A/N: This story is not part of Wallpaper World! It takes place the summer after Order Of The Phoenix and is from Ginny's point of view. Because this is about Ginny, I had to invent a history for the Weasley family. With my luck JKR will give us all the details on her web-site and I will be wrong! LOL.
Thanks to Sherry, Jo Wickaninnish, and Julu, for beta reading. And a special thanks to hairy_hen who wouldn't put enough fluff in his story for Ginny to do a Patronus Charm.
Chapter One: The First Weasley Girl In Generations
"Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear Harry . . ."
Ginny looked around the table at the smiling faces of her family and several members of the Order. In a rare evening of levity, they had gathered to celebrate Harry's sixteenth birthday. It was wonderful to have a bright spot in all the violence from the past month. Voldemort had sprung his Death Eaters out of Azkaban within days of their incarceration; since then they had been busy spreading terror across the magical world.
But tonight was Harry's birthday party and they were all at a safe house. Ginny didn't know to whom it belonged, or where they were exactly; they had taken a Portkey from the Burrow and Harry had been here waiting.
She studied Harry as he blew out his candles. He looked better than the last time she had seen him at King's Cross Station. The haunted look was almost gone from his eyes - almost.
It appeared that Harry had successfully blown out all of the candles when one of them suddenly flared and turned into a scantily clad dancing girl. Fred and George were laughing uproariously - it was obviously one of their creations. Ron was staring at the girl in the flame as if transfixed, his ears turning red. Ginny looked more closely into the flame and saw the dancing girl was untying her top.
Before the fire-girl had a chance to remove it completely, Mum doused her in water. "I'm melting . . ." they heard a squeaky voice trail off. Then Ron, Fred and George were all soaking wet.
"Hey!" Fred sputtered. "She didn't finish her routine!"
Another splash of water inundated Fred. "She's finished all right!" Mum exclaimed. "Honestly - you boys! This is a family party for Harry - and a hussy like that has no place -"
"Aw, Mum!" George protested, "Harry liked it! Didn't you Harry?"
There was a ruddy patch blooming along Harry's neck, but his eyes were sparkling. Ginny could tell that Harry thought it all a good joke. "Um, I think those candles will be a best seller for Weasley's Wizard Wheezes."
"Don't you dare sell them!" Mum glared at the twins. "Or put the name Weasley on them."
"The 'Dancing Flames' aren't just strippers --" Fred quailed at the glare Mum shot him.
"Yeah," George added quickly, "We also have clowns and dancing bears for the kids."
"Just don't get them mixed up," Ron said with a laugh. His ears had returned to their normal hue.
Mum huffed in disgust. "Ginny - run out to the kitchen and get Harry a knife to cut the cake." Then she turned to the twins. "We'll discuss this later."
"Ginny, give the knife to Harry," Bill called as she went through the swinging door. "Mum's in a mood."
"Mum's in a mood," Ginny heard her mother sputter, "and pray what sort of mood am I supposed to be in --"
Her tirade was cut off when the door swung shut. Ginny looked around the unfamiliar room. The dresser by the window seemed a likely place for the knives to be kept. After riffling through three drawers, Ginny found a serrated bread knife and what looked to be a ceremonial sword for cutting a wedding cake. Whoever owns this house has a well-equipped kitchen, she thought.
She put both the knife and the sword on the table, wondering which one she should bring out. For some reason, she thought the sword suited Harry, even though he wasn't the least flamboyant or interested in pomp and ceremony. Then it hit her. The last time she had seen Harry with a sword was when he was standing over the Basilisk . . . She shuddered, hating her trick memory, which could conjure up that episode at the most inopportune times. The last time it had happened, Colin had spilled his potion on a spell book and it had eaten a hole right through it . . .
Tap, tap, tap.
Startled, Ginny looked up to see a large barn owl with a letter in his beak tapping impatiently at the window. In the red light from the setting sun, Ginny could see her name boldly printed in block letters on the envelope.
"What on earth?" she muttered. She opened the window and took the letter. "Where did you come from?" she addressed the owl, but it flew off without a backward glance. "Have a nice day," she said sarcastically, putting her finger under the flap.
"I certainly am," Harry said.
"Oh!" She whirled around. "There was a strange owl at the window and he delivered a letter to me. What are you doing in here anyway? I wasn't gone that long."
"They have another surprise planned and they kicked me out." Harry was looking at the knife and the sword. "They're going to call me."
"Is this one Mum-approved?"
He grinned. "It must be, since it was her idea for me to leave." He touched the sword. "Which one should I carve that cake up with?"
Ginny walked to his side, the letter still in her hand. "I thought the sword would be theatrical and would keep Fred and George on their best behavior."
Laughing, he picked it up and flourished it in front of him. "Take that, chocolate icing!"
Ginny giggled and opened the letter, wondering who could have possibly sent it. A black feather floated upwards. They both watched the bit of black fluff rise and then start to descend. Then as if with one mind, the two Seekers for Gryffindor reached out to grab it, as if it were a Snitch. As Ginny's hand closed around the feather, Harry's hand closed around Ginny's, and then she felt a horrible tug around her middle and they were both pulled out of the safe house kitchen. The feather was a Portkey.
They landed on soft spongy grass. Before Ginny had a chance to get her bearings, Harry was on his feet with his wand out, the sword still in his other hand. "We're at the Burrow," he said quietly to Ginny as she scrambled to her feet.
She looked around quickly, seeing no one, hearing nothing. She took out her wand as well. Harry motioned for her to follow him. They ran to the shelter of a large hydrangea bush where several garden gnomes were sleeping.
"I think someone is in the house," Harry said. From this angle they could see through the kitchen windows. The setting sun was growing dimmer each minute so it was possible to see the dark forms of the chairs and table in the Weasley kitchen. The only light in the kitchen seemed to be coming from the fireplace.
"Ginny, is anyone supposed to be home right now?"
She felt a chill of terror. "No! Everyone was at your party. Charlie is in Romania and Percy is in London --" She stopped abruptly. Percy might have argued with Mum and Dad, but he would never -
"Did you recognize the writing on the envelope?"
"No - and it wasn't Percy's," Ginny added quickly.
Harry nodded curtly and then turned his attention back to the house. While Percy had spoken with Dad and Mum after the events of the Ministry, Ginny didn't think he had gotten around to apologizing to Harry for siding with Fudge.
Harry tensed. There were two men in the kitchen and judging by the flashing lights from the spell work they were doing, they were bent on destroying everything her family owned.
How dare they! Ginny sucked in a breath and moved to stand up. Harry grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back behind the bush. "It's not worth it," he hissed. "If they want to take something, let them take it."
He was right, of course, but Ginny could hardly contain her rage as she heard glass breaking and furniture being overturned.
"Is there something valuable Voldemort or the Death Eaters would want from your house?" Harry asked.
"No!" Ginny said, trying to keep the tremble of anger out of her voice. "We don't have anything of use for them. It's just a plain house - there's no money - or heirlooms."
Harry was studying her. "But it was your name on the envelope - what would they want with you?"
Her mouth dropped open in horror. "I don't know," she sputtered. "I'm nobody."
"You were at the Ministry with me," he reminded her quietly.
"And so was Ron - and his name wasn't on the envelope." Then she thought of something else. "How did they ever know I was at the safe house?"
Harry was looking though the branches of the bush. "I don't know," he said. "Owls have a wisdom all their own. Hopefully, they just told the owl to find you." He turned to her then. "Otherwise everyone at my birthday party is in danger."
Even in the fading light, Ginny could see the guilt and fear in his eyes. This would never do. "But it was my name, Harry - whatever it is has to do with me and not your birthday party. The best way to find out is to sneak up to the window and try to see what they're up to."
He stared at her a minute, opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again. "Ok," he said reluctantly. "I don't reckon they'll hear us anyway with all the noise they're making."
When Ginny looked through the kitchen window, she barely recognized her home. The entire place had been ransacked. Drawers were pulled out and overturned; pictures had been ripped off the walls; shelves had been cleared. But the worst desecration of all had to be the two culprits sitting at the smashed kitchen table eating her mum's biscuits. One was tall with dark hair and the other was blonde with rotting teeth.
Harry's lips were pressed firmly together and his hand gripped his wand convulsively.
The two men were obviously in a good mood. "This is all that was worth finding," the tall one said, plucking another biscuit out of the tin.
"Never seen such poor pickings," said rotten-teeth, his mouth stuffed with biscuit. "Why's Malfoy bothering with this lot anyway?"
Harry sucked in a breath.
"Well, Stan, since Lucius Malfoy and I are best mates, he tells me everything," said the tall one sarcastically.
"Come on Dougie, you must have heard something. Malfoy's not going to terrorize poor wizards just for the fun of it," Stan replied, more clearly since he had swallowed the mouthful of biscuit.
"All I know is that we are to wait for the girl to show up here. Cut her with this knife." He held up a silver dagger with a serpentine handle. "Put the blood in this vial. And take the girl to Malfoy's mansion." He shrugged and picked his tooth with the end of the dagger. "That's all I know."
"Why this girl? What's so special about some witch from a poor family?"
"Dunno," Dougie answered indifferently. Then he leaned forward and lowered his voice so Ginny had to strain to hear. "They say the Dark Lord is failing and needs a new potion to revive him. I reckon this brat's blood is needed . . ."
"Cor!" Stan looked nervous. "We'd better not muck it up! But why do we have to do the bloodletting? Why can't we just grab her and have them cut her at Malfoy's?"
"Keep your voice down." Dougie reached down and put a small knapsack on the table. "The instructions said that the blood had to be taken from her father's house." He extracted a bottle from the sack. "Here's the Polyjuice - did you find a hair?"
Stan smiled his rotting smile. "There were red hairs all over the place. I'll just pretend to be one of her brothers so she'll come close enough for us to stun her."
"How do we know when she arrives?"
"They've got a clock around here somewhere," Dougie said kicking the debris on the floor aside. "Should have left it on the wall-"
"Ginny," Harry said into her ear. "Go to the shed and pick out the two fastest brooms - I'm going to stun these losers and catch up to you."
She nodded, too horrified to say anything.
"You ok?" He was looking at her with concern.
"Yeah," she breathed and got to her feet on trembling legs. She had to put that conversation out of her mind for now. They wanted her blood . . . In the half-light she could make out the shape of broom shed, nestled into the side of the hill some 100 yards away. She started to run toward it when she heard the intruders yelling, "She's here! The brat is here!"
A jet of red shot out of Harry's wand through the open window. She heard a loud thud. Good one, Harry, she thought savagely as she ran the rest of the way to the broom shed.
"Alohomora," she murmured. The door was stuck shut. Frustrated she started wiggling the latch and pulling with all of her might.
"Stand out of the way," Harry said. "Here." He handed her the sword and kicked the flimsy door of the shed. It swung open, dangling from one hinge. Harry lit his wand and poked his head in the shed to select the brooms.
"Kill the fire-hair . . ." An unearthly voice was coming out of the dimness, coming from the small hill behind the shed. Ginny looked up to see a huge black snake; at least twelve feet long slither from the grassy hill on to the rickety roof of the shed. It made a small thump when its thick body dropped on to the shingles. Mesmerized, she could only watch it quickly traverse the narrow width of the roof. Undaunted by the six foot drop, it kept moving . . . moving . . . closer . . . to her. It dangled in mid-air, inches from her face. An involuntary shriek tore from her throat.
The snake opened its wide mouth - even in the failing light she could see two shimmering white fangs. "Kill the fire-hair." Horrified, she realized it was talking to her. She stumbled back, but it stretched and followed her. There was no way to keep her distance. Out of sheer terror, without thinking, without consciously knowing she had the sword in her hand, she raised her right arm high and brought it down with all her might.
The cake sword should have gotten stuck in the scaly skin, it should have given the snake a painful wound that would have driven it to a new level of frenzy, but it didn't. The sword sang as it sliced through the snake's black head with one clean blow. She screamed again as a fountain of blood spurted from the neck, now dangling uselessly from the roof of the broom shed.
She jumped. She had forgotten all about Harry. "Harry," she whispered since she didn't want to scream anymore. "That snake talked to me - and it was going to kill me!"
"I know." His expression was unreadable. "Drop the sword - it's over."
Ginny looked at her hands. She was still holding her wand in one hand and the sword in the other. There was snake blood running down her arm. She let the bloodstained sword drop on top of the cruel snake's head. Thankfully it was dark enough that she couldn't see its eyes.
She clutched her wand with both hands, trying not to succumb to hysteria. She couldn't quite take in what she had heard and what she had done. The night was plunging into darkness so quickly. She didn't understand where that rattling breathing was coming from. Harry didn't sound like that . . .
"We'll torture the little girl . . ."
She was so cold, the black ice penetrated through her clothes, her skin, into the very marrow of her bones. She was all black inside; like that snake she was death.
"No one will believe you, Ginny. They'll think you killed those chickens because you are an evil person . . . You must be evil, don't you think?"
Her breath was frozen inside of her lungs. She couldn't move; she was trapped in suffocating coils of coldness forever.
"Only fools love, Ginny . . . you are a fool . . ."
"Ginny! Ginny! Wake up! They're gone. I chased them away."
She opened her eyes. It was dark but not dementor dark. She could see the faint gleam of Harry's glasses. "Were they dementors?"
"Yes," he answered, his tone grim. "We have to get out of here. We'll both ride Ron's broom since the others aren't that great - and you . . ."
He didn't finish, but Ginny understood what he was getting at. She was shaking like mad and was in no shape for a long broom ride. A wave of shame overcame her. Why had dementors always affected her like that? And she still couldn't do the Patronus Charm.
They heard Apparition cracks. A half-dozen Death Eaters were in the front garden of the Burrow. It was too much. How could this be happening? She gave herself a hard shake and scrambled on the broom in front of Harry. Before she had a chance to get a firm grip on the handle, they were off. He skimmed the hill with inches to spare and made a hard left away from the Burrow. Jets of red and green followed them, but they were out of range before the Death Eaters spotted them.
Ginny hung on with all of her might. Harry was pushing the broom as fast as it would go, even when they were well away from the Burrow. The full moon was rising and they could easily be seen by Death Eaters and Muggles alike.
A jet of red crossed her left shoulder. She turned around and saw Ron on a broom wearing robes that were too short for him. Ron shot another hex at them. "Ginny - hex him back. I have to steer," Harry urged.
"It's Ron - I can't hex Ron," she practically whimpered.
"That is not Ron," Harry said firmly. "Polyjuice - remember? Ginny, you have to help."
Ginny twisted at the waist and raised her wand to hex the fake Ron. But it was hard to hang on to the broom and face the opposite direction.
"Hang on to me and not the broom, because I'm going to do some dives," he warned a split second before he dropped the broom handle toward the earth. Ginny clutched his shoulder with her left hand. After the first dive and recovery, she realized she'd never be able to hang on well enough for these kinds of maneuvers, so she hooked her left arm around Harry's neck and looked over his shoulder at the pursuer. The fake Ron wasn't trying to hex them because he was trying to keep up with Harry's flying.
Ginny knew they couldn't and shouldn't keep up this pace much longer. They were probably over Muggle territory - even if it was farmland and it was night - someone might see them. Splayed against Harry she lined her wand up with the red head of their pursuer. It went against all of her instincts, but she pushed them away. "Stupefy!" she called. At first she thought she had miscalculated, but the fake Ron flew right into her spell. His eyes rolled back into his head and he dropped off the broom. The broom whizzed by harmlessly.
"Got him," she said in Harry's ear and slumped against him for a moment. Her heart was beating fast, or was it Harry's?
"Ginny, you have to get your hair out of my face, I can't see anything," Harry said impatiently.
Embarrassed, Ginny turned around, tucked her wand in her jeans pocket and pulled her hair back with both hands. They were flying level and more slowly now, so it was easy to balance without holding on to anything. She took a strand of hair and wound it around the ponytail in her hand, since she didn't have anything else to tie it back with.
She put both hands on the handle in front of her, making up her mind that she would not scream, hang on to Harry, or generally act like an girl from now on.
They were slowly descending into an apple orchard. They hovered between two trees, level with the branches. In the bright moonlight Ginny could see the little green apples. She focused on them so she wouldn't have to think about what had just happened. The hard little apples with the smooth skin would be bitter to taste . . ..
Harry finally spoke. "Do you have any idea where we can go - that Voldemort wouldn't associate with you or with me?"
She ran through the options in her mind. London was out because Kreacher was believed to have gone to the Malfoys taking the secrets of Grimmauld Place with him. They couldn't go to Harry's aunt and uncle's because their address was well known. Hogwarts was so far away . . .
"Relatives?" Harry asked.
"I know! My Great-Aunt Martha - well it's a lot more than one great. She's over a hundred years old. She was a Weasley - the only Weasley female for over a century until I came along. So I don't think anyone would connect her with us."
"Ok - where does she live?"
"I don't know." She heard him sigh. "I mean - she lives in Warwickshire - on a huge estate - but it's unplottable."
"Have you ever been there?"
"Yes, we go every summer for a duty visit - we went the week after school was out." Ginny closed her eyes and tried to think. "Aunt Martha isn't on the floo - so we took brooms. It took us about two hours to get there."
Harry was looking over Ginny's shoulder at the compass mounted to the front of the broomstick. "I'm glad I gave Ron this for Christmas." He looked up at the stars. "There's the big dipper and the North Star - so we've been going . . ."
"West," Ginny supplied. "We need to go north and more east. Her estate is close to the big Muggle castle."
"You mean Warwick castle?" Harry asked, sounding more hopeful. "That should be easy to find - even in the dark."
"Oh, yes," Ginny said, "Her estate goes all the way to Stratford and there is a river . . ."
Harry laughed. "She's in good company then. That is a major tourist area. I don't think we'll have any trouble finding it." He paused. "What's the password to get on to her land?"
Ginny thought back to what her father had said to the trees at the end of a long sloping drive. "The white women of the well," she replied.
Harry turned the broom to head north when a flash of white and a flutter of wings entered the orchard. It was Hedwig.
"See what I mean about owls?" Harry said sounding relieved. Hedwig dropped a letter into his hands and then perched on the nearest branch. Ginny reached out to pet her while Harry lit his wand and studied the letter.
"It's addressed to me," he said. "What do you think? Is it a Portkey?"
"That's Dad's writing."
"I'll take a chance then. Hold my wand." He opened and began to read the letter, two furrows appearing between his eyes as he scanned the page. He sighed and put it in his pocket.
"What is it? What did Dad say?" Ginny asked anxiously.
He glanced at her and reached for his wand. "You're in danger," he answered briefly.
Ginny held his wand behind her back. "Oh no, you're going to tell me what's going on. If this is about me - I deserve to know."
He paused, studying her flushed face, then without a word, his mouth set, he handed her the letter. "I'll hold the wand so you can read."
She read through it quickly, increasingly frightened. When she was finished she looked into his eyes. He looked . . . sympathetic. "He says," she began in a trembling voice. Then she started again. "He says to go to Aunt Martha's." She handed the letter back to Harry and turned around, glad that it was dark. She had a lot of thinking to do.
They flew north under cloudy skies. It was a warm night, but Ginny grew increasingly cold as their journey continued. Once she started shivering she couldn't make herself stop, and even then she wasn't sure if her agitation was more mental than physical. Harry noticed and pulled her close to stay warm. At any other time she would have been embarrassed or thrilled or terribly aware of him. Now she was glad that he was warm and didn't talk.
Her parents must be in a state, Ginny thought. And her brothers. She could imagine their rage at seeing the house, at hearing the threats from the Malfoys. That was another good reason for Harry to be the one with her. He didn't care about her like they did. Oh, he cared, she amended in her own mind, but not like that.
"Warwick castle," he murmured in her ear. Ginny couldn't believe they were almost there. The Muggle castle was floodlit with electricity. She could see the vast lawns and the lake and the glass conservatory - and then the turrets and towers of the castle itself.
"Go left," she called.
They crossed over several fields and then followed a road so sunken from the years that the cars were level with the roots of the trees lining the pavement. She was watching closely. Yes, there were the twin birch trees, so closely planted that their branches were entangled together. They hovered in front of the trees for Ginny to say the password. The branches sprung apart making a round entrance hole. Once through the leafy portal, they could see the dark form of the imposing Tudor house, set high on a hill. They were at the bottom of a sweeping lawn.
Harry headed toward the house, but Ginny directed him to the back. "Aunt Martha lives in the Dowager house - she didn't want to live in the manor after her husband died."
They swept around the house over the formal gardens, which gave way to the kitchen gardens. There was a whitewashed, thatched-roof cottage with a light burning in the back.
As soon as they landed on the flagstone path, a very old house-elf opened the door. She was dressed in a frilly lace doily and had a knitted scarf around her neck. She beckoned them in with a twisted, long-fingered hand.
Great Aunt Martha was sitting at the scrubbed table in her dressing gown, a ruffled white mobcap on her still-red hair. She was a tall angular woman with the narrow face and the long nose of the Weasleys. If Dad were over a hundred and a woman, he would look just like Aunt Martha, Ginny thought every time she saw her. "Ginny!" she called in a quavering voice. "You are here at last." She peered through her wire spectacles at Harry. "With your young man, I see."
Ginny looked anxiously from Harry to Aunt Martha - she hoped they would get along since Aunt Martha always spoke her mind. "Aunt Martha, this is Harry Potter. Harry, this is my Aunt Martha."
Harry stepped up to Aunt Martha and shook the hand she proffered. Ginny noticed that he shook her hand delicately; probably realizing Aunt Martha had arthritis. For some reason, she felt a stab of pride that he had such good manners.
The house-elf set a pitcher of foamy milk on the table, next to a platter of sandwiches. Aunt Martha gestured for them to sit and eat. "Would you like something hot to drink? A broom ride at night can be cold business." Harry shook his head; he was eating the sandwiches with evident enjoyment. Ginny shivered in response.
"Lotty heat Ginny's milk. That should help you sleep tonight my dear."
Lotty waved her hand over Ginny's mug and a wisp of steam rose in the air. Ginny nodded at her gratefully.
Aunt Martha was still talking. "I am going to bed. Lotty will look after both of you. This is a small cottage and there are only two bedrooms - so you will have to share."
Harry looked up from his sandwiches his eyebrows raised. "Oh, there are two beds," Aunt Martha hastened to add at his expression. "Tomorrow Lotty will clean out the box room and we'll set up a camp bed in there."
She stiffly got to her feet. "Lotty doesn't talk - never has- but she communicates well. Good night, my dears, I hope we don't have too many other nights like this."
"Um - ma'am?" Harry asked. "Do you know - I mean - has anyone written?"
Aunt Martha turned and regarded him steadily. "We have been inundated with owls tonight. From your father -" She looked at Ginny. "And from Albus Dumbledore." She shrugged. "Albus wishes you both to stay here for the time being. I was happy to offer the hospitality of Hathaway Estate to Arthur's entire family, but that invitation has been declined. For what reasons, I don't know." She smiled. "Albus always liked to play his cards close to the vest, so to speak."
Harry looked disgruntled at this lack of information.
"Tomorrow morning you can send that fine owl of yours and see what you can find out. Until then a good-night to you both."
When Aunt Martha left, Harry went back to his sandwiches and Ginny sipped the hot milk and looked around. It was peaceful in the old kitchen. The only sounds were the gentle ticking of a clock and the crackle of the fire in the huge fireplace. The light danced on the dark beams supporting the low-whitewashed ceiling. In the corners, Ginny could see bunches of herbs drying and various pots and cauldrons hanging from iron hooks. The limestone sink and wooden counter covered one wall and the dresser with the blue and white china took up another. All was neat and orderly - unlike the kitchen at the Burrow, she thought with a pang.
"Do you want a sandwich?" Harry asked. There was one left on the plate.
"No, you eat, I'm not very hungry." She was starting to feel sick inside, realizing the implications of everything that had happened tonight. One of the least being that the snake talked to her - and she had killed it - and there was blood - and Voldemort wanted her blood . . .
"Are you ok?" Harry asked, frowning.
I'm not going to cry, she told herself sternly. "Just tired," she lied.
"Ginny." It was a rebuke.
"Ok - no, I'm not," she said, nettled that he was chiding her for not talking. "What could Lucius Malfoy want from me? I must be evil or something." She dimly realized that she wasn't making much sense. "I must be so evil, he's going to marry me to Draco and I will spawn the next heir of Slytherin or something."
Harry looked amused for a moment and then he sobered. "He doesn't want you because you're evil." His face twisted into a grimace and his eyes looked far away. "They have evil." He looked into her eyes. "They have evil in spades. No." He cocked his head and studied her, his eyes roving her face. "No, what they want from you is something good and fine . . . "
Her eyes filled with tears. It wasn't his words so much as the way he was looking at her, as if he could see something 'good and fine' in her. "Well, they're looking for the wrong girl, aren't they?" she asked bitterly. "You saw me - I chopped that snake's head right off. And I understood the snake talking. Tom could talk to snakes."
Something flashed in his eyes. "Ginny, I'm a Parselmouth. Do you think I'm evil?" His quiet tone belied his tense jaw and his clenched fist.
"No!" That she of all people would think him evil. "No, Harry! You can't help that - you were a baby when Voldemort affected you. Any of those dark powers - they're not your fault. But my possession was all my fault - I should have known better. You heard Mum and Dad after we came up from the Chamber."
This talk of evil must have triggered something, because for the first time all evening, Harry looked angry. "What if I told you I tried the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix LaStrange? Then would you think I was evil?"
The horrible events from the Ministry scrolled through Ginny's mind. "That's what you were going to go do! I saw you, Harry - you were beside yourself with grief over Sirius."
He stared at her a minute. "You saw me go after her?"
"I called to you, but I don't think you heard me."
"How can you sit here and tell me I'm not evil? How can you not hate me for that?" he demanded.
It was almost like he wanted her to hate him, like he wanted her to punish him as much as he was punishing himself.
"How can you not hate me for Petrifying all those people and putting you in mortal danger?" she shot back.
"Voldemort tried to possess me," he stated flatly.
Ginny drew in a breath - suddenly they were in the deepest waters of conversation and she didn't know if she could cope.
"How did you stand it?" he asked. "All those months? It hurt so much to be possessed . . ." The haunted look was back in his eyes, but his time he wasn't looking inward, he was looking at her . . .
"I don't remember," she whispered. "And I don't want to," she added in a stronger voice.
"No, I reckon you don't," he said, sadness in his eyes. "I just think you might have to . . . you know . . . face that. Because - "
"Because what?" Ginny said, feeling a tremor of dread in her stomach at his serious expression.
"Because you survived him - and what allowed you to do that is what Lucius Malfoy wants from you so badly."
Ginny let out a breath she didn't know she was holding. Dots were swimming in front of her eyes. This had been an intense conversation following an intense day . . . " Harry, what do you have to face? You know the prophecy, don't you?"
He went pale. "I have to kill Voldemort or be killed by him."
Ron and Hermione had guessed that - but to hear Harry say it in that expressionless voice, made it all too real - and sinister.
"Killing is easy," Ginny heard herself say in a bitter voice. "I cut the head off of that snake and that sword - it sang! What the hell kind of sword sings when you kill something with it?"
"Evil sword," Harry said, the ghost of a smile playing around his lips.
"It's not funny! An evil sword for an evil girl!"
"Ginny," he said impatiently, "you had to kill that snake before it killed you."
"So how is that different from the prophecy?" she demanded.
He opened his mouth and closed it, confusion in his eyes. "I don't know - it just is."
"I'll tell you the problem, Harry - it's the guilt afterward - it's the knowing that you can do such a thing - that's the problem. No one would blame you in the least for killing You-know-who! In fact they would like to bring him back and kill him all over again for each and every victim. No it's not what the killing would do to that one - it's what it would do to you."
"Stain your soul," he murmured.
They sat in silence. The clock was still ticking, the milk in Ginny's mug had gone cold. It was such an ordinary scene for such an extraordinary talk. Surely there was a way to make it all come out right . . .
"There must be a way to clean it," Ginny said, wanting him to tell her it was so. "There must be - if the evil has to be eradicated."
He looked at her with those clear green eyes. "I think you must know deep down - even if you can't remember."
She sat back in her chair. She was starting to get a headache. "I don't know Harry," she said wearily. "But we should go to bed, Lotty is waiting."
Lotty was standing by the door to the corridor. Harry stood up. "Ok - but we haven't decided who is more evil - you or me."
Ginny slowly started to smile. "It depends on how loudly you snore."
He smiled back. "Ron wins then."
Ginny waited in the kitchen for Harry to finish in the bathroom and get settled. A long time ago, like yesterday, she thought ruefully, sharing a room with Harry would have thrown her into a sea of doubt and defensiveness. Tonight, she just wanted to put her head down and sleep. She couldn't imagine appearing any worse in front of Harry's eyes after all the erratic behavior she had shown.
Lotty appeared at her elbow and gestured upwards. Ginny followed her through the dark house up a narrow set of wooden stairs. There was a small landing with four closed doors. Aunt Martha's room was on one side of the house, the spare bedroom was directly opposite with the box room and bathroom in the middle. The ceiling of the hall sloped, following the roofline. Lotty handed Ginny a white nightgown and a blue dressing gown. Then she pointed her to the bathroom and showed her the wicker basket where she was to put her bloodstained clothes. Harry's were already heaped inside.
Once alone, Ginny decided to have a shower. She tapped the sunflower nozzle with her wand. It opened one sleepy petal and complained. "A shower, so late at night?"
"Yes," Ginny insisted, "it's been a hard day."
"All right." The sunflower opened all of her petals and a gentle spray filled the tiny room with steam.
Aunt Martha had all sorts of soaps and lotions and perfumes lining the side of the tub. Ginny chose "Strawberry Fields" for her hair. The combination of warm water and the sweet smell of the shampoo calmed her like nothing else. She cleaned her teeth and put her new toothbrush in the glass next to Harry's. Then she dressed in the nightgown, glad it was sleeveless and that her arms were free. As it was, her feet kept getting tangled in the long length.
She hiked up at least a foot of cotton material to walk to the spare bedroom, trying not to make the old boards squeak. It was too dark for Ginny to see properly. Harry must have fallen asleep right away; she could hear his even breathing. She hoped her wand wouldn't wake him, but she had to find her bed in the strange room.
"Lumos," she murmured. Her first glance told her that the room was very small, and the bed a shirtless Harry was sprawled on, was very big.
Her second glance told her there was only one bed.
She sighed. It had been that sort of day.