The walls weren't quite white. They were the palest of greens, the colour only truly discernable when the sunlight fell on the wall. Which it didn't often do; the only window in the room was up near the ceiling, and too small for his shoulders to fit through.
When he'd first awakened, he hadn't remembered why he was here. In fact, he hadn't even realised where 'here' was. He'd been convinced he was being held prisoner at first, especially once pieces of the battle at Lavender's parents' house started to come back. The screaming. The bodies. The Death Eaters. Seamus and Lavender. Malcolm Baddock and Morgan Jones.
That memory had hit him with all the subtlety of a freight train. That was when the first tears had fallen—when he'd finally known where he must be.
He'd tried to avoid the memories once they came trickling back, but he simply couldn't. He'd used an Unforgivable. He'd tortured another human being with the Cruciatus curse.
And, God help him, he'd do it again.
Once before he had nearly used the Cruciatus curse: the day after he'd left Hogwarts, when he'd gone downstairs to confront the Dursleys before leaving forever. Ron had been there to stop him that time—though, looking back, he wasn't entirely sure he'd actually have done it. Yes, he'd spent years suffering at the hands of the Dursleys, but he could endure suffering—had endured suffering—and had left it behind him forever. As Ron had said, no looking back.
But the party…
Looking down at Malcolm Baddock's unconscious, bloody face, he'd seen the boy's family in his mind, lying dead on the floor of their home—seen the glowing outlines where their bodies had fallen—seen the tiny perfection of his little brother Christopher, lying cold as ice next to his parents. And when Morgan Jones had laughed about Anthony Snodgrass, memory had flashed back to meals in the Great Hall, seeing Snodgrass with his friends, laughing and talking and being normal kids.
And now Snodgrass was dead, along with three families and Seamus and Lavender.
He wished he knew whether Seamus' last wish would be granted, to be buried with Lavender. He hoped it would. It would be the one decent thing to come out of this whole mess.
He sat on his bed—a single-width bunk not unlike the one he'd slept on in training camp—and pulled his knees up to his chin and thought, because there was nothing else to do. His thoughts made him shiver. Alastor Moody's words from his fourth year echoed in his head: Use of the Unforgivables earns you a life sentence in Azkaban. And then memories from his third year: dark hoods, hissing breath, skeletal hands reaching for him, the inability to ever feel happy again…
He didn't want to sleep. He was afraid if he slept, the dreams of Dementors would come back, and he didn't want to face that horror until he had been convicted. As he obviously would be; there had been at least four witnesses to what he'd done, and he thought he remembered a fifth voice as well. So that was five; five witnesses ought to be enough to convict a man of anything.
He fought his exhaustion with single-minded determination, using all the tricks he and Ron had come up with in long shifts at the Ministry: pacing the room, doing a bit of exercising (he got up to 150 push-ups before his arms gave out), trying to recite passages from books from memory. He and Ron had been able to hold conversations, though, which he couldn't do in this not-quite-white room alone. For the first time in his life, he missed coffee.
But as the hours passed, his exhaustion began to overwhelm him. Despite his best efforts, he drifted off.
It was the Hogwarts Potions classroom down in the dungeon; a familiar place, if not a particularly comfortable one. Harry walked slowly past the tables, trailing his fingers along them, unsure why he was back here and certain that he'd expected to be somewhere else.
"Ah," a familiar, silky voice said. "I expected I'd see you sooner or later, Potter."
Harry turned slowly toward the teacher's desk. Severus Snape looked back at him steadily, with none of his usual disgust or irritation. "Professor," Harry said by way of greeting.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Do you know why you are here, Potter?"
Memory flashed, and Harry felt his face heat. "Yes," he said shortly, more out of embarrassment than anything.
Snape's lip curled, and suddenly he looked like Harry's professor again. "You do not need to be short with me, Potter," he snapped. "I am, believe it or not, not here to chastise you—that will be the province of others. I am here to advise you."
"Advise me?" Harry nearly snorted in amusement. What advice could Snape possibly have for Harry?
Snape rose suddenly, his familiar black robes fluttering around him as he strode out from behind his desk and toward Harry, who held his ground. "Potter," Snape said through clenched teeth, "do use what little brain you possess. Do you honestly think that, through my time as a Death Eate,r and again after I was spying for Dumbledore, that I never used one of the Unforgivables myself?"
Oh, so that was it. "No, sir," Harry said, giving the word 'sir' a slightly sarcastic emphasis.
"But you thought it wouldn't affect me as it has you, is that it?" Snape was looming over him now. Tall as Harry had grown, Snape was still taller; he rivalled Ron for height, if not for breadth. "Potter," Snape said quietly, "despite the fact that I am apparently a monster to most of the wizarding world, let me assure you that I do indeed have feelings. If I had not, I would certainly have remained a Death Eater, as it was to my considerable advantage to do so."
Harry was silent. He didn't know what Snape was trying to tell him, and frankly, he didn't much care, either.
"I understand what it is to live an unhappy childhood, Potter," Snape continued, still in that odd, quiet voice that had nothing of sarcasm to it. "And I understand what it is to let your rage take control of you. You are much more controlled than I was at your age, as a matter of fact. But if you are to survive this experience with your sanity and your soul intact, you must do two things."
"What's that, then?" Harry said belligerently. "Hide in a dungeon and torture students for the rest of my life?"
Anger flashed in Snape's eyes briefly, but he held his temper. "First," he said as though Harry had not spoken, "you must accept the forgiveness of others."
"What forgiveness?" Harry snapped. "The forgiveness of a life sentence in Azkaban? Yeah, I can accept that all right."
"You will kindly not interrupt me while I am speaking to you, Potter!" Snape snapped right back, again sounding like the man whose classes Harry had dreaded so badly for seven years. Harry subsided, albeit somewhat reluctantly. "Second," Snape continued, "you must forgive yourself." His lip curled, but Harry sensed it wasn't aimed at him. "Believe me when I tell you that, difficult as the first is, it is much easier than the second."
Harry opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. This was perhaps the weirdest conversation he had ever had with Snape, and he wasn't quite sure how to respond.
Snape looked at him for a moment, then turned and strode back to his desk, sitting down again. "That is the extent of my advice to you," he said, picking up a quill and dipping it in ink, then bending over a piece of parchment to write something down. He shook sand over the parchment to dry the ink, then folded it in quarters and stood again, holding it out to Harry. Somewhat bemused, Harry came and took it. "I suggest you wake up soon," Snape said. "You will have a visitor shortly, and I daresay you will want to see her."
Harry turned on his heel and walked toward the door out into the corridor. He was nearly halfway there when Snape said, "One more thing, Potter."
Harry turned. Snape was looking at him with an odd expression in his eyes.
"Don't throw away what's offered to you," he said quietly. "I made that mistake too many times."
Harry hesitated, then turned and walked out of the room.
Harry jerked out of a deep sleep. Someone was unlocking his door—manually, not with a spell. The sound of the key in the lock had made him think wildly for a moment that he was back at the Dursleys.
But no. The boy he'd been while living at the Dursleys would never have tortured another. No matter what the provocation.
The door opened and two men stepped inside. The smaller one wore lime-green Healer's robes; the other, who was about Ron's size, stood behind him, watching Harry carefully. "Mr. Potter?" the Healer said.
Harry sat up on his bed, moving slowly. That big bloke is some sort of guard, he thought, or I've never learned to read body language.Don't want to make him do anything rash. "Yes?" he said, unable to keep a bit of wariness out of his voice.
The Healer stepped just inside the door. He was a small, mousy-looking man with thinning hair and a clipboard in his hand. A slight five o'clock shadow darkened his chin, but Harry knew enough about schedules in the medical profession not to take that as an indicator of the time of day. "I'm Healer Endicott. I'd like to ask you a few questions, if I may."
Harry shrugged. He scooted backward on the bed until his back was against the headboard, then drew his knees up enough to rest his forearms on them while he leaned his head back. "Go ahead," he said. "But first…could I ask one?"
The guard brought in a chair and set it near the foot of the bed. The Healer came in the rest of the way, clipboard clutched to his chest, and sat down. The guard closed the door and stood against it, staring at the wall. Harry knew better than to assume he was less than completely focused; if Harry made any sudden moves, the guard would be ready. "Certainly, Mr. Potter," Endicott said.
"What time is it?" Harry asked. "And what day?" The lack of even that much information had been itching at him since he had awakened from being Stunned. He could tell that it was daytime by the light coming through the tiny window near the ceiling, but nothing else.
The Healer blinked. "Has nobody told you that?" he asked, startled.
"I've not seen anyone," Harry pointed out. "Not since I…arrived here."
Endicott flipped through the papers on his clipboard as though searching for something. "My goodness," he said. "My goodness. And you've not been fed, either? Or given anything to drink?"
"No." Though he wasn't hungry, he realised. Thirsty, yes, he was that—but he wasn't hungry, which reassured him. It can't have been that long, then…
Endicott looked at the guard and jerked his head toward the door. Moving slowly, as if displeased with the situation, the guard stuck his head out the door. "Food and drink," he called out, in a deep, resonant voice, then closed the door and resumed his station. Harry met his gaze for a moment before the guard's eyes turned to the blank wall again. Harry shivered. Not someone I'd want to tangle with, even if I had my wand.
Endicott had leaned forward. "To answer your question, Mr. Potter, it's eight-thirty a.m. on the third of January. You've been here approximately twenty-four hours."
Longer than I thought, then. Twenty-four hours in the loony bin, Harry thought, closing his eyes. How the Dursleys would laugh to see me now.
"Tell me, Mr. Potter," Endicott continued, "what do you remember before waking here?"
Harry's eyes opened. The guard was still staring at the wall. Endicott was looking intently at him, but not with the loathing he'd half-expected. Instead, the old Healer's eyes held concern and—was it pity?
He shook himself roughly. He didn't deserve pity. When he spoke, it was with an intentional harshness. "I used the Cruciatus curse on a Death Eater named Morgan Jones."
Startled, Endicott said, "You know his name?"
"I know him," Harry amplified, looking steadily into the Healer's eyes. "He was a year behind me at Hogwarts. I was one of the team that investigated the torture and murder of his family, along with the families of Anthony Snodgrass and Malcolm Baddock." He spat the last name out with even more loathing than he'd used with Jones'.
The Healer was scribbling furiously. "I see," he said. "Did you know the other two boys as well?"
"Yes," Harry said. I'm probably giving out classified information here, but I'm condemned to Azkaban as soon as they decide I'm sane anyway. In for a penny, in for a pound. "I've no idea what actually happened to Anthony Snodgrass, though Morgan Jones told me that I'd never find him. That was before I tortured him," he added, and felt a knife twisting in his guts as the word echoed in his brain.
Torture. Torture. Torture. Torture. Torture.
"And the other boy? Baddock?"
"Red Knight took him down just before we—found—Morgan Jones. He was unconscious but alive last I saw him."
There was silence for a long moment, broken only by the scratching of Endicott's quill against the parchment. Harry leaned his head back against the wall again, staring into space.
I performed the Cruciatus curse. I used an Unforgivable on another human being.
He felt sick. Maybe I should go back to sleep, he thought dully. Sirius might be in my dream the way he was last June. Maybe he could tell me how to endure Azkaban. I don't think the Dementors will let him come once I'm there.
"Right," Endicott said finally. Harry jumped at the sudden noise, and the guard was immediately alert, hand on the cudgel that hung from his belt and eyes focused on Harry. "I think that's all I need for now. Your food and drink should be waiting, Mr. Potter. I'll let you eat, and then I'll come back later to see you again, if I may."
"I will leave orders with the footman to admit you," Harry said dryly, settling back against the wall again. "You will always find me at home."
Ginny paced back and forth in the waiting room, wringing her hands in nervousness. The sapphire ring was an unaccustomed weight on her left hand, reminding her of the nearly unbelievable events of New Year's Eve. She was engaged to Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, with whom she'd been in love nearly as long as she could remember.
And Harry now had a good chance of spending the rest of his life in Azkaban.
The horror of that realisation weighed down on her, still as potent as it had been during the attack. She and Michael Corner (who was the only other person from the D.A. that she'd seen) had guarded the door to the basement while terrified guests had escaped. The basement had once been the kitchen, when the manor house had been built four hundred years before, and there were two huge fireplaces through which those who could not Apparate could Floo. It had taken nearly fifteen minutes for everyone to escape, but before Ginny herself could Floo back to The Burrow, a Vision had taken hold of her—the first Vision she'd had since the previous summer.
Darkness... fire-lit faces... Seamus and Lavender, dead... Ron and Hermione, weeping... Harry, face contorted with fury... his wand, pointing at a figure on the ground... his voice, harsh with rage, whispering, "Crucio"... unearthly screams of pure agony... Harry, falling to the ground, Stunned...
Ginny jumped and spun to face the Healer, who smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry to have startled you," he said kindly. "I'm Healer Endicott."
She took a deep breath, trying to calm her thumping heart. "Not your fault," she said. "I was miles away."
"Completely understandable." The Healer tucked his clipboard under his arm. "Mr. Potter is eating his breakfast. I've cleared him for visitors, so as soon as he's finished, I'll be happy to escort you to his room." He paused, as if trying to find the correct words for what he wished to say next. "I regret to tell you," he said slowly, "that I must require a guard observe you at all times while you're with Mr. Potter."
Ginny gaped. "A guard?" she repeated. "Why on earth?"
The Healer looked apologetic but unmoving. "Mr. Potter has had some... problems with his temper," he said quietly. "The guard will not be able to hear what you're saying, but he will be looking through a window in the door." He hesitated again, then added, "It's to ensure your safety, Miss Weasley."
"Harry would never hurt me," she said hotly. "Never."
"It is my responsibility to make sure of that."
Ginny glared at him, but he was entirely unmoved. "I am very sorry," he said softly. "But I'm afraid I must insist."
Ginny sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Oh, very well," she said crossly, fully aware that if she'd said no, she simply would not have been able to see Harry at all—and that was not an option she was willing to consider.
I have to see him. I have to convince him that I'm not going anywhere.
The Healer made some sort of soothing comment and left, allowing Ginny to return to her nervous pacing. But it's not about you leaving, is it, Ginny? she thought tightly. It's about him forcing you away.
That was the fear that had gripped her since her Vision had cleared and she was left with an understanding of what had happened. She'd been on her way to find Harry when Fred and George had intercepted her and threatened to Stun her if she didn't go home of her own accord. And she'd have called their bluff, too, if they hadn't pulled out their trump card.
Harry can't do his job properly if he's worried about you. You could get him killed if you distract him.
It was the one argument they could have made that could have persuaded her. She'd gone—unwillingly, but she'd gone—all the while trying to convince herself that her Vision was a possibility, not a surety; that Harry would stop himself before he did something irrevocable.
But when Ron and Hermione had finally come home, about two o'clock in the morning, their drawn faces had told her that something had gone terribly wrong; and when she'd asked where Harry was, they'd looked at each other as though considering what to say, and Hermione had taken her by the arm, led her up to her room, and told her as much of the story as she could. It hadn't been much, but it was enough to convince Ginny that Harry needed her.
And if she hadn't slipped that sleeping draught into the glass of warm milk she made me drink, I'd have taken a broom from the broom shed as soon as she left me alone.
Ginny sat down in a chair and buried her face in her hands, stifling a sob. Oh, Harry, she thought miserably. Why, Harry? Why?
Again she started at the unexpected voice, but this time it was as much joy as surprise that made her jump. She stared for a long moment at the gaunt, familiar face in front of her, hardly able to believe it, then propelled herself out of her seat. "Remus!"
He held out his arms and pulled her close in a hug that tore down all her carefully-constructed barriers. She buried her face in his shoulder and he held her tightly as she sobbed. "Hey, now," he whispered in her ear. "Hey, now. What's happened that's brought you here? Not that I'm not happy to see you."
"It's—Harry—" She gulped and pulled away, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand before she remembered the handkerchief that she'd brought with her. "I don't know how much I can tell you—"
"Then don't," he interrupted, though his face had gone even paler with worry when she'd said Harry's name. "I know he's working for the Ministry now; if there's something going on you can't tell me, I understand. Maybe Arthur can tell me later."
Ginny blinked, surprised. "Dad?" she asked. "What's he to do with it?"
Lupin smiled sadly. "He's been coming to visit me off and on since the Battle," he said. "So have several members of the Order, once I was able to recognise them again. No, don't you feel guilty," he said sternly as she felt her face flush with shame at not having come to visit him herself. "You had more than enough to be getting on with, including your N.E.W.T.s. Arthur's got a higher security clearance than nearly anyone in the Ministry; if there's a story to be told, he'll be able to tell it."
Lupin paused, then, with a frown, reached out and took hold of Ginny's left hand. "Ginny," he said quietly but intensely, staring at the sapphire ring, "what's this?"
She tried instinctively to tug her hand away, but he wouldn't let her. She looked away. "Harry proposed to me on New Year's Eve," she whispered. "But no one else knows yet. We were keeping it a secret so we didn't take away from Seamus and Lavender's engagement, and then…" She trailed off.
"Your parents don't even know?"
Ginny shook her head.
"I see." Remus squeezed her hand, then let go. "I'll pretend that I know nothing, then."
She looked back at him quickly, to see if he was upset or hurt, but he only smiled at her. Tentatively, she smiled back. "I'd best get back to my room," he said. "I'm supposed to take a walk every day, and I've pushed it a bit longer than I probably should have; I don't doubt there's a nurse or orderly or something searching the hospital for me. But I'll see you again, soon I hope." He stepped away. "Tell Harry that—" He paused, searching for the right words. "Tell him I don't know what happened," he said at last. "But I love him anyway."
Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked down the hall. As he turned down a side corridor, Ginny heard a woman's voice: "Mr. Lupin! We were beginning to worry about you! Where have you been?"
The Healer was back. Behind him stood a huge man, taller and broader even than Ron. He was clearly a guard. "Mr. Potter has finished his meal," the Healer continued. "Would you still like to see him?"
"Yes, of course," Ginny said, scrubbing violently at her cheeks with the handkerchief, hoping to get rid of the tear tracks.
The Healer headed off in the opposite direction from the way Remus had taken. She fell into step behind him, and the guard followed. Ginny rubbed her hands against her thighs nervously as they walked past the Healers' station and through a set of double doors that Endicott opened with a muttered password.
The corridor back here was strangely empty and completely silent, and Ginny noticed with trepidation that the glass in each of the doors was protected by a set of bars. A guard was stationed near the middle of the corridor, standing in a small niche in the wall, holding his wand in his right hand and a cudgel in his left. He nodded politely at Endicott and looked closely at Ginny, as though to memorize her face. The scrutiny made her uncomfortable; she looked away.
She still didn't know what she was going to say to Harry. She rubbed her damp palms against her robes again, running through the few ideas that had appeared in her head.
'Harry, I love you. Don't pull away from me.'
No. Begging won't do.
'Harry, you will not hide yourself from the world.'
No. Not that either.
'Harry, you're the love of my life, and I'll keep you safe.'
No. I can't promise that.
Panic was beginning to set in. She couldn't walk in and stare at him like an idiot, but she didn't want to say the wrong thing, either.
What does one say when one's fiancé has been admitted to hospital for a mental evaluation because he tortured someone in the line of duty?
"Here we are," Healer Endicott said at last, stopping in front of a room that bore only the number 23 on the door. He took a set of old-fashioned keys from his pocket and inserted one into a lock on the door. Ginny spared the briefest of moments to be surprised by the Muggle lock, rather than a Locking charm, but then the door was open and she was walking tentatively inside.
Harry was sitting on the bed with his back to the wall and his legs drawn up. His forearms rested on his knees, his hands dangling limply, and his head was tilted back to lean against the wall. As she stepped inside she saw him sigh and open his eyes—then freeze in place, apparently surprised to see her there.
She swallowed, looking at him, not knowing what to say. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his gaze held a lost, hopeless look that she hadn't seen since the beginning of the summer. A spark of—something—appeared in their green depths for a moment, then disappeared, and his face closed off again, losing all emotion.
And it suddenly became clear what she must do.
With a deep breath, she strode purposefully across the room, put a knee on the bed so she could reach him, leaned over, and kissed him thoroughly. She slid a hand around the back of his neck to hold him to her, and let her tongue run across the seam of his lips, gently seeking entrance.
She felt him start in surprise and try to pull away. In response, she twined the fingers of her other hand in his hair, not hard, not painfully, but in a way he could not ignore. A moment of indecision, and then his legs slid down to rest against the bed, his arms wrapped around her, pulling her to sit on his lap, and his mouth opened, claiming hers with desperation and need. She leaned against his chest and let the terror of the past couple of days be washed away in the warm familiarity of his strength, his touch, his taste.
An indeterminate time later, they pulled apart, their breathing ragged and their faces flushed. They stared into each other's eyes for a long moment, and then Harry raised shaking hands and framed Ginny's face.
"I didn't expect to see you," he said quietly. "I didn't know if you'd come."
Her heart twisted, and she reached up to run her hands along his forearms soothingly. "Of course I came," she said. "As soon as I woke up from the sleeping draught Hermione gave me."
He stared at her for a moment, then, almost unwillingly, laughed. "Did she really?"
"Can you doubt it of her?" Ginny asked, a smile curving her own lips.
"I suppose not." He leaned forward and rested his forehead against hers. "I've really buggered things up, haven't I?" He laughed again, but this time it was short and hollow. "I've no idea how I can get myself out of this one." His eyes closed, and she felt a shudder run through him. "Gin," he said, so quietly she could barely hear him even as close as he was, "I don't know if I can stand to go to Azkaban. I don't know if I could survive it. Sirius survived because he was an Animagus. I'm not." His eyes opened, and she could see real fear blazing in them. "I don't know what to do," he whispered.
She pulled away just enough to lift her chin and press a kiss to his forehead. With a groan, he wrapped his arms around her and clutched her close, resting his head on her shoulder and rocking back and forth slightly. She could feel him shaking. "You don't know that you'll go to Azkaban, Harry," she said softly. "You don't know that for sure."
"I used an Unforgivable Curse, Gin," he said, his voice muffled in her robe. "That carries a lifetime sentence in Azkaban."
"There's a big difference between doing something and being convicted of it, Harry," she said reasonably. "Hermione told me she contacted your solicitor yesterday—the one who told you about your parents' estate when you turned 17, remember?"
"Why'd she do that?" he asked, though the tenseness in him hinted that he knew exactly why and was afraid to admit it to himself.
She closed her eyes, then opened them again. This was the part she'd dreaded telling him. "Because they're preferring charges against you for a court-martial, and you're entitled to a defence. He'll be able to give you some advice."
Harry was absolutely still for a long moment, then slowly pulled back to look up at her. She felt her heart contract at how pale he'd become. "Court-martial? Not a regular trial in front of the Wizengamot?"
"You're part of the Department of Mysteries, Harry," she said softly, brushing her thumbs across his cheekbones. "It's a different set of laws. Or so Hermione said."
"But if I'm court-martialed..." He swallowed. "That means I'll have to leave the service, doesn't it?"
"I don't know, Harry," she said honestly. "I imagine it depends on the verdict."
He shut his eyes and leaned backward against the headboard, his head thumping lightly against the wall. She let her hands fall to his chest, resting against the lapels of his striped hospital-issue garments. She watched his face anxiously, biting her lip as a multitude of emotions passed over it. After a long moment, he reached up without opening his eyes and took hold of her hands in his, raising them up to kiss her fingertips lightly. His eyes opened. "I'm glad you're here, Ginny," he said quietly. "What would I do without you?"
She smiled softly. "You'll never need to know, Harry."
He smiled back at her and squeezed her hand, then, blinking in surprise, took a closer look at her left hand and inhaled sharply in surprise. "You're… wearing the ring."
"Of course I am. You didn't think I'd leave it off, did you?"
Despite her attempt to sound light-hearted, her words fell into the silence with the weight of bricks dropped into a still pond. Harry didn't speak at once, and, a little nervously, Ginny repeated, "Did you?"
Still staring at her hand, he ran his thumb lightly over the ring. "I don't know what I thought, Ginny," he said at last. "Maybe it's just that I've hardly seen you since I proposed. Maybe it's just all that's happened in the meantime." He looked up at her again. "But I don't want you to think you have to wear this for my sake."
I had a feeling this was coming.
Ginny closed her left hand over his right. "I'm wearing this because I'm going to marry you, Harry Potter," she said in a tone that brooked no argument. "I'm wearing this because I want the world to know that you are mine and I am yours. Nothing between us has changed since you proposed to me. Nothing."
"Everything else has," Harry said in a low tone.
"But not this." She freed her hands and ran them through his hair. "You're not going to pull away from me," she said. "You're not going to release me from the engagement out of a sense of honour or duty. I absolutely refuse to let you go through this on your own. I've been there, Harry. I spent three months after the baby trying to handle it on my own, and I just couldn't do it. And I don't care how strong you are, you can't do it by yourself either." She leaned forward to kiss him, a kiss that was also a promise. "You're not losing Ron," she said. "You're not losing Hermione. You're not losing the rest of the family. And you're certainly not losing me."
Harry stared at her for a long moment while she looked defiantly at him and waited for him to answer.
Argue your way out of that one, Harry Potter.
"I—" He stopped, swallowed, and she saw his eyes brighten with unshed tears. "I don't deserve you, Ginny."
She smiled as his hands tangled in her hair. "Yes, you do, Harry," she said. "You always have."
Their lips met, and Ginny felt Harry's hands slide down her back and urge her to shift her weight. She acquiesced, moving to straddle him instead of sitting sideways across his thighs. He raised his knees, making her slide down to press closer to him. She groaned and pulled away slightly. "Harry," she whispered as his hands slid up and down her back, "the guard is watching us."
He smiled crookedly. "Let him."
The treehouse would have been freezing if it hadn't been for Hermione's Insulating Charm. Warming Charms only went so far, and the wind was icy.
She leaned against Ron's shoulder, feeling somewhat comforted by his arm round her. Bill, Charlie, Fred, and George didn't look comforted at all. It was disconcerting to see the twins both so serious.
She felt Ron press a kiss to the top of her head. "I should have seen it coming," he said quietly. "I saw how angry he was all the time. I watched him lose control at training camp. Hell, I was the one who held him back! I should have said something to him, done something…"
She blinked back tears. He'd been saying that since the mediwizards had taken Harry's Stunned body off to St. Mungo's. And I can't blame him, she thought helplessly. I've been thinking the same thing.
"What exactly would you have done?" Charlie said reasonably, though she noticed he didn't look in much better shape than Ron was. None of them had got much sleep since it had happened; she'd spent most of the past night comforting Ron through his nightmares. That was, when he wasn't comforting her through hers. "You don't have any authority over him, Ron," Charlie went on. "The most you would have done is piss him off even more."
"I could have said something to you lot," Ron said miserably. "Or to Twilight. He could have done something."
"We all knew Harry was angry, Ron," Fred said with quiet sympathy. George nodded. "But I don't think anyone could possibly have foretold this."
Bill shook his head. His eyes were red, and dark circles surrounded them. Hermione had the feeling that, as the eldest brother, he was feeling more than a little responsible for all of them, including herself and Harry. And as the highest-ranked of them (his promotion had preceded Charlie's by just a few days), he was responsible to a degree. "An Unforgivable," he said hollowly. "Harry. I would never in a million years—I still can't believe he'd do it. I just can't."
"You didn't see the kind of havoc those two arseholes Jones and Baddock wreaked on their own families," Ron said with an edge to his voice. Despite herself, Hermione smiled slightly. First he's upset about not stopping Harry, then he defends him. But she couldn't say anything; she knew that of everyone there, Ron likely felt the guiltiest over the whole situation. Guiltier even than she herself; Harry was, after all, his partner. "They handed them over to the Death Eaters, Bill. Deliberately gave their own families to be tortured and murdered. Children. Babies."
Babies. Hermione frowned. Something was nudging at the back of her mind…something relating to Harry and babies. Something from one of the scenes they'd been called to? She couldn't remember.
I'll have to remember to ask Ron later.
"So what happens to Harry now?" George asked, looking over at Bill and Charlie. "What can you tell us?"
Charlie looked at Bill, inviting him to answer. Bill sighed and ran his hands through his hair. "Harry's at St. Mungo's for evaluation," he said. "The Ministry are going to prefer charges against him. He'll have an Article 32 next week sometime."
"An Article 32?" Ron asked.
"A hearing," Bill clarified. "To find out whether there's enough evidence to warrant a court-martial."
"Court-martial?" Ron sat up so quickly that he unintentionally shoved Hermione aside. "They're going to court-martial him?"
"He performed an Unforgivable curse in front of five witnesses, Ron," Charlie said heavily. "He's damned lucky they didn't throw him straight into Azkaban. If it hadn't been a battle situation, and if Elijah hadn't been the first ranking officer on the scene, they likely would have."
Ron shuddered violently and Hermione tucked herself against him again, for his comfort this time rather than hers. "They can't put him in Azkaban," he said pleadingly, looking from Bill to Charlie and back. "They can't. He'd die. He'd just stop eating and die."
"I know." Bill's voice was filled with compassion and pity, both for Ron and for Harry.
Hermione closed her eyes and let the tears slide silently down her cheeks. She remembered third year, when Harry's Boggart had turned into a Dementor. They were his greatest fear, and now there was a better than even chance that he would be locked away with those creatures for the rest of his life.
It's so unfair…
"You four will be called to testify, you know," Fred said. "You were there. George and I were clear across the grounds, so it's less likely they'll call us."
"They still might," Charlie said, "since you can speak to his mental health over the past few months."
"What do you mean?" Ron asked, his tone belligerent again. "Mental health? Harry's perfectly sane! Who's saying he's not?"
"His defence, if they're clever," Hermione said, unable to keep silent any longer. She sat up and looked at Ron. She'd been thinking about this all night and all morning, and it was the only thing that made any sense. "If they can convince the jury that Harry wasn't in his right mind when he cast the Cruciatus, he has a chance of getting off on a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity."
"But—" Ron said, confusion in his face.
She sighed and ran a hand up Ron's shoulder. His pain hurt her. "Harry'd just got off a 36-hour shift," she said reasonably. "He'd been working closely with the aftermath of Death Eater attacks for a long time. He worked specifically with the attacks on both Baddock's family and Jones'. He knew Baddock, Jones, and Snodgrass at school—we all did. And when you add to that all the loved ones that he's lost in the past few months as a result of Voldemort and the Death Eaters…"
She let her sentence trail off, and noticed that Fred, George, Charlie, and Bill were all nodding in approval. "Clever," Bill said. "Very clever. They may well take that tack. And who knows—it could even be true."
"Harry's not insane!" Ron nearly howled.
"You'd better hope the jury don't believe that," Charlie said soberly. "It may very well be Harry's last hope."
There was a long pause. Then Bill asked, "How much of this does Ginny know?"
Hermione looked him straight in the eye. "All of it," she said firmly. "I know, Bill, Charlie—" she put up a hand to forestall their protests "—she's not cleared to know a lot of things. I didn't tell her the whole story—she doesn't know that we found Baddock or Jones—but she does know what Harry did, and where he is, and why he's there. And she knows the possible consequences of his actions." She sighed, rubbing her forehead. "She knows that I contacted Harry's solicitor yesterday as well. Harry's going to need a barrister to defend him, and perhaps Mr. Baker will be able to recommend someone." She thought for a moment of mentioning the ring that had been hanging from a chain round Ginny's neck—she'd only seen it after giving Ginny the sleeping draught, when she'd been tucking her into bed—but then decided against it. Hermione wasn't exactly sure what that ring meant, but she had a very strong suspicion, and she didn't want to say anything until Harry and Ginny had a chance to work things out between them.
If Harry doesn't at least try to release Ginny from the engagement—if it is an engagement—I'll be very surprised.
"So what do we do?" Ron asked, a note of defeat in his voice. He slumped back against the wall and rubbed a hand wearily across his face.
"Carry on," Bill said. "There isn't much else we can do. You're on temporary leave, aren't you, Ron?"
"While they investigate, yes." That was definitely a note of resentment in his voice. Ron hated like poison to be forbidden from doing something he loved for no good reason, and she knew he wouldn't see any reason to keep him from work.
Though what he'll do, going back to work without his partner, I don't know.
"So you've a couple of days' leeway. Charlie and I and the twins will keep on with our normal routine, or as normal as can be, anyway. You two should go visit Harry as much as you can. He needs all the moral support he can get, and you're the best ones to give it to him—you and Ginny."
"Where is Ginny, anyway?" Fred asked.
"Coincidentally, at St. Mungo's," Hermione said. "She went there as soon as she woke up this morning."
"Good," Bill said with satisfaction. "Best place for her, for her sake and Harry's. We should find out today or tomorrow when the Article 32 hearing will be; until then, we've done pretty much all we can." He turned to the twins. "Which of you is Loki today?"
"I am," Fred said. "Why?"
"Nacht wants you to stop by her office this afternoon, but not until then. She has something that she thinks will suit Loki's, er, special talents." He grinned at the twins, and they grinned back.
Hermione sat up straighter, a bit confused at the sudden change of subject. "Loki?" she asked. "I thought you two were Castor and Pollux."
George flashed a smile at her. "Individually, we are," he said. "But most of the Department doesn't know that. Aside from Umbra Nacht and a couple of other high mucky-mucks in the Department, the only other people on the planet who know us by those code names are in this room. Officially, we're Loki. That is, one of us is—whoever's on duty at the time."
Hermione shook her head. The events of the past couple of days made her feel as though her head was stuffed with cotton wool. "That just made things worse," she complained. "Would you mind trying that again in English?"
"It's very simple, Hermione," Fred said, a bit patronisingly and with a smug smirk on his face. "Nobody in the Department knows we're twins. They think we're the same person, so one of us can be at the shop, and the other can be on Ministry business, and nobody's any the wiser."
"Two places at the same time, see," George put in. "Great cover. And it lets us keep the shop up. It does take a lot of our time, you know. It's a real business—just not our only business." He glanced at his wrist. "I've forgotten my watch," he said. "What time is it?"
Charlie pulled his watch out of his pocket. "Eleven-thirty," he said. "We'd best get back for lunch before Mum comes looking for us and asks why we're out here having a kaffeeklatsch in the treehouse on a snowy January morning."
They all rose, and Hermione banished the Insulating Charm. One by one, they descended the ladder until only she and Ron were left. This was her chance; it was likely their best chance at privacy for the rest of the day.
If I'm going to do this, I'd best do it now.
She put a hand on his arm as he started toward the ladder, and he paused, looking at her. "What is it, love?" he asked.
She opened her mouth, hesitated, then let the words come out in a rush. "We can't let Harry go to Azkaban, Ron," she pleaded. "We can't. We mustn't." The tears were falling again, and she was powerless to stop them.
Ron wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. "I know," he said quietly. "I know." He kissed her temple. "But what can we do?"
She pulled back to look up into his eyes. She'd been thinking about this all night and all morning as well. "We do everything we can think of to get him out of it legally," she said fiercely. "And if that doesn't work, we do it illegally. But I won't see him spend the last of his life drained by Dementors, Ron. I won't do it."
He smiled sadly and kissed her briefly on the lips. "I know," he said again. "I didn't expect you would. Neither will I." He pulled away and met her gaze steadily. "Don't worry, Hermione. We've already helped one convict escape in our lifetimes; if it's necessary, we'll do it again."
A/N: Kokopelli has been, and continues to be, a huge help with the legal situation Harry's found himself in. I couldn't have done this without him, and his contribution is only going to become greater in the next few chapters. Thanks, John.
Thanks also go to Sherry, Jo, Michele, Ahmie, and Rachel for their comments and betaing. Thanks as well to my Yahoogroup, whose encouragement helps keep me going.
And finally, thanks to everyone who's reviewed. Authors need feedback, both positive and negative; I appreciate everyone who's taken the time to post a review.