"Detention? All day?" sputtered Ron, his voice quivering with horror and indignation. "But . . . what about--"
"Hogsmeade?" said Harry with a bitter laugh, scuffing his shoe on the floor of the dormitory in agitation. "No, the git did it on purpose. Detention all day, and I can't go--nor Ginny, either."
It was the next morning, following the last day of exams. Saturday, and a Hogsmeade visit--for everyone else, but not for him, thanks to Snape. The brilliant sunlight streaming in through the windows contrasted starkly with Harry's mood.
"What do you have to do for detention?" Ron asked, looking apprehensive.
"Dunno yet. Knowing Snape, something foul. I'll find out this morning."
"I bet you that's what Malfoy was after," said Ron darkly. "Bet you anything. It'd be just like him, wouldn't it, to provoke you on purpose to try to get you in trouble." He glowered menacingly at his four-poster bed.
Harry snorted in derision. "Yeah, maybe," he grumbled sourly. "But we cursed him pretty badly. I don't think he's the type to make that kind of sacrifice just to land me in detention."
Ron was silent. "Well, let's go down to breakfast, anyway," he said after a moment. He went on hesitantly, "Look--we don't have to go to Hogsmeade either. We could stay here--"
"What's the point?" said Harry, giving him an odd look. "Unless you want to be in detention too. You don't have to go all self-sacrificing on me. Go have fun with Hermione." Somehow he managed to keep his voice even.
Ron nodded absently. "Right. Yeah. I just feel bad--you know."
Harry shrugged. "Let's go eat." They exited the dormitory and went down the stairs to the common room, where they found Hermione waiting for them. The three of them began the walk down to the Great Hall.
Harry talked little as they went, giving one-word answers whenever a response was called for. He was rather preoccupied. A vague sense of unease was gnawing at the back of his mind. He supposed it had something to do with the feeling of being trapped that he'd woken up with. Undoubtedly this had been caused by the strange dreams he'd had last night--dreams that had ended with him being pursued to an icy death, he remembered suddenly, a horrible black ice that had arisen in his own heart and consumed him from inside out. He shivered involuntarily.
Stop it, Harry told himself firmly, trying to clear his mind as Dumbledore had taught him. It was just a dream. It can't hurt you. And as for the dreams that could hurt him--well, he hadn't had any of those for a long time. There was nothing to worry about. He repeated this to himself several times.
But the feelings of unease would not go away.
They approached the Great Hall. Harry gave a wary nod to Theodore Nott, who was leaving. He had gotten to know Nott slightly in the NEWT-level Defence Against the Dark Arts this year--Nott seemed to have a particular interest in the subject.
"I don't trust him," growled Ron after Nott had passed. "Way too interested in the Dark Arts, that one." Hermione clicked her tongue impatiently.
"Well, what do you expect?" said Ron, as they took their seats at the Gryffindor table. Harry looked around for Ginny, but there was no sign of her. "He's a Slytherin, and his father's a Death Eater, isn't he? So how's he going to know any different?"
"He's interested in defence, Ron," countered Hermione. "There's a difference. And he doesn't exactly act like Malfoy, does he? You can't just judge him on who his family is."
"His father was one of the lunatics who tried to kill us last year!" said Ron heatedly. "How's he going to make a different choice if all he knows is hatred and prejudice?"
"Look, I just said you can't--"
"Sirius was from a Dark family, too," said Harry quietly, his voice belying none of the anger he was feeling. Ron looked at him, horrified.
"Forget it," Harry cut him off, not wanting to hear it. "I know what you meant." He dropped his gaze to the bacon that had suddenly appeared on his plate and began eating. He noticed his head was hurting again. Stupid headache, he thought angrily. He'd have to visit Madam Pomfrey if it didn't go away. This was getting ridiculous.
"The world isn't divided into good people and Death Eaters," said Hermione, as though reciting. Harry and Ron looked at her. "Sirius told us that, remember? And you remember Mr. Crouch? I guess Sirius knew what he was talking about, didn't he?"
"Yeah," said Ron in an odd voice. "I guess he did." He began shovelling food into his mouth at high speed.
Harry nodded thoughtfully. His dad must have known that too, he realised. To be best friends with someone whose family had a clear leaning towards the Dark Arts, and for that friendship to have endured all through the fighting with Voldemort . . . not to mention that they'd been friends with a werewolf, too . . . He wondered how it had all started, how that group of miscreants had first become friends. He'd have to ask Professor Lupin sometime.
He was distracted from his thoughts by the flood of owls entering the Great Hall with the post. He scanned the room for Hedwig, but didn't see her. Across from him, Hermione had finally wrested a copy of The Daily Prophet from an ill-tempered screech owl, which refused to leave until presented with twenty Knuts. "Got some nerve, hasn't he?" said a bemused Ron as the owl took flight.
"Anything good in there?" asked Harry. Hermione quickly scanned the front page.
"Well, no one's been attacked, or it would be here," she said, and Harry felt a slight relief before turning back to his breakfast. Death Eater attacks had become so widespread that their impact on him had lessened over the year, as his mind had hardened itself against news of suffering. He reflected he'd probably have gone mad otherwise--possibly his Occlumency training had something to do with it.
Some part of him knew that this hardening--in himself and in others--was one of the war's greatest tragedies.
"Hmm . . . not much going on today," said Hermione, flipping through the rest of the paper. "Wait--this is interesting. The Ministry's trying to track down Death Eaters through their finances . . . but the Gringotts goblins aren't cooperating. It's still impossible to say whose side they're on, with all their protestations of neutrality."
"I s'pose Dumbledore will want Bill to check that out," said Ron, leaning over her shoulder to read the article.
Hermione handed the paper to him. "Go ahead. There's nothing else important in there."
Ron looked through the paper for a few seconds before setting it aside. "Do you realise," he said slowly, looking from Harry to Hermione in turn, "that it's been over three weeks since the Death Eaters have done anything that made the papers?"
"That's good, isn't it?" said Harry, trying to ignore his apprehension at hearing these words. "It means no one's died."
"Yes, but it isn't like them to sit around doing nothing for that long," said Hermione, a look of concentration on her face. "Something's up. Maybe they've gone into hiding, with the Ministry trying to track them down through Gringotts. They can read the Prophet like anyone else--they must know what's going on."
"Or maybe they're trying to lure us into a false sense of security," countered Ron darkly. "Catch everyone off guard with something big."
Harry grimaced as his head gave a particularly painful twinge. Silently cursing whatever had caused his headache, he instinctively looked around the Great Hall just in time to see Malfoy leaving--once again by himself. This struck Harry as very odd. His feelings of unease were growing stronger . . .
"Well, maybe," said Hermione, sounding somewhat doubtful. Harry blinked, his train of thought interrupted. "But I think Dumbledore would know about it if they were planning something really huge. They'd be able to put a stop to it." She sounded unsure, as though she were trying to convince herself that this was true.
"The Order can't put a stop to everything," said Ron, the merest trace of bitterness belying his otherwise even tone. "Didn't help Percy much, did they?"
No one spoke for a minute after that.
"Potter?" came the voice of Professor McGonagall behind them.
Harry looked up at her. "Yes, Professor?"
"Your detention will take place at ten o'clock in Professor Snape's office," she said, a stern look on her face. "Don't be late." Harry nodded glumly.
"All right," he said. "Do you know what I have to do in detention, Professor?"
"That is for Professor Snape to decide," said Professor McGonagall. "Oh, and Potter, if you see Miss Weasley, inform that her detention will take place at the same time, won't you?"
"Okay," said Harry. Professor McGonagall gave him a curt nod and departed toward the staff table, where he could see Snape and Dumbledore engaged in conversation. Harry watched them for a few seconds, then turned away.
"Where is Ginny?" said Ron, glancing around the Great Hall.
"Dunno," said Harry. "I expect she's having a lie-in. Not much to look forward to today, is there?" Ron snorted dryly and shook his head. Hermione looked sympathetic but said nothing.
* * *
Ten minutes later, Ron and Hermione departed with the crowd for Hogsmeade, leaving Harry behind in the Entrance Hall. He sighed, watching them go. Might do those two some good to be alone together for a while, he thought idly. They deserved some time to themselves, when they wouldn't have to deal with worrying about him every minute.
He launched a half-hearted kick at the wall, ignoring its feeble protests as he walked towards the first floor corridor. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was not yet half past nine, so he had some time before he was due in detention. Briefly, he wondered what Snape would do if he didn't show up, then dismissed the idea. He suspected he didn't want to know.
As his head flared painfully again, Harry felt a flash of anger towards Snape for making him miss the Hogsmeade visit. The wizarding village didn't seem nearly as glamorous as it had when he was younger, but he'd really been looking forward to today's visit. Now, it looked like he was going to be spending the day slicing up dead animals instead. Maybe if he charmed them all to look like Snape's stupid face, he'd be able to get through the day . . . Harry chuckled grimly at the thought.
The sound of voices from somewhere above caught his attention. It sounded like shouting, but he could not make out any of the words. Harry looked around, noticing that several of the people in the portraits on the wall were leaving their frames, possibly to investigate the source of the commotion. He hesitated. What was going on?
Just as he decided to ignore it, the shouting stopped. A few seconds later, he heard the sound of someone clomping down the stairs ahead of him. Harry recognised him as the same fifth-year boy that had sat with Ginny at dinner the day before. There was a closed look on his face, as though he were angry and trying not to show it. Harry started to ask what was going on, but the boy pushed past him and stomped on without a word. With an effort, Harry forced aside reflexive anger at his brusque manner.
He started slowly up the stairs himself, barely remembering to jump the trick step halfway up, when he saw someone looking down at him from the top of the staircase. It was Ginny. Their eyes met, and for a fleeting second Harry thought he saw a trace of panic cross her face. But then it was gone, and he was sure he had imagined it. "Harry," she said, surprise evident in her voice. "You're here."
"Hi, Ginny," said Harry softly, his gaze locking with hers. They looked at each other in silence for a moment. Ginny was the first to look away. She seemed a bit flustered. That's odd, he thought.
"We, er, have our detentions with Snape at ten," said Harry, to fill the awkward pause. Ginny sighed.
"Thanks," she said dryly. "I'd almost managed to forget." He noticed that she was fidgeting with her hands, but she didn't seem aware of it.
"I brought some toast," said Harry, climbing the remaining steps until he was right in front of her. "Here." Ginny appeared surprised by this gesture, but accepted it with a nod. Harry watched her eat. Her hands were shaking slightly, and now that he was up close, he could see that her skin was flushed. She did not look at him as she tore ravenously into the toast he had given her. It was almost as if she were taking out some frustration on it . . .
"Ginny, is something wrong? You look like something's bothering you," Harry said finally, unable to stand the tense silence any longer. When she did not reply, he went on, "I heard shouting--were you in some kind of argument? Is it about that boy who just walked past?"
Ginny looked sharply at him. "What if it was? What does it matter to you?" she snapped defensively, her cheeks reddening. "I have a life apart from you, you know." Harry flinched at the unfairness of her outburst.
"Damn it, Ginny, I'm sorry if I offended you by caring whether you get hurt or not," he said sharply, not entirely able to keep the anger out of his voice. Ginny blanched, looking distressed.
"No, forget it," he cut her off, feeling suddenly foolish. "It isn't my business. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to." Why did he have to go and muck things up again? How could he tell her what he wanted if they couldn't go five minutes without arguing all of a sudden? He felt as though he had been defeated without even trying. Sadly, he turned away and made to leave.
The sound of her voice made him stop in his tracks. He wheeled around to face her once more. Ginny appeared nervous, something he was not accustomed to seeing on her, but there was something else there too--earnestness and determination. She took a deep breath, as though steeling herself for something difficult.
"I--" Ginny faltered, a look of anguish appearing suddenly on her face. Harry felt something in his chest clench painfully at the sight. All his earlier anger had melted away--he wanted nothing more than to put his arms around her, to sooth away whatever was causing her such distress. Somewhere in the back of his mind he registered confusion at the complete turnaround his emotions had taken. How was it possible he could feel so strongly about her?
"What is it?" he asked, stepping towards her again. "Ginny, what's wrong?" Almost without knowing what he was doing, he reached out to take her hand in his. Ginny looked at him, her eyes wide and bright at his touch. She shivered, and Harry felt his heart pounding in his chest. He swallowed uncomfortably.
Ginny cleared her throat, visibly struggling to gain control of herself. Slowly she disengaged her hand from his. "You know I was planning to go to Hogsmeade with John today, right?" she asked, looking intently at a point on his shoulder.
Harry nodded silently, trying desperately for her sake not to let the burning jealousy her words had induced show through. Remember the Occlumency, he told himself, as his head gave its most painful throb yet. It was proving very difficult to clear his mind.
"He asked me out a few weeks ago," continued Ginny, her voice strengthening, apparently not noticing the effect her words had had on him. "He's funny, and he knows a lot about Quidditch, so I said yes. I didn't have any other plans . . ."
I should have asked her out myself the moment I realised I fancied her, thought Harry. Damn it to hell.
"But then we got detention yesterday, so I had to tell him I couldn't go," Ginny went on. "I told him what happened, everyone knows how unfair Snape is--but he didn't like that. Seemed to think I was standing him up." She rolled her eyes in disgust.
"That's not right," said Harry vehemently. "You didn't choose to dump him--as if anyone would rather be in detention than go to Hogsmeade--"
"I know," said Ginny, shaking her head, "but he said some nasty things to me. He seemed to think that . . ." She paused, and, to Harry's amazement, blushed. "He thought I was skipping the date so that I could be with you instead. Which is ridiculous--"
Harry flinched, simultaneously taken aback by this unexpected news and stung by her final words. "What's ridiculous?" he asked sharply, unable to conceal his hurt. "Am I so repulsive the idea of going on a date with me abhors you?" He started to turn away, but Ginny reached out to grab his upper arm and pulled him back to her.
"I never said that!" she cried, a mix of anger and astonishment on her face. "Harry--"
She broke off, paling slightly under the intensity of his gaze. Harry's breath was coming in ragged gasps. He could feel himself being undone by their proximity. He could see every detail of her face, now mere inches from his--every freckle, every bead of sweat on her forehead, every strand of hair falling into her eyes. Her lips were parted slightly, and Harry shuddered as he saw her tongue appear briefly between them.
"Ginny," he whispered, reaching up to push the hair out her eyes--eyes that were shining with bright brown fire. Harry could feel himself being pulled into them, even as the fire in his own eyes was propelling him forward. Something enormous, something powerfully familiar, seemed to be rising inside him . . . a great surge of feeling shot suddenly between them, like an invisible thread connecting them for just an instant . . . Ginny gasped as their lips drew ever closer . . . this was it . . .
And then, abruptly and without warning, the whole thing went straight to hell.
Pain flared along Harry's scar, pain such as he had not experienced since Sirius had died. His scar was surely on fire; it was as if someone were drilling into his head with a red-hot iron . . . it was only a question of whether he was incinerated before his skull came apart completely . . . dimly he was aware that he was screaming like he had never screamed before . . .
As suddenly as it had begun, the pain in his scar was gone. Harry was shaking uncontrollably, gasping for breath; vaguely he registered that he was on the floor, holding his head tightly in his hands. He gagged and choked, thinking it a wonder that he hadn't already thrown up.
"Harry!" a voice cried above him. He felt himself being rolled over, and saw Ginny crouched next to him, a look of intense anguish on her face. "Harry, what's happening?"
"Voldemort . . . Hogsmeade . . . got to save . . ." he muttered thickly. Flashes of imagery and sound were going through his head at lightning speed--shouted curses . . . voices, screaming in terror . . . bursts of blinding green light . . . a horrible, pervasive darkness, covering everything . . . and above it all, high, cruel laughter, filled with malice and hatred . . .
Shivering with sudden cold, Harry tried to stand; Ginny helped pull him to his feet. He looked wildly around the corridor. Ron and Hermione were in danger . . . he had to go to them right away . . .
"Harry, what's going on?" demanded Ginny urgently. Harry wheeled to face her, the strength of her voice cutting through the haze of desperation in his mind. "Voldemort--the Death Eaters are attacking Hogsmeade," he told her quickly, his heart pounding madly. Ginny's eyes went wide. "Come on--we've got to do something." He made to dash away down the stairs, but Ginny's hand on his arm stopped him.
"Harry--what if it's a trap?" she asked, looking terrified. "We can't just go charging out there without knowing what's happening!" Harry felt as though an icy knife had been plunged into his chest as he let out his breath in a rush. Her words had brought home the familiarity of the situation--it was eerily similar to what had happened last year with Sirius . . .
"What are we going to do then?" he demanded, more harshly than he had intended. He knew very well that she was right to stop him running off, but the thought of doing nothing when his friends were in deadly danger was more than he could bear.
"We'll tell Dumbledore," said Ginny decisively. "The Order--they can put a stop to it--"
It was all Harry needed to hear. Wondering in the back of his mind why the thought had not even occurred to him, he sprinted down the corridor towards another flight of stairs, heading for the Headmaster's office, Ginny right behind him. Before he had even reached the stairs, however, he saw Dumbledore striding rapidly towards him. One look at his face told Harry that he already knew what was happening.
"Sir--Professor--Hogsmeade--" Harry gasped, trying to catch his breath.
Dumbledore looked at him gravely. "I know," he said. "Listen to me, Harry--you must return to your common room at once, do you understand me?" he continued urgently. Harry started to protest, but Dumbledore interrupted him. "I haven't much time--I must go to Hogsmeade at once--the Order are already battling the Death Eaters, but they are outnumbered. Your time has not yet come, Harry." He was regarding him with a look of such intensity that Harry felt a chill run down his spine. "Soon you will be ready to face Voldemort, but that time has not yet arrived. Be patient--it may be sooner than you think." With that, Dumbledore turned briskly on his heel and marched at a great pace down the corridor. Harry watched him go. It was immensely frustrating to be told to do nothing, while his friends even now might already be dead or dying . . .
His scar was hurting again, but not so badly as before. He took a deep breath, willing himself to be calm, but the pain in his head was making it exceptionally difficult. His headache had reached new heights of intensity--a headache, he realised, that had nothing whatsoever to do with his scar . . . Harry shivered. His earlier feelings of unease had returned in full force. Something was very wrong here, but he didn't know what.
"Harry?" said Ginny, regarding him intently. "What is it?"
For a moment Harry did not reply. "Something's not right here," he said at last.
"What do you mean?"
"This attack--there's something wrong about it, but I don't--"
He broke off as movement caught his eye. Turning he saw a figure at the far end of the corridor, a figure regarding him with an unmistakable smirk on his face--Malfoy.
And even as Harry watched him, Malfoy turned and vanished around a corner.
Suddenly, without knowing how he knew, Harry realised that Malfoy must be planning something awful. His feelings of unease grew to dread as he tried to recall, to bring the elusive thing that had been weighing in the back of his mind into focus . . .
"Malfoy--he's up to something," Harry said abruptly. "I'm going after him."
"Then I'm going with you," said Ginny. Harry opened his mouth to tell her no, that she should go back to the common room, but she cut him off before he could utter a word.
"I'm going with you," she repeated forcefully, a steely look on her face. "Don't even try to tell me I'm too young!"
Knowing there was no time to waste and that arguing would get him nowhere, Harry nodded curtly and raced down the corridor where Malfoy had gone, Ginny hot on his heels. He could feel his anger mounting as he ran, infuriated that Malfoy was plotting something while the teachers were distracted by the Hogsmeade attack. Had he known it was going to happen? Was he under orders from his father to do whatever he was doing? Harry's head was pounding. He could barely think through the reckless energy permeating his mind.
They came to another staircase, a circular one spanning several floors. Looking down, he could see Malfoy on the first floor, moving rapidly in the direction of the Entrance Hall. Harry leaped down the stairs three at a time, pushing his way through a group of frightened-looking second years, ignoring their protests at his rude behaviour.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Harry ran as fast as he could to the Entrance Hall. Finding it deserted, he looked around in confusion. Where had he gone?
His scar flared painfully again. Then suddenly it came to him--Malfoy had gone out onto the grounds. Drawing his wand, he made his way cautiously to the front doors and opened them, looking warily around. What did Malfoy want out here? Was it possible he wasn't up to anything at all? Harry shook his head; he had to find out what was going on.
"Where did he go?" asked Ginny, arriving at his side, looking tense and alert.
"I don't--wait, there he is," said Harry, as he saw a figure making its way in the direction of the greenhouses. It had to be Malfoy--apart from the three of them the grounds were completely deserted. "Come on," he said, setting off after him, and Ginny followed.
As it neared the greenhouses, the figure, now unmistakably visible as Malfoy, stopped walking and turned around. "Potter, Weasley," he said, sneering, as they drew nearer. "Nice of you to join me out here on such a fine day. Enjoying being banned from the village now, are we? I suppose you two ought to thank me for getting you stuck here."
Instantly, Harry and Ginny pointed their wands at Malfoy's face.
"What are you up to, Malfoy?" Harry snarled. "You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?"
"Did I say that?" said Malfoy lazily. To Harry's amazement, he had not even flinched at the sight of two wands aimed point-blank at his face.
"What are you up to?" demanded Ginny, her tone fiercer than Harry had ever heard it. "Our friends are fighting for their lives out there, and you--"
"Please," said Malfoy, sounding bored. "I'm simply taking a stroll around the grounds. It's not my doing the Mudbloods are getting what they deserve--"
Sparks flew from Ginny's wand. Harry thought she was probably seconds from cursing him, as he was himself--
A sudden movement caught his attention. Looking down, he saw a rat moving along the ground, several feet behind Malfoy. He was about to dismiss it, when he noticed something shining underneath it. Eyeing it more closely, he saw, with horrible clarity, what was causing it--one of the rat's front paws was silver.
Abruptly, as if sensing it had been spotted, the rat darted away at high speed. Harry stared after it in shock for a moment. He could feel the pain in his head flaring up again, worse by far than it had ever been. A hot, sickening anger was building inside him, a reckless and unreasoning hatred. Wormtail, here? This was the man who had betrayed Harry's parents, who had murdered Cedric and helped bring Voldemort back . . . it was his fault Sirius had died . . .
With a scream of rage Harry pushed past Malfoy and tore after the rat, not heeding where he was going, barely registering Ginny's voice calling after him to wait, not caring about anything except catching Pettigrew and making him pay for everything he had done, every way he had ruined Harry's life and the lives of others . . .
Through the dizzying fog clouding his mind he heard Malfoy shout something behind him; an instant later he heard Ginny's answering cry, "Protego!" Wheeling around, he saw Malfoy blasted backwards in a flash of light. A few seconds later there came the unmistakable sound of him vomiting slugs all over the ground.
Harry did not give him a second glance. He turned back and begin to sprint after the rat, which he could just make out in the distance. Malfoy's attack on Ginny had delayed him, had given Pettigrew too much of a lead . . . he'd never be able to catch him . . . Damn! he thought frantically. Malfoy must have known he was there--had he let him into the school, taking advantage of the teachers being occupied in Hogsmeade? What did Pettigrew hope to accomplish?
"Harry, wait!" He could hear Ginny struggling to keep up behind him. "What are you doing?"
"It's Wormtail!" Harry threw over his shoulder as he ran. The blinding pain in his head was such that he barely noticed he had chased him all the way to the Forbidden Forest. Without hesitation he plunged in after him. He could hear the scampering of the rat up ahead, but could no longer see him.
In less than a minute he had completely lost track of his quarry. How could he possibly hope to find a rat in the middle of a forest? Pettigrew was going to escape again, just like he had after they'd found him in the Shrieking Shack.
Looking around, Harry found that he had completely lost his sense of direction. He didn't know where he was . . . Suddenly he was scared. What on earth had possessed him to chase Wormtail all the way out here? He cursed himself for his stupidity. Had that been the point? But then, what--
He could hear someone crashing through the undergrowth to his right. Turning wildly, he raised his wand, but lowered it again when he saw who it was. "Ginny," he said, relieved.
Her reply was interrupted by another crashing sound, this time behind him. Harry spun around. "Stupefy!" he shouted, seeing movement in the distance. The flash of red light was nearly blinding in the unnatural gloom of the forest. He could just make out the shape of an animal--a unicorn, he thought--darting away from the blast.
Harry exhaled heavily. He felt suddenly exhausted, as well as foolish. He shivered, and noticed that the light level had dropped considerably, though it was still mid-morning. What the--
"Harry," said Ginny suddenly, gripping his arm, "We have to get out of here!"
And with a sudden thrill of dread, Harry realised what was happening. It was impossible, completely and utterly impossible, that they could be here, but there was no other explanation. The forest was now almost pitch-black, and he could feel the awful sensation of freezing cold, emptying him of all happy thoughts . . .
Voices had begun screaming in his head. Harry felt a well of despair growing inside him. He'd once driven away over a hundred Dementors, when he'd saved Sirius in his third year, but he'd been far away across the lake at the time . . . he didn't think he could possibly fight them off this time, but he had to try . . .
Harry raised his wand. "Expecto--"
"Expelliarmus!" cried a shrill voice from somewhere to his left. There was another flash of red, and Harry felt his wand go flying out of his hand, landing with a clatter somewhere far away.
Shit! Without a wand, he didn't have a hope of fighting them off--
Frantically he turned towards Ginny, who still had her wand. Wormtail's Disarming Spell had illuminated the forest for a second, and he had seen that there were at least fifty hooded figures fast approaching through the trees. They had no choice but to run for it . . . but the icy cold was sapping his strength, and he could barely move . . . Harry felt his foot catch on a large root, and he went sprawling to the ground.
He could hear Ginny chanting beside him, "Expecto Patronum . . . Expecto . . . Expecto Patronum . . ." Her voice was unsteady, and she sounded deathly afraid. A faint white mist burst from the end of her wand. Harry looked up at her, struggling to get back on his feet.
"Ginny, think of something happy!" he yelled. His mother was screaming in his ears, pleading with Voldemort not to kill him . . . Voldemort was laughing, telling him to bow to death . . . Bellatrix was yelling in triumph as Sirius fell through the veil . . .
But she couldn't do it. She'd never done the charm faced with a real Dementor before, he realised. Harry found he could no longer move. There was no way for them to escape--they were going to be Kissed by the Dementors. Ginny gasped in horror as the hooded figures drew nearer. He could see her collapsing to the ground, as the strength of her legs gave out. Her Patronus faded and died, and they were plunged into complete darkness.
Strong, clammy hands seized him, and Harry felt himself being pulled to his feet. This was it--this was the end . . . how he would like to surrender to the darkness, to let himself fall, to give in to his despair and feel nothing ever again . . . He heard himself pleading with Ginny not to be dead as Tom Riddle mocked him . . . at least she would be the last thing he ever thought of, even though he had failed her . . .
The hands lifted him into the air, and he felt himself being carried away over the ground. What was happening? Why was he being taken away instead of Kissed?
He couldn't bring himself to care any longer. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to be carried away as conscious thought left him.
Harry fell into blackness.
An interesting note: Being partial to fluff, St. Margarets was rather upset with me that Harry and Ginny didn't kiss in this chapter. She told me she would simply have to write that story herself--for, as she very aptly put it, no Dementor could stand a chance against a kiss-fueled Patronus! The result was her excellent fic, "Magic Within, Magic Without", which I highly recommend reading.
The fact that it's undoubtedly better not to be kissed at all than to get the Dementor's Kiss seems to have offered no consolation whatsoever. Can't imagine why . . .