For a full second Ginny actually gaped at him, but then quickly thought better of it and closed her mouth. Of all the things she had expected of him, stealing had not exactly been high among her worries.
‘What kind of item?’ she asked. She couldn’t deny that she was curious.
‘That detail is necessary only if you agree to retrieve it,’ he remarked quickly. He was obviously trying to be cautious, which she thought was certainly wise. She had no idea what would happen to him if Voldemort discovered he’d actually revealed Harry’s location, but she knew it wouldn’t be good.
She hesitated briefly, her eyes darting around the shadowy church. It was utterly still, but for the quiet rhythm of their shallow breathing.
‘You’ve obviously gone mad since leaving Hogwarts, Malfoy,’ she said, hoping to distract him from the full extent of her anxiety. ‘Even if I was willing to do something so foolhardy, I can’t. That office is protected by an incorruptible password charm, which is something you surely already know.’
Outside the storm had already unleashed its wrath, for she could now hardly ignore the sound of the unbridled rain pelting the rooftop in steady beats. Though not usually given to wild nights, Ginny couldn’t help but notice that the weather had chosen a very apt way of manifesting itself. It perfectly suited her current predicament, she thought. Dark and dismal.
‘I don’t care how you do it,’ he said. ‘But either you retrieve what I want, or Potter and his pathetic companions can stay exactly where they are. And I would be greatly surprised if the Dark Lord’s desire to keep them alive will endure for long. His amusement wanes quickly.’ The words dripped from his tongue with sickly pleasure, the prospect of such an event apparently far too gratifying to bother restraining his obvious relish.
She felt an all-too familiar rush of anger course through her, inciting what seemed every nerve in her body until the only sound in her ears was the throbbing of her own heart, beating fear and hatred through her with every pulse.
She could hurt him, she thought, she wanted to hurt him, wanted more than anything just to make him suffer the way she had done for the past seven months by knowing nothing, and being good for nothing, and now wondering if they were dead or alive, or hurt or dying...
Each thought shot through her mind as if from a cannon let loose, every worry and hope she had painstakingly held in check since they’d first left. And now, looking at his hateful face, she found herself unable to maintain her well-orchestrated facade any longer. He deserved to suffer, he was the reason they’d even left in the first place, if he hadn’t been responsible for Dumbledore’s death....
‘Why do you hate us so much?’
Instantly, her body went rigid. The thought had slipped from her unwittingly, barely audible, but pained nonetheless. It was not the first time she had asked it of herself. It was, after all, the reason for all of this. But each time she’d found herself unable to answer, for ultimately the reply was so meaningless that it was enough to make her despair at the thought of it.
And better to do the same now, she decided. Better to pretend she’d said nothing than suffer his answer as well.
Malfoy was staring at her pointedly, his face unreadable. She noticed offhandedly that he had drawn his wand again. It lay half-poised in his closed palm.
‘Why even keep them captive in the first place? Why not just kill them outright?’ She winced- her voice sounded harsh even to her own ears. It was a testament to how vulnerable and yet entirely pitiless he could make her feel all at once, a power which she did not enjoy yielding, least of all to him. Surprisingly, however, he took her cue.
‘To make them suffer,’ he answered, with more sincerity than she cared for. ‘To make you suffer. To ensure they know how worthless and helpless they truly are. Take your pick. Either way, he’s quite sure he’s got enough time to fully enjoy his...retribution.’
She didn’t allow herself to think of what exactly that might-or may already-be. It was enough to make her sick.
Her wand hung limply in her hand, a sure sign of her indecision. It was sticky between her fingers with the cold sweat that was slick upon her. Any shred of rationality she had left was quickly being eaten away by her increasing sense of urgency, which seemed to grow ten-fold with every passing second.
She had no idea what to do. There was no way she could trust Malfoy to keep up his end of the bargain, even if she did agree to get what he wanted...
Several long seconds passed slowly between them, until she realized that she was wringing her wand nervously between her hands. Malfoy, on the contrary, was still sitting beside her cool as ice, betraying no anxiety whether he felt it or not.
Finally, she stood up. ‘Forget it, Malfoy. Find yourself another mark.’
A shadow passed immediately over his face, but quickly as it had been there it was gone again, replaced by the careful neutrality she had observed from him all evening. He had not managed to fool her, however- she knew he cared more for her compliance than he was willing to let on. But without waiting for an answer, she turned and began to walk away from him, as she clearly should have done from the start.
‘Fine,’ he called after her, his raised voice ringing throughout the church. She thought there was the slightest note of alarm in his voice as he did, like a small, niggling fear that had crept its way to the surface. ‘It makes little difference to me. But by the time your pathetic Order tracks them down, they’ll be dead.’
She stopped. The last word echoed throughout the vaulted ceilings overhead, pressing closer and closer in around her until suddenly it seemed to be crushing her. Dead. It was final. Absolute. It was a possibility that she couldn’t ignore, no matter what the consequence to herself.
It’s a ploy, she thought frantically, careful not to let him see her face. A last ditch effort to redeem himself. He’s desperate- She paused.
But so am I. The bleak truth of it came upon her suddenly, and her body went cold as she realized that he was right. There would be no other chances- she couldn’t allow this one to slip away. She had no choice but to believe him.
Hesitating, she forced herself to breathe. She was shaking slightly now from head to foot, seemingly overcome by the pure gravity of the choice before her. Merlin, give me strength, she begged silently, for it was all she could do to turn and face him again, knowing what she was about to do.
‘All right. It’s a deal.’
‘Excellent,’ he drawled, his triumph now obvious. She thought there was nothing she could possibly hate more than that mocking, self-satisfied sneer on his wretched face. ‘You will take me to Hogwarts then.’
‘No,’ she shot back, exhaling hard. ‘There’s no time for that, and I have no reason to trust you. If I take you to Hogwarts now, you’ll have no reason to tell me anything. Tell me where they are first, or you can forget the whole thing.’
For a moment he said nothing, his face once more a grim mask as he seemingly contemplated her offer. Suddenly, there came a great boom above her, and she started despite herself. The bells were once again tolling the hour. One o’clock.
‘Fine,’ he remarked finally, looking up at her with gleaming eyes. Instantly, a chill went down her spine. Clearly it was not going to be that easy.
‘But I also have no reason to trust that you will uphold your word either. You will have to provide me with a guarantee.’
She froze. ‘What kind of guarantee?’
Her smiled at her, a wide, twisted gash across his pale face. A stark silence had filled the church, as if the building itself had drawn a great, timorous breath in anticipation of his answer and swept up all the sound with it. Everything seemed to slow before her, and become perfectly still.
‘An Unbreakable Vow.’
She blanched, her heart seeming to skip a beat before continuing in its furious tattoo. Her blood was suddenly like ice running through her veins, and every instinct she possessed was screaming at her to get away, to run without before it was too late, before her actions became irrevocable. She ignored it.
‘Now I know you’re mad,’ she answered, her tone more laboured than she would have liked. ‘Even if you could begin to be capable of casting an Unbreakable Vow, we have no witness.’
Shrewdly, he smiled again, and raised his hand towards the darkened corner to her right. From the deep shadows stepped the hulking and unmistakable form of Gregory Goyle, cloaked entirely in black.
Fury seethed through her at the sight of him, a feverish blaze with all the force of the trademark Weasley temper. It was obvious he had already witnessed every word of their conversation.
Malfoy, for his part, was clearly enjoying her ire. Goyle glanced briefly around the church as if to ensure it was absolutely deserted. It was.
‘Is it a bargain then?’ Malfoy jeered.
Ginny stared him down, still fuming. ‘How do I know all of this isn’t just a trap itself? You’ve already lied to me once,’ she said, gesturing towards Goyle. ‘What’s to stop you from setting Voldemort on me yourself?’
He actually had the nerve to huff at her impatiently. ‘If I felt I could obtain what I desire without your assistance, I obviously never would have contacted you. Whether Potter lives or dies at this point is of lesser consequence to me. His end will come soon regardless. Revealing you would only serve to expose my own betrayal, as giving you this information will obviously be considered.’
Though she hated to admit it, she knew he was right. Revealing her would only put his own life in jeopardy.
‘Do we have an agreement?’ he asked again, failing this time to keep the eagerness out of his voice. She felt dimly as though a towering gate was snapping closed around her on all sides, and each word from his mouth only served to drive the bolts tighter in until retreat became inconceivable.
It was a deal with the devil, she thought. A devil with sleek, blonde hair and perfectly tailored robes. But he was the only one who could help her, and he knew it.
The church was still utterly quiet, almost deathly so, as if it were neither accustomed nor grateful to be witnessing events so clearly disturbing as these. The nearly full moon had risen high in the now ink-black sky above them, so that shafts of pale light finally found their way through the narrow windows overhead. They fell in long slits along the floor, a stark contrast against the cold grey stone underneath.
‘Yes,’ she said finally through clenched teeth. ‘Yes. But what is it that I have to retrieve?’
‘I think that tidbit of information is better left to our next meeting,’ he declared. ‘To ensure you do not forget your end of the bargain.’ She scowled at him indignantly, her tone almost guttural. As if she could possibly forget. But she didn’t really care what it was he wanted, as long as he could tell her how to find them.
His eyes bored into her as he placed his wandless hand in the empty space between them, while Goyle moved briskly towards them. His hand, she noted disturbingly, was perfectly steady.
She hesitated only slightly before placing her hand forward, cringing at just the thought of physical contact between them. Her free hand was now clenched tightly around her wand. Sensing her reluctance, Malfoy reached out and grabbed her hand in his own.
Seething, she wrenched it away again.
‘The terms of the bond will only be upheld should the information you provide me prove successful in locating them.’ She was not about to be taken by him for a fool. ‘Otherwise, I owe you nothing. Agreed?’
Still grinning, he grabbed her hand again.
‘Fine. Get on with it then.’ All she wanted was for this entire nightmare to be over with, though she knew perfectly well that this meeting was just the beginning of her ordeal. She had not even begun to contemplate how she was supposed to free Harry, Ron and Hermione from a prison guarded by Death Eaters alone and in the dark. She forced herself to push that troubling reality aside, however, and focused on the unwieldy spell that Malfoy had begun to cast.
Raising his wand, he pressed it firmly to their joined hands. She felt a slight jolt go through her at the touch of it.
‘Do you, Ginevra Weasley, agree to deliver the object I desire from Hogwarts, should the information provided succeed in locating those you desire?’
For a full second she went entirely blank, despite the enormity of the spell between them. His use of her actual name had thrown her completely off-guard. But he flashed his eyes at her over their entwined hands, and immediately her wits returned.
‘Yes,’ she nearly spat at him. ‘I do.’ The words had not left her when a fiery rope emerged from the tip of his wand and snaked around their hands. She cringed unwittingly as the flaming cord licked at her skin, but to her surprise, it did not burn. It was, in fact, bitterly cold, like the December winds that had cut through her so many times on her way down the sweeping castle lawns.
‘And do you understand the consequences, should you fail to uphold the agreement?’
‘I do,’ she answered, feeling decidedly stronger than before. Another rope of fire wound its way around their fingers, and upon meeting the first string seemed to swell and pulse as they joined into one continuous strand.
‘And do you, Gregory Goyle, agree to act as witness to this bond?’
‘Yes,’ he answered in his daft tone, and the thread flared brightly before them. His task apparently done, Goyle took a step back from them, resuming his place in the half-shadow.
‘The bond is set then,’ Malfoy finished. Immediately, the rope flashed in a nearly blinding burst of white light, and then promptly went out. It was done. She was now irrevocably linked to Draco Malfoy in a way that was essentially equal to being indebted to him for her life, for that was now exactly what was on the line. The finality of it struck her instantly.
Ginny wrenched her hand out of his grasp, wiping it roughly against her cloak. It felt dirty, as if contaminated by some unseen evil.
She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, overcome suddenly with a weariness that reached everywhere. All she wanted was to leave this place and not look back, to sink into her bed and leave everything that had happened here to her dreams. But rest, she feared, would be a long time coming to her yet.
‘You’ve got what you wanted, Malfoy. Now tell me where they are,’ she said, her voice hard-edged as steel. It left little doubt to her exhausted tolerance for his derisive candour.
He merely smirked at her lazily, that same self-satisfied grin. Without hesitating, she drew her wand and pointed it down his long, hateful face.
‘No more games,’ she snapped, her voice a low growl. ‘Tell me what I want to know or very soon you will find that critical elements of your anatomy have become just as useless as your utterly worthless life.’
Goyle made quickly to step towards her, but Malfoy stopped him with a wave of his hand, never taking his eyes off her. Still he betrayed no sign of any uncertainty, a fact which only made her desire to escape quickly even more pressing.
‘You know that Potter and his cronies were ambushed two days ago outside of Sheffield.’ It was not a question.
She grimaced. It was taking every ounce of self-restraint she possessed not to make good on her threat, or worse.
‘Yes,’ she answered, steadily losing patience with his taunting. Her knuckles were white, her wand was held so tightly in her hand.
‘That information was intentionally circulated, to ensure that you and your decrepit lot would know of it. It was, however, only a half-truth. Their capture occurred in Grimsby, not Sheffield.’ He stopped.
‘Yes?’ she nearly cried. ‘And now?’
His grey eyes glittered with menace. ‘They are currently being held approximately two miles southeast of the town inside an abandoned farmstead, where they will remain only for the next twenty-four hours. Beyond that I can be of no use to you.’
Slowly, she loosened her grip on her wand, though she did not lower it. An empty stalemate stretched between them as they stared at one another, before she turned finally and walked away. She felt his eyes follow her from behind.
‘You’ll need this,’ he called out, and she turned expectantly, only to see that he had banished a single sheet of parchment towards her. She looked it over quickly. It was empty, save for one word.
Impunita. She clutched the paper tightly in her hand.
‘You’ll have thirty minutes after activating the spell to pass into and out of the barrier concealing them.’
‘Fine,’ she whispered. It would have to be.
From somewhere far off she could hear crickets chirping wildly in the low-lying grass around the church, a sound much too familiar and unreal to belong anywhere near this place. Her head began to spin with the deep, drumming call of it.
‘Until we meet again then,’ Malfoy purred.
Without another word, Ginny apparated, leaving both the church and Malfoy far behind.
A/N: I just wanted to say thanks for the great response I’ve gotten on this fic so far. All the reviews were really encouraging, so thanks! And of course, I must thank my beta LadyChi, who’s been completely patient and very insightful- I definitely owe you a hot dog : )