The next two days were simply hell for Ginny as conflicting emotions battled for supremacy. At first, she had burned with righteous anger, smarting from the betrayal she felt. But then worry, bordering on despair, had replaced anger as she’d fretted that Harry would not survive his latest trial.
Worry then battled with guilt as she continued to berate herself for letting her temper get the better of her and for giving Harry a very large piece of her mind. Perhaps, if she’d taken a moment to realise that Harry was, in many ways, as big a victim as she was, things would have turned out differently.
Part of her, the sensible part that had driven her to the position she now held, understood that she wasn’t to blame for the attack on him and his being in the hospital wing. But a larger part, the part that represented the person she now wished to be, was adamant that it was her fault.
To her surprise, her desire to be with Harry hadn’t diminished even though he was no longer able to be at her side, but to her very vocal annoyance, she had not been allowed to visit him.
In the headmaster’s office, Albus Dumbledore was feeling every one of his one hundred and fifteen years. The general public only saw his many achievements, whereas he was haunted, sometimes quite literally, by his multifarious failures. And this — his botched attempt to rehabilitate the-boy-who-lived — did, he knew, dwarf all the others.
He could blame others, of that there was no doubt. Chief amongst them was Sirius, but he was old enough to have known better and could have easily ignored the views of those around him and left Harry alone. How foolish his long-cherished hope from all those years ago seemed, that Harry would grow up to see him as a grandfather figure, his dependable guide through the maze of life.
He went back to the many magical instruments on his desk, staring at them in the vain hope that they would provide him with a solution. He knew, however, that his vigil was doomed to failure.
Sirius Black was nursing a glass of Welsh Whiskey as he stared deeply into the fireplace, the very intensity of his gaze causing the embers to burst into flame. He was naked save for a crumpled sheet that was wrapped carelessly around his waist. On his bed a woman stirred, pushing off the heavy cover that Black had draped over her when he’d climbed out of bed. He glanced over his shoulder and his eyes feasted on her now exposed body before turning back to the now roaring fire.
He let out a long sigh.
He knew that, in another bed, his godson was fighting for his life and here he was contemplating another roll in the hay with a beautiful woman. He stood, letting the sheet fall off him, sipping his drink as he gazed at her. His desire proved stronger than his guilt at Harry’s fate, and he placed his glass on the table next to the chair.
The woman stirred again, this time propping herself up on her elbows, reminding Black why he had spent so much time occupied with her chest. All thoughts of Harry disappeared as he remembered how good it had felt to lie with her.
“It’s rude to point,” she said with a soft laugh, “unless, of course,” she continued as her hand snaked down her body, “you intend to put him to good use.”
Black’s hand instinctively reached down, touching himself as he recalled her earlier actions.
Her hand lingered, caressing the inside of her thighs as if she too recalled their last embrace. She smiled seductively and, rising to her knees, she arched her back, thrusting her chest towards him as she ran her fingers slowly through her long dark hair. His body twitched in response but he stood his ground, preferring to watch rather than act.
Her hands fell from her head to the bed in front of her and she paused as her hair cascaded forward, hiding her face from him. With a flick of her head, her face emerged, a knowing smile on her lips. She moved forward slowly as his eyes flitted between her dangling breasts and the promise of her smile.
As she reached the edge of the bed, she raised herself up again, running her hands over her body before beckoning him to her. He moved slowly forward until he stood in front of her. Her hand replaced his, causing him to groan and, as her lips replaced her fingers, the fate of Harry Potter was forgotten.
Ron Weasley was a simple soul. He made no bones about that and he wasn’t ashamed of it, either. The world was black and white to him, composed of good and bad guys, pretty and ugly girls, good mates and enemies.
But today he was conflicted. Potter was a snake and no snake could be good, but much as he wanted Potter to be taken down a peg or two, the sight of his bloodied body lying broken in the school’s Entrance Hall had shaken him up. His sister’s horror at Potter’s fate had also added to his uncertainty. He could see now that her feelings were not the same as his relationship with Hermione, but something of substance. It didn’t mean that he liked it, let alone approved of it, but given time, he might be persuaded not to pull his wand every time Potter walked into the room.
Then there was his trip to the Headmaster’s office and the interrogation that had followed. Why anyone thought he would have been involved in the attack puzzled him. He had, much to her embarrassment when asked to verify his alibi, been in a disused classroom enjoying the benefits of one of Hermione Granger’s rare forays into what he considered normal boyfriend and girlfriend interaction.
His only annoyance was that Hermione had not taken kindly to his describing exactly how far his hands had wandered and had refused to talk to him ever since.
“You have failed, you miserable wretch!”
“Master, I can explain.”
“I doubt you can.”
Before his servant could respond, he spoke again. “You have one more chance, succeed or they die.”
“Master, thank you, the girl—”
“Is of no importance, leave her.”
“Leave me, I have work to do.”
The servant left in a hurry, thankful both for his life and for his second chance.
How had it ever got to this? How had he allowed himself to become so embroiled in the machinations of these people? His parents and his sister were dead and he wanted revenge, but with each day that dawned, his desire to join them grew stronger. Still, the girl would live and Potter would die and then, at long last, they would be together.
As the world around him fretted and waited to see if Harry Potter would once again overcome the odds, the man himself was lost in a swirling sea of pain. There was no rest in his slumber, only a constant stream of accusing faces and mangled bodies. Every battle and every fight, every dead body and lifeless corpse, each and every person who had vested their hopes in him had gathered to mock and to accuse, to rage against and to vilify him. Every thought that had been pushed down, hidden and locked behind an Occlumency wall had now been freed as his body claimed every magical resource available to keep him alive.
Perhaps this is the end.
A scroll bearing the seal of the Potter and Weasley families replaced the accusing faces, growing in size, pulling at his magic, demanding his power. The image grew to the size of a man and then morphed into a familiar form, red eyes bright with anger and a hissing voice replaced all others.
…and the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
The contract morphed into a skeleton and in its bony hands it held the fake locket that Harry and Dumbledore had found in the cave.
Things are never as they seem, Harry. My Chinese friends were right; eight is a lucky number.
Minerva McGonagall had spent the day fretting. A usually calm witch, she had been unable to settle after finding Harry Potter’s critically injured body in the entrance to the castle. Black had overruled her when she had demanded that the boy be moved to St. Mungo’s and again in her demand that his magical bindings be removed.
“Sirius is right, Minerva,” Albus had advised her, “the sudden flow of magic into his broken body would have dire consequences.”
Black had, instead, changed the binding so that it began to dissipate, gradually allowing Harry's full magic to return over a period of seventy-two hours.
“I hope,” she said fixing both of them with her most intimidating glare, “for your sakes, that it will be sufficient to save him.”
They had left her to her vigil, her sole companion Madam Pomfrey.
“James and Lily,” she whispered as she brushed his long dark hair away from his bruised face, “what have we done to your son?”
Severus Snape sat behind his desk wondering how he could take advantage of the attack on Potter. He knew that members of his house had been involved in the attack and for that he would pay a heavy price. He wondered if he should write and inform Bellatrix of Harry’s condition. No doubt Black had done so, but if he could persuade her to attend the boy, then he could be on hand to comfort her in her distress. He sat and contemplated his options for a while longer before settling on his course of action.
In the morning, assuming the boy lasted the night, he would dispatch an owl with a suitably commiserating note to her. Surely she wouldn’t stay away from her charge when he was in such a precarious state, would she?
Bellatrix Black had hurried to the school as soon as the news of Harry’s condition had been communicated to her. She had not allowed herself to be seen and had remained hidden in the corner of the infirmary as that wretched Gryffindor woman sat by Harry’s bed. She struggled to contain her anger as the witch caressed him and offered whispered words of comfort to him. Eventually the woman had nodded off and Bellatrix had deepened the sleep with a few well-chosen spells.
He looked so frail; his skin deathly white, marred by multiple bruises and the telltale signs of reset and magically regrown bones. She bent down and kissed him gently on his bruised lips.
“Oh, Harry,” she managed as her lips left his, “what have they done to you?” The carefully constructed façade of imperious pure-blood dowager fell at the sight of the young man she loved lying fighting for his life. He was the only one who didn’t look upon her with pity and in whose company she felt most at ease. She had been heartbroken at the news that he was to be married and that the girl, despite her relative poverty, was a good match — beautiful, too. That Harry had failed to complete the contract both pleased and worried her. He would be free from the Weasley girl, but his magic would be damaged, possibly even removed by the failure. Still, she would be powerful enough for the two of them. And their children would be, too.
She bent down and kissed him gently on the cheek before lifting the covers from him. His naked body was even more battered than his face and the horrible bruising that could only come from Dark curses formed a patchwork of colours across his pale skin. She felt a solitary tear trace its way down her face at the horrible spectacle before her. He had such a beautiful body, strong and lean, yet soft to the touch.
He would never know that it was she who had made his teenage dreams so erotic, but once he was free from Hogwarts and the contract, she would ensure that she would be his source of comfort both physically and emotionally.
Sirius Black stared at his bedroom ceiling knowing that sleep would not come to him. His companion stirred briefly, her hand snaking across his stomach before settling back into the oblivion of sleep.
You’re losing your touch, mate, he told himself, this is the third time you’ve slept with the same witch.
Perhaps he was. Not only was this the third time he’d slept with her, but they had also spent the day together, even going so far as to visit Hogsmead.
He’d left her for an hour to go to Hogwarts, but whereas, previously, he would have dismissed any witch he was with, he had asked her to wait for him at Grimmauld Place.
And then there was Harry, fighting for his life, an innocent victim in the webs of deceit that had been spun around him. The trap had been laid, bated and sprung. Now all he had to do was catch the prey. Simple, wasn’t it? But Black knew that, when it came to all things Harry Potter, life was never simple.