A/N—thanks to all the reviewers! I’m really grateful for the support, and I sincerely hope I can live up to expectations lol. Thanks again!
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Chapter 2—By Candlelight
Jonathon Pierce sat in his quarters staring at the empty bottle of Ogden’s, wondering blearily where it all had gone to. His eyes shifted to the half-filled whisky glass balancing on his knee, and he thought surely he hadn’t drunk that much. With a mental shrug, he tossed back the remaining liquid and slouched down, rubbing at his temples with a drawn-out groan. Merlin, how did he get himself into this mess?
Oh, that’s right, he thought sarcastically, I didn’t. The “Dark Lord” did. He rolled his eyes to himself—Dark Lord indeed. Didn’t anyone else realize how ridiculous that sounded? What kind of bloke hoping to strike fear into anyone’s heart allowed a nickname like Dark Lord? And the kicker of it all was that the crazy bastard managed it! People couldn’t even say his real name out loud, which, ironically enough, Pierce knew wasn’t his real name at all.
He dragged his palms over his face then dropped his hands to his lap, turning over his forearm to expose the blackened skin where the Mark now resided, the skin around it still slightly pink and ragged where it hadn’t quite healed yet. He figured it’d be another few weeks, at least, before the process finished. He squeezed his eyes shut against the sight, then opened them again to gaze longingly at the bone-dry whisky bottle. He reached out and twirled it around a few times by the neck, then plunked it back down on the little wooden table by his chair, standing abruptly. He had a feeling he was going to need a lot more of that stuff if he planned on surviving the week.
Moving through the dungeons from his quarters, just a short distance past the Slytherin common room, he mused that the underground halls were exactly the same as they were in his youth—uninviting and cold, despite the humid summer weather. He couldn’t recall them ever having felt any differently, and he couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of his situation—the one place he couldn’t wait to get away from was exactly the place he ended up. Only now he was the one in charge, he supposed, which was some small solace at least.
He emerged from the dungeons into the Entrance Hall and hesitated a moment, debating where to try his luck. He figured the kitchens must at least keep some wine in storage for cooking, and so he skirted the wide staircase to the first floor in favor of the smaller steps leading down below the Great Hall.
He didn’t know the time, but he knew it had to be late by how deserted Hogwarts was. What was the curfew, again? Nine? So it was past that, at least. That was one small blessing—his false pretense of good cheer was extremely effective in gaining trust and loosening tongues, but it did grow exceedingly tiresome to maintain at times.
“Where do you belong, huh?”
Pierce froze at the sound of the hostile female voice, thinking at first that the demand was directed at him. Then he realized it was coming from up ahead, and the girl’s voice continued, growing ever louder, “You don’t have enough morals to be on our side, and you’re too much of a sniveling coward to do a decent job of being evil!”
Pierce bit back a groan and ran a hand through his hair tiredly. Perfect, just what he needed, to deal with quarrelling students when he was half-drunk. Heaving a sigh, he squared his shoulders, slapped his face lightly in an effort to bring things into sharper focus, then strode forward purposefully just as the girl was saying, “You’re all talk, and—”
But her rant came to an abrupt halt when a second voice, this one male and presumably the source of the girl’s ire, shouted, “Enough!” Pierce rounded the corner then, giving himself a moment to decipher the scene, and experienced a remarkably sobering shock when he realized that the boy was none other than Draco Malfoy. His wand was drawn and pointed at a girl with a shock of red hair and a healthy dusting of freckles. She, too, stood with her wand arm extended and feet planted wide in a dueling stance.
“Well. What do we have here?” Pierce asked mildly.
Both students jumped guiltily and spun around, the red-haired girl hastily shoving her wand out of sight while Draco simply lowered his to his side, a look of annoyance crossing his haughty features. Like father like son….
“Well?” Pierce crossed his arms expectantly.
He could see the girl thinking fast, but before she could decide what story she wanted to tell, Draco spoke up, saying, “I was out on patrol.” He gestured vaguely to his Prefect badge. “Weasley here was busy breaking curfew and decided to attack me when I caught her at it.”
The girl—Weasley, did he say? Like Potter’s chum, Weasley?—whirled on Draco so fast Pierce was honestly impressed. “You lying son of a—!” Pierce cleared his throat pointedly, and she stopped short, glancing over at him. “That’s not true,” she snapped instead.
“Oh? So you weren’t breaking curfew?” Draco asked.
Her mouth opened, then snapped shut again, her eyes darting to Pierce. He sighed, the situation fairly obvious; now all that remained was what to do about it. He didn’t need Draco mad at him already, but somehow Pierce knew the boy wouldn’t respect weakness either, and thanks to bloody McGonagall, the consequences of breaking curfew were clear.
“So what we’ve got here,” he said, keeping his voice light so as not to come off as too strict, “is a case of breaking curfew and fighting in the halls, am I right?”
The girl’s only response was a cross between a pout and a scowl, but Draco gave an affirmative nod.
“Right, I guess that’s detention for both of you, then,” Pierce said. Then, after a moment’s consideration, added, “And 20 points from each house—and that’s being nice.”
Draco’s expression suddenly turned far less bored. “Did you say both of us?”
“But I didn’t do anything!” he protested. “Like I said, I was on my rounds.”
And for once, Pierce’s smile was completely genuine, because he knew something that clever young Malfoy hadn’t counted on—the Prefect schedule. “You are Mr. Malfoy, am I right?”
Draco eyed him warily. “Draco Malfoy, yes.”
“Huh,” Pierce remarked, tapping a finger against his chin contemplatively, “because as I recall, you had the night off, and therefore should be following the curfew like anyone else.”
The girl made no attempt to stifle her snort as Draco’s eyes narrowed. Pierce could see the wheels turning behind those pale eyes, and then almost instantly a look of confusion surfaced on the boy’s face. “Really? I could have sworn I checked the calendar and it said I was on duty. I must have read it wrong.”
Again, Pierce’s smile was wholly a result of true amusement. Young Malfoy was a clever one, he’d give him that…but Pierce was smarter. “Ah, an honest mistake?”
Draco nodded, looking appropriately forlorn by the “mistake.”
“Well, that really is a shame, Mr. Malfoy,” Pierce said, false sympathy creeping into his tone.
The first hints of suspicion appeared in Draco’s eyes. “What do you mean? …Sir.”
“Unfortunately, this mistake’s going to cost you detention with Miss Weasley, here.”
Pierce held up a hand. “I’m sorry, Mr. Malfoy, I truly am. If it were up to me, I would let both of you go with only a warning, but I’m new, and I can’t afford to go disobeying my boss on the first night, right?” He showed his most charmingly regretful smile, and the Weasley girl gave an understanding nod, if a resigned one, but Draco didn’t look convinced. Pierce wasn’t surprised—Lucius didn’t give a damn about anyone but himself, either. “Besides, your wand was drawn as well,” Pierce reminded him.
“Fine,” the boy snapped, finally jamming his wand out of sight. “What’s the detention, then?”
Pierce fumbled, though he played it off as a cool consideration instead. His mind scrambled for anything McGonagall might have said concerning appropriate detentions, but his training had been last minute, a hasty affair to say the least. In fact, the Headmistress had been so desperate when Pierce first contacted her for the positions that she had hired him on-the-spot. It seemed no one was interested in the Defense Against the Dark Arts job, or in being affiliated with Slytherin these days. Go figure. In any case, all he could recall the woman saying was that many professors issued detentions that would help them with their lesson plans.
Oh, bugger. Lesson plan. He was beginning to feel the effects of the alcohol again, and the more he thought, the more he found he had yet to sort out. Like that bloody lesson plan, for instance. The teenagers were staring expectantly, and so still uncertain of what exactly was appropriate, Pierce simply said, “I’ll inform you of the specifics tomorrow. For now, I think we should all be getting back to our beds.”
Draco nodded shortly and started stomping off in the direction of the dungeons. Pierce’s eyes followed him for awhile, then he turned back to the red-haired girl and remarked dryly, “He’s certainly a pleasant sort, isn’t he?”
She laughed. “And that was him being polite.” She sighed, glancing at the kitchens before turning back and showing him an apologetic smile. “I’m really sorry about all this, Professor.”
Pierce nodded and watched her go before turning his attention back to the matter of stocking up on the alcohol that he suddenly needed far more now than when he originally left his quarters.
At the opposite end of the castle, Draco walked into his common room with about as much enthusiasm as a man mounting the gallows. It was finally empty now though, thank Merlin, and he sank into a chair in front of the cold fireplace. He stared into that dead hearth for a long time, a question playing through his mind on an infinite loop: “Where do you belong?” Where indeed.
The next morning, seven floors above them both, Ginny’s nerves still felt taut from the previous night, and the feeling stayed with her all through breakfast. Professor Pierce was waiting for her when she tried to leave the Great Hall, leaning casually against the wall with his hands in his pockets and an easy smile on his face.
“Morning, Miss Weasley,” he greeted, offering her a nod.
She returned his smile somewhat uneasily, knowing this was about her detention. The twins were her brothers, the Golden Trio her friends—and in Ron’s case family—so she was not particularly unaccustomed to trouble, but she still hated it. At least Professor Pierce didn’t look upset. His round hazel eyes were as friendly as ever, and again Ginny was struck with just how unlikely his role in Slytherin seemed. It was a miracle the House turned out someone so decent.
“Good morning, Professor,” she returned.
“About your detention, do you think you can meet me around nine o’clock at the edge of the Forbidden Forest tonight?”
For a minute she didn’t know what to say, trying to figure out if he was joking or not. “The Forbidden Forest? At nine? But the forest’s off-limits. And nine is curfew.”
He flashed a mischievous grin. “I know, but I want to put you two to work for me, and it’s something you can only do in the dark, and only there. Don’t worry, it’s been cleared by the Headmistress.”
Curiosity thoroughly piqued, Ginny gave a slow nod. “Uh, yeah, all right then. I’ll be there.”
“Excellent.” He looked over her head at the students, most of which were beginning to finish up. “I’d better go,” he said. “I’ve still got some things to finish up. See you tonight!”
He pushed off the wall and left with one last wave. Ginny looked over her shoulder to the Slytherin table, finding Malfoy already watching her. Rather than glance away like most, he caught and held her gaze. She looked meaningfully to the doors where Pierce just exited, then raised her eyebrows at him in silent question, hoping to find out if Malfoy knew about their detention already. His eyes followed hers to the doors, then apparently catching on, he nodded. She mimicked the gesture shortly, then spun and left without a backward glance. Just that short exchange with Malfoy left a sour taste in her mouth, and she wondered how she would ever survive tonight.
She was just turning towards the stairs when she heard the call, “Ginny! Hang on a minute!”
She slowed to a stop, turning around to see a flushed Colin running after her.
“I want to show you something!” he told her. “I found it this morning looking for Professor Vector. I got lost and then it was just there!” He was babbling, but he didn’t seem to notice, eyes bright with an eager light.
Ginny smiled uncertainly. “That’s great, Colin. What is it?”
He snatched her hand and started dragging her towards the stairs, calling over his shoulder, “You’ve got to see!”
“Colin! We’ve got classes—!”
“Not in the morning,” he interrupted, not to be deterred. “Don’t worry, it won’t take long. And anyway, trust me, this is worth it!”
He practically sprinted up the steps, and after awhile Ginny lost count of how many flights they left behind them. She was in excellent shape, but the trek had her panting for breath, and Colin took so many unfamiliar twists and turns Ginny wondered that he ever remembered the way. He finally stopped before a wholly unremarkable battered wooden door.
“This is it!” he announced, literally bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Ginny eyed the door doubtfully. “It is?”
But he was already jiggling the handle, giving the wood a hard shove with one shoulder. It opened then with an alarming cracking noise, followed by a drawn-out squeal that made Ginny wince. He grabbed her hand again, pulling her into the room. Ginny looked around in fascination.
The room was octagonal in shape, and all eight of the walls, minus the one with the door, were a giant window. A thick layer of dust and grime covered the glass, tinting it brown, but Ginny could still see through it to some degree, and the sun managed to filter through as well. Curious, she took out her wand and muttered, “Scourgify.”
Instantly the magic wiped the glass clean, making it sparkle like crystals and flooding the room with morning sunlight. But that impressive sight wasn’t the one that had Ginny sucking in her breath; it was what she could now clearly see through the windows. Hogwarts and its grounds spread out around her on all sides, rolling hills of green, forests with treetops swaying in the breeze, and the lake reflecting the sun in a dazzling prism of glittering light. The one solid wall faced northwest, so she couldn’t see the Quidditch pitch, but everywhere else sprawled out around her, and she could even make out Hogsmeade off in the distance.
“Oh Colin,” she breathed. “It’s beautiful.” She searched her memory for a previous glimpse of this towering spire, but couldn’t recall even one. Though with Hogwarts’s impossible jumble of towers and turrets, that wasn’t saying much.
“Hmm?” Colin, on his knees in the middle of the room, followed her gaze. “Oh, yeah, that too—but have a look at this!”
Ginny, still awe-struck by the stunning view, tore herself away from the windows, turning her head last of all. “What’s better than that?”
Colin wrapped his fingers around one particular stone in the floor, screwing up his face in concentration as he heaved it up. It clattered noisily against the other stones when he dropped it, leaving a dark hole behind in its wake. He pointed down into the opening. “That.”
Throwing him a quizzical look, she knelt down and peered inside. Sitting there was a perfectly ordinary candle in an equally unexceptional, wrought iron candlestick holder. “A…candle?”
“Pick it up!” he urged.
Wondering if Colin was finally losing it, she obligingly leaned down and wrapped her fingers around the metal handle of the candlestick holder. She held it up before her face, then raised her eyebrows at Colin. “I hate to break it to you, but I think I’m more impressed by the view.”
Before he could reply, the candle wick suddenly burst aflame, causing Ginny to jerk it away from her before it caught her long hair on fire. She blinked at it, off balance, and started to ask, “What…?” But the thought faded before she could finish it, her attention being absorbed fully by the little tear-drop of orange flame. Its heat seemed to melt away her surroundings, but she wasn’t very much concerned as none of it seemed all that important anymore, not like this solitary candle glowing so enticingly just for her. Soon even the candle and its holder dissolved, and all that remained was the flicker of light perched at the end of a blackened wick.
Then, quite suddenly, the flame winked out, and Ginny was left alone in the dark. Panic crawled over her skin like a million tiny insects, a silent scream locked in her throat. She could not feel the sensation of gravity anymore, and things like “up” or “down” held no meaning; hot and cold didn’t exist, and the air simply ceased to be, but she didn’t miss it because her body was gone now as well and no longer required such things. Ginny Weasley hung suspended in a vast, infinite stretch of…nothing.
Madness was just beginning to sink its grimy claws into her brain when the glorious fire bloomed right in front of her like the most spectacular flower ever. It seared through the abyss and steadily began spreading its glow, dissipating the nothingness inch by inch until the candlestick came into focus, followed by her fingers still tightly wrapped around the holder. Ginny nearly wept at the sight. Slowly the rest of her hand appeared, and then her arm, and so on until Ginny was fully restored. So gradually she almost missed it, she began to notice the feel of wooden floorboards beneath her feet, and the temperature was warming by degrees. Then, quite suddenly, the blackness all around her swirled and lifted away like so many wisps of smoke in the breeze.
Ginny stood in a house. The fireplace crackled and popped merrily, the smell of wood smoke drifting through the air, and Ginny noticed carved pumpkins on the mantelpiece; little bat decorations dangled from the ceiling. The sound of a baby crying pierced the quiet, drawing her attention towards a closed door on her left, a yellow glow pooling around the crack beneath it. Feeling like she was in a dream, Ginny readjusted her grip on the candlestick holder and stepped forward uncertainly. Her free hand reached out and turned the door knob, silently opening the door.
It was a nursery, the crying baby on its back in a crib over by the corner. Ginny was just debating whether or not she should go to the child when footsteps sounded behind her. She turned and saw a woman with hair as red as her own running right for her. Ginny’s eyes widened, but before she could step out of the way, the woman ran through her as if she was as insubstantial as air. Ginny stood in frozen shock for a second, then looked down and laid a palm flat against her stomach. She felt solid enough to her.
Confused and uneasy, she raised her eyes to see the red-haired woman bending over the squalling baby, cradling it close and murmuring quietly. Ginny sensed a presence behind her, turned, and nearly tripped over her own feet when she found herself face to face with Harry—a Harry that was very much grown up. She gazed at him in wonder for a moment, then remembering the other woman’s striking red hair, felt her stomach lurch. Was she spying on her own future?
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked, brows furrowing as he leaned against the doorjamb.
She shook her head. “I don’t know. He’s been fussy all night.”
After studying the cooing woman for just a few seconds, Ginny knew that her guess couldn’t be right. The face was all wrong for her and the body too tall and willowy, not to mention this other red-head had eyes so emerald green they seemed to glow. Ginny’s were a rich dark brown. Upon closer inspection of the man, she realized that he couldn’t be Harry, either. For one, he was missing the tell-tale scar on his forehead, and his eyes weren’t the right color. Harry’s were more like that other woman’s…just like them, actually.
And then everything fell into place, realization dawning on Ginny with a sickening certainty. The Halloween decorations, the older Harry look-alike and the woman with his eyes—these people were James and Lily Potter, which made the infant Harry…and it was the night of Voldemort’s attack.
Ginny’s mind whirled. She had to warn them, had to act, had to do something!
“Hey!” she yelled, and when that garnered no reaction, she screamed again, “Hey!” louder this time, to no better result. Desperate, she rushed forward and tried to grasp at James’s arm, but her hands passed through him, and he gave no indication that he felt her phantom touch. Frustration swelled in her, and she shrieked, “Listen, damn it!”
But neither of them would, and before Ginny could try something else, her vision grew darker and hazy as if tendrils of black smoke were wrapping around her head. “NO!” she cried, but the smoke only thickened until it blotted out everything, and Ginny choked on a sob.
When the darkness receded this time, Ginny didn’t immediately care to look around, simply huddled up in a ball instead and buried her face. Wherever she was, though, the wind howled mournfully, the pounding of heavy rainfall making her feel like she was in a giant’s drum. Finally, curiosity got the best of her, and she lifted her head.
This house was considerably less cozy than the last—more of a shack, really—with freezing temperatures only made worse by the storm’s buffeting against the thin walls of the place. It was nighttime, but by the glare of the occasional flash of lightening, Ginny could tell she was in the living area. Great, grunting snores from the sofa reached her ears in between peals of thunder and the whistle of wind. Climbing slowly to her feet, she realized she still clutched the candle, and now she held it out before her as she walked towards the sleeping person.
It was the fattest little boy Ginny had ever laid eyes on, drool trailing from his wide-open, beefy lips. Beyond that less than appealing sight, Ginny looked up to see a far more welcome one lying on the floor. It was Harry, really Harry this time, but when he was much younger. This was the Harry she first saw as a young girl, before she ever began attending Hogwarts. He was staring intently at the fat boy’s digital watch, and before Ginny could get his attention, a knock suddenly sounded at the door. She froze, Harry’s head whipped around, and two figures—a large, red-faced man cradling a rifle and a stick of a woman—rushed down the stairs. The obese boy jerked awake, muttering, “Where’s the cannon?”
The knocking continued, but no one moved to answer…so the door quite simply crashed in. A huge frame filled out the gap where the door used to be, and Ginny realized with a start that it was Hagrid. He was holding an umbrella in one hand, and Ginny, remembering Harry recount the story, realized this was when Harry first discovered he was a wizard.
She was fascinated and wanted to stay and watch the rest, but for the third time blackness claimed her, this time dissolving away again shortly to reveal a new setting. Now Hagrid showed Harry Diagon Alley for the first time, and here a lost Harry couldn’t figure out the train platform, and there he met Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
The events flashed by faster now, seemingly every significant point in Harry’s life snapping in and out like a slide show—the struggle for the sorcerer’s stone, the Burrow, the Chamber and Tom Riddle, Sirius, Cedric’s body in a graveyard, wands locked with Voldemort, their first kiss, and finally Draco Malfoy, standing over a weakened Albus Dumbledore, then being pushed aside by Snape, who delivered the killing blow as Harry stood helplessly by. The smoky black closed around her again.
Ginny felt overwhelmed, and this time she didn’t mind the nothingness so much. Nevertheless, just as before, the candle’s glow eventually knifed through oblivion, whisking away the smoke until she was left standing in what appeared to be old castle ruins lit by morning sunshine. She turned slowly, squinting her eyes against the brightness. This was no past of Harry’s, she decided, or if it was, he never told her about it. A flicker of light stood out against the rest of the crumbling and apparently deserted stones, and Ginny walked towards it.
Three figures sat around a small blaze, using it more for the heating of a thick slice of ham than for warmth since the weather was quite hot all on its own. As she got closer, she felt a jolt like an electric charge at the sight of a boy with the distinct Weasley-red locks. A head of frizzy curls bushier than ever rested against his shoulder, and finally, unmistakably mussed jet black hair came into view. She neared until she could clearly see Harry’s features, the familiar green eyes behind round glasses, his strong jaw and lean body. Ginny had come home.
“Harry! Ron, Hermione!” she cried, running to them. They didn’t even glance in her direction. Feeling her heart drop so sharply it physically ached, she slowed to a walk until she stood directly in front of Harry, and she waved a hand in front of his face. He didn’t blink. She tried to touch his cheek, but just as she suspected, her fingertips passed through.
“Oh, Harry,” she whispered, dropping to her knees beside him. At such a close range, she noticed for the first time how thin he looked, how exhausted and worn. Ron and Hermione looked in little better shape, and Ginny wondered what brought them to such a state.
“Today,” Hermione suddenly said, voice quiet. “I bet today’s the day we have better luck.”
Ron snorted. “Right. Because we’ve found all sorts of clues so far, right?”
The girl frowned, lifting her head away from him. “When we get to the next town—”
“You said that about the last town.”
“And we found a man there who helped, didn’t we?” she snapped.
Ron rolled his eyes. “Hermione, did it ever occur to you that he was lying? We’ve been walking nearly three days! The bloody town might not even exist.”
Hermione bristled. “Of course it does! Why would he lie?”
“I don’t know, Hermione,” Ron said, irritated. “Why do any of the wack-jobs out there do what they do? All I know is I’ve never heard of any Wizarding town around here.”
“Guys,” Harry interrupted, sounding profoundly tired. “Please, not again. We’ve come this far—we’ll keep going. If we find the town, then we find it, and maybe the Horcrux too. If not…then we’ll keep looking. That’s all.”
Ginny realized with mounting excitement that what she was witnessing was not some previously unheard of past, but the present. This was where Harry, Ron, and Hermione were right now, looking for the Horcrux. A surge of pity shot through her as she looked around their meager shelter in these abandoned ruins. Couldn’t they have apparated or at least gotten a ride somehow? Found somewhere with an inn or something along the way? Or were they just keeping a low profile? She longed to ask Harry all her questions, to reassure him that she was there. He looked so run-down, so ragged….
A strong breeze kicked up suddenly, blowing their hair around wildly, and for the first time, Ginny’s candle went out. This time the inky black of oblivion did not come slowly. It slammed down on her like the falling of a fist and she nearly choked, the complete lack of anything substantial so sudden and so all-encompassing that it overwhelmed her. Then just as suddenly it was gone, and Ginny was staggering back against a glass window that stretched the length of the wall, bright morning sunlight blasting into her eyes and momentarily blinding her.
When the spots faded, the first thing she saw was Colin grinning eagerly at her.
“You saw him, didn’t you?” he asked, practically bouncing. “You saw Harry.”
She didn’t answer right away. Her fingers still clutched the candlestick holder tight, and when she tried to pry them loose, they ached terribly. Shaking, she moved forward on wobbly legs and lowered the candle back into the hole.
“I met a girl over the summer, you see, but she’s a Muggle, so I had to leave her behind,” Colin was explaining, positively bubbling with excitement. “But when I picked up the candle, I sorta got…I dunno…sucked in, and I saw her! I wasn’t going to tell anyone, but then I thought of you, and knew you must be missing Harry worse than I miss Kaitlin—that’s the girl—and I figured if it worked for me…you all right there, Ginny?”
“Colin,” she said slowly, “how did you find this?”
“I told you,” he said, looking a bit put out by her lack of enthusiasm, “I had to find Professor Vector, but he wasn’t in his room, so I kept looking and got lost. The candle was just sitting out when I got here, but I found that loose stone and hid it when I left…just in case, I guess.”
“What is it?”
Colin shrugged. “Dunno, really. But like I said, it showed me who I missed, so I thought it might show you Harry since you miss him so much too. I don’t know if that’s how it really works or not, but I thought it was worth a try.” He hesitated. “Did it? Show you Harry, I mean?”
Ginny nodded, gazing down at the candle nestled in the hole in the floor, still feeling a little dazed. “Yeah. Yeah, it did.”
Colin seemed a bit perplexed by her mood. “I just thought you might appreciate it, what with him being out there and all….”
Ginny blinked up at him, then gave a small smile. “I do, Colin, really. Thank you so much. Sorry if I don’t seem grateful, I’m just a bit dazed still, I think. That was…quite the experience.”
He bobbed his head knowingly. “It gets better,” he assured.
Ginny cocked her head. “What do you mean? You’ve used it more than once?”
“Yeah, again just before I went to get you. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke or something.”
“So that’s all you have to do?” Ginny asked, interested now that her mind was kicking back into gear. “Just…pick it up and wait for it to light?”
“And then blow out the candle when you want to come back,” Colin affirmed. “Took me ages to figure that out.” He suddenly looked a bit sheepish. “Sorry, I forgot to tell you before you picked it up. Excited, I guess.”
She smiled. “It’s okay, it worked out.” She paused a moment, staring at the deceptively nondescript candlestick. “We should cover it back up,” she decided. She didn’t know what it was, exactly, but it was certainly something she wanted kept safe…and hidden. “Like you said earlier—just in case.”
Colin agreed, and together they moved the stone back in place.
“Ginny?” he asked after that was done. “How is Harry?”
She looked at his face, so hopeful for good news, and knew that the truth of Harry’s situation would only upset him. So she lied—just a little white lie, just to keep hope alive, she reasoned. “He’s doing really well. All of them are. I think they’re really close to finding whatever they’re looking for.”
Colin grinned happily. “That’s great! I figured they would be.”
Ginny smiled sadly and nodded.
“And now you can see him any time you want!” Colin added, climbing to his feet.
Ginny rose as well, directing one last glance at the loose stone. And as Ginny closed the door behind her, she knew it wouldn’t be long before she returned to do just that. Not tonight—she had her detention—but very soon indeed.
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