The bells pealed the hour slowly. They rang like thunder off the enclosed stone walls of the Muggle church, with wrath far removed from any the small building was surely accustomed to housing. Pulling her cloak tighter around her, she wondered who else might be displeased at the idea of it being used as their place of meeting.
It was by far the most unlikely place she could possibly think of for the meeting that was about to take place. When the owl had come two days ago she had laid it aside indifferently, sure it was just another one of those suspect correspondences her mother never tired of warning her of. Until the owl that followed it a day later had arrived.
It had been a plain-enough looking package, addressed to her. However, as anyone old enough to speak knew well enough, there was no longer any such thing as mail beyond suspicion. Remus had consented to performing the necessary charms to ensure it posed no threat before she’d quickly opened it. She hadn’t received an owl in months, not since leaving Hogwarts certainly.
The box had contained only two items. The first was a piece of acid green parchment, which Remus had scanned again, upon which was etched the dark mark in gleaming black ink. As soon as she’d picked it up, the paper had burst into green flames between her fingers and she’d hastily thrown it to the floor. Then, cautiously, she’d lifted the second object out of the box.
She’d been unable to hold back the choked cry that sprang from her throat. The item hadn’t touched her hand before she’d flung it to the floor as well, for it had burned far more than the stinking flames ever could. Ginny smiled grimly, remembering how her mother and Remus had looked at her with wide eyes, as if wondering if she’d suddenly gone mad.
Inside the box had been a quill. A black and gold quill, made from a pheasants feather.
The memory had come rushing back unwittingly, like a swell of wave that roared past her ears, until she could recall every word that had been spoken, every sight and face and sound...
...A crowd of black-robed children sat perched around a cluster of tables in a dank and dingy pub, discussing things that children shouldn’t have to bother with, and then signing away much more than their consent. And afterwards, she remembered, Hermione had gone into the ink shop, with both of them following behind her...
It was the quill Hermione had bought in Hogsmeade in fifth year, after that fateful first meeting of the D.A. It was her favourite, and she’d never been without it since. The sight of Hermione perched over a book with that quill in hand epitomized her memory of Hogwarts as much as any other image she could think of.
Before she could help it, she’d sunk into the kitchen chair with an empty thud, her eyes unseeing, her mind straining to acknowledge the terrible reality lying on the wooden floor in front of her.
It had been two days after Bill and Fleur’s wedding. She’d looked up idly from a book on defensive Chaser strategies to find Harry, Ron and Hermione standing in her doorway, her stomach dropping at the sight of them.
‘Ginny, can we talk to you for a minute?’ Ron asked, his face uncharacteristically sober.
‘All right,’ she answered slowly, though she knew somehow she didn’t want to hear what they needed to tell her. But she followed them silently to the back meadow, and, to her slight surprise, into the tree house that Fred and George had haphazardly erected at the age of ten.
Stepping into the dim, cool room, her eyes landed immediately on three identical rucksacks lying on the floor next to the doorway, each one bulging at the sides with whatever had been thoroughly packed into them.
‘Where are you going?’ she demanded immediately, feeling her cheeks flush with indignance. She looked at each of them in turn, but, to her further scorn, they all refused to meet her eye. Quickly, she drew her wand, ignoring the guilt that rose instantly in her gut as she pointed it at each of them.
‘If you lot don’t tell me what’s going on right this minute, you’re going to personally understand why everyone says that my Bat-Bogey Hex is-’
Hermione looked up at her placatingly. ‘Ginny-’
‘We’re leaving, Ginny.’
She turned towards Harry’s voice, ready to tell him off soundly, but her words were instantly silenced as she finally saw his face. He looked…miserable. His eyes were unnaturally bright, glaring with barely contained regret, and yet his face seemed hard, and not at all his own. She lowered her wand, simply staring at him for a long moment.
‘Let me come with you,’ she said finally, trying to sound a lot stronger than she felt. She already knew what his answer would be, but she had to ask nonetheless, if only on principle. She knew this was Harry’s fight, and so it would be fought on Harry’s terms, but she simply couldn’t believe that she had no part to play herself.
‘I can’t, Ginny,’ he answered, and his voice wavered slightly, so that she finally heard some of the torment she knew was boiling within him.
‘Why?’ she demanded quietly, hating herself for needing to hear him speak it aloud.
He lowered his eyes, exhaling heavily, and when he looked at her again she saw that his determination had returned, that he had somehow resolved himself to what he had to do, painful as it was.
‘Because of what we have to do,’ he said simply. ‘Because I couldn’t do it if I thought there was a chance you’d be harmed because of it.’
Hot, cursed tears filled her eyes as she looked at him. She batted them away, frustrated at her own inability to stay upset with him even though her heart was breaking, even though she wanted nothing more than to rage at them for presuming they could make the choice for her. But she was powerless against such words.
‘What about Ron and Hermione?’ she uttered roughly, glancing between them. ‘You’re taking them with you, and they’re just as likely to get hurt as I am.’ She knew it was unfair, but she felt a sickening need to punish him, though she regretted it the second she looked at his face again. He looked weary suddenly, his shoulders sagging heavily, as if utterly defeated.
‘Ginny, we have to go after Voldemort,’ Hermione began, tears in her eyes, putting her hands up to stop her from interrupting. ‘But there’s something about him that you don’t know, something that Dumbledore explained to Harry before he died, and it’s the only way to stop him in the end.’
She listened in stunned silence as they carefully explained how Voldemort had maimed his soul into seven pieces, concealing each part within a different object, including her old diary. To how Dumbledore had destroyed the ring, and finally how he and Harry had retrieved what they’d thought was the locket the night he died. How they had to find and destroy the remaining four Horcruxes before anyone could even think of confronting Voldemort, where the last bit of his soul waited to be destroyed.
She let them finish their explanation, for once speechless, unable to believe that they were about to walk headfirst towards some unspeakable and tortuous end- without her. She felt as though she were adrift, lost in a vast open sea of numb disbelief.
Harry walked towards her and placed his hands on her arms, his face again brimming with grief, and her focus immediately returned.
‘Ginny, please understand.’ He was pleading with her. ‘Please understand why it has to be this way.’
She gave way under his touch, feeling all her resolve quickly slip away, and lowered her eyes.
‘I understand perfectly, Harry,’ she whispered thickly. ‘But that doesn’t make it easy, or right.’
Before she could take another breath, his mouth was suddenly on hers, kissing her without restraint. He pulled her close, clinging to her roughly with a kiss that was deep and full of promise- a promise she knew he might not be able to keep.
And then all too soon, it was over, and she was left breathless as he pulled away from her, a final plea in his eyes. She saw Ron and Hermione standing behind him with their rucksacks in hand, and then with a resolute crack she was suddenly alone, the image of their agonized faces burned into her mind’s eye.
That had been seven months ago. Seven months without so much as a whisper. Nothing.
Until a day ago, when she’d received Hermione’s favourite quill in a box hand-wrapped by Death Eaters.
She clutched at the quill inside her cloak pocket, her mind dimly registering that the church bells had finally stopped tolling the hour. Midnight. The witching hour, Hermione had once told her. Some stupid Muggle superstition.
There was no denying what it meant. Her brother, her best friend and the love of her life were currently in the hands of Death Eaters, if they were still alive at all, and this simple bit of feather was clearly meant to torture her.
It was working.
And it had brought her here tonight, to this most unlikely of places, in answer to a message from an equally unlikely sender. Who was now apparently late for his own meeting.
‘Well, you actually came did you, Weasley?’
The drawling voice came suddenly from the darkened wings of the church, startling her from her brief reverie, dripping with condescension.
‘Tsk, tsk,’ he called again from closer behind her. “What would your Mummy say if she knew you were cavorting with a known Death Eater?’
He took the place next to her in the pew, and she had to restrain her instinct to slide away from him on the polished wood. His silver-blonde hair gleamed in the dim halo of the candles mounted overhead, the only source of light in the otherwise blackened church.
‘How good of you to finally show up, Malfoy,’ she said, her own voice dripping with unrestrained disgust. ‘I can’t possibly imagine a better way to spend an evening than sitting here waiting for you.’
‘I couldn’t be sure you’d come,’ he answered, his grin as malevolent as it had ever been at school.
‘Well, I have, so what do you want?’ she said, moving her hand from the quill inside her pocket to the wand tucked neatly beside it.
‘My, aren’t we hasty?’ he goaded. ‘What makes you think I want anything?’
Without thinking, she drew her wand and stood up, unable to miss the slight tremble in her hand as she did. It had been a mistake to come here. It had been the act of someone driven by pure desperation, but it was a mistake nonetheless. She should have known better, she thought, than to trust one single word from his foul, wretched mouth...
She hadn’t taken a step when he grabbed her tightly around the wrist, yanking her back into the pew next to him. Her wand was levelled at his eyes in a second, with all of the precision that any well-practiced D.A. member would be expected to possess. But, much to her surprise, Malfoy did not draw his own wand, though his grip on her wrist held fast.
Without warning, he pulled her arm towards him, until their faces were mere inches apart and her wand tip was driven into his pale skin.
‘I have information that you want,’ he whispered, and she shuddered at the feel of his hot breath on her skin. ‘Information regarding the location of several persons whom I believe you will gladly do anything to find.’
She stared at him guardedly, though her eyes were flashing fire. If he was telling the truth, then he was right- she would do anything within her power to find them. But she knew it was worth her life -and possibly theirs- to ensure that he did not believe it.
‘I have no reason to trust anything you say,’ she said as blankly as she could manage.
‘You’re right,’ he answered matter-of-factly, clearly enjoying her obvious discomfort. ‘But it seems that you have little choice. At least, if you want to find them alive, which is precisely why I chose you.’
‘I don’t pretend to understand your motivations for anything, but I’m sure that none of them are selfless. You’re a coward and a murderer,’ she spat through gritted teeth, and again tried to wrench her arm from his grasp. But he still would not release her.
At first he said nothing, and the empty silence between them seemed to fill the whole of the small church. Her accusations, apparently, left him unaffected. But there was some reason he had asked her here, and even his well-practiced arrogance couldn’t hide that he was trying to veil his true intentions just as much as she was. The question of why was what worried her.
‘Right again,’ he answered with a twisted smile, finally releasing her arm. Scowling, she wrenched herself away from him, her wand still held eye-level to his face. ‘I see no point in doing anything if I don’t stand to benefit from it.’
His answer did not surprise her, as she knew to expect nothing less of him. It was the casual ease in his voice that chilled her, despite her heavy cloak, as if they were merely discussing the outcome of a recent Quidditch match and not the lives of three people whom he knew without a doubt meant more to her than her own life. That his sick enjoyment was the result of that reality left little doubt in her mind to the depth of his hatred, and his complete lack of empathy. It was what made him more than dangerous, she thought. It made him deadly.
‘So the question you should be asking is how I stand to benefit from this little…rendezvous. Not something Potter would be happy to hear of, I’m sure,’ he continued. He was fingering his wand lazily, but it was impossible to miss the glaring eagerness in his eyes, she noticed, as if he was waiting to see exactly how far he could push her. But she was not about to give him the satisfaction.
‘I did what you asked, Malfoy,’ she said, her voice hard as steel, though her insides felt more like some sickly pudding. Outside the window above them the wind howled suddenly, scraping a nearby branch across the surface of the glass. She felt a bead of sweat roll down her forehead, but made no move to wipe it away. ‘I came here on good faith, when I very easily could have set a pack of Aurors on you. Considering what you’ve done, it would be a short trip to Azkaban. But I didn’t. So tell me what it is you want, or we’re done here.’
He stared at her candidly, as if trying to guess whether or not she was bluffing. Then, with the same apparent indifference, he tucked his wand away and looked at her pointedly, the matter seemingly decided.
‘Fine. I’ll give you what you want,’ he said, his obvious conceit making her feel as if he’d just manouevred her into a checkmate from which there was no turning back. ‘But only after you’ve given me something in return.’
‘And what would that be?’ There was an unmistakable tremor in her voice. Somewhere overhead the bells began tolling again, though softer than before, a dim clamour in the back of her mind. It was half past twelve.
He smiled at her, that same twisted grin that stopped just short of his cold, grey eyes. The sight of him leering at her, the very thought that she would need to fulfill whatever whim entered his unfeeling mind was almost enough to break her resolve entirely. But even worse was the knowledge that she would do it, whatever it was, if it meant getting them back alive.
‘You’re going to steal something for me.’ He paused briefly, as if for emphasis, though it was the last thing needed. Her body grew instantly tense, as if bracing for the final blow. ‘From Dumbledore’s office. An item that will please the Dark Lord greatly, and surely return me to his favour. And you’re going to get it tonight. ’
The bells had stopped pealing, though the clash of thunder still sounded wild and fierce in the air. The storm outside was just beginning to roll.