The final chapter, is now a healthy 3,200 words and growing. I'm about halfway through with an epilogue to finish the whole thing (or not as the case may be). I'm in a good place for writing having made good progress on an original work and fully recovered from the most recent bout of illness that put me out of action for 6 weeks.
Harry was woken at six o’clock by the vibration of his wand letting him know that someone was tampering with his extensive system of wards. The curtains around his bed were still firmly closed, and a quick check — as quick as someone who had been awoken from deep sleep could be — of his wand revealed that all was what it should be, at least in terms of the protections immediately around his bed. He cast a few more spells, cursing Dumbledore and Black for their emasculation of his power and for reducing him to silly wand waving when all that should have been needed, if he was at full power, was the extension of his ambient magic into the area around him. All of that could have been done from the comfort of his bed as he contemplated the day ahead of him rather than betraying the fact that he was now awake.
The information he received back via his wand was confused and told him little more than poking his head out of the curtains would have given him, and he cursed his tormentors again. True, this way he had no spellfire to avoid, but if he’d listened carefully, he probably could have determined that two people not normally to be found in his dorm were now leaving. Aside from that, there was no other movement.
He lay back down and tried to reach out with his magic. He knew that the full range of his abilities was denied to him, but he hoped that something would remain. After a few minutes of frustration, he gave up.
Those bastards! Trussed me up like a Christmas goose, they have. When I get out of here…
He let the thought fade, knowing that there were other, more pertinent issues to consider before the matter of revenge.
As he lay on the bed collecting his thoughts he realised that, for the first time in as long as he could remember, he hadn’t risen early and exercised. The only other exceptions to this pattern were when he was ill or injured or when Black and his little group of Gryffindors had been out and about on the trail of Tom, his minions or his Horcruxes.
Instead, he lay in his bed, listening to the sounds of those around him getting ready for the day ahead, trying to decide who would have been tampering with his wards and wondering what it would have been like if he had been at Hogwarts from the beginning. Would he have ended up in Gryffindor, or was the Sorting Hat’s decision based on his true nature rather than his stated desire? So many questions fluttered around his head, and for once he let these thoughts have their way, enjoying the confusion not least because it obscured the more pressing business that he had planned for the day.
He had decided that today would be the day that he finally confessed both his feelings for Ginevra and told her about the marriage contract. He had judged from their previous conversation that she was committed enough to their relationship to bear the news he was about to spring on her. More than that, he had come to a point where he could no longer conceal the truth from her.
He knew that she had a couple of free periods after lunch and therefore planned to invite her to a light luncheon on the grounds. There, away from prying eyes, he would explain what had brought him to Hogwarts and then explain why that didn’t detract from what he felt for her.
Are you going to tell her that you love her?
That was the question that was eating away at him. Did he love her, or was his reaction nothing more than the product of the marriage contract’s manipulations? Or was he no different from the other youths that cast lustful gazes in her direction?
He knew that he wanted her, and his need was greatest physically, but he had accepted that he needed her emotionally as well, because, quite simply, she was the only person that had ever conversed with him as an equal. Her speech contained no concessions to who he was, how he had been brought up, or what he had done.
It had occurred to him that her apparent comfort with him might be something that she didn’t actually have any control over. Was that truly the way she felt about him or was this the workings of the contract? He knew that the magic the contract contained would cause an overtly physical response to him, not least because that part of who she was had been denied to her for so long, but did she also spend time with him because she wanted to or because she was compelled to?
It was a question that he’d been asking himself for a number of days, and it was one to which he didn’t have an answer.
He knew that he could force her to marry him; she wouldn’t be able to deny him, and neither would she be able to deny him the physical satisfaction he craved. But unlike Greengrass, whose perversions had prompted him to dispose of her in such an extreme manner, Ginevra was a ripe, unplucked fruit, unblemished and untarnished by base desires, and as such, he would ensure that it was not the contract that compelled her to surrender her maidenhead to him but a desire to be one with him.
All very well and good, Harry, but what if it is the contract compelling her?
Such carnal thoughts caused his body to begin to respond and, as the room around him was now silent and presumably empty, he pulled back the curtains. intending to deal with his desire in the privacy of the shower.
He sensed rather than heard or saw the first spell, and, despite rolling out of its line of fire, he felt the second and third spells. Thankfully, neither of the two caused him any problems. He rolled back to the spot where the first spells had been aimed and, in the brief respite that it gave him, cast a Shield Charm that would last for the next thirty seconds. He feinted to the left and then rolled to the right, casting three spells in apparently random directions — at least he hoped his attackers would see it that way. Bursts of spellfire came from three different directions, all of which were absorbed by his shield, allowing him time to scramble to his feet and send out a series of defensive spells designed to confuse and Confund his opponents.
He caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and his shield first shimmered and then shattered as a barrage of spells tore into him. As he recast his shield, more spells hit him, this time making short work of his defences. As his shield left him exposed, his other defences kicked in. From three different points in the room, spells shot out at his attackers, and two wand-waving doppelgangers emerged from Harry’s body and started firing harmless but nonetheless very noisy spells at the now confirmed three attackers.
All through this, Harry had not stopped moving and continued to fire nasty but, so far, non-lethal spells at his foes. The doppelgangers copied the style, if not the content, of their originator’s arsenal and soon the enemy was confused enough to turn its fire on all three Harrys, giving him the opportunity to pick them off one by one. Before he could do so, a fourth entered the dormitory, and before he could respond, the room was filled with a series of flashes and bangs that reduced Harry’s vision to flashing lights and confused images. Blinded by his enemy’s ruse, he was easy prey to the next series of attacks.
His unshielded body took three mighty blows, and he collapsed unceremoniously to the floor.
Rather than the anticipated final attack, he heard the four sets of footsteps making their way slowly out of his dorm. He rolled onto his back with a groan and opened his eyes. There, hovering above him, was a slowly unfurling scroll. He adjusted his glasses and squinted to focus on the text that began to reveal itself.
Welcome to Slytherin House, Mr Potter, and congratulations on passing your first test. We look after our own in this house, and that includes those who may lack the discretion we demand of those who carry our colours. The grass is very rarely greener on the other side, and you would be best served returning to your side of the fence, especially when your little lamb is staked out in such a tempting manner.
Your Obedient Servant, Thomas de Ghent
Ginny’s mornings had settled into a now-familiar pattern, one which she was able to take advantage of more fully now that the weekend was upon her. She had awoken from her slumber still in the post-coital warmth engendered by her latest dream. It amazed her how each dream had become more vivid than the last as she learned more details about Harry.
At first they were no more erotic than a traditional teenage romance in which he wooed her and in which chaste kisses and the accidental brushing of hands were as physical as their interaction had got. As she had spent more time with him, however, her dreams had grown in complexity and in boldness. She knew where on his hands he had calluses, how smooth his chin was when he’d shaved and how rough it was when he hadn’t. The strength in his arms, his masculine smell, and the ever-present power of his magic all combined to create a world in which she would have been happy to stay forever. And then one final detail had been added which changed the nature of her nights and, more specifically, her mornings. Although he had attempted to hide it from her, she had felt his physical response to her. As they had touched, it had triggered an overwhelming wave of pleasure that had followed her into her dreams. A few surreptitious caresses disguised as accidental contact had confirmed to her that, should she ever be invited into Harry’s bed, their respective sizes would make for a very fulfilling experience. And whilst she had never seen him naked, her imagination overcame that small difficulty with ease whilst she dreamt.
And now, on a lazy Saturday morning, in a bath that was scented with bath oils and hot enough to make her languid without turning her skin to an uncomfortable crimson, she relived her latest nocturnal dalliance at leisure. Taking advantage of her skills in Aromamancy to add to the realism of the re-enactment, she took a deep breath and, as the recognition of his scent took her over the edge once more, her ragged breath struggling to form his name as she did so.
She glanced at her watch, noting that breakfast had now ended and that she would need to visit the kitchens if she wanted to eat before lunch. Her stomach rumbled, but she ignored it as she rose from the bath, enjoying the feeling of the cooler air on her warm, oiled body. She stepped out onto the white stone tiles and walked quickly from the bathroom to the warm, more forgiving floorboards in her room.
She settled onto her bed, her hands moving slowly over her lubricated skin as she began the slow but satisfying journey to what she planned to be the climax to her morning’s work.
Thus occupied, it was a long time before she noticed the wet but nonetheless distinctive snowy owl perched atop the mirror on her dresser. By then it was too late to prevent the inevitable, and the fact that, in her mind’s eye, it was the owl’s owner whose hands had replaced hers in her now-frenetic movements did not deter her. As she finished with a cry, the bird swooped down from its distant perch, settled on her headboard and waited for her to take the message it carried.
She knew she should have felt embarrassed by what had occurred, but in the pleasurable aftershocks that followed she felt no shame. Finally, she took the note from the bird and settled back onto her bed. Before opening it, she held it to her nostrils and savoured the brief snatches of his scent before opening it to read.
Dearest Ginevra, I hope that this missive finds you well. Please forgive the informality of my approach, but I am minded to take advantage of the recent clement weather and spend a pleasant hour or two on the far lawn by the lake. If you would do me the honour of accompanying me, then I shall prevail upon the house-elves to supply us with a suitable repast and appropriate refreshments. Should you feel inclined to accept this invitation, please attend me at the entrance to the school no later than thirty minutes past the hour of twelve.
Your obedient servant, Harry James Potter
She was disappointed that there was no RSVP required, as the thought of her penning a note to him whilst her still-slick fingers handled the parchment sent a wicked thrill through her. Still, there would be more opportunity for games later, ones in which some of her recent fantasies could become realities.
Given the events that had transpired in his dormitory, Harry found breakfast to be a surprisingly prosaic affair. He arrived in the Great Hall just after eight and proceeded unmolested to the Slytherin table, where he took his now customary place at the end. A plate of cooked meats, cheese and rolls appeared on the table before him, and he began to eat appearing for all the world, oblivious to anything around him. If anyone had been watching carefully, they would have noticed his subtle casting of observation spells and proximity wards. The left sleeve of his robe concealed a second wand and his right a collection of ceramic stars that would cause any foe multiple problems. Tucked into his boots were a series of sharp knives which had been imbued with additional power, courtesy of several spells that the Ministry classified as Dark.
For the first time since he had walked through the doors of the castle, Harry Potter was fully armed and spoiling for a fight.
His breakfast was completed without interruption, partially because those who had wandered too close to his position limped away wondering how to explain to Madam Pomfrey how they had received such injuries before the school day had even started. He rose and made his way out of the Hall and was close to the Slytherin dungeon by the time the first would-be assassin took his or her first crack at him. Assassin was too strong a word, however, as the spells were more nuisance than threat, especially given the multiple protections to be found in his clothing. Enchanted threads were woven into the cloth, and the lining was an intricate pattern of runes and gems linked by more enchanted thread designed to provide a barrier to all but the most deadly of attackers. In itself it wouldn’t win a fight for him, but it would reduce the effect of a spell by enough to make the difference in a close fight.
He cast a shield and, using the breathing space it gave him, followed it with his Patronus Charm. Unlike the type used against Dementors, this was designed to inflict damage on humans. The initially pearly-white mist that formed at the end of his wand darkened to a whirling scarlet out of which came feet, legs and, more importantly, teeth. He dispatched the beast at his attacker with no need to wait to see if he had been successful in ridding himself of the opponent.
The rest of his morning followed a similar pattern of sniping attacks designed to test or trick rather than kill. Nonetheless, by the time the sixth attack had finished, he was beginning to grow weary of the whole thing. With his magic unbound, he would have taken it all in his stride as not only would he have had a wider range of spells at his command, but his recovery time would have been minimal. Instead, the dissonance of his thwarted magic pressed against the binding, and he realised that, if he wasn’t careful, it would shatter the bindings and splatter him over the castle walls.
He checked his watch; it was nearly twelve and time to prepare for his meeting with Ginevra. It had been nearly thirty minutes since the last attack, and he was hopeful that the ease with which he’d been able to deal with each one had persuaded his opponents that he couldn’t be beaten that easily. Any doubt that lingered was removed by the arrival of the Ravenclaw third-year he’d seen hanging around with Weasley and his pals.
“Got a note for you, Potter,” he announced, thrusting a folded piece of parchment towards Harry.
Rather than take it, Harry froze the boy in place with his wand and then levitated it away from him. Another spell unfolded it.
Dear Mister Potter, All work and no play makes Harry James a dull boy. We hoped you enjoyed our little workout this morning and trust you will find your afternoon to be more relaxing.
Your Obedient Servant, Thomas de Ghent
As Ginny set about selecting her attire, she noticed that Harry’s owl had stayed with her. She had no treats to give the owl, but the bird did not appear to mind and remained content to study her as she went about her business.
Ginny had not seen such a beautiful owl in all her time at Hogwarts. She did not possess an owl, and therefore the only ones that had ever delivered post to her were from the Ministry, bringing her exam results, or from the school, carrying the book list for the forthcoming year. She shook her head as she remembered how excited she had become as she unravelled it, wondering which books would form the focus of the remaining weeks of her holiday.
What a fool I was back then, she thought to herself. So full of books and striving to achieve that I missed the long, lazy days in the warm Devon sun. Not anymore. Next summer will be spent in the long grass, hidden from my parents and lost in the arms of a certain young man.
She chose her attire with care, finally able to use both the knowledge she had acquired and the recent additions to her wardrobe. Her new robes were stylish enough but still within the boundaries of acceptability as defined by her suitor’s upbringing. They were less voluminous than her school robes, emphasising her curves and making sure that her newly acquired corset was not wasted this side of the bedroom. She wore a short, simple chemise under that, knowing that even the best of corsets would eventually start digging into her skin.
It was below the waist that she had been at her most daring. On the face of it, it was bizarre to wear items of clothing that, unless Harry had plans to seduce her, would not see the light of day again until she took them off. But, deep down at least, she knew that this was the right way to dress. Her petticoat was sheer to the point of being see-through and her knickers were, unlike her everyday wear, tight around her bottom, thus allowing no room for error unless she were to switch from open to closed drawers. On one level, she felt wanton and ready to stitch a scarlet letter ‘A’ upon her robe, and on the other, she felt ready. One thing remained though, one which she could identify but could not articulate: her menses. They were not due to start for another few days, but something told her that she had been remiss and should have paid more attention to her own body and used her magic to ensure that today she would be in the early and not later stages of her cycle.
She sighed. She had forgotten that witches had that ability. How could she be that careless?
I just hope that Harry is in a forgiving mood and that he would wait the few days my body requires.
She knew from the complaints of other witches who had postponed periods that the pain and discomfort the next time was hell. Not that she had tried it herself, of course. She suffered minimal discomfort and barely had to use the sponges her mother had dutifully provided the night before her first trip to Hogwarts.
She blinked and shook her head, trying to overcome the feeling of disorientation she felt. She glanced at her watch as it lay upon the dresser. Eleven-thirty; where had the time gone? Still, she had more than enough time.
She began to dress, slowly pulling on her stockings and fixing them in place with her garters. Next she withdrew her new boots from their box and, slipping them on, began the slow process of lacing them up. She stood, getting used to the size of the heel and taking a few steps as she did so. She caught sight of her reflection in the mirror and smiled. She liked the way she looked and realised why the never-ending stream of magazines confiscated from wizards who had no other access to the female form featured such poses as the one she was pulling now.
Ginny finished dressing and turned to the window to see if the rain had stopped. September had been a surprisingly warm month, especially for this far north, so she hoped that the ground would quickly absorb the morning’s precipitation.
Drying charms are all very well, she thought, but my hem is going to get dirty, repelling charms or no.
She left her room and, after descending the stairs into the common room, moved quickly towards the portrait.
“You’re looking very nice today, Ginny.”
She stopped and turned. It was Longbottom, doing his best to convey the air of a friend complimenting another, but she could tell by looking at his eyes that he saw her as more than that.
“Thank you, Neville,” she replied with as much civility as she could muster, given her assessment of his motives.
“Are you going to meet…?”
He did not need to say Harry’s name. Perhaps, she thought, he couldn’t bring himself to do so.
“Yes, I am lunching with Harry on the far lawn. I can’t linger. It is unseemly for a lady to be late no matter what fiction tells us.”
Neville’s reply was lost in the noise of the portrait opening, as was her brother’s snide comment from the bottom of the stairs to the boys’ dormitory.
Her trip from Gryffindor Tower to the entrance of the castle was undisturbed and she spent the time letting herself luxuriate in the anticipation building in her body.
He was waiting for her in the Entrance Hall, looking every inch the saviour of the Wizarding world and making her moist with anticipation. She lengthened her stride, both to be by his side sooner and to deny the urge to crush her thighs together in response to her newly awakened longing.
Every step that they took made Ginny’s heart beat faster, and the tension in her body reminded her of the build up to a Quidditch game.
Come on, calm down. Its lunch by the lake not…
In her own mind, had she billed this as an event beyond its actual significance?
Calm down, it’s lunch, not a candlelight dinner for two with a velvet-covered box at the end of it.
She tried to calm herself, using the techniques Angelina had taught her in the lead-up to her first season, but each time she looked up and he smiled down at her, her newly-found calm evaporated.
After twenty minutes of alternating heaven and hell, they arrived at the lake and after ten further agonising minutes of nervous conversation, Harry’s house-elf brought them their luncheon.
“Ginevra?” Harry asked tentatively, putting down his champagne flute.
He could see that she was nervous, moreso than an Auror trainee on their first mission. Where was the confident, effervescent girl whom he had pictured staring down the pureblood dowagers who would stand in judgement of her first reception?
“There’s something that I need to tell you.”
He paused, for once in his life incredibly nervous himself, and searched her face for any sign that she would respond favourably to his revelation. He took a deep breath and continued.
“I will start by trying to convey how much I’ve come to admire you and that I’ve come to treasure our times together. I have, despite the stories you may have read, led a fairly sheltered life, one in which members of the opposite sex were…”
He paused again, unsure as to how to describe the female Aurors he had met growing up.
“That is…” he paused again, wanting nothing more than to whisk her away from Hogwarts and have done with this whole episode. Taking a deep breath, he continued.
“The witches of my previous acquaintance were very forward and not the least protective of their honour — if they had any in the first place. To have met you, to know that you are, as it were, an unploughed field, and to know that life with you would not be an unpleasant duty has lifted a great burden from me.”
If he had expected her to jump in and help him, he was disappointed.
“I’m not sure what you are saying, Harry. You make it sound as if this was all premeditated.”
“I wouldn’t say premeditated, Ginevra. More…” again, he needed to pause to search for the appropriate word, “…inevitable.”
She stared back at him, her face impassive, and he began to get the sense that what he was saying was confusing rather than enlightening her. He smiled at her, but this only added to her apparent confusion.
This was not going how he had intended and, whereas he had pictured himself taking her hand in his, explaining everything patiently and enjoying her growing recognition that they were destined to be a couple, her confusion — which now began to border on anger — began to make him nervous.
So instead of being able to play the role of a suave suitor, he stood and began to pace nervously, running his hands through his now unkempt hair.
“Harry, would you care to explain?” The warmth had gone from her voice, and he knew that it was unlikely to return during this conversation, if ever. Whatever remained of his hopes for the day had vanished.
How could he explain such a grand deception? How could he have been so foolish as to believe that a witch of her intelligence would have allowed him to pull the wool over her eyes? This would not end well.
He thought about trying to use the magic of the contract to compel her, but he was no longer powerful enough to do that. She, on the other hand, appeared to have more than enough power. As she stood to confront him, he could sense her magic as it flowed though her. She was probably unaware of it, only thinking that she had a foul temper rather than one that was powered by magic.
Still, she shouldn’t overcome her constraints as easily as that, should she? Was the magic of the contract beginning to fragment as they approached the deadline? Was that the real reason he couldn’t summon enough power to compel her to drop her objections? Had the contract already begun to extract the price Black had warned him about?
“I came to Hogwarts with a purpose, as you know,” he took a step back from her which, rather than create the space — and therefore the comfort — he was looking for, only encouraged her to close the gap once more.
“You told me, your mentors or minders or whatever you preferred to call them, wanted you to learn how to interact with your peers.”
Her voice was riddled with disbelief and, although she didn’t do so physically, every word felt like she was poking him in his chest.
“That was partly why I came,” he replied, trying and failing to find the balance between a heavily edited version of the truth and the outright confession of deception he knew that the situation demanded.
He took another step back, and this time she did not follow.
“And why else would they send you here?”
Her magic was clearly visible although, again, he doubted she was even aware of it. He was torn between dealing with the disaster that was currently unfolding and the attraction he felt to the powerful witch in front of him.
“To meet you.”
“To meet me? Why send you to Hogwarts just for that when you could have visited The Burrow at any time?”
He opened his mouth to answer and then stopped.
That was indeed a good question; why hadn’t he been introduced to her over the summer?
Shaking off the doubts she had engendered, he pressed on, more because he wanted to bring the incident to its inevitable and probably painful end than any degree of understanding in respect of the fresh line of enquiry her question had raised.
“The reason I was sent to meet you was because of an arrangement made by our ancestors.”
He wanted to pause again and check her reaction, but he knew now that, as the story of their betrothal contract unfolded, her reaction would make it difficult to continue, so he pressed on.
“Last century, your family owed a debt of honour to the Potter family, and to repay that debt it was agreed that the next Weasley female would marry the corresponding Potter heir. You are the next Weasley female since then, and I am the current Potter heir. The effect of the contract had been to keep you ready for when we should meet by ensuring that you wouldn’t sully the marriage bed by having given away your honour to some ne’er-do-well. Thus, I could be sure that any children you bore were indeed mine.
“Once we met, the magic of the contract would ensure that you were attracted to me and that we would be married and you could produce an heir. So, Ginny,” he asked nervously, “would you do me the honour of agreeing to be my wife?”
There, he’d asked her. He doubted that he would receive a favourable response, but at least he could now claim that he had tried to fulfil the contract.
Ginny listened with incredulity as Harry calmly informed her that her life had been a lie up to this point. Her lack of a boyfriend or even close male friends was not down to a Chastity Charm, as she had supposed, but instead was based on an agreement made between their ancestors some time in the second half of the last century. And worse than that, her parents had known all along and had kept it from her.
And Harry — dear, moody, mean and magnificent Harry Potter — had also known of this and had kept her in the dark. More than that, he had allowed her to throw herself at him like a bitch on heat. And then he still had the nerve to propose to her.
“Harry, I believe that, on occasions like this, it is expected — in polite society at least — that the witch concerned should express her gratitude at the proposal made. I, however, am a girl who has grown up wearing second-hand clothes and making do and mending. I wouldn’t know polite society if it came up and bit me on the bum. I suppose I should feel flattered that a country bumpkin like me should be picked by the famous Harry Potter to be his wife, but as I know that you are only asking me because you are required to do so, I have only two words to say to you: Fuck off!”
“Ginny, you misunderstand me; yes, I have been compelled to seek you out, but I now know that—”
She cut off the rest of his reply with a slap around his jaw. She had considered hexing him but had decided that the shock caused by the slap might actually knock some sense into him. Plus, he would probably be able to block any spell she cast just by blinking his eyes.
She was pleased to see that the slap had the desired effect and that he was shocked at her actions, but the force of the blow had been so strong that she had lost her balance. She struggled to stay upright on the wet grass and would have fallen had he not grabbed her.
“Don’t!” she yelled as she made to pull away from him. His grip on her robes did not slacken, and if she had been thinking straight she would have realised what he obviously had — that she was still in danger of falling over — but her actions were powered by her rage and so she grabbed hold of the area of fabric that he had hold of and pulled sharply.
She freed herself from his grip at the expense of her robes, a handful of which still remained tightly held between his fingers. She shouted out in frustration and then fear as she realised that she was about to hit the ground.
As she landed, she could see the look of shock on his face as first he looked at his hand, then at her, and then back again. The ground was soft and the grass slick after the morning’s rain, and her first attempt at standing up failed as her foot slipped out from under her. Finally, she struggled to her feet and tried to sort herself out. She wiped her muddy hands on her robe and strode towards him, her anger only increased by her fall.
“Give that back, you bastard!” She grabbed at the handful of material, and as she pulled with one hand, she aimed a slap at him with the other. It landed with a satisfying smack leaving a muddy handprint on his cheek.
She wanted to say more, to tell him in no uncertain terms what she thought of him and the stupid contract, but she was now too angry for words. The final straw came when she realised that her hair, which she had spent so much time arranging for this meeting, was now a complete mess.
Finally, she managed a few bitter words.
“Don’t come near me again, Harry Potter. I don’t care what you’ve done to save us or what that bloody contract says. I never want to see you again, do you hear me?”
She didn’t wait to hear his response but stormed off in the direction of the castle, still filled with rage and wondering whether she would ever be able to live a normal life. She had a lot of people she need to speak to, not least her parents, but for now she would go back to her room and have a good cry. As she walked, she fumed and cursed Harry Potter for his arrogance and his audacity that he could have his way with her.
As she entered the castle she didn’t notice that she was being observed and that the Gryffindor who had had seen her dishevelled state and overheard her cursing Harry Potter took a less circuitous route back to the common room than she did.
Harry had been stunned ay Ginny’s response. He understood that she was angry at the situation, but he wasn’t sure why she had chosen to take it out on him. Wasn’t he as much a victim in this as she was?
The difference, said that nagging voice that had provided an increasingly critical commentary to his life, is that you knew and chose not to tell her. That’s what she’s angry at.
“Harry, I believe that, on occasions like this…” he tuned out the detail of what she said, her body language telling him everything he didn’t want to know.
“…I have only two words to say to you: Fuck off!”
It took all of his restraint not to respond in kind. Instead, he tried to reason with her.
“Ginny, you misunderstand me; yes, I have been compelled to seek you out, but I now know that—”
He had expected a response of equal bluntness, but instead she stepped forward and hit him with a force that surprised him. He was so shocked that he almost missed the fact that she had lost her footing, but he recovered quickly enough to grab the front of her robes and pull her up before she completely overbalanced.
“Ginevra…” he said, trying to remain calm and encourage her to do likewise. Instead, she began shouting at him again.
“Don’t!” she yelled as she made to pull away from him.
The unfortunate effect of her actions was not to provide her with the freedom that she sought. The venom with which she pulled away meant that she leant back further. Desperately hanging on to the front of her robes, he took a step forward to try to redress her loss of balance.
But her response was fuelled by her anger and, rather than take a moment to steady herself, she grabbed the area of her robes that he was holding and pulled. The rather predictable result was the ripping of her robes and her complete loss of balance. As she fell away from him she howled in annoyance. It was a sign of how much he had become captivated by her during the few days he had known her that, as she fell, his main thought was of the brief glimpse of what must have some moderately expensive underwear beneath her robes, coupled with the realisation that she must have taken considerable time in preparing for this meeting.
Oh, you really have buggered it up this time haven’t you, Potter? He stood with his mouth wide open, rooted to the spot in indecision. Anger, hurt and dismay warred in his mind.
“Give that back, you bastard!”
She grabbed at the handful of material without any resistance from him, and he was rewarded by another slap on his cheek from her other hand. It landed with an even more painful smack than her first attempt.
Obviously, she’s learning, came the sarcastic voice that he was beginning to tire of.
She stood there shouting at him, and he knew that she was telling him that she never wanted to see him again, but all he could think of was how alive her eyes were when she was angry. He stood transfixed as she stormed off into the distance, cursing him to the high heavens. He watched until she disappeared from view and then summoned Kreacher.
With an unnecessarily loud ‘crack,’ the house-elf appeared, his eyes glinting with mischief as he took in Harry’s demeanour.
“Kreacher is confused, Master. He does not see the Weasley wench. Has she already been impregnated and left to—”
“Shut it, Kreacher.”
He knew that Kreacher was being deliberately provocative, but he really wasn’t in the mood for the elf’s habitual lack of respect.
“Kreacher apologises, Master. He did not realise that the witch was so reluctant to mate with you. From what Kreacher has observed, she has always been drawn to Master Harry.”
If he hadn’t known better, Harry would have sworn that Kreacher was genuinely upset at his master’s misfortune.
“Thank you, Kreacher.”
“Master knows that Kreacher does not need thanks. He is only doing what a good house-elf should do. And Kreacher has a present for Master as well.”
He disappeared for a moment and then retuned carrying an iron-bound wooden trunk.
“Is that my weapons trunk?”
“Master is correct.”
“Why have you brought it for me?”
“Kreacher sees and hear things,” he replied cryptically.
“What have you heard, Kreacher?”
“Kreacher is reluctant to share what he cannot truly verify.”
“Kreacher is aware that bad things are afoot that Master is the focus of. Students, bad students who still support the Dark Lord, are plotting. And they have friends, bad friends, friends who mean Master harm.”
“Have you told Sirius?”
“Bah! That disgrace is ignoring Kreacher, telling Kreacher that he is getting old and senile and that he is making things up.”
“And are you?”
“Kreacher tells what Kreacher hears. Kreacher is but a lowly house-elf…”
Harry waited to see if he had anything further to add. That students were plotting against him didn’t worry him, even in his current emasculated state, but if they had brought others in from outside, that was something that did worry him.
“Thank you, Kreacher.”
“Kreacher lives to serve, Master.”
Harry opened the trunk and selected those weapons that would help him. There were knives, guns, battle wands — designed for power over everything else — and thrown weapons, all of which were enhanced by magic and deadly to anyone who ended up on the wrong end of them. There was a limit to what he could carry, even with his modified robes and the enhancements they contained. He closed the lid and watched as Kreacher departed with it.
He began his slow walk back to the castle, his mind focussed on Ginny Weasley and how he had let her slip through his fingers. His chances of completing the contract were now remote, and he wondered how his life would pan out with his magic devastated. Would he become a virtual Squib? How would he protect himself if he could no longer use a wand? He cursed Sirius, Dumbledore and others as he approached the main doors. Perhaps he would talk to Arthur Weasley to see if he could come up with something. He doubted he could; Weasley wasn’t noted for his imagination. He let out a final sigh; he would rather sell himself into slavery than force Ginevra to wed him against her will, so perhaps he just had to accept that he really was going to become the boy-who-Squibbed.
But right now he was tired, both mentally and physically. His morning exertions had taken more out of him that he had first thought, and watching as his fledgling relationship with Ginevra disintegrated before his very eyes had left him emotionally drained. He didn’t know what the future had in store for him, but he knew that it lay beyond Hogwarts.
Perhaps Tonks would be interested in him; he could certainly do with an Auror to protect him. Failing that, life as a Muggle was an option. His mother had been Muggle-born, so perhaps there was something to be said for living without magic. After all, magic hadn’t been very kind to him, and perhaps it was time that he and it parted company.
As he reached the entrance to the castle, he decided that he would spend one last night there and leave after breakfast. As he entered the Entrance Hall itself his thoughts were interrupted by a familiar but unwelcome voice.
Harry spun round to find, to his surprise, that Ronald Weasley was now standing behind him.
Where had Weasley come from? He certainly hadn’t been in there when Harry had come through the Entrance Hall. His confusion must have shown on his face because a smirk appeared on Weasley’s.
“Not so smart now, are you, Potter? You’re not the only one who can sneak around this place, you know.”
Harry doubted that Ginevra’s brother had any of the skills needed to do anything other than stomp around the corridors like the clodhopper he was, but he kept his council. This was not the time for playing games. It was the time for planning.
He watched as Weasley moved from where he had appeared behind him to the part of the Entrance Hall closest to the Great Hall. Harry’s second surprise was that a gaggle of students had just appeared as if Weasley had Summoned them or they had been concealed from him by magical means. Again, things that were unlikely based on what he knew of Weasley and his cohorts, but… this unlikely theme was becoming worrying.
Well, so much for being prepared, he thought to himself as he watched the crowd of students jostle for prime position. I wonder what other surprises are in store for me?
Harry continued to watch as Weasley walked back and forth in front of the other students like a general reviewing his troops, wondering why he was handing the advantage of positioning back to him, or rather, giving up the advantage he had held over Harry.
You should attack now, came a voice that sounded just like Black’s.
No, he said to himself, you never attack until you know the full strength of the enemy.
Caution can kill!
So can impatience.
Kill Weasley now! Don’t delay!
Is that because you can’t or you won’t?
Mindful of the trouble that he had got into by not walking away from his last fight, he was pleased to be given such an obvious opportunity to escape. Okay, it would come at the price of Weasley’s crowing and boasting that he had run away scared, especially when he was planning to leave the school the following day.
But he didn’t really care.
I won’t be sad to leave you, Hogwarts, not in the least.
Still, he thought, it’s a pretty stupid thing to do, giving up an advantage, which means that either this is Ronald Weasley being stupid in a way only he could, or my opponents are feeling very confident.
Once Weasley was settled at the front of his little band of thugs, Harry was better able to assess his foes. For a start, the band was not so little. There were about thirty or so students, all male, and all doing their best to look intimidating. The usual suspects were there — Dean Thomas, Michael Corner and Colin Creevey — all of whom Harry knew were no threat to him, but there were a number of individuals who did worry Harry. Dotted amongst the familiar faces belonging to the sixth- and seventh-years who had made their dislike of Harry known were about nine or ten whom he didn’t recognise.
An unknown foe is a dangerous foe, Harry. It was Lupin’s voice, ever a voice of caution, ever mocked by Black. But Harry knew the voice was right.
He glanced back at Weasley, who now had his wand drawn and looked, for once, that he knew what to do with it.
“Let the games begin…”
And with that, the spells started to fly.
Unlike the last fight, Harry was under no illusions about his chances; there was a very real possibility that things were likely to end very badly for him. As he maintained his shield, he remembered McGonagall’s admonition that he should have tried to extricate himself as soon as possible from the previous fight. Something told him that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to do that this time, but he decided it was worth a try, especially given the number of attackers facing him. And if nothing else, when the fight was reviewed in a Pensive — Black would insist on that, even if it was only to chide Harry as to his mistakes — he would be seen to take the least aggressive option.
Three hastily cast spells told him that his assumption was correct. The first confirmed that the Entrance Hall was now sealed— no one except the caster could allow people in or out, unless they had access to a massive amount of power.
Well, thanks for that, Black, you bastard.
Another barrage of spells crashed into his shield as he continued to run through his options. From the amber glow the shield was giving off, he knew it had enough power for one more blast and then he’d need to renew it.
His second spell shot off and bounced around the Hall, and the telltale ringing sound it emitted told him that the emergency Portkey he had pulled from his battle trunk had been rendered useless.
With that knowledge came the end of his shield, which shimmered scarlet and then evaporated. He quickly cast a replacement, but not before a volley of spells hit him. The effects were all but negated by the multiple enchantments on his clothing, but he still felt that he’d been hit by a rampaging hippogriff, and several of his ribs agreed with him.
Harry’s third spell sent an SOS to Kreacher. He didn’t know if the elf could reach him, but he was a tricky little bugger when he tried. If Kreacher could pitch in during the battle — either by disabling an opponent or by bringing additional weapons for Harry to use — then it might give him a few more options and possibly a route to survival.
Or even try to heal a few things, he thought as his ribs began to complain even louder.
Weasley took his lack of offensive spells as opportunity to mock him.
“No escape, Potter. We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get you here; it wouldn’t do to for the guest of honour to leave before we’ve had the opportunity to give him the present we’d prepared for him, would it?”
So, he knows the spells I’ve cast, does he? Well, that also gets filed under ‘where is the real Ronald Weasley?’
Harry didn’t bother to reply to the boy as he was far too busy trying to defend himself. Reaching inside his right sleeve he pulled out a second, shorter wand and began to cast furiously. His target, however, was not his attackers; instead, the area above the fight began to fill with small silver globes. All of this went unnoticed by his assailants, and an independent observer who was analysing the fight might have assumed that Harry had also forgotten about them as they remained there as he switched his attention elsewhere. He started to fire bright pulses of spellfire with the wand in his left hand and struggled to maintain his shield with his other wand.
As his shield again collapsed, he sent an arc of purple light over the heads of his attackers, and the silver balls exploded, filling the area with a blinding light that rendered everyone, apart from the caster himself, temporarily blind. The diversion allowed Harry to pick off three of the mob that were attacking him. It also enabled him to re-establish his shield and cast a numbing spell on a very painful thigh injury.
Whilst his attackers were still blinded, Kreacher appeared and dropped a series of disks in amongst Weasley’s gang that shimmered briefly before disappearing from view. He then tossed a vial containing a purple liquid to Harry before he, too, disappeared.
Harry grabbed the vial and in one swift movement pulled the cork out and downed the contents. The effect was instantaneous: power surged through his body, numbing the pain that had become close to unbearable and adding extra power to his spells. He would pay a great price later on for this burst of power, but this was a fight that had to be ended quickly if he was going to live, let alone win it.
He changed his shield to one that would reflect, rather than absorb, and shifted into the group itself.
Confusion reigned; he kicked, punched and head-butted, then cast feverously, his battle wand’s power more effective at short range, and then he shifted back, leaving his enchanted throwing knives to do their work.
The power drain was massive, but the effect was equally devastating, as over half the attacking group was either out of the fight or severely hindered. Creevey, Corner and Thomas were all out cold, but Weasley still stood at the front, his concentration total and his wand firing at Harry.
Again, his shield fell and his foes made full use of the brief window of vulnerability, landing enough powerful spells to knock Harry to the floor. He was up quickly, fully shielded and on the offensive, but it was a significant moment.
Harry was currently holding his own, but he knew it couldn’t last for long. Too many of his opponents were still standing, and with his magic bound, he couldn’t keep casting indefinitely. Unless one of the teachers were to stumble upon the fight, there was only one way he could end this without ending up on the losing side and that was by bringing the roof down, and that wasn’t something he was about to do, even if it meant his own life was at risk.
Deciding that he had to make another attempt to change the balance of things, he flung his shorter wand into the air and, pulling another one out, he flung that after the first. A third wand joined them as they spun towards his attackers. As they reached their targets, they split off in different directions and began to fling out spells in a manner reminiscent of a Catherine Wheel on Bonfire Night. The wands at the front and the side of the group were quickly taken down but the third, the strongest and most powerful of the three, made it unscathed to the rear of the group and quickly took several of them down completely before it, too, was dispatched with a ball of fire.
Whilst they were occupied with his little surprise, Harry dispatched two more of Weasley’s gang. Still, at ten there were still too many left, given his own dwindling reserves.
His final throw of the dice was to a launch a fresh barrage of spellfire. However, it was all in vain as his shield died for the last time and he was hit twice in the chest. Stumbling back, he pulled a few tiles up off the floor and flung them at where the successful spells had come from. They’d kill anyone they hit, but he was past caring. This was a hardcore group of fighters, casting spells that no student at Hogwarts should know; he doubted there would be too many tears shed if he killed any of them.
A sharp pain in his left leg told him all he needed to know, and that was followed up with another blow to his chest. He staggered around as spell after spell found its mark, finally hitting the ground under a barrage of spells. That was when they really went to town.
The first Bone-Breaking Curse hit his left leg, and then several more hit the right followed by his arm and his chest. His eyes were swimming with pain and he tried to cast one last shield to protect himself. He managed to form one, but it lasted no more than seconds. He lost count of the number of hits he took, the pain becoming overwhelming. With one last gargantuan effort, he summoned his remaining magic and thrust his wand into a crack in the stone floor, sending a wave of flagstones towards the direction the last few spells had come from. He had no idea whether he had been successful or not as a final barrage overwhelmed him, signalling the end of the fight. The last conscious thought he had was whether he actually was hearing Professor McGonagall’s clipped brogue or whether he was imagining it.