"Ginny!" called Colin Creevey to his classmate. "Are you coming? We're heading to Hogsmeade!"
Ginny Weasley bounded down the flight of stairs that led from the dormitories to the Gryffindor common room, straightening her school robes and tying a crimson and gold ribbon at the end of her vivid red plait.
"Thanks for waiting, Colin," said Ginny. "I thought you lot left without me."
"No problem," said Colin. "C'mon … I think we can catch up with the others."
As the two Gryffindor fourth years hurried through the common room toward the portrait hole, Ginny spotted her brother, Ron, sitting next to the fire.
"Ron," she called to him. "Are you, Harry and Hermione coming to Hogsmeade today?"
"Don't think so," replied Ron. "Hermione wants to study, so Harry and I are going to keep her company." The look on his face told Ginny that he would have preferred to have a spree in Honeydukes over a study party in the library, but she could tell how he felt about Hermione – he'd take schoolwork over sweets if it meant he'd be able to spend more time with her. Of course, he'd grouse about it half the time, but he'd be perfectly content – deep down, that is.
"All right, then," said Ginny. "I'll bring back some Chocoballs and a few Sugar Quills for you."
"Thanks … see you later," called Ron after Ginny, who was exiting through the portrait hole after Colin.
In Hogsmeade, Ginny, Colin and a group of their friends strolled down the High Street.
"Look!" exclaimed Claire Hodgkin, pointing at a banner hanging outside of Zonko's, the wizarding joke shop. "They're having a Halloween Extravaganza today!"
"Let's go look," suggested Colin.
As they approached the entrance to the joke shop, Ginny's twin brothers – Fred and George – exited, arms loaded with packages. Huge smiles were plastered across their faces; their friend, Lee Jordan, followed behind them. His arms were just as chock-full as the twins'.
"Oy, Gin!" called Fred, to his little sister. "They're having quite the sale in there."
"And it looks like you found quite a few treasures," laughed Ginny as George nearly dropped the tower of parcels he was balancing in his arms.
George nodded carefully, trying desperately to keep his balance. "Now it's back to the castle … we want to sort through these beauties before the nosh-up tonight." His eyes danced, no doubt considering all of the tricks and pranks he, Fred and Lee would be able to pull off with their loot.
The three boys headed in the direction of Hogwarts Castle and Ginny followed her friends into the shop.
A placard was placed just inside the shop for all of the patrons to see. In a curly script of gold lettering, a notice was posted, urging the customers to take advantage of the one-day-only sale. Throngs of Hogwarts students bustled up and down the aisles, tossing various gag items into cauldron-shaped shopping baskets.
"Ugh," said Ginny as a Hufflepuff third year stepped on her toes. "It's too crowded in here."
"Oof!" gruntedColin as someone bumped into him. "You're right. Let's go."
The cluster of Gryffindor fourth years reconvened outside the joke shop. Claire Hodgkin was shaking her head.
"I'm sorry, but no sale is worth all that!" She patted the folds of her rumpled robes.
"Maybe we could look in on this," suggested Lewis Grimes, holding up a leaflet.
"What's that?" asked Colin.
Lewis unfolded the leaflet and read aloud, "You are invited to the Grand Opening of Zenith's Bistro. Guaranteed to be the finest dining experience in all of Hogsmeade. You must present this flyer at the door for a discount."
Ginny shook her head. "We don't need to eat a big meal … the feast is tonight after all. Let's just skip it and go to the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer."
Claire made a face. "Oh, but Ginny … I'm so hungry. The feast is hours from now! You don't have to eat much. Let's just go look! Please!"
Claire had a way of going on about things until she had her way.
"Oh, all right," said Ginny reluctantly.
Zenith's Bistro was a tiny building at the far end of the High Street. A few students seemed to have wandered down that far, but not many. The Gryffindors had an easy timefinding a table.
"The service here certainlyis slow," grumbled Colin.
"Yes," agreed Ginny. "We've been waiting for a waitress for ages." She watched as a gaggle of Hufflepuffs streamed in. She craned her neck around and noticed the little restaurant had finally become full. "It doesn't look like anyone is being served."
"Don't know how they intend to stay in business if they can't handle this crowd," said Lewis.
Ginny heard a noise from behind. She craned her neck to see what had caused it and saw that four figures had appeared – all dressed in black. Three were tall and thin – and inhuman looking. The fourth was the size of a man. All of them had their faces covered by dark hoods. Ginny trembled.
And then she felt the cold – as if her blood had turned to ice. As if she thought she'd never be warm again. And then she saw things – things she'd been bottling up in the recesses of her mind for the past three years. Images of blood-daubed walls and other terrible things she wished she couldn't remember. She tried desperately to crouch beneath the table – to hide from the malevolent figures. She knew this feeling – she'd experienced it once before, on the Hogwarts Express her second year. As she hunkered down below the tablecloth, the chill ran deeper and the images grew stronger. The Dementors were closing in.
"What do you mean there was an attack in Hogsmeade?" shouted Ron. "My sister was in Hogsmeade!"
"Calm down, Weasley," said Ernie Macmillan, a fifth year Hufflepuff who had been promoted to Prefect that year. He had just made the announcement to the group of students who were studying in the library.
"I need to find out if she's okay," said Ron, moving towards the door.
"Just a minute," said Ernie. "Professor Dumbledore wants all students to stay where they are until the victims are brought in to the hospital wing."
"Victims?!" bellowed Ron, trying to push Ernie away so he could reach the door. Harry pulled him back. Ron eyed him resolutely. "Don't try to stop me – I need to find out if Ginny's all right."
"I understand," said Harry. "I want to know, too – but Dumbledore said …"
"I don't care what Dumbledore said – she's my sister!"
"Weasley, don't make me take points from Gryffindor over this," said Ernie firmly.
"Sod off, Macmillan," blurted Ron, his face reddening.
"Calm down, Ron," said Hermione evenly. "We'll find out about Ginny soon. You're not accomplishing anything by getting angry."
Ron took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself as Hermione put a hand on his shoulder and patted it comfortingly.
"How could this have happened?" asked Harry, more to himself than anyone else. "Dumbledore had Aurors posted in Hogsmeade."
"If not for the Aurors, those students would be dead," said Ernie quietly, trying not to let anyone else in the library hear what he was saying to Harry, Ron and Hermione. "Word from McGonagall is, a Death Eater came right into a restaurant in Hogsmeade, followed by three Dementors. He set the things loose on a whole crowd of students who were in there for lunch."
"Ernie," said Harry quietly. "We really need to see if Ginny's okay. Ron'll rest much easier knowing if his sister was in that restaurant or not."
"All right, Harry," agreed Ernie reluctantly. "But don't tell McGonagall I let you out if you see her. She'd have my Prefect's badge in a heartbeat if she knew."
"You've got my word," said Harry, shaking Ernie's hand. He turned to Ron and Hermione and said in an undertone, "Let's go."
Ernie opened the door quickly and the trio hurried out into the corridor.
Harry didn't know how they made it from the library to the hospital wing without encountering Mrs. Norris, Peeves or any other irksome hindrance. He was thankful just the same for their smooth journey. He opened the door to the hospital wing and took in the astonishing sight as Ron and Hermione followed behind.
He had never seen the infirmary so full with patients. He had often wondered why so many beds were necessary – each time he had been in there, the majority of them had been vacant. Now he had a shiver running down his spine as he saw his fellow schoolmates occupying nearly all of them.
Madam Pomfrey, the school nurse, bustled from bedside to bedside, breaking off chunks of chocolate and feeding them to the anxious-looking patients.
Professor McGonagall was there, over-seeing the situation, and she spun around just in time to notice the three visitors to the sick ward.
"Potter! Weasley! Granger! What in Merlin's name are you three doing here?" she glared at them.
"My sister …" choked Ron. "I had to find out if my sister …"
Professor McGonagall's expression went from firm to fretful in an instant.
Then Harry spotted her – her vibrant red hair gave her away. Ginny Weasley was lying in one of the hospital beds near the large windows, shaking like a leaf.
"Oh, Ginny!" gasped Hermione.
Ron ran to her bedside and clutched one of her trembling hands in his. "Ginny! Oh, God … Ginny! Speak to me!"
"Mr. Weasley!" cried Madam Pomfrey. "Your sister is in a fragile state!"
Ginny had barely noticed Ron grasping her hand. Her brown eyes seemed glassy. She made a murmuring noise, but it was nothing intelligible.
Professor McGonagall had followed the trio over to Ginny's bedside. She looked at the nurse.
"The others … will you be releasing them soon?"
"Yes," said Madam Pomfrey. "As soon as they've had their chocolate. But this one …" She looked at Ginny with a gloomy _expression. "This one I'm worried about. She had a very bad reaction to those terrible monsters."
"Should we owl her parents?" asked McGonagall.
"I'd recommend it," said the nurse. "It might be best if she went home."
"No!" shouted Ron.
"Ron …" said Hermione.
"No!" he shouted again. "She won't be safe there. She needs to stay at Hogwarts. She needs to stay here."
"Mr. Weasley," said McGonagall haughtily. "Your father works for the Ministry. He's got an Auror stationed at your residence."
"There were Aurors in Hogsmeade, Professor," said Harry as he looked at Ginny – her limbs were quaking as if she'd been submerged in a tub of icy water all afternoon. A sinking feeling came over him – he knew how it felt to encounter a Dementor. Poor Ginny, he thought as he watched Ron stroke her long, red hair.
"All right," said McGonagall. "But Arthur and Molly need to know about this at any rate. She's had a terrible reaction – I've not seen someone respond this drastically to such short exposure to a Dementor since – well, since you, Potter."
Harry looked at Ron, cradling his sister in his arms – he saw the tears welling up in his best friend's eyes. Hermione stood behind Ron, her expression aghast.
"Professor," said Harry quietly. "He can stay with her, can't he?"
"Of course, Potter," said McGonagall. "I'll go off to the Owlery straight away, to let their parents know what's happened."
Ron stayed with Ginny all night. Fred and George came down as soon as they'd got word and were allowed to stay with her as well.
First thing in the morning, Harry and Hermione came down to the infirmary.
"You three look exhausted," said Hermione. "Please, you need to get changed and have a decent meal. We'll stay with Ginny. She'll be fine with Harry and me."
"We shouldn't leave her like this," said Ron. He was sitting in a chair beside the bed – no doubt the chair he'd slept in all night long. He stood up and Harry could hear his joints cracking.
"You need to get out of here for a bit – Hermione's right. We'll stay here with Ginny. You, Fred and George get washed up and have a bite to eat." Harry patted Ron on the back, nearly toppling him over.
"I suppose you're right, " he said slowly. "One of you will come get us if something happens – if she starts to speak or something?"
"We will," promised Hermione. "Now off you get – go on, now! We don't want to see you lot back here until you're showered and fed!" She placed a hand tenderly on Ron's cheek, then she blushed slightly and quickly sat down in the chair Ron had occupied earlier.
"Any changes, let us know," said Fred to Harry, and he followed Ron and George out of the infirmary.
After about a half-hour, Harry heard Hermione's stomach begin to growl.
"Getting hungry?" he asked.
"A little," said Hermione sheepishly. "You?"
"A little," agreed Harry. "Why don't you dash off to the Great Hall and bring us back some toast or something?Ginny's asleep – I'll be okay with her for the fifteen minutes or so it'll take you to get there and back."
"All right," said Hermione. "I'll be quick." She rushed out of the hospital wing and Harry settled in the chair beside Ginny's bed.
He watched her sleep – even as she did, the tremors didn't cease. He remembered what Professor McGonagall had said earlier, "I've not seen someone respond this drastically to such short exposure to a Dementor since – well, since you, Potter." Harry wondered, Why had she had such a severe response to them?
Just then, Ginny stirred. Her bright brown eyes popped open and her trembling became more violent. Harry pulled up a blanket to cover her, but he knew a whole stack of blankets wouldn't warm her – the chill she felt was from within, thanks to the Dementors.He placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to calm her and wondering if he should call for Madam Pomfrey to assist him – but Ginny's stammering voice stopped him before he beckoned the nurse.
"H-h-h-arry," she said in her faltering voice. She was barely audible.
"Yes … Ginny?" said Harry. He was unsure of what to do.
"H-h-h-arry … it … was … t-t-t-t," she stopped. Her teeth were chattering.
"It was what, Ginny?" asked Harry softly.
"T-t-t-t-errible," she said.
"It's all over now," he assured her. He leaned over and stroked her hair. "You're safe now."
Ginny had drifted back to sleep. A little while later, Hermione returned, carrying a tray of food.
"Toast, marmalade and pumpkin juice," she said brightly, setting the tray down on Ginny's nightstand. "Help yourself, Harry."
"Thanks," he said as he picked up a slice of toast and started to spread some of the marmalade onto it. He bit into the toast and glanced over at Ginny. I suppose I should tell Hermione that Ginny spoke to me, he thought. Hermione was sipping her pumpkin juice and looking at Ginny thoughtfully.
"I've been thinking," said Hermione, interrupting Harry's own pensiveness. She placed her tumbler of juice on the nightstand.
"About what?" asked Harry.
"About why this happened to Ginny," said Hermione.
Harry looked at her curiously. Hermione went on. "In our third year, when the Dementors were at the school, they affected you worse than anyone else because of your past, Harry – remember what Professor Lupin told you?"
Harry nodded and Hermione continued. "Well, what if the Dementors affected Ginny so badly because of something from her past?"
Harry thought for a moment. Hermione's on to something here. He let her carry on with her theory.
"Harry, think about it – you and Ginny are the only people here to have encountered You-Know-Who and lived to tell the tale. Granted, Ginny's encounter was through a memory, but still – look what havoc a simple memory caused. Maybe the Dementors caused Ginny to relive her experiences with Tom Riddle that year."
Harry's stomach felt queasy. He looked at Ginny, shuddering in her sleep, and suddenly felt a surge of anger. I can't let her become another casualty of Voldemort's wrath. I'm not going to let that happen. He felt steadfast in this decision. I'll find a way to help her, when she's stronger.
Ron, Fred and George eventually returned to the hospital wing, with news from the Burrow.
"Mum and Dad sent a letter with Errol," said Fred to Harry. "Mum sounds frantic. Said she'd be here right now if Dumbledore would allow it."
"Dad said Dumbledore wants to maintain some semblance of normalcy here at the school … doesn't want swarms of parents here if he can help it," added George. "He promised to send word to them straight away if Ginny doesn't get any better."
"Er … speaking of Ginny getting better," said Harry, slowly.
Ron, Fred, George and Hermione all turned and stared at him.
"She … kind of … talked to me while Hermione was in the Great Hall getting us some breakfast."
"Talked to you?" exclaimed Ron and Hermione at the same time.
"What'd she say?" asked Fred and George together.
"Why didn't you come get me?" asked Ron in an injured tone.
"She didn't say much," said Harry, in a defensive voice. "And she fell asleep just after …"
"Well, what did she say?" asked Ron impatiently.
Harry was a little uneasy about telling him. It wasn't as if Ron couldn't figure out on his own how horrible the Dementor attack was on his sister, but hearing the words …
"She said it was ... terrible – the attack, that is," Harry muttered.
Ron's face seemed to suddenly be tinged with green.
It took an incredible amount of work, but Harry and Hermione finally persuaded Ron to sleep in his dormitory that night.
"Madam Pomfrey has promised to let you know if anything happens with Ginny," assured Hermione as she, Ron and Harry headed up to Gryffindor Tower.
"Oh!" Harry suddenly exclaimed.
Ron and Hermione stopped dead in their tracks and looked at him.
"What's the matter?" asked Hermione.
"My wand!" Harry said. "I set it down for a moment before we left the hospital wing … I think I left it there – I've got to go back for it."
"Of course," acknowledged Hermione. "We'll see you in the common room when you get back."
Harry back-tracked his steps and returned to the infirmary. When he arrived, Madam Pomfrey was urging Ginny to take some more chocolate. Ginny took a small piece in her quavering hand and slowly nibbled at it. The sound of Harry's footsteps caused her to look up.
"H-h-h-arry," she said softly. She still couldn't speak without stammering.
"My word," said Madam Pomfrey. "Seems this girl only wants to talk to you, Potter. I haven't been able to get a peep out of her all day, then first sign of you and she's ready to chat." The nurse sighed and pulled a wand out of her apron pocket. "I suppose you're back for this, though." She handed it to him.
"Er … yes, actually that is what I came for." He took the wand, but looked at Ginny – she was still taking minute bites of the portion of chocolate Madam Pomfrey had given her. "If you don't mind," he said to the nurse, "I'd like to stay for just a little bit."
"All right, Potter," agreed Madam Pomfrey. "But not too long. The girl needs rest."
As soon as Madam Pomfrey had gone back to her office, Harry sat in the chair beside Ginny's bed.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"T-t-t-ired," said Ginny. "C-c-c-old," she added after taking in a deep breath.
"Ron's going to be awfully disappointed you decided to talk to me again," said Harry. "He thinks you're playing favorites." Harry tried to smile weakly in an attempt to lighten the situation. Ginny's distressed face told him he hadn't done a good job of it.
"R-r-r-on … doesn't … understand," she said flatly.
"But I do?" said Harry, catching on.
Ginny's head slowly nodded. "Y-y-y-ou … know … how … it … feels."
"How it feels to be near a Dementor, right?"
Ginny nodded again.
"It was worse for you this time than the first time, wasn't it?" he asked her.
"It … was … bad … the … first … time," she said slowly. "This t-t-t-ime …" Her face contorted as she remembered. "This … time … it … was …"
"You don't have to tell me," said Harry, feeling her pain.
"It … was … h-h-h-orrifying … Harry." Her brown eyes began to glisten as they welled up with tears. "I … felt … helpless."
Harry couldn't help it – her grabbed her trembling hands in his and squeezed them. "You're not helpless," he told her. "You have me. And I'm going to make it so you never feel helpless again."
Disclaimer: I don't own or have any rights to the characters from the Harry Potter books. Those credits go to J.K. Rowling, Scholastic, Bloomsbury and Warner Brothers. The title is pinched from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have absolutely no rights to that either. Buffy is the brainchild of the awe-inspiring Joss Whedon.
Author's Note: Special thanks to my beta, Sherylyn! I appreciate all of the gentle reminders when I become a little too American in my writing. ;)