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Love Breaks The Noble Spirit by Hippothestrowl
Chapter 22 : Hannah's Tale
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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Chapter 22


Hannah's Tale




Ginny stood in the lane, silently looking back at the place where Harry had Disapparated only moments before. A cold wind flapped her travel cloak and she shuddered, hugging it closer around her. Ice and snow had not yet reached this part of the country but it could not be long before it swept down from the north. She sighed, then turned for home. As she approached the Burrow, a familiar figure waved frantically at her.

"Where've you been young lady! Worried sick! Sent Charlie all over Ottery!"

"What made you think I'd be in Ottery, Mum?" grinned Ginny, leaning over to pretend her basket full of gifts was heavier than it really was.

"Well, I..."

"Wassup, anyway?" said Ginny as they walked home.

"Mr Abbott's here. And Hannah - couldn't leave her on her own."

"She's still... the same?"

"No better. It's serious, Ginny. What were you lot up to?" Mrs Weasley stopped and grabbed Ginny's arm. "Did any of you use magic on her?"

"'Course not, Mum!" cried Ginny. "She must have hit her head - it was the train--"

"Neville said yesterday she was sitting down - she was the only one of you three still in her seat. You two fell on the floor and Neville got a bruise to show for it - how could she bang her head without moving?"

"Dunno - didn't think about it," muttered Ginny resuming their walk and drawing her mother after her.

"Well, start thinking about it, Miss!" Mrs Weasley scowled as she caught up with her daughter. "You don't understand, Ginny. Things are different now. Some folk go to St. Mungo's and are not seen again. Hannah's mother was killed and I think she was Muggle-born! Mr Abbott daren't trust anything controlled by the Ministry. He's beside himself with worrying what to do! Poppy Pomfrey's not at the school this Christmas. Your dad was wondering whether to send her a Patronus but he's doubtful she can help anyway. Never seen anything like it. Poor Hannah might be cursed for all we know!"

Now it was Ginny's turn to stop and snatch at the sleeve of her companion. "Neville!"

"Neville's been owling and Flooing and goodness knows what. He--"

"No - Neville and Luna have to go and see a specialist. They--" Ginny looked confused suddenly.

"Now what?" said Mrs Weasley. "You know, Ginny, you still look a bit peeky yourself. Perhaps--"

"Wasn't Luna going to stay with us this Christmas?" Ginny had put down her basket and was rubbing her head. Mrs Weasley started to look more worried.

"Luna?" Said Mrs Weasley, with a frown.

"No - wait. I think I'm getting muddled up with another year," Ginny said, doubtfully.

"Luna's not stopped with us over Christmas since I don't know when." Mrs Weasley looked anxiously at her daughter for a few seconds then she reached down and picked up the basket. "I'll carry this - you take my arm."

"But--"

"No 'buts,'" said Mrs Weasley firmly.

Mr Weasley started speaking animatedly as his wife led Ginny through the Burrow's back door. "Molly - John's heard from Mrs Finnigan there were Death Eaters on the train. We were wondering if--" He spotted his daughter over Molly's shoulder. "Ginny! You didn't say anything about--"

"No, there were no Death Eaters - not that we saw anyway. Hannah was with us all the time." Ginny watched her mother heft the basket onto the top of the little kitchen cabinet in the corner. At the main table sat Mr Abbott, hunched over an untouched cup of tea. He roused himself at the dull sound of the basket's landing.

"We need someone," he said emphatically, pushing away his teacup and saucer and turning in his seat to address them all. He got up. "I don't have a choice but to go to St. Mungo's." He paced up and down for a while, thinking deeply. "Perhaps if I stay with her - refuse to go until they look at her - bring her away with me... I... I don't want to leave her there. At least, if an expert sees her we might learn something."

Mrs Weasley turned to Ginny who was laying her travel cloak over the basket to mark it as her own. "Ginny, what were you saying about a specialist?"

"Oh, erm... Neville had... erm... Madam Pomfrey, she wanted to check if he'd been cursed so she gave him an address of someone who used to work at the hospital. Neville'll tell you."

Arthur Weasley made a dive for the fireplace and cast some floo powder into the flames. He waited a second for them to turn green then thrust in his head.

"You sure about this, Ginny?" said Mrs Weasley.

"Yes, of course."

Mrs Weasley took away the cold cup of tea from the table and put it with the dishes to be washed up. She pointed her wand at the kettle on the hob and started to prepare a fresh teapot. Ginny eyed the basket on the cabinet, wondering when she might discretely retrieve its contents.

Arthur pulled his head out of the fire and brushed soot from his shoulders as he stood up. "He's coming over. They're having a row about it but he's coming over."

"Neville?" said Ginny.

"Yes."

There was a flare up at the hearth a few minutes later and Neville stepped into the kitchen. His gaze flitted over each inquisitive expression but he had his own question. "Where's Hannah?"

"Resting on the couch," said Mr Weasley, bending his head and shoulders over towards the open doorway to the parlour. "Charlie's in there with her!" he added as Neville went to the threshold. Neville looked through for a few seconds then came back.

"I'm going with her," he said. "I'm... n- not supposed to tell anyone the address, b- but I can take you." He looked to Mr Abbott for agreement and accepted his enthusiastic nod.

"Can you still remember it, Nev?" said Ginny.

"Yeah, course I can. I memorised it." He pulled out his Remembrall to emphasise his point and his face fell. The device was bright red. It was almost smoking.

"Neville!" cried Ginny.

"That's not it. No worries. Probably didn't change my socks this month - I'm joking! I remember the address alright." He looked around at the worried faces then said defensively, "I recall things if I really memorise them - I'd never forget how to repot a Mimbulus Mimbletonia would I? How do you think I passed my exams if I couldn't remember anything!"

"Neville, I want you take Ginny as well," said Mrs Weasley, quietly. Mr Weasley spun around to look at Ginny then at his wife. She explained in a loud side-whisper to him that everyone could hear in the silence anyway, "She's not herself."

They all went, leaving Charlie to watch over the house. The group Apparated together to a steeply-sloping back street because Neville still did not want to directly tell them the floo address. The old road was still cobbled, with grubby, terraced houses of red brick stretching all the way down its length. A corner mini-mart indicated it was a Muggle area. Neville looked up and down for a moment then set off purposefully in the direction of the lower end. The sky was overcast and there were spots of rain trying to be sleet but melting as they hit the pavement slabs. A train hooted with impatience from a distant embankment.

Neville stopped outside a narrow, covered entryway between two houses, glanced at the others, then led the way in. Mr Abbott was close behind him, his arm around his daughter who still had not spoken a word. There was wet washing dripping from a clothes line along the dark passage and a door halfway down on the right with a very high concrete step. Neville stood on it, balancing precariously to push the doorbell, then stumbled back. They could still hear a buzzer sounding deep inside the building then it died away to be replaced by the sound of approaching footsteps. The door opened a crack.

"What?"

"Neville Longbottom."

"Who?"

"Madam Pomfrey sent me. She said--"

The door swung open and they all followed Neville over the elevated threshold. It opened directly into a cold parlour kept dark by a tiny window where grime fought soot in each meagre pane. The dead screen of a portable television stared out blankly upon a threadbare sofa. From this slumped seating, the only one in the room, crept a dank smell to add itself apologetically to the general run-down atmosphere. The man who had invited them in had the appearance of an old Muggle as ungroomed and neglected as the room he now commanded, hand on hips. He was broad with far-receding hair and wore a crumpled white shirt hanging out over dark, shabby trousers. The stubble on his chin matched in colour the grey of the sparse hair on his head. One hand departed one hip and pulled upon a hanging cord that threatened to tickle his ear. This action nicely illuminated a dim bulb overhead, and perhaps his bald pate, but did little for the room. He peered at them all briefly before he spoke.

"Well, what do you want?"

Mr Abbott brought Hannah forward and the man looked thoughtfully at her expression before he pulled out a wand.

Mr Weasley's wand was already out but Mr Abbott drew his too and spoke first. "Are you the healer?" He sounded doubtful.

"You didn't expect me to look like one did you?" the man said. He cast his wand over Hannah and intoned various spells with the authority of someone who had done this often throughout his life.

"Nothing," he said finally.

"There must be!" Mr Abbott had raised his voice then quickly lowered it. "You must do it more thoroughly than--"

"You telling me how to do my job?" said the old man. "There is nothing magical affecting this girl is what I mean. I suspect either brain damage or else she is in shock."

"Brain damage!" This time, Mr Abbott made no attempt to lower his voice.

"Patience, patience." The man indicated the old settee. "Over here."

Mr Abbott reluctantly guided Hannah to sit down on the odorous seat. The man rudely pushed him out of the way, lit his wand, and examined Hannah's head from all sides. "No contusions. ... Very well - bring her upstairs." The man walked off so abruptly they had to hasten to follow him up the long, narrow flight of steps that drummed back the sound of his footsteps.

The upper level was extensive, bare, and quite dark, as bland and drab as an abandoned warehouse floor. With a blazing sweep of his wand all was transformed. The space filled itself with tasteful furniture and decorations, well-lit by lights unseen. Instead of walled rooms, half-height screens jostled rather loosely into position to separate one area from another. The section into which they now entered had something of the air of a large office, being adorned with bookshelves, but a leather examination couch suggested it was the healer's clinic. A narrow pedestal, empty but for a yellowed covering, dominated the middle of the area and a small scribe's desk stood against a side partition. The old man was already searching an impressive row of cabinet drawers beyond it.

"Was anyone with her when she fell ill?"

Neville stepped forward. "S- She didn't... I was with her... and..." He looked round and Ginny stepped forward too.

"Well?" The old man didn't look up from his cabinet search. The tiny drawers were heavy with stacked cards like a library index.

"Well, what?" said Neville, starting to feel rather impatient with the man's brusque attitude.

"Well, what happened?"

"Nothing. We were on a train. It went into a tunnel and lurched about too fast. We fell over and Hannah started screaming. No, wait, maybe it wasn't a tunnel." Neville scratched his head thoughtfully.

"She fell over?" The man squinted up at him. He did not appear to see too well yet he was not wearing spectacles.

"No, just me and Ginny. Hannah was sitting down."

"She was sitting down. You two fell over. She started screaming?"

"Y... yes." The man's simplified description made the event sound rather foolish.

He came over and started looking at Neville and Ginny. He didn't use his wand. At last he humphed a little and turned to Mr Abbott. "Are you the father?"

"Yes, I am. What--"

"I'll need her memories. It'll take a while. You can all go and have some refreshments through there."

"I'm not leaving Hannah!" said Mr Abbott.

"Nor I!" said Neville.

"As you wish." He flicked his wand firmly towards the pedestal and an obedient bowl, wide but shallow, floated down from a high shelf and made itself comfortable upon the creamy cloth.

Leaving Neville with the Abbotts, Arthur Weasley firmly guided his family away between the screens that separated one area from the next. He headed towards a busy sound that suggested a homely activity and found themselves a sizable dining area measured by a formidable buffet table. The varied dishes it displayed did not convey expectancy so much as preparedness, as if always ready for visitors at any hour.

A smart house-elf was employed so vigorously with a cloth he could scarcely hang on to it, polishing and re-polishing a silver fruit bowl. At the Weasleys' approach he placed it swiftly but lovingly upon a low end table whose shining waxed surface appeared to have already received the happy servant's attention. He leapt up with that unnerving enthusiasm that only such creatures can express at the possibility of more endeavour.

"May Scrupish assist the good ladies and gentleman? Partake of food and drink most welcomely. They may call on Scrupish if the fine visitors need anything." He indicated the laden buffet and the many seats that stood before a crackling fireplace, then he took his duster and the pampered fruit bowl to the farthest corner he could find and resumed his labour with a will.

The sombre group ate in silence but for the flapping and squeaking of the elf's rag. Presently, Neville leaned into view around the divider. "He wants you and me, Ginny."

Ginny got up from her half-eaten sandwich and took one last swig of tea to finalise the skimped meal.

"Not without me he doesn't," said Mrs Weasley following Ginny out with Neville. Mr Weasley, who was overdue back at the Ministry but had had no opportunity to each lunch, remained behind with the meat and drink.

In the healing space, Mr Abbott and Hannah were sitting side by side on the couch; she appeared little different. Perhaps her original expression was lessened now to mere anxiety but she persisted with the same vacant inward stare, continued to clench her hands together in supplication; still was withdrawn as if not daring to look outside the safety of herself.

"You know what this is?" asked the old man, pointing to the dish that stood upon the pedestal.

"No," said Neville.

"A Pensieve," said Ginny quickly. "Heard about them - not used one though but I know how."

"I fear you two have been Obliviated. It would take--"

"What!" exclaimed Mrs Weasley. "By whom?"

"As I was about to say, it would take a long time to explain - and even longer and more painful to use the normal methods of restoring lost memories - it's rarely possible anyway. But where we are lucky enough to have someone else's original memories of the same event,"--Here he indicated Hannah--"I have developed a technique that is safe and mostly effective."

"How?" demanded Mrs Weasley.

"They must view the events again while I cast restorative charms upon them." He held out his arm to invite them to the Pensieve. "When one visibly relives an earlier situation it reinforces the weakest remnants of memories one might have retained. The experience effectively encourages new memories to form, synchronised with the remains of the originals."

Hesitantly, Neville and Ginny approached the dish. The man indicated to Mr Abbott to bring Hannah forward.

"You're not...!" cried Neville. "Hannah's not doing this as well is she?"

"You her boyfriend?"

Neville straightened himself up. "Yeah, I am - I'm Hannah's boyfriend."

Hannah gave a tiny whimper and her eyes began to weakly focus upon him.

"Then you'd better help her hadn't you? Take her arm. And stay with her... in there!" He pointed at the waiting bowl.

"Do you know what happened?" persisted Mrs Weasley, ever-suspicious of the old man. "Have you already looked?"

"Yes. Do you want to stand here chatting or do you want to get home before Christmas and let these three tell you once they are healed?"

Ginny looked at her mother. Mrs Weasley nodded. Her anxious desire to make some progress outweighed her inclination to argue.

Neville put his arm around Hannah's shoulders and led her to Ginny at the Pensieve. They stood closely together around three of the sides. He watched nervously to see how Ginny acted.

"Just do what I do," said Ginny, not at all confident herself of what to expect, though Harry had once tried to describe it to her. She stood over the dish, looking anxiously at the misty turbulence for a long while then, when she heard the old man cough impatiently behind her, she drew her wand. She only touched the silvery surface once with the tip of her wand and immediately it began to swirl and slither faster and faster. It was curiously hypnotic.

She leaned closer and was vaguely aware that Neville was doing likewise, bending Hannah over with him. Hannah's scream came without warning but Ginny knew why. The strange fluid had become transparent, just as Harry had said it did, and she was looking down into what seemed to be a tiny room. So unusual was the viewpoint that it took a few moments for her to recognise it as the train compartment they had travelled in from Hogwarts the previous day.

Her attention was divided between the sound of Hannah wailing and struggling, with Neville trying to calm her, and the scene below. She could see herself in the corner nearest the door tearing open a pack of Chocolate Cauldrons and accidentally dropping one on the seat. She remembered doing that but it was eerie watching herself do it again all the same. To her right - the Ginny in the bowl's right - in the window corner, she could see the top of Neville's party hat snuggling into Hannah's long, fair hair. But there was someone else there looking out of the misty window in the opposite corner seat; a girl with short dark hair. Was she the one who had Obliviated them?

Ginny gazed down, entranced yet frightened - then she felt her mother's comforting hand on her shoulder. She forced herself to look sideways at Neville who was now hugging Hannah closely over the bowl and he nodded back at her. She took a deep breath and plunged her face down into the misty soup of imagery.

Despite bracing herself she was abruptly pulled helplessly down accompanied by Hannah's renewed shrieking alongside her as she fell. Sucked into stomach-churning darkness by an inexorable, irresistible force, she cringed, awaiting the impact...

There was no collision. She found herself seated beside the alien, dark-haired girl with the old Ginny coming towards her, grinning like an idiot. Hannah was wedged against her with Neville - yet they were also on the opposite seat. Ginny's head whirled. It was if the walls were closing in. Perhaps Harry might have taken it in his stride but he hadn't been faced with himself - not two copies of everyone. She shrank away from this claustrophobic atmosphere, reacting instinctively to get out of the way of her approaching clone by getting up from her seat. Her reflex was too slow: the other Ginny was passing through her to sit where she had sat as the real Ginny rose up. She twisted away, lurching backwards and placed herself unexpectedly beyond the outer door, suspended outside, defying the track that was racing below. For a moment she panicked yet she did not fall as expected. Through the window was Neville, shock-faced, staring at her, then bravely following with the quivering Hannah in his arms.

The carriage wheels rattled noisily at their feet but the sound was subdued, as though heard from within. To their right, the countryside was a patchy, snowy blur, reddened by a hazy setting sun they could not see; on the left, in the direction they were speeding, was only a black void.

"This is Hannah's memory!" Ginny had shouted but she had not needed to raise her voice - there was no recollection of the howling, freezing wind here. "She's not yet seen what's ahead and only glimpsed parts of what's gone by."

Neville, bizarrely suspended beside her, nodded doubtfully, his attention on the girl floating in his arms.

They pressed up to the frosty compartment window. Ginny tried to wipe it with her sleeve but the condensation was inside. At that moment, a whirling hand revived the clarity of a large circle within, and a pale face stared directly out at her - or rather, through her.

Ginny felt as if an entire wall of unconnected memory bricks had suddenly hit her and she gasped breathlessly. She knew it was Luna's face but a thousand shredded recollections were fighting for reorganisation in her head.

"Luna?" said Neville at her side. Neville was hammering silently on the window with the flat of his hand. "Luna!"

"She can't hear you," Ginny managed to say.

"Why's she there? Why's she look like that? What happened to her hair?"

Ginny turned to him and shook her head. Hannah had both arms and legs half-wrapped around him weightlessly from the side, clinging to the one island of sanity in an ocean pouring towards madness. She had stopped screaming but was mewling pitifully from her throat.

Yet through the window, the misty figure of the Neville on the train was releasing his Hannah and turning as if he had heard something. Ginny pressed her face forward right through the glass to see clearly. Somehow, viewing the scene from outside made it more bearable than being immersed in it, part of it. The other Ginny in the compartment was back in her own corner, reaching up to the bag again but twisted around, with an expression as if startled and looking for the cause.

"Hannah, I think you have to watch too," said Neville. Their staring faces pressed through the glass beside Ginny's in time to see the door to the corridor being slid open by someone just out of sight.

The figure that appeared at the door was Edmund Trevett, one hand on the door handle, the other clinging whitely to the strap of his Trunkate hung snugly over his shoulder. His expression was darkly-dreadful, torn and full of apprehension. He looked directly at Luna, mouth gaping, no sound uttering.

"Do what you must, Edmund," said Luna, softly.

"Not in this one," he said loudly but hoarsely to someone over his shoulder, "She has blonde hair."

He started to slide the door shut but a big muscular arm reached out and stopped it. "Why say it then?"

A broad, fair-haired man pushed past him into the doorway, wand in hand. He took one quick look around then cast a spell directly at Luna. "Finite!"

As the long, straggly locks of Luna's natural hair cascaded over her shoulders he backed out of the doorway, turned and called softly but excitedly along the corridor, "It's her, Dolohov! Keep it quiet" The faint incantation of an Imperturbable Charm being cast filtered back through the doorway.

Neville lunged dozily forward, his purple cone party hat slid forward over one eye and his wand shot eagerly from its holster onto the floor. He scrabbled down for it but the big man sniggered and pointed his own through the doorway. Before he could use it, Edmund had heaved himself at the man's waist, doubling him over in the corridor outside, winded. In the process, Edmund tripped himself down to one knee, half on top of his victim and helping to hold him for a few seconds. The threshold was cleared and Edmund yelled with the full strength of his voice, "Run, Luna!"

"Rowle! Keep down!" came in from the corridor. A curse from that direction hit Edmund and both his legs now gave way; his wand was sent skidding and sliding along the passage. He squirmed on the floor trying to rise but his limbs were not functioning.

Ginny had her own wand out but woozily fumbled it backwards and had no clear target. Luna was on her feet but did not draw her wand. Frozen in silent terror was Hannah, still in her corner, hands framing her cheeks.

Relieved of Edmund's weight, the big man, Rowle, was quickly on his own feet. He strode in to grab Luna by the arm, then lugged her back towards the door. Neville was still on the floor, trying to retrieve his wand from where it had rolled into the low gap under the seats and looking desperately upwards to see that Hannah was still safe.

Luna stumbled under the force of the big man's impatient tugs. There was a piercing howl and a fusion of spitting, shrieking white fur launched itself from the luggage racked above Hannah's head straight at the astonished face of Luna's assailant. He screamed in pain yet did not release the terrible grip he had on his captive. Thrusting his wand at the creature on his face, he bawled, "Relashio!"

"Dippity!" cried Luna. The cat was flung hard across the compartment against the wall where it slid down, motionless onto the seat where Luna had previously sat.

Blood streamed from the claw marks on Rowle's face but he pulled Luna closer to him and dragged her into the doorway, blocked by Edmund on the floor. Inflamed to fury by the treatment given to the little cat, Luna seemed, at last, to come alive. She bit down hard on Rowle's hand and struggled to free herself. He howled again and threw Luna down where he booted out angrily but blindly. "You vicious beast! You'll pay for that! I'll make you regret it!"

Edmund, still legless on the floor, reached out futilely to try to protect her, taking a second kick on his arm. Ginny raised her wand, unsure where to aim, for Rowle was now crouching over Luna. Neville, from one knee, cast a protective shield over the terrified Hannah and tried to twist around to help Luna - but he was too late.

There was a shout from the corridor of "Treacherous vermin! Now the vixen'll get it too! We warned you!"

Rowle flung himself aside as multiple curses came in from the corridor to which he added his own. Edmund howled desperately, "NO!" and strived to shield Luna with his body as best he could. Shocks of light floodlit the compartment many colours in turn, bloody red glows, blinding whites, deathly greens, dazzling everyone's eyes in the confined space. The Trunkate's enchantment failed with Edmund's death, exploding soiled clothing like a beggar's shroud upon Luna. Her lifeless white hand, still wandless, was all that was to be seen of the young girl's body. Hannah began to scream repeatedly, unable to look away from Edmund's eyes which were directed unseeingly back at her.

Ginny avenged Luna with a viciously-incanted stunning spell and the unfortunate Rowle, still bleeding from face and hand, slumped across the two bodies in the doorway. But now, unobstructed by the big man, Dolohov, the killer from the corridor, crouched forward over the heap and called "Incarcerous!" at her before she could follow through.

Ginny slumped back onto her seat, ropes coiling around her, binding, gagging, choking her; eyes wide, expecting death. She felt herself sliding down helplessly to sit on the floor against the seat and her wand slid from her enfeebled grasp. She vent her malice upon Dolohov with a glare. He snarled in return, stumbled forward into the compartment, and cast a dark hex which, though badly aimed, hit her leg. He stood sneering at her muffled cry of pain and took aim again more carefully.

"Expelliarmus!" from Neville spun Dolohov's wand into the air. The man turned surprisingly quickly, charged forward, pushed the courageous Gryffindor down, and stomped his foot heavily onto Neville's wand arm. Once again, the wand tumbled to the floor.

The Death Eater took up the trapped youth's wand and Neville could see in those cruel eyes that he hungered to snap it - to avenge his loss and end its threat forever. Instead, he pointed the wand steadily at its pinioned master, crouched low, backed off, hand groping behind him for his own weapon. Released from Dolohov's boot, Neville rubbed his arm, returning the Death Eater's stare with equal malice. Hannah stirred and Dolohov's eyes flicked upwards to the now-silent girl as if noticing her for the first time. Neville lunged instinctively to protect his chosen mate but the Death Eater was faster.

"Incarcerous!" cried Dolohov.

The borrowed wand was not so effective in Dolohov's hand but its spell sufficed to impede Neville while his assailant found his own. Once he felt secure, Dolohov looked around, surveying the damage. He saw the three bodies half-enwrapped in the messy pile of clothes and cursed angrily under his breath, throwing Neville's wand down with frustration. He dragged Rowle clear and, pointing his own wand at him, murmured, "Rennervate."

There were many seconds before Rowle's eyes blinked open, then Dolohov snapped at him, "What the hell do we do now?" He went to the doorway and leaned out. Apparently satisfied that his quietening charms had obscured their activities from the others on the train he came back and cuffed the back of the head of Rowle, who was now sitting, thinking through what had happened. "Come on! Get up, will you!"

Rowle growled from the floor, "These were to be neat retrievals not messy assassinations! How d'we explain this?"

He struggled to his feet and examined the deep wounds around his wrist. "That wretch damned near bit my hand off! And her blasted cat ripped me up!" He winced as his fingers explored his face and kicked out angrily again at the body under the clothing. He missed and stumbled over again, a shirt sleeve trapped around his leg. He swore under his breath.

Without warning, Dolohov looked directly at the windows where the three staring faces of the real Ginny, Neville, and Hannah pressed through, numbly watching what was taking place. For a moment, they thought they could be seen. He strode towards them and they instinctively pulled back, floating a few feet away from the still-speeding train. They couldn't perceive clearly through the misted-up window but they could hear what was said within as loudly as Hannah's memory.

"We have to dispose of the bodies. We'll go out this way - make the driver stop - tell him do it nice and easy!"

The big Rowle got groggily to his feet for a second time, looked viciously at Dolohov's back for a few seconds, then stepped out through the corridor doorway.

Dolohov looked around, thoughts and fears racing faster while the train became slower. They had already angered the Dark Lord once this year and paid a terrible price. He shuddered. Before the train had fully stopped he slid down the window, reached out for the safety handle then eased the door open carefully so it wouldn't strike noisily against the side of the train.

The slipstream flapped and whipped the discarded laundry but the train was screeching to a halt and the two men dragged Luna's and Edmund's bodies to the door and dropped them unceremoniously down to the trackside like a couple of flour sacks.

The shaken observers, Ginny, Neville, and Hannah, heard Stunning and Obliviate spells being cast upon their earlier selves and watched impotently as the two bodies were dragged beyond Hannah's memory into the black unseen. Shock stayed them as the train carried its remaining passengers unknowingly away to complete their journey. Long before it was out of sight, an icy, spinning blackness descended upon the three of them and a giddy sense of nausea yielded to the blinding light of the healer's office.

"Ginny, Ginny - you alright, love?" Her mother's arms were around her. Ginny could see Hannah sobbing quietly; her father stroking her hair and whispering things to comfort her. Neville was still with Ginny leaning on the pedestal for support, eyes fixed intently upon her. "Ginny... your... your..." He did not know what the object of his thought was named and substituted vague pointing gestures that conveyed even less comprehension.

"No... no... no..." murmured Ginny, divining full well what he intended but not wishing to even think it. He nodded in an attempt to reassure her; it was all he could manage. Her hand crept into her pocket almost against her will and retrieved the little silver talisman gifted to her by Luna. It was the shape of a teardrop. Her trembling fingers moved across the metal but the enchanted holder was reluctant to reveal what it knew. Only as she persisted did it finally yield its secret: the flame of friendship had died.

Neville wept; was utterly lost to it.

Reality was cold and empty and now that Ginny saw that Luna truly was dead, she fell to her knees, distraught beyond words. Bitterly was the glistening teardrop flung down to crookedly roll away across the floor.

—oOo—






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