Ginny hit the ground hard, but barely felt it. This was the end of everything. She had been too slow, too weak. Her vision was and would forevermore be tinged green: the colour of death.
Another strangled cry, one that spoke to the inmost part of her soul, and might have issued from her own mouth. A streak of white on her left side, and then something heavy fell over her stomach. A bit of fabric touched the palm of her hand. Her fingers closed on the sole of a very small socked foot: James’s foot. It was he who Narcissa had flung down as she ran past. Ginny seized him under his arms and pulled him up so she could hug him tightly, as if by doing so could undo what Narcissa had done.
A third cry rent the air, this one unrestrained and unlike the first two. Ginny held onto James even more tightly and did not move, sure she was imagining that it had been his cry. It couldn’t be, not really. She had seen the spell . . .
He cried again and this time there was no mistaking it. She let up on her tight embrace and held him far enough away that she could look at him. His face was screwed up and he was sucking air into his lungs to let out yet another cry.
“Oh my God.”
She sat up, continuing to hold James as far away from her as she dared so that she could get a proper look at him. A tear had welled up at the corner of his eye, his fists were balled, and his arms were pumping. He was definitely, impossibly, miraculously, alive.
“Thank God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” She repeated these words over and over as she alternated between holding James close and at a distance so she could look at him, so she could reassure herself that she had not been imagining it. She dared not ask how he had survived unscathed for she felt that questioning it would undo such a miracle.
A gust of wind grazed her arm. Ginny glanced down, and saw that it was not wind at all, but the tail end of a jet of red light: a spell of some sort. The pitch around her was full of them. She and James were, in fact, sitting in the middle of a battlefield. Shouted incantations, and cries of pain filled the air. She had been foolishly oblivious to her surroundings, and now they were sitting ducks. She did not have her wand on her because she had come out prepared to play a Quidditch match, not fight her way through a potentially murderous mob.
They needed to get off the pitch, and as quickly as possible. As Ginny got to her knees, scanning the crowd she started to realize that escaping unharmed would be a difficult endeavour. She was looking for a break, or at least a weak spot that she could sneak through with some ease. A thinning of the crowd several seconds later showed her that she was perhaps two dozen feet away from the entrance she and the rest of the team had used that evening. The brief glance she had of the corridor showed it to be empty. It was her best chance, she thought, crouching now on the balls of her feet.
“Jay, I need you to be as quiet as you’ve ever been,” she said. He’d proven himself to be a very smart child, perhaps he would understand.
Without delay, Ginny sprang up and ran as fast as she could. The break in duellers had closed, and she very narrowly missed running right into Kingsley, who was firing spells into the crowd, and blocking several that were thrown at him. The way past Kingsley was unobstructed, but for one masked Death Eater who was lying on the ground. Ginny didn’t notice that he was bleeding until she slipped in a puddle of his blood, and almost went down. She kept her balance though, and ran, at last, into the relative safety of the empty corridor.
She had not run more than fifty feet, but her heart was racing like she’d run miles. She stopped to catch her breath, leaning against the wall. They were out of immediate danger, but still fully visible to those on the pitch. They needed to keep moving, but Ginny’s legs chose that moment to give out. She slid down the wall and sank onto the floor. They would move in a moment, when she caught her breath and regained her strength.
“Mumumum,” James said tearfully, pressing his small hand to her cheek. She kissed it and hugged him close again.
“I love you so much, my boy.”
James had stopped crying and remained quiet for a long stretch, almost as though he was indulging his mother’s desperate need to keep him as close as possible. He finally rested his head on her shoulder, and started sucking his thumb. He began drifting off to sleep, though he was trying to fight it. Ginny couldn’t possibly sleep, but welcomed his light and steady breath on her neck. She focused on it so much as a means to steady her own heart rate, that when James spoke, he startled her.
Hurried footsteps and someone calling her name. They were approaching from the other end of the corridor. It was Hugh in his red jumper. He was dragging an auburn haired witch in authentic looking Harpies robes. They were still halfway down the corridor when Ginny could hear her words of protest. He ignored her.
“Are you all right? James?” he asked, falling to his knees in front of them.
Ginny continued to clutch James close to her as she nodded. Her hands otherwise occupied she merely flinched when he touched his hand to her cheek.
“What happened? Ginny?” he prompted her when she didn’t immediately respond.
“We were wrong,” she said, saying aloud the last thought that had run through her head.
“Who -“ Before he could ask more, though, her entire stream of thought spilled out.
“We were all wrong. We were all so caught up in Lestrange. So worried that she was after Harry again. It was always about that. None of us thought that it would be Narcissa Malfoy. We could have – We should have known – She always blamed us, Harry and I, for Draco’s death. Always. I understand why now, more than I did then . . . “ Ginny reached up to smooth James’s hair. What would she have done? Would she have reacted the same as Narcissa had if James had met Draco’s fate?
“Lestrange?” Hugh’s companion asked, alarm evident in her voice. “Bellatrix Lestrange?”
“Sssh,” he replied.
“I don’t know what happened. I saw her point her wand, say the words. I tried . . . I tried to yank her arm away, but then I fell . . . I thought he’d been hit. I couldn’t – move.” Ginny found her throat constricting again. She had been so sure. If James hadn’t fallen right on her, she might not have got to him in time. He could have been spared Narcissa’s spell, only to be finished by someone else because she hadn’t got to him in time. Ginny felt sick. She buried her face in James’s hair, muttering a thousand apologies.
“Ginny?” Hugh touched her shoulder. “He’s OK.”
She nodded, not lifting her head.
“Hugh, please,” his friend implored him again, sounding more desperate than before. She had taken several steps in the other direction. “We really have to go.”
“A minute, Char,” Hugh said, not moving. He turned his attention back to Ginny “He’s safe. And you’re OK. Aren’t you? You weren’t hit with that spell or anything?”
“It was a killing curse. I would have been dead if I had been.”
Ginny lifted her head in time to see Hugh turn pale. Apparently his friendship with Char had not extended to learning about unforgivable curses. Char was quite aware of them, it seemed. When Ginny looked at her, the witch appeared to be on the verge of fainting.
“Killing curses, and Bellatrix Lestrange. It was Bellatrix?” she asked Ginny, who nodded.
“We cannot stay here,” Char told Hugh. She was more emphatic than before. “Stray killing curses and a very dangerous witch are out there.”
“OK, we’ll leave. Just give me a few minutes,” Hugh replied.
Char’s response was more hysterical than before, but Ginny’s attention was diverted by the phrase “stray killing curses”. She looked in the direction of the pitch where spells were still flying in all directions. Narcissa’s spell had not hit James, and it had not hit her. Had it hit someone else behind them? Her entire team had been behind her at some point: Gwenog. Keddle. Jordana, who had already lost her spouse to Lestrange, and Harry. Harry had most definitely been behind her in the seconds before Narcissa fired her spell.
Ginny got to her feet and then stopped, uncertain. She wanted nothing better than to run back into the fray, to disprove her fear, but she would not take James with her, and she could not leave him behind. She watched him for several minutes, trying to decide what to do. Only feet away, Hugh’s friend was still trying to convince him that they needed to leave.
“No, Hugh. Bellatrix Lestrange is the one who killed my mum.” Char’s voice rose higher than ever, rife with fear. “She tortured and murdered her, and she’ll do the same to us, to you especially, if she catches us -“
“Lestrange is dead.”
Ginny’s head snapped up. Harry was standing in the middle of the corridor, wand still drawn. He was covered in grime, and a new cut was bleeding under his right eye, but otherwise he was unhurt. James also lifted his head
“Dada,” he said sleepily, stretching his arm out.
Harry’s relieved expression mirrored Ginny’s. They moved forward simultaneously, meeting halfway, practically throwing themselves into each others arms, where they and James became entangled in a mess of kisses, words of comfort, muddled explanations, and a million apologies and reassurances. He did not blame her for so nearly giving up on James, nor did she think him negligent.
Lestrange was dead, hit by the spell that had been meant for James. Narcissa Malfoy had been arrested and would spend the rest of her life in Azkaban. Ginny knew a very brief moment of pity for Narcissa, for the remorse she would likely feel for that act of murder. It was a feeling that passed very quickly, because she knew that Narcissa would not have stopped hunting James until she got her revenge. With her in jail, he was safe. They all were. It was over, all over. Every last tie to Voldemort, to darkness, was gone. They had made it through.
Their names were being called by multiple people who were coming from two different directions. Ginny looked to her right. Hugh and Char were pressed flat against the wall as Remus ran past, followed closely by Adrasteia. From their left Kingsley, Tougas and Briony approached. They all converged at almost the same moment, and started talking at the same time.
“I’m so glad you’re OK,” Adrasteia said, hugging both Ginny and Harry. “It’s all over the wireless that something big was going down here, involving Death Eaters. I knew you were playing, and so I knew Harry would be here. What happened?”
Before any explanation could be offered, more people arrived: Ginny’s entire Quidditch team, followed by the other seven players of the Wimbourne Wasps.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Jordana said, also hugging Ginny. She was white as a sheet. “If I’d have known – “
“I understand,” Ginny replied. Jordana’s threat already seemed part of another life.
Each member of her team hugged Ginny, before moving on. Keddle was last. She had been nearest Ginny when they landed, and had seen the most. She was in tears when she hugged Ginny, and she held on for the longest.
“She saved my life, you know,” she said to Harry.
“I do know.” He squeezed Ginny’s hand. “She’s saved mine, too. More than once.”
“Stop messing things up, then.” Keddle said. Before she could say more a flurry of activity broke out.
The lineup of Quidditch players who had stopped to offer well wishes was dwindling, revealing Kingsley, who was deep in conversation with Jordana and Adrasteia. As the last Wasps player left, Kingsley turned to head back onto the pitch.
“Potter,” he called, just before stepping out of the corridor, “you should go with Adrasteia immediately.”
Kingsley waited for Harry’s nod, before leaving. Seconds later they could hear his voice, magically magnified, announcing that anyone who had been injured and needed treatment was to report to the changing rooms starting in ten minutes time. Directions were provided.
“I want all three of you to come,” Adrasteia explained. “Please follow me.”
The changing rooms looked exactly the same as they had when Ginny left them, right down to the bag that she’d thrown on the floor in her haste to get ready for the start of the match, and Gwenog’s habitual pre-match bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.
“I never want you for a patient again, Harry,” Adrasteia said the minute the door was closed. “You’re constantly getting into troublesome situations, and then you don’t follow advice. Sit.”
“I’ve told you before -“ Harry started to say.
“Save it,” she replied, uncorking a phial of the ever useful Essence of Dittany. She glanced at Ginny, who was now sitting on the bench, still holding James. “I understand and won’t take your head for not listening, but only this once. I don’t know how you put up with it, Ginny, I really don’t. Even Bredan wasn’t that bad. Look up.”
She cleaned Harry’s latest cut before applying a drop of dittany.
“I’ve told you before you don’t need to make all of this fuss,” Harry said, trying to wave away Adrasteia’s wand.
“And I’ve told you before, I don’t work for you. Besides, you should know by now that the more you protest, the longer this will take.”
Resigned, Harry stopped talking while Adrasteia performed a now familiar complicated set of wand movements. When she was done, she looked satisfied.
“You’ll be happy to know that you’re still healing fine. I’d say another week should do it.” She addressed this statement more to Ginny than to Harry. When she received a raised eyebrow from him, she said “You don’t listen to me, I figure maybe you’ll listen to her. Your turn, Ginny.”
“I’m OK, really,” Ginny replied. “Check James over first.”
It was easy to suggest, but it took some time for Adrasteia to convince her to let go of James. Even though he did not leave her sight, she felt anxious until Adrasteia handed him back, pronouncing his only ailment to be a few bumps and bruises. Ginny was likewise physically fine, except for a large bump on her head from when she’d hit the ground.
“The three of you are all very fortunate, if you ask me, things might be turning around.” Adrasteia winked. “I would like you to rest here for just a few minutes before you leave. Excuse me.”
The words were barely out of her mouth, when the door to the changing rooms banged open, amplifying the noise in the corridor. Both Harry and Ginny jumped to their feet, he with his wand out. She hastily snatched her bag from the floor and was digging through it for her wand, when the sources of the commotion identified themselves. Tougas was marching into the room, dragging Briony behind him. Following closely behind her was another of Ginny’s least favourite people: Declan Fohn.
“Bredan, what – “ Adrasteia’s question, undoubtedly about the intrusion, was cut short when she saw that Briony was with him. Without another word, she turned her back, spent a moment adjusting her potion bottles, and then excused herself to see the first of her waiting patients. It obviously still bothered her to see Tougas with someone else, even though they hadn’t been together for some years now, as far as Ginny knew. They were both very close-lipped on the subject..
“It was Umbridge who was there,” Tougas said, addressing Ginny more than Harry.
“Oh?” It was all she could say at first, but after a second she added, “Of course.”
Hindsight made it easier to see what she had missed while in the moment. The polyjuiced Briony had seemed so much like her aunt, because she really was her aunt. Her anger at Ginny being there, whether real or faked, was because all was not going according to plan. It made sense, too, that they would use Briony again. Despite being compromised before, the Aurors still inexplicably tolerated her (though Tougas’s tolerance was at least understood). She had more freedom of movement because of her friendship with Aurors than most people. Though Ginny knew that this Briony, the real one, was innocent, she still had to hold back a strong urge to throttle her. If things had turned out differently, she might have done just that.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Briony said, standing just behind Tougas, obviously fearing the very thing that Ginny was thinking. “I know we’ll never be best friends, Ginny, but I would never, ever do anything to hurt your son.”
“Nor did she willingly allow it to happen,” Fohn spoke up, taking several steps toward them. His shoulders were bent and he was slinking, a much different demeanour than the one he’d had even at the Ministry the previous week. He looked to Tougas for permission before continuing. “I don’t know if Briony has told you that she came to see me on Monday, to ask me to stop making encouraging speeches about Madame Lestrange. When she came she didn’t know that Aunt Delores was there. Like I’ve now told Mr. Tougas, and the Minister, I was listening to my Aunt’s advice about Madame Lestrange, erroneously as it turns out. My aunt was there in an advisory capacity on Monday when Briony came. I will not bore you with that conversation. Colourful as it might have been, we discussed nothing of importance to you or your investigation. It was only as Briony left, however, that I discovered my aunt had acquired a few strands of her hair. When I asked why she would want such a thing, she merely said it may come in useful. I dared not ask any further questions, because I was sure she meant to use it to sneak in and gather some information from the Auror office. I promise you, that I had no notion that she would do what she did. I am also very, truly sorry, MIss Weasley.”
“Do you think he’s telling the truth?” Ginny asked both Harry and Tougas. She suspected he was, but needed the concurrence.
“We’ll know soon. Schultz and Dawlish are tracking Unbridge right now. No.” Tougas put out his arm to stop Harry from moving forward. “Dawlish and Shacklebolt both said they don’t want you, me or Brazill anywhere near this one. There’s too much history with us, and they don’t want Umbridge to have any basis to question the validity of the arrest. Our orders are to sit tight, and wait for more instructions.”
Neither Harry nor Tougas looked pleased with these orders. Beyond a shared jerk of the head though, they said nothing else about it.
The noise from the crowd was growing louder as they started to enter the changing room for treatment. Having had her fill of crowds for the evening, Ginny took Harry’s hand and retreated further into the room, to a mostly disused corner. Tougas, Briony and Declan Fohn came with, the latter doing so at Tougas’s barked command.
The noise of the ever growing crowd was somewhat muffled in this furthest recess of the changing rooms. Ginny headed for a bench that was attached to the far wall. She sat with her back against the wall and stretched her legs across the bench. Harry sat beside her, at first continuing to holder her hand, and then eventually putting his arm around her shoulders. She rested her head against his. She adjusted her grip on James, and allowed her leaden eyelids to fall shut.
It felt as though a century had passed since she’d had any sleep, and Ginny was near to doing so in that changing room, but jerked awake when Harry nudged her ever so slightly. She looked up blurry eyed, and it took several seconds for her to follow his indicative nod, which was directing her attention to Tougas and Briony, who were across the room, embracing. It did not look like merely a comforting gesture, though it was undoubtedly that, too; Briony did still look very upset.
“You said he did disappear Sunday night,” Harry said quietly, “d’you think -“
“It would explain why he was late on Wednesday, too,” Ginny replied. Despite the coolness of her own feelings for Briony, she had warmed to Tougas over the months and was glad to see him happy. “It’s about time, too. I’ve been after him for months to get a move on.”
Though she had expected neither a chuckle or a comment from Harry, Ginny definitely had not expected to feel him tense either. She followed suit, and sat up straighter, unsure of what to expect. Once more following Harry’s gaze, she saw, not danger, but Hugh walking down the short corridor that separated the used and unused portion of the changing rooms. His friend Char was with him, now looking around in awe, rather than in abject fear. It was she who nudged Hugh and nodded in Harry and Ginny’s direction, as though they weren’t immediately recognizable in a room of six.
Hugh nodded, having already seen them. Once he had taken his last step out of the corridor, he stopped and came no closer, but he did not look away. In only a few seconds, his unflinching gaze grew very uncomfortable.
Ginny had made her choice. In doing so, she knew a conversation with Hugh was inevitable. Now the moment was upon her, however, she was reluctant to have it. Hers was not a reluctance born of uncertainty about that choice, at least not in the sense of whether she’d chosen correctly, but rather born of a wish to protect someone she cared about. Like Tougas, Hugh had been a great friend, but he wanted more, and therefore she knew her words would hurt. But it would hurt regardless of whether she had the conversation now, or in a month. Resigned to settling things with Hugh at once, Ginny started to get up, but found it a more challenging thing to do than usual owing to the fact that Harry had tightened his grip on her shoulder. He relinquished it reluctantly, with a guilty smile, when she looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“I’ve made my choice, remember,” she said, squeezing the hand still around her shoulders.
“Yeah.” A pause while Harry appeared to recall their not six hour old conversation, and then “Yeah, I do.”
“You know that. He doesn’t, though. I do owe him an explanation.”
Though Harry was as pleased with this decision as he was about the one not to go after Umbridge, he let go without comment. He held out his arms to take James. Ginny recoiled. She was not sure she was capable of letting James go again, not when he had survived so narrowly. But, she also knew that it would not be prudent to take him with her. Who knew how Hugh would react. She did not expect violence, but could not take the chance. With utmost reluctance, an assurance that Harry would not move, and promises to James that she would be back in a minute, Ginny finally did hand him over. She managed it by repeating the same two words over and over: “He’s OK.” Steeling her nerves, she at last turned away, and covered the distance between herself and Hugh.
“Hi,” she said briskly, turning back to reassure herself that James had not disappeared in the three seconds since she’d last held him.
“He’s OK? You’re OK?” Hugh asked at once, looking at James and Harry over her shoulder. “You’re sure?”
“Fine and fine, healer certified diagnoses. Thank God,” she replied. “Listen -“
“I don’t think I’ve introduced you to my friend Charlotte?”
“Nice to meet you.” Hers was a distracted statement, because Ginny was once again glancing over her shoulder at her son. He was still OK, but her anxiety was growing. She wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. She tried again. “We need to talk.”
This got his attention and he finally asked Charlotte to give them a moment. She left, followed by Tougas, Briony and Fohn. Once they were out of earshot, Ginny tried again.
“Listen, Hugh, I -“
“I know what you’re going to say,” Hugh interrupted. He sounded resigned.
“Oh?” Ginny turned her attention away from James again.
“You don’t have to tell me that you’re going to get back together with him,” he said, after a pause, jerking his head in Harry’s direction. “I’ve known it since the night he appeared in your flat, and it has become clearer and clearer every day that I’ve spent with the two of you.”
“I’m sorry,” Ginny said, placing her hand on his arm, at last giving her full attention. Beneath the resigned look, she could see that Hugh wasn’t taking things as stoically as he was trying to portray. “I wanted to talk to you sooner.”
“Would you change your mind if I told you you were making a huge mistake?”
It was Ginny’s turn to hesitate, and she spent some time watching James and Harry.
“No, it won’t,” she said at last. “Maybe it will turn out to be a huge mistake. Merlin knows there are a thousand things that we still have to work out, but . . . The truth?”
“If you must.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last week. It might be a lot simpler to be with someone like you. No dark wizards, no sleepless nights and endless worrying. But . . . For better or worse I threw my lot in with Harry a long time ago. We’ve been through a lot, good and bad, and we have James. I couldn’t just walk away from all of that, even if I didn’t still love him.”
“Twist the knife deeper, why don’t you?” Hugh said, but without malice.
“I’m sorry.” Ginny allowed for several heartbeats, and then added, “It’s not that I don’t care about you, Hugh. And like I said, if things were different -“
“Deeper and deeper,” he stated, this time with a small smile.
Hugh spent several minutes tapping the wall with his knuckle, and staring at something over her head.
“If we’re being honest now . . . Charlotte started preparing me for this eventuality as soon as she found out who you were. She can be brutally honest sometimes. And she was right. I had no chance. It’s understandable, I guess. There’s no way a lowly web developer could complete for the affections of a famous Quidditch star with the likes of an even more famous, 007-type.”
“I don’t quite know about that last bit, but -“ Ginny started to explain, feeling it important to explain herself better.
“A fictional, Muggle spy,” Harry replied from just behind her. She spun round, irritated that he couldn’t have given her a few more minutes.
“He’s here because I asked him to come over,” Hugh said. “I don’t think there’s really anything left for us to say. I know how the rest of this conversation goes. You would like us to stay friends.”
“Very much,” Ginny replied.
“If you’re sure this is a final decision?”
“I think it is,” she said, taking Harry’s hand again.
“Then I will say yes, because that’s what is always said in this situation, and we’ll see how it goes. You’ll at least make sure she’s happy, this time?” Hugh asked, turning to Harry.
“I will,” Harry said, nodding. “As long as she’ll let me.”
Hugh watched them silently for several more awkward seconds. Then, addressing Harry again, he said: “You are a very lucky man. Very lucky.”
Without waiting for comment or reaction, Hugh turned and walked away. He rejoined Charlotte who was waiting at the end of the hall and they disappeared into the crowd.
“I am indeed,” Harry said, turning his attention to Ginny.
As am I, Ginny thought, taking James from him.