Harry and Ginny slept late into the morning the next day. By the time they had both showered and got dressed, many of the Gryffindors had left for lunch. Hermione and all of the Weasley brothers were still waiting, though, and the extended family went down to the Great Hall together. The procession moved considerably faster once the twins discovered that Harry’s chair moved down the stairs more quickly when pushed.
Padma and Parvati were both in the Hall, but they sat at their own house tables. As the group passed Parvati, Fred rested his hands briefly on her shoulders and whispered, “Morning, Pinks,” which caused the dark-skinned girl to grin and flush visibly. Then she glanced up at him, looking worried, but he merely winked as they all moved further up the table.
On their way back to Gryffindor Tower, Hermione led the entire group — minus Percy, who had left the Hall with Penelope — into an empty classroom. Then she locked the door with a charm, settled into a desk, and looked attentively at Ginny.
That’s how long she can wait, then.
“It doesn’t have to be now,” Hermione said. “Truly it doesn’t, but it seems like a good time, if you’re willing.”
“It’s fine,” Harry said. “Hopefully we can get it all in the right order.”
He and Ginny started talking about their trip to the Chamber of Secrets, but that soon required that Ron and the twins recount their journey into the Forbidden Forest for Hermione’s benefit. Their story sparked Ginny’s own memories of that night, which played through their minds in flashes of colour and sound.
“I’m so sorry for all of that,” Ginny said, looking between her brothers. “I should’ve said it then. The whole idea was completely stupid of me, and I nearly got all five of us killed.”
“If you’ll recall, we tried to go in your place because we thought it was a good idea, too,” Fred said.
George shrugged. “Which really makes it Fred’s fault for complaining about how we missed all of the adventures.”
“I’m serious, though,” Ginny insisted. “It was my fault, no matter what you say.”
“I think they have a point, Ginny,” Hermione said. “They left for the forest without you, and that certainly wasn’t your choice.”
“But Ron only—”
Her youngest brother shook his head. “I told you to forget it. You got me in, and you got me out.”
“Exactly,” Fred said.
“See?” Hermione said. “No one blames you.”
“But they should!” Ginny said. “Especially you, Hermione. You tried so hard to help me, and all I did was—”
“All you did was survive something terrible that I can barely imagine,” the older girl finished. “I’m not going to blame you, Ginny, no matter how much you think I should. Now, tell me where the Chamber really was, if it wasn’t in the Forest.”
How can they just ignore it like that?
They know you were doing the best you could, and that’s enough.
I still feel like I should make it up to them somehow.
Then we’ll remember that the next time Ron won’t stop talking about Quidditch or Hermione insists on revising through the weekend.
Or when the twins call us names?
“At your convenience, titches,” Fred said. “Don’t let us rush you.”
Grinning, Harry and Ginny began to talk about the previous night as well as they could. Somewhere along the way, they decided not to bother hiding anything from their friends, so they included Tom’s threats to Ginny and Fawkes’ relentless examination of her memories.
“And this Tom fellow was just a memory of You-Know-Who when he was sixteen?” Fred asked. “Not an actual person?”
“Ow!” Ron said. He clutched at the pocket of his robes and then upended it, letting Scabbers fall to the floor and run off into a corner. “He scratched me again! Bloody rat’s either asleep or berserk these days.”
Fred snorted. “How would you feel if you had to live in someone’s p—” He cut off abruptly and glanced guiltily at Ginny.
“Normally he likes it,” Ron muttered.
“Never mind that,” Hermione said. “I can’t believe You-Know-Who managed to get into the school again. And right under our noses!”
“Again?” George asked. “What’s this ‘again’?”
Over the next half hour, the twins heard all about Voldemort’s pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone, and they even coaxed Ron into telling them about the troll he had beaten. Ginny and Harry stuck to their resolve not to tell anyone that the troll had died, though.
“You’re mad, the lot of you,” George said at last. “Bloody impressive—”
“Bordering on heroic,” Fred added.
“—but utterly mad.”
“Except Hermione,” Ron said.
Ginny nodded. “She mostly keeps us from being even more foolish.”
“Well, that’s true,” George said. “But she was all moon-eyed for Lockhart, which is also mad.”
Oh, Merlin, we forgot.
“Err… about that,” Harry said.
They recounted Tom’s encounter with Lockhart in the corridor and found themselves trying to make ‘Gilbert’ sound slightly braver than he had been.
“Memory charms?” Hermione said when they had finished. She slumped in her chair. “That does explain everything, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed it does,” Fred said. “And it means we’ve wasted another year in that class.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Ginny said. The others turned to her incredulously. “Well, all of those things happened to someone, didn’t they? Without all the dazzling smiles and dramatic poses, yes, but someone must have travelled with trolls and spent a year with the yeti. We should be able to learn something from the bits that actually happened.”
“I appreciate what you’re trying to do,” Hermione said. “Really, I do. You may even be right. But how would we ever tell the real events from the ones he added?”
“Easy,” Ron said. “The better it makes him look, the more likely he added it.”
A few minutes before two o’clock, Harry and Ginny left to visit Professor McGonagall. They were relieved to find her waiting in her office.
“Good afternoon,” she said as Harry settled his chair a couple of inches from Ginny’s. “I’m glad to see you up and about.”
“Thanks, Professor,” Harry said. “We were afraid you wouldn’t have time this afternoon.”
McGonagall shook her head slightly. “Why do you persist in thinking that I won’t have time for you? It has indeed been a hectic day, but I have been looking forward to this.”
They smiled hesitantly. “We have, too.”
“How are you feeling after a night’s rest?”
“Better, we think,” Ginny said. “More awake than we’ve been in a long time.”
“And in good spirits?” McGonagall asked.
“Definitely,” Harry said. “It’s like… like opening an eye that’s been swollen shut for six weeks.”
“Hmm,” the professor said neutrally. She studied Ginny for a moment. “But?”
Nothing gets past her.
Ginny sighed and slumped in her chair. “I keep seeing people and realising that I treated them horribly. Hermione, my brothers… even people I never really talk to, but when I see them I remember that they smiled at me once and I ignored them. I feel terrible about it.”
“You cannot blame a one-eyed witch for not seeing everything, Ginny.”
She shrugged. “I know, but… well, it sounds silly, but they didn’t know I only had one eye, did they? They knew I was upset, but they didn’t understand I was—”
“Broken,” Harry said.
“Yeah. And even so, I should have at least been polite, shouldn’t I?”
“Why should you be able to hide your feelings better than anyone else?” McGonagall asked. “You may be different in many ways, but you’re just like the rest of us in that.”
“I suppose,” Ginny said. “Still, I can’t help feeling that I should apologise to people.”
“Did you apologise to Miss Granger and your brothers? I’m sure you’ve found time to speak with them by now.”
They nodded. “Just before we came here.”
“And how did they react?”
Ginny and Harry considered their friends’ reactions for a moment. “Pretty much the way you did, Professor.”
“They said it wasn’t her fault,” Harry added, “and to forget about it, more or less.”
“As I expected. Do you take that to mean that they have forgiven you for whatever harm you may have caused them?”
That’s definitely what they meant.
I know. Even if I don’t agree with them.
“Then you must try to forgive yourself, also. If it makes you feel better to apologise, then do so, but do it only once and then be done with it. There is nothing to be gained by clinging to your regrets.”
“I suppose you’re right. I’ll try.”
“Good. Now, if you don’t mind, there are several items I would like to discuss with you while you’re here. If we can get them out of the way, then we won’t have to worry about fitting them in later.”
Ginny folded her legs beneath her and leaned over to put her head on Harry’s shoulder. “That’s fine, Professor.”
McGonagall nodded and glanced at a small square of parchment on her desk. “First, you may be relieved to hear that I spent considerable time this morning explaining everything to your parents by Floo. They deserved to know, and I hoped to spare you another recitation.”
“Oh,” Ginny said, startled. “Thanks.”
I didn’t even think about them, Ginny said.
We were busy.
“Err… how were they?”
“Quite relieved, and quite proud, I think,” McGonagall said. “I had not yet contacted them about Ginny’s disappearance when Harry left the hospital wing last night, and so I was able to tell them the whole story.”
Ginny lifted her head quickly, but the professor raised a calming hand. “I told them the events of the evening as well as I knew them, but I did not mention who Tom Riddle has become. I leave that decision to you.”
“Thanks,” Ginny said. “I think we should tell them, but perhaps not just now.”
“As you like. They wanted to come here to see you both and be certain of your good health, but I persuaded them not to. I said that you needed to recover in several ways and might prefer the normal routine of the castle for the rest of term.”
Ginny blinked. “I’m surprised that worked.”
“It is ordinarily very rare for a student’s parents to visit them at the school, and we have already made an exception twice this year. Part of what we teach here is how to get along with things on your own, and your parents understand that. It does not hurt that in two weeks they will have access to you full-time.”
It would be nice to end the term sort of normally, rather than being fussed over.
Moreso than Madam Pomfrey already will, you mean?
“However,” McGonagall said. “If you wish to travel home on an evening or weekend, and if you request permission first, I will not forbid you.”
“We’ll think about it,” Ginny said. “Right now it sounds nice just to be here and be normal. We can talk to them when we get home.”
“I leave it to you to decide, then.
“Next, we must discuss your courses for next year,” McGonagall said. “Neither of you have turned in your forms, but I was happy to wait until you were of sound mind. Now, however, you need to decide. I would prefer that you tell me today, but I can wait until tomorrow if necessary.”
Goodness, I’d completely forgotten about that.
We’d narrowed it down a lot. Surely we can come up with something without making her wait anymore.
Do you suppose she’d let us…
Maybe. It’s worth asking.
“Well, Professor, you asked us to consider Arithmancy, and we have.” They still felt a happy glow when they remembered her fervent faith in their abilities. “The Headmaster wanted us to take Divination, so we thought about that, too.”
“And?” McGonagall asked.
“We asked around, and everyone says most of the work in Divination is outside of lessons,” Harry said.
“But with Arithmancy,” Ginny added, “you do most of the assignments during lessons and then take time between to read ahead.”
The professor nodded. “That is not always the case for either subject, but I agree with the generalities. You are thinking that you’d prefer more free time outside of lessons?”
“No, not really,” Ginny said. “We were thinking that perhaps we could take both. One for each of us.”
McGonagall raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You do realise that the lessons occur simultaneously?”
They nodded. “Yes, but we think we can do it,” Harry said. “Especially if we can give most of our attention to Arithmancy during lessons and then work on Divination in the evenings.”
“Hmm,” McGonagall said, tapping her fingers lightly. “And Ronald signed up for Divination, while Miss Granger signed up for Arithmancy.”
“Did she?” Ginny asked. “We assumed she would, but she never said.”
The professor made a small hmph sound. “She did indeed. With one of them available to help you with anything you miss, I suppose it might be possible. Have you spent much time focusing on separate things?”
“Well, no, not recently,” Harry said. “But we have done it before, and we can practice over the holiday.”
“And if we can’t manage it after all, maybe one of us could switch after a week or two. Is that allowed?”
McGonagall nodded. “It is, though it’s not encouraged.” She tapped her fingers again and then shrugged. “I see no reason to dissuade you. I am curious, though. You are usually so committed to staying together. Why would you choose to separate?”
They paused for a moment to gather their scattered reasoning. “A few reasons, really,” Harry said. “We liked what you said about learning how magic works so we can control it better. It’s all well and good to keep the Basilisk from hurting people, but we haven’t forgotten about Draco last year.”
“A very wise perspective,” McGonagall said.
“But we also like the idea of understanding why we are, err… the way we are,” Ginny said.
We forgot about…
She should know, though.
Ginny took a deep breath. “We skipped something when we told you about Tom, Professor. Not that we wanted to hide it, not really. We were just… other things were more important.”
McGonagall looked wary, but she nodded. “Go on.”
“He didn’t think we’re connected. He talked about an ‘essence’ that wizards and witches have that enables them to do magic.”
What did he say about—
“Oh, and he said it might affect personality, too. He thought that we share one of those essences rather than having two that are linked somehow.”
“You say that more casually than I might have expected,” the professor said.
“It feels right,” Harry said. “It… I dunno… it fits. And it would explain the wands.”
“I suppose it might,” McGonagall said. She frowned slightly and put down her tea. “May I speak plainly?”
They nodded warily.
“Tom Riddle was brilliant even at sixteen, and I understand that he spent his time at Hogwarts learning absolutely everything he could about magic. He also appears to have had full access to your memories, and he seems to have experienced your unique situation first-hand. Though it pains me to say it, that makes him the most knowledgeable person on the subject. Therefore, if he had a theory about your nature, then we would be foolish to discount it.”
“But he was really good at getting people to do what he wanted,” Ginny said quietly. “Really good. What if he said that to get me to—”
She stopped talking abruptly, not wanting to talk about Tom’s plans and not knowing how to cover for her slip.
“To believe that you could be Petrified indefinitely?” McGonagall asked in a gentle voice.
Ginny nodded. “How did you know?”
“Fawkes saw it in your memory and shared it with the Headmaster. He shared it with me because he wanted me to understand what you’d been through. I assure you that no-one else will hear about it from us.”
I suppose that’s okay.
We probably would have told her eventually, right?
I expect so. I wish Fawkes hadn’t talked about it in the first place, though.
“I agree that you would have to believe his theory about essences to think his plan was plausible. But I would point out that if he did not believe it, then he went to unusual lengths to convince you of the falsehood.”
They thought for a moment. “He might have been stalling,” Harry said.
“True, so while we should not accept the theory without question, we should not dismiss it, either.”
They all sat quietly for a few moments. “You were relating that to Divination, I believe?” McGonagall asked.
“Oh, right. Well, we’d like to find out more about ourselves if we can. And if the Headmaster thinks that Divination might help…”
McGonagall looked a bit resigned. “Then we would be foolish to discount that, as well.”
“And as for being separated,” Ginny said, “being in different rooms during lessons isn’t any more separation than being at different desks. It’s not as though any professors allow us to touch very much.”
“Nor will that change,” their Head of House said repressively, though her lips quirked upwards.
“Right, so why not try both subjects?”
The professor nodded and retrieved her teacup. “Very well. Which of you will take which?”
“Ron’s taking Divination, so we thought about sending Harry with him. We can’t come up with any better reasons either way. What do you think?”
“It is as good a reason as any I can think of,” McGonagall said. “I suspect that Professor Trelawney will enjoy having you in class, Harry.”
What does that mean?
“Err… good. We’ve heard she’s bar— interesting.”
“Indeed she is,” McGonagall said. “And that brings us to our next topic. You will be relieved to hear that Gilderoy Lockhart has been located. He had managed to put on one of the suits of armour and was standing very still on the sixth floor.”
“Oh. That’s great,” Ginny said. “Is he all right?”
McGonagall shrugged. “He is physically healthy. Unfortunately, he has no idea who he is, where he is, or what has happened to him. He is, however, clearly frightened by anyone with red hair.”
Well, that just figures.
“We’re sorry to hear that, Professor,” Harry said, “but it wasn’t really her.”
“No, it wasn’t,” the older witch admitted, “but he doesn’t know that. Hopefully it will never become an issue. He has been transferred to long-term care at St. Mungo’s until such a time as he can care for himself.”
McGonagall picked up an envelope from her desk and held it towards them. “Finally, Madam Pomfrey has provided instructions for both of you to follow over the holiday. Harry, you of course need to recover from Petrification and over-exertion. And you, Ginny, need to recover from starving yourself for six weeks.”
Ginny flushed and fixed her eyes on the floor, but she nodded. Harry leaned forward and took the envelope.
“You will find that many of the instructions are similar. You must both eat properly, build up your strength and endurance, and avoid further injury. A copy of these instructions has also been sent to your parents, Ginny, with a bit more detail about your nutritional requirements.”
They had a sudden thought, and Harry sighed. “We won’t be able to play Quidditch, will we?”
“Not for several weeks in your case, Harry, but you should be ready for next season. Ginny, you are permitted to play this weekend if you wish.”
That’s something, I suppose.
I hate to play when you’re right there watching. It seems wrong.
Not if I can’t even stand up. And at least this time we’ll be able to enjoy it properly.
Ginny nodded. “Thanks, Professor.”
They waited attentively for a few moments until McGonagall turned her square of parchment face-down.
“I have one more request, if you will indulge me.” She opened a drawer and pulled out a plain spoon, which she placed on the edge of her desk in front of them. “A fork, if you please.”
This should be you.
Ginny drew her wand, leaned forward, and tapped the spoon once. It transfigured smoothly into a four-tined fork with the outline of lion’s head embossed on the handle.
McGonagall smiled. “Thank you. I find that reassuring.”
“I understand, Professor,” Ginny said. “I’m sort of glad to see it, too.”
The professor stood, picked up the fork, and placed it on a nearby shelf. Then she conjured familiar-looking label with the date and time. “That’s everything I wanted us to talk about,” she said as she resumed her seat. “What else is on your mind today?”
“Um, we don’t have a list,” Harry said. “But we’ve been thinking…”
“You said it was okay to apologise if it helps, right?” Ginny asked.
“And you offered to let us Shift back to The Burrow if we wanted.”
“I did,” McGonagall said. “How are those two things related? Have you changed your mind about visiting your parents?”
Ginny shook her head. “No. We were wondering if, instead of going home… if maybe you’d let us talk to Hagrid and see if he would be willing to take us into the forest.”
“During the day,” Harry added. “With him. And Fang.”
They watched their professor’s face closely as her expression shifted from curious to cautious. “And why would you want to do that?”
“So we could talk to him, partly,” Ginny said. “Make sure he’s all right.”
“We know we could do that in his cabin, or in the castle,” Harry said. “But…”
They did not care to admit out loud that Ginny wanted to apologise to a forest. How would I even do that? Just stand in the middle and shout?
Ginny straightened excitedly as an idea occurred to them. “We could plant a tree. You know, where the spiders were. Just to…er…” Her enthusiasm waned as she realised how silly she must sound. “To help out.”
“I see,” McGonagall said. They waited for nearly a minute while she stared at the forest outside the window and tapped her fingers. “I believe I told you last year that the interior of the forest is no place for students?”
Oh well. It was a silly idea.
“Good. I’m glad you remember. That is why I will insist on accompanying you also if Hagrid agrees to go.”
For a moment, they were too surprised to speak. “Oh,” Ginny said at last. “Okay. But… why?”
“Why on earth am I allowing this at all, you mean?” They nodded. “You seem to gain comfort from confronting your prior actions now that you have a clear head. I don’t entirely understand it, but it is nonetheless true. If it helps you, and if Hagrid agrees, then I will do my best to make it safe for you. Provided, of course, that you return to the castle immediately if so instructed. And that you do not speak widely about the experience afterwards.”
They nodded again. “That’s fine with us. I’m not sure I could explain it anyway.”
“Very well,” McGonagall said. “I will speak to Hagrid.”
They spent a few more minutes with the Professor and then returned to Gryffindor Tower to rest and relax.
That night as Harry eased himself into bed, he noticed a lump under his pillow. When he pulled it out, he found his father’s Invisibility Cloak and a short note.
Something dropped this somewhere.
Well, that’s a relief, Ginny said as she appeared at the other end of the bed.
Where did he find it, though? Did he go to the Chamber?
I suppose he must have done. Fine with me, though.
This way we don’t have to go back.
Harry draped it around her shoulders and pulled the hood up, hiding her warm smile from sight.
Lessons resumed on Monday except for Defence, which had been cancelled entirely in Lockhart’s absence. At breakfast on Tuesday, Hedwig delivered a note from Professor McGonagall saying that Hagrid had agreed and that they would all visit the forest the following afternoon.
That evening, Harry and Ginny spotted Neville at a small table in the corner of the common room, and Harry manoeuvred his chair through the other students with Ginny in his wake.
“Hi, Neville,” Harry said.
Neville looked up from the essay he was copying onto fresh parchment. “Hullo. How are you feeling?”
“A bit better, I think,” Harry said.
“Neville…” Ginny began. Then, catching herself, she said, “Hi. How are you?”
“Hey, Ginny,” he said. “Good, thanks.”
She sat in the empty chair opposite him. “Look, I was wondering if you could help me with something.”
“Um, sure,” Neville said. “What is it?”
“Well, I want to plant a tree, and I thought you could tell me how to do it properly.”
“What kind of tree?”
I guess that would matter.
Not that we can tell them apart.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Ginny said. “A big one, maybe?”
“Okay,” Neville said slowly. “Where do you want to plant it?”
“Er… here. In the forest, I mean.”
Neville cocked his head. “Why do you want to plant a tree in the forest? There’s thousands already, and there’s probably not much room for another one.”
We might as well tell him, right?
I think so. You know he won’t tell anyone.
Ginny sighed and lowered her voice. “You remember that fire a couple of weeks ago? The one the Hufflepuffs saw at night? Well, I started it. Accidentally. Sort of.” Ginny shook her head and started over. “Anyway, a lot of trees died, and I… well, I thought it would be good to put one back. Or maybe more than one, if it’s easy.”
Neville stared at her for a moment, and then he looked at Harry inquisitively.
“It’s true. I wasn’t there, obviously, but McGonagall knows all about it. She’s taking Ginny back to plant the tree. She said I could go along, but we’re supposed to keep it quiet.”
“Oh.” Neville nodded a few times, as though agreeing with himself about something. “All right, then. Yeah, I can help.”
To Harry and Ginny’s surprise, the other boy began giving them instructions with an enthusiasm they could not remember seeing before.
He’s always liked plants, but this is different somehow.
It’s like someone hit him with a Cheering Charm.
Fifteen minutes later, Ginny had a written list of instructions, and Neville was leading them slowly across the grounds to the greenhouses. He gave her a small bag of seeds and a bottle of brown sludge that he said would help get them going. He also pointed out Professor Sprout’s supply of Hippogriff dung and a pile of burlap sacks. He and Ginny found shovels and filled two of the sacks, which they left outside the greenhouse to pick up later.
“Do we have to dig the holes by hand, or can we levitate the dirt away?” Harry asked. “I’d like to be able to help.”
“Oh, you can use magic,” Neville said. “It doesn’t matter to the seeds. I just think a shovel is easier sometimes.”
I don’t think we’ll have time for all those seeds if we use a shovel, anyway. Professor McGonagall said we’d only have an hour or so.
As they walked back to the school, Neville happily shared tips about hole spacing, shade, and irrigation, but Harry and Ginny quickly lost track of it all.
Outside the portrait of the Fat Lady, Neville stopped and faced Ginny squarely. His gaze flicked back and forth between her eyes and some spot above her head. “I think it’s good that you’re re-planting the trees. Fires happen sometimes, and the forest would grow back on its own soon enough, but… I think it’s good to help. Not everyone would care.”
Ginny smiled, relieved that he understood. “Thanks, Neville. You’ve been a big help.”
“Let me know how they do, will you?” he asked. “I’m going to clean up a bit. You coming, Harry?”
He shook his head. “This chair is so slow on the stairs that it’s not worth it. You and Ginny did all the work, anyway.”
“It was fun,” Neville said, shrugging. He gave the password and held the portrait open as Harry guided his chair into the common room. “See you later.”
Late the next afternoon, Ginny and Harry went down to Hagrid’s cabin. Professor McGonagall was already waiting for them, and she cast a spell on each of them so that they wouldn’t be spotted from the castle. Then, after a brief stop at the greenhouses to pick up the odiferous burlap sacks — which the professor promptly charmed to hover along behind them at some distance — the four set off into the edge of the forest.
Hagrid had been oddly quiet since the two students arrived, though he had tied a rope around his waist to tow Harry along the uneven ground. Ginny could not stand the silence for long, though.
“Have you been into the forest since you got back, Hagrid?” she asked.
“Aye,” he said. “Firs’ day.”
Professor McGonagall removed the invisibility spells, and Ginny smiled her thanks. “And… and have you found Aragog?”
“That I have,” Hagrid said, sighing heavily.
Oh, Merlin, I must’ve killed him.
“An’ I ‘ad a fair few words to say to him, didn’ I jus!” Hagrid said loudly, his stoicism breaking. “Can’ believe he let ‘is lot go after yeh.”
“He’s alive?” Harry asked the huge man’s back, unsure what answer they wanted to hear.
Hagrid nodded. “Bit singed, but ‘e’ll be fine.”
“And he told you what happened?”
“’E did. I might’ve liked a bit o’ remorse, but he tol’ it th’ way it ‘appened, I reckon. I’d say ‘e learned a thing or two abou’ messin’ with students.”
“I’m sorry, Hagrid,” Ginny said. “I got a bit carried away.”
“Pah!” Hagrid said. “Yeh was defendin’ yer brothers, is all. I don’ blame yeh. I’m th’ one what sent you there, ain’t I?”
He stopped suddenly and turned around to face Professor McGonagall, who walked at the rear with her wand ready. “Hones’, Perfessor, I wouldn’atol’ ‘em to find Aragog if I hadn’ thought they’d be safe with ‘im. I woulda sworn he’d let ‘em be if they said they was friends o’ mine.”
“I believe you, Hagrid,” McGonagall said. “Unfortunately, Aragog let his descendants’ instincts run unchecked.”
Hagrid set off again. “Ah, I don’ blame ‘em. They don’ have Aragog’s brains, y’see. They were jus’ tryin’ to get by. Same as you, li’l Ginny. Protectin’ yer family, like yeh should.”
“You’re quite certain that the remaining Acromantulae have left the area?” McGonagall asked. “I would not wish to give them a chance to retaliate.”
“Nah, they’re long gone,” Hagrid said. “Aragog’ll find a new place, an’ e’s promised not t’ let the family grow so much.”
They walked in silence for a while. In broad daylight, and without the need to watch his footing, Harry had a chance to look around and notice that the forest was beautiful in its way. The ancient trees created a shaded canopy where dozens of different types of smaller plants flourished, many with colourful blossoms or fantastically twisted branches. There were plenty of brambles and plants that waved their stalks hungrily, but they were easy to avoid. With only the sound of their footsteps in the loamy turf, the forest took on a serene majesty that reminded Harry and Ginny of the Great Hall when it was empty.
Soon enough, they began to see signs of the recent fire. The living trees were mixed with fallen trunks, and holes in the high canopy allowed more light to reach the ground. Within a few minutes, they emerged into the original clearing, where full sunlight illuminated drifts of ash and a few dark mounds that were mercifully indistinguishable. To their surprise, a few tiny sprigs of green were already poking up from the ruin.
“Go on, then,” McGonagall said. “Hagrid and I will keep watch. Mind the time, please.”
Harry let go of the rope tied to Hagrid’s waist, and Ginny pushed his chair into the middle of the clearing. After a few moments, the two bags of fertilizer caught up and hovered at Ginny’s back.
Let’s get going, then, Harry said. He drew his wand and used it to levitate ash away from the ground at his feet, and when he reached the soil he moved that aside to leave a small hole. Then Ginny dropped a single seed into the hole, poured some of the brown sludge on top of it, and tapped the muddy mixture with her wand. Finally, as Harry moved a few yards away to make another hole, Ginny used a trowel to scoop fertilizer onto the seed. She walked over to him with another seed ready, and he levitated the dirt from the first hole back into place atop the fertilizer.
They worked their way out from the centre of the clearing, following a rough spiral mostly defined by the bits of ground that Harry could cross easily. This way, they avoided the larger lumps, and they deliberately veered away from the entrance to Aragog’s cave. Before long they had fallen into a rhythm and were able to plant a new seed in less than a minute.
As they were nearing the edge of the clearing, Ginny looked over and saw a tiny green shoot emerging from their very first hole.
Neville said it would be quick, but I didn’t think we’d actually get to see it.
They made a final, large loop around the edge of the clearing, watching as new shoots appeared behind them. When they finished the circle, they found Professor McGonagall and Hagrid waiting with Ronan, the centaur they had met the previous year.
“Greetings, little sister,” Ronan said, nodding gravely to Ginny.
“Hello, Ronan,” she said. “It’s good to see you again. This is my friend, Harry.”
The centaur nodded again to Harry. “Welcome, little brother.”
“Why do you call us that?” Ginny asked.
“I read what is written in the shadows,” Ronan said.
Hagrid cleared his throat and smiled widely. “An’ how’s Mars, then?”
“Oh,” Hagrid said, looking puzzled. “Good, then.”
Ronan pivoted to face McGonagall. “I would convey knowledge to you.”
“From whom, may I ask?” the professor asked.
McGonagall sniffed. “I see. What knowledge is it?”
Ronan waved at Harry and Ginny. “These young do not require protection while in this forest.”
“I will continue to be the judge of that, if you don’t mind.”
“We may not judge,” Ronan said, tilting his head up to the sky. “We may only see. They are safe here.”
“You will forgive me if I don’t take your word for it,” McGonagall said sharply.
Ronan nodded. “It is expected.”
He turned back to Harry and Ginny. “Be tranquil, young ones. May your recovery be swift.”
“Thanks,” Harry said.
The centaur surged into a trot that carried him quickly out of sight. As his hoof beats faded, Harry and Ginny noticed that birdsong had replaced the earlier silence in the forest.
“Come, Ginny and Harry,” McGonagall said. “In spite of Ronan’s assurances, I would prefer to return to the castle well before sunset.”
Harry grabbed the rope again, and they walked back through the forest without hearing or seeing anything except birds and squirrels.
That weekend, Ginny and the rest of the Gryffindor team played Ravenclaw in the last Quidditch match of the season. They needed to score at least 270 points to beat Slytherin for the Cup, which they all knew was a tall order. Gryffindor’s Chasers were far superior to Ravenclaw’s, and they steadily widened the scoring gap. In the end, however, Ginny and the Ravenclaw Seeker wound up racing for the Snitch, and she had to catch it with only 60 points on the board to avoid losing both the Cup and the game.
Slytherin was loud and obnoxious in celebrating their victory. Everyone in the other houses agreed, equally loudly, that the seven brand-new racing brooms had won the Quidditch Cup, not the Slytherin team. Gryffindor students were also quick to point out that winning the season still did not enable Slytherin to overtake Gryffindor for the House Cup, mostly due to the points Harry and Ginny had earned by killing a giant serpent. The Leaving Feast was a riot of red and gold.
The following morning, Harry had to report to the Entrance Hall early. Madam Pomfrey had said that he would not have to use the floating chair once he got home, but she insisted that he avoid the jostling carriages to the train station in Hogsmeade. Instead, he glided down the footpath to the village under Madam Hooch’s supervision, while Ginny, Ron, and Hermione walked alongside to keep him company.
They were the first students to arrive, which gave Harry time to climb slowly onto the train with an arm over Ron’s shoulders. They claimed a compartment, and when the rest of the students arrived, Ginny made sure to wave to Neville to join them. She kept an eye out for Luna, as well, and spotted the blonde girl walking with the Patil twins and Lavender Brown. The four girls climbed into another car together.
Good for Luna.
Good for Padma, too.
It’s hard to imagine Luna and Lavender having a conversation, though.
Ginny shrugged inwardly. Ron and Hermione didn’t talk much at first, either.
After an hour or so of conversation and shared sweets, Ginny dozed off on the seat between Harry and Hermione.
What is it about this train that puts me to sleep? she wondered.
Maybe it’s all the sleep you miss everywhere else.
Harry put his arm around her and pulled her head more comfortably against his shoulder. After a few moments, Harry caught Hermione staring at them. When he caught her eye, she smiled hugely, and he thought he saw tears in her eyes.
“What?” he whispered under Ron and Neville’s conversation.
When they reached the station, Ron and Neville helped Harry off the train. Hermione found carts for their trunks, and Harry used his to help support his weight as they wheeled over to the rest of the Weasleys. The elder Grangers were with them and chatting amiably with Mr. Weasley, but Mrs. Weasley was not with them.
As the children arrived, Mr. Weasley patted Fred on the shoulder and then leaned down to hug Harry. “Well done, lad,” he whispered.
Harry nodded. “I had to do it, Mr. Weasley. I had to bring her back.”
“And I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that.”
Arthur turned and switched his embrace to Ginny. “You must have quite a story to tell, Firefly,” he said when he pulled away.
“Haven’t you heard it already?” she asked, suddenly alarmed.
He nodded. “I have, but I’d like to hear it from you two sometime.”
“She’s waiting with the car,” her father said, grinning sheepishly. “I don’t think she trusted it to stay put.”
Mr. Weasley moved to talk to Ron, and Harry sat on his trunk to rest for a moment. Hermione hugged both Harry and Ginny fiercely. “You’ll write?”
“Of course,” Ginny said. “Maybe you can come and visit us again.”
“I’d love to. You take care of yourselves, all right? Make sure to rest, and eat properly, and everything else so you’re healthy.”
Harry grinned. “Yes, Madam Granger.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Fine. Call me what you like. Just do it.”
“We will, we promise,” Ginny said.
The older girl nodded and waved as she walked away with her parents. Mr. Weasley began chivvying everyone through the barrier, and he followed closely once Harry and Ginny had gone through.
Harry’s strength gave out before they even left the station. He climbed onto his trolley, breathing heavily, and Mr. Weasley pushed him along. When they reached the car park, they saw Mrs. Weasley standing behind the Anglia to box it in, looking worried and irritated. The battered blue car was rocking an inch or two forward and backward under its own power.
“Finally!” she said. “Arthur, this silly thing started trying to escape within a minute after you left.”
“Sorry, Molly,” Mr. Weasley said. “I really thought it would behave.”
The car stopped moving as he spoke, and Mrs. Weasley glared at it for a moment. Then she stepped forward and began greeting her sons as they arrived and loaded their trunks into the boot.
“Hello, dear,” she said, leaning down to hug Ginny. “You’re looking a bit better.”
“Hi, Mum. Thanks.”
Harry used the trolley to help him stand so that Mr. Weasley could take his trunk. Mrs. Weasley watched him over Ginny’s head and smiled a little in greeting.
“In the car, the lot of you,” she said loudly over her shoulder. Then she lowered her voice. “You too, Ginny. Just for a moment.”
Mr. Weasley and the boys piled into the Anglia, but Ginny hesitated. Are you sure you can make it? she asked.
Ginny slid into the front seat next to her father. I’ll come if you need me.
Mrs. Weasley moved to stand in front of Harry, her face calm. “You went down there knowing it would do this to you, didn’t you?” she asked, nodding at his trembling legs.
Harry swallowed, knowing she expected a real answer. “I suppose so. I wasn’t really thinking about it.”
“You just did it because it had to be done, and no-one else could do it.”
Mrs. Weasley leaned forward and scooped him up into her arms, cradling him against her chest. “Bless you, Harry Potter,” she whispered. “And curse me for a fool.”
She carried Harry back to the car and placed him carefully on the front seat next to Ginny. Once she had settled herself and closed the door, Mrs. Weasley put her arm around him and pulled him close.
“Let’s go home.”
Author’s Note:Here ends Part Two, at long last. I can't promise that I will write more in this series. I don't have as much free time as I used to, and I'd like to use some of it to work on original fiction. Never say never, though; I have lots of ideas about the rest of the series, and many of them are still interesting to me. Thank you all for sticking with it for so many years and so very many words.