The sky was crystal clear, and the stars shone with a peculiarly vivid brilliance. As Harry looked skyward, he realised that not even in the midnight Astronomy lessons had the stars displayed themselves with such dazzling clarity. He was totally awestruck.
"Beautiful sight, isn't it?"
The words could have been spoken by Harry himself, for they reflected his feelings exactly. He was not, however, thinking about stars, but about the young woman standing beside him.
Harry smiled at Ginny like a lovesick idiot. "Beautiful," he repeated gently taking her hand in his. A distant corner of his brain registered that Ginny was speaking, but he wasn't listening. He was content, really content, to just stand here and stare long and deep into Ginny's eyes and forget everything else.
He was broken from his reverie by the object of his fascination slapping his arm.
"Very well!" It was no good; he was just too unwilling to release his mood, but Ginny wasn't having any of it. She released his hand and took a step away from him and stood, feet apart, her fisted hands on her hips and a determined glare in her eyes, which were now sparkling dangerously.
"Harry! I want some answers here! What's happening? How's it going? How come you're asleep right now? Aren't you still in Court?" The questions were coming thick and fast.
"Hold fire, Gin!" Harry said, holding both hands up, palms out in a defensive gesture.
"One question at a time!"
It was only then that Harry realised where they were.
They were in a tree house Mr. Weasley had built many years before so Ginny could escape from her brothers. Outside the tree house fierce winds blew as a terrible storm raged, the sky periodically split by bright bolts of lightning followed by deafening claps of thunder.
Inside the tree house, however, it was calm, warm and cosy. The dry walls seemed to glow with a gentle light like candle flames. The contrast was startling – like night and day. Harry had wondered how it could be, and once again Ginny knew his question without it being spoken.
"This is my refuge – sanctuary, if you will. When Dad built it so I could escape from my brothers, he and Mum placed charms and wards on it so it could be seen by only those who I wanted to find it," explained Ginny.
"Oh. This is your bolt-hole," stated Harry.
"My what?" replied Ginny, puzzled.
"Fred, George and Ron told me years ago that they reckoned you had a secret bolt-hole. They spent hours searching for you, but never found you. They'd even wondered if you could make yourself invisible!"
Ginny laughed uproariously at that. "Invisible! If only!" The laughter died from her face as quickly as it had come. "There were times in my first year at Hogwarts when I certainly felt invisible. Nobody seemed to notice me or what was happening, and I was almost powerless to attract anyone's attention."
Ginny seemed to feel Harry's sense of guilt at not realising what she'd gone through.
"Oh, Harry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to make you feel guilty. It wasn't your fault. Dumbledore explained to me that it was all part of Tom's charm on the diary. Voldemort knew that the person writing in it would be seen by others, so he bewitched it so they'd not be noticed. It all just added to my sense of isolation that year," Ginny concluded.
"I never knew. Always thought you were just writing notes for homework or something. Inever imagined...."
Ginny placed her fingertips gently over Harry's lips to silence him. "That's the past, Harry. This is now. I only mentioned it because this place has helped me heal from all life's hurts, whether from prank-playing big brothers or from evil Dark Lords. You're here with me now because you, too, need to heal, both physically and emotionally. Let me be your sanctuary – your 'bolt-hole'."
Ginny was standing very close to Harry, very close! He snaked his arms around her waist and pulled her closer. He wanted to kiss her;he knew that now. Ginny moved; she placed her left cheek to his chest just above his heart. She stayed like that for some moments. Harry became aware that his heartbeats were getting faster and faster.
He bent his head and placed his left cheek on the top of her silky, soft hair.
Outside the tree house, the storm had ended, and there was a spectacular sunset. The air felt fresh and invigorating. Harry was basking in the arms of this ever-surprising young woman. How had he not noticed how special she was before now? He felt Ginny's small hands press into his back; at the same time, she turned to look up into Harry's eyes.
They moved even closer. Her lips were parted slightly; Harry copied her, and the distance between them grew less and less....
Suddenly an ice-cold wind blasted through the tree house. They were plunged into total darkness. Harry heard an all-too-familiar rattling sound mingled with a woman's unending scream.
- zzz -
Instantly Harry sat up. He was back in the holding cell at the Court House, but the ice-cold was real; it cut through him like a knife. The lights flickered, and Harry felt sure they were about to go out. He stood and made his way shakily to the door.
"What's happening? What's going on out there?" But Harry's urgent pleading went unanswered.
Harry placed both hands flat on the door and wished it would just open. He heard a resounding click, and the door swung outwards as the lights gave one final flicker and died. From somewhere to his right came screams from many voices, high-pitched panicky screams and running footsteps.
From other cells came voices pleading for release.
Harry made his way back along the route to the main Courtroom. It was a sight that would stay with him for the rest of his days.
Dozens of them.
People were screaming and running about blindly knocking into each other. About twenty people had already been Kissed; they sat, silent and motionless, staring at nothing. Others were kneeling on the floor, their hands tight over their ears as they tried, futilely, to silence the screams within their heads.
Harry's attention, however, was on the few people who were staring in revulsion at the towering, hooded creatures as they moved among the crowd. If they could see the Dementors then that meant they were not Muggles.
Never before had Harry felt as powerless as he did at that precise moment, nor had he missed his wand as much as he did now. Without his wand Harry could not summon his Patronus. Prongs could not help him if he could not cast the spell.
He needed a wand, and he needed one now!
Tonks was nowhere to be seen, but a grey-haired man with thick, horn-rimmed glasses was staring as a Dementor approached him. Harry moved towards them and held out his hand; he spoke the incantation without hope of success.
It sort of worked. A silver cloud formed around Harry's hand, but did not want to leave contact with his skin.
In irritation and annoyance, Harry motioned his hand as if to shake off the cloud. At once the cloud formed a tight, cohesive ball like silver fire and flew straight at the Dementor. When it made contact, it clung to the creature like an enveloping and suffocating mass!
The Dementor's familiar rattling sound changed; Harry could make out pleading screams not from inside his head, but coming from the Dementor itself.
The creature turned to face Harry, its arms outstretched, but its head was moving from side to side. Now it was grasping its own head, and the screams coming from it were growing louder and louder.
Next the head was thrown back as if it was suffering indescribable agony. Its shapeless maw of a mouth opened wide as the screaming reached a deafening crescendo as hundreds of tiny points of light poured skywards from the mouth. The Dementor seemed to deflate as more and more of the lights – were they the souls of those consumed by this vile creature? – poured forth. At last the Dementor seemed to lose hold of its own existence, and it exploded in a cloud of minute particles of rotting flesh accompanied by a heavy odour of brimstone.
It was gone!
Harry instinctively turned to confront the next Dementor, but not wishing to share the fate of their fellow, the remainder were moving rapidly away from him, out through the open Courthouse doors and away.
Harry's exhaustion caught up with him; he fell back until he made contact with the wall and slid bonelessly to the floor. He sat there staring fixedly in front of him, his eyes unfocussed. He looked as though he, too, had been Kissed.
"Harry! HARRY!" came Tonks'urgent summons. "HARRY!" At the third calling of his name, Harry slowly turned his head. Tonks had raised her hand to slap Harry round the face, but at that instant he realised what she was about to do and, with the instincts born of his Quidditch training, reached out and grasped her wrist.
"Thank Merlin!" she exclaimed. "I thought for a minute...." She left her sentence unfinished. "Can you stand?" Harry nodded his confirmation, and she helped him to his feet.
"What the hell just happened? I was sitting going over my notes before coming down to talk to you when suddenly the temperature dropped. All I could hear was screaming then nothing. When I woke up I could still hear screaming, but it was outside not inside my head. I still felt cold though, but I could see Dementors pouring out of the Courtroom."
"Chocolate!"Harry muttered at last. "Everyone should have some. It helps; it really helps!"
"Harry, listen, I've had to call in the Aurors – there's no way I can cope here on my own. The Ministry will be sending in a Task Force to clean up this mess."
Harry nodded his understanding. Aurors meant he was likely to be arrested all over again.
Could things get any worse?
The Courtroom doors opened once more, and a group of six men and women wearing uniforms came in and moved among the witnesses to the Dementor attack. As they approached each individual, a quiet word was spoken, then each man or woman stopped in their tracks.
Once all the Muggle witnesses were "frozen" more Ministry officials began to arrive by Apparition. Harry heard the familiar "popping" sound as scarlet-robed Aurors materialised in their midst.
Harry looked up as the familiar figure of Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared before him. Despite recent events, Harry was able to remember to react as though he were a complete stranger and not a member of the Order of the Phoenix.
Tonks resumed her normal appearance, but now dressed in her Auror's robes.
"Officer Shacklebolt, I await your instructions," she said, standing to attention.
"Very good, Tonks. I order you to take Potter here to a secure location to await interrogation." From his robe pocket he produced what looked like ordinary Muggle handcuffs.
Not again! thought Harry.
Tonks took the handcuffs, opened them, placed one around her own left wrist, and as the other clicked around Harry's right wrist, he felt the familiar sensation of a hook being jerked behind his navel. All other senses overwhelmed him in a whirlwind of sound and colour as the Portkey activated.
Harry and Tonks slammed into one another as they reached their destination. Harry gave an involuntary gasp of agony as one of Tonks' elbows hit his not yet healed ribs; dark patches appeared at the edge of his field of vision as he fell backwards, dragging Tonks down on top of him. An audible crack was heard as Harry's ribs gave way once more; the darkness became complete as Harry slipped into unconsciousness.
A/N: Sorry to everyone who thought I'd poisoned poor Harry; instead it was something much worse. Glad to receive your reviews; it is very gratifying to know how many people are following my story set in JKR's wonderful world.
May I take this opportunity to thank my wonderful and long-suffering beta, Iviolinist. Her guidance has been invaluable, and I hope my grammar and punctuation have improved. (I know I'd like to award her 10/10 and at least 20 house points!)
B/N: Rosina and I are going to attempt to update every two weeks. We've really been slacking on both ends of this fic, but we're going to try to stick to a schedule so that we can finish this bad boy sometime in the near future. ;)