Ginny tried to follow Harry but he was to the Apparition area and had Disapparated before she had a chance of catching him. She watched the spot where he had been, hoping he would come back. When a few minutes passed and he didn’t appear she was forced to accept that he hadn’t uttered such harsh words purely out of temper and wasn’t going to return to apologize immediately.
Ginny slowly made her way back to Harry’s desk and sat down, determined to wait for him. She understood that he was upset by what he had seen and as she feared he assumed that it was something different than it actually was. She needed to make him listen, to understand that she would never do something like that to him, least of all with Dudley Dursley.
The silence was deafening. Ginny didn’t even have the tick of a clock to tell her how long she sat there, waiting for the sound of Apparition to announce Harry’s return. After some time she remembered the piece of paper that he had shoved into her hand before he left. She spread it out on the surface of the desk and found it to be, not a piece of paper at all, but a picture. It was a picture Harry had taken from home. It was taken the day she’d won her first Quidditch game with the Harpies. In it, he’d had his arms around her and they were both smiling happily at the camera as Colin snapped the photo. Now though, Harry had walked out of the frame, leaving Ginny’s photographic self looking confused, mirroring the emotions she was feeling in the here and now.
Ginny turned to see Briony standing behind the second chair. She hadn’t heard her approach.
“What do you care?” she asked, turning away to wipe her eyes. The last thing she needed right now was to speak with Briony Wright. That girl had been nothing but trouble since she’d come into their lives.
“I should ask you that,” Briony responded after a minute. Ginny turned to see if it really was her who had spoken. Whenever her father or Harry talked about this girl it was as if she was a meek little thing who wouldn’t hurt a fly. The way she was speaking now did not match that description at all.
“Excuse me?” she asked, turning to look at Briony, who was leaning on the chair Ginny had been sitting in when she was talking to Harry, looking fierce, despite her diminutive height.
“I don’t think there’s an excuse for you. Harry told me what you did to him. The fact you can even show your face around here after what you did is astounding,” Briony said.
“He told you?” Ginny was shocked that Harry would admit something like that to someone he had known for such a short time. To talk to Lupin, Ron or Hermione about it was one thing, but this girl? That didn’t sound like Harry at all. What was it about Briony that had turned him into such a fool? A horrible thought came to her mind.
“Certainly he told me. We’re friends and —“
“But you want to be more than that, don’t you?” Ginny asked, standing up. She was beginning to wonder if they weren’t already more than that. Maybe after what he had seen last night, Harry had . . . She didn’t want to contemplate it.
“I don’t — I’d never — Harry and I are friends. He’d never do anything as disgusting as what you did to him.” Only near the end of her sentence did Briony regain control of her tongue. Ginny noticed she didn’t really deny that she’d thought about it.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied weakly, sinking back into the chair. She couldn’t deny that it was disgusting; she felt it herself. As the blurry recollections of what she had thought was happening with Harry last night returned to her, Ginny dearly wished she was somewhere with a shower.
“Look,” she said to Briony, who was watching her a little too intently. “Not that I owe you any explanations, but I don’t really know what happened. I would never do something like that to Harry, least of all with someone like Dudley Dursley.” She paused and watched her photographic self look around with a lost expression. After a minute, hating that she was doing it at all, Ginny decided to go for broke.
“Harry’s told me about all the help you’ve been to the task force with your additional research. In all your reading, have you come across a potion or spell that would cause someone to think they’re with one person when really they’re with another? Apart from the Confundus Charm, that is? I don’t think it was a charm. I’m sure he slipped something into my drink.”
Ginny could there was something going on in her mind. Though she said nothing to confirm or deny her knowledge, Ginny was sure that this was not a wholly knew theory to her.
“You have, haven’t you?” she asked, rekindling the sense of hope that had died when Harry walked away from her. If she could convince Briony, maybe the two of them could get Harry to listen.
“There’s no such thing,” Briony said, though she didn’t sound convinced. She was looking troubled, as though she was trying to remember something but not quite able to recall it.
“But you know something, don’t you?” Ginny asked again, getting up for the second time. “Tell me.”
“I’ve already told you there’s nothing that would cause the reaction you’re indicating. It sounds like you’re trying to get out of accepting responsibility for your actions.”
She should have expected such a statement, given how Briony had first reacted on discovering that Ginny was there, but she couldn’t believe it. She was certain that this girl knew something that she wasn’t letting on. Ginny looked down at the photo again, and recalling Harry’s reaction, she felt a sudden desperation and anger at how deliberately unhelpful Briony was being. Without thinking Ginny grabbed her by the front of the robes and shook her.
“Don’t give me that. You know something and you’re going to tell me what it is,” she half-shouted. Briony’s head bobbed back and forth but she still said nothing.
“Unhand her,” a deep voice said.
Ginny hadn’t heard anyone else approach and let go out of pure shock. She stepped back and saw at once that Bredan Tougas was approaching, wand drawn. He wasn’t the only one either. She saw a group of defeated looking people traipsing into a room just off the hall she’d tried to follow Harry down not so long ago.
“Are you all right?” Tougas asked Briony after looking angrily at Ginny.
“Fine,” Briony responded, straightening the front of her robes. Tougas watched her do this before turning and looking from Ginny to Harry’s desk and back.
“Where’s Potter?” he asked.
“He left.” It was Briony who answered with a significant glance at Ginny. “She was just here talking to him before he did.”
“Couldn’t have been a good conversation if she’s turned to assaulting you.”
Ginny didn’t acknowledge Tougas’s words. She’d once more been drawn in by the picture on the desk. The photographic Harry was back, standing awkwardly near the edge of the picture, looking ashamed. A second later a loud crack sounded, causing Ginny, Tougas and Briony to turn their heads.
Remus Lupin had just appeared in the Apparition area.
* * *
As Harry walked toward a house in the middle of a cramped street, he kept telling himself he had every right to say what he had to Ginny. She had been the one to betray his trust and yet still had the nerve to come and tell him that she hadn’t known what she was doing. How stupid did she think he was?
He tried to compose his face as he rang the bell but Harry wasn’t quite sure he achieved the indifference he’d been trying for. When Lupin answered the door, a book in one hand, a baby bottle in the other, his jubilant expression quickly gave way to a look of concern.
“What’s happened?” he asked at once, ushering Harry into the cramped front hall and closing the door. He put the bottle and the book down on the banister and gestured for Harry to follow him into the sitting room. “We can talk in here. Tonks and Teddy are upstairs. Andromeda is here as well, but she’ll give us some privacy.”
At that moment the sound of a crying baby floated down the stairs and Andromeda came hurrying out of the sitting room. She smiled at Harry before dashing up the stairs. Harry, disturbed as always by the striking similarities in her and Bellatrix’s appearances, shook his head.
“D’you think we could -“ He motioned to the door. Lupin frowned and scrutinized Harry, making him look down and scratch his neck uncomfortably.
“What’s wrong? Did something happen with Ron or Hermione? Or Ginny?”
Harry cringed again at the sound of her name, but nodded. He didn’t feel much like elaborating. Lupin seemed to realize this.
“There’s a good pub just down the road,” he said, holding the door open.
The pub turned out to be a cozy looking building with white stucco and dark wood trim. Shrubbery hid the walls below the windows. The inside was dark, and smoky. Lupin led Harry to a table in the corner where they sat. When the barman came over Lupin ordered a drink but Harry refused anything.
While they waited Harry looked around. He didn’t want to begin this conversation. It was odd to him that he had so easily confessed to Briony, but was having a hard time talking to Lupin, someone he’d known a lot longer, and who he had specifically come to see for advice. Lupin sipped his drink and waited for Harry to talk.
“Er . . . “ Slowly and haltingly, Harry explained what he had walked in on the day before. He kept his head down as he spoke.
“I’m so sorry,” Lupin said quietly when Harry had talked himself into silence. “I can’t even begin to imagine how you are coping with this.” He paused and took another sip from his drink. “It doesn’t sound like Ginny to do something like this. Are you sure —“
“She never denied that it was her,” Harry interrupted He didn’t want anyone making excuses for her.
“You’ve already talked to her?”
“Before I came here.”
“What was her explanation?” Lupin asked.
“She said she wasn’t sure . . . that she thought it was me.”
Lupin sat back in his chair, looking disappointed. He continued to sip his drink without comment.
“People do stupid things all the time,” Harry said. “They make all sorts of mistakes. I guess this is hers — if she even considers it a mistake.”
Lupin remained silent, finishing his drink and he contemplated what Harry was saying. When he reached the bottom of his glass he ordered another. Only when that arrived and he had taken a sip did he speak again.
“How did she seem when she came to see you?”
“I dunno. Upset, I guess,” Harry started. “But she would be if she knew she’d been caught, right?”
“I suppose,” Lupin said slowly. “I still have trouble seeing Ginny doing something like that to you. Are you sure it wasn’t someone pretending to be her under polyjuice potion, or maybe she’d been slipped something?”
Harry sighed exasperatedly and sat back in his chair.
“Who could have a reason for doing that — targeting Ginny in such a way?”
“You are on the task force that is trying to bring in two of the most wanted Death Eaters since Voldemort,” Lupin said patiently. “I would venture a guess that Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange would want you out of their hair pretty bad.”
“I’m not the only one on the team though,” Harry argued. “Why haven’t any of the others been attacked? Briony’d be an easy target for sure.”
“I don’t know, but it’s worth considering. Maybe they see you as an easy target, too. You are the newest Auror. Maybe it has to do with the fact that you were the one who killed Voldemort.”
Harry thought about this for a time. Within seconds he was squirming in his seat. He already knew that the task force was working off the premise that this case had some connection to him.
“That’s got to do with work though. Ginny and I don’t work together.”
It was Lupin’s turn to exhale in annoyance.
“It’s exactly a secret that you didn’t take Ginny’s abduction well, Harry. I would guess that they have some connection in the Ministry who was able to get them all the details from the report you gave after Voldemort’s death. They knew if something else happened to Ginny you’d completely lose it.”
“It’s too far-fetched,” Harry said before considering it. The images had returned and he knew that there was no way Ginny could have looked the way she did if she were drugged.
“Consider this then. You’re the one who told me that it’s hard to deal with the ‘boy who lived’, ‘conqueror of the dark lord’ business all the time. Ginny has been there for you. Isn’t it true that she’s been the victim for some time, what with having to deal with mentions of her ordeals in the Chamber of Secrets and the abduction by Voldemort for a very long time?”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Harry replied slowly. “It hasn’t been a picnic for her, I get that. But it doesn’t excuse what happened.”
“You’re right. I’m merely trying to point out that after everything she’s gone through for you, and what the two of you have gone through together, don’t you think it is less likely she would betray you the way it appears she did?”
Before Harry could answer a sliver of light fell across Lupin’s face as the door opened. Harry would not have paid it any mind had Lupin’s face not hardened.
“What?” He turned to see what had caused such an expression to form on Lupin’s face.
Approaching their table was a pale-skinned woman with her eyes fixed on Harry. She was not as perfectly coiffed as usual: her hair was messy, her clothes rumpled. It looked like she had been through the mill.
“What do you want, Narcissa?” Lupin asked as she neared their table.
Narcissa Malfoy looked down her nose at Lupin, wrinkling her entire face in disgust before she turned her attention to Harry.
“You’re a hard person to track down, Potter.”
“What possible reason could you have to speak to me?” Harry questioned, not dropping his gaze from hers. She didn’t answer the question, instead taking a chair from a nearby table and sitting down without an invite.
The barman rushed over, a smile on his face.
“Can I take your order, Miss?” he asked, looking her over appreciatively.
“Be gone, Muggle,” she said, waving a long-fingered hand at him. The bartender looked both confused and angry. Though he could not possibly have known what she meant by Muggle, he clearly had no trouble with the meaning in her tone.
“Why are you here?” Harry asked wearily, turning his attention to a knot in the wood table.
“One would think,” Narcissa started, enunciating each word in an annoyed tone, “that you would be a little more appreciative after all the effort I went through to find you.”
“Why don’t you just tell Harry what it is you came to tell him and then return to your manor,” Lupin said.
Narcissa wrinkled her nose even more.
“I generally don’t take orders from half-breed — but no matter. I will make an exception today. I came to tell you that you are right, Potter.”
“About what?” Harry asked, not entirely sure he was able to keep a straight face. He could not recall a single time in the many years he had known the Malfoys when they had ever admitted that anyone else was right. He turned to see if it was really Narcissa Malfoy he was looking at. For the first time he saw that her make-up was smeared and it looked like she had been crying.
“My husband and sister. They have been staying at the manor off and on for years, and they’ve been carrying on an affair right under my nose.” She looked away quickly.
“Why are you telling me this?” Harry asked, after a momentary smirk at the thought that Brazill had been right yet again. “Are they at the manor now?”
He was halfway out of his seat when Narcissa shook her head.
“No. They’re out meeting with one of their informants. They’re not to return until this evening.” She spoke in a bitter tone. Harry was already preparing to return to tell his colleagues this information when Lupin tried again to get Narcissa to reveal the real reason for her visit.
“Why didn’t you go to the Ministry with this information? Why come directly to Harry?” It was such a good question that Harry, who had been in the middle of getting up, sat back down in his chair to await the answer.
“Well . . . “ Narcissa said slowly, choosing her words very carefully. “I suppose it’s because he now understands what it’s like to be betrayed like I have been. I — I want Lucius and Bella to pay, and I think, after what they’ve done to Potter, he deserves to be the one to bring justice on them.”
“What do you know of this?” Lupin shot Harry a warning look, telling him to keep his seat. Harry did so with the greatest reluctance.
“The Ministry has more leaks than a rusty cauldron. I know all about the case, the spy in the Auror department, and how Lucius and Bella have been targeting Potter for months.” She cast a glance at Harry and he was sure a small smile played across her face.
“About them,” Lupin started. “If they’ve been in and out of your manor for years how is it they haven’t been caught?”
“You need to clean the fur out of your ears, wolf. I just said they have a source in the Auror office that kept them well apprised of the task force’s every move. They had enough warning to clear out every time the Aurors showed up.”
“Who is it?” Harry asked, his hands clenched beneath the table.
“I know not. They don’t feel I need those details, but I hear things,” Narcissa said without an ounce of guilt.
“And when you told us that they hadn’t been back to your house?” Harry asked.
“I lied. I don’t owe anything to the Ministry.”
“You admit that freely, but you expect me to believe what you’re telling me?” Harry laughed derisively.
“I didn’t have to come, and I am most certainly not going to explain myself to you, Potter. I just thought that you would have the most reason to see this through, seeing as how they targeted everyone around you, your little blood-traitor included.”
“What?” Harry yelled so loudly that every other conversation in the pub came to a halt. He had jumped to his feet so fast that his chair toppled over and hit the floor with a loud bang.
“Yes. You didn’t really believe she would have spread her legs for your cousin without help, did you?”
“Enough,” Lupin said, also getting to his feet. “Harry, I don’t — where are you going?”
Harry didn’t answer. He was already halfway to the door, ignoring the curious and frightened looks he was getting from the other patrons of the pub. He could feel the blood pounding in his ears as he yanked open the door and returned to the bright street.
“Harry, wait,” Lupin called, running after him. He had no intention of doing so, but Lupin caught up and grabbed his arm, spinning Harry so they were facing each other.
“Let go,” Harry said, trying to pull out of the elder man’s grasp.
“You can’t go running off like this, based on the words of an admitted liar.”
“The hell I can’t,” Harry said. “You were the one just trying to convince me that she hadn’t done it. Now we have proof; you can’t expect me to sit there!”
“Where are you going then? What do you think you’re going to do by yourself?”
“I’m going to kill them,” Harry said evenly as the image of what he had walked into last night came to mind. He struggled free of Lupin’s grip. “Just go tell the task force I’m at Malfoy Manor.”
Before Lupin could grab him again, Harry Disapparated.