GREY FACED

Tue. 16 July

“Well, Director, I’m not sure as exactly what to tell you. Why don’t you start from the top again.”

Director Bones sighed visibly before launching into the story as she remembered it which wasn’t particularly great—and that was the problem.

“I left the meeting with Kingsley at seventeen-thirty. We’d just finished discussing how valuable I found him and that I was sorry that his promotion hadn’t worked out. I went by the Leaky Cauldron to ask Tom... something... it’s— it’s right there, but I can’t grasp it. And then I left... I’m sure of it. But then... nothing...”

“Nothing until you woke up completely arseholed in the back of the Cauldron.”

Amelia was not immune to getting drunk on occasion. She’d gone a bender after that whole debacle with Harry in the Wizengamot. But she would never do that on duty. Ever.

“But, Alastor... the signal.”

“You bit your cheek. If I had a galleon for every time someone bit their cheek or tongue when they were pissed.”

“Alastor... I don’t drink on duty. And my memory is excellent.”

“Fine. I’ll check you over again.”

Amelia opened her mental shields and allowed Alastor free access—mostly. She could feel his mind touching hers ever so lightly. It was like a stranger was running their hand up her arm millimetres from the skin touching only the hairs. It felt at once intimate and skeevy. But she submitted to it since the alternative was untenable.

After several minutes the caressing fingers finally retreated from her mind.

“There’s nothing there, Director. If someone modified your memory, they are better than Shacklebolt. He’s our best and I have yet to meet a mind he’s modified that I couldn’t detect. Face it, you went out on the piss.”

She hadn’t gone ‘out on the piss’, but Amelia didn’t know what had happened either. It unnerved her more than anything else. Her mind was her purpose and her ability. Without it she was nothing.

Who had done it?

How did they do it?

And, most importantly, why?

~ diffindo ~

Molly tended her vegetable garden well. Her newest plants were the carrots and beans she’d planted in June. It was important to tend the seedlings lest they be choked by weeds that took root unbidden and ultimately unwelcome. She grasped a particularly pretty bluebell that was sprouting out of a row of cabbages.

She couldn’t shake the similarity to her protective feelings for her only daughter. She’d had a long think after her tumultuous emotions had subsided in the wake of her visit to Ronald. It wasn’t the first time—and surely wouldn’t be the last—that her mothering instincts threatened to overtake her.

It wasn’t Hermione’s fault. It wasn’t even Harry’s fault—though a lorry could drive through the holes in his judgement. She thought back to Hermione’s words as she lectured her parents.

‘It was war... lots of people died. They actually died. War doesn’t spare the weak or cowardly. War doesn’t respect anything except power.’

Those words weren’t intelligence. They weren’t wisdom. Those words rose from pain—the pain of experience. It far outstripped her years. Hermione should not know these things.

Molly shook her head and warded off the sadness that sought to immerse her. So many children had had their childhoods crushed and in such a short period.

But Ronald hadn’t even told her they were serious. He’d written her a couple of times about Hermione in ways that made her suspect his interest. But she could read the depth of their bond in Hermione’s behaviour.

Lord, it was probably physical. The muggles had such a callow outlook on love and responsibility. At least the poor girl wasn’t pregnant.

Molly felt a twinge of shame at that recollection. She shouldn’t have, but it mattered far too much to be unsure. She had cast a bewitched sleep upon Hermione—and Ginny too, to be fair. It was a simple spell to know whether one was up the flue. It wasn’t right to cast magicks without consent, but it had been important.

If she were pregnant, then there would be no opportunity for a shotgun wedding. With Ronald sick and unconscious, it was a real threat to the girl’s reputation. And even then... Molly wasn’t sure she could stomach allowing her son to marry the mother of a bastard child.

God—she again prayed for his forgiveness—for it had been an uncharitable line of thought. She didn’t even know if Hermione and her Ron had crossed that boundary.

Molly yanked and the beautiful flower was deprived of it’s source of nutrition, but unlike all the other weeds she couldn’t bring herself to just throw it aside. It didn’t belong here. It was dangerous here. It would only hurt those around it if it were left here. It was her responsibility to remove it to protect those that belonged.

But it deserved a place. She would pot it, give it care, and see what beauty it bore.

~ diffindo ~

Wed. 17 July

The wings of pumpkin, vermilion, and crimson bled slightly into the twilight sky painted in subtle shades of prussian blue. The bird’s beak cocked slightly sideways as though to say ‘I see you.’ His downward pitch indicated a slow relaxed descent. The ground was nowhere to be seen.

Still, something was missing.

The avian form looked lonely. He comforted the viewer with his presence, but was utterly isolated from them. He was tired with nowhere in sight to land. The skyscape spoke of tragedy instead of hope.

There was an empty space above and to the left of the bird on the canvas. It was sitting there as though waiting to manifest a purpose already reserved for it. He needed a place of respite—not a home though—this soul had no home.

Millicent loaded a clean brush with deep brown and stroked out a small island floating in the sky dripping small clumps of dirt into the unseen below. She added a little black to deepen the brown further and drew a crooked and dead tree on the island—not at the edge, but somewhat off centre. With another brush she built a bold forest green and added a dappling of bushy plants jutting just out of the soil.

It wasn’t a home, but it was a place of rest.

Millicent set her brush down, stepped back, and surveyed the image of her imagined avatar. He spoke to her soul in a way that no natural manifestation of nature ever had. He was unusual, strong but vulnerable, loyal but alone.

No one knew him just as no one knew the true Millicent. They only knew the shell—the mask. They knew her.

It was getting harder to sleep at night. The stresses were redoubling. The nightmares plagued the dreams that visited every evening. Her family would never understand. The art was all that was left and the summer was waning.

She would return to Hogwarts where she would mount the stage in her expected role—become the intimidating bodyguard Slytherin. The ugly hag. It wasn’t her fault. This was not what she was supposed to be.

The bird’s wings had been shackled at birth and now bore the invisible chains that none but death would unlock. His wish was to be free and flying through a sky of blue even if it meant being alone.

Even if it meant having no home.

Millicent turned to leave her canvas behind. As she opened her bedroom door, she prepared herself to also leave the truth behind and instead face a reality that didn’t care about truth.

The aged grain of the stairs in the Bulstrode home creaked loudly as she descended reminding her of why she would always be an outcast among her dormmates. She would be useful—and used—but never invited into the circle of disingenuous beauty.

“Is that you Millie?”

Mother was calling from the kitchen. Millicent hated that name and while her mother used it without malice her brother would taunt her with it regularly.

She stopped just inside the threshold of her mother’s domain.

“Yes, Mother.”

Her mother was washing dishes. She always took such pride in handling the tasks of the home without recourse to the expediency of her magic. She worked hard and Millicent respected her greatly for that, but Millicent could never be that. The Bulstrode manor was little more than a very large and very expensive cage.

“Your brother’s confirmation has been scheduled for next Sunday—not this upcoming, but the one following. It’ll be the twenty-eighth.”

Millicent groaned at the prospect of being forced to attend mass. She belonged in the pew no more than a bird belonged in a cage. It was a place of shame and accusation.

“I want none of your surly attitude. I expect you to attend. You may appreciate your apostasy, but I do not. He deserves your presence. And maybe you’ll find time to enter into confession. How long has it been, Millie? Months? Your burden of sin cannot relieve itself.”

Mother knew nothing of sin. Mother knew nothing of Millicent’s demonic inner nature. Mother knew nothing of the damned and corrupted soul that found residence under her roof.

“Yes, Mother.”

~ diffindo ~

Wed. 17 July

Harry was being a coward. He was cowering from Ginny and he was cowering from what he knew was the right thing to do. He couldn’t betray Hermione by going behind her back to get help. It would destroy the trust between them and Harry didn’t think he could handle losing that at this moment.

But Ginny had called Harry specifically to come help Hermione, so she knew something of what was happening. She had seen or heard Hermione do something that made her act.

And here he was, wallowing in inaction, because he was too much the coward to face just how much he had screwed up her offering of affection—an affection he eagerly desired.

There was an impedance mismatch between his knowledge of right and his will to face it, but Harry would not dishonour his mother and father by continuing as he had done.

The thought of speaking with Ginny turned Harry’s stomach with anxiety born of shame, but he would do it for his best friend who needed him in this moment—possibly more than any moment past.

And this was why he stood outside of Ginny’s door. Hermione was working in the garden—something that Harry had no idea she had any aptitude for—so for once he would be able to get Ginny alone. Ginny and Hermione had been suspiciously close together ever since Harry had first arrived at the burrow and he was beginning to suspect there might be something to that.

But was it Ginny clinging to Hermione to ward off Harry or was it Hermione clinging to Ginny to ward off Harry or both or neither? Maybe he just couldn’t escape the self-centric view that everything depended on him even though that seemed to be true all the damned time.

He was distracting himself with his thoughts. He need to get on with it.

He knocked gently on her door.

~ diffindo ~

The knock on Ginny’s door was muffled through the silencing charm on the frame, but it did jolt her out of what she had been doing. Her finger slid in once last time almost mournfully. She had been so close. Hermione was always around her now—because Ginny wanted her there—but that meant that she hadn’t had any time to deal with her... tension.

She sat up from her bed and wiped her moist hand on an old shirt to remove the evidence of her arousal. The disappointment from just missing her climax pervaded her body with a sad lethargy.

She pulled up her black lace knickers, then her jeans. She clasped the button with a practiced pop and hopped up off her bed. She weakened the silencing spell on the door before calling back.

“Be right there.”

Ginny took another moment to slow her breathing and clear her mind of the images that had driven her arousal. She said goodbye to the idealized body image of her chosen mental lover and his aggressive but perfect touch. She straightened her shirt, walked over to the door, and gently opened it.

Then she slammed it.

Shit. It was him. She hyperventilated.

The timing was just terrible. It had gone so badly between them. And now with unfulfilled desire wracking her body, there was no way she could open that door and see the emerald eyes that burned with passion in her innermost fantasies.

Ginny stopped and slowed her breath. She was an adult—even if her mother thought she was a baby—and so she would face this as an adult.

~ diffindo ~

It was weird. But, really, it wasn’t that unusual for Ginny. And Harry understood to some degree. He’d felt himself panic when her voice had called back through the door. He’d wanted to run away, but that would be childish.

So he waited for her to recover and hoped that she would come back.

And she did.

Ginny slowly opened the door a second time. Her eyes darting between him and the floor.

“Sorry, come in.”

As he stepped into her room he felt a little flush with heat and humidity. There was an odd weight to the air of the room. He felt his heart start to pace itself.

“No, I’m sorry. I should have announced myself.”

Ginny nodded slightly, accepting the truce. She was pretty, Ginny was. He hadn’t really looked at her that way very often—sometimes he had—but ever since the kiss, he’d found himself looking at the curves of her eyes and lips and... everything. Those curves were slight and gentle and her body was tight and toned. She was young, virile.

The room suddenly seemed dry. He felt himself lick his lips without thinking and he saw her eyes notice him do that. Then he was looking at her lips.

Then they were looking each other in the eye again.

“Did you need something, Harry?”

“Yeah.”

He had. He was here for a reason. He tore his laser focused brain away from the flush that was invading her cheeks and forced himself to access his memory.

Hermione. He was here for Hermione.

“I am here for Hermione.”

“Oh.”

She looked slightly disappointed.

“Hermione’s out in the garden.”

“No, I mean I wanted to talk about her—Hermione—with you.”

“Okay...”

“I’m worried about her. Some of the things she said yesterday in Flourish and Blotts... I’m worried she might be a danger to herself.”

Harry saw Ginny visibly relax with a sigh. It was an odd thing to be relieved about, but with the exiting air from her lungs had receded some—but not all—of the tension in the room.

“Yeah. So now you know why I called you.”

“Yeah, about that, I’m sorry that I couldn’t stay before—”

“Don’t. I can’t be angry with you right now.”

She was avoiding his glance, but he saw her purse her lips together. He wasn’t off the hook.

“Do you want to sit down?”

Harry instinctively looked to Ginny’s bed as it was one of few surfaces where one might sit. He saw her gaze follow his and then her lips formed into a silent ‘oh’ shape and her eye brows lifted. She thought he was being presumptuous expecting that her bed would be a remotely appropriate place to sit himself. Then she looked to the chair by her desk—a far more practical option—and Harry acted upon the implicit suggestion shaking the slight disappointment at losing the opportunity to sit where Ginny so often lay.

~ diffindo ~

Harry sat in the chair and Ginny sat somewhat defensively on her bed. Her emotions were turbulent and her thoughts—particularly with relation to Harry—were muddled. But she did know one thing for damn sure. He was not going to sit on her bed—not right now—not with what she had been doing when he arrived.

“Ginny, she said everyone would be better off if she weren’t around any more. What am I supposed to do with that? There’s a part of me that thinks I should write to her parents. They really should know that she feels this way.”

“That’s not a good idea, Harry. Emma and Dan visited her a few weeks ago and she didn’t react well to the idea of being taken home. She thinks she’ll lose magic—that they won’t let her come back. I don’t know what Hermione would do if you went behind her back on this. But I know how I would feel.”

“Then what are we going to do? It can’t stay like this. What if she tries to hurt herself? That’ll be my fault if I don’t do anything.”

Ginny struggled with her commitment to Hermione’s confidence, because she knew exactly what would happen if Hermione tried to hurt herself. She would do as she had done her entire life and succeed in excess. But telling Harry would be a betrayal just as Harry going to Mrs. and Mr. Granger would be.

“I’m trying to get her to do some exercise. It always shakes me out of sadness, but every time we make any progress she goes to visit Ron or something comes up in conversation and she slides right back into her depression.”

“She’s been okay for a few days.”

“Hermione’s been better ever since you arrived. I think she’s distracted—with what’s going on—between us...”

Saying the word ‘us’ nearly broke Ginny. It hurt too much. Why had she started this? She was going to have to resolve it somehow. They couldn’t go on like this and... and he was staring at her with those eyes.

Ginny waited. Her mind had fallen fully silent when she had noticed the intensity in his eyes. She saw him look to her lips again. It brought back the memory of that first kiss. She’d been so confident and assured. She looked to his lips. He could kiss her now if he wanted to. He was only a few feet away.

Then she saw a smirk begin to spread on his face and he looked down and away nervously. His awkwardness was so amusing that she couldn’t keep herself from a brief giggle to which he responded.

The two nervously laughed away some of their mounting sexual tension.

~ diffindo ~

Harry slowed his breath in an attempt to stop laughing at the absurdity of his situation with Ginny. Maybe they should just talk about it. But as soon as the thought had arrived Harry crushed it with a hammer filled with his insecurities. And then the moment passed and the chance to collapse Schroedinger’s relationship was gone.

Ginny had moved on.

“I think, if I can keep her distracted enough, she’ll pull out of it. Speaking of which, your birthday is coming up soon. I was thinking she might want to plan and throw a party for you. I think giving her something to do would help, particularly if it is something for you.”

She was right. When Harry had lived with his aunt and uncle and cousin, he had often found that the best way to avoid what he later actualized as the horror of his stolen childhood was to throw himself into productive tasks—small attainable goals.

“But, Ginny, if you do plan something, could you include Neville too? His birthday’s right next to mine and he’s had it the hardest ever since the ministry—except for Ron I suppose...”

Ron hadn’t even woken up since his injury. Neville was hurting but at least he was still experiencing the world—spending time with friends—with Hannah. Ron might never get that chance. As much as Harry chastised Hermione for thinking that way, it was very much a truth that his best and first wizarding friend could die. He could die without ever saying goodbye...

“Don’t, Harry. I can see what your thinking. That’s what Hermione’s been doing and it isn’t working for her.”

She was right. Ginny had been right so much lately. He had to tell her. It would only get worse the longer he delayed.

“I’m leaving on Friday.”

The look of hurtful betrayal that invaded Ginny’s features caused Harry to quail.

“What?! You just got here. Hermione needs you and...”

He knew that and he knew that he should stay and resolve things with Ginny too. But Harry meant to keep his promises. His word was one of few offerings of value he had. I must not tell lies. And of course it would be worse when he told her why.

“I promised Pansy that I would meet and speak with her father this weekend. It’s a political thing... I think.”

“Pansy?! As in Parkinson? Pansy Parkinson?!”

She just stared at him with set jaw and fire in her eyes.

“We talked about this, Harry. Nothing good ever happened in the presence of death eater spawn. You’re going to leave—leave Hermione the way she is—the way we... for Pansy the Slytherin cunt. Who the fuck are you?”

Harry had never heard Ginny use that word before.

“Ginny, I just—”

“Get out! Get OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT!”

~ diffindo ~

Thu. 18 July

“Miss Parkinson, it has been far too long since you have called upon us. Draco will be down in a few minutes. It has been difficult for him. His fall broke several bones and left him with a nasty concussion. Nevertheless, I am confident he is eager to greet you, but in the meantime I must endeavour to suffice.”

“Thank you, Lord Malfoy. You needn’t grace me with your presence—but it is appreciated.”

It was true. Pansy smiled politely at Lucius. He had never taken much notice of her as a child—being well above the trappings of daily life—but it seemed that she had finally gained a measure of recognition in his eyes. Or maybe it was just pity about everything with Draco.

At least he wasn’t Narcissa.

Pansy wasn’t sure she could handle Draco’s imperious mother. She was the one who had driven Pansy away. Even after the attack—his attack—Pansy had come back hoping for things to go on—to not be broken. But Narcissa had seen to that. Perhaps it was for the best. Pansy was damaged goods now, so she could understand Lady Malfoy’s actions. It was what Pansy would have done without hesitation.

But it didn’t ease the pain or quell the hatred.

“You’ve been in Wizengamot more lately. It would seem that Aster has finally recognized what the rest of us have always known. You belong there.”

Lucius smirked with a twinge of reminiscence. It was fake. Everything he did was fake and Pansy had not grown up among the nobility without realizing that underlying bedrock truth. But in some ways among her social circle, the fake was more real than the real. It certainly was what mattered.

“Someday, Miss Parkinson, it may come to pass that you and Draco stand in our places—your father’s and mine. At least you’ll be able to stand together in the forum of politics. It can be—perhaps—partial consolation.”

“It would be an honour to be bestowed with such a responsibility.”

Lucius considered Pansy silently for a moment.

“Maybe you could give your perspective on a new initiative I am working on. It’s meant to extend and complement my previous work on muggle-borns—”

“Father, are you burdening my guest with your duties?”

Draco had come into the sitting room quietly—silently. He looked different—drawn. His recovery must have taken a lot out of him. But he was hiding it well. Draco never showed weakness even to his closest friends and family.

“Hello, Draco.”

Pansy’s library of socially astute greetings failed her. She wasn’t glad to see him and he didn’t look well.

“Father?”

Lucius looked to his son.

“Yes, of course. Miss Parkinson, with your leave I shall depart to my more onerous duties. But I meant what I said about soliciting your advice. I will forward the less sensitive documents to your father so that you may review them.”

“Well—”

Pansy hadn’t been home in quite a while and she was absolutely not going to share her current address. It was not becoming.

“Yes, sir, thank you.”

~ diffindo ~

Secrets. There were so many secrets. And so many types of secrets. There was all that he could never tell her. There were all the things he could never tell anyone—the things that only he would ever know. And there was the big secret.

But the worst of the worst was the secret that he and she shared—that joined them by its rude incision. It was a fact that they would never discuss—could never discuss. It would destroy her and he couldn’t countenance that. Not after how he had hurt her.

Draco kept his polite and friendly demeanour solidly in place and Pansy did the same, but inside he was all insecurity. What was she thinking? Why was she here now of all times? Would she pickup on the difference in him?

He knew instinctively that she shared his strife. He had not risen among the cliques of the elite without an intuition of behaviour, but Draco didn’t see how he could even talk with her without injuring her further.

It was bad enough already.

“So where have you been? Cavorting with Potter I hear.”

Despite the sharp edge, this was the most comfortable track of conversation that he could pursue. It didn’t tear at the boundary between them. It was easy to avoid talking about it. It had to be this way since they were no longer in association. The playful conspiracies were out of bounds.

“Humph, it’s political I assure you.”

“What possible use could he be to you?”

“To my father actually. Papa thinks the boy can be used as a mouthpiece for his policies.”

“Potter’s too arrogant to subordinate himself to anyone.”

“He’s already agreed to it. You must underestimate him...”

Draco had underestimated Harry Potter... several times, but Potter’s authority issues weren’t subtle.

“... or maybe you underestimate me.”

That got his attention. What was she trying to say?

“Why are you here Pansy? You barely spoke to me last year. Is this just a condolences call on my injuries? I assure you it isn’t necessary.”

Though he would never admit it, during his long ordeal he called out to Pansy many times. He wanted to see her more than anyone else, but his reputation required disdain.

“Then maybe I should go.”

She was giving him the eyes. The ones that spoke of accusation. It was a challenge—a call to his bluff. He couldn’t back down. The strong never backed down. She was waiting for him to ask her to stay to make the next move. But he wouldn’t—he couldn’t—no matter how much he wished to call to her. To embrace her and speak of all the things he was sorry for.

“Fine, I’ll go. Daphne should’ve kept to her own business. She always was a bit too presumptuous.”

Pansy rose from her seat and Draco was forced to do the same or commit breach of protocol.

“Wait!”

She stopped, but Draco didn’t know what to say. Why was he stopping her? He mustn’t show that he cared. That would diminish him.

“What is the deal with Daphne? Why is she having you visit me?”

Pansy sat back down. Draco followed. She closed her eyes and shook her head. Her hands went to her temples as if she was warding off a migraine.

“I can’t do this. Draco, Daphne is worried that she’s going to lose access to your resources. I cannot reassure her, but I was hoping that you might be able to work a back-channel for her.”

He wasn’t sure if preferred more direct. The niceties of polite conversation gave cover the dark places that they shouldn’t tread.

“Well— is that what you want? Daphne could be a threat to you.”

Pansy pursed her lips and rolled her eyes with derision.

“Who are you to talk to me of who constitutes a threat?”

Draco had known Pansy a long time and she could skewer anyone at any time, but with these words she dug out his core. He felt empty with a shame born of the wrongs he’d committed.

“I’m sorry.”

“No. No, you’re not, and don’t say you are when you know that you aren’t—can’t be—and must never be.”

“Pansy... it wasn’t my choice.”

“It... wasn’t your choice...”

She echoed him quietly.

“This was a bad idea. I’m going to go now. Please, thank your father for his time and consideration. Excuse me.”

Draco felt his heart jump into his throat at her passive aggressive attack. She was so good at that. He didn’t want to see her leave—not like this. He wanted to make her stay. He wanted to grab her wrist and spin her around—pull her to him. Pierce her with the eyes that told her she belonged to him.

But that would be wrong—especially now. And he’d probably just hurt himself in the process.

As Pansy disappeared into the emerald flames, Draco felt a part of his heart incinerate with her. He had broken everything they had been—could’ve become. Together they would’ve conquered the world. He’d given that away—and for what?

~ diffindo ~

Water ran at his knees. Thick viscous fluid ran down the dank stone walls discolouring the surface of the stream. A coppery taste nagged at his teeth. He wanted to scream for help—for someone to save him—but it was listening.

The terror blended with unknowable shades of horror as his mind fought against itself. He was too deep in. He couldn’t turn around now if he wanted to. It would find him—consume him. But she was out there, waiting for him. She too would be consumed and none would save her except for him if he could just find her.

He moved slowly taking care to keep each step smooth and silent, but no matter how hard he tried a splash here and a slosh there betrayed him. It was only time now. A deep rumbling slither approached from behind. It heard. It knew. It would get him.

He ran—no longer caring about the loud cymbal crashes of his feet as he fled. The main chamber was close—he was sure, but he didn’t know how he knew. It was a left and then a left and then a skipped intersection powering straight ahead. It was still coming—gaining on him. One more turn, he half slid into the threshold of a right turn and he saw it.

He saw a long tunnel. It was exactly like the one he left behind him. This was where she was supposed to be—where the cursed book was supposed to be. He turned around. It must have been a wrong turn, but the intersection behind him was gone. In its place was the beast. Bloody gore oozed from its broken and corrupted eye socket.

So that was it. He had no time or place to run. He closed his eyes and waited for the end. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt too bad. Maybe it would be quick.

So it goes.

But the end didn’t come and in the shivering, quailing, and whinging mind of a boy ready to die a resentment rose. Do it already.

The continuance of his extant nature stretched to incredulity. He should be dead and he wasn’t. He opened both eyes. The tunnel extended into the seemingly infinite distance. The snake had disappeared.

Still shaking he turned around and was shocked to find her lying prone not a meter away. She hadn’t been there before. He had to get her out of here now.

He ran to her. He slapped her cheek knowing presciently that she would not wake. That she was in a deep, magical, and unbreakable sleep.

But she did.

Her eyes fluttered and opened. They took a beat to focus on her rescuer. She recognized him. Her lips pursed together her eyes turned hard.

Was she angry at him? Was she under some kind of spell?

“I’m here now.”

His voice sounded hollow.

Her mouth snapped open in an unnatural immediate motion and a hair raising, blood curdling scream of mortal peril filled the silence. Her eyes were blank and muscles relaxed, but the scream erased all the thoughts from his mind.

“I’m sorry. I’ll help you, just hold on.”

But her skin was turning grey and her eyes glazed over. Lacerations opened along her arms and legs. The stench of rotting corruption invaded his nostrils. She moved at the last to direct her empty cadaverous eyes to stare directly into him as she screamed the last of her life from her body.

He just held her.

Then the desiccated lips moved to form her final words.

“Why did you leave me behind, Harry?”

Harry Potter woke screaming.

~ diffindo ~

“I think you know what it means, Harry. It means that you’re feeling guilty about leaving.”

“But Hermione, when I have dreams about Voldemort, it usually means—”

“He’s gone, Harry. You can’t have a connection to Voldemort, because he’s dead now. And from what you described, it wasn’t about Voldemort. It was about you and Ginny and a monster.”

Hermione sat at Ron’s desk trying to calm Harry down.

“But Hermione it was so vivid. It was like I was there again in the chamber.”

“Harry, you started out hiding from the basilisk and then you were running from it and then when you stopped running and let it catch you, what happened?”

“Nothing.”

“Exactly. So maybe your dream is telling you that you’re hiding and running from something. That if you turned and faced it, it would be no big deal. Maybe it would be a good thing.”

“And what about Ginny? What could that possibly mean? I don’t ever want to feel like that again.”

“Harry, like I said, you’re feeling guilty about leaving. You obviously have some concern about abandoning Ginny, so you should work that out before you leave.”

“Jesus, Hermione. But what am I running from?”

Oh my God. He could not be that dense. Hermione pushed up out of the chair and walked over to Harry.

“I think you’ll figure it out.”

Then she stooped over and kissed Harry on the cheek. If that didn’t get the point across then maybe he didn’t deserve to figure it out.

~ diffindo ~

Harry watched Ginny flying in lazy eights above the Weasley garden. It was hot, but not as hot as it had been. She had borrowed his Firebolt again and damn did she know how to pilot it. It was like she was the broom. Her lithe body leaned to and fro coming into and out of turns.

He was sure.

He was going to talk about it—the kiss.

He had to do it before he left or he was quite certain that a serpentine horror would haunt his dreams. And as he thought about it, no matter how bad the next ten minutes or so would be, they couldn’t be worse then always wondering.

Somehow he was sure that if he left, whatever magic muse had interceded between them would flee forever. Harry didn’t understand love—at least not where girls were involved. His ineptitude with Susan had more than proven that. But this was Ginny. He mustn’t slip into thinking of them that way—as a formless collective.

She was still going to be cross he knew, but there was no remedy to that. Even if he abandoned his meeting with Lord Parkinson, it wouldn’t ease her sense of betrayal.

“Ginny!”

That was stupid. She couldn’t hear him that far up. He considered attempting an amplification charm, but that might come off too aggressive. He resolved to simply wait and watch for several minutes more.

It wasn’t like watching Ginny fly was anything but pleasant.

~ diffindo ~

He was watching her. Why did he have to be watching her? Ginny was mad at Harry. She was. She wanted to be. She had to be. He was wrong and he was leaving his friends to help her. Pansy was the worst of the worst. She was the world’s shiniest, richest looking apple with a thoroughly corrupt core. There just wasn’t anything good about Pansy Parkinson. She was a terrible person.

And Harry was needed here at the Burrow. Hermione needed him to anchor her so she would stop getting lost in her guilty sorrow. And in truth—Ginny was brave enough to admit—she needed Harry to stay too. She used Hermione’s need as an excuse, but Ginny was barely holding it together.

In the last few ‘training’ sessions with Hermione, Ginny had gone too far too often and Hermione seemed to be enjoying that which was obviously bad. But it felt so good to let her power out. She hadn’t known how powerful she truly was until she cast her first completely full power spell—flat out.

It had been at the ministry no less. The death eaters would have gotten them and they had learned the spell during the D.A. and she just felt a great power well up within her almost unbidden.

She had cast reductio at manikins during practice, but never in real life. They hadn’t stayed to see what became of that death eater. She was slightly worried that she may have killed him, so she was glad that she didn’t know for sure.

But the feel of it.

He was still watching her. Fine.

Ginny directed her broom down to the ground coming up just a meter or so away from Harry. She dismounted and picked up the broom.

“What do you want, Harry.”

Her voice sounded tired, but in truth she was anxious. If he was going to leave, he should just do it.

“I’ve been having dreams and Hermione says they mean I should talk to you before I leave.”

“Before you leave... Or you could just not.”

“I have to go—I gave my word.”

“To a snake. You can’t trust her.”

“I don’t have to trust her to meet her father.”

“Yeah, and about that. Is that what you want to be—a slave to a Slytherin master?”

That lit some fire in his eyes. Ginny liked that she could get a rise out of him. He needed to feel bad about what he was doing.

“I didn’t come to talk about that.”

“Oh fine. Dear master Harry, why did you want to speak to little old me?”

“You don’t have to be like that.”

“I’ll be however I damn well please!”

“Yes, of course, that’s not what I meant.”

“Why should I care what you mean when your just going to leave again.”

“I just want—”

“Want what, Harry? Why should I bother?”

“Just let me tell—”

“No. I don’t think so. I don’t want to—”

Harry was stalking toward her now. It was rather scary, really, but Ginny wouldn’t back down—not now.

“Harry, what are you do—”

Then he grabbed her by the waist and neck and pulled her in. He was going to kiss her.

Now?

Fuck that.

Ginny shoved Harry hard as his lips made the barest contact with hers.

“What the FUCK! Get off of me.”

He struggled with her for a second and then must have come to his senses because he let her go and turned his back in one swift move.

Ginny grabbed his arm and spun him around. She pulled back her hand and gave him a sound slap. The sharp smack echoed in the otherwise quiet yard. He hid his eyes from her.

“Feeling a little rapey, are we? Keep your bloody hands to yourself.”

“S— sorry. That was stupid.”

“You better believe it.”

“We have to talk about it.”

“About you forcing yourself on me?!”

“God Ginny, no! I wouldn’t do that.”

She felt her rage flagging. This was disappointing if perhaps an objectively good thing.

“Then what was that, Harry?”

“You wouldn’t listen to me.”

“Really. So it was kiss-the girl-to-shut-her-up. We don’t have that kind of relationship—”

“Yes, that’s what I want to talk about.”

Aargh! Boys were so damn frustrating.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“We have to, Ginny. If we don’t... I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“Nothing, Harry. Nothing will happen and that’s kind of the point.”

“But I like you. I like you a lot. You— you know what I mean.”

“And you think that because I kissed you that I like you—that I have wanted you for years and I’ve just been waiting for you to catch up to what I have always known. You think I’ve been waiting for my prince to come and sweep me off my feet when I make the first move and plant a passionate kiss on him and he pulls back looks in my eyes and says... absolutely nothing.

Finally silence reigned. Ginny was more than a little horrified at how much she had let slip in her anger.

“Ginny, please, I don’t want to think that I screwed it up that easily. Can we start again? That’s what I wanted to do. I just want to do it again.”

Ginny felt tears gather in her mind. She would not allow them to manifest in her eyes. She was better than that. There were no take-backs or redoes in life. And Harry should know that more than anyone.

“I can’t go back, Harry. It doesn’t work like that and you know it. But we can go forward. Go visit the bitch and see what evil she desires. I don’t know what has gotten into you, but I’m not going to be the one who makes you a liar. We need some space now any way. I think we should just keep it simple for the rest of the summer. I’ll be starting O.W.L.s in the fall, so it’s not like I’ll have time for you or any one else.”

There. Leave him with the reminder that she had options.

~ diffindo ~

“Wait. Wait-wait-wait!”

No, now that she had unearthed the worm he would not survive his abject failure. She’d found him cowering in the back of a hovel trying to blend in with the other vermin. He was a disgrace to his spirit animal. Bellatrix pulled back her wand hand and gathered the hatred born of decades of pain and suffering. The spell had been so much harder to cast before her stint in Azkaban.

“Stop! You need me to revive the Dark Lord!”

Aargh. Fine, she would tolerate his obscene existence a few moments longer. She had him in a full body bind, he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Why? And don’t think to use your slick tongue on me, I would take great pleasure it tearing it out.”

This was no lie.

“Thank you, my gracious Lady. His eminence was supremely wise to put his faith in your tenacity.”

“Out with it. Why should I keep you alive?”

“Yes, of course. Have you given any thought of what to do when you retrieve one of the pillars? Have you any idea what they truly are? I was the one to return his excellency to his ascendency. I assure you the Dark Lord left no map or manual.”

“Then explain the process.”

“In due time m’lady, but we must gather his scattered resources to us. With your proficient assistance, I will be able—”

She choked him violently. His faced turned beet red and Bellatrix smiled evilly.

“You will do nothing. You are a weak failure. If I keep you alive, it will be as a reminder to other feeble souls of what awaits them should they stray.”

Bellatrix did not release him. As he struggled to remain conscious she revelled in his suffering. She had restrained herself from him for too long. His pain was too delicious, but the Lord was waiting.

“Do you wish to live?”

His eye began to loll, but he nodded vigorously.

“Good. I will take that as your word.” She released his throat. “Actually, I actually prefer communicating with you in silence.”

The gurgling noises of his lungs attempting to clear the obstruction and gain breath was stimulating.

“My— Lady, your grace— knows—”

“Stop. You needn’t speak any longer.”

Bellatrix waved her wand lazily and Wormtail’s mouth was wrenched open. She tweaked her wand and she could hear him gag as her magic pulled his tongue taut. Then she twisted increasing the tension. He screamed, but the sound was muffled by his swelling tongue—much the pity.

Human tissue has a tension limit. It can stretch and compress to protect the vulnerable inner flesh, but Bellatrix was well aware of the limit. As she pushed past it, she could hear the slick tear as the organ began to separate from its natural home.

She laughed. His horror was almost as intensely satisfying as his pain. She felt her arousal grow. It was a frustration though. Dismembering felt amazing, but a true pinnacle would require a kill. Bellatrix relished the kill.

It was a disappointing anticlimax when the tongue finished its separation and fell to the dirty floor. She incinerated it.

She giggled at the look in his eyes. They were only for her. She had wholly and completely taken his attention. He could focus on no one else. It felt good.

“Now.”

She summoned an everyday not-at-all-magical quill at shoved it into his artificial hand.

“Record the will of the Lord as he bestowed it upon you. I have been exceedingly merciful, but any inaccuracies will be punished.”