~*~ Chapter 9 ~*~
The sky is coming alive, Ginny mused to herself. If only that thought were as romantic as it sounds. Her thoughts were taking a slightly hysterical turn, as she realized the sudden hopelessness of the situation. She actually let out a bark of laughter, causing Tom Riddle to fix her with a sneer.
“Still so childish. No matter, though. You'll grow up in time. It's nothing a few years of marriage to me won't fix,” Riddle muttered half to himself. That managed to suck the humor out of the situation.
Ginny turned around to survey the scene behind her. A few random couples were lying petrified in various corners of the Astronomy Tower, having chosen this romantic night to go stargazing. Tom Riddle, however, preferred to exact world domination in relative solitude, apparently. She just firmly hoped beyond hope that no more innocent students would stray up here tonight.
The mismatched couple was forced to take a few steps back as the sky seemed to bend and swirl until a shape formed in front of them. The silhouette of a woman slowly emerged, and alighted on the balcony. Riddle seemed unable to take in the sight, and had to shield his eyes. Ginny, however, felt strangely emboldened by the woman's appearance.
“Who has called me?” the woman demanded, as her figure became more and more manifest. Ginny was sorely tempted to inform her that this was simply a mistake in records. There was no summoning issued from this Astronomy Tower. Oh no, it must have been a different Astronomy Tower, but how kind of her to come anyway!
“I have! I, the man destined for greatness, the great Dark Lord, have summoned your presence!”
The Gryffindor boys still trapped in the Potions classroom were gradually tearing their eyes away from the window, and returning to the task at hand. Neville had recounted the story of Tutelae's Night, stating that the special constellation was scheduled to come into position tonight. This explanation was sufficient for Dean to turn back to work, but Seamus remained curious about Malfoy's sudden disappearance. Ron and Harry exchanged a glance over their shared mop and bucket, conveying that curiosity did not begin to describe their thoughts about Malfoy's running off.
Dean, on the other hand, was wearing a suspiciously Slytherin smirk.
“I wouldn't worry too much about that,” he explained, his smirk turning into a full-fledged grin. “I combined some of what we were learning about laxatives in Muggle Studies with Nev's Herbology notes, and concocted a little surprise for Malfoy. I slipped it in his tea when we first walked in.”
Dean's confession sent the boys into peals of laughter. Ron and Harry, however, were having a difficult time faking their own laughter, as their eyes had immediately flown to Professor Snape's desk. They were staring fixedly at the untouched and still steaming cup of tea.
“I know not what Dark Lord you speak of. But if you have summoned the legendary Tutelae from her celestial abode.” Tutelae paused as her form completely materialized in front of them. Ginny could easily see that this heavenly woman's beauty was truly fit for the stars. “You must have something to present to me.”
Riddle presently turned to Ginny with a nefarious grin. He gripped her arm and hauled her back to his side. She looked up at him in disgust and tried to break free, but his grip was ironclad. Riddle jerked on her arm so she was vaulted into his body. Then he sealed her mouth with a most revolting kiss. Ginny tore her mouth away from his with a cry. Before he could say anything to Tutelae, the scandalized redhead cut him off.
“Why the hell do you even need me?” Ginny hissed. “You've already become whole. There's nothing I can offer you anymore. You've already violated the recesses of my mind one too many times. You've taken everything you possibly can! What more do you want?” Ginny finished with a hoarse whisper. Tears were streaming down her face. She itched to wipe her mouth clean of his lingering presence, but her whole body was pinned against his.
“You may have made me whole, Ginny, dearest,” Riddle ground out as he struggled to keep her still, “but my full power has yet to be realized. With Tutelae's gift I can truly rise to my fullest without descending into a pathetic form at the hands of that stupid Potter.” He practically spat out the last words.
A shift in energy in the air caused Ginny and the young Voldemort to turn their attention to Tutelae. She seemed to be getting angrier, and again, Ginny felt a magnetic pull to the legendary woman's passion while Riddle shied further away.
“Silence!” Tutelae raised her hands, effectively putting a stop to all conversation. “I'm sure you realize that my powers can only be transferred to true lovers. Your hearts must be pure, and devoid of hatred.” Tutelae's eyes searched Ginny's carefully, and she took a step towards the younger girl. The two seemed to be caught in a trance. The woman from the stars lifted her arms and slowly an aura began to envelop the two females.
“What's going on?” Riddle demanded. “What's happening? I must be included!” he all but whined.
But a flash of red sparks in the distance distracted Ginny and her long time stalker. They strayed closer to the balcony, trying to discern the source of the sparks. Ginny, however, quickly snapped her head back to see Tutelae slowly becoming incensed. Apparently she had a thing for undivided attention.
“Ron,” Harry whispered furiously. He was bent over, taking his own sweet time wringing his mop into the bucket that Ron was managing. “You and I know full well that Malfoy did not run out of here because he had to relieve himself.” Harry was forced to halt the conversation in favor of shoving the mop back and forth a few times across the floor. Of course Malfoy would find it humorous to watch five nearly full-grown wizards clean a dungeons classroom with no use of magic.
Ron was taking the moment of silence to grumble something to the effect of Malfoy being full of shite, even if he hadn't gone to relieve himself.
“We need a diversion,” Harry concluded behind the shelter of his hand.
Needing no further prompting, Ron nodded at his best friend. He looked around the classroom, taking inventory. Dean and Seamus were “cleaning the walls,” although their effectiveness remained in question as one spot in the center of the wall was left glaringly bright with the rest of the space rough and dull. Neville's arm was moving in lazy circles at the bottom of a cauldron, supposedly scrubbing it clean.
Ron deftly removed the wand he had hidden in his robes. He pointed it towards the window, sending forth a series of red sparks. Quickly ducking back to the bucket, he feigned ignorance when Neville exclaimed, “Look! The window's broken!”
“And there are red sparks off in the distance,” chimed Dean. Soon the three oblivious boys were lined up against the window trying to ascertain what exactly had transpired. They turned around to ask Ron and Harry what they thought, but all that remained was a mop haphazardly leaning against a tipped over bucket of murky dungeon water.
“Er, sorry to interrupt you. Just was curious about what was going on outside...” Ginny trailed off when Tutelae turned her stormy eyes upon Ginny's brown ones.
“That is not what concerns me.” The woman's voice was powerful and foreboding, yet it provided some untold kind of comfort to Ginny. “I sense dishonesty before me. I feel an impure heart is trying to reach me. Trying to make a mockery of the love I have sacrificed. A mockery of the beauty that is true love.”
Ginny was still wrapped in warmth, but was perturbed by Riddle's silence. She turned to find him doubled over, leaning against the balcony railing. He wore an expression of pain, wincing slightly at the sharp gusts of wind generated by Tutelae's presence. And if Ginny wasn't mistaken, he seemed to be...fading? No, that can't be right. And yet, he seems almost translucent...
At that moment Ginny realized that Tutelae's blessing was not just about realizing Riddle's full power. It was about keeping Riddle alive. He was slowly disappearing in front of her, and she could feel a dull headache coming on. It was as though he was abandoning the real world to re-enter her mind. As her headache grew stronger and Riddle grew weaker, Ginny sneaked a glance at Tutelae and wondered idly whether she preferred the sweet release of pain along with a fully functioning Tom Riddle, or if she could be the brave little Gryffindor and endure the pain in favor of keeping him out of reality.
Hermione was racing towards the Gryffindor common room. She had left an utter mess in the library, but that was hardly her concern at this moment. She needed to get to Ginny. And she needed to get Ginny to come with her. How she would force the other girl to trust her was a bridge she would just simply cross when she got there. Each one of her footsteps fell louder and harder than the last. Hermione thought she might go deaf with the echo of her own pace. And yet, the common room could not appear fast enough.
Draco had to brace himself against a wall and vault himself around the corner as he turned left down the hallway that led away from the dungeons. The paintings were clucking their tongues at him, clearly disappointed at this unseemly conduct of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's Head Boy. But Draco was not the least bit aware of anything beyond his robes whipping behind him.
Hermione nearly tripped, and was sorely tempted to just shed her robes and continue tearing down the hall. But even stopping to do that would waste time.
Draco took the set of stairs three at a time, silently cursing his already impossibly long legs for not being longer still.
They were only placated by the constant mantra going off in their minds, Gotta find Ginny. Gotta find Ginny. Gotta find Ginny.
“Lumos!” Ron cried softly into the darkness of the alcove. He and Harry were hunched over a piece of sorely creased parchment. He muttered a few more words and waited patiently. Ink began to spread across the page, lines and patterns slowly forming. “Bloody 'ell.”
Harry just nodded in agreement. The two boys took a few seconds to take in the whereabouts of their classmates, and then some. Then they tore off in the direction of the Astronomy Tower, silently thanking the Marauders and their lucky stars.
“Ow! Bugger, Malfoy!”
“Granger! You're such an insufferable Mud- Oof!” Draco cut himself off when his stomach was greeted by Hermione's foot, supposedly in an attempt to right herself. “You're going the bloody wrong way!”
“I'm trying to find Ginny, you dolt. I was headed to the Common Room. Eep!” she squealed when she accidentally squashed Mrs. Norris's tail. The Head Boy and Girl locked eyes for a fraction of a second before leaping into action. Draco grabbed her wrist and continued running towards the Astronomy Tower, ignoring the fact that he was mostly dragging Hermione, as she was facing the wrong direction. “MALFOY! Just – let go so I can – “ She finally wrenched her wrist from his grasp and scrambled to catch up with him properly.
“Riddle's probably already got her in the Astronomy Tower. They sky's positively swirling. I just hope we're not too late,” Draco panted to her. They rounded the corner and came to a screeching halt at the base of the stairwell leading to their destination. Slowly ascending, they tried to peer through the darkness at the faintly glowing figures above them.
Deciding that she needed to stall this process, at least long enough to either come up with a plan or allow her friends to miss her and start looking for her, Ginny mustered up her strength and turned to Riddle.
“You're looking a little peakish there, Tom, dearest,” Ginny drawled in her best imitation of her favorite deplorable Slytherin. She placed her hands on her hips, using the opportunity to casually slip her wand into reach. “Something the matter?”
“You,” Riddle hissed at her through clenched teeth, “will not stop me. I know you all too well, Ginny, my love. You think you're strong enough to fight me, but Merlin knows you can't.” He was struggling to stand up, and was hunched before her. “Just like when you threw that diary into the toilets. You thought you were a brave little lion cub.” The memory made Ginny wince, and Riddle pulled himself to his full height.
“What's going on?” Draco furiously whispered to Hermione.
“I can't completely tell, but it looks like Tom Riddle's fading in and out of existence,” she whispered back, entranced by the scene in front of her.
Draco was inclined to agree with her, but there was a niggling feeling in the back of his mind.
“But I came back to you.” Riddle was going on with a sneer planted on his face. “Just like I always do. You're unable to resist me, Ginevra.” By now Ginny was reeling from the pain in her mind. Suddenly a flood of unpleasant memories flashed in front of her mind. She was drowning in a sea of regret, embarrassment, derision. She found herself gasping for air as she tried to anchor herself onto something positive. “Try as you might,” Riddle muttered, standing before her, positively gleaming with strength, “you cannot fight it.”
“He's feeding off of her,” both Draco and Hermione said at the same moment. They watched with horror as the color was draining from Ginny's face, even as it was entering Riddle's. Hermione's hand darted out quick as lightning, stopping Draco from leaping forward. She mouthed to him, Need a plan. Despite the temptation to just ignore her, he knew that she was right. So he contented himself to shaking her free of his arm and waiting, poised for action.
“Enough stalling!” Riddle called out, holding Ginny up by the waist. “We're ready,” he stated to Tutelae.
The wistful woman standing before them closed her eyes. She began muttering words in an unclear language. There was a heat exuding from her being, and Ginny, Hermione and Draco were growing warmer just standing so near to her. Draco awkwardly loosened his tie in the stinging heat. He shed his robes and wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead.
Riddle seemed unaffected by the heat, but Ginny grew fainter by the second. She was already feeling weak from the energy that Riddle was sucking from her, and now she felt as though she were standing on the sun. The room began to get slightly fuzzier in front her.
Tutelae then snapped her eyes open and a bright light issued forth from her eyes. The inhabitants of the room were momentarily blinded. Ginny gasped as she felt power coursing through her. A newfound energy was surging inside her, threatening to explode her from within. Her body was suddenly so burning hot that Riddle snatched his arm away from her waist for fear of being scalded.
“Ouch!” Hermione exclaimed, jumping as far away from Draco as she could. She looked at her wrist, and saw a red welt forming from where it had been resting next to Draco's arm. She turned to shoot him a questioning glance when she realized that she was very much alone in the stairwell.
All of a sudden the castle shook for a fraction of a second. Harry and Ron had to grasp the wall to keep their footing. The disturbance was so mild that most people might not have noticed it, but they were so close to the Astronomy Tower by now, and were taking off at full tilt that they felt most of the effect. The tower was just around the corner and up a narrow flight of stairs. Just as they regained their footing, a blinding light shot out through the stairwell. Shielding their eyes and slowly approaching, they were both consumed with dread.
The Gryffindors left in the Potions classroom were curiously drawn towards the night sky. They could hardly explain their fascination with the swirling and glowing deep blue beyond. Staring as they were, they had to jump back a few steps when a blinding light took over the window.
Ron and Harry were edging towards the entrance to the Astronomy Tower. They could see the edge of Malfoy's robes trailing behind him. The three friends barely acknowledged each other, watching with trepidation. None of them were quite willing to admit how terrified they were, yet all of them were eternally grateful that they were not alone in this moment.
“What's going on?” Riddle demanded. “I don't feel any different,” he continued, staring at Ginny. “Why is she affected when I'm not? I thought you gave your power to COUPLES! Not just women!” he roared, incensed that his plans were crumbling in front of him.
“I have found the lovers in this room. Born in different worlds. Raised with different ideals. In love beyond their circumstances. Fighting Dark Magic to love each other.” Listening to the words Tutelae was uttering, Hermione couldn't help but wonder if they were referring to Draco and Ginny or Tutelae herself.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN!?” Riddle shouted, shaking with rage.
“She means me.” The cool statement sliced through the room like a hot knife through butter.
“Draco,” Ginny breathed, locking eyes with her Slytherin savior. Draco breathed in deeply, feeling as though his lungs were suddenly capable of so much more. Without wasting any more time he turned to Riddle, pointed his wand, and shouted the counter curse. With each cutting syllable that Draco uttered, Tom Riddle seemed to wither more and more.
In that moment, a whistling sound floated towards them from the direction of Tutelae. Her glowing presence was slowly fading. She smiled at Draco and Ginny and disappeared within the blink of an eye. The room seemed to snap back to normality. Through the darkness that they were returned to, the students could see Riddle leaning against the balcony, struggling to stay alive. Harry, Ron and Hermione darted out into the scene, just as Ginny was losing her footing.
Tutelae's presence was as a crutch for Ginny. As soon as the woman disappeared, Ginny could feel the adrenaline rush dying down. The room was now spinning in earnest. Her wand clattered to the floor, breaking the deafening silence that had taken over following Tutelae's departure. The next events seemed to happen all at once.
Ginny tipped forward, no longer able to hold herself up. Riddle dove towards her discarded wand, determined to remover her and complete the job of draining her power. Draco shot forward to catch Ginny. Ron, Harry and Hermione simultaneously drew their wands and shot spells at Riddle.
The combination of all three of their spells sent Riddle flying into the back wall before exploding in a flash of light. A deadening calm took over the Astronomy Tower. Taking ragged breaths, the three best friends glanced around the room, taking in the scene before them.
Three couples were scattered across the floor, leaning against various walls. All that remained of the two non-Hogwarts visitors was a small cloud of dust near the balcony. Ginny was lying limp, her limbs draped over Draco's arms as he gingerly held her up in his lap.
“You have all been very brave.” Professor Dumbledore congratulated the five students in front of him. They had spent most of the night recounting the chain of events that brought them here.
“Foolish. Very foolish,” Professor Snape chimed in. “They should have called a professor rather than charging into the situation by themselves.”
“All right, Severus,” Professor Dumbledore continued with a twinkle in his eye. “You've been slightly foolish. But very brave, nonetheless.”
“Professor.” Harry's voice reached out. "Will we have to worry about him coming back? Will her mind conjure up more forms of him from now on?”
“Riddle had managed to manifest a human form of himself from the memories in Miss Weasley's mind. Our memories are like little scattered biscuit crumbs. Riddle had managed to magnetically draw them all together. Now that the three of you have destroyed him, you've destroyed him in our world of reality as well as in her world of memories.”
“So she won't even remember him, will she?” Harry asked.
“She has none of her original memories of Tom Riddle left that he did not touch. She will, of course, remember Voldemort in our era. And even the memories of her encounter with Riddle last night. But everything that she gleaned from the diary has died with Riddle's vain attempt to make himself real.” Professor Dumbledore smiled faintly in appreciation of the irony of the situation.
“It's probably for the best,” Hermione muttered, watching Ginny's chest rise and fall evenly with each breath she took.
“You never know, Miss Granger.” The Headmaster turned to her with a mystery in his eyes. “Our memories our ours for a reason. No one has a right to them. Riddle has taken from Miss Weasley something that was not his to steal. That balance will not be restored. Despite how painful some memories might be, they are still ours to claim.” He paused, placing a hand on Snape's shoulder. “Well, we must be on our way. Several former petrified students and their parents to console.”
All the students seemed to internalize Dumbledore's statement in their own ways. Ron looked past Draco, who had not moved from the shadows near the night table since the two professors walked in, at Ginny lying in the hospital bed.
“Will she wake up?” he asked quietly, just before Dumbledore and Snape had a chance to leave.
“I sincerely hope so, Mr. Weasley,” came the response from the Headmaster.
Then the door shut behind them. It had been hours since the famed incident. Now the sun was well above the horizon, and most of Hogwarts was having breakfast in the Great Hall on this Saturday morning. Harry and Hermione were exhaustedly slumped in two chairs near Ginny's bed. Her curtain was drawn back, and billowing slightly in the breeze from the open window. Ron was standing at the foot of her bed, one hand clinging to the sheets, reluctant to blink, for fear of losing sight of his baby sister again. Draco was slouched in a chair between the nightstand and Ginny's bed. Given recent events no one seemed to have the energy or the motivation to demand that Malfoy leave.
“Ron.” Hermione shook Ron awake close to dinner time the next night. “You should really eat something. Come on,” she coaxed.
Ron opened his bleary eyes to see Hermione hovering over him. Then he turned to the bed to see Ginny in the same position as before.
“Has he been here the whole time?” Hermione asked, nodding her head towards Draco.
“Yeah,” Ron muttered in response. “I don't even know if he slept.” He narrowed his eyes at Draco, regarding the other boy thoughtfully. “I think he actually cares about her.”
“Well, he did save her life,” Hermione responded, going on with their conversation as though he were not within earshot. “Come on, let's get some food. Malfoy's probably going to stand vigil anyway. And Madame Pomfrey said she would alert you as soon as Ginny woke up.”
Reluctantly, Ron allowed himself to be dragged to full height. He pulled the curtain shut around Draco and Ginny, then leaned on Hermione's shoulder out of exhaustion, and let her lead him towards the Great Hall where Harry was waiting.
Madame Pomfrey bustled into the room, and yanked the curtain open.
“Mr. Malfoy,” she said, “if you're going to insist on staying, then at least make yourself useful and refill her glass of water.” She pointed to the pitcher resting on counter on the far wall. After fussing over Ginny's sheets, and generally examining her, Draco and Ginny were left alone again.
Draco silently watched Madame Pomfrey leave the room. He turned back to where Ginny was lying and forced the muscles in his legs to work. Slowly rising to his feet, he took the full glass of water to the counter to empty it and replenish it. He stared at the way the water was sloshing around in the glass container as he carried it back to the nightstand. Nothing seemed real anymore. He could hardly remember what thoughts used to occupy his mind before Ginny came in and took over. And now, here he stood, refilling her water glass, wondering if she were ever going to even drink it. Just as he mused over the futility of his actions, a soft moan pierced the silence.
Draco nearly dropped the glass in his hands. Ginny was shifting under the sheets. He quickly placed the water down, resuming his seat and grasping her hand firmly in his. Ginny moaned again, and tried to lift her free hand to her eyes. Sensing that the blankets were too heavy for her weak body, Draco quickly pushed them aside. Her breathing became ragged and she grunted softly as she struggled to open her eyes. Finally succeeding at her task, Ginny swung her eyes wildly around the room, trying to gain her bearings.
“I'm here, Gin,” Draco whispered to her raggedly, his voice showing the strain of not having been used in over a day.
“Draco,” Ginny breathed. “What happened?”
He quickly filled her in on the events of last night.
“The one thing I don't understand is how you and I seemed to be drawing power from Tutelae's Night, but Riddle seemed weakened by it, “ Draco mused as he finished his account.
“I think I may be of some assistance in that department, Mr. Malfoy,” the Headmaster cut in, hovering into the room. “Just came in to check on young Miss Weasley here. I do hope I'm not interrupting anything,” he added in an amused tone, regarding their joined hands.
“No, of course not, Professor,” Ginny responded, but refused to let go of Draco's hand. “You said you knew what happened?”
“Yes, well, I've been pondering these events for some time. And I think I've arrived at the most logical conclusion. Tutelae was rather proud of the love she and her famed King shared. And so, she has always been partial towards lovers, especially those of the star-crossed variety.” Dumbledore's words made Ginny think of Tutelae's haunting voice. “Riddle summoned her last night, thinking that he could channel her power for himself, using you, Miss Weasley, as a cohort. However, that failed because Riddle is devoid of feelings of love.” It was as though a gear clicked into place as she remembered Tutelae's warning regarding purity of heart.
“What remains a mystery is the fact that her power was indeed channeled,” Dumbledore continued with a far-off gaze. “Riddle was incapable of love, and the emotions between the two of you were not true, so he could not have channeled her power. And yet, someone did. Mr. Malfoy, do you have any thoughts on this subject?” The older wizard's eyes sparkled and a small smile played at his lips.
“Maybe,” Draco muttered, thinking back to the way he felt some foreign power lifting him up in the face of Tom Riddle. “Professor, how potent is her blessing?” Draco addressed the question to the Headmaster but kept his eyes on Ginny.
“Ah, Mr. Malfoy.” Dumbledore chuckled. “A true Slytherin at heart. I would say her blessing is powerful enough to counter even the darkest of magic.” And then, if Draco was honest with himself, he could have sworn he saw the Headmaster wink at him before taking their leave.
“Draco.” Ginny's voice interrupted Draco's musings. “Is it really over?”
He turned away from the door where he was staring after Dumbledore.
“Yes, my love.” Draco smiled, taking her hand in both of his, gently stroking her wrist. “It's finally over.” He adjusted so he was seated on the edge of her bed, hovering over her.
“Oh, great Godric,” she muttered, running a hand through the soft strands of hair falling in his eyes.
“I'll forgive that little expletive of yours, considering the fact that you just came back to me from near death.” Draco let go of her hand to lean forward, placing his arms on either side of her head. Then he shifted so one of his legs rested between hers, with his whole body hovering less than an arm's length above hers.
“Oh, well, how sweet of you,” Ginny responded with an impish grin. She kicked the sheets further down, allowing free movement of her legs. “You're taking some awful liberties with my personal space, I see.”
“Mmm, yes, well, I'm just going off past experience with me and you in a hospital bed.” He lowered his body so only a thin layer of air could pass between them. Ginny giggled, moving her legs to trap his hips within the cage of her thighs. “Seriously, Weasley. We've got to stop meeting like this.” Draco dipped his head to steal a sweet kiss. “A bloke can only take so much excitement.” He paused to steal yet another kiss. “Soon enough you're going to develop a hospital bed fetish. Then what will the kids think, with Mummy and Daddy constantly injuring themselves whenever they want a good shag?”
“Malfoy,” Ginny began, staring at Draco in astonishment. “I have no idea what goes on in that silly mind of yours.”
“Weasley, I think I'm not alone when I say I've spent this year seeing far too much of what has been in your mind.” Ginny smacked him lightly on the shoulder. And then there were no more words.
She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, craning her neck up to meet his mouth with hers. Their lips instantly parted, not wanting to waste another second before tasting each other again. Ginny dove her fingers into his hair, thrilling in the opportunity to play with the otherwise perfectly coiffed mop. He groaned, and ground his hips into her, secretly loving the way her fingernails felt on his scalp.
One of Draco's hands was caressing Ginny's arm, while the other was at her side, slowly bunching up the material of her hospital gown. She slipped a leg around his waist, tracing lines up and down his calf with her toes.
He moaned into her mouth, impatiently thrusting his hands up the hem of her gown. He reared back on his knees, holding the material in his hands and waiting for her to let him go on. Ginny drew in a breath and looked at the boy, almost man, settled between her legs. His blond hair was mussed beyond belief, and his clothes were ragged from lack of sleep. But it was his eyes that took her breath away. They were burning a hole into hers, two pools of molten silver. His whole expression and body was a sum of tense lines, clearly holding back until she gave him permission. And so, Ginny did the only thing she could think of.
She raised her hands above her head.
“We need to talk.” Hermione was standing in front of Harry, distracting him from the book he was trying (and failing) to read for Muggle Studies.
“I figured this was coming,” he responded, with as much Gryffindor bravado as he could muster.
“Harry, you know that I love you, right?” She took a seat on the coffee table in front of him. They were thankfully the only two students in the common room.
“Of course, Hermione,” Harry responded truthfully. “But you're not in love, are you?”
For one of the few times in her life, Hermione was struck speechless. She had an entire spiel planned, that would highlight the things she truly cared for about Harry, but pointed out the slow degradation of their relationship since they declared it was more than friendship.
“I've been feeling the same way, Hermione,” Harry continued, ignoring her gaping mouth. “Granted, I've been in a fair amount of denial for a while. I think I was forcing myself to love you as more than a friend, because it just would have made so much sense.” The words tumbled out of Harry's mouth so casually that Hermione almost found herself looking for the emotion behind him.
“So you agree that we just work better as friends?” she asked tentatively. She was still surprised that she didn't have to convince him at all.
At that moment Ron came tumbling through the portrait hole, remnants of a chocolate frog on his lips. He grinned at his two friends and waved.
“Yeah, Hermione,” Harry answered her, “we definitely work better as friends.”
Camena marched across the Great Hall with a purposeful look on her face. She stuck a hand in front of Ginny's face. Slightly confused, Ginny just stared at it for a few moments. When it shook rather impatiently, she assumed she was to take the proffered hand. Camena shook it rather violently before stating, “No hard feelings, Weasley?”
“Weasley? Hard feelings? What are you – “ Ginny was immediately cut off by Harry jabbing an elbow into her ribs. When she turned, she saw him waving his hand to “subtly” indicate that she go along with it. Ginny then turned back and lifted her eyes to Camena's. They were starting to narrow, and the Ravenclaw still hadn't let go of her hand. In fact, she could feel Camena's grip tightening. “Erm, sure, Camena,” Ginny stammered out. "No hard feelings.”
“Good,” came the terse reply. Then the black-haired beauty turned and marched straight out the door.
“What in Merlin's name was that about?” Ginny asked her table mates incredulously.
Everyone was suspiciously refusing to meet her eye, however. Before she could press the issue, Draco burst through the doors with an irritated expression on his face. The whole Great Hall seemed to burst into a raucous applause that barely died down In the face of his withering glare.
Ginny turned to Hermione and asked, “Is this what I think it's about?”
“Well, Ginny,” Hermione responded carefully. “Colin did walk in on the two of you...with his camera no less.”
“Oh, bugger,” Ginny groaned into her hands, trying to sink lower in her seat.
Hermione and Harry, on the other hand, were desperately trying to keep Ron in his seat despite how violently he fought against their hands.
Draco watched the circus that was masquerading as his school with disdain. The gossip mill had far too much time on their hands in his opinion. He tried to tune them out, but his mind kept wandering back to his discussion with Professor Snape.
Apparently the blessing he received from Tutelae was enough to purge his body of the curse his father placed on him. He supposed he was fortunate enough that he and Ginny were in the right place at the right time. With a smirk, Draco mentally acknowledged that maybe Tom Riddle's appearance did have some worth after all. Funny how everything seemed tied together.
Draco toyed with his goblet of pumpkin juice, still curious about the curse itself. It seemed that he would never find out the rest of its specifics. There were some cryptic messages that Professor Snape was sending him during their discussion that made Draco think that the professor may have known Mrs. Malfoy better than he let on. Draco was especially curious as to how the curse determined who the love of his life was. Seems unlikely that father would actually choose Ginny as the object, considering his disdain for the Weasleys, he mused. A voice that Draco decided definitely did not sound like Granger answered him in the back of his head. Maybe you actually fell in love with her without the curse...
He shook the thought away and drained the rest of his juice, ready to storm across the hall and reclaim his territory from that infernal Longbottom.
Neville had approached Ginny through all the gossiping crowds. It seemed that everyone was so intent on spreading their newly acquired rumors that they completely ignored the subjects of these rumors themselves.
“Ginny? I have something I need to tell you.” Ginny peeked up at him through her fingers. Taking her blinks as an indication that she wanted him to go on, Neville squeezed onto the bench next to her. “I think you may be in danger. I'm not sure, but I know it has to do with Malfoy. You should be very careful where you go.”
Ginny lowered her hands to study the boy sitting next to her. Over the years Neville's bravery had grown tenfold. Now Ginny was overcome by the sweetness of his determination. She just did not have the heart to tell him that the “danger” had come and gone under his nose.
“Oh, Neville,” she said, causing him to jump. “Neville, I just.“ He was staring at her wide-eyed by this point. “Feel safer with you watching out for me.” And with that she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
No sooner had she done so, then Draco launched the poor blushing boy up by the collar.
“I understand that rumors are usually unsubstantiated,” he growled, “but this one is most assuredly not a rumor.” Draco lifted Neville by the robes so he was now standing on his tiptoes. “My girlfriend may find it sweet that you slobber after her like some deranged pygmy puff, but I hardly find this amusing.” Draco narrowed his eyes and leaned forward so their noses were barely touching. “Remember this the next time you try sniffing around what isn't yours.”
As soon as Neville was released he scrambled out of the Hall. There was really only so much bravery that one could garner in the face of a raging, jealous Draco Malfoy. Brushing his hands off, Draco turned to said property with a grin, ready for his congratulatory kiss. Instead, he was leveled with a glare.
“Draco Malfoy, what is wrong with you?” Ginny exclaimed, before flouncing off.
“But, Ginny! Oh, come on! I'm not about to be like your other boyfriends and let other guys sniff around!” Draco stormed after her.
Suddenly Ron stopped fighting, his expression of fury replaced by a gleeful grin. Hermione and Harry stared at him quizzically.
“Hey, at least there'll be plenty of fighting between them,” he said with a grin.
Author notes: Hopefully this last chapter doesn't stray too far from the others. I tried rereading the previous chapters several times to get back into it, since my writing style has changed considerably since I started. But maybe y'all won't notice ;)
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