A/N: Having reached the 900 mark in the number of my reviews, I decided I had better put my money where my mouth is (so to speak) and so am offering up this 'fluffy' story for your reading enjoyment. Please review – I can't learn and improve if you don't.
This story idea came about from a comment I made in a review of Sorting Hat's 'Between a Rock and a Hard Place': If only the key to defeating Voldemort was to steal his socks. Others have written Ginny-stealing-socks stories (my beta has informed me that Imogen's marvelous 'Carpe Diem' was the original sock-stealing story). If I have read (and reviewed) them, I tip my hat (pun intended) to them as well.
'Wormtail, this is the day, the day we bring that wretched boy to an end.'
Wormtail groveled at the foot of the enormous four-poster bed where Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord, slept. He was miserable. He always was. Always had been – at least since he took the Dark Mark. He had thought Sirius and the others hadn't taken him seriously, but the Death Eaters had shown him even less respect. All he was good for was to serve as a lackey and was treated little better than a house-elf.
'Yes, Master,' Wormtail lisped.
'Show more enthusiasm, Knave . . . . Crucio.' Wormtail squealed in pain as he writhed on the floor.
Wormtail slowly gathered himself off of the floor, wiping half-heartedly at the dust and grime clinging to his robes; he only managed to add a new smudge or two to the blotchy mosaic that his robes now were.
'He thinks finding the Horcruxces will enable him to defeat me. He has only weakened himself in chasing after them. After he saw Dumbledore so easily dispatched, he should have known better.' A bitter, rasping laugh echoed off the walls of the bed chamber.
When Harry had broken off their relationship, Ginny had been heartbroken . . . and furious. She'd tried to get a chance to speak to him at the wedding, but Harry managed to elude her all too well. You'd think she had bad breath or something. Then he had disappeared with Ron and Hermione. Nobody knew where they'd gone or what they were up to.
Her mother had ranted and raved like a living Howler at first (she'd tried sending one off, but Errol couldn't find where to deliver it) but then broke down in tears. Ginny was worried for her for a time, but after several days, she pulled herself back together and started caring for the rest of the family with renewed gusto. Her father had merely muttered something about the Chosen One having to do what he had to do and buried himself in his work.
When she'd received her Hogwarts letter, she didn't want to go back. But one glance at the dark look on her mother's face convinced her that she had better not argue. As she did her last minute packing to get ready to leave for the train, Hedwig appeared at her window with a small package. In it, she found an old, somewhat dog-eared scrap of parchment, the Marauder's Map. There was a note too:
I miss you. I'm sorry things had to turn out this way. I never meant to hurt you, but . . .
Well, I can't tell you why I had to go, but I want you to know that Ron, Hermione, and I are safe for now. We won't be back at Hogwarts . . . at least not until we're finished with what we have to do. This won't help us where we are, but perhaps you can find some use for it in the meanwhile.
While you're at school, just tap it gently with your wand and say 'I solemnly swear I am up to no good.' When you're finished with it say, 'Mischief managed.'
I know I have no right to ask this, but if we manage to come back from this alive, I hope you'll be waiting for me. But if you take up with someone else . . . I'll understand.
The bottom of the page was already crinkled from Harry's tearstains and soon became damp again as drops trickled down Ginny's face and fell to the letter. 'Damn you, Harry. I'll be waiting for you all right when, not if, you come back. And I'll be waiting with the hex of your life.'
Voldemort's harsh laugh turned into a hoarse fit of coughing. Wormtail hurriedly poured him a cuppa.
'Here, Master, drink this.'
Voldemort took the cup. It shook in his hands as he raised it to his mouth.
'Where is Snape with my potion? You never can rely on that cretin.'
Just then Severus Snape slunk into the room, carrying a flask. There was a sour expression on his now twisted face, a face that hardly resembled the ugly scowl his students would have remembered. . . .
Voldemort had been none too pleased with Snape's arrival back on that fateful night, the bedraggled Draco Malfoy in tow.
'What's this?' Voldemort had demanded. 'Has the Malfoy brat managed somehow to be successful in his given task? And why are you here, Severus?'
Snape had bowed low to the ground before he began his account. 'Sorry, my Lord,' he sneered. 'But young Malfoy here did not quite manage all you entrusted to him.'
Before he could continue, Draco fell gasping to the floor, curling in agony into a fetal position as Voldemort rasped, 'Crucio.'
After a few minutes, he raised his wand. 'So what has happened, Severus?'
Warily, Snape told the Dark Lord of all that had transpired on the Astronomy tower at Hogwarts and of how he had ended up being the one to utter the Avada Kedavra Curse. His tale was interrupted occasionally as Voldemort would flick his wand in Draco's direction with the barely murmured, 'Crucio.'
After Snape had finished, the Dark Lord turned slowly to Draco, now lying unconscious on the ground. 'What, too weak to handle a bit of punishment? Enervate.' He watched as the blonde-haired rag doll slowly roused himself before continuing. 'So you too, like your worthless father, have failed me.'
Voldemort was in a towering rage. Snape began to intervene on Draco's behalf, 'Master, perhaps . . .'
Voldemort turned his attention back to the greasy-haired Death Eater. 'You presume too much, Severus. You are not his Head of House here.' He again spat out the curse, 'Crucio.'
As Snape collapsed to the floor, his body contorted in agony, the Dark Lord turned back to Draco. 'You have proven that you are of no use to me,' he breathed.
Then more loudly, almost in a rant, 'And worse, that you would be disloyal to me and serve the other side.' Finally, as his anger peaked, he roared the words, 'Avada Kedavra.' Draco Malfoy was no more.
Voldemort's attention returned to the former Hogwarts' Potion master moaning on the floor. 'What am I going to do with you, Snape? You have carelessly ruined your ability to serve me as a spy at Hogwarts. I now have no one to watch the Order.'
He slowly pointed his wand at the contorted figure on the floor. 'Crucio . . .'
Voldemort watched as the Death Eater's body spasmed and gyrated. When his ears began to ring from the incessant screams, Voldemort raised his wand away from the macabre dance. The seemingly merciful act went unnoticed as Snape collapsed into unconsciousness.
After that, Voldemort had treated Snape to the 'pleasures' of Cruciatus many times. His features had been twisted by pain into a sort of bizarre jester's mask. Voldemort had indeed not been pleased with the outcome of Malfoy's task. It seems it would have been better if he had let Malfoy fail. But surely he had had no choice. Now, as a result, he had fallen out of the Dark Lord's favor.
As the weeks had passed, Voldemort had become prone to coughs and debilitating illnesses. By the time he had figured out that someone must be destroying the Horcruxes, he was too weak to attempt making more. He was not pleased with how Severus had intervened on the simpering Malfoy's behalf. But Snape was a Potions master, and Voldemort needed him to brew the Strengthening Solutions and Cough Inhibiting Potions he must now drink.
'You are just in time, Severus,' Voldemort managed to gasp between bouts of coughing. He took the offered potion and slowly drained the flask. 'You should have been here with this when I awoke, but you are in time for your punishment.'
Snape's face twisted further in pain as the Dark Lord again uttered the hated words, 'Crucio.' As Snape slowly dragged himself off the floor, Voldemort hissed, 'Please Severus, try not to be late next time. . . . I would hate to be forced to look for another to make my potions. But don't . . . Crucio . . . think . . . Crucio . . . that you . . . Crucio . . . cannot be replaced.'
As the darkness once again overtook him, Snape was cursing having joined Narcissa in making that foolish Unbreakable Vow and was wishing he had been able to blast Greyback, Alecto, and Amycus instead. He had foolishly thought nothing could be worse than losing his magic.
Ginny found Luna and Neville sitting in a compartment together on the train. As she quietly sat down beside them, her mood was somber. Neville softly asked, 'What's the matter, Ginny?'
'Harry's gone off . . . and Ron and Hermione with him,' burst unceremoniously from Ginny's mouth. Neville and Luna shrank back in surprise at the sudden venom.
'Well,' Luna murmured calmingly, 'he is the Chosen One, and they are his mates.'
Neville nodded in agreement and then said, 'I always thought the prophecy at the Ministry was about him.'
Ginny's shoulders sagged. Then she lifted her head, tears seeping from her eyes, and softly muttered, 'But what about me? What am I to do? Why can't I help him, too?'
'It's always been those three, Ginny,' Neville responded. 'Ever since first year, Ron and Hermione have been helping Harry with his fight against V-v-vol . . . You-Know-Who; I should know, they hexed me before they left the common room. And do you think Harry would have made it through the Triwizard Tournament without them? Even when we went to the Ministry, it was still about those three. I mean, Harry has to face You-Know-Who himself, but it seems as if they have to be with him. So don't feel bad about them going off without you.'
'But I feel so useless,' Ginny moaned, 'Oooooh, I must sound like I'm whinging. . . .'
'Well,' Luna asked as she twiddled one of the butterbeer caps on her necklace, 'what are you good at? What do you do well that could help Harry?'
Ginny looked at Luna in surprise. She'd never thought that there might be something to be done apart from what the Trio was up to. 'Oh, I don't know. A lot of good the Bat-Bogey Hex is going to do against Tom.'
'I don't know,' Luna breathed dreamily, 'it sure came in handy against the Nargles in Umbridge's office.'
'Isn't there something else?' Neville quickly asked.
'Oh yes,' Ginny snapped out, 'I'm bloody brilliant at snitching my brothers' socks.' Then a smile slowly crossed her face as she thought of the summer Harry had stayed at the Burrow before third year. She'd copped a couple of pairs of Harry's socks. (She hadn't dared take more; he had so few). He hadn't noticed even when she wore them at the Quidditch World Cup.
Luna interrupted her pleasant daydream. 'Well, that's it then. You have to steal Voldemort's socks.'
'What?' Ginny and Neville sputtered at the same moment.
Glancing briefly at Neville, Ginny turned back to Luna and grumbled, 'A lot of good that's going to do. So what if his toes get cold? Oh, I suppose he'll stub one when Harry comes after him and stumble into Harry's curse.'
'No,' Luna opined, 'it will be the Blue-Eyed Fleeg Beetles that will get to him. They just love toe jam. And while Voldemort is distracted by their dining, Harry will find him an easy target.'
Neville and Ginny tried hard to stifle their laughter, but each couldn't help letting several snickers escape. Luna didn't seem to notice as she went on about the toxic properties of the Fleeg Beetle saliva and how their waste products caused incurable and very itchy rashes.
He quickly rushed over to where Voldemort was standing, not bothering to step over Snape's hand which lay in his path. He grunted satisfyingly at the soft crunch as he trod on the knuckles. He hadn't got over how Snape had abased him that summer at Spinner's End.
'Careful, you slime,' Voldemort hissed, 'He must be able to make my potions.'
'Yes, Master, but it was his left hand, and he is right handed,' Wormtail simpered as he removed his master's night clothes.
Voldemort cackled at his servant's brash response. 'Very well, I will allow you your petty revenge this time.'
Wormtail then hurried to bring the Dark Lord his trousers and shirt … then his robes. After Wormtail had dressed him in these, Voldemort barked out, 'Now, Wormtail, bring me my socks.'
Wormtail opened the drawer in the wardrobe where they were always kept, but it was empty. He quickly rummaged through other drawers but none were to be found. Wormtail began to sweat as he heard his master begin to mutter angrily.
'What is taking you so long? Can you not carry out such a simple request?'
'There are none here, M-m-m-Master,' Wormtail stammered.
'What, you incompetent imbecile? Check the hamper!' Voldemort bellowed.
Wormtail scurried over and searched the hamper unsuccessfully. As he turned to apologize to his master, he heard the words of the dreaded curse shatter the quiet . . . 'Crucio.'
Several weeks after their conversation on the train, Ginny came upon Luna in the library. With Ron, Hermione, and especially Harry gone, there was not much else for Ginny to do besides concentrate on her studies. Her NEWTs were not until next year, but she worked feverishly. Hopefully, the Trio would be back for their seventh year when she did hers; she would show them by outdoing them in NEWTs.
'So what are you working on, Luna? That Potions essay Slughorn assigned?'
'Well, since you are going to be nicking Voldemort's socks, I've been researching curses and hexes aimed at the feet.'
'What? You're not serious, are you?'
Luna looked up at Ginny with her pale, round eyes. 'Why would I jest about something so important, Ginevra? This is a life-and-death matter for Harry.'
Ginny goggled at Luna with her mouth open for a moment. 'But, but . . .' she stammered, unable to think of any response.
'Besides,' Luna continued, 'my inner eye has seen you carrying a sack full of socks. Who else's would they be? If not Lord Snotty Mouth's.'
Ginny giggled at Luna's uncouth reference and then sat down next to her. 'What have you found?'
'Not much, actually, but I sense there has to be something that will help Harry. . . . We just haven't found it yet.'
'Yes, Ginny. You didn't think nicking socks would be enough, did you?'
Ginny spent several hours with Luna pouring over book after book till her eyes felt as raw as if they were filled with sand. Finally she said, 'Come on, Luna, let's go get something to eat before all the food disappears from the Great Hall.'
'I guess we will have to come back later,' Luna sighed, rising from the table.
Later, as they left the Great Hall, they talked about what they had and hadn't found. There were hexes and curses to grow warts on the big toe, to inflict athlete's foot on one's adversary, to turn his right foot into a club foot, and the like, but nothing that seemed able to seriously harm the greatest Dark Wizard since the Witch Nimue stole Merlin's magical secrets and defeated him.
'Luna,' Ginny said, 'we'll have to look in the Restricted Section.'
'But, how will we get in there?' Luna asked. 'Who do we ask for permission?'
'I have an idea,' Ginny responded. 'Meet me outside Ravenclaw Tower at midnight tonight. We're going to sneak in.'
That night, Ginny glanced around the Gryffindor common room before she removed a worn piece of parchment from her robes. After double-checking to make sure no one was about, she touched her wand to the parchment and whispered, 'I solemnly swear I am up to no good.' Slowly lines spread across the parchment and words appeared at the top, saying:
Messr. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs
Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers
are proud to present
The Marauder's Map
She quickly checked to ensure the hallway outside the common room was clear and then pushed through the doorway into the hall. 'Well, Harry, I don't have your Invisibility Cloak to hide with. But thank you for the map to make sure the coast is clear.'
She made her way carefully down the corridors and up the staircases to the tower where the Ravenclaw dormitories were located. She had to duck into a classroom once when Mrs. Norris appeared on the map coming down the corridor. Then she had to detour down a different hallway when Filch's name showed that he was about to round the corner. Finally she arrived up in the west tower near where the students in Ravenclaw stayed. Soon Luna appeared from behind a tapestry. Together they made their way to the library. Luckily the map showed that Filch and his filthy cat were occupied elsewhere, so they made good time.
As Wormtail's body slowly stopped twitching. Voldemort snarled at him, 'Well, if you haven't got any clean socks for me, hurry and bring me my shoes.'
Wormtail, not yet able to rise, scrabbled as best he could across the floor, took the shoes in his mouth, stifling the urge to retch at the odor, and slowly crawled back to Voldemort.
Once shod, Voldemort spoke with disdain, 'Arise, Wormtail, let's go take care of this upstart "Chosen One." Then we can begin with his death to remake the Horcruxes.' He turned and left the room, barely waiting for Wormtail to stand and stumble through the doorway after him.
Once they were safely ensconced in the library, they spent hours pouring through various tomes. They had to Nox their wands several times and hide silently when the map showed Filch's or Mrs. Norris' approach. Once they had feared discovery when Mrs. Norris prowled back and forth before the doorway where a rope closed off the Restricted Section. Fortunately they had retied it, so Filch quickly turned away when he found it so. 'Come, Mrs. Norris, you'll have to look elsewhere for rats to play with.'
Voldemort's sudden appearance at Malfoy manor startled Narcissa. Her shock was short lived. Dissatisfied with her slow greeting and failure to bow at once, the Dark Lord snarled the curse, 'Crucio.' As she lay panting, he barked, 'Now, where are Bella and Lucius? They are to accompany me to witness the demise of the Cursed One.' Voldemort cackled evilly at his horrible pun.
A panel slid from the floor, showing Lucius' hiding place, as Bella walked down the stairs.
'Come, we leave at once,' the Dark Lord hissed as turned to head back out the door.
'Wait,' Lucius begged as he turned back for something. 'I'm having trouble finding some socks.'
Bella started to say something about needing to search for socks as well but bit off her words when Lucius suddenly doubled over as the curse leapt from the Dark Lord's lips, 'Crucio. . . . How dare you hold me up this way? Especially when I don't have any either. You'll just have to do without.'
In the dim light of the moon, Ginevra Weasley slowly crawled away from the ruins of the old church. She carried over her shoulder a grey duffle bag. It wasn't heavy, as its contents consisted solely of light-weight items. Clothing items, to be specific. A single type of clothing item, to be more specific. To be precise – socks. She muttered to herself as she crawled through the underbrush. 'I hope he appreciates this. I don't know why I bother after he left me, doing who knows what. I'll show him I know how to take care of myself. He doesn't think I can help, that it has to be him – or rather that bloody Trio – to do all work. Well, he'll see what ickle Ginnykins can do.'
After leaving the ruins of the old church concealing Voldemort's hiding place, Ginny next visited Malfoy Manor. She figured Bella and Lucius would be there, probably hiding in the secret chamber concealed under the drawing-room floor. It didn't take her long to add to her lightweight collection.
'One more stop,' Ginny whispered as she crawled through the gap in the gate.
'Come on, Neville, wake up,' Ginny hissed as she quietly shook the slumbering figure.
'Huh, what?' Neville rolled over in his sleep.
'I've got them. It's time to find Harry.'
Neville jerked awake and sat upright. 'You've got them, you say? Well, let's go.'
Ginny was so exhausted; she barely managed not to Splinch herself as she and Neville Apparated to Godric's Hollow. She knew the cottage had to be here somewhere. But, as it was under the Fidelius Charm, they could not see it. 'Harry,' she called out, 'Ron, Hermione?' She paused to listen for a response. Not hearing any, she began to shout.
Inside the charmed ruins Harry sat on the floor in what was once the parlor. 'What do we do now?' he asked Ron and Hermione. 'Do you have any ideas?'
They had been debating this for days now. They had located and destroyed each of the Horcruxes in turn. But now they were at a loss as to how to proceed. Harry felt somewhat hopeful of defeating Voldemort. But how could they find him? And, even if they could locate him, how would they, or rather Harry, defeat him? They had bandied about all sorts of curses and hexes, even potions, but were no closer to a solution. Harry was getting more depressed as each moment slipped by.
'Well,' Hermione began, 'we could . . .' She never got to finish as she was interrupted by the voice calling outside and one inside.
'Hush,' Ron said.
'Don't hush me,' Hermione began to protest, but Harry was already on his feet with his wand out.
'It's Ginny! What's she doing here?'
'Harry,' Ginny bellowed, 'You had better let me in before I start Reducto-ing the place. Even if I can't see or find you, the curses will still blast anything they hit.'
Voldemort Apparated to the field outside Godric's Hollow where the Potter residence once stood. He had decided the upstart "Chosen One" must be hiding here somewhere, probably with his friends. Wormtail, Lucius, and Bella appeared a short time later. As the pops of their Apparation faded away, he could see four figures standing at the far end of the field. Off to the side a small, red-haired figure stood before a small, heaped pile.
'Incendio,' she screeched. The pile burst into flames, which rapidly consumed it.
'What is that horrid stench?' Voldemort hissed.
'Why, it smells like burnt socks,' Wormtail hazarded.
Bella, Lucius, and the Dark Lord turned and howled at once 'Socks!'
Before the harsh notes of the howl died out, the foursome at the other end of the field raised their wands. Pointing at Voldemort and his hapless cronies, they shouted, 'Neruus Achilleus.'
Bella, Lucius, Wormtail, and Voldemort collapsed as something snapped in their heels. The pain was sharp but not so excruciating. Their feet simply no longer supported their weight. Then they watched as redness crept up their legs. It was as if poison were flowing through their veins. Faster and faster it moved until soon it sped to the heart. Once there, each flopped and writhed about for a few minutes as their hearts began to beat wildly. It felt as if a herd of Ukrainian Ironbellies was dancing on their chests. They barely managed a gasp before their hearts stopped altogether; they then collapsed dead on the ground. The Dark Lord and his Death Eaters were no more.
The twins, James and Lily, were playing a game on the floor. James reached over and slyly tugged one of the socks off of Lily's foot. 'Stop that, Jimmy.'
She turned to her father, who had dark hair like her, 'Daddy, make him stop! He's always taking my socks.'
Harry laughed and then wriggled his bare toes at his daughter.
'Did he take your socks, too, Daddy?'
'No, Sweetie, that was your mother.'
'Why does she do that?'
'Well, Sweetums, you see, your mother has always been very good at stealing socks.'
A/N: I want to thank Sherylyn for her willingness to read and beta this and seeing it through to being posted. Without her encouragement, this would not have seen the light of the computer screen. I also want to thank hwimsey for taking the time to read and adding her gracious comments. These two challenged me to make this story much better than I first wrote it. Any weaknesses that remain are due to my own stubbornness and ineptitude.
For the story about Nimue, look up 'Merlin' in Wikipedia. She also goes by other names, for which see the article 'Lady of the Lake.'
The curse used at the end simply means 'Achilles' Tendon.' The Ukrainian Ironbelly, according to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is the largest breed of dragon.