A/N — Well, I guessed right. Just about two weeks. The next one might take a wee bit of time because I’m going on vacation for a bit during the holiday week (for us Americans who celebrate July 4th it’s a holiday week anyhow, haha).

And as always, thanks SO much for the reviews, encouragements, and helpful criticisms. I appreciate all a great deal.

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Chapter 34 — Discoveries

Draco had to choke down the last bite of bread. It was surprisingly good, actually, freshly made with butter on the side. In fact, under normal circumstances all the food that they brought him would have tasted at least decent. But the circumstances were not different, and every bite scraped down his throat like sandpaper. Eating was a trial he endured thrice daily.

He knew better than to skip even a single meal, though. In his opinion, those louts that starved themselves in captivity were bloody dolts with more pride than wits. Half starving to death to prove a point only hurt the prisoner, not the one doing the imprisoning. And if a captor wanted a prisoner dead, he would just kill the idiot, not poison the sod like he was afraid to risk offending him about it. No, Draco was going to be strong and ready for when he got the chance to run. If he ever did.

Draco was beginning to find the prospects of that occurring less and less likely. When they first tossed him into this makeshift cell — which, he later realized, was only a very large supply closet in the basement — he had not foreseen a stay of over a few days. If nothing else, Ginny would talk them into releasing him. She would not just let him rot down here.

But it had been weeks now, and he still saw no one but the guards who brought him his meals and that wrinkly old bat McGonagall. He had to admit that his accommodations could have been worse, but they could have been a lot better too. The whole space — more of a box than a room — was made of concrete from floor to walls to ceiling. They kept his wand, so for light they gave him an old oil lamp, which the guards refilled for him every so often. The door was only wood, but the lock on it was heavy, and without a wand, any ideas of breaking out were laughable. His loo consisted of a charming little pot in the corner. It was humiliating, especially for someone of his standing. Malfoy’s did not use chamber pots. Except this Malfoy found himself with little choice.

At least he could walk around. To an extent, anyway — it took all of three long strides to get from one wall to the next. But he could stretch his legs, and most of his time was spent pacing the tiny perimeter of his concrete cell. His arms were a different story. True to McGonagall’s wish, his wrists were literally chained together with manacles and just enough iron links for him to make a narrow “V” with his arms.

McGonagall did not visit every day, but often enough to make him sorely tempted to try and wring her skinny, leathery old neck. He knew he would fail, of course, given she had the wands, but the first few seconds would be satisfying. He whiled away many an hour trying to decide if it would be worth it or not. It would mean losing his freedom for good or possibly even his life — a second attempted murder would not go over well, he had a feeling — but those few seconds….

The decision was harder to reach than he would have imagined.

He thought about Ginny, too. Was she even trying to break him out? He could not imagine her leaving him to his fate, but she certainly seemed in no hurry to do anything about it either. Maybe she was content to simply sit back in Potter’s arms all day and forget that anything had ever occurred between them.

But she kissed me when I got her out of Snape’s, he could not help remembering. She said something about being wrong, and then she kissed me. That had to mean something, right?

He clung to the thought, but all he could see when he closed his eyes was Ginny running out of his little shack, yelling Potter’s name. The hero always gets the girl, mate, a voice mocked in his head. And you’re no damned hero.

But I saved her, he protested silently. Doesn’t that count for anything?

But that smug voice would only repeat the same thing every time: The hero always gets the girl. The voice sounded a little like Potter.

Draco was not stupid. He recognized the bitter taste of insanity balancing on the back of his tongue, and he knew also that all it would take was one wrong swallow and it would have him. But it was getting harder and harder to remind himself of that danger when his situation just kept growing more and more desperate.

McGonagall was the worst in that respect. It seemed that every visit she had some new announcement worse than the last. First it was just going to be a trial right here at headquarters. Then it was going to be before the Wizengamot. Both scenarios would decide whether he would be permitted to finish out his education, or whether he would go under house arrest. Then it evolved into ruling out his education no matter what, and the only question was would he be in a cell like this, or have a fairly comfortable prison.

And now they were talking Azkaban.

Draco half suspected some of McGonagall’s threats were only a tactic meant to scare some sort of confession out of him. But if that was the case, McGonagall was an incredibly convincing actress. She seemed to mean every word of it, and Draco was beginning to believe her. He had a feeling that if Ginny did have plans for him, she better act quickly.

He finally managed to force down the rest of his bread, feeling sick afterwards. He had to remind himself that it was keeping him strong and healthy. He was going to need that, because Draco Malfoy did not plan to ever see the Wizengamot. He was not thick enough to believe they might actually acquit him. If they tried to take him away, he would escape or die trying. The latter was by far more likely, and he was surprised at how much the thought disturbed him. Before all this mess started with Ginny, he could have cared less about living or dying. He didn’t know whether to thank her or hate her for it.

He was sitting with his back to the wall when he heard the lock clink. He looked up sharply, steeling himself for another round of McGonagall’s threats. He wondered why she even bothered anymore. Honestly, what could be worse than Azkaban?

The wooden door swung open silently on oiled hinges, and Draco felt his heart literally stop for a beat when he realized it was not McGonagall filling the doorway.

“Ginny.” His voice felt rough in his throat. He had refused to talk to McGonagall and could not remember the last time he spoke.

Her dark eyes reflected the light from the lamp as she hastily shut the door with her back. Then she just stared at him for a long time. “I’m so sorry,” she finally whispered. “I…I tried to see you so many times. But they have wards. And a guard.” She paused, but when he made no reply, she asked, “Are you okay?”

He lifted his arms out of his lap, showing her the chains. “Do I look okay?” he snapped. He could have kicked himself. She finally came, the answer to so many prayers, but now he couldn’t help his anger. Seeing her made him realize how furious he really was. So he added a biting, “And I’m about to get better. They’re sending me on a nice holiday to Azkaban, did you hear?”

She ignored his sarcasm. “I won’t let that happen.”

“Oh, well, I feel loads better. You’ve been so helpful so far, why shouldn’t I take your word for it?”

By the look on her face, he might have physically slapped her. “Didn’t you hear me?” Her own voice was taking on an edge. “I’ve been trying. There are wards.”

“Wards that suddenly stopped working just for today? Convenient, that.”

The flames reflecting in her eyes from the oil lamp seemed to flare. Or was that just his imagination?

“No, Naomi helped me get past them.”

Draco raised his eyebrows. “Naomi? Who the hell is that?” He smirked. “Let me guess. Your imaginary friend?”

What the hell are you doing? his mind was shrieking. What the bloody hell is wrong with you? But there was too much built up frustration with no way to release it. There was too much fear. Even though he knew he was basically throwing himself to his own death, that he didn’t really mean any of it, he could not control himself.

Her eyes shifted back and forth over his face, confused and hurt. “Why are you doing this?”

He finally got to his feet and advanced on her. To her credit, she never flinched from him, even when she had to tilt her head back to see his face. “While you’ve been upstairs snuggling with precious Potter, I’ve been locked in this concrete box with chains on my wrists.” He rattled them in her face. “All because I went through the trouble to save you. And you ask me why?”

“I have not been snuggling with Harry!” she shouted at him, and Draco was shocked to see angry tears standing in her eyes. “I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get you out of here!”

Draco barely heard her. “Admit it, Ginny. I’m only good enough when Potter’s not around. The second he steps back into the picture, you always go running back.”

“That’s not true!”

“Isn’t it? Name one instance — ”

“I told him I loved you!”

Time seemed to stand still. The tears now spilled down her cheeks, but all Draco could do was stare. Had he heard her correctly? He couldn’t have. It was impossible.

The hero always gets the girl

“I told him I couldn’t be with him because I loved you,” Ginny whispered again into the silence. Then her face grew hard and defiant as she glared up at him. “But obviously I made a mistake.”

She whirled around and made as if to leave, but Draco finally retrieved enough of his wits to reach out and grab her arm.

“Let go of me!” She tried to wrench free, but he held her too tightly.

“Ginny, wait. Hold still, damn it! I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry. It’s…been rough. Just talk to me.”

She finally stopped struggling long enough to meet his eyes. His were pleading in a way he could not bring his words to, but hers stayed angry and defensive. “I tried to talk to you already. You were a bastard. Or have you already forgotten?”

His fingers relaxed a little on her arm, though he did not dare release her. He knew what he said next would be crucial, and as he summarily thought up and dismissed a million different lies and excuses, he came to a stunning realization: he had to tell the truth. Never in all his years in Slytherin had he come to such a conclusion, but now he was sure of it.

The only thing left to do was swallow his pride enough to actually tell it.

He began haltingly. “Remember…back in your tree house?” She made no reply, but he gave a short nod anyway as if she had. “You asked me if I ever got scared, and I told you I did, sometimes, yeah?”

Now something new flickered in her dark eyes — curiosity, intrigue, he wasn’t sure. Whatever it was, it encouraged him, especially when she whispered, “Yeah.”

“Right. Well, I’m scared now. Bad. And when I thought you were…I mean when I assumed…”

“You thought I forgot about you because I had Harry back,” she provided flatly.

He winced, but had to nod yes. “But do you understand? Ginny, I’m just…scared.”

She studied his eyes for several seconds, then all at once her face seemed to transform into its usual, soft expression. “Don’t do it again. I put up with a lot from you, but I do have my limits.”

“Deal.” He finally let go of her arm, but when he tried to reach up and stroke her cheek, the chain connected to the wrist still at his side grew taught and pulled him back. He cursed.

“Here.” Ginny pulled a ring of keys from her pocket. “I nicked these from the guard on my way down. One of them might get you out of those…at least for a while. I’ll have to put them back on before I leave.”

He looked at her sharply. “Before you leave? You mean you’re not getting me out?”

She shook her head as she found the key that fit the lock on his manacles. They clattered to the floor and she answered, “I’m still working on that part. I just had to talk to you. I couldn’t stand not seeing you, knowing you were so close.”

At that Draco felt an immediate wash of guilt for his earlier accusations. She had her eyes towards the floor, nudging the manacles around with her toe, so he put his finger under her chin and lifted her face up. “I shouldn’t have doubted you.” It was as close to ‘sorry’ as he could bring himself.

“You shouldn’t have,” she agreed. But she said it gently.

Draco hesitated. “What you said earlier….” He trailed off, but Ginny gave no indication of helping him this time. So he just blurted out, “You really told Potter you loved me?”

She gave a small smile, and he realized she was amused by his awkwardness. “Yes.”

He lifted his hand to touch her, then second-guessed himself and dropped it. “You meant it?”

She looked him square in the eye. “I gave Harry his locket back.”

Draco wasn’t sure if that was a ‘yes’ or not. It sounded like one. But why did she say it like that? She was frank enough about everything else. Did that mean she still wasn’t sure enough to answer directly? Or something else?

Ginny suddenly laughed.

He blinked at her, and then scowled. “What the bloody hell is funny?”

“Draco,” she sighed in a “you’re hopeless” sort of way. “I just told you that I loved you. Stop thinking for once and just kiss me.”

It was all the assurance he needed. He wanted to grab her and snog her senseless but stopped himself just short of doing it. All their previous kisses had been that way — rough and tactless and mindless — and while that was not necessarily a bad thing, this time he was determined to do it right.

Never taking his eyes off hers, he brushed her cheek with his knuckles, traced her lips with his thumb. He could feel the soft exhale of her breath when he did, and he had to take a second to find his willpower again. He tucked her hair behind her ear and traced the shell of it, continuing down her neck.

“What are you doing?” she whispered.

Still not taking his eyes off of hers, Draco only replied with a quiet, “Shhh.”

His hand came to rest at the dip of her waist, and he left it there while his free hand rose to cradle the back of her neck. Her eyes fluttered closed then, her chest rising and falling more quickly. Having to call on every last reserve of restraint, he stepped closer so that their bodies just barely touched.

Finally, he thought a little feverishly. Finally.

He dropped a feather-light kiss to her forehead, both eyes, the tip of her nose. She turned her face up, offering her mouth, but he ignored it and brushed his lips across first one cheek, then the other.

“Draco,” she breathed.

He smiled, then bent down to lightly kiss along her neck. Her arms went around his shoulders, pulling him closer. He skimmed his lips across her skin up to her ear. He felt her suck in her breath, arching into him.

Finally he eased his lips over hers and felt her hands slide up to tangle in his hair. His own hands fell to her hips, holding her close as he patiently maneuvered her into a deeper kiss. He felt dizzy, overcome by the feel of her, the soft curves of her pressed against him, totally willing and totally his for the first time.

It was dream made reality.

He backed her against the door and pushed her up so that her eyes hovered just above his, darker than he had ever seen them before. “You’re beautiful,” he murmured. He meant to just brush her lips then, but she grabbed the back of his head and pulled him into a heated kiss. Draco let her.

He could feel her hands on him, her fingertips searching as they ran down his spine, up his ribs, against his chest. He groaned and pushed her harder against the door, losing himself and losing control, but for once he did not mind. He let his own hands explore, feeling all the contours of her body that he had longed to touch for so long now. He glided over her stomach, her sides, her soft, firm thighs. She moaned softly, and he reached up to gently cup her breast.

She gasped then, and he jerked back with an apology ready on his lips. But she only shook her head, pulling him back and mumbling, “More.”

Draco closed his eyes and complied, kneading softly and trying vaguely to remember why he had felt so downcast just a few moments ago. How could he ever be upset about anything? Life was brilliant.

“Wait,” she suddenly gasped between kisses. “Draco, no, stop.”

It took a second for the words to register, and it took every shred of strength he had to comply. He rested his forehead against hers, breathing heavily. “What’s wrong?”

She pushed at his shoulders, sliding down to her feet. “Nothing. You…that was…” she blushed.

“Absolutely fantastic?” he offered in a low voice, stepping close to trace her jaw.

She shuddered and closed her eyes, but almost as quickly wriggled out from between him and the door. “Stop doing that,” she told him crossly. “I can’t…I can’t concentrate when you do stuff like that.”

Draco felt a smug satisfaction at the words. At least he wasn’t alone. She loves me. The thought surfaced randomly into his head, dizzying and absolutely amazing. He forced himself back to the present. “What do you need to concentrate on?” He started to step nearer, but she quickly dodged away, maintaining a safe distance.

“How to convince McGonagall to let you go, for a start.”

Draco shook his head. “That’s not going to happen. She has a personal grudge against me. There could be a flashing sign over my head shouting, ‘Innocent!’ and she would still convict me.”

“She’ll want to convict you, I’ll give you that. But if the proof is overwhelming enough, she won’t really have a choice.”

“Proof of what?”

“That you aren’t loyal to You-Know-Who anymore.”

Draco crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “And risking my freedom to save you doesn’t count as ‘overwhelming proof’?”

Ginny frowned. “Not necessarily. I mean, she could still make an argument. Like you could have cared about me but still had loyalties to You-Know-Who. Or maybe you were just getting initiated and trying to gain the Order’s trust all in one shot so that you could become a spy for the Death Eaters. She can still rationalize it.”

Draco sagged a little and rubbed at his wrist where the manacles had rubbed them raw. “So what could I possibly do to prove myself then? What won’t she be able to rationalize? Especially when I’m stuck down here. Tell me that.”

She chewed at her lip. “I don’t know.” She hugged herself for a second, then suddenly stamped her foot in frustration. “And I feel totally useless because I can’t think, and I can’t even do magic anymore — ”

“You can’t do magic?”

“Snape still has my wand. He didn’t seem too keen on keeping me prisoner when Pierce brought me there, but I doubt he’ll be very enthusiastic about giving me a hand and returning it either.”

Hearing Pierce’s name hit Draco like a punch to the gut. He tried not to show it, but couldn’t help but ask, “Has anyone…you know, heard from Pierce?”

Ginny thought a minute. “No, actually.” She shrugged. “Well, obviously he can’t go back to teaching now. I’m sure he’s just hiding out somewhere with the rest of them.”

Draco nodded, eyes towards the floor. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”

“Draco?” Ginny was watching him with concern. “Everything all right?”

“What? Yeah. Fine.”

She frowned. “Don’t worry about him. He’s not going to bother us anymore.”

You have no idea how right you are. He felt a little sick to his stomach, but forced his thoughts away from it before Ginny probed any further. “So you said your wand is still at Snape’s?”

“I guess. I mean, unless he got rid of it.”

“Talk to Nott then. He’ll get it back.”

She gave him an odd look. “Yeah, about him. What’s going on?”

Draco slid his back down the wall and stretched his legs out in front of him. He held his hand out to her, and when she hesitated, he promised, “I won’t do anything sneaky. On my word as a Malfoy.”

She smiled wryly. “Some would say that’s not very reassuring.”

“And what do you say?”

She studied him a moment, then stepped forward to place her hand in his. He tugged her down to sit in his lap, cradling her against him. She turned into him without saying anything, one hand resting against his chest.

Draco stroked her hair softly. “I was wrong about Nott. He’s on our side after all, and he’s been trying to protect you all along.” He related everything the other Slytherin had told him, about the guilt and the need to save at least one person. “And he picked you,” Draco finished simply.

“And you think he’ll get my wand back?”

Draco shrugged. “Hard to tell with him. But it wouldn’t hurt to try. He’ll be back at the castle by now, and he’s always the last up at night. You could Floo the common room really late and it should be safe.”

“You think that would work?”

“It’s worth a go. He won’t have any trouble getting into Snape Estate. They all still think he’s a Death Eater. After he got you out and stopped the ceremony, he just slipped back to his post.”

“Or so you hope,” Ginny said quietly.

Draco didn’t say anything. It never really crossed his mind that the sly Theodore Nott might get caught.

“So that’s one problem possibly solved.” Ginny sighed and leaned more into his chest. Draco closed his eyes and wondered if his word as a Malfoy was really worth behaving himself. She was in his lap, for Merlin’s sake! She turned her face up to look at him. “Now what are we going to do about you?”

Ah, what the hell. Draco bent down and kissed her, soft and slow on the lips. When he pulled back, her eyes looked a little out of focus. “We’ll figure something out.” He brushed her hair back from her face, and something occurred to him. “How did you get down here if you don’t have a wand? Didn’t you say something about wards?”

Her eyes suddenly went wide, and she jumped out of his lap. “Naomi!” Ginny looked frantically over the floor and scooped up his chains. “She’s probably panicking by now!”

Draco scowled. “Who the hell is Naomi? You mentioned her earlier.”

“She was in Snape’s dungeon with me. She helped me get in, and she’s been keeping the guard busy while I’m in here. Which means she’s probably way out of small talk by now.”

Draco did remember seeing another, older looking woman in the cell with Ginny when he spied through the candle. He snapped out of his musings when Ginny came at him with the chains. “What are you doing?”

“No one can know that I snuck down here,” she explained impatiently. “Else they’ll only change the wards, and I might not be able to get past them next time. If you’re not wearing the stupid chains then they’ll know for sure.”

Draco glowered as she snapped them on his wrist. She looked up at him and finally stopped panicking for a moment to give him a small, sad smile. “Sorry.” She rose to her tip-toes and kissed him soundly on the mouth. Lips so close that they still brushed his, she whispered, “I do love you too. Know that.”

And then she whirled away and with the soft click of the lock falling back into place, she was gone.

The hero always gets the girl, mate.

Draco smirked. He would make an interesting hero.

- - - - -

Ginny could only make out shadows in her room with the silence pressing in on her from all sides. Perfect. She threw back the duvet and tip-toed to the door in her nightgown, her hair in one long braid down her back. She stuck her head out into the hall, making sure the coast was clear before she slipped outside.

The floorboard squeaked under her weight, and she froze in place a second before pushing on. She was not sure if anyone would try and stop her from speaking with Nott, but with his questionable affiliations, there was always the possibility that they would try. Just look at how they treated Draco. So she wanted to make very sure and do this secretly. Only Naomi knew.

She moved more quickly, growing bolder as time went on, her bare feet just a soft scuffing sound against the old wooden floors. She descended the stairs just as silently, having earlier in the day paid careful attention to which steps creaked underfoot. The sitting room was empty, just as she had gambled on, and the kitchen equally so. It was in the latter that she stopped.

She wished that she had her wand to cast an Imperturbable Charm on the room, but obviously that was not an option, so she just tightly closed the door and latched it shut. That done, she turned around and faced the fireplace with a steadying breath. She hardly remembered the walk over to the hearth, or throwing in the Floo powder. The next thing she knew the flames were flaring emerald, and she heard herself enunciate, “Slytherin Common Room.”

Then she stuck her head into the fire.

It took a minute for her eyes to clear, and when they did she found herself looking in on the cold, classy interior of what her brother called the Snake Pit. Black leather sofas, ornately carved ebon wood, dim lamps with swamp-green shades. She did not, however, see Theodore Nott.

Frowning, she craned her neck and softly called, “Nott? Nott, are you there?”

She heard nothing. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she made to pull her head back when she heard the soft rasp and squeak of leather moving. Nott’s disheveled head appeared above the back of a sofa facing away from her. By the bleary look on his face, he had been asleep.

“Nott!” she hissed.

His head whipped around, and he squinted at her. “Weasley?” He blinked a few times. “Am I dreaming? Your head is floating in my fireplace.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s the Floo, you dimwit.”

He raised his eyebrows, then rolled off the sofa and found another seat closer to the fireplace. He leaned back in the new armchair, resting his hands comfortably on either armrest. “Missed me so much you had to Floo for a chat?”

She lifted a corner of her mouth in an uncertain smile. He still unsettled her a bit, even knowing his true loyalties. She was not quite sure how to react to him, and she certainly had no idea how to interact with him. “Actually…” she hesitated, then just plowed right into it, “I sort of had a favor to ask.”

He regarded her without expression. “Don’t you think I’ve done enough favors for you?”

“I know. Draco told me everything, and thank you. Really. But…well, it’s just this one last thing.”

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Well, spill it then.”

Ginny bit her lip, then spill it she did — all in one breath nearly. “Snape still has my wand in his house, at least I think he does, and obviously I’d really like it back but I certainly can’t just go waltzing in there with only a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’ for him, so…”

Nott’s half smile made its first appearance. “So you want me to go and get it for you.”

“If it’s not a lot of trouble.”

“Of course it’s a lot of trouble. It’s Snape.” He cocked his head at her. “Where are you Flooing from?”


“Phoenix headquarters, I’m assuming.” He mimicked the nod she gave in response. “Thought that’s where you’d be.” He fell silent then, but he looked like he was thinking, so Ginny did not interrupt. Finally he said, “So what do I get out of this, my darling Weasley?”

Ginny wanted to roll her eyes. Typical Slytherin — had to benefit somehow. She lowered her voice and said, “Draco says you’re not too keen on You-Know-Who. I could get them to let you join the Order. It could be your ticket out.”

He laughed outright at that. “Please, be serious. Me? I don’t think so. There’s evil and there’s righteous, and then there’s somewhere right in the middle that’s me. Try again, darling Weasley.” He glanced cautiously behind him as if checking for eavesdroppers. “And do try and keep your mouth shut about sensitive topics in the future.”

Ginny rolled the options around in her mind and found there weren’t many. She tried one last desperate plea. “Look, you wanted to help me before, right? Make up for some guilt issues. Well, now I’m actually asking for your help. What’s changed? You’re still a Death Eater, and I still need your help. Can’t you help me like before?”

“Before I never had to try and steal from a man far too clever for his own good. That changes things a bit.”

“Nott! Would you quit being such a pain in the arse and just do this for me! It’s a little risky, yeah, but not above you, we both know that, and I’m not in the mood for games tonight!”

He considered her a moment, then treated her to his half smile. “There’s the Weasley I know. Feisty and stupid as the day I met her.”

Ginny chose to ignore that. “So you’ll do it?”

He sighed. “How do I get this wand to you once I…acquire it?”

Ginny smiled, knowing she’d won. “I’ll send you an owl. He’ll know how to find me again.”

Nott rubbed his eyes. “Fine. Bloody wench. Now get your head out of my fireplace. It’s unnerving, and I need sleep.”

“Don’t you sleep in your dorm?”

“Yes. Tonight I just fell asleep over the dullest History of Magic essay I have ever encountered. Be grateful you aren’t in school.”

Ginny said goodbye and pulled her head back in the Grimmauld’s kitchen, thinking she rather did wish she were in school again. Not how things were now, but the way they used to be, when things were simple and easy and Voldemort was only a vague presence in the farthest reaches of her mind. Boring essays and all.

Although, come to think of it, that would mean she never would have gotten to know Draco…. Would normalcy and peace be worth that? Was it selfish of her to think that maybe they weren’t? After all, a lot of people had gotten hurt already, and a lot more still would. But that kiss, the way he held her and made her feel…

She shook her head and climbed back to her feet, stepping quietly back to the door. She had it unlatched and was just walking through when she heard voices. Flattening herself against the wall by instinct, she held her breath to try and identify the speakers. It didn’t take long for her to recognize them as Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

“So how long are we going to just sit here, is what I want to know,” Ron’s impatient voice floated out to her from the sitting room.

Harry answered. “You know how long. Until McGonagall figures out where it is.”

“It really should not take her so long,” Hermione put in, the voice of reason as always. “I mean, now that she knows what it is, how hard could it be to locate? There are spells and things for this.”

“I still can’t believe we marched all the way through that bloody cave and only found some moldy old journal,” Ron grumbled.

“Some moldy old journal that told us what the final Horcrux is!” Hermione defended.

What it is, yeah. Would have been convenient if it bothered to mention where it is, or maybe how to destroy it.”

Ginny felt her eyebrows come together in confusion. So they didn’t even find the actual Horcrux? No wonder McGonagall wanted to keep their return such a secret. They weren’t even prepared to face Voldemort yet.

“I’m sure you would destroy it like you destroy any dagger,” Harry offered, sounding a bit unsure of himself.

“It’s not any dagger, though,” Hermione argued. “It’s Rowena Ravenclaw’s dagger. She must have put some protection spells on it, or at least used magically enhanced metals. There are dozens of ways to strengthen weapons if you know how, and Rowena Ravenclaw knew everything.” Hermione sounded a little wistful.

“I’m just sick of it all. I don’t even care anymore,” Ron groused, the sound of creaking furniture following his words. “I’m going to go get something to eat.”

“Yeah, me too,” Harry agreed, sounding very tired all of a sudden.

Ginny’s heart pounded, eyes darting for a hiding place. Hermione’s voice was closer when she said, “Honestly, do you two ever think of anything but your stomachs?”

Ginny made a fast decision and darted across the hall, praying they weren’t close enough to see her as she passed in front of the open doorway to the sitting room. She just made it to the adjoining hall and backed into the shadows when the trio walked past.

“We’re growing young men, Hermione,” Ron whined. “We need fuel to do all this saving-the-world business.”

“You’re sitting around an old musty house,” Hermione pointed out tersely.

“Well, we will be saving the world…eventually. Once McGonagall figures out where You-Know-Who is hiding the dumb dagger. Isn’t that right, Harry?”

“What? Oh, yeah.”

See, Hermione?”

Then they shut the door to the kitchen, and Hermione’s response came out muffled and unintelligible to Ginny, whatever it was. Heart still thudding at the close call, Ginny turned and made her way back to her room. She fell into bed wondering when life had stopped being simple.
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