Ginny stormed down the corridor, causing the candles that hung along the walls to flicker as she passed. She was tired of revising, and she needed a break. She knew if she returned to the common room early from her supposed run to the library that Hermione would be all over her. She wasn’t capable of revising as much as Hermione did, however. Her brain would explode.
It was all so pointless, anyway.
They still had their final match against Ravenclaw to prepare for, but Hermione only tut-tutted at her when she brought it up. She simply couldn’t accept that, for Ginny, the match was as important as the exams were to Hermione.
Ginny had kept her big news mostly to herself, although she had told her roommates so that they could talk freely in the dormitory. She’d also shared the excitement with Demelza since she had helped her train and knew she was trying out, so it would’ve been impossible to keep it from her. All her friends had sworn secrecy until Ginny was ready to share. It was her news to tell, anyway. Luna knew as well, of course, but Luna always seemed to simply know things.
As an added bonus to her own good news, she’d received an owl from Willow letting her know that her new friend had also received and accepted an offer to join the Harpies for summer camp. Their chances to one day play on the same team were still alive and going strong.
Ginny’s angry strides had brought her along the second-floor corridor without conscious thought. It wasn’t until she was standing in front of the door that she realized where she was. Her breath caught in her throat like it always did when she passed this spot, scattered images and fragmented memories running through her mind. Her palms were sweaty, and she had to concentrate in order to draw breath. She always avoided this bathroom if she could.
Squaring her shoulders and staring purposefully at the door in an attempt to master herself, Ginny asked the question she frequently used of late when trying to make up her mind about something.
What would Fred think?
He certainly wouldn’t be afraid of a ruddy bathroom. Stupid thing to be afraid of, really…
But it wasn’t the bathroom itself, it was the memories it evoked. The entrance to the Chamber lay behind this door, and thatwas something to be afraid of. Even Fred had said so. He’d respect her fear, yeah, but he’d also confront it if it was him. He wouldn’t let the fear control him. Ginny had been letting it control her for too long.
Raising her hand and ignoring the fact it was trembling, she traced the sign on the door indicating it was a girls’ bathroom. Of course, it hadn’t stopped Ron and Harry from accompanying Hermione inside to brew an illicit batch of Polyjuice Potion in their second year.
Before Ginny could come to any sort of decision, she heard voices about to turn the corner. Not wanting to be seen staring at the bathroom hiding the Chamber of Secrets, she quickly knelt down and pretended to be doing up the lace of her trainer. Around the corner came two of her least favourite people — Brynn Dempsey and Romilda Vane. They stopped when they spotted her, and Ginny raised her eyes coolly.
“Ginny! Fancy meeting you here,” Romilda said, fluttering her dark lashes innocently. She’d spent the majority of the year trying to befriend Ginny in order to get information about Harry, and Ginny had no patience for her games. Brynn was the smarter of the two, and she always set Ginny’s teeth on edge. Knotting her lace, she stood up to face them.
“Whatever are you doing here all alone?” Brynn asked, her eyes calculating as she took in their location. Ginny was certain that she, too, was remembering all the old rumours of what Ginny had done here.
Deciding truth was her best option — at least partial truth — Ginny replied, “Avoiding Hermione and her revising schedules.”
Romilda snorted. She’d been in the common room too often to have missed Hermione’s militant NEWT preparation. “I saw Dean and Andrew skiving off, as well. They were tossing a Quaffle in an empty classroom.”
“Ooh, where?” Ginny asked eagerly. “I wouldn’t mind joining in on that instead of endless goblin rebellions.”
“Where is Hermione?” Brynn asked, her eyes still narrowed.
Ginny, who had years of experience watching Fred and George give people an ‘Are you stupid?’ look, had hers down pat. “She’s in the common room, of course… hence the reason I’m not,” she said, stressing the last two words.
Romilda sniggered, causing Brynn to glare at her and toss her russet-coloured hair. “So, you’re just out roaming the corridors alone then, are you?”
Ginny slowly looked from side to side. “Looks that way,” she said, her tone mocking.
“Not meeting that boyfriend of yours under his Invisibility Cloak, are you?” Brynn asked snidely.
Ginny frowned. Everyone who’d been at the Battle had seen Harry’s Cloak, so it was no longer a secret, but whatever had given Brynn that idea? “What?” she asked, nonplussed.
“Is Harry here?” Romilda asked, standing on the balls of her feet and looking around excitedly as if simply knowing he was there would somehow make him visible to her.
Ginny folded her arms across her chest, raising her eyebrows. “He’s not here, and if he were, we certainly could find a better rendezvous spot than a well-lit corridor.”
Brynn smirked. “Yeah, I’ve heard that you’re really good at finding those secret little hideaways,” she said, alluding to the rumours the Slytherins had spread about her last year.
“Most of the DA was good at finding them,” she said, refusing to be cowed. “It was how we caused so much mayhem without being caught. Of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that, tucked safely away in your dormitory.”
Brynn flushed, glaring. “You know nothing of what the Ravenclaws went through last year.”
“I do, actually. Luna, who is the bravest one of all of you, kept us well informed,” Ginny said, firing up. Brynn had spent years being horrid to Luna, and Ginny wouldn’t soon forget it.
“And we all know how accurate Luna’s reality is,” Brynn said, raising her eyes to the ceiling above.
“I’d trust Luna with my life,” Ginny said coldly, and she meant it.
“Ginny? Is that you?” Hermione asked, turning the corner and finding Ginny, Romilda and Brynn in the corridor. “What are you all doing here?”
“That’s what we were wondering,” Brynn said, smirking. “Apparently, Ginny isn’t all that fond of your revising habits.”
Ginny shut her eyes, groaning inwardly.
“I was worried when Liz came back from the library and said she hadn’t seen you,” Hermione said, looking a little hurt.
“Well, we don’t want to get in the way of your studies. NEWTs are nearly here,” Brynn said, smiling sweetly as she and Romilda moved away, leaving Ginny alone with Hermione. Ginny would get her back for this.
“I’m sorry, Hermione,” Ginny said once the other two were out of hearing distance. “I just needed a break.”
Hermione waved her off. “So, tell me why you’re really here — standing outside this particular bathroom.”
Not much got past Hermione. Ginny sighed deeply. “I don’t know. I was trying to work that out when Brynn and Romilda found me. I had to think fast.”
“Have you been inside since?” Hermione asked gently.
Ginny shook her head, her throat tight. “I was working up the nerve.”
“Would it help if you had company?” Hermione asked, biting her lip.
Ginny looked at her sharply. Was she ready for this? Was she ready to let Hermione possibly see her fail? She paused a moment, considering, before nodding very slowly. Hermione had proven herself a wonderful friend, and Ginny hoped that one day, they might even be sisters — if her prat of a brother didn’t muck it up.
Hermione held out her hand, and Ginny took it, grateful for the pressure in the gentle squeeze Hermione gave her. She pushed open the door, and the two of them walked inside together.
The bathroom looked like the majority of the other bathrooms in the castle, although with a bit more water on the floor. Ginny shuddered, remembering. There had always been a lot of water on the floor.
“All right, Ginny?” Hermione asked, concerned.
Ginny couldn’t tear her eyes away from the floor, the distant voice in her head calling to her — strong, demanding, cruel — and she was powerless to stop it.
“Looks like Myrtle’s been here,” Hermione said, again squeezing Ginny’s hand.
Ginny nodded mutely, unable to force her throat to work properly. She clung to Hermione as if she were a lifeline. Perhaps she was.
“Did Harry ever tell you that Myrtle had a crush on him?” Hermione asked, her lips twitching.
“Moaning Myrtle?” Ginny asked, momentarily side-tracked. Leave it to Harry to have a ghostly admirer.
“He didn’t know what to make of her any more than he knew what to do with his living admirers,” Hermione said, giggling. “We spent hours and hours in here during our second year brewing that potion. Did you know that I was the one who stole the ingredients from Professor Snape’s cupboard?”
This statement really caught Ginny’s attention, and she turned to stare fully at Hermione, eyes widening. “You? You stole from a teacher?” she asked, unable to wrap her mind around that.
“I knew it had to be me because he’d automatically suspect Harry. I had to do it while Harry had a solid alibi,” Hermione said smugly. Despite the fact it was something that was so against her nature, it was obviously something Hermione prided herself on accomplishing.
“Did Myrtle really have a crush on Harry?” Ginny asked, still trying to picture it.
“Oh, yes,” Hermione said, this time unable to control her giggles. “She even appeared once in his bath while he had sneaked into the Prefects’ bathroom trying to work out the clue for that egg during the Triwizard Tournament.”
“What?” Ginny shrieked, feeling her own numb lips curling upward. “I know I made a fool of myself around him, but even I wouldn’t have dared that.”
“He was mortified. I heard him telling Ron about it,” Hermione said, leaning in close as if sharing a great secret.
Gradually, the tight knot of tension that had constricted Ginny’s inside subsided, and she was able to breathe freely once again. Hermione had succeeded in dragging her out of her own head, and she was grateful for it. She’d also learned some wonderful blackmail material in the process. She took a deep breath, now looking around the bathroom properly for the first time. If one didn’t know the secrets it held, they wouldn’t even notice anything extraordinary about it. Steeling herself, Ginny walked toward the sink she knew to be the key. You had to look closely to see that the designs embedded in it were actually serpents.
“D’you—” Hermione began tentatively, stopping herself and biting her lip as if to keep the words inside.
“Do I what?” Ginny asked, turning to look at her directly.
Hermione swallowed. “D’you remember how you opened it?” she whispered.
Ginny shuddered, grasping the sink for support.
“I’m sorry,” Hermione cried, watching her reaction. “It’s just — Ron isn’t a Parselmouth, either, but he’s really good at imitations. That’s how he opened it — by copying what Harry said. I’ve noticed you can do imitations, as well. Your Umbridge impersonation is spot on.”
Ginny shrugged, breathing through her nose. “I honestly don’t remember any of it. I remember being in my dormitory, and that foggy, distant feeling came over me. The next thing I knew, I woke up on the floor of the Chamber. Tom must’ve told me what to say,” Ginny said faintly. “Actually, I don’t think I ever even heard Harry use Parseltongue when he could.”
“Not even at Professor Lockhart’s Duelling Club?” Hermione asked.
Ginny shook her head. “I remember hearing about it afterwards, but that was one of those times I woke up with blood on my hands and no idea how it got there. I imagine Tom thought it was a good time to get rid of some roosters while the rest of the school was preoccupied.”
Hermione nodded, pondering. A strange, distant expression crossed her features that ignited Ginny’s curiosity and she raised an eyebrow in question.
“It’s just… it’s sort of funny to think about it, but, Ron is probably the only one left who can still get into the Chamber of Secrets,” Hermione said, eyes wide. “Harry barely registered it even when he was the using it.”
Despite the tension, Ginny snorted. “Well, Ron always wanted something to make him unique.”
Hermione laughed, smiling fondly. “Are you all right?”
Ginny smiled, feeling both proud of herself for confronting her demons, and also a little silly for having avoided a simple bathroom for so long. “I really think I am. Let’s go back to the common room. I think I’m up for a little more revising,” she said.
Hermione’s eyes widened. “You are? Well, let’s be quick before the urge passes.”
The two girls linked arms and made their way back up to the common room together.
Harry arrived at the Ministry bright and early, dodging the slew of reporters clustered in the lobby like vultures waiting to snatch their prey. He ducked his head and jumped into an empty lift, silencing their litany of questions. They were all speaking so loud and fast, it was impossible to catch exactly what they were saying, although he thought he might know.
Today was the day the Dementors would arrive at the giants’ camp. Although a deal had been reached, a lot of tension remained amongst those participating. There was no room for error in an endeavour that was fraught with the potential to go wrong. He scowled, feeling a lot of the reporters were displaying the same sort of bloodlust for which the giants were being criticized. Thankfully, although the date had been leaked, they didn’t appear to know the details of the plan or else they’d likely turn up at the encampment.
Amos Diggory and his group would be awaiting the Aurors outside the giants’ camp whilst Harry’s group herded the first cluster of Dementors forward. The group Ron was assigned was keeping the remaining Dementors from escaping before bringing them along, as well. At least now, given the remote location, there hadn’t been the need to avoid a lot of Muggles, and the Dementors seemed easier to control in the mountains’ high altitude.
Giants were not popular amongst wizards, and the media was touting the fact they believed this venture was ripe for failure. None of the staff from the Department for the Regulation and Control for Magical Creatures was excited about their part in today’s plan. Harry found it rich that even the people who were supposed to defend the giants’ rights had a blatant prejudice against them. He knew Hermione still had aspirations to do something for house-elves, and he wondered how she would react to the attitudes of the members of that department.
Merlin help them, they wouldn’t know what hit them when she joined their ranks.
It was Hagrid who’d acted as liaison in arranging the deal with the Gurg — the leader of the giants. They had agreed to keep the Dementors confined in their area, while wizards had agreed to expand that area and set up some charms to allow them to spread out but still keep them secluded. Hagrid would be with Diggory’s group today, and Harry was looking forward to seeing him.
He went down to one of the empty training rooms that was being used as the designated meeting spot for his group. They’d be taking a Portkey once everyone had arrived because Gawain Robards was determined to avoid any Splinching accidents. Apparition anywhere near the Dementors was not allowed.
“Harry!” Violet called as soon as he entered the room. She and Lisa Turpin were huddled over cups of coffee at a side table. Harry instinctively knew they were gossiping and wondered if he could avoid joining them but there was no one else in the room.
“Hey Violet, hey Lisa,” he said, smiling as he reluctantly sat down. Violet slid a cup of coffee across the table toward him, and he nodded his appreciation.
“Are you ready for this?” Violet asked.
“I am so ready to be done with these Dementors,” Lisa said, shuddering so forcefully a strand of blue hair fell over her face. She blew upwards to move it away.
“I have to admit — it’s the giants who concern me more. I have loads of Dementor experience now, but the things I’ve heard about the giants. They’re vicious,” Violet said, looking grim.
“But they’re our allies in this. I’ve known both, and believe me, the Dementors are far worse,” Harry said bleakly.
“D’you have your happy thoughts ready? Don’t forget my old standby — first time sex is always good for a glowing Patronus,” Violet said, smirking.
Harry felt his cheeks go pink despite his attempts to stop it. “Still using that one, are you? If he brings such good memories, how come you let him get away?”
Violet’s eyes flew open wide, and her mouth began to drop before she caught it, quickly regaining her composure. “Who said it was a he?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow.
This time Harry completely lost the battle with his complexion, and felt colour suffusing his skin. “Er…”
Lisa threw back her head and laughed. “Aww, leave him alone, Vi. He actually gave it back to you for a minute there.”
“I know! Makes me think he and Ginny have been getting busy,” Violet said, her unusually coloured eyes twinkling as she waggled her eyebrows.
Harry was eternally grateful to see Owen enter the training room with Elin, who was Violet’s partner. “Owen,” he said, trying to regain his composure. “How many of us on this shift?”
“Ten Aurors, and two volunteers,” Owen said, sitting down with them. “They should be arriving soon. We have a couple from the class behind yours who’ve proven most capable with the Patronus Charm.”
Harry knew people from both other departments and the Order of the Phoenix who were proficient at casting a Patronus had volunteered to help with the transfer. As he pondered who the volunteers might be, his question was answered when Mr. Weasley and Bill entered the classroom, laughing heartily.
They both came over to say hello when they spotted Harry. Harry felt a slight panic as he shook Mr. Weasley’s hand, hoping Violet wouldn’t continue her previous conversation. If she mentioned anything about first-time sex in front of Ginny’s father and oldest brother, he decided then and there to let the giants have him. He found his palms were sweaty just thinking about it.
“It’s good to see you, lad,” Mr. Weasley said, his warm blue eyes crinkling in the corners.
“How have you been, Harry?” Bill asked at the same time.
“I’m good,” Harry said. “I’ll be happy when we can hand off the Dementors and be done with them. I hope to never see one again as long as I live.”
“Here’s hoping our peace will last long enough that you’ll never have to,” Mr. Weasley said, squeezing Harry’s shoulder.
“Hello, I’m Violet Benson, and this is Lisa Turpin. We’re fellow members of Harry’s class,” Violet said, eyeing Bill with unabashed appreciation.
Harry realized too late that he probably should’ve made the introductions, and he shrugged sheepishly. “This is Arthur and Bill Weasley — Ron’s family. Mr. Weasley works in Muggle Protection, and Bill works for Gringotts,” he said. It would’ve been tactful of him to mention that Bill was married, but he let the urge pass. Although the eldest Weasley brother had tried to warn Harry about dealing with the goblins, he’d also delighted in giving him a fair share of ribbing and also egging-on his brothers when they did, so Harry wasn’t inclined to bail him out.
“Ooh, that’s right. I’d heard you worked in Egypt. Did you have any experience with giants there?” Lisa asked, and Harry realized she sounded rather breathless, as well. Ginny had mentioned that Bill had always had a way with witches.
Bill grinned, making the ragged scars on his face stand out sharply. “Yeah, actually, I did. We had a small group of them near an expedition I participated in once. They’re tough because they seem to all-out brawl at the least provocation.”
“You look rather delighted by the idea of brawling,” Violet said, batting her lashes.
“I’ve enjoyed a brawl or two,” Bill said, flashing his exceedingly white teeth as he rubbed his hand along his scarred face. His wedding ring glinted in the flickering candlelight around the room.
Violet sighed dramatically as her shoulders slumped.
“Wait a minute… You married the Triwizard Champion from Beauxbatons, didn’t you? I remember reading about it. She sat at my House table that whole year, and she was most beautiful,” Lisa said, eyes widening as she looked at Bill.
“Yeah, I did,” Bill said. “Her name is Fleur, and she’d be here, too, if she wasn’t about to deliver our child.”
Mr. Weasley clapped his hand down on Harry’s shoulder, leaned in and muttered, “And I doubt she’d be happy about this attention, anyway.”
Harry grinned, turning to face Mr. Weasley.“Too right. Is Mrs. Weasley staying with Fleur today?”
“Yes — that ought to make for an interesting day,” Mr. Weasley replied, the hint of mischief in his eye forcibly reminding Harry that he was Fred and George’s father. “Percy volunteered, as well. He’s in Ron’s group. I feel better knowing none of us are alone.”
Harry nodded, a pleasant warmth filling his belly with the realization that Mr. Weasley was including him in their family group. The classroom was getting noisy as it filled up with everyone on their team. When Neville entered the room, he spotted Harry right away and squeezed through the crowd to say hello.
“How are you, Neville?” Harry asked, shaking his hand.
“Good, good. I passed my first qualification this week,” Neville said, his face beaming.
“Congratulations,” Harry said heartily, clapping him on the back
“All right, can I have your attention, please?” Owen said, climbing atop one of the work tables and addressing the crowd. He held a dried-out and discoloured holiday wreath in his hands. “This is the Portkey that will take us all to the Dementor enclosure. Once there, we’re on a very tight schedule, so I want you to spread out and surround the Dementors as soon as we’re in the air. The group on the ground have already separated the cluster we’re herding. I expect the flight to be about three hours. We’re flying right over the giant camp to land. The giants will move them from there. Do not address any of the giants. I cannot stress this enough. Let Diggory’s people handle the communication. Do I make myself clear?”
Harry nodded his agreement along with the others, a slight thrill running through his gut, wondering what the giant encampment would look like. There weren’t many wizards who could say they’d seen one — not and lived to tell the tale, anyway. Harry stood shoulder to shoulder with Bill and Mr. Weasley as the Portkey sped him away.
The initial phase of the operation went without incident, and once in the air, it was some time before Harry even needed to cast another Patronus. It was a bright and clear day, although the chill at the high altitude was biting. Harry could see the ground below had become snow covered, and still they continued their ascent. He noticed the Dementors had begun flying at a lower and lower height the further up they went. His chest was tight, and breathing had become more difficult, and he suspected it was the same for the dark creatures. They were still about an hour out from the giant encampment when several Dementors attempted to breach the circle. He saw Neville’s toad Patronus hopping along and urging them forward, and he cast Prongs to do the same.
He remembered back in the DA when the best Neville had managed was a non-corporeal Patronus, and he couldn’t help but wonder when Neville’s form had taken shape. He thought it might’ve been during the awful year at Hogwarts, when Neville had become leader of the re-formed DA, or he supposed, it could’ve been with all the training and practice he’d received once joining the Aurors.
He didn’t have time to ponder it too closely before another group of Dementors also attempted escape. It soon became a struggle to keep them moving forward as more and more of the creatures tried to turn back. He wondered if they might suspect their final destination was near and this would be their last chance at escape.
Despite the cold air, Harry felt sweat trickling down his back and off his forehead into his eyes. The wind whipped his hair and rustled his clothing, and he impatiently swiped at his nose before using his wand again. Voices and distant memories began filling his brain — his mother’s screams, Professor Dumbledore falling from the Astronomy Tower, and dozens of cold, white fingers attempting to drag him beneath the surface of a still, black lake.
The air around him was filled with Patronuses, and yet the shouts of incantations from their casters grew distant and distorted as he became lost in the horrors of his past.
“You have allowed your friends to die for you.”
“Kill the spare.”
“You were the seventh Horcrux, Harry, the Horcrux he never meant to make.”
Visions of Ginny lying on the floor of the Chamber, pale and unresponsive; of Tonks and Professor Lupin lying still in death, their hands nearly touching; of Fred flying backwards as the wall in front of him imploded.
Harry shook his head, forcing himself to concentrate. The past could not be changed, but he could ensure a better future for Teddy, for Ginny, and all those left whom he cared about.
“Expecto Patronum,” he bellowed, watching Prongs leap forward, strong and bright, its blazing light joining with Mr. Weasley’s weasel and Owen’s bear as they forced the Dementors onwards.
By the time he could see the giants’ camp, he was shaking and weary, his body covered with chilled sweat. If you’d told him he’d ever be happy to see a camp full of eighty enormous, blood-thirsty giants, he’d have thought you daft. He and the others formed a line and kept a wall of Patronuses that refused to allow the Dementors retreat, so they were forced to settle into the designated enclosure.
Harry watched as a massive giant, so big Harry first thought it was a boulder and part of the mountain itself, moved ahead, grunting at the Dementors. He had dark hair that hung in tangles down his broad back, nearly to his waist, with a headband wrapped thickly around his enormous head keeping it in place. A necklace with what looked like a human skull at the end hung around his thick neck, and he wore a kilt the size of a blanket. This would be the Gurg, the leader of the camp. Hagrid had told him the Gurg was usually the biggest and most blood-thirsty of the lot.
As the last of the Dementors landed, Harry’s eyes sought out Amos Diggory’s crew, of which he knew Hagrid was part. He could see Hagrid’s head towering above the other wizards in his group, and it felt strange to think Hagrid looked small among this clutch of gigantic beings.
He landed his broom, snow crunching beneath his feet and found his knees gave out immediately. He knelt on the ground, panting as he dug a chocolate bar from the pocket of his uniform, all the while keeping watch at what was happening before him. Vaguely aware of his fellow teammates landing around him and gobbling up their own chocolate, he watched as the giants hurled rocks the size of boulders and swung their clubs — all of which were bigger than Harry — around their heads as if they weighed nothing.
The sound of their war cries bounced off the mountain peaks, echoing back toward them and causing piles of snow to fall and roll in glittering displays of diamond-like dust. Harry, still breathing heavily, could see his breath in the cold air.
“Looks like they’re havin’ fun,” Hagrid said, his beetle-black eyes glistening. He’d moved away from Amos’s group and come to stand beside Harry, who was feeling slightly better after the chocolate. Hagrid reached down and pulled Harry back onto his feet, lifting him briefly in the air as he did. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” Harry said, blinking to clear the spots from his eyes from the sudden movement. “It was a rough ride. How are things here?”
Hagrid shrugged. “Giants have been eager-like, waitin’ for yeh. They don’ understan’ time, so tellin’ ‘em an hour don’t mean much. It’s best to not let ‘em get excited, know what I mean?”
The noise around them and the feeling of eager expectation in the air alone let Harry know that the giants were overly excited. The Dementors were circling, yet not trying to flee. As Harry understood it, they were able to affect the giants enough to feed, yet not enough for the giants, who had extra protection, to notice it happening. The giants were pleased to have a way to work out their aggression.
“How long do we have to stay?” Harry asked, longing for a hot shower.
“Nex’ group should arrive in about three hours,” Hagrid replied. “Fer now, we jus’ watch and observe the interaction. At least, that’s what ruddy Diggory wants.” Hagrid scowled, obviously not agreeing with this plan. Of course, knowing Hagrid as well as he did, he wasn’t surprised his big friend wanted more direct contact.
Harry nodded. “Ron’s in that group. We’re supposed to stay here until the others arrive, then we’re all going back to the Ministry together. Are you coming back with us?”
“Yeh, we’re all supposed to take Portkeys back when we’re finished. I’m still teachin’ class on Monday.”
“Have you seen Ginny?” Harry asked.
Hagrid’s eyes twinkled brightly, and he leaned down to Harry’s ear. “She came down fer lunch. Tole me about the Harpies. Knew she’d do all right,” he said proudly.
“She’s brilliant,” Harry said, beaming.
“Glad you two found each other. You both deserve some happiness,” Hagrid said, rubbing Harry’s head so that Harry sank down into the snow. Hagrid pulled a tablecloth size handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose loudly. It sounded like a trumpet even over all the noise the giants were making.
The afternoon passed more pleasantly than the morning had done. After a sandwich and some distance from the Dementors, Harry and the rest of his shift had the opportunity to observe the giants’ interaction. He noticed Amos and his team tended to stay back and interact as little as possible. They appeared startled whenever the Gurg spoke to them, although admittedly, it was difficult to understand the giant’s grunts and growls. Hagrid did better, although Harry held his breath every time Hagrid went near the mammoth creatures. The giants seemed to recognize Hagrid as similar, thought they definitely looked down upon him with amusement and disdain. Harry couldn’t help the prickle of fear that ran through his gut as he watched Hagrid, who was typically unconcerned with the giants’ attention.
When Ron’s group finally arrived, the excitement amongst the giants once again rose to a crescendo pitch. The giants were moving closer toward the Dementors, and the Dementors were swarming in one area. Several of the giants were picking up chunks of debris from the ground and hurling it at the Dementors. It didn’t take long before they grew tired of this and instead began chucking it at each other. Scrunching his face up against the noise, Harry went directly toward where Ron had landed and shoved a chunk of chocolate at him.
Ron stuffed in his mouth whole. “‘Fanks,” he said.
“No problem,” Harry replied, amused. “How was your flight?”
“Not bad until the end. They went mental at the end. How about yours?” Ron asked, his colour already better after eating the chocolate.
“About the same. The giants acted like this when we arrived, too,” Harry replied, unable to completely stifle his unease. They were fascinating to watch, yet he was uncomfortably aware how insignificant his own size was against them. Harry’s mind flashed on a memory of Uncle Vernon shoving him in the cupboard when he’d been very, very small.
The two watched the mayhem and destruction the giants were causing with bemusement for several moments, wincing as trees were ripped from the ground and chucked at opponents’ heads. A giantess who had been stirring some kind of stew over an open fire picked up her pot and slammed it atop the head of a bloke who had been battling with another.
“Mental,” Ron repeated, sounding slightly awestruck.
From the corner of his eye, Harry noticed Ron scanning the crowd intently, nodding each time he found another Weasley. His eyes automatically strayed to Harry despite the fact Harry was standing right next to him. In some odd way, Harry found it reassuring to know that he wasn’t the only one still struggling with some after effects of the war. He suspected that Ron wasn’t even aware of his habit of head counting.
“So, are we done?” Ron asked, pulling another bar of chocolate from his pocket. Harry suspected this one wasn’t entirely for medicinal purposes as Ron theatrically relished the flavour. With Seeker reflexes, Harry reached over and pulled off a chunk of Ron’s bar before his friend could stop him, grinning at Ron’s outraged expression.
A blood-curdling scream echoed across the mountain top, causing a large chunk of snow to fall from a higher peak. The snow slide rushed downwards, leaving a fresh dusting of snow over the areas where it had fallen. An odd ‘whumpf’ sound echoed across the mountain top as the snow settled. Upon hearing the initial scream, both Harry and had Ron had spun around, wands drawn, to see a giant running at the Gurg with bloodlust shining in his dark eyes. All around them, the fighting of the giants grew in intensity, as the mob separated into two distinct groups, those who supported the Gurg, and those who supported this usurper who was leading the attack.
“Move back,” Hagrid shouted, nearly lifting Lisa and Violet off their feet as he drove them back. “They’re going ter battle.”
Bill grasped Mr. Weasley’s arm and pulled him beneath a rock overhang so they were somewhat sheltered from falling debris. The air was rent with battle cries, grunts and shouts as the giants clashed. In addition to their hands, they used rocks the size of boulders, tree limbs and whatever else was available to them. The one running at the Gurg let out another roar as he stomped over those who tried to block him, hurtling toward the Gurg.
The Gurg turned, bracing his massive legs — legs the size of tree trunks — and raised his huge club. The force of the two colliding caused the ground to shake so badly that both Harry and Ron were knocked off their feet. A loud, slow rumbling began from a distance and grew in pitch all around them.
The giants were engaged in a full-out brawl, and the ground continued to shake beneath their onslaught. Harry spit snow out of his mouth and watched as one giant aimed his club at the head of another. At the last minute, his intended victim turned his head so that it missed the full brunt of the club and only grazed his face. He spit out several teeth and tackled his foe’s knees with a thundering roar.
Violet, who held one of the Portkeys, began motioning people towards her, and Harry thought her instincts were correct. It was time to exit. He pulled himself out of the snow, dodging several chunks of ice and earth, and hauled Ron to his feet.
The Gurg and his foe, entangled in battle, had rolled close to the area where Ron and Harry had fallen, and had blocked their route to reach Violet. The two giants pulled themselves to standing, each towering twenty feet in the air. The Gurg took his club and curled it around his challenger’s knees, knocking him back to the ground. Both Harry and Ron again fell with the thundering force of his fall. Right in front of them, the Gurg used his club to sever the spine of his opponent, spraying Harry and Ron with thick, hot blood.
“Get back to the Ministry,” Amos Diggory shouted, sounding hysterical. His skin looked as pale as the snow beneath his dark, scraggly beard. Foregoing the Portkeys, the members of his party began Disapparating to safety.
The rumble that had started moments ago increased in pitch until a rolling crescendo of sound enveloped the area. House-sized chunks of snow and ice fell from the peaks above them as the entire side of the mountain began rushing downward.
“Dad!” Ron shouted, panicked, struggling to regain his footing in the deep, blood-spattered snow.
Harry turned to see Bill and Mr. Weasley huddling against the mountain as the ledge above them cracked and began to rain down upon them. Raising his wand, Harry shouted, “Impervious,” ensuring that the debris missed them entirely. Bill nodded his gratitude toward Harry as the two of them Disapparated.
Percy had reached Ron and was attempting to drag him back to where Violet had a small group surrounding her, all clutching the wreath that had acted as a Portkey.
“Eww,” Ron said, blatantly disgusted by the abundance of blood covering him. He swiped at his face and tried to mop it out of his hair to keep it from running into his eyes.
Percy impatiently said, “Tergeo. Come on, Ron. We have to get out of here.” His voice was high-pitched and panicked, and he had a vice-like grip on Ron’s arm.
Ron ignored him as he tried to reach Harry. Harry stood motionless, a terror of epic proportions rising in his belly. He hadn’t wiped away any of the blood, and it streaked his glasses, making it nearly impossible to see. He’d just realized that Hagrid hadn’t left with the rest of Diggory’s department. Harry had never seen Hagrid use Apparition, and wasn’t even certain he could. Hagrid would need the Portkey to get out of here. Harry had to find him. Desperately, he scanned the melee around him, only distantly aware of the rumble of snow coming ever closer to their location.
“Hagrid!” he shouted, his voice panicky in his own ears. He attempted to move forward, into the frenzy of the battle, but Ron held him back. He’d finally reached Harry’s side, dragging Percy along with him.
“We have to go, mate,” Ron said huskily, his own eyes filled with worry as he watched the destruction around him.
“No,” Harry screamed, attempting to wrench his arm free. “We have to help Hagrid. He can’t Apparate.”
Image after image of Hagrid flashed through his mind — his first appearance in a seaside shack, gifting Hedwig as the first birthday present Harry could ever remember, supporting him unwaveringly through the Triwizard tournament, carrying him out of the forest after Voldemort’s attack, his great sobs reverberating against Harry’s still body. Hagrid had always been there, strong, supportive, solid — and always looking after Harry. Harry had to look after him now.
Ron wrapped his arms around Harry’s middle, pinning his arms to his sides as Harry struggled to break free. Didn’t they understand? Hagrid was inside that melee, and the entire ruddy mountain was coming down.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Ron said, his voice breaking as he tried to hold Harry back.
“Hagrid!” Harry screamed, fighting Ron with all his strength. If he could only reach his wand, but a gasping Ron had his arms pinned too tightly. Percy grasped Harry’s arm, and he knew they would Side-Along Apparate him away. Fury and panic wrestled for control over his tattered emotions. He had to do something. “Nooo,” he shouted, pleading, desperate. A horrid sort of déjà vu was smothering him.
All around them, chunks of snow and earth began raining upon them, covering them in snow. It stuck to all the blood still dripping off Harry. The entire side of the mountain was rushing toward them in a cacophony of wind and sound.
“He’s there!” Percy shouted, nearly sobbing.
Harry saw Hagrid lurching away from the fray, bloodied and bruised but still on his feet. He reached into his moleskin coat and pulled out something Harry couldn’t see, disappearing instantly.
Harry felt his knees buckle with relief before the dark, suffocating blackness overtook him.
They landed at the Apparition point in the Atrium of the Ministry, Harry on his knees with Ron still supporting him. The Atrium was in chaos with most of the Dementor squad appearing suddenly, windblown and covered in ice and snow. Ministry workers had forced the reporters back and were ushering the Aurors toward the lifts.
“Go to your designated meeting area for a debriefing.” One harried-looking witch was rushing from group to group, trying to direct them to the cafeteria where the Portkeys would’ve deposited those who’d used them.
When Harry appeared, soaking wet and still dripping with giant blood, the reporters went mad, charging the line of workers trying to hold them back and issuing rapid-fire questions. Harry, still reeling from the shock of nearly losing Hagrid and trying to catch his breath after the sudden Apparition, felt cornered and maligned. He jerked back, his hand automatically reaching for his scar as he tried to process their questions.
“Can you tell us what happened?”
“Harry, what are your injuries?”
“Was anyone killed?”
“Did the giants do this to you?”
“Did you kill any of the giants?”
“Bloody hell,” Ron shouted, over the noise, hoisting Harry to his feet. “Back off you ruddy, deranged vultures.”
“Move away from the lifts or we’ll be forced to curse you. This is official Ministry business,” Percy said, sounding both pompous and nervous as he tried to usher Ron and Harry through the throng.
Harry, whose senses were beginning to clear, couldn’t care less about the alarming amount of blood covering him, but was irritated with the fact he couldn’t see, so he drew his wand and pointed it at his own head. “Tergeo,” he muttered, siphoning it off.
The reporters gasped in unison when Harry drew his wand, but the silence held only for a second before the questions resumed. He had had enough. He needed to find Hagrid and ensure he wasn’t too badly injured. “Protego.”
Harry’s Shield Charm forced the reporters back and formed a protective bubble around him, Ron and Percy. Even the sound of their questions was diminished, although he could still see their lips moving. Frustration covered many of the faces, and soon several of the braver ones had drawn their wands and were attempting to break Harry’s shield. This caused alarm amongst the Ministry security guards, who also drew their wands and began firing hexes at the reporters. The mob began pushing and shouting as more and more Ministry workers rushed into the lobby.
“Let’s get out of here,” Percy said, watching the crowd with disapproval.
“Yeah,” Ron agreed, his hand still firmly clenched around Harry’s upper arm.
Harry threw him off. “I can walk, Ron,” he snapped, exasperated.
The three reached the lifts as one opened and they hurried inside. Just as the doors were closing, Owen leaped inside. He, too, was wet and still had chucks of ice stuck in his hair. Leaning against the side of the lift as the doors closed, he sighed wearily.
“I’m getting too old for this effin’ shite,” he said, and the tension broke as all four burst into raucous laughter.
“That certainly didn’t go as planned,” Percy said, the first to pull himself together.
“Nothing ever does,” Owen replied, shrugging. “We all need to gather at the pub after this ruddy meeting, though.”
“Sounds good,” Ron said, nodding vigorously.
“Why not?” Harry asked. “I’m certain tomorrow’s headlines will be screaming about all the Aurors I murdered with Dark Magic, so we might as well get in a good drunken rampage, too.”
“Doesn’t help when you show up in the Atrium dripping in blood,” Owen said casually.
“Wasn’t even your own this time,” Ron said, grinning. “Wish I’d thought to kneel down and kiss the hem of your robes.”
Harry swatted the back of Ron’s head as the group once again burst into laughter, taking turns disparaging the expected headlines. Even Percy chuckled at the outrageous predictions.
The lift doors opened, and the group walked the short corridor to the cafeteria which was overloaded with the rest of their party. Heated voices could be heard shouting at one another before they even entered. Amos Diggory stood in the centre of the room, arms raised and trying to call order, but various smaller groups were huddled, ignoring him. Ron tugged Harry’s sleeve, and Harry realized they were moving toward Mr. Weasley and Bill, who — to Harry’s great relief — were standing with Hagrid.
Harry felt all the worry and distress he’d felt when Hagrid was missing come rushing back, taking his breath away. As he hurried toward his giant of a friend, he found his eyes roving over the various cuts and bruises, as if taking inventory of the injuries. He was vividly reminded of Mrs. Weasley doing the same thing to him on numerous occasions, and with a wretch forced himself to stop. It didn’t matter, as he reached them, Hagrid pulled Harry into a bone-crushing hug, his legs nearly collapsing beneath Hagrid’s weight.
Ron, Percy, and Bill pulled a sobbing Hagrid off him while Mr. Weasley steadied Harry on his feet. Harry felt that same rush of emotion upon seeing Mr. Weasley was okay, and he struggled, trying to clear his suddenly watery eyes. Mr. Weasley squeezed his arm silently, his own eyes glistening.
“What were yehthinkin’, Harry? Eh? What were yehthinkin’?” Hagrid sobbed, his face wet but scowling.
“What d’you mean?” Harry asked, startled by this unwarranted scolding.
“Yeh should’ve left,” Hagrid roared, causing several others in the room to turn their curious stares toward them. “Why were yeh waiting on me? I’m not worth that.”
“You are worth anything, Hagrid,” Harry said quietly, colour rushing to his face.
Fortunately for him, before he could flounder in his embarrassment, the Minister and Gawain Robards entered the cafeteria, gaining the attention and the silence Amos Diggory had been seeking as a hush fell across the room. The battered Aurors and Ministry personnel all looked toward the newcomers expectantly.
“Have the Dementors all been contained?” Kingsley asked, his slow, measured voice in stark contrast to the concern etched on his features.
“Yes, sir,” Amos said at once. “At least, they had been before the avalanche. I’m not certain what’s become of them now.”
“Human casualties?” he asked.
“None, sir. Some bumps and bruises, but amazingly we had no loss of life. Hagrid saw the worst of it,” Amos said, nodding toward Hagrid, who waved him off.
“And what about giant losses?” Kingsley asked.
“Sir?” Amos said, appearing confused.
“As creatures on an endangered list, I assume you would’ve kept track of their numbers?” Kingsley asked, a sterner tone creeping into his voice.
The members of his department all looked uneasy, shuffling their feet as Diggory collected himself. “Er… as I said, I don’t know the situation after the avalanche, but before that… I saw at least one giant perish.”
“I can confirm that,” Hagrid said. “Nothin’ to be done about it, though. He challenged the Gurg, as is their way.”
Kingsley nodded thoughtfully.
“And whose decision was it to use Apparition rather than the Portkeys you’d been assigned?” Gawain Robards asked, his tone clipped.
Amos’s skin grew redder as he scowled. “The bleeding mountain was coming down. I don’t think there was any formal decision — we simply escaped in the best way possible.”
“I was the last one to leave, sir. It seemed prudent to get everyone out as quickly as possible, and reaching the Portkeys wasn’t always feasible. I waited on Potter and Weasley, then Disapparated behind them,” Owen said, standing at attention and looking directly into Robards’s eyes.
“And why were they still there?” Robards asked, his eyes flickering toward Harry and Ron.
“It was my fault, sir,” Harry said, speaking up at once. He wasn’t going to let Ron and Percy get in trouble for staying behind. They were trying to get him to leave. “I knew Hagrid needed a Portkey, and I wasn’t certain he had one.”
Robards stared at Harry, unblinking before his gaze returned to Amos Diggory. “Wasn’t that your responsibility, Diggory? Hagrid was there at bequest of your department.”
“Aye, and he had his own Portkey,” Amos said defiantly, scowling at Harry.
“So, although we’ve suffered no losses, and no Splinching incidents,” Kingsley said, glancing at Owen for confirmation. Owen nodded. “We will need to send a party back to the giant encampment to check on the status and ensure they survived the avalanche.”
“They’ll be fine, I reckon,” Hagrid said. “They were jus’ havin’ a bit o’ fun. They’ve been known to cause snow slides in the past.”
Harry fought to hide his grin at the incredulous expression on Robards’s face. Hagrid would never get over his affinity for creatures others considered monsters, and Harry wouldn’t have him any other way.
“Very well. I’ll expect a full report, but for now, you’re dismissed,” Kinsley said, a sly grin crossing his features. “Enjoy the party.”
“I sent Hannah an owl, and she’s reserving the back room at the Leaky Cauldron,” Neville said, and was greeted by cheers throughout the room.
“Are you going to join us, Dad?” Bill asked, grinning.
“Well… I think your mother will be anxious for news, so I best leave it to you young folk,” Mr. Weasley replied, his ears reddening in an endearingly familiar way.
“Mum’s with Fleur, who knows I was planning to have a drink with this lot when it was over,” Bill said reasonably.
“Yeah, come on, Dad. Join us for a pint,” Ron said.
“It’ll be a nice way to mark the end of the Dementor situation,” Percy added.
The three brothers looked at Harry. It took a moment for him to realize they were waiting for him to continue cajoling their father. Harry beamed with pride.
“Come on, Mr. Weasley. Hagrid’s coming too,” Harry said glancing at Hagrid who was smiling widely beneath his bushy beard.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Hagrid boomed.
“Well, I suppose I can’t turn down an invitation like that,” Mr. Weasley said, extending his arm as the group followed the other Aurors from the cafeteria.