
He looked closer. Neville and Luna were with her. He sagged back with relief against the tree. There was some comfort in knowing she was not alone in her plight. Perhaps it had been some illicit trip outside of curfew; a high-spirited graffiti mission or a potions raid. Grimly his thoughts turned to punishments and he recalled with a shiver the fearful detentions she had only hinted at without detail. He prayed she had taken his advice and was able to ease her pain with a charm.
He looked at the other footprints: There were two he did not know, both named Carrow. The surname seemed familiar but he could not recall Ginny mentioning them. Perhaps he had read about them in the Prophet. He looked again: Amycus and Alecto. He remembered those names very well and he shivered in the cool air. They were two of the Death Eaters present when Dumbledore was killed - murdered in cold blood by the one other person whose footprints were present: Severus Snape.
"Where is it!" demanded Snape. He was furious. As he waited for an answer he looked threateningly at each of the students in turn. A single candle stub sputtered in a holder on the wall. The only other illumination was from the new fire in the hearth; the headmaster's face was sinisterly lit from below by the green glow of the floo flames. His anger grew. "The sword - who has it?"
"I reckon we oughta do it the hard way then--" snarled Amycus from the shadows. "--search 'em!"
Neville stepped reluctantly forward. He drew the sword out from under his robes and laid it on the headmaster's desk. There was something surreal about the bright flashes from its surface in the darkened room - the weapon seemed to magnify the slightest amount of light that fell upon it. The great blade had a presence that declared itself dominant and threatening; even Snape's self-control took a few seconds to recover.
"The Sword of Godric Gryffindor--" he said as he gazed upon it. He looked entranced. He blinked before continuing, "--a priceless artifact owned for centuries by this school which--"
"It's Harry's!" stormed Ginny. "Professor Dumbledore left it to Harry Potter! You have no right to it!"
Luna almost winced. She nudged Neville at her side; he spoke quickly, "We wanted it for the Gryffindor common room! It's a Gryffindor relic! It ought to be in our common room."
Snape ignored Neville. He looked directly at Ginny. "And just how did you intend to present him with 'his' sword?" There was sarcasm in the exaggeration of the word 'his.'
Luna chipped in, "We intended to hold it for Harry until he--"
Snape ignored Luna too. "Miss Weasley, where did you go during your recent visit to Hogsmeade?"
"Shopping," said Ginny. "I went in most of the shops, Honeydukes, Wizzages; and we lunched in the Three Broomsticks. I went for a walk."
Even to Ginny, it sounded like a prepared statement. Snape looked thoughtful then shook his head. He slowly raised his wand then pointed it at Ginny. "Legilimens!"
Ginny swayed and Neville caught her. He held her upright and looked round for a chair but Snape persisted with his invasion of her mind. She was ravaged with vivid streams of memories flashing through her mind beyond her control or wishes. Pleasant or painful, she could not avoid any, and the swings of emotion affected her reason for a while...
She was playing Quidditch on a borrowed broom... Her mother's favourite sugar bowl had slipped through her hands to the floor and she was hiding, frightened, in the shed outside... She was at King's Cross meeting a dark-haired boy wearing glasses; he seemed special. His name was...
"No!" Ginny struggled mentally. She began to get glimpses of being back in the headmaster's office but Snape was too powerful and she was overwhelmed with her own recollections again - now centering on Harry. There was no way to break free so she did the only thing she could - she clung to her strongest feeling of all and held on tight; a feeling she had endured for a long time: the unsatisfiable, painful yearning to be Harry's - to belong to him. For years she had wished to be accepted by him, wanted by him, loved by him - but he did not return her love. Day after day her one hope had always been to be at his side. The emotion was amplified stronger and stronger until it completely consumed her then...
Suddenly she was fighting for air, sobbing, leaning against Neville and he was shouting at Snape, "Stop it! Stop it! You're hurting her!" Luna dragged a chair near and Neville helped Ginny to sit down where she covered her face with her hands. She was shaking. Luna put an arm around her shoulder.
Snape had already desisted. He had found what he wanted to know.
"She is pathetically besotted with the 'Chosen One' but ... he has no feelings for her whatsoever and, indeed, avoids her - she has no idea where he is - that much is ... clear... However..." He paused then turned back to the three students. "Should there be any future attempt to ... contact Potter ... All three of you are banned from Hogsmeade... for life."
"You can't do that!" yelled Neville.
"Do NOT tell me what I can and cannot do, Longbottom - you are in enough trouble as it is." Again he paused then continued. "In any event... it scarcely matters now. I am recommending you all be sent to Azkaban for a term of... at least ten years."
Neville and Luna looked aghast.
"And the Ministry and the law courts are obedient to the will of You-know-who." said Luna. "If you--"
"As headmaster of this school I do have some infuence at the Ministry. I have no doubt they will aquiesce to my suggestion." He sat down behind his desk and clasped his hands in front of him.
"You do not seem to realise the seriousness of your crime. Each of you has shamed your family name. Tomorrow, the Daily Prophet will denounce a Weasley as a common thief. The name of Longbottom will be dragged in the mud. As for the Lovegood line--"
"We'll be living martyrs!" said Luna excitedly. "This is wonderful! I always wanted to be a martyr and we don't even have to die!"
"Won't seem so wonderful when you're in Azkaban," cackled Alecto. "'Wonderful' is drained right out of you! You'll beg to die!"
Snape stared thoughtfully at the young Ravenclaw. "Perhaps ... there might be an opportunity for redemption."
He took the Carrows to one side. They lowered their voices but did not seem bothered that they could still be partly overheard by the youngsters.
"This is ... inconvenient," said Snape. "The Dark Lord will not wish to risk any uprising before he is ... prepared."
"'Uprising?' What uprising?" said Amycus. He sounded annoyed by Snape's abrupt reversal.
"There are enough ... supporters who--"
"Blood-traitors!" spat Alecto. "Mudbloods!"
"Nevertheless ... who support a cause in which they believe - no matter how misguided. Children locked up in Azkaban for trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor - symbol of noble convictions and courage? This situation - if handled correctly by the enemy - and believe me, they will leap upon this opportunity to rally recruits - could be just the spark they need to set the flame."
Amycus snarled in annoyance. "What then? We ain't--"
"What I propose is a compromise," cut in Snape. He moved closer to the Carrows and his voice became a whisper. He spoke to them at length before finishing, "And if we're lucky they might not ... survive."
"Why not just finish 'em off right now!" growled Amycus.
"If we were to begin such a practice against the students then their parents would be up in arms and we should have no students at all next term - if not sooner. The Dark Lord would not be pleased. However, we cannot be blamed if any suffer a genuine accident can we? Trust me, there are worse deaths in... that place... than even Azkaban can offer. And if not, the on-going threat of imprisonment should keep them ... in line."
"Well, I like it!" grinned Alecto. She gave a wheezy giggle as she looked at the worry that lined Neville's face contemplating Azkaban. The thought of Luna being drained of her vivacity was hard for him to bear. If only I had done this on my own then--
"But--" began Alecto
"They can still be sent to Azkaban at any time, should they ... transgress again," said Snape more assertively. He turned to the three youngsters. Ginny was still sitting and feeling very deflated.
"It was m- my idea," said Neville loudly. "It was j- just me that took the sword. Luna only came to the f- foot of the stairs to try to stop me and G- Ginny was not even--"
"Maybe we'll give your girlfriend a medal then, how's that?" scoffed Alecto. She giggled noisily. "Is that how it is? Noble Neville tries to win the heart of loyal Luna."
"In m- my d- dreams! I m- mean..." stuttered Longbottom, confused. "That is, in your dreams. I m- mean..."
"The Carrows shrieked with laughter and Neville flushed a shade of crimson.
"So, some truth at last," sneered the headmaster. "However noble your intentions, Longbottom, to save your beloved, it is too late for such a ruse to be taken seriously."
"You Death Eaters are very wicked and cruel to mock such good intentions!" said Luna. She was looking at Neville but he had turned his face away with embarrassment. She moved closer to him and took his arm. The Carrows jeered.
"Give her a kiss then, 'ickle Neville," smirked Alecto. She had found a weakness and made it a weapon.
"Enough!" snapped the headmaster. He paused then began to speak very slowly to the three students as if to relish every morsel. "Your punishment will be fourfold. Firstly, and most importantly, I shall be recommending to the Ministry a sentence in Azkaban of no less then two years - such--"
There was an outcry from Neville and Luna but Ginny seemed too despondent to care.
"--such sentence to be suspended until further notice. Be assured, this term can and will be carried out at some future time if ... you ... step ... out of line." He eyed them severely, noting their reactions.
"Secondly, you are all banned from Hogsmeade visits ... for life.
"Thirdly, Your parents will be informed of your crimes."
Behind Snape, Amycus was using his wand to repair the glass case. Neville noticed the sword still lay upon the desk. Crazy ideas raced through his mind. He still had his wand. He would seize the sword and run - but how far might he get? - and he could not leave Luna and Ginny. Perhaps he could stun Snape and the Carrows quickly with the support of Luna and Ginny. He stared at Ginny. She was slumped down in her chair, barely paying attention to what was going on around her. He looked at Luna, close by his side and still clinging onto his arm. She was gently shaking her head and frowning slightly at him. She had seen the way he had been studying the sword.
"Fourthly: detention. The groundsman, Hagrid, has an extremely risky assignment this week. He is to venture deep into the Forbidden Forest to replace ... certain ... delicate herbs and other ingredients ... which seem to have ... disappeared from our stock cupboard." He looked accusingly at Neville. "You will all accompany him."
Neville's face lit up and he opened his mouth to speak.
"But students are not allowed in the forest!" cried Luna, burying her face in her hands and stepping hard on Neville's foot. "There are terrible creatures and... deadly plants... we might be injured... or worse." She kept one eye half open and peeped through a gap in her fingers.
"Then you had better be extra careful then hadn't you?" sneered Snape. He turned to the sword. "And if ... any of you should be tempted ever again... Perhaps it might be prudent to put this relic completely out of reach of master thieves like you." The sarcasm dripped off his tongue. "A Gringott's vault should be sufficient challenge even for such reckless adventurers as yourselves."
He was watching Ginny closely as he said this, and if he looked for a sign of future ambition thwarted, he was not disappointed. She seemed to shrink even further within herself at his words. Completely out of reach - Oh Harry, what have I done? Her hand started involuntarily to move to her medallion but she diverted it to wipe her wet cheeks. The slight movement was not lost on Snape.
"What is that?" he demanded. Ginny looked up. He was pointing his wand directly at the finely-linked chain at her throat. "Accio!"
Snape plucked the medallion out of the air. "Perhaps now I shall get to the bottom of this." He turned away and began examining the medallion with his wand.
"NO!" screamed Ginny and lunged after it but Amycus was swift and hit her with a leg-locker curse. She fell heavily and her head collided with the edge of the desk. Neville helped her back to her feet but she was leaning heavily against him.
"It is very shameful to steal someone's sentimental possessions," said Luna quietly. "I feel sorry for you, Headmaster."
"OUT! Get them out of here!" called Snape over his shoulder and the Carrows were quick to push them out of the door then slammed it shut on them.
Luna hushed Neville then once again, listened at the headmaster's door.
"What have you found, Severus?" said Amycus. "Let me see that."
"I thought it must be... something. It is ... however ... no more than a worthless, insipid amulet - not magical at all." Snape paused. "Nevertheless, should any of those three cause further trouble - I wish to know of it. I will deal with them my--"
He fell silent and Luna, fearing he might come to the door, quickly joined Neville helping Ginny down the first step.
Neville and Luna had to support Ginny but they could not get her down the stairs safely. Neville finally managed to counter the leg-locker curse but she seemed to be in a daze. Their failure had been enough to weaken her spirit and the Legilimens attack had harmed her mind but to have been the cause of making the sword unattainable to Harry had broken her heart. Now, with her medallion taken, it seemed as if her very soul had wandered.
"Ginny? said Luna, as she and Neville helped her along the passageways, but Ginny did not seem to know her.
"We should take her to Madam Pomfrey, I think; she'll know what to do," said Luna. "There is something dreadfully wrong and we ought not to leave it."
"We're not supposed--"
"Oh, the new rule is only for harm done during detention punishments," said Luna, firmly. "There's no rule against going to the Hospital wing for headaches and things."
The worried-looking woman leading a young girl out from the ward looked like a Muggle to Luna. She was dressed in their strange clothes and walked like a Muggle at any rate. She certainly had good reason to look troubled. The little first-year's face was swollen and the child was limping slightly. She clutched her mother's hand tightly. Luna wondered if she were fully Muggle-born. Perhaps that was why they were slipping away before dawn. Luna hoped for the child's sake she was half-blood.
More than a normal number of the beds in the ward were in use but their occupants were all still asleep this early in the morning. Neville had a feeling that many of them should not strictly be here but the Matron had a way of hiding some of her cases from the Carrows.
Madame Pomfrey took one look at Ginny and sent a house-elf to fetch Professor McGonagall - then she briskly set to work. By the time McGonagall arrived, the Matron had a good idea of the nature of the problem and had begun treatment.
"Her mind is sorely bruised, stressed, and confused, Minerva," said Madam Pomfrey. "It is outrageous; a Hogwarts headmaster using such invasive--"
"Can it be healed though, Poppy?" said McGonagall.
She peered closely at Ginny's face. The young girl looked ashen and her expression was completely blank. She was sitting on a bedside chair in the hospital wing with a large blanket around her. Her eyes were gazing into the distance and almost closed. On the small table ahead of her were the remains of a basket of overripe grapes and other fruit nudging a decorative bowl filled with sadly-wilting flowers. Behind the sorry-looking blossoms lay a little book. Luna could not quite see the title but Ginny saw neither the book, nor flowers, nor rotting fruit at all. Luna and Neville sat on the bed, watching her anxiously.
Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "That damage, though unpleasant, will heal naturally in a few hours, but that is not the root of the more serious problem - though it may have partly triggered it. She is in deep shock caused by some other emotional trauma. It is likely she relived some extremely distressing memories but they would not cause this degree of..."
Pomfrey turned to Neville and Luna. "Did she fight the intrusion?"
"I'm sure she would have." said Luna. "It's very personal and private inside someone's mind. I'd want to lock the door."
"Perhaps she clung to some strong memory to resist him," said McGonagall. "That can help."
"But a good memory would not upset her like--"
"I was not thinking of a pleasant memory, Poppy! - I rather thought something extremely distressing," said McGonagall. She looked at Neville and Luna. "Do either of you two know what that might be?"
"I cannot say," said Luna.
"Cannot, Miss Lovegood?" snapped McGonagall. "Not even to... help your friend?"
"I..." began Luna. For once, the Ravenclaw girl was lost for words.
"The details of such a memory would make little difference to resolving this, Minerva," said Pomfrey. "I have done what I can but now she needs time."
"If she is not much improved by the end of the day then I fear I must send for her parents," said McGonagall. "You two had better leave - let her get some rest."
"It is not rest but... it might be helpful if... someone close to Miss Weasley could talk to her - talk her out from wherever she is lost. I think if--"
"I'll stay, if I may," said Luna quickly. "I'd like to talk to Ginny."
Luna looked at Neville and he nodded his understanding. She waited until they were all gone and she was alone with Ginny. She remained silent for a long time, deep in thought. After a while she sighed then began to speak.
"Dear Ginny, dearest Ginny," she whispered, hoarsely. "I hope you can hear me where you are..." She broke off to dab at her eyes with a handkerchief, took a deep breath, then continued.
"There is something I've always wanted to tell you, Ginny. When Mummy died it was the saddest thing I ever knew; so sad it frightened me. I didn't want to live. I think I was a ghost inside. Daddy took me to meet someone... He took me to meet you."
Tears now rolled freely down Luna's cheeks and she gave up on the handkerchief and held Ginny's hand.
"I never had a friend before - not a proper on-going, regular friend. I didn't even know we are all supposed to have friends. You were my first. You were a lovely friend to me but I wasn't a friend to you. I wasn't really a friend to you until you shooed away my ghost and I could live again."
If Ginny understood, or even heard Luna's words she gave no sign.
"You drove away my ghost just by being a friend. One person can mean everything to us but the ghost doesn't ... know that everyone else is worthwhile too and--"
Luna could not continue. Her eyes alighted on the last of the fruit in the basket - no doubt abandoned to their fate by a former patient.
"Mummy ... loved ... apples ... and pears," she gasped tearfully. "We always had lots but I remember once there was only one apple left by the end of the week. Mummy was hungry. She went to get an apple. I said I wanted one too. She didn't cut it in half - she gave me the whole apple--" Luna broke down for a long time before beginning again.
"She gave me the whole apple..." repeated Luna with a desperate, faraway look in her eyes. "That was the last thing she ever gave me. I wish she hadn't have been hungry when she... passed away." Luna screwed up her eyes tight and stopped talking. There was no one to see her poor little body shaking as she sobbed all alone at the unbearable memory that would never go away.
"I told Daddy it was sad that you had to share your mummy's love with all your brothers when I had had Mummy all to myself. Daddy said that's bad Arithmancy. He said even if Mrs. Weasley had to divide an apple in seven for all her children to get a piece, love cannot be divided; it can only be multiplied - so she can give all her love to all of them - and plenty to spare."
Distant voices indicated someone else had entered and was speaking to Madam Pomfrey.
Luna looked at Ginny and said softly, "I hope your ghost goes away, Ginny. Please, please come back to me. I hope you think I'm worthwhile enough to come back to. Don't listen to that silly ghost and it will go away."
As Luna looked at Ginny's face she noticed something. It was a delicate chain at her throat, softly rising and falling with her breathing. She looked at the bowl of flowers on the little table and she suddenly understood.
"Ginny! Ginny!" she whispered loudly. "He never took your medallion! The headmaster never got it - he only got what he saw!"
Perhaps Luna only imagined she felt a slight increase in pressure from Ginny's hand in hers and a little colour coming back to her cheeks because there was no other indication that Ginny had heard Luna at all.
Footsteps approached and Luna looked up.
"Miss Lovegood, we have something that might help." It was Madam Pomfrey. She was pouring a a few drops of potion into a shallow bowl. With her was Professor Slughorn who sprinkled on some powdered herbs. He flicked his wand several times over the brew while softly uttering a long incantation. Meanwhile, Madam Pomfrey dragged the side table a little closer to Ginny then cleared a space between the fruit bowl and the flower basket. She picked up the little book, tossed it onto the bed then put down the small bowl of potion, now steaming, on the table.
"The Vapours of Life are very reinvigorating," said Slughorn enthusiastically, "but exceedingly difficult to prepare. St. Mungos is the only other place that manages to maintain a stock - for cases of coma and so on. Its key ingredient is the fluff off a fairy's wing - it's very uplifting."
"No!" cried Luna. "Do the fairies--?"
"Oh, don't fret yourself, young lady; the fairies offer it voluntarily in exchange for exclusive use of their glades and proper respect of fairy rings and suchlike; they quickly regrow their fluff."
"Thank you, Professor," said Madam Pomfrey, "for going to all this trouble--"
"Oh it was not I who prepared this potion; I merely did the final enchantment," said Slughorn. "I thought you knew - it was the headmaster who produced this concoction. He said it might be needed in the hospital wing."
The Matron and Luna exchanged astonished looks.
"Huh! A case of guilty conscience if I am not much mistaken," huffed Pomfrey.
"That wicked man has no conscience," said Luna scathingly. Her eyes were still red from weeping. "He only wants Ginny fit to serve her detention."
Slughorn and Pomfrey looked rather shocked but said nothing.
"May I stay a little longer, please," said Luna. "I'd like to see Ginny getting better."
"Your first class is with me this morning, is it not?" said Slughorn.
"After that, I think it wise if you resume your normal lessons then perhaps return here during the lunch break.
"Are you not going to breakfast, Miss Lovegood? It's almost time." asked Madam Pomfrey. She glanced hopefully at the fruit but what was left was not fit for consumption.
"I'll be alright, thank you. I can't eat, anyway."
The two walked away. Slughorn called over his shoulder. "Don't get too near that bowl, young lady - or you'll not sleep for a week and be dancing to all your lessons!"
Luna, still sitting on the bed, moved slightly away. She bumped into the little book laying on the bedspread. She could see the words on the cover now: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. She thought it a very strange title indeed and wondered if the Muggle mother had brought it for her daughter and then forgotten it in her hurry to leave. Better to save the child and lose the book than the other way round thought Luna.
Luna turned her attention back to Ginny and decided she must not be impatient and should give the potion time to work. She looked anxiously at the clock but time seemed to be crawling along. She kept picking up the book, reading a little, then putting it down again. After almost an hour there was no sign of improvement in Ginny's condition and Luna began to despair. If only Harry was here. Luna knew he'd forgive Ginny and everything would be alright she was certain.
More and more she kept looking at the chain that held Ginny's medallion. She felt sure it held some secret connection but what? She had seen Ginny hiding it behind her hair while she looked at it many times. Perhaps that was all that was needed.
She took hold of the chain, gently pulled out the medallion, and held it up for Ginny to see. The image on it was just a bowl of flowers to Luna but she was convinced that was not what Ginny could see. Whatever it was, Ginny did not respond. What was wrong? Luna tried to remember if Ginny did anything else. She had not used her wand nor uttered any incantation. She had moved her head down close to it sometimes.
That was it! Luna's face lit up. She now knew what to do. Very carefully, she brought the disk up towards Ginny's face. Was she holding the real medallion? Or only a self-conjured fake? She hoped the conjuration was only when it was taken away. She touched the silvery disk to Ginny's lips.
"Please, Harry. Please help Ginny. Help her, Harry - no matter what."
Not a flicker of emotion crossed Ginny's face. She stared straight ahead.
"The flowers are so beautiful. Thank you Luna," said Ginny.
Luna was startled. She turned swiftly to see the bright yellow lilies, purple carnations and huge white daisies that now flourished in their basket; she saw the succulent grapes and plums, bursting with goodness; and slowly - slower even than the clock on the wall - she saw Ginny's face relax into a sad little smile and her eyes were now upon Luna.
"Harry says he loves me - no matter what."
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