June began, and with its arrival, the weather finally turned for the better, much to the delight of both the students and the staff. The first sunny afternoon in several weeks happened to fall on a Sunday and saw students taking their schoolwork outside, if they were actually inclined to work on it, or just lounging around in grassy areas near the lake after some practice with drying charms. Their professors, on the other hand, were relaxing in their respective quarters, relieved at not having to patrol the hallways and police the unruly behaviour that came with being trapped indoors for too long.
Inside the Great Hall, a few students were finishing off a late lunch with a token professor or two at the head table. Most of them were hurriedly finishing their meal in order to join those who had already gone outside. Ginny Weasley, however, was not one of them. She was so engrossed in her thoughts that half of the food on her plate remained uneaten. After a week of mulling over Hermione’s revelation about Harry’s little speech in the common room, she still had not come to any definite conclusions on why she had been so ready to believe he had betrayed her, and had therefore made little progress in mending her relationship with him.
He had done nothing wrong, and yet she still could not approach him. She tried repeatedly to reason out exactly why this was so, but it was difficult. At first, she had convinced herself that it was because she resented the way Harry had tried to protect her. After all, it was only a few weeks ago that she had broken off her relationship with Dean because he would not let her do things for herself. But that argument felt hollow. She had to admit that part of her was pleased at the idea that Harry had stood up for her, so it could not have been because of his protectiveness—not completely anyway.
Over the past two days or so, she had been contemplating the idea that she resented him for getting into trouble and putting her into the situation in the first place. But she could not summon much emotion to support that theory either. She had not been angry with him prior to the match, so it made no sense to feel that way now. Without any firm conclusions upon which to act, she had been caught in the unenviable position of wanting both to avoid Harry and to start spending time with him again.
The past week had been scattered with situations in which she and Harry had been in the same room, but there was an awkwardness now that had not been there before. Whenever they were in the same room, it was as if there was an invisible narrow chasm between them, one that would take little effort to jump over—provided one had the courage to make the leap in the first place. They both knew it was there, but neither could find the words to acknowledge it. And so she sat at the far end of the Gryffindor table, moving the food around on her plate, none of it finding its way into her mouth.
Lost in her thoughts as she was, Ginny did not even notice when her date from the Yule Ball of two years ago approached her.
“You all right?” asked Neville, taking a seat next to her.
“What do you mean?” she said, futilely trying to act casual.
“You—the indomitable Ginny Weasley—you’re not one to stay indoors if you can help it. I’m surprised you weren’t the first one through the doors when the last raindrop fell.”
Ginny shrugged her shoulders distractedly. Neville waited for more of a response but soon realized that he was going to get nothing more out of her. As he pondered another way to get her to loosen up, he noticed that Ginny’s eyes were not on her food. Reflexively, he followed her line of sight to the other end of the Gryffindor table where three figures were sitting together. Even though he couldn’t see their faces, their distinctive red, brown and black heads of hair were all too familiar. He rolled his eyes.
“You should go talk to him.”
“Who?” Ginny said nonchalantly as she picked at her plate with her fork.
“Professor Lockhart. I hear he’s quite chatty these days,” said Neville straight-faced, before adding, “Harry, of course!”
“Shhh!” she hissed, raising one hand to cover her face as she turned towards him and away from the most famous trio in the school.
“Relax. They didn’t hear me.”
Ginny frowned at him. “Why aren’t you outside?” she said, trying to change the subject.
It was Neville’s turn to break eye contact. “I... just thought you could use some company. You know... unlike the last few weeks.” His kindness immediately produced the desired effect, and her posture relaxed.
“Thanks,” she said softly. She caught his eyes with her own, but broke the contact quickly. “But I’m fine now. The way I was stalking around the common room after what happened, it’s no wonder everyone avoided me. You don’t have to baby-sit me out of some misplaced sense of obligation.”
Neville opened his mouth, but hesitated. When she turned back to him he said, “I’m not. I... It didn’t take me long to realize I missed my friend. We’ve always been good friends, you and I—I’ve thought so, anyway, for my part. And I’ve always felt drawn to you. You’ve always seemed determined to not let things get you down. And it’s easier to smile when you’re smiling.”
Ginny was not used to being the subject of such compliments—especially coming from Neville—and her face showed it.
Neville’s face, on the other hand, had reddened. “I don’t fancy you or anything,” he said quickly. “I’m just saying I’d like to get the old Ginny back.”
Ginny exhaled tiredly. “Me too.”
Neither spoke for several moments. Finally, he said, “I stand by my earlier advice, though. You should talk to him. You used to... you know, before...”
Ginny squirmed a bit in her seat, not wanting to relive the past few weeks. But she thought about how close she had become with Harry following the end of her relationship with Dean, how they had started spending much of their free time together, and how she could almost reach out and grab a reality that had so far only existed in her dreams. She knew that she longed for those feelings to return. “I... can’t. It’s complicated.”
One of Neville’s eyebrows arched up.
Ginny sighed as she looked down at her half-eaten lunch. Without turning her head, her eyes found Neville, and she said, “We’re not talking about this anymore.”
“I don’t see what’s so hard about it,” said Neville undaunted. “You want to be with him, so go be with him. See? Simple.”
Ginny scoffed. “Is anything that concerns Harry Potter ‘simple?’”
“Nothing that I’ve found,” said a voice from behind them.
Ginny froze for a moment just before her brain registered that the voice was distinctly female. “Heading outside, Hermione?” she asked, trying to keep her voice light but not turning around.
“It is a nice day for it,” the older witch replied, trying to sound as casual as the young redhead. “Care to join us?”
Ginny’s body stiffened at the invitation. “Who’s asking?” she said warily.
“Technically, I am,” said Hermione. “Although neither of my companions was opposed to the idea.”
Ginny seemed to contemplate things for a moment, and then bowed her head. “I’m not ready.”
Hermione frowned. “Don’t you think it might help if—”
“No, I don’t,” said Ginny crisply, her eyes still looking down at her plate. “I’m having a perfectly good conversation with Neville. I’ll find my way outside later.”
Hermione was not prepared with another argument, and decided to just walk away when Ginny continued to keep her back to her.
“Sorry about that,” said Ginny, once Hermione had left the hall.
Neville shook his head. “As much as I enjoy your company, you should have gone outside with them. What’s holding you back?”
Ginny finally gave up finishing her lunch as a bad job and put her fork down. She frowned at her plate and said, “I really can’t say... But that shouldn’t matter, should it?”
Neville saw something change in her eyes just then, and he was suddenly struck by the idea that the old Ginny was, in fact, not very far away after all.
Harry had always found girls to be confusing, and his current situation was no different. According to Hermione, Ginny had been avoiding him the past few weeks because of a misunderstanding. Ironically, he found this comforting as it helped explain why she had not been acting like herself. However, Hermione had not elaborated on what exactly the misunderstanding was, saying that it would be best if the two of them worked it out between themselves. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. Ginny wasn’t really avoiding him anymore—not as obviously, anyway—but between her studying for OWLs and the constant presence of other people, the opportunity to clear the air had not materialised yet.
He closed his Charms textbook, giving up on revising for the night. Between his brooding on his current state of affairs with Ginny and the minor row he had had with Hermione earlier that evening on the identity of the Half-Blood Prince, he just was not in a mental state that was fit for learning.
“You’ve got the right idea,” said Ron, closing his own textbook. “Care for a game of chess?”
Harry agreed, hoping it would provide a distraction to the thoughts that continued to echo in his mind. By the middle of their second game, however, the distraction was only minimal at best. What he really needed to do was talk with Ginny... alone. The thought of being alone with her produced feelings of both excitement and dread, and he realized it was times like these when he sorely felt the loss of his godfather. Although the man had his unruly side, he always had Harry’s best interests at heart when dispensing advice. Harry had just begun an all too familiar guilt trip over how he lost Sirius when he heard a noise close behind him. He jumped up to his feet and reached into his back pocket to grab his wand.
“Hi...” she said nervously. She made eye contact with him and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Then she crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked back up at him expectantly. Her eyes were not completely steady, but her posture was obviously determined and eager. Harry caught himself admiring her before he snapped out of it and gave his full attention to her gaze. Ron was oblivious to the exchange as he contemplated his next move. Knowing she had Harry’s full attention, Ginny inclined her head towards an empty corner of the common room, to which he nodded reflexively.
“What about our game?” asked Ron as his best friend and sister walked away.
“You were thrashing me anyway,” called Harry from over his shoulder. “You can do it again tomorrow.”
Ron grumbled incoherently as he began putting away the pieces. One particularly unruly knight objected strenuously that the battle had not reached its ultimate conclusion, but Ron ignored it.
When they reached the empty corner, Ginny turned around and looked up at Harry, her brown eyes making sure she still commanded his attention. Her jaw was firm and a resolute look came over her face. He saw the Ginny he had grown to know and love, and he felt some tension leave his shoulders. Harry could have looked into her eyes all night if she let him, but her voice soon broke the spell.
“So... how have you been?”
“I... erm... fine, I guess... you?” Harry could have kicked himself.
“I’ve been better.”
“Right... I... that is...” As he feared, Harry could not seem to form the words to express what he wanted to say.
An awkward silence fell over them as she gave him a chance to collect himself. Harry shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers and looked down, while Ginny continued to wait. Something within him knew he had to try to meet her halfway.
“I’m... I’m sorry about—”
“It’s... it’s all right. Hermione told me everything and I wanted to let you know—”
Harry never got a chance to find out what she wanted to say because Jimmy Peakes shoved a scroll of parchment into his hand and then quickly hurried away to a table with a study group comprised of third-years.
As his eyes looked down at the scroll, Harry glanced at Ginny. She had a small frown on her face, indicating she was quite displeased that their attempt at a discussion had been interrupted. When he saw his name written on the outside in familiar handwriting, he frowned as well.
“It’s from Dumbledore,” he said stoically.
He briefly considered waiting to open it until later, but dropped the thought almost immediately. He looked quickly at Ginny, who had crossed her arms again and was leaning against the wall behind her, before unfurling the parchment. Harry’s eyes grew wide as he read the note. He stole a look at Ron, who had been watching him since Jimmy made his delivery. Ron mouthed the question that was on Harry’s mind. Had Dumbledore found one? The note didn’t say; it only summoned him to the headmaster’s office immediately.
When Harry’s eyes dropped back to the note in indecision, Ron saw the look on his face and knew the only reason he was stalling was Ginny. Although he knew he’d pay for it later, he rose from his seat and approached them.
“That from Dumbledore?” he asked as he joined the silent couple.
“Erm... yeah...” said Harry.
Ron ignored the hard glare he was receiving from Ginny. “Better get a move on then. Don’t want to get on his bad side like last time.”
Harry mentally thanked Ron for the excuse, however flimsy, to comply with Dumbledore’s wishes.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly as his eyes found Ginny’s once more. “But I need to go.”
He then turned and raced out of the common room before he could change his mind.
As Harry passed through the portrait hole, Ginny stared daggers at her older brother. He knew better than to ignore her and tried to look suitably repentant.
“I think he would have preferred to stay here,” he offered lamely.
“Maybe,” said Ginny tightly. “Maybe not.” And then she shoved past him and marched up the stairs to her dormitory.
As Harry ran to Gryffindor tower from the headmaster’s office, several thoughts dominated in his mind. First and foremost, he could not believe that Snape had been the one to deliver the first half of the prophecy to Voldemort. The fact that his most hated professor was indirectly responsible for his parents’ death made him physically ill. And when he thought about how Snape had compounded the offence by enforcing numerous indignities upon him over the years... it was all he could do not to vomit on his own shoes. He was also trying to ingest the idea that he and Dumbledore were actually going after a Horcrux tonight. Almost two years ago he had been lamenting the fact that the headmaster was keeping him in the dark in regards to the struggle against Voldemort. And now he was taking part in an important mission towards ridding the world of the Dark Lord forever.
Another thought struck him just as reached the Fat Lady’s portrait, and he stopped abruptly. The last time he had been in this room, he had walked away from Ginny at the worst possible time. If she were still in there, there was little chance he’d be able to get to his things before she cursed him. If he was lucky he’d only suffer her patented Bat-Bogey Hex. His only chance in coming away unscathed probably lay in grovelling to get her to allow him to explain. And when he did explain, he was going to have to do it without bringing up Horcruxes. Perhaps there was a chance that she would be satisfied only with the fact that the headmaster had required his presence for an urgent matter. But it seemed to him that being as honest as possible with her would do more for his cause.
He ran a hand through his hair and gave the password. Although he had not come up with any strategies for dealing with Ginny, his need to hurry forced him into the common room. He searched the room wildly, but only found Ron and Hermione. He rushed over to them and blurted out, “Where’s Ginny?”
“Why?” asked Ron in confusion.
“I don’t have time to explain right now. Hermione, please try to find her. I’ll be right back.”
He dashed up the stairs to the room he shared with the other sixth-year boys and pulled his trunk open. He reached in and retrieved his Invisibility Cloak, the Marauders’ Map and a balled up pair of socks. He then bounded back down the stairs, and was disappointed to see that they had not been able to get Ginny to join them.
“What’s going on?” asked Hermione in a loud whisper when he had rejoined them.
“We’re going after one tonight.”
“Really?” said Ron, his eyes widening.
“Yes. I need you two to do something for me...”
Harry then explained his run-in with Professor Trelawney outside the Room of Requirement and his belief that Draco Malfoy was the one who had been celebrating inside of it. Ironically, after weeks of suspecting that Malfoy was up to something, he finally had some evidence at a time when he could not act upon it himself.
“The castle is going to be vulnerable with Dumbledore gone,” said Harry. “The DA coins still work, right, Hermione?”
“Good. Get whoever you can to help you patrol the halls. Snape and Malfoy may be aware of whatever defences Dumbledore has set about the castle, but they won’t be expecting you lot to be watching out for them.”
“Harry, I really don’t think—”
“It’s not a risk we can afford to take! Don’t look at me like that, Hermione. I’ve got to go. Take these...” He handed over the Marauders’ Map and the balled up pair of socks.
“What do we need socks for?” asked Ron as he held them up to get a closer look at them.
“The rest of the Felix Felicis is wrapped up in it. If each of you and Ginny take an equal share, you should each be granted about two hours of luck.”
“Ginny? You want her to have some?”
Harry’s words stuck in his throat. Admitting that he was in love with his best friend’s sister just didn’t seem appropriate at this time. Ron, however, was not about to let it go.
“What are you on about? What’s going on between you and Ginny?”
“I don’t have time to explain. Just make sure she gets some, okay?” Harry rushed out of the common room before either of his best friends could utter another word.
As Harry left the room, Ron and Hermione looked at each other in confusion.
“Reckon he’s finally lost it?” said Ron.
“I don’t know,” replied Hermione. “But it really wouldn’t hurt to patrol the castle a bit, just in case.”
Ron nodded in agreement. “What about Ginny?”
“She’s probably one of the few people who are going to respond to the DA coin anyway. We’ll get her to take her share of the potion when she gets here.” And with that she brought her own DA Galleon out of her pocket and pressed her wand to it.
Approximately half an hour later, the two friends had been joined by Neville, Luna and Ginny in the same classroom in which Hermione had attacked Ron with canaries several months ago. The other students listened intently as Hermione explained why they had been summoned. When she finally finished, she was surprised that no one had any questions for her.
“I’ll take the seventh floor,” volunteered Neville.
Hermione nodded and the round-faced boy left the room.
“We’ll take the sixth floor,” said Ginny, and she grabbed Luna’s hand and began moving towards the doorway.
“Ginny, wait!” called Hermione.
The petite redhead stopped and looked down at the floor. Now was not the time to discuss Harry, but she had a feeling that was exactly what her friend wanted to do. Wasn’t it enough that she was willing to comply with Harry’s request to guard the castle? Ginny looked at Luna as she let go of the other girl’s hand and said, “I’ll be right back.”
Luna merely smiled in reassurance, and then sauntered over to the front of the classroom, where Ron was still leaning casually against the teacher’s desk.
When Ginny reached the corner of the classroom where Hermione was waiting for her, she was surprised to suddenly be holding a glass bottle that was partially filled with a golden-coloured potion.
“What’s this?” she asked as she held it up to look at it.
“Felix Felicis, liquid luck.”
Ginny raised an eyebrow, indicating she wanted more of an explanation.
“Harry wanted you to have it,” Hermione continued.
Ginny’s face began to redden in anger. “If he thinks he can buy my forgiveness—”
“It’s not that.”
“It doesn’t half look like it.”
“Did you see me giving any to Neville or Luna?”
Ginny paused at the question. “Well, why didn’t you?” she asked. “If tonight could be as dangerous as you say, don’t they deserve all the help they can get too?”
“I agree with you, but it wasn’t my decision. It was Harry’s. He—”
“...wants to protect me again,” Ginny finished with a frown.
After a few moments, Hermione said, “You know the real reason he wants to protect you, don’t you?”
Ginny slowly shook her head in disbelief and said, “I’m sorry, Hermione. Now is not the time to try to convince me—again—that he has feelings for me. It’s just not something I can believe right now.” Her face reinforced her statement, but she did not return the bottle to her friend, either.
She quickly began walking to the door, tipping Luna to follow her with a flick of her head.
“You need to drink it!” Ron called after her.
“I’ll do it when I’m bloody well ready!” she yelled back.
Ron and Hermione looked helplessly at the younger girl’s retreating back, hoping her temper would not get the better of her for too long.
A few hours later, Ginny was running down the sixth floor hallway thinking that she could not believe she had almost acted like a complete idiot—again. As she and Luna had begun patrolling their designated area, she had engaged in a mental tug-of-war over whether to drink the Felix Felicis or not. In the end, it had come down to one thing: despite their recent troubles, she trusted Harry—completely.
And so she had shared the potion with Luna just as they began their third pass of the castle. Quite frankly, the luck potion was the most amazing thing she had ever drunk. When they finally found some of the trouble Harry had been anticipating, nothing could touch them. Both of them had evaded numerous hexes and curses from Death Eaters with ease, while all of their spells had found their mark. Ginny resolved to make things right with Harry at her first available opportunity—and to pay more attention in Potions.
As she spun around on one foot to avoid a flash of purple spell fire, she shot off her own Stunning Spell, taking down a hooded invader who had shrugged off one of her earlier Confundus Charms. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw another black hooded figure raise its wand.
“Luna, look out!”
The brave Ravenclaw was one step ahead of her and dove to the floor, throwing her hands over her head as the spell she avoided hit the wall behind her, blasting the stonework and creating a large cloud of dust and gravel.
“Impedimenta!” shouted Ginny, knocking Luna’s attacker to the ground.
“Incarcerous!” cried Luna, wrapping her would-be assailant in magical ropes to finish off what her friend had started.
Both girls bent over, breathing heavily, but kept their eyes on the two Death Eaters they had just subdued.
“Filthy blood-traitors!” said the one who was still conscious.
“Silencio,” said Luna calmly.
The two girls took another few moments to catch their breath before grabbing the Death Eaters’ wands and tossing them out a nearby window.
“Luna,” said Ginny, still panting slightly, “I need to see what else is going on. I need—”
“...to find Harry,” finished her friend with a slight smile. “Go on. I’ll keep an eye on these two.”
Ginny dashed down the hall without another word. As she neared a staircase, she heard the unmistakable sound of duelling from the floor above. She rushed up the stairs hoping she would see Harry soon, but not wanting him to be part of the chaos she was about to encounter. Her pace involuntarily slowed as she neared the last few stairs, and a green flash of light streaked overhead.
She mentally thanked Harry again for the sip of luck potion and dove up the last few steps, landing prone on the floor.
“Chiroptera Mucosi!” she cried with a flourish of her wand.
Her patented Bat Bogey Hex found its mark, and a Death Eater who had been about to hex Neville Longbottom was instead furiously waving his hands at brown-green pests that were flapping around his face.
“Stupefy!” yelled Neville from the floor, taking advantage of the distraction Ginny had provided him. The masked wizard dropped like a bag of rocks, his head hitting the floor with a sickening crack.
Ginny didn’t bother terminating her hex as she stepped over the unconscious form and made her way to her friend.
“Are you all right?” she asked, kneeling down to check on him.
“It’s just a twisted ankle. I’m fine,” he said quickly. “You need to go and check on Bill. He started fighting someone named Greyback, and their duel took them down the hall and around the corner.”
Ginny did not need to be told twice and took off in the direction Neville had indicated. When had Bill arrived? Things were pretty serious if members of the Order of the Phoenix needed to be brought in, but she already knew that, having dispatched two Death Eaters already with Luna.
Just as she reached a corner, she felt a slight tingling sensation, and she tripped over her own feet. She put her hand on the wall and barely stayed upright. Her confidence began to falter. Was the potion wearing off? Even if it was, she had no choice but to push forward. Her oldest brother was an accomplished wizard, but Neville sounded quite worried.
She heard the struggle before she saw it. She turned the corner and what she saw became burned into her memory forever. Bill was lying on the floor, covered in blood. On top of him was a monster of a man, clawing at Bill’s face with his hands and his jaws at Bill’s throat.
She pointed her wand at Greyback just as she heard someone behind her shout something that she couldn’t make out. Her Quidditch reflexes took over and she tried to duck... and then everything went black.
As she opened her eyes, Ginny’s first thought was of the pounding ache at the back of her head. She briefly considered how much worse things might have been if she hadn’t ducked when she did. She lifted her head gingerly from the pillow and looked around to get her bearings. The hospital wing. She wasn’t quite sure how she ended up here, but she was quite thankful to be alive. It didn’t take long for her to realise that she was not alone.
Standing between her bed and the one to her left was Ron. He was paler than she had ever seen him. There were tracks on his face that must have been made by tears cutting through some patches of blood. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen Ron cry and she was suddenly very afraid. She leaned forward to look around her brother to get a look at who he was watching over, despite her fear of who she would find.
The figure’s chest rose and fell, indicating he was still alive. He had a head of red hair that was difficult to distinguish because of the amount of blood on it. She let loose some of the breath she had been holding at the relief she felt that it wasn’t Harry. It was difficult to make out the facial features because of the mutilation... And then the realisation of the body’s identity hit her like a brick wall. It was Bill. And he was in here because she hadn’t been able to save him. Ron’s voice broke her growing agony.
Ginny gasped and put her hands over her mouth. Ron’s voice sounded so empty, as if he could not comprehend everything that had just happened.
“I heard that Harry’s okay... but... but Bill is... is...”
Ginny couldn’t speak. She pulled the covers aside and rose from her bed. Ron welcomed her into an awkward one-armed embrace, never taking his eyes off of Bill. But Ginny could only look at Bill’s chest, desperately avoiding looking at his face. When her guilt consumed her totally, she turned her face into Ron’s chest and began to weep.
Harry stared at the body that was still... much too still to be believed. There was nothing more he could do, but he could not bring himself to leave Professor Dumbledore’s side. Where would he go, anyway? Hagrid had a hand on his shoulder, but for all its trembling, Harry did not even notice it was there.
Then his hand was enclosed in a smaller hand. Silently, its gentle pressure brought him to his feet and began leading him back to the castle. He walked blindly through the crowd of students gathered around the body, not caring where he was going. As long as he wasn’t being led towards Snape, it didn’t matter anyway. He put one foot in front of the other, his mind unaware of its surroundings and numb to the building despair within himself. It wasn’t until someone opened a familiar set of doors that he realized he was walking into the hospital wing. Something stirred inside him when his eyes found a beautiful mane of red hair and an equally familiar taller one standing next to a hospital bed.
His first thought was of relief that Ginny was not the one in the hospital bed. As he took in the fatigue and anxiousness of her face, he was suddenly aware of the fact that he was holding someone’s hand—and it wasn’t Ginny’s. He was about to look to his side to see who had led him here when he heard screams.
Harry’s head snapped back to the bed in front of him. He had never heard Ron’s voice full of such anguish before. But Ginny’s scream immediately after it was even worse.