Ginny did not watch Harry walk away. She stared - unmoving, unblinking - at the place where he had been sitting, hearing nothing, seeing nothing. She did not notice Ron and Hermione come up behind her, Hermione holding onto Ron's arm. She did not hear Hermione whisper to him, "Later, not now." She did not move her eyes or un-focus them from the place in mid-air where Harry's face had been.
She saw blurry figures moving at the end of the row she was sitting in. She blinked, and her brother Percy and Rufus Scrimgeour came into focus. The Minister of Magic was holding Percy's shoulder and talking to him. Percy glanced at Ginny, nodded to Scrimgeour, and then the Minister turned and walked rapidly toward the castle. Percy started down the row toward her, and Ginny got up. Percy clearly wanted to talk to her, but whatever it was about, she did not want to hear it. She turned in the opposite direction, then stopped; her parents were sitting at the end of the row with Bill and Fleur Delacour. Her mother glanced at her, then looked at the castle and the figure of Harry, who was now half-way up the lawn. Molly turned back with a worried look, and peered at Ginny.
Ginny wiped tears from her face; she did not want anyone in her family to see her crying. She heard Percy as he approached, then she stepped up on her chair and jumped into the row behind, then did the same into the next row and headed toward the lake, leaving Percy standing with his arm outstretched and his mouth hanging open. She heard her mother call to her, then to Percy. She glanced back and saw Percy turn and leave Molly standing half-way down the row, looking at her and Percy both walk away. She almost stopped, but Percy was still watching her. She scowled at him and kept going.
She strode along the lake, trying to put away her anger at Percy, at Harry. She did not want to be angry, she wanted to understand what was happening. What had seemed so solid had collapsed with dizzying suddenness. Dumbledore and Harry - both gone. Even though she had sensed since Dumbledore's death that she could also lose Harry, it was harder than she had expected, much harder.
Ginny walked, hugging her arms around herself, looking down, noticing nothing but the grass and twigs at her feet. As she moved along the lake, though, she became aware of a stirring in the water, and looked up. A short distance out a head broke the surface, and then the upper part of a torso. She stopped. It was a mermaid, its grotesque features unmistakable. It did not look at her, but as Ginny continued walking she was certain that it was keeping up. Every few yards it dove under the water, then surfaced again opposite her.
She stopped again and faced the lake. The mermaid stayed above water and also remained still, and now it stared at her. Ginny, unnerved, looked around. There were no other people in sight; no one else had walked this way from the funeral. Looking back along the shore she could see that people were either going up to the castle or down to the gates and into Hogsmeade. She walked toward the forest, slumped to the ground under the first tree she came to, and wept.
She did not know how long she had been there when she heard footsteps. She stood and began to walk away; the only person she wanted to talk to would not be the one coming. But before she had taken three steps, her mother called her name. Ginny halted and said stiffly without turning, "Mum, I don't want to talk."
"Ginny," Molly called again.
Now Ginny turned. "I said I don't want to talk about it."
She did not answer, but looked away, over the lake. The surface was quiet; nothing stirred, nothing was visible. Molly moved closer. "Ginny, do you love him?"
Ginny gave a start and stared for a moment, then her eyes went left and right. She was not able to speak.
There was a splash, and they both turned. The mermaid was watching from only a few yards away; it stared without blinking its large, limpid eyes. Ginny turned to her mother, but Molly was gazing at the mermaid. "It's watching us. Or you, more likely," she said softly.
Ginny moved back to the tree. It was a little farther from the water and gave her a feeling of protection. Molly followed, but kept her head turned to watch the lake. She put her hand on Ginny's shoulder and Ginny faced her defiantly; there were no more tears in her eyes.
"Yes, I love him. I can't -" There was another splash, and the mermaid was gone, leaving not even a ripple on the surface.
"Oh, my," said Molly in a very still voice. They were both silent for a long moment. Ginny had a strange feeling as though eyes she could not see were looking into her head. Finally her mother spoke.
"Ginny, he loves you, I am sure of it." Ginny, still looking at the lake, arched her eyebrows, but Molly continued, "No, I've watched you both since we got here. He looks at you the same way Bill looks at Fleur." She smiled. "And the same way your father looks at me, once in a while."
"Then why did he walk away?" Ginny asked. She could not help her tears. "He walked away from me and all I wanted to do was go with him. But he won't let me."
"Oh. Where is he going?"
Ginny looked down and shook her head. "Don't ask me that," she murmured.
"Well, I think I can guess," Molly said, "but he's got to have help. Not from you, of course," she added quickly, looking alarmed. "You can't go off to do that, Ginny, you're too young."
"What do you mean?" Ginny snapped. "He's going off alone to hunt Voldemort. He's not even letting Ron or Hermione go with him."
"I don't think they'll let him do that."
"Then why should I?" Ginny shouted. "He means as much to me as he does to them! I was there both times when we fought those creeps and we did a bloody good job of it, too!" Her voice fell. "Well, sort of." She sank down against the tree, put her arms on her knees, and buried her face in them. "I want to be with him. I don't want him to die," she said quietly.
Molly sat down next to her and put her arm around Ginny's shoulder. "Did you know that Albus was teaching Harry this year?" Ginny nodded, and wiped tears from her face. Molly continued. "We all know that he was teaching him something, but we're not sure what, only that it must have something to do with You-Know-Who."
"Obviously," sniffed Ginny. "We all knew that. But he didn't talk about it, at least not to me."
They both said nothing for several moments. It was very quiet. When Ginny spoke again her voice quivered. "Mum, I want him, but does he want me?"
"I told you that he looks at you like you are the only thing he wants."
"But that's not true. He wants to kill Voldemort." She gave a short laugh. "And probably Snape."
Molly said nothing. Ginny started to get up, but her mother held her back.
"If he wants to find You-Know-Who, he won't be able to do it alone," Molly said. "He will need help. Yes, there are people who want to help him, but out of all of them he needs your help the most. Maybe not out there," she waved her hand at the woods, "but somewhere and sometime."
Ginny frowned. "That doesn't make sense, Mum. You're just trying to make me feel better. He told me that he wants to do it alone. He said I can't be with him." Her voice started to falter. "When he walked away from me I felt like my life was ending. I want what you say to be true, but what is true is that I can't stand not to be with him." She looked at her mother as more tears fell. "So what do I do? Believe it or not, I'm asking for advice."
"Just be yourself. That's what he loves."
"Yeah, I've already done that."
Molly laughed. "I know. I've watched you since the first time we saw him getting on the train at King's Cross."
Ginny smiled through the tears. "Was I that obvious?"
"Only to me, I think."
Ginny nodded and looked around. The lake was still. She wondered about the mermaid and why her mother had been so interested in it. She also thought about what her mother had said about Harry. How could she know it to be true? Or did she just wish it to be true? Everything she knew about Harry, everything about the last four years... Did it all come down to a brusque goodbye with nothing left to hope for? Why had the mermaid looked at her that way? It had been waiting and had left abruptly. What had she said just before the creature disappeared?
"Yes, I love him," she whispered.
"What?" said Molly.
Ginny did not realize that she had spoken aloud. "Nothing," she answered. She took her mother's hands.
"Mum, go along. If Dad or anyone else is still there, ask them to wait for me. Please. I - I'd like to be with everyone when I go back. But let me have a few minutes here. I'll be okay, I promise."
Her mother smiled and stood up. "I told them to wait," she said, "but come soon. The train will be leaving." She took Ginny's hands and helped her up, and held her for a moment. Then she turned and walked away.
Ginny went down to the water's edge. A breeze had come up, blowing her hair into her face and sending small ripples washing onto the bank. As she pushed her hair back, she thought she saw, far out in the middle of the lake, a large, slim figure leap out of the water and dive back. Silver and gold flashed in the sunlight, but it left no disturbance on the surface.
She heard footsteps behind her and turned. Walking toward her from under the trees, in magnificent black robes with green and silver trim, was Rufus Scrimgeour.
Ginny's first reaction was panic - something must have happened to Harry. But Scrimgeour was smiling as he approached. Her next reaction was to run. She had no desire to speak with him, if that was what he wanted. Harry had told her about his talk with the Minister at the Burrow last Christmas, and that had confirmed Ginny's observation that the Minister was over-impressed with his own importance.
She turned and began walking fast along the lake. Behind her Scrimgeour called, "Miss Weasley! Please, I need a word with you."
Ginny did not know what to do. How could she not stop for the Minister of Magic? She slowed, and then realized that in her haste to avoid the man she had gone in the wrong direction, away from where she knew her parents were waiting. It would look foolish just to turn around and go back, so she kept walking slowly. Scrimgeour finally caught up, breathing hard, limping along on his walking stick.
Ginny stopped as Scrimgeour, sweating and wheezing, came up to her. Now Ginny felt bad. She knew about the injuries he had suffered as an Auror, but she had made him run after her. She turned.
"I'm sorry, sir. I shouldn't have done that. You startled me," she said, looking at the ground.
"That's all right, my dear," he replied. "No matter at all. It's a terrible day for everyone, especially students like yourself. I understand how upset you must be."
Ginny nodded. She was sure that Scrimgeour had not tromped all this way through the woods on a bad leg to commiserate with her. It must have something to do with Harry. She finally looked at him.
"What is it you wanted with me, sir? Is everything okay with my father? With Harry?" As soon as she asked, she regretted it. It had just come out. A sympathetic smile came over the Minister's face, a smile that made Ginny trust him even less.
"Yes," he said, "they are both fine. That is, I have not seen your father since before the funeral ceremony. I did speak to Mr. Potter briefly, and he is well." He looked at her keenly.
"So... what is it you wanted with me?" Ginny repeated. She was beginning to feel uncomfortable. Scrimgeour's scars and mane of hair made him an imposing, even intimidating man, with an air of authority and strength. He was a good head and a half taller than she. His well-tailored and expensive robes contrasted with her own well-patched hand-me-downs. She did not like the feeling. "I need to be getting back," she said, looking toward the castle. "My family is waiting for me."
"Yes. Well, do you mind if we walk along here for a bit? I realize that this is all rather forward on my part, and I assure you it won't take long. You know," he glanced around, "there are some strange creatures in this part of the grounds."
"Like yourself," thought Ginny, now certain of what Scrimgeour wanted.
"You should be careful where you wander," he continued. His concern sounded to Ginny as false as his smile looked.
"What won't take long?" she said.
"Our conversation. About, well... about Harry Potter."
Ginny nodded. "I can't tell you anything about him."
"Well, my dear," he chuckled, "it's no secret in the wizarding world that you and Harry have been seeing a lot of each other lately, and I think that you must -"
"No," she interrupted, "that's not what I meant. I can't tell you anything about Harry because whatever we talked about is between him and me." Ginny looked into his eyes without flinching. There was no way this man was going to get to Harry through her.
"I understand," Scrimgeour said without showing any understanding. "You are two young people who have a, um, relationship, but surely you must know that Harry Potter also had a special relationship with Professor Dumbledore?"
"Of course. Everyone knew that. Look, sir, I don't know anything about their relationship. Harry and I aren't going out any more, anyway."
Again, Ginny was sorry she had said that. She did not want this man to know anything about her life; she did not want to say anything that could be used against Harry; and most of all, she did not like hearing the words. The lump came back into her throat. She was furious with herself and at Rufus Scrimgeour. She moved to go around him and back along the lake.
"Ah, please, not just yet, my dear," he said. He put his hand on her shoulder and pushed so that she was on the edge of the water. He was very strong, and Ginny began to be afraid. She put her hand inside her robe and felt for her wand.
Scrimgeour reached out, took her arm and pulled her hand out of the robe. "I am not here to hurt you, Miss Weasley," he said, keeping a grip on her arm, "but you are too young to understand some things. There is a war going on. You have already fought in it, and very bravely, too. But wars are fought with weapons, and Harry Potter is a weapon." He bent down so that his face was close to hers. Ginny was now very frightened. "Surely you can see," he went on, "that we - you, me, everyone who was honoring Albus Dumbledore today - we need Harry Potter. He must not act foolishly alone. He will die if he does."
He let her arm go. She rubbed it as anger began to overcome her fright. "I can't tell you anything," she scowled. She looked up at him and saw that the same insincere smile had reappeared. Her anger swelled, her face was hot. "But even if I did know something, I wouldn't tell you. All you want is to use Harry, and if he does what you want he'll die just the same and maybe faster. You couldn't keep Voldemort out of the Ministry of Magic last year, and you couldn't keep Death Eaters out of Hogwarts this year." She backed away into the lake, ignoring the water that rose above her ankles.
Scrimgeour flinched when Ginny spoke Voldemort's name. "So his name scares you," she almost laughed. "Well, Harry taught me something, and that's what I'll tell you about him. He isn't afraid of a name, and neither am I, whether it's Voldemort or Scrimgeour."
Ginny was almost sorry she had said that, because the Minister's face hardened and his mouth twisted. Then she was sorry, because his wand appeared suddenly in his hand.
"Miss Weasley," he spoke softly but his voice matched his look, "there are things I need to know that you can tell me. Don't be foolish. Your father works for me. You cannot keep to yourself what I need to know about Harry Potter or anything else." He pointed his wand at her face.
Ginny's eyes were fixed on the wand. She could feel her heart pounding. The water had filled her boots and her feet were cold, but she could not move. She felt her breath failing.
Something splashed behind her. Scrimgeour peered over her shoulder, but Ginny knew without looking what it was. She took a step away from him along the bank, but he immediately swung his wand to cover her. She stopped. Then several things happened almost at once. Another splash and a horrid, piercing shriek that made her jump came from behind. Scrimgeour's wand swung away again and pointed out into the lake. And something large and black crashed out of the forest. It was a centaur, and was followed immediately by another, this one gray. In an instant they were between Ginny and Scrimgeour; the black one completely blocked her view of him, the other stood slightly off to one side. They were both holding bows, each with an arrow fully cocked and pointing directly at Rufus Scrimgeour.
The black spoke to the Minister. "Lower your wand slowly, put it inside your robe, and slowly take your hand out."
Scrimgeour had turned when the centaurs burst out of the trees, and he took a step back when the black one came between him and Ginny. He lowered his wand but did not put it away.
"There must be a misunderstanding," he said quietly. "I am Rufus -"
The black centaur stepped toward him, its bow aimed at the Minister's heart. "There is no misunderstanding," it said just as quietly. "You are in our forest and we want you to put your wand in your robes."
"Are you sure you are doing the right thing?" Scrimgeour asked. "In these times you and your people need to be careful about who is on your side and who is not."
The gray centaur lunged toward him and pressed the arrowhead to Scrimgeour's ear. "You should be careful about what is pointed at your head," he roared. "Do as we say, now!"
Scrimgeour slowly pocketed his wand and put his empty hands up. His face had turned dark. "Do you know who I am?" he said to the black.
"Yes," the centaur replied. "Do you know who I am?"
Before the Minister could answer the centaur turned to Ginny and lowered his bow, but kept the arrow cocked; the gray centaur did not move, its arrow was still aimed at Scrimgeour's head. As the black moved toward her, Ginny backed farther into the water.
"Ginny Weasley," he spoke softy, as though he did not want Scrimgeour to hear, "do not be afraid. Go back to your people. We will not let this man hinder you. Go."
Ginny's mouth fell open, but words did not come out; for a moment she stood dumb. How did this creature know her name, and why was it doing this? She found her voice, but barely. "Who are you?" she whispered. "How do you know me?"
The gray centaur stamped his legs. "Tell her to leave!" it cried. "You should not answer her questions, you know that!" It did not turn its head, but kept its eyes on Scrimgeour; the bow did not move. Ginny could not see the Minister, but he seemed to be staying quite still.
The black looked at the other but did not answer. He turned to Ginny and moved closer. He spoke so softly that she could barely hear him. "You know our father. His name is Firenze. That is all I will tell you. You must go now. We cannot hold this man for long." He stepped back, allowing more space on the bank between himself and Ginny.
Ginny stepped slowly out of the water, holding up the hem of her robes; her feet were freezing. When she stepped up on the bank, she paused and looked at Scrimgeour, who she could now see. He was staring at the black centaur in front of him. He glanced at Ginny, and his eyes narrowed, but at the same moment the gray stamped again and let out a harsh cry. Its bow jerked slightly, and Scrimgeour looked away from her.
Ginny began walking along the lake toward the tomb. She looked back once and saw the man and the two centaurs, one still covering Scrimgeour with its bow, the other watching her. And out in the lake she saw the head of the mermaid, also watching her. She walked faster, and then began running, with water squishing in her boots. Her feet began to hurt but she kept running. She came around a clump of trees and ahead saw the white tomb, the empty chairs set in rows, and a small group of people standing there, most of them with bright red hair. They looked at her, then started running toward her. She stumbled, out of breath, and fell onto her hands and knees. Her feet were in pain; she could tell that she had blisters or worse on both.
Fred and George were the first to reach her. "Ginny!" they cried at the same time. "Are you all right? Where were you? Why were you running?" They alternated asking questions.
"I - I'm fine," she gasped. "My feet are wet. It's nothing." She started pulling off her boots, then looked up as her parents, Bill, and Fleur arrived. George helped her take off her boots.
"Ginny," said Mrs. Weasley, squatting down in front of her, "what happened?" She looked at Ginny's feet. Her soles were torn and bleeding.
"Mum, it's nothing. I'll get something for it in Hogsmeade before I get on the train. It's these stupid boots. I've had them for two years and they don't fit. It'll be fine." She stood up. "See? It's just a little blister. Ouch!" She took a step and had to grab onto George to keep from falling. Fred took her other arm as she leaned on their shoulders. "Thanks. Ouch!" she cried again. She took another step and swore.
Her father, looking bemused, was about to speak, but something in the forest caught his eye. The others followed his gaze. "Isn't that Rufus Scrimgeour?" he said. The Minister of Magic was striding out of the trees. He turned down the long curving drive and out the tall gates. Although he passed within a few yards of the Weasleys, he did not look at them.
"What was that all about?" said Arthur, still watching Scrimgeour as he strode down the lane to Hogsmeade. No one answered, but Mrs. Weasley, who was now standing in front of Ginny, turned to her daughter.
"Ginny," she said, "did you meet the Minister?"
"Did you speak to him?"
"No. He spoke to me."
"What?" Arthur exclaimed. "He talked to you? Why on earth..." He paused. "Didn't Percy also talk to you, right after the funeral?"
"Well, he tried to say something, probably about Har-" She stopped. Why could she not desist from speaking Harry's name?
"Harry?" Fred and George said in unison, and looked at each other. "Hey, we heard stories, Sis. You and Harry. That's beautiful," they alternated.
"No, it's not what you think. Ouch!" She had tried to take a step. "Let me down. I can't even stand up." She swore again.
"Ginny," said Molly, and Ginny looked up. Molly glanced at Arthur, then at the others. "Did Rufus Scrimgeour ask you about Harry? If he did, you need to tell us. You need to tell us whatever it was he wanted to know." She glanced again at Arthur, who was now looking worried. Fred and George were staring with avid interest. Bill and Fleur stood together, holding hands, also staring, but Fleur had a thoughtful look. She caught Ginny's eye and smiled softly.
"Okay," Ginny took a breath, and recounted what the Minister had asked. "Then," she finished, "I told him it was none of his business, and he pulled his wand on me."
"What?!" they all exclaimed at the same time. Ginny almost laughed, but stopped when she saw the expressions on her parents' faces.
"How dare he!" Molly shouted. "Who does he think he is?" She turned to Arthur. "Drawing a wand on an underage witch! That's outrageous. Arthur -"
Ginny had never seen her father so angry. He turned and took a step toward the gates, but Ginny heaved herself up and went after him. "Dad, ow!- Ow!- Wait, there's something else!" She swore again and sat down, holding her feet. Her father hesitated, then turned back. "What else happened?" he demanded.
"I think he was just trying to scare me," Ginny said. Then she spoke directly to her mother. "But the mermaid came back-" she could almost feel the twins' astonishment "- and it distracted him for a second, and then two- two centaurs came out of the woods." She could not help stammering.
"What are you all looking at?" Ginny laughed; they were gaping at her. "It was just like another stroll in the Forbidden Forest. Happens all the time."
"Ginny, don't joke." Her father was still angry. "What did they do?"
"Well, they both had their bows pointing at him, and -" Her father started; her mother shrieked and put her hand to her mouth.
"With arrows?" the twins said.
"Of course with arrows. How stupid would that be, pointing an empty bow at someone?" Ginny said as she bent over and squeezed her right foot. "Ouch."
"So..." Fred and George urged, "then what?"
"Then they just told me to go. But what was weirdest was that they knew my name. One of them said that their father was Firenze." She looked at her parents. "He's the one that Professor Dumbledore got to teach Divination last year. Maybe that's how they knew my name."
There were several moments of silence. Then Molly spoke. "No, that's not how they knew your name." She glanced at Arthur, and he nodded. "They knew your name because of Harry."
"What do you mean, because of Harry?" Ginny was almost afraid of what her mother would say.
"I mean," Molly continued, "the mermaid, the centaurs... These things don't just happen." She squatted again and held Ginny's shoulders, as she had when they were together by the lake. She glared at the twins. "None of this goes anywhere else," she said to them. "It stays in the Order. Understand?"
"Sure, Mum," George said quietly. "Understood, Mum," Fred added.
Ginny was taken aback. "Well, I don't understand any of it. Why are they interested in me? What did I do?"
Her mother hesitated, and then looked at Arthur Weasley. His eyes were no longer angry; he was smiling slightly. "Because you are Harry Potter's girl," he said simply.
"Whoa!" said Fred and George together; their father and mother both shot them looks. Fleur smiled again.
Ginny sucked in a breath; she could not stop her heart from pounding. Her father continued. "These creatures know something is happening in the world, something big, and they know that it has something to do with Harry. And when they find Harry in their visions, or whatever it is they have, it seems that they also see you." He shook his head. "Don't be flattered, Ginny. When non-humans start actually noticing us it's usually not because pleasant times are coming. They notice us because bad things will be happening to themselves because of what humans are doing to each other."
Ginny did not answer. She was thinking about what it meant to be minded by a mermaid and a centaur because she had just spent a month as Harry's girlfriend. She involuntarily looked up the lawn to the castle. She knew Harry would not be there, but that was the place where she had last seen him. The spot was empty, just like the other spot, the one next to her when she had been sitting with him after the funeral. She could not help the lump in her throat, but she fought the tears back and looked at her father.
Arthur was now staring toward Hogsmeade. "Well," he said, "I need to see someone in the village. Anyone want to join me? Boys?" He glanced at his sons and then started walking.
Fred and George followed immediately. Bill hesitated a moment. He looked at Fleur who whispered in his ear and put her hand on his face, and then he went after them.
Molly Weasley smiled at Ginny and Fleur. "I guess we'll find out later how Rufus is," she said. "But let's go take care of your feet before the train leaves." She took Ginny's arm, Fleur took the other, and they slowly followed the Weasley men to Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Express.