Ginny was a ball of nerves, and almost none of these nerves were due to the Quidditch match she was ill-prepared for, but would be playing in under an hour. After attending only one day of practice she would have been nervous regardless of any other considerations, but her nerves about the match were given extra fuel by the fact that Jordana insisted on making a big announcement about how she would be playing after all.
James stirred when they Apparated into the alley, but promptly fell back asleep. Attempting to be as inconspicuous as possible, both because she was with James, and because of where she was heading, it was virtually impossible to calm her racing heart. It was stupid, really, that she should feel so nervous. It was just Harry she was going to see. True, this would be the first time they had seen each other since she’d given him back the ring, but that didn’t make a case for the level of nerves she was feeling. It wasn’t as though they had parted on particularly bad terms.
It was the unknown that had her so nervous. Harry hadn’t been angry at her decision when she’d made it, but forty-eight hours could change a lot, Ginny was living proof of that. At the time she had felt quite sure of what she wanted, but in the intervening days her certainty had waned, and had started to almost immediately. One agonizing evening of incessant doubt was responsible for her playing in the Quidditch match. It had been her hope that rigorous practice would exhaust her enough to shut off that stream of doubts, and it worked, almost.
The substance of her decision was not what kept her up at night; her reasoning was sound. What troubled her was whether her decision would have been the same If Harry hadn’t pressed the issue. If he hadn’t insisted on having an answer right then and there, would she have made a different decision? She experienced several periods of anger on that first night. How dare Harry try and force the issue after everything else they had been through and that he had done. As time does with everything, however, her anger dissipated, leaving a hollow where it had been. While her attempt to use Quidditch as a distraction from such thoughts mostly worked, there were still a few minutes after putting James down, when she lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, contemplating a whole series of ‘what if’ questions.
It would have been much easier to have Ron and Hermione drop James off with Harry, as had been the original plan, but when they arrived at the Burrow, Ginny suddenly excused them from such duty. She could not put into words exactly why she had done so, for surely no good could come from seeing Harry, especially this soon after their break up, and right before a match when the last thing she needed was a potentially emotional confrontation. Nevertheless, she was now heading up Remus’s garden path.
So wrapped up in her own doubts about the decision she’d made regarding Harry, Ginny had not even contemplated how she would feel about where she was going. Until very recently, this had also been Tonks’s house, but she was no longer there, and never would be again. A lump formed in her throat. She swallowed it.
It would have been obvious to anyone that some great tragedy had recently befallen the man. His hair was scraggly and greyer than ever, he was unshaven. It looked as though he had slept in his clothes for several days – in fact she was sure he was still wearing the same ones from the funeral – and there was an odor of stale firewhisky that she remembered best from when Sirius was staying at Grimmauld Place.
“Hi,” she said, at a loss for anything more meaningful to say.
Remus greeted her in kind as he moved aside and allowed her to enter.
The house was not large. The front entrance was narrow, and looked even more so because of the dark wainscoting and maroon carpeting. Doors stood ajar to their left and right, each less than a dozen feet away from the front door. The stairs, clad in the same carpeting as the hall, led up and away into the gloom of the second level. Tonks had long talked about changing things, but never could decide what she wanted to do. Now she would never get the chance. She had to swallow again.
“I am glad you are here,” Remus said, his hand remaining on the doorknob. “I wanted to apologize for my behaviour the other day.”
“You’re apologizing to me?” she asked, stunned. “If I hadn’t . . . It’s my fault that she’s dead.”
Remus neither agreed nor disagreed with her statement. An awkward silence fell and would have stretched on indefinitely if a clock had not struck, announcing the hour. She was already late by Jordana’s estimation.
“Is Harry here?” she asked.
Remus nodded, gesturing to the door on her right. Looking glad of the excuse, he made his bows and retreated up the stairs.
Time was a dwindling commodity, yet Ginny still hesitated, collecting herself after the overwhelming remorse she felt for Tonks, and wondering once again if she had made the right decision in coming herself. The decision was made, however, and she would have to make the best of it. Taking a deep breath, she took the plunge.
Harry was sitting on the sofa, quill in hand, staring down at a roll of parchment that teetered on a pile that littered the table. He was not alone. Briony Wright sat in a chair to his right, her ankles crossed, wearing an expression that enhanced her resemblance to her Aunt Delores Umbridge. It was she, not Harry, who first noticed Ginny.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, sounding angry.
Harry looked up, did a double take, and then jumped to his feet half a second behind Briony. Nothing but disbelief registered on his face for a full ten seconds.
Briony spoke again: “Harry, didn’t you say that Ron and Hermione were bringing your son?”
“I thought they were,” he said, after clearing his throat. His expression of disbelief turned to one of alarm. “Did something happen?”
“NO. I – “ Ginny glanced at Briony out of the corner of her eye. This woman was yet again a complication she had not foreseen and didn’t like. Even if there wasn’t anything of more import than the big list of instructions she had regarding James, she would not have felt comfortable with Briony there, especially given the way the woman was acting. It was true that there was no love lost between Ginny and Briony. On at least one other occasion, Briony had been quite explicit in her dislike of Ginny, but that time she had not displayed such latent hostility. The way she had her arms folded across her chest spoke volumes about how she was annoyed that Ginny was there. If hadn’t know, and witnessed with her own eyes, that Briony was infatuated with Tougas, such behaviour might have been explainable.
Harry had noticed Ginny’s meaningful glance.
“Would you mind giving us a minute?”
Briony looked as though she would rather do anything but that, but did not argue.
“I’ll make tea, shall I?” She scurried off without waiting for an answer.
Harry waited until the sound of Briony’s footsteps had died away before he came around the coffee table and closed the distance between them, stopping about a foot away. Close to, he looked almost as bad as Remus, thankfully devoid of the stale firewhisky.
“Why are you here?” Harry asked. It sounded almost like an accusation, but his expression did not suggest that it was.
She couldn’t answer right away. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, Ginny had to lean against the wall and close her eyes for a moment. The lump she had swallowed twice already welled up again, and she had a harder time than ever suppressing the urge to break down. She had no time for such displays.
“Are you OK?” Harry asked, concerned again. He came a bit closer and hovered awkwardly, as though afraid to touch her.
“Mostly,” she replied. She took a deep, shaky breath. “It’s just harder being here than I thought.”
“Tell me about it.” Harry looked around the room. “I keep thinking about all of the mad stuff that happened here.”
Ginny couldn’t quite laugh, but she did smile, also looking about the room. If they had thought to record it, Tonks would have fit in well on one of those montages about accident-prone people they played on Muggle television. Each of their visits had been accompanied by trips, spills, furniture being knocked into the fire – one time even disappearing into the fireplace never to be found again. Once or twice Tonks even managed to set herself, or at least the hem of her robes, on fire when she wasn’t anywhere near the fireplace.
“When I decided to come I didn’t think of her at all. I just couldn’t . . . Why did you have to force my hand?” The question burst forth, almost angry.
“That wasn’t my intention,” Harry replied, seeming to understand right away what she was talking about.
“The hell it wasn’t,” she said, too loudly causing James to stir.
Both Ginny and Harry were momentarily distracted from their conversation. Harry came a little closer and put his hand on his son’s head. James adjusted his head on Ginny’s shoulder and slept on. Slight crisis averted. It was doubly hard to leave James when he was awake and able to make it seem like she was abandoning him.
Attending to James as she had been, it had not fully registered to Ginny exactly how close Harry was standing to her. Assured that he was not going to wake, at least for the moment, she was startled, and a little short of breath. She hadn’t really had any expectations about how things would go when she got here, but she hadn’t expected what was happening, or her reaction. She meant to step away, but didn’t.
“I might have gone a little over the top,” Harry conceded. “I might have been going slightly mad over your indecision.”
“Indecision? Oh, Hugh. I told you that we were only friends.”
“You did, and believe you. I don’t believe he would give up that easily, and after everything that happened with us, I wonder if you might just find it simpler to . . . “
Ginny registered the change to present tense, along with his distressed expression.
“The truth?” she asked.
“Yes,” Harry replied, reluctantly.
“I have thought about it a lot, especially this week. The first two nights we were at the Burrow I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about it non-stop. I agonized for almost a week over a decision I made the first night I saw you and James asleep on the sofa together.”
Harry looked unsure of whether she was talking about him.
“Yes,” she said,
“Why didn’t you just say so?” he asked, relieved.
“Because I didn’t realize it until today. And I was mad at you. I can’t just forget everything that happened, you know.”
“Of course.” Still standing very close to her, Harry cupped his hands under her chin and tilted her head up as though to kiss her, but then he hesitated, looking at her as though asking if this was allowed.
“Time’s running short, remember,” she said. It was a statement intending to hurry him along, but Harry misunderstood her meaning and started to withdraw. Sighing in a mildly exasperated manner, Ginny kissed him instead.
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
Briony had returned, using a cloyingly sing-song voice eerily reminiscent of her aunt. She carried a tray with teapot, three cups, other necessities, and a plate of biscuits.
Looking as annoyed as Ginny felt, Harry stepped back and dropped his hands.
Briony either did not see Harry and Ginny’s annoyed reactions or she chose to ignore them. Ginny suspected the latter because as Briony cleared a spot on the coffee table to set her tray down, it very much looked like she was wearing a smug, self-satisfied smile. It was all she could do to prevent herself from strangling the bitch.
“How do you take your tea?” Briony asked, sweeter than ever. She held two of the three cups out towards Harry and Ginny.
“I can’t stay,” Ginny reminded her, glad of the excuse to leave. She pasted a completely false smile on her face before turning on her heel and exiting the room. This made it necessary for Harry to follow her to take James. She handed their son over as soon as they reached the front door.
“Everything he needs is in here,” she said, handing over the bag she always carried with her, “including instructions. I think I’ve covered everything on it. If there are any other issues before I get back, send a message off to mum and she can help.” She checked her watch. If she didn’t leave right that second, she would be late for the match, and then Jordana would have her head. “Don’t let him sleep too long, or he won’t sleep tonight,”
“OK. Listen, Gin, about Briony . . . I know she’s a little much. She and Tougas – Never mind.” He waived it away when she rolled her eyes and opened the door. “I’ll talk to you later. Good luck and make sure to win.”
She waved her hand to acknowledge his last comments.
With no time to spare, Ginny ducked behind a tree, checked to make sure no Muggles were nearby and Disapparated. If a Muggle did happen to see, the worst she would get was a fine. She could pay a fine, but she rather needed her head which she would lose if she was late.
The upside of being so late was that Jordana didn’t have time to yell at her before the match started. The downside, as evident in Jordana’s expression, was that she would get an earful when the match was over, especially if they lost. It was therefore much more important to win. The nerves she had felt before arriving at Remus’s had settled somewhat, and Ginny was feeling much more confident about winning. Oliver Wood was good, but he wasn’t unbeatable..
She ran into the changing room, was greeted with relief and enthusiasm by her fellow teammates, and with another glower from Jordana who had followed her. She smiled apologetically as she grabbed her broom and fell in line with the rest of the team as they headed out of the changing rooms and towards the pitch.
A few late arriving spectators were heading to their seats and cheered the team on. One did not: Tougas. He was leaning against the wall looking very Auror-ish. He fell in step beside Ginny as she passed with the team. He was not there in an official capacity, and she knew him to be a fan of the Wimbourne Wasps so she was surprised to see him there.
“My, my, Tougas, have you finally developed some taste in Quidditch teams?” she asked.
He didn’t laugh. He didn’t even smile.
“I’m only here as a favor,” he said. “So try and get this over with quickly, won’t you?”
Ginny rolled her eyes. There was no need to ask who he was doing the favor for. Just once it would be nice if Harry gave her a heads up.
“I think we’ll be fine here. You would be better served spending this time with your girlfriend and sorting out whatever problems the two of you are having. Harry said something when she was there this afternoon.”
Tougas looked surprised, but they did not have time to discuss the matter further because the team stepped onto the pitch just then. Not being there in an official capacity, Tougas could not follow.
At the last minute, before they were set to take off for their customary flight around the stadium, Ginny looked back. Tougas was still there, shielding his eyes against the glare from the sun, and staring up into the stands. He was wearing a frown, not entirely unusual for Tougas, but it still made Ginny’s stomach clench. She followed his gaze. Was he being paranoid, or had he seen something? All she could see, however, was the screaming crowd. There was nothing unusual about that. Turning round once more to roll her eyes at Tougas, she saw that he was gone.
“Weasley,” Gwenog called impatiently, drawing Ginny’s attention back to the match. The rest of the team had already mounted their brooms and were only waiting for her so they could kick off.
“Sorry.” She swung her leg over the broom and followed them into the air.
Her mind was anywhere but on Quidditch as she flew behind Gwenog. Why had Tougas suddenly decided to listen when he’d always had the maddening habit of completely ignoring anything she had to say? She waved at her family as she passed, and decided that she would just have to put such questions from her mind until after the match. They did need that win, after all.
Her resolution was not going to work out easily for her, it seemed. Three-quarters of the way through their lap, Ginny spotted another familiar face: Hugh. It was usually hard to spot individual people in the crowd, unless they stood out somehow, like her family with their ginger hair. Hugh stood out because he was the only person wearing a red jumper in a sea of green Harpies supporters. He was also waving enthusiastically, sitting beside a witch Ginny did not recognize. This must have been the friend he was talking about. She waved half-heartedly hoping he didn’t stick around after the match, and was grateful for the fact that Harry was not there. Though she didn’t feel much in the mood for it, perhaps she could have the dreaded conversation with Hugh today. She would consider it after their won. It was another thing to push to the back of her mind, like Tougas’s and Briony’s odd behaviour.
Speaking of Briony . . .
Ginny stopped so suddenly that King crashed right into her. She hardly noticed, even when King started yelling. She muttered a distracted apology and then she broke ranks and flew in the direction of this mystery woman. It had to be a mistake, right? She only thought she saw Briony because she had just been thinking about her. As she grew closer, however, she saw that her first instinct was correct. It was Briony, and she was not alone. Tougas was with her. He had not immediately been visible because he had been crouching down, immersed in conversation. He stood up again as Ginny approached.
“She wasn’t there,” he shouted, answering her unasked question. He was barely audible over the shouts and screams from the rest of the crowd. Reading the words on his lips, Ginny nearly crashed into the stands as her hands went numb. Her head was suddenly buzzing with million questions. She shouted the most important at Tougas when she was within shouting distance.
“Why are you still here?”
Tougas nodded, spun on the spot, and was gone. His disappearance caused a mini-commotion in the immediate area. Questions were shouted, asking how had he Disapparated from within the stadium.
“What’s going on?” King called
“What’s happening?” Gwenog asked
“Ginny?” Keddle inquired.
“I don’t know,” she shouted over the increasing noise of the crowd. “I really don’t know.”
She wanted to imitate Tougas, to leap over the barrier and Disapparate on the spot. Waiting here to find out what was happening would be intolerable. Her experiences on Sunday weighed her down, though, and made her hesitate. What if her presence led to another scene like the one on Sunday? What if there were injuries and Adrasteia didn’t arrive on time?
But James . . .
“What have I done?” she said aloud, but to herself. The pitch swam before her and Ginny slid sideways. She would have fallen if Keddle hadn’t grabbed her.
The crowd grew louder still, angrier, but Ginny barely noticed. Her mind continued to race in a thousand different directions. She suddenly found herself back on the ground with no idea how she’d got there. Her teammates were surrounding her with concerned looks. Keddle looked frightened. The players from Puddlemere were standing less than a dozen feet away, looking confused, and equally concerned.
“What the hell is going on here?” Jordana demanded, marching across the pitch and looking positively livid. “You are all supposed to be in the air. I suggest – Where are you going?” Jordana grabbed Ginny’s arm as she broke away from the rest of the team.
“I have to go,” Ginny said, pulling her arm free. “I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
“We are about to start a match.” When Ginny didn’t turn back, Jordana yelled at her: “If you leave, you are done with this team. Done!”
Ginny did pause, not because she contemplated changing her mind, but because she knew she owed Jordana an explanation. There was no time for that now, though. If everything turned out OK, and she really hoped it would, she would just have to offer that explanation later.
She ran for the entrance she had so recently used. She had to grab her wand from the changing rooms before she could leave. Once outside she could Disapparate, too. She dared not try from within the pitch. The last thing she wanted was to get splinched.
She never made it.
Focused as she was on her goal, Ginny did not immediately notice that the sound of the angry crowd had disappeared as though a large Silencing Charm had been placed over the entire stadium. She did not realize it until one sound broke through: the heart-stopping cry of a baby. It seemed to come from everywhere at once; she stopped running and spun round, trying to find the source of the cry. It couldn’t be . . .
Ginny continued to spin, getting dizzy as she did. She wanted to move forward, knew that she had to, but what if it was James crying and she ran in the wrong direction? On her seventh turn, something appeared in the entrance she had been heading for: Narcissa Malfoy, holding James. She had her wand pointed at him.
Ginny blinked several times. She could not be seeing what she thought she was. No. It was Lestrange who they had to worry about, not her sister. This had to be a hallucination, had to be. She had just left James with Harry, and he would never let anything happen. Unless . . .
The thought of what might have happened made Ginny queasy. It also propelled her forward and ran towards her son, urging herself to go faster, faster so she could get to James before Narcissa Malfoy did anything to him. She was mere feet away, just out of arms length, when something like a rope caught her round the middle, nearly cleaving her in half. She stumbled, but did not fall. She regained her feet and tried to back up. It didn’t work. Whatever spell it was that caught her, prevented her from moving backwards, forwards or side to side, no matter how hard she tried to fight it. Unable to move forward, she tried with all her effort to stretch those last few inches to reach James, but she could not.
A mad cackle followed her fruitless efforts. It should have come from Narcissa, she being the only one in view, but it did not. Her expression had not changed: her eyes were bulging, and her lips were pressed tightly together.
The mysterious cackler was revealed almost at once. Someone grabbed Ginny by the hair and pulled her head back.
“I don’t think so, dearie,” said Bellatrix Lestrange, with another cackle.
Ginny’s blood ran cold. Suddenly the game was clear; she’d been through it before. Lestrange was going to try to use her and James as bait to get Harry there so she could complete her pointless resurrection spell. Everyone except Bellatrix knew that the ritual to bring Voldemort back would not work. The plot to get Harry there would work. It always did.
A whole host of things ran through Ginny’s mind, ways to keep them talking while she tried to figure out a plan to get herself and James out of there. Once he was safe, she would be able to think more clearly. She dared not goad them too much; Narcissa looked as crazed as her sister.
“You don’t need him, you know,” she said to Bellatrix, momentarily ceasing her attempts to free herself. “If you want Harry – “
Bellatrix laughed again.
“This has nothing to do with Harry Potter. If he does show up, however . . . Two birds, as they say.” Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny say Bellatrix prod her sister with a look. “The boy is nothing to me. Cissy.”
Narcissa did nothing.
“This isn’t necessary,” Ginny tried again, this time addressing Narcissa. She tried very hard to keep her voice calm and steady, knowing it would not do any good to show how truly panicked she was. Remaining calm was getting harder and harder to do with each passing second.
“NOT NECESSARY?” Narcissa screamed, her voice echoing around the magically silenced stadium. “It was not necessary for Draco to die, but because of you -”
“That wasn’t my fault -” Ginny cried, momentarily forgetting her practiced calm. “It wasn’t my son’s fault either. If Voldemort had -”
Something collided with the side of her head and the world went black. When Ginny came to, which couldn’t have been more than a few seconds later, the unnatural silence of the stadium had disappeared. The crowd was screaming in fear and Ginny could hear a stampede as people tried to leave en masse. Much closer, however, she heard less panicky shouts, and saw movement. Though her vision was slightly blurred, she could make out a rainbow of colours. Duels were underway, which meant that Aurors had arrived.
“Do it, Cissy. Now,” Bellatrix shouted. She had let go of Ginny’s hair but was still near at hand, her back turned. She had her wand drawn and was sending off spell after spell.
“NO,” Ginny cried again, renewing her struggles with Bellatrix’s spell. “No, Narcissa, please.”
The blurriness cleared, and Ginny could see that Narcissa had not moved. Her eyes were still bulging, and she was holding her wand so tightly that her knuckles were white.
“Mumumumum,” James cried, reaching for Ginny. She stretched to her fullest and was just able to grab his wrist, but she was not able to get a tight enough grip before Narcissa took a step back. She was once again just out of Ginny’s reach.
The rainbow of spells closed in around them. Bellatrix continued to rain spells, cackling at regular intervals.
“Taking my son’s life isn’t going to make it easier to deal with your son’s death,” Ginny said to Narcissa. “It will only cause you more pain. I know what Harry went through after Voldemort. Please, don’t do it.”
Narcissa’s eyes narrowed. She clearly didn’t believe what Ginny said, but she didn’t cast her spell either.
A group of Death Eaters formed a circle around Ginny, James, Narcissa and Bellatrix. Beyond them, she saw a swarm of activity, including the continued rainbow of spells. She thought she saw Kingsley pass behind Narcissa, engaged in a duel with one of the Death Eaters. If she could just keep Narcissa talking long enough for him to break through . . .
A jet of red light flew between Ginny and Bellatrix and hit James. His cries stopped instantly. He’d been stunned. Please, God, let that be the worst of it, Ginny thought, automatically reaching for him again.
“Narcissa, for the love of the dark lord, do it now, or I will,” Bellatrix called.
Narcissa fidgeted, but still did not strike. Bellatrix swung round so she was again facing her sister. She moved her wand so it was pointing at James.
“NO,” Ginny cried again, struggling helplessly against her restrains. This time she was not alone. She heard Harry somewhere behind her.
Bellatrix smiled, let out yet another cackle, and then raised her wand to perform the deadly curse. It flew out of her hand, arced magnificently, and fell into the crowd outside the circle of Death Eaters. It was Bellatrix’s turn to scream.
Ginny had been pushing so hard to get free of her restraints that she fell to the pitch when the spell was cancelled. She was up in an instant, however, and racing for James. Narcissa was trying to back away but her way was impeded by her own Death Eaters. Ginny reached her before she could break through.. Ginny approached until the tip of Narcissa’s wand was pressing against her forehead.
“Do not come any closer.”
“I know you are grieving for your son,” Ginny said, her voice shaking. She would try this one last time, talking until Narcissa let her guard down a little bit, then she would make her move. “You might be right to blame Harry and I for what happened to him, but James had nothing to do with it. He is innocent. More – no – As innocent as Draco was.”
Narcissa maintained her stance. She continued to look skeptical for a tine, but then she blinked. It was progress.
Ginny took the tiniest step backwards. It was the hardest step of her life.
“Look,” she continued. “It is my fault. If it hadn’t been for me, your son would be alive. If you need to get your revenge . . . “She spread her arms out in a defenseless and accepting gesture. It was hard maintaining such an act while also remaining ready to spring, but it was one she hopefully would not have to keep up for long.
Narcissa’s eyes narrowed further, expecting trickery. When Ginny kept her position for half a minute, the suspicion turned to uncertainty. She adjusted the grip on her wand, loosening it a little. Then, very slowly, she started to lower her arm. Ginny prepared to jump at her.
“CISSY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
Bellatrix had acquired a wand from somewhere. She shot a spell into the crowd before turning her wand to them again. ‘DO IT NOW. YOU HAVE UNTIL THREE. ONE . . . “
Narcissa snapped back to attention, her eyes bulging ominously.
“You murdered my son,” she shrieked at Ginny. With lightning speed she turned her wand on James again. Ginny kept forward and seized Narcissa’s arm, intending to force the wand away from James. She pulled as hard as she could, lost her grip and fell backwards just as a bright green light filled the world around her.