Another impact shook the floor beneath them, and a rumbling boom sounded from the distant stone doors.
Harry struggled to his feet and started towards the doors, but his legs gave out after a few steps. He landed on his hands and knees with another painful wrench of his muscles.
Let me, Ginny said. You’ve done enough.
She stood slowly, wary of any lingering effects from the venom, but she felt as healthy as she had before destroying the diary. Holding the ragged fragments of her jumper together with one hand and clinging to Fawkes’ feather in the other, she Shifted to the last pair of stone columns.
McGonagall stood on the other side, caked in grime and holding her wand at the ready. Her face was pinched with worry, but her expression quickly relaxed into shock and then relief. “Ginny! Thank Merlin — wait. Are you really Ginny?”
Ginny nodded. “It’s me, Professor. Tom Riddle is gone. Fawkes saved me from the venom.” She was too numb to want to explain further.
“Where is Harry? Is he all right?”
“He’s down at the other end. We’re not sure he can walk. Hang on.”
She walked the last few yards to the other side of the portal and slid the feather into her back pocket. C’mon, Harry.Let’s get out of here.
Harry Shifted from the chamber floor and arrived standing next to her. Ginny caught him around the waist as he began to collapse again. “I got her back, Professor.”
“Well done, Harry. Now, I must be sure. Is that really Ginny?”
“Yes,” he said. Thank goodness.
“And is that Harry?”
McGonagall finally lowered her wand and put a supporting hand under Harry’s arm. “That will have to do. Where is the Basilisk?”
“Dead, Professor,” Harry said, his voice weak. “Ginny blasted it with the bluebell flames.”
To their surprise, McGonagall rewarded them with a small smile. “I daresay that was sufficient. And what of Tom Riddle? You said he was gone, but I can’t imagine how he was here to begin with.”
Ginny briefly explained what she knew about the diary and what had happened with Tom in the Chamber, though she left out his speculations about essences and his plans for her.
“But how could a diary take over someone’s body?” McGonagall asked. “And how could it enable someone to control a Basilisk?”
“We don’t know. He just said it was easy if someone was, err . . . lonely and pathetic,” Ginny said. Which is about all that was left of me.
Only because of him, Ginny. You weren’t pathetic when you killed that Basilisk and got rid of him.
“Well, that is a question for another day, then. Is there anything left of the Basilisk?”
“Just its head,” Ginny replied. “Well, its skull, anyway. Why?”
“I should like to be able to prove that it existed and that it is now dead. Can you hold him for a moment, Ginny?”
At Ginny’s nod, McGonagall stepped away from them and raised her wand. A moment later, the Basilisk’s charred skull came soaring down the corridor. As it reached them, she swished her wand and lowered the grisly carcass gently to the floor. With a few quick movements, she shrank it to the size of a Snitch, enclosed it in some sort of translucent bubble, and then conjured a leather pouch around it. Finally, she picked up the pouch and tucked it into her robes.
She turned back to Harry and Ginny and surveyed them carefully. Then she sighed. “I am so delighted to see you both at the same time, even if you are a bit worse for wear. I trust that you are back to your normal selves?”
“Yes, Professor,” Ginny said, and then she closed her eyes and took a slow breath.
Thank goodness.I’m not sure I could have made it much longer.
It’s over now, Ginny. You got through it, even when you thought you couldn’t.
A memory leapt to the surface of their minds: Ginny sitting stubbornly and refusing to reverse her transfiguration of Scabbers. She clearly remembered the look of disappointment on McGonagall’s face and Ron’s constant worrying over the following days.
I did a rubbish job of it, though.
Ginny opened her eyes and looked up at McGonagall. “Professor, I’m sorry for the way I… well… the way I treated people I care about. Including you.”
“We could all see how difficult your situation was, Ginny. I don’t think you did any damage that cannot be mended. I am only glad to see you whole.” She stepped forward and hugged them both. “I have missed you, Alex.”
They grinned slightly as she pulled back. “So have we, Professor.”
McGonagall nodded. “Quite so. Now, let us return to the hospital wing. We need to get Harry back to Madam Pomfrey. Can you transport yourselves directly there?”
“Yes, if you’re sure it’s empty.”
“It is. Everyone who’s still in the castle has been confined to the Great Hall, and the hospital wing was evacuated first.”
“All right, Professor.”
“Please wait for me there,” McGonagall said. “I will use a Portkey to return to the second floor and come to meet you. I’ll ask Poppy to return as soon as possible.”
Harry had been focusing on staying upright in spite of his body’s protests, and he was glad to think of reaching the hospital wing. He Shifted to the middle of the ward and discovered that several of the beds were missing. When Ginny joined him a moment later, she helped him stagger to the nearest bed and climb onto it. Placing the phoenix feather on the nearby table, she clambered up next to him. Gently, she pulled him sideways until his head was resting in her lap. He sighed and let his tortured muscles relax as she gently stroked his hair.
Hang on, Harry. Madam Pomfrey should be here soon. I only hope you haven’t done any permanent damage.
Had to, though, he said, his eyes closed.
They sat for a moment, filling their minds with the sense of comfort and completion radiating from their touch. I honestly can’t think of any way we could have done it differently, but I still wish you hadn’t needed to leave here so quickly.
It was the right thing to do. I do wish I had been more careful, though. I knocked Hermione out of her bed.
I hope she’s okay, Ginny said. Madam Pomfrey was right there, wasn’t she?
Knowing the direction of Ginny’s thought, Harry patted her knee with his fingertips. I’m sure she’s fine. We can apologise for all of it at once.
The doors opened, and Professor McGonagall crossed the room to them. “I’ve alerted the Headmaster to stop the evacuation, and Poppy is on her way. Let’s see if we can get you cleaned up a bit for her.”
She began cleaning the worst of the grime from their skin, hair, and clothes. “What happened to that jumper, Ginny? I’m afraid it’s beyond repair.”
“Harry tore off one sleeve and tied it around my arm to slow down the poison. He used the other one to try to clean the scratch from the Basilisk’s fang. And he tore the front open so he could see if the poison was still spreading.”
“Nothing worked until Fawkes got there, though,” Harry said.
“You may have given me enough time to find Fawkes and send him there, Harry,” McGonagall said. “It must have been a very near thing.”
She crossed the room to a cupboard and returned with a hospital pyjama shirt. Deciding that modesty was pointless, Ginny let the tattered remnants of her jumper fall to the bed behind her and then pulled the clean shirt over her head. “Thanks, Professor.”
With Harry and Ginny’s guidance, McGonagall healed the small bruises and scrapes that dotted their bodies. As she was tending to Harry’s bare feet, the doors banged open again, and Madam Pomfrey hurried in.
“What are we dealing with?”
McGonagall stepped away from them. “Fawkes healed the damage from the Basilisk. Harry’s muscles seem to be the most serious problem. Ginny has a strange cut on her wrist that I did not touch. I’ve dealt with most of the minor injuries already.”
“That saves time,” the matron said. “Lie still for now, Mr. Potter. Let’s see that wrist, Miss Weasley.”
Ginny turned her arm to reveal the inside of her right wrist, where a wide, crescent-shaped scar had replaced the jagged gash left by Harry’s wand.
“Odd indeed,” Pomfrey said. “What happened here?”
“Um,” Ginny said, unsure where to begin. “There was this diary that—”
“Her body was under someone else’s control, Poppy,” McGonagall said. “As we guessed from what Harry said.”
Ginny nodded. “The first thing I…he did was use a curse to cut your bracelet off my wrist, Professor. Then it was bleeding everywhere, and he used another spell to heal it, but he didn’t do a very good job.”
“Hmm,” Pomfrey said, running her wand along Ginny’s forearm. “And the Basilisk venom entered here?”
“That explains it, then. The original cut was probably made with Dark magic and, as you say, improperly healed. It was aggravated by the Basilisk venom and then cleansed by the phoenix tears. Fawkes must not have dropped a tear directly onto it, though.”
Ginny saw herself in Harry’s memory, lying on the ground in the chamber with the vivid green of the poison spreading across her chest. “No,” she whispered, “he was stopping it from getting to my heart.”
“As he should,” the matron said. “That scar is permanent, Miss Weasley. I cannot re-heal what has already been healed.”
“That’s ok,” Ginny said.
I guess we can match, Harry said, smiling a little.
When his face did not move against Ginny’s leg, she looked down and realised that his body had dozed off while she was being examined. She looked back up at Madam Pomfrey. “He’s asleep.”
“That may be the smartest thing he’s done tonight,” Pomfrey muttered. “But no matter.”
She waved her wand over Harry’s body a few times and examined a colourful glow that appeared in the air above him. “As I suspected. It’s far too late to stop him from damaging his muscles. We’ll just have to start over.”
“What do you mean?” Ginny asked, suddenly concerned.
“The potion I gave him is intended to make the muscles pliable after being frozen for so long. If you overtax them in that state, the muscle fibres deteriorate rapidly. He now has the musculature of a boy who’s never got out of bed in his life. So we’ll have to start over in building them up.”
“He’ll be okay, though, right?”
Pomfrey nodded. “Eventually, but it will take weeks or perhaps months for him to regain his strength.”
I suppose that’s better than being Petrified for a week.
True. But next time I’d like to sleep while you have to do all the talking.
The matron began preparing a potion nearby, and Ginny turned back to McGonagall expectantly.
“I would like to know more about what happened, Ginny, but the Headmaster is on his way.” She raised an eyebrow. “I seem to recall that you do not enjoy telling these stories twice.”
Ginny nodded. “You know who he was, don’t you, Professor? You recognised his name.”
“Yes, I do. Not many people know that name now, but the Headmaster has told me a bit about Tom Riddle as a young man.”
“I’m sorry we had to leave you behind,” Ginny said. “I know you would’ve gone with us, and it would’ve been better, but…”
“But I would not have been able to enter the chamber, and time was of the essence.” McGonagall sighed. “I agree with your choice, Alex, even though I don’t like it.”
Professor Dumbledore swept through the door to the hospital wing and closed it behind him. “Lucius Malfoy is just behind me,” he said in a low voice. “Separate, please, and quickly.”
Ginny shook Harry awake. As soon as he was able to raise his head, she Shifted to the next bed, and then they both lay down on their backs. Professor McGonagall flicked her wand at each of them, and the blankets on the hospital beds slid out from under their bodies and then tucked themselves neatly under their armpits.
The door banged open, and Lucius, his face thunderous, strode into the room. “Has your hearing failed you completely, Dumbledore?”
“My apologies, Lucius. I was in a hurry to see to my students.”
Dumbledore gestured at Harry and Ginny, and Malfoy looked their way for the first time. His angry expression slipped for a moment but then returned.
“I am not certain it is entirely accurate to say that they are your students, Dumbledore. Why, I believe we were in this very room when I informed you that your services are no longer needed.”
The Headmaster conjured a sofa between Malfoy and the two students and then sat at one end with his legs stretched across the cushions. “So we were. As I recall, you had a document signed by all nine governors calling for my suspension. As it happens, I now have a document signed by eight governors — yourself excluded, of course — requesting my reinstatement in no uncertain terms. I believe there is a signed document being prepared for you, as well.”
“Is that a threat, Dumbledore? Because I can assure you—”
There was a loud click from the doors, and Harry and Ginny sat up enough to see a house-elf standing in the doorway. “Dobby!” Ginny cried.
Lucius snapped his eyes to her and spoke softly. “How do you know the name of my elf?”
“Dobby has tried to warn them!” the elf said, bounding across the room and leaping onto the end of Harry’s bed to face Malfoy. “Dobby has tried to warn them that… that…” he shuddered and then straightened his back, “that you is a bad, bad wizard!”
“Dobby won’t!” He turned to face Harry. “It is Lucius Malfoy who brings the nasty diary to the bookstore and puts it in your things! It is Lucius Malfoy who wants it to kill Harry Potter!”
“That is preposterous!” Malfoy roared, his composure vanishing. “What diary? I certainly didn’t put any diary in Potter’s things!”
“Are you certain, Lucius?” Dumbledore asked mildly. “I understand there was quite a melee in the bookstore last summer. It would have been easy, I’m sure, to slip a small book in amongst many large ones.”
Malfoy’s lips curled into a snarl. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dumbledore.”
“No? Ah, well. Mr. Potter, Miss Weasley, you were both present that day, weren’t you? Would you be willing to share your memories with me in the Pensieve? I would very much like to get to the bottom of that little mystery. Perhaps we could collect memories from some of the hundred other people in the shop that day. Or even yours, Lucius. Would you mind?” He swung his legs to the floor and tapped the tip of his wand against his lips thoughtfully. “I am, after all, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot.”
Lucius froze, his eyes narrowed. After a tense moment, he cleared his throat. “I do not see that any purpose would be served by that, Dumbledore. After all, the monster that has eluded you for so long has apparently been killed.” He smiled cruelly. “Or so we’re told. Children do lie, you know.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Malfoy,” McGonagall snapped. She strode forward and pulled a bundle from her pocket. As she pointed her wand at it, the wrappings fell away, and it grew dramatically until the full-sized skull of the basilisk was hovering in mid-air, its gaping mouth only a few feet from Malfoy’s face. “Does this look like a lie?”
The blond man recoiled, throwing an arm over his eyes.
“You must be quite a student of your house’s lore, Lucius,” Dumbledore said, rising to his feet to examine the skull. “To recognise this as the skull of a Basilisk.”
When Malfoy’s face emerged, it was flat and expressionless. “A Basilisk, you say? I had no idea. I was merely startled, as one would expect. I am glad to know that this beast has been destroyed.”
He turned towards the door. “Come, Dobby. I will devise some suitable punishment for your transgression, have no fear.”
“Dobby will not.”
Everyone in the room turned to face the elf, who was still standing straight at the foot of Harry’s bed. “What?” Malfoy asked.
“Dobby will not go back to Lucius Malfoy’s house,” the elf said more loudly. He glanced over his shoulder and smiled wildly at Ginny and Harry. “If Harry Potter is brave enough to go away from his nasty family, then Dobby will follow! Dobby does not have to be punished! Dobby does not have to wear ugly shackles!”
Dobby pulled the stained pillowcase over his head and hurled it to the floor at Malfoy’s feet. “Dobby will go where Dobby wants to go!”
“This is ridiculous,” Malfoy hissed. “Put that back on, Dobby. That is an order!”
The elf straightened and spoke in an uncharacteristically formal rhythm. “Dobby hereby denies himself the House of Malfoy, though it doth unmake his purpose.” He put his fists together in midair, and then he yanked them apart. A puff of white smoke appeared between his hands and began to drift to the floor.
“Dobby does not take orders from you anymore.” He raised his finger to point at Malfoy’s chest. “You is a bad, bad, bad—” With every word he jabbed his finger forward, and Malfoy stumbled backwards towards the door. “Bad, bad wizard!”
Lucius Malfoy tripped on the threshold and fell into the corridor. With a flick of Dobby’s finger, the door slammed closed.
“Well done, Dobby,” Ginny said as Harry relaxed back onto the bed.
“Thank you, Ginny Potter!” Dobby lifted the end of Harry’s blanket to cover himself. “Dobby should—”
“Here,” Ginny said, trying to ignore the blush she felt rising. She picked up the remains of her jumper and tossed them to Dobby. “You can wear that for now if you’d like. It’s a bit ratty, but it can’t be any worse than that old pillowcase.”
“Ginny Potter gives Dobby her jumper!” He pushed his arms into the sleeves and pulled it closed. On his tiny frame, it hung to his knees.
“Dobby—” Ginny began.
“Dobby cannot thank Ginny Potter enough. It is wonderful!”
“Please, Dobby, just—”
“Ginny Potter is too generous to poor Dobby!”
Harry heard muffled chuckling and turned his head to see Dumbledore trying unsuccessfully to cover his grin with one hand.
We should’ve had you give it to him, Ginny said, mortified.
I’m in no condition to lift half a jumper, Gin.
“It’s nothing, Dobby, really,” Ginny said, sighing. “It’s practically ruined already. If you like, I could… oh.”
As she watched, the torn fabric at each shoulder sorted itself into tidy hems, and the long tear down the front repaired itself. Then, with a breathy slurping sound, the dust and grime vanished.
“A surcoat, I think,” Dumbledore said, “as befits a brave knight.”
“Dobby is sorry to cause trouble in the castle, Headmaster, sir. Dobby will leave again now that Lucius Malfoy is gone and Ginny and Harry Potter is safe.”
“Nonsense, Dobby. I was just going to ask Blinkin if the Hogwarts elves could manage a modest feast for our returning students. If you would like to join them, you are welcome to do so. Of course, if you would prefer a bit of a break…” He trailed off with a smile.
“Oh, no, sir!” Dobby cried, leaping down to the floor. “Dobby likes to work! Dobby wants to help with the feast!”
Dumbledore nodded. “If you are certain. Blinkin?”
A second elf appeared near the doors. “Yes, Headmaster?”
“Please take Dobby along to the kitchens and see if you and your companions can come up with anything for our students to eat. We’ll all be in the Great Hall soon.”
Ginny was sure she saw the elf’s narrow shoulders sag slightly. “Yes, Headmaster. Also, sir, Professor Flitwick asked where to find you, sir, and he will be here soon.”
“Dobby will see you later, Ginny and Harry Potter,” Dobby said. Then he and Blinkin vanished simultaneously.
“How very enlightening,” Dumbledore said. “Your blush is a treasure, Miss Weasley.”
She huffed. “I’m told it’s my gift to the world.”
Chuckling, Dumbledore moved across the room to examine the Basilisk skull that had come to rest on the floor. “Minerva, would you mind if I borrowed this?”
“If you wish, Headmaster. I had hoped it would be useful in reassuring the governors and parents.”
The old wizard nodded. “My very thought.” He twirled his wand, and both the skull and the conjured sofa disappeared.
Madam Pomfrey approached Harry with a potion in a tiny vial, but the doors opened again before she could speak.
“Ah, Albus,” Professor Flitwick said, stopping in the doorway, “I’m glad you’re here.”
“I’m rather enjoying it myself, Filius. How may I be of service?”
Flitwick looked over his shoulder into the corridor. “Come in, then, girls. You wanted so badly to see him, and here he is.”
He stepped fully into the room, and a moment later the Patil twins followed him inside. They were wearing their uniforms, but without their robes or school ties. Their hair was held back by a pair of identical clips, and they weren’t wearing any makeup or jewellery. The only visible difference between them was that one twin had clearly been crying for some time, while the other’s face showed some mixture of fear and resolve.
Dumbledore glanced back and forth between them for a moment and then turned to Professor Flitwick. “Thank you, Filius. I will be happy to speak with them. Would you be so kind as to contact the Ministry? I should not like Hagrid to spend any further time in their custody.”
The tiny Charms professor jumped slightly. “Oh, my, yes. Will they give any trouble?”
“I do not think so, but please contact me if they do.”
Flitwick nodded and hurried out of the room.
Dumbledore waved his wand at the door. “Misses Patil, I suspect that you have a story to tell us.”
The crying twin hid her face in her hands, but the other looked around at the other people in the room.
“Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey have my complete confidence,” Dumbledore said, “and I believe that Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley deserve to hear what you have to say.”
The girl took a deep breath. “Before Christmas we got an old diary from… from someplace.”
Ginny’s stomach twisted, leaving her feeling nauseous. “Oh, no! You’ve been talking to Tom since then?”
“Yeah,” the other girl said. “Wait, how do you know about Tom?”
“I brought the diary here in the first place, in September, before it started getting passed around. I talked to him once then.”
The crying twin looked up at her, and both of their eyes were wide and startled. “You did?” the calmer one asked. “Did he… did you ever lose track of things?”
“A few hours ago, yes.”
“Oh, Ginny, I’m — we’re so sorry! He… he talked to us when no one else did, and he listened. We didn’t understand for so long, and then… then we were so afraid, and—”
Dumbledore stepped closer and raised a hand, drawing their attention. “Miss Patil — and Miss Patil — you might appreciate knowing that Ginny destroyed that diary earlier tonight.”
“Really?” the dark-haired girl asked. “But what about the Monster of Slytherin? We think it—”
“Ginny killed it,” Harry said drowsily from his bed. “It was a Basilisk, but she killed it.”
“Oh, Harry!” the sobbing twin said, speaking for the first time. “You’re awake! I thought you were still Petrified!”
Her sister put a hand on the crying twin’s shoulder and pulled her back protectively. “We’re glad you’re awake, Harry. Are you hurt?”
“As soon as Madam Pomfrey revived him, he came after me,” Ginny said, sliding off the bed towards the twins. “He followed me to where Tom had taken me, and he made Tom let me go. But he wasn’t supposed to move after he woke up, and now he’s damaged his muscles so much he can barely stand. All because I wrote in that diary.” She turned to focus on the quieter twin. “Just like you did.”
The speaking twin stepped between them as the other crumpled into fresh sobs. “Ginny, we’re so, so sorry. We didn’t mean for any of that to happen.”
“No, I mean…” Ginny struggled for an explanation and then shrugged. “I made all the same mistakes you did. It was… it was easy, wasn’t it? I was lonely, and he seemed harmless.”
The distraught twin dodged around her sister and flung her arms around Ginny’s neck, her body quaking. Ginny held her and felt her own tears starting again.
“Miss Patil?” McGonagall asked gently. The twin clinging to Ginny stepped back, and both looked towards the professor. “You have said that ‘we’ wrote in the diary and implied that ‘we’ were taken over by Tom Riddle. But you are in different houses, and our security measures have made it very difficult for you to spend time together outside of class. I wonder if perhaps it was just one of you who had the diary the whole time.”
The composed twin scowled but answered quickly. “You’re right, Professor. But we don’t think you can prove which one of us it was, and we won’t tell you. Not ever.”
“Alas, we are defeated, Minerva,” Dumbledore said, smiling at them both. “Oh well.”
“Albus…” McGonagall began.
“It does not matter,” the Headmaster replied. “What’s done is done.”
McGonagall sniffed loudly. “It may not matter to you, but one of them will no doubt need assistance in recovering from this ordeal.”
“She’ll get it,” the stoic twin said. “I promise.”
“I’m certain she will,” Dumbledore said. “Poppy, do you suppose we might give the other Miss Patil something to help her rest tonight?”
The matron snorted. “I will be happy to retrieve that potion as soon as you’ve given me a moment to administer this one!” She said, holding up the vial she had brought to Harry.
The Headmaster bowed slightly. “A fair point. We will allow you to do your good work.”
The two professors moved to one corner of the room and began whispering to each other.
“Sit down, Miss Patil. Both of you,” Pomfrey ordered.
Ginny patted the bed she had just left. “Here, sit with us.” Then she hopped up onto the edge of Harry’s bed and let her hand rest on his.
“Drink this, Mr. Potter,” the matron said, holding the small vial to his lips. “It will start the recovery process, and I’ve added something to help you stay awake a bit longer.”
Harry drank the potion, which tasted somewhat like curry, and found that it was easier to keep his eyes open. “Thanks.”
“I’ll be sending you home for the holidays with several dozen doses of this potion without the stimulant. You’re to drink one each night, right before you go to bed. You can manage that, I hope?”
Ginny started to answer but caught herself.
“Yes, Madam Pomfrey,” Harry said.
“In the meantime, you’ll come here every day before dinner so that I can examine you. You’ll have very little strength for the rest of term, and I advise you not to test it until I instruct you to do so.” She gave him a sharp look that encompassed Ginny. “The better you follow my instructions, the more quickly you’ll be back to normal.”
Pomfrey disappeared into a cupboard and returned carrying a Dreamless Sleep potion in one hand. The other hand was pulling a tall wooden chair along in her wake, but it did not scrape the floor. Ginny leaned over enough to see that its legs were floating nearly a foot above the flagstones.
“Take this when you’re ready to sleep,” the matron said, handing the potion to the still-crying twin. “That will give you eight hours without dreams.”
“It works really well,” Ginny said. At the twins’ questioning look, she added, “I’ve… err… needed a few of those recently.”
“In you get, Mr. Potter,” Pomfrey said, gesturing Harry into the floating chair. With her and Ginny’s help, he slid off the side of the bed and sank into the chair. “Put the base of your wand against either arm and use it to move the chair, or get someone to push it for you. It will go up and down stairs if you move slowly.”
Harry held his wand in his fist with the base against the wooden arm of the chair, and then he tilted it slightly forward. The chair began to inch ahead. It’s like one of Dudley’s computer game controllers.
He steered around the bed and back to ensure he could control the chair.
“Tap both arms, and the chair will lower to the floor or rise off of it. Use it as much as possible for the next week,” Pomfrey said. “Headmaster? All four of them may go now.”
“Excellent,” Dumbledore said, returning from his conversation with McGonagall. “Our unhappy security measures have been lifted, so the four of you may journey to the Great Hall blissfully free of supervision. The elves should have a meal ready soon, and I’m hopeful that most of your fellow students will have returned from the evacuation by now.”
“Aren’t you coming, Professors?” Ginny asked, looking at Professor McGonagall.
“In due time, Miss Weasley,” she said. “There is much to be done, but I will most certainly check on all of you tomorrow. I will also see that your souvenir reaches your dormitory.” She nodded to the phoenix feather still on the table.
“Thanks, Professor. I’d almost forgot.”
“Understandable. Run along, now. I’m sure you must be hungry.”
Harry nodded. “I haven’t eaten since April.”
Ginny opened the door and held it for him. “C’mon, bookends,” she said, smiling at the Patils. “We can all race Harry in the chair.”
“Please don’t,” McGonagall said as the twins followed Harry obediently.
Ginny turned and winked at her Head of House before leaving the room and pulling the door closed behind her.
You realise you just—
“Did you just wink at Minerva McGonagall?” one twin asked.
Ginny groaned softly. “I think I did. I’m so tired it’s making me barmy.”
Fred and George will be so proud.
They started down the hall with the two sisters following Ginny and Harry. “We really are sorry,” one of the girls said. “We didn’t understand what was happening. I know you’ve both had a horrible time because of us, but we didn’t do it on purpose.”
Ginny and Harry pivoted to face them.
It has to be, right?
“I really do understand, Parvati,” Ginny said to the twin who had been doing most of the talking.
Her eyes widened, and she darted a look to her sister. “You… you don’t know I’m Parvati.”
“I think you must be,” Ginny said. “You were with us too much, never mind all the time you spend with Lavender.”
Parvati sighed. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
Ginny shook her head. “Never. I promise.”
“Me, too,” Harry said.
“Do you think Professor Dumbledore knows?” Parvati asked.
Ginny shrugged. “Maybe, but like you said, I don’t think he could prove it.”
“And he doesn’t seem to want to,” Harry added.
Ginny stepped closer to the twins and put a gentle hand on Padma’s arm. “I know what he was like. A sort of memory of Tom Riddle came out of the diary in the Chamber of Secrets, and I spoke to him face-to-face.” Ginny and Harry shuddered, but they knew it was important for Padma to hear. “He could convince you of anything, couldn’t he? Absolutely anything. He made it sound so… so…”
“Reasonable,” Padma whispered. “Obvious, even.”
“Yeah,” Ginny said.
I think she needs to know, Ginny.
Are you sure?
“Do you know who he was, Padma?” Harry asked. “Do you know what happened to Tom Riddle when he grew up?”
Both twins shook their heads.
“He became Voldemort. That wasn’t just any teenager who managed to take you and Ginny over. That was one of the strongest, Darkest wizards ever. I doubt anyone else would have been able to do it.”
The girls gasped, and Padma stepped back from Ginny’s hand. “You mean I… I let You-Know-Who attack people?”
“If it hadn’t been you, it would have been someone else,” Ginny insisted. “He was just too strong to resist.”
“That’s right,” Harry said. “It’s not your fault, Padma, and it’s not Ginny’s. You two were just… convenient to him.”
Ginny closed her eyes for a moment. I’m still sorry, Harry.
So is she, I bet, but you know I’m right.
“The diary is gone, Pad,” Parvati said. “Ginny destroyed it. All the damage it caused is fixed now, more or less, and it will never be able to take over anyone else.”
Padma nodded and took a deep breath. “It’s gone. You’re right, it’s gone. But I don’t know how I’m ever going to face those people again. Hermione, and Penelope, and…” She glanced inadvertently at Harry.
“No-one else will know it was you,” Harry said. “And I don’t care.”
“People are all returning from the evacuation, right?” Ginny asked. “So it’s perfectly reasonable for the two of you to arrive when we do. No one has to suspect anything.”
“We can even go in separately, if you like,” Harry said. “So that—”
“No,” Parvati said firmly. “We’re not leaving you two to fend for yourselves. It’s not right. We’ll all stick together, and we’ll be fine. If people stare, we’ll just ignore them.”
Ginny grinned. “Watch Harry. He’s got rather good at it.”
At last, Padma nodded. “Okay.”
“You have to tell me the truth, though,” Ginny said. “Do I still look like a complete wreck? If I walk in there like this, are people going to think I’ve been running wild in the forest for the last month?”
Harry looked up at her so she could see herself clearly. McGonagall’s cleaning charms had helped, but her hair was still a tangled, dusty mess, and the stark freshness of her pyjama shirt made it painfully obvious how filthy her jeans were. It’s not as bad as when you actually did run wild in the forest for one night.
I suppose that’s good, but I don’t really care. I just want it to distract them.
“You’ll be fine, Ginny,” Parvati said. “Everyone’s a mess after the evacuation, and… well, the whole school knows you got dragged off to somewhere nasty.”
“Oh,” Ginny said, genuinely startled. “I hadn’t thought of that."
Padma reached into her pocket and pulled out an elastic. “Here. Put your hair back, and it won’t be as obvious.”
They set off down the corridor again as Ginny arranged her hair into the neatest ponytail she could manage.
When they reached the Great Hall, the house tables were at least half full, with most of the students clustered near the head table.
“Err,” Parvati said. “I’m… I mean we’re going to sit at the Ravenclaw table, I think.”
Too many people might recognise her in Gryffindor, I suppose.
Harry shook his head. “We should stick together, you said. Come on.”
He steered his wooden chair to the foot of the Hufflepuff table, which left a sizable gap between him and the other students. Ginny sat at the side of the table on his left, and after a moment the Patil twins sat opposite her, keeping their eyes on the wooden surface in front of them.
This way there’s practically no chance of someone picking out either of them, Harry said, lowering his chair to the floor.
The few students sitting nearby began whispering to each other and craned their necks to see the newcomers.
“Ignore them,” Parvati whispered to Padma. “They don’t know anything.”
From his position facing up the length of the hall, Harry spotted two red heads rising from the Gryffindor table. Ginny’s twin brothers trotted down the aisle towards them.
“Ginny!” Fred said. He pulled her up from the table and hugged her quickly, and then George took his brother’s place and held on to her for a few moments.
“We’re okay,” Ginny whispered. “Help us keep people away from the Patils. We’ll explain later.”
Fred gave her a tiny nod and turned to Harry. “Hello, Harry. Been a while.” He raised an eyebrow invitingly.
“Oh,” Harry replied. “Well, I was tired, you know, so I took a bit of a nap.”
“You look like you could use another,” George said, finally releasing Ginny. “Still, I’ve never been happier to see a dirty midget.”
“I’m happy to be here. And I’ll have you know I took a shower just six weeks ago.”
“A shower in what?” Fred asked.
“Never mind that, Fred,” George said. “There are more interesting questions. For example, what are you doing in this particular location?”
“Instead of, say, that one over there.” Fred pointed at the Gryffindor table.
“Easy,” Ginny said. “We’re sitting with friends and waiting for you to join us.”
Fred looked across the table at the Patils. “Pretty friends, no less.”
The Weasley brothers looked at each other, and then George began to dart around the end of the table. He had only made it to Harry’s chair, however, when Fred casually vaulted the table and landed heavily on the bench next to Parvati, his feet in the aisle. “Hello, pretty friends.”
Sighing dramatically, George reversed course and sat next to Ginny. Fred spun himself to face the proper direction as Parvati blushed, and even Padma smiled a little.
“Have you two seen Hermione?” Ginny asked. “She—”
“She was supposed to have been revived when Harry was.”
He nodded. “I saw her, but only for a minute.”
“They took us out by year again,” George said. “I saw Ron leave the common room, but that’s it.”
“We saw both of them,” Parvati said. “The second years were all packed into a pub in Hogsmeade. Ron was there when we arrived, and Hermione came in later with the others from the hospital wing.”
“Where did you go?” Harry asked the twins.
“Ministry of Magic,” George said. “We Flooed there from the tea shop.”
Over the next few minutes, more students arrived from the entrance hall. They all stared at the group at the end of the Hufflepuff table before joining their own houses. When Susan Bones arrived, she paused at the threshold and smiled widely at Ginny and Harry.
Another memory forced its way to the surface of their mind. Ginny had glared at Susan after the other girl had tried so hard to defend her from the silly gossip of the other Hufflepuffs. They remembered Susan’s shame-filled face in vivid detail.
Oh, I’m rotten.
Ginny made herself smile back as Susan passed them on her way up the table.
Luna came through the doors a few minutes later. She glanced at Harry and Ginny and then walked around to sit next to George. “Hello. Are we camping, then?”
“I suppose we are,” Fred said.
Ginny gestured to Luna, and the two girls twisted towards each other behind George, who obligingly leaned forward to talk to the Patil twins. “We’re pretending we can’t tell Parvati and Padma apart,” Ginny whispered.
“All right,” Luna said. “We can, though, right?”
“Well… yes,” Ginny said.
“I’ve always found them much easier than your brothers. One of them is always sadder than the other.”
That sums it up nicely, doesn’t it?
Ginny nodded. “Hopefully not any more. That’s why we’re doing it.”
“Oh. Good, then. I’m glad you’re alive, by the way.”
“Right, Harry?” Fred asked. “Oi, Harry!”
Harry started and realised that he had let his body fall into a daze while they focused on Luna. He blinked as she re-joined the conversation. “Sorry. Been a long night.”
“Which you will tell us about at some point,” Fred said. “But don’t you agree that it’s easier to tell them apart this way?” He gestured at the Patils, who waggled their fingers above the table. Parvati’s nails were bright pink, and Padma’s were a shocking purple. “Pink Patil and Purple Patil.”
“Oh. Yeah, it is,” Harry said.
Ginny cocked her head at Fred. “Why are you so keen to tell them apart when you never want anyone to tell you apart?”
“Hypocrisy, of course,” Fred replied. He leaned close to Parvati. “Now tell me, Pink, how did you like the Hog’s Head? Bit more earthy than the Three Broomsticks, isn’t it?”
He turned at the shout and saw Hermione limping towards them. Ron was with her, and behind them came Percy, Penelope, and Colin Creevey. Scattered applause broke out in the Great Hall as the group entered.
Harry raised his chair from the floor and turned it to face Hermione. She smiled and leaned down to hug him awkwardly but fiercely.
“Thank goodness you’re all right,” she said in his ear, her voice choked. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Who’re you talking to, Hermione?” he whispered.
They both smiled as they separated. “Are you okay?” Harry asked. “I’m sorry I knocked you off the bed.”
“I’m fine,” she said. “But what happened? Everyone’s saying you must have killed the Basilisk.”
“Long story. But yeah, it’s dead.”
Hermione’s smile widened. “I knew you could do it.” She stepped around Harry to hug Ginny briefly, and then she sank onto the bench next to Luna with a sigh.
“All right, Harry?” Ron asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I will be, anyway.”
“Ron!” Fred cried. “Come and join us. I was just telling Purple about the time we got you to call us by the wrong names for a whole week.”
As the Weasley twins began explaining their color-coding all over again, Penelope walked behind Harry and put out a hand to stop Ginny from sitting down again. Then, wordlessly, she pulled the smaller girl into a gentle embrace. “Thank you, Ginny.”
What—? Oh! “He told you?” she said softly.
Penelope nodded. “First chance he got.”
“I really think he means it,” Ginny said.
“I do, too.” She stepped back from Ginny. “Are you feeling better now? Percy told me you were terribly upset about Harry.”
“Much better, thanks. Do you want to join us? We decided the house tables were silly tonight.”
Penelope nodded. “We’d be delighted.” She took Percy’s hand again and pulled him down the table to sit next to Hermione. Ginny’s brother let himself be led with a small, dazed smile on his face. Colin waved cheerfully at Harry and scampered off to the Gryffindor table.
“That potion must be wearing off,” Padma said quietly from Harry’s right. “You look half asleep already.”
We’re out of practice, Ginny.
I’m finding it hard to care right now, she said, taking his hand under the corner of the table. Let them think we’re just exhausted. They’re not wrong.
“Sorry,” Harry said.
“It’s okay,” Padma said. “I’m just glad you’re all awake again.”
The Weasley twins were telling another story, and soon almost everyone was laughing and talking together as though they were at a party. Harry’s end of the table was quieter, but the twins made up for it.
When cheers and clapping broke out at the other end of the Hall, the mixed group of Gryffindors and Ravenclaws looked up to see Professor Dumbledore entering from the anteroom. Professor McGonagall followed in his wake, but the students’ attention was on the Headmaster.
Dumbledore stopped in front of his chair and raised his hands to quiet the room. “Thank you, everyone, and welcome. I believe that all students have now returned to Hogwarts, making us whole and safe at last.”
Another wave of applause splashed around the room.
“Quite soon, there will be food for those who are hungry and plenty of time for friends to get re-acquainted. Before that, however, I think it is important for us all to understand some of what has happened tonight.”
The Hall fell silent in a way that only Dumbledore ever seemed to evoke.
“At the start of the year, someone from outside the castle found a way to place an object of horribly Dark magic among us. That object had a terrible power to beguile us and make us do things we would never ordinarily do. It used us to do evil things, entirely against our will.”
In the dead silence of the room, Padma’s sudden sob was clearly audible. Many students glanced at her from the surrounding tables.
“The Chamber of Secrets is not merely a legend,” Dumbledore said more loudly, drawing attention back to himself. “It is real, and when the object caused it to open, the Monster of Slytherin was released. It hunted us and attacked us, and it is only through stupendous luck that none of us was killed.
“Tonight, one of our students was forced into the Chamber itself, and there she faced a fate much worse than death. Another of our students followed her to rescue her from that fate. They faced the Monster and the Dark magic together.”
Why is he…
Dumbledore circled his wand over the table in front of him, and the Basilisk’s skull dropped onto the wooden surface with a loud thud. Startled screams and gasps rippled throughout the room, and Harry and Ginny squeezed their hands together desperately.
“The Monster of Slytherin is dead,” Dumbledore shouted over the tumult. “I want you all to see this and know that it is no longer a threat. Something attacked Hogwarts through her students, but her students destroyed it.”
The Headmaster waited a few moments for the noise to die down. “That is what I want you to remember. The strength of this castle lies in its students. It lies in each of you and your willingness to work together against the champions and creatures of the dark.
“For defeating an ancient enemy of Hogwarts, for preventing harm to us and to future Hogwarts students, and for demonstrating our very best qualities, I award one hundred points each to Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley.”
Fred and George were the first to their feet, clapping and shouting, but to Harry and Ginny’s shock they were not the last. Most of the Gryffindors stood up and applauded, and many students from Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw joined them. All of the professors, including Snape, were standing and at least clapping politely.
Everyone sitting with Ginny and Harry was standing, and everyone nearby was watching them. Their eyes darted around, trying to take in the smiling faces and shining eyes.
It wasn’t… we didn’t…
He made it sound so…
They gave up and locked their gazes on the table, clinging to each other both physically and mentally.
“Ginny!” Hermione called down the table. “Look at Professor McGonagall!”
Harry and Ginny looked up and found their Head of House at the high table. She was clapping as loudly as anyone in the Hall, beaming as widely as the twins, and light glinted from the tears on her face. When she saw them looking, she gave them a small, sharp nod. They could not help smiling in return.
“Yes, thank you, Miss Weasley and Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said as the noise started to fade. “They are indeed the heroes of the day. But,” he said, raising his voice slightly, “we have been fighting this battle all year. You have all suffered through uncertainty, disruption, and intrusion. Every house has done what was necessary, even when it was unpleasant.”
Dumbledore looked towards the mixed group at the end of the Hufflepuff table. “Therefore, I award twenty points to Ravenclaw for steadfast courage, and twenty points to Gryffindor for quick thinking.” He looked further up the Hufflepuff table to a group of older girls, “I also award twenty points to Hufflepuff for well-meaning ambition, however misplaced,” he glanced down the length of the Slytherin table, “and twenty points to Slytherin for house loyalty.”
Everyone clapped again, though more quietly.
That was cryptic, even for him, Ginny said.
He didn’t actually do anything with those points, did he?
“Finally, I wish to announce that due to the many disruptions to our learning this year, end-of-year exams in all subjects are hereby cancelled.” The applause was much louder, but Dumbledore’s voice boomed over it. “O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. students, I’m afraid those ordeals will proceed on schedule. And now, let us enjoy a midnight snack. For tonight, you are all welcome to stay as long as you like. Tomorrow’s — or rather today’s — school breakfast is also cancelled.”
Dumbledore sat down, which cued place settings and platters of food to appear on all of the house tables. The dishes were a hodgepodge of puddings, breakfast foods, bowls of fresh fruit, and platters of sandwiches. The sight of food perked Harry up a bit, and he and Ginny selected sandwiches eagerly.
The festive mood of the students grew as the impromptu feast went on, and the staff allowed the students to enjoy a carefree evening. Over the next hour, a few students who had been absent for weeks or months due to the attacks at the school returned, and they were all welcomed by their houses.
Harry was beginning to doze off in spite of the noise when the doors opened, and a huge figure stepped into the Hall. “Hagrid!” Ginny shouted.
The same call came from other parts of the room, and Hagrid waved to each of them as he made his way down the central aisle to the head table.
Thank goodness, Ginny said.
I still can’t believe they took him to Azkaban.
That’s because it was an utterly stupid thing to do.
He looks okay now.
Ginny watched Hagrid smile as he sat down and wondered if he would still be smiling when he found out what she had done to the Acromantula colony. She sighed. I’ll have to talk to him soon.
I think he’ll understand.
Yeah, but we’re not sure, are we? He was a wreck about his dragon, and it hadn’t even hatched yet.
After another half hour, Harry and Ginny realised that there was simply no way they could stay awake until the feast ended. No-one else had left, but they decided that could be a benefit.
“I’m going to bed,” Harry announced, raising his chair from the floor. “See you all tomorrow.”
Ginny did not have to feign a yawn. “I’ll come, too. ‘Night, all.”
“Sleep well, small ones,” Fred said. Sometime during the celebration, he and George had charmed their own nails, and he waved at them with a pink-tipped hand.
The other students said their goodnights, and Ginny put her hand on Harry’s forearm. Together, they steered through the double doors and headed for the staircases.
They had gone only a few yards when the doors opened again, and Hermione hobbled out. “Wait, please,” she said.
Harry and Ginny had planned to Shift to the boys’ dormitory as soon as they were away from the Great Hall, but they wordlessly agreed to wait for Hermione. Once she caught up, Hermione looped her arm through Ginny’s, and they all started up the stairs at the slow pace of the chair.
“I do want to hear everything that’s happened,” Hermione said, “but not tonight.”
That’s a relief.
“Thanks for that,” Harry said. “I’m too tired to even remember it all.”
“I’m too tired to listen, honestly. I’ve never hated these stairs more than I do right now.”
Harry leaned forward to see her around Ginny. “Do you want the chair, Hermione? I could just Shift up to the tower.”
“No thanks, Harry,” she said. “The stairs are probably good for me.”
They climbed in easy silence for a few moments before Hermione said, “I do have to ask, though…”
Harry and Ginny grinned.
“Who was the ‘thing’ that took over your body, Ginny? Who is Tom Riddle, that Professor McGonagall was so frightened?”
Straight to the point, Hermione.
“She didn’t tell you?” Ginny said.
Hermione shook her head. “No, she refused. And as soon as she’d unsealed the door, she turned into a cat and ran like her tail was on fire.”
“I can’t blame her, I suppose,” Harry said. “It was Voldemort. Tom Riddle is his real name.”
“What?!” Hermione cried. “How is that possible? I mean, how could—”
“That’s the long story,” Ginny said.
Harry looked over at their friend again and could tell she was regretting her decision to wait for the full explanation. Then she took a deep breath. “But did you kill him, or get rid of him somehow? He can’t still be around here.”
“Ginny did,” Harry replied.
“Do you mean her body did it, or that you weren’t… err…”
“I was distant again, yeah. More of the long story.”
“But Harry did his part,” Ginny added.
It was all I really cared about doing, anyway.
I know, Harry.
They finally reached the deserted Gryffindor common room. As Harry’s chair slowly navigated the spiral staircase to his dormitory, Ginny and Hermione climbed to the girls’ room. Ginny was not sure if their trunks had ever actually left the castle, but either way, hers was waiting in its usual place at the end of her bed. Her phoenix feather rested on top of her other belongings.
Ginny made a quick trip to the loo and gratefully shed the hospital shirt and stained jeans in favour of her sleep shirt. When she emerged into the room again, Hermione eyed her critically.
“You still haven’t been eating enough, have you?”
“Not really,” Ginny admitted. “I got a tiny bit better after…er… There really is so much to tell you. The point is I’m better now, right?”
Hermione stood and hugged her again, squeezing tightly. “Yes, that’s the point.”
I guess it’s ‘hug Ginny’ night at Hogwarts.
Harry smiled as he reached his darkened dormitory. You don’t mind in the least. And I’m waiting for my turn.
“I’m sure that’s not the only reason,” Hermione said. “Goodnight, Alex.”
Puzzling over that remark, Ginny Shifted to Harry’s dormitory and helped him change into his usual pyjamas, but they did not bother to dig Bun-bun’s towel out of Harry’s trunk.
Showers in the morning? he asked.
Harry settled into bed gratefully as Ginny sealed the curtains, but she paused as she began to lie down.
Where’s the Invisibility Cloak? They concentrated on their memories, trying to sort out the order in which everything had occurred. You definitely had it when you went down the pipe, Harry said, but I don’t think we’ve seen it since then.
Do you suppose Tom did something with it?
Could be. They sighed in unison. We can’t do anything about it now, though.
Rather than immediately curling up at Harry’s side, Ginny leaned over his chest so that he could wrap his arms around her. After a moment, she relaxed and let her head rest against his. For a few blissful minutes they simply basked in the ability to feel safe and comfortable and whole.
This is what Hermione meant, I think.
About liking ‘Alex’?
Yes. It means us. Not one or the other, but both. That’s what we like.
Do you suppose he was right about sharing one thing instead of connecting two things?
I don’t see how it matters, though. We are what we are.
Ginny raised her head and looked into Harry’s eyes. I’ve missed this.
She leaned down, and they kissed each other slowly, tenderly, and joyfully.