Harry sat on the chair beside her, a three-month-old magazine in his hand, hanging limply. He'd stopped looking at it as soon as the nurse had left the room. He was breaking apart. They'd been gone from Hogwarts for four days and, already, he'd failed. Ginny was lying in a hospital bed, asleep after her operation. He'd promised to look after her. They'd promised to look after each other and he'd failed her. She'd done everything for him. She'd done what she'd promised. And, despite all of that, despite his promise, here he was, sat beside her.
The hospital was asking for her name, her identity, her parents' details. Harry hadn't told them anything. This was the one thing he could do. He could do everything possible to make sure they weren't caught while they were here. He was going to protect her properly from now on. He was going to look after her.
It had come out of nowhere. It had been raining. No wonder she hadn't seen it. Harry should've seen it. Harry should've known that it would come. It haunted him now. Her scream. The crunch of her bones. All his fault. All of it.
Harry stroked her hair back from her face. She looked so peaceful asleep. She'd been in so much pain before they'd put her to sleep and it had physically hurt him to see her in that way. Now, though, she looked completely calm and at peace with herself and with the world. He wondered how she'd react when she woke up and there were all sorts of tubes sticking out of her. She wouldn't have encountered any of it before.
Harry sighed. Had it only been four days? Four days ago, he'd been at Hogwarts with Ron and Hermione and everyone. Four days ago, he'd been free and innocent and safe. Now, look what had happened. He wondered if it would ever go back to normal again. He wondered if he and Ginny could survive this, if they could stay out of prison forever. He didn't know if they could, but he was going to try.
Bridget Mellard was Ginny Weasley's best friend. She had been for years, since their second year, when Bridget had started Hogwarts. She'd been home-schooled for her first year, but her mother had been happy to send her to Hogwarts when she was twelve. Apparently, she was old enough then. Now, two years later, Bridget was fed up. Ginny had had no friends so she'd been the perfect candidate to be her friend, but Ginny was boring and wore old, boys' clothes. She was poor and she was so in love with Harry Potter it was hilarious. But Bridget knew something about Ginny that nobody else did. Ginny had opened the Chamber of Secrets in her first year and nearly killed lots of little mudbloods.
And, now, Bridget was going to tell everyone.
"I can't do this anymore," Bridget muttered one evening in the common room.
"What do you mean, Bridge?" her sister, Constance, asked her faux-curiously. Bridget and Constance had planned this all out during the Easter holidays.
Bridget looked down at the floor. "I can't be friends with a monster."
Constance stared at her, her eyes wide. "What on earth are you talking about?" she asked.
"Her!" Bridget exclaimed, pointing at Ginny.
"Bridget, I don't-" Ginny tried.
"You opened the Chamber of Secrets!" Bridget shouted across the room. She delighted in the look on Ginny's little face, her eyes open wide and her mouth parted. She looked perfectly horrified. And then, the most perfect thing happened. Harry Potter came over. Bridget had expected the Weasley brothers, but this was so much better.
"Voldemort opened the Chamber," Harry growled. Ginny put her hand on his arm.
"Oh, here he is!" Bridget shouted hysterically. "Come to protect your little harlot?" she questioned mockingly. Ginny was shaking. "Your death eater slut?" she said, enunciating every word. "Look at her hand on your arm, calming you, protecting you. Aren't you just sickening?"
"She isn't a death eater," Harry ground out and Bridget cackled.
"But she is a slut?" Bridget laughed at the venom in Harry's glare. "Do you not think we all notice? When you sneak down to the common room, Ginny? I followed you once," Bridget chuckled. "I saw you and him, in the common room," she said, gesturing dismissively to Harry.
Like Bridget had wanted, a large crowd had drawn to listen to them, including the Weasley brothers. "What is she talking about, Harry?" Ron asked. Bridget smirked.
"When did it start, Potter? When you covered for her after the Chamber? Was she so grateful? I guess she spread her legs and you just couldn't say no. And 'Voldemort'? Voldemort is dead, Potter," Bridget 'informed' him. "She," Bridget gestured to Ginny, "opened the Chamber of Secrets and nearly killed Hermione, Colin, Penelope, Justin," Bridget listed off.
"Voldemort possessed Ginny. She lost control of her actions. She didn't have a choice," Harry emphasised. Ginny paled beside him and Bridget smirked.
"Oh, you are protective of her, Potter. You'd think she was your girlfriend," Bridget teased. "Is she? I mean, she must be a good fuck because look at the state of her. Who would go out with a girl with no tits, tatty clothes and a face covered in freckles? And the state of her hair! Bright orange and always stuffed up in a ponytail. Oh, Potter, you must be desperate."
"Ginny is gorgeous and I'd rather someone who had no tits than someone who stuffs their bra with tissues," Harry shot at her. Bridget's nostrils flared.
"You know, Potter, Ginny went on about you for years. Harry this and Harry that. Harry's so kind. Harry's so nice. Harry's so handsome. Harry's so brave. She told me all about you. And when your bra broke? He bought you a new one didn't he, Gin? And he bought you some shoes and a new skirt and even a new wand," Bridget drawled and Ginny's face blanched. Her brothers' faces went bright red and Bridget revelled in it. "What did you do for it, Gin? Did you lie on your back and spread your legs? Did you let him do anything to you? Did you enjoy it?" she hissed at the end.
"Fuck off, Bridget," Ginny spat at her and Bridget cackled again. There was practically steam coming out of Potter's ears.
"You know, Gin, I think I will. I think I'll go to bed. I'll sleep better now that everybody knows about your murderous ways, your whorish ways. Oh, what will Mummy say? Night night," she said with a wink and swept up the stairs.
Ginny slouched down onto the sofa and the person sat on the other side shot up and ran upstairs. Harry stared at Ginny. She wasn't crying and he was proud of her for that. He took the seat of the boy who had run upstairs.
"Are you okay, Gin?" Harry asked tentatively.
"I'm fine, Harry," she told him harshly. "I don't need you to look after me."
Everyone in the room was staring at them and Harry narrowed his eyes at her. "Ginny, I was just sticking up for you!"
"I can fight my own battles, Harry! I'm not eleven anymore! If you'd have left well alone, the whole common room wouldn't be thinking that we'd shagged!" she shouted at him, standing up and gesturing wildly.
Harry's eyes flared. "I wanted to help, Ginny!"
"That's your problem, Harry. You always need to help, to butt in and save everyone. Well, maybe things are better when you don't!"
"Well, I don't know if you'd realised, Gin, but you'd be dead if I hadn't!"
"Oh fucking hell, Harry, are you going to hold that over me for the rest of my life? Are you going to demand something in ransom? Do you want me to spread my legs for you, like everyone in here thinks I already have?"
"Don't be stupid, Ginny," Harry snapped at her.
"Stupid, yep, that describes me quite well, doesn't it? Stupid Ginny, who wrote to a diary because she didn't know how to make any real friends. Stupid Ginny, who told a diary everything about her, everything about a stupid, arrogant, moody boy who she fancied herself in love with. Stupid Ginny, who didn't realise that it was possessing her. Stupid Ginny, whose best friend was a complete bitch and she knew that but she thought that they would be best friends forever. Stupid Ginny, who thought she could ever be normal again after she nearly killed people! Stupid, stupid, stupid Ginny. But it's okay, because at least everyone knows now, hey, Harry? They all know, now, so I don't need to pretend anymore. They all know, now, so I don't need to hide my nightmares. They all know, now, so I guess I don't need you anymore," she spat at him.
Harry scoffed at her. "You know, if you actually think that, Ginny, then you're more stupid than I thought," he told her and she barked a laugh.
"Go on, Harry, pray tell," she asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Because of course you need me, just like I need you! You are the only person in the entire world who gets me. You are the only person in the entire world who understands what it's like to have Voldemort in your head. You are the only person in the entire world who can calm me down after a nightmare, who can calm me down when I'm petrified, no pun intended. I need you and I know that you need me for the same reasons, you stupid girl! And, if that wasn't enough, Ginny, you are completely and utterly delusional if you think you are not the bravest person that I know. You had Voldemort in your head for a year, a full year and you fought him! When you were eleven years old, Ginny! You are the strongest and the bravest and the kindest and the cleverest and the most wonderful person I know and you are a moody cow who won't accept help from anyone because, the last time she did, he possessed her!" Harry screamed at her. Ginny gasped out loud.
"Oh, you are such a cunt, Harry, and you cannot talk at all! You don't let anybody touch you, you don't let anybody comfort you, you don't let anybody near you. You flinch if anybody touches you. You flinch if anybody talks about love. You flinch if somebody walks past you too fast. You aren't the only one who notices things, Harry Potter. I know you as well as you know me and you're fucking right. I do need you. I need you more than anybody on the planet because you are the only person who knows me for me, not the me that I was before Voldemort, before I did what I did. You know me, Harry, and you knew exactly what I needed," she said, slumping back down onto the couch and beginning to sob. Harry took her into his arms immediately and Fred and George began to clear the room, for which Ginny was grateful.
Ginny sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and Harry buried his face into her hair so that nobody would see the tears on his face. "I'm sorry," he chanted into her hair. "I'm so sorry, Gin," he told her and she repeated the same thing into his chest.
They didn't know how long they sat there for, huddled together and holding each other, but they were sure that they were just confirming the rumours about having slept together.
"We've cleared the room," they heard George say quietly, but the two continued to cling to each other. Eventually, Harry pulled away from Ginny and brushed the tears off her cheeks. Ginny chuckled and wiped her nose.
"Sorry," she whispered and Harry shook his head.
"What the fuck?" Ron burst and Ginny and Harry looked up at him.
"Ron, maybe we should leave them-"
"Leave them? Leave them? You're supposed to be my best friend!" he directed the last part of this at Harry. "You're supposed to be my best friend and you're what? Sleeping with my sister?"
"Ron," Harry said quietly, "Ginny and I aren't-"
"Aren't what?" he demanded angrily.
"We're not together! We're not sleeping together!" Harry shouted. "Ron, I have nightmares. You know I have nightmares. Ginny has nightmares. When I can't sleep, I go down to the common room and Ginny does the same and one night we both happened to be there and, so, whenever we can't sleep, we meet in the common room and we talk about our nightmares, about the things that caused our nightmares. I rely on her. She keeps me sane. She helps me to sleep. She – I dunno, Ron. She's my friend. She's like Hermione," Harry said, trying to get Ron to understand. Ron nodded slowly.
"So, she's not your girlfriend?" Harry shook his head emphatically. "Okay, so why did you buy her that stuff? Why would you buy her a bra?" he asked incredulously.
"Look, Ron, your mum, your whole family, has done so much for me and I wanted to do something back for them. And Ginny told me that her bra was too small and she needed a new one, so I offered to give her the money and she was just going to get one, and a really cheap one, so I told her that she could get whatever she wanted because I have all this money and I want to use it to help the people I care about. So, she bought that and then she told me her wand wasn't her own, so I got her her own, and her skirt was too short so I got her one of those too. I just wanted to help, Ron," Harry rambled. Ginny sat next to him with red eyes and red cheeks.
"Ginny, you know we don't accept charity," Fred said stiffly.
"How is this different from Harry giving you his Triwizard winnings?" Ginny snapped at him. "Harry knew I needed those things and he had the money and he offered and of course I said no originally but he wanted to help me. I was wearing a bra that was too small, painfully small," she told them.
"And how the hell did he find that out?" George asked harshly.
"I told him! I tell him everything!" Ginny screamed. "I am fed up of this inquisition. It's my life and I'll do whatever I want. Harry will do the same. You are not my keepers. Now, fuck off and go to bed. I'm going to sleep down here."
Harry crept down the stairs in his pyjamas, when Ron's snores had finally begun to reverberate around the tower. "Hey," he whispered and Ginny sat up. She was tucked up underneath a blanket. She lifted it up and allowed Harry to come and sit with her under the blanket. "How are you?" he asked her quietly.
"You mean now I've got no friends?" Ginny asked derisively.
"Hey, you've always got me," he reminded her and she nodded, leaning her head on his shoulder.
"I know," she said. "Harry, I'm petrified. After the Chamber, Dumbledore said not to tell anyone about it, because I could be arrested," she whispered. Harry looked at her sharply. "And I didn't for a while, but, then, I don't know. I was fed up of not talking about it. So, at the beginning of third year, I told Bridget and I never imagined that she'd do anything except support me. I thought she was my friend," Ginny whispered.
Harry shook his head. "Gin, do you think she would go to the ministry?" he asked.
Ginny shrugged, swiping at her eyes. "I don't know. I never thought she would tell anyone about the Chamber, but here we are. I don't think I know who she is, Harry."
"Whatever happens, everything is going to be okay. Whatever happens, Gin, I promise you, I'll look after you, whatever that means," he promised her, "and I know, I know, you're your own person and you don't need me to look after you but I will nonetheless." Ginny nodded, looking down at her hands. "And, also, I want you to know that you're not stupid and, whatever that stupid bitch says, whatever anyone says, the Chamber was not your fault." Seeing that she was about to protest, Harry continued, "Ginny, you had the most powerful dark wizard in your head, telling you what to do, controlling your every action, and you survived."
"Only because of you," she interrupted and Harry shook his head.
"Yeah, Gin, at the end, that was me, but for an entire year you fought Riddle all on your own," he told her. "You're incredible and you are so far from stupid. I'm so sorry," he begged her, taking her hands in his. She smiled down at their hands and Harry pulled one hand away to wipe a tear from her face.
"I'm sorry too, Harry. The things I said about you, about affection. Merlin, I called you a cunt," Ginny laughed at herself and Harry laughed too.
"I was being one, really, Gin," he said quietly. Ginny shook her head.
"You were looking after me and that's what we do, you and me. We look after each other," she reminded him and he grinned at her. She grinned back and pushed his glasses up his face. It was then that he noticed just how close they were sat together. He re-evaluated his earlier statement that she was gorgeous – she was so much more than gorgeous.
"Harry," she muttered and then he kissed her chastely, on the lips. He pulled back and looked into her eyes. She smiled at him and leaned forward again. He kissed her properly then, like he'd seen people do in films, and it felt incredible. His first kiss and he was pretty sure that, if it was his only one ever, he'd be okay with that.
But then reality kicked in. And he pulled back, horrified. He'd just promised Ron that they weren't together, and here he was kissing her? He stood up and stared at her, mouth agog. She looked heartbroken and his heart tore, but he was too much of a coward. He ran upstairs, away from the beautiful sister of his best friend.
The next morning, Harry had a morning quidditch practise and Angelina was drilling them. He'd just left his early morning detention with Umbridge and his hand was killing. Red and bloody, the words "I must not tell lies" were etched into his skin. He had a feeling they would be permanent. She'd let him go early, Umbridge, and Harry had no idea why. It wasn't like her, but Harry was hardly going to complain.
It was when Harry was walking back to Hogwarts with Ron that Harry noticed the minister speaking with Dumbledore. Harry and Ron shared a look, but moved onwards, until they saw Ginny, being led by two aurors. Harry was running for her straight away, Ron not far behind. Dumbledore saw the two of them coming.
"Potter," Fudge said discontentedly. "I knew you'd be related to this somehow." Dumbledore gave Harry an almost imperceptible shake of his head, but Harry wasn't having it. He was fed up of Dumbledore's lack of protection. This wasn't about him anymore; this was about Ginny. And he'd promised to look after her. Even if that meant Azkaban or death. He was going to save her. She wouldn't survive Azkaban. She'd spend every day being tormented by Tom Riddle and her inner demons and he wasn't going to let that happen.
"Minister!" another auror cried from the door of Hogwarts. The two aurors with Ginny looked up and Harry met her eyes. He nodded at her and then turned to Ron. "It's Umbridge!" Dumbledore and Fudge walked closer to this auror. "She's dead!"
"What?" the two leaders said incredulously.
"Estimated time of death was eleven o'clock this morning," the auror informed them. Harry took a sharp intake of breath. That was about five minutes after he'd left his detention with her. He saw Dumbledore look at him and Harry suddenly knew he wasn't safe, that this whole thing had been planned. His wand was in his hand. He was going to use this distraction to get Ginny and run.
Harry didn't take the time to note his reaction because he sent a bombarda spell at the aurors next to Ginny. It sent the three of them flying and he ran to grab Ginny, sending two stupefy spells at the aurors. Fudge had barely gotten his wand out at this point, but the other auror was sending spells after them. Harry felt a spell hit his arm and slice open the skin there, but he didn't care. He continued to run, through the grand doors and up the first staircase. It turned as they reached the top and he grinned. Perfect timing, Hogwarts. It was as if the castle was on his side. They ran past Professor McGonagall and she screamed after them. Harry turned at the end of the corridor and shook his head at her. She gave him a curt nod and took out her wand.
Harry and Ginny ran, Ron on their tail, through passageways and up secret staircases, never being more thankful for the marauders and their knowledge passed on through the map. They reached the common room and blurted out the password. Once in there, they stopped and caught their breath. They weren't safe, but they had a second. "I'll meet you in my dormitory in two minutes, Gin. Just grab what you need," he instructed her and she nodded.
"Fred, George, Hermione," Harry panted, pointing upstairs. They followed him dutifully and he gave them a quick rundown on their events. They voiced their outrage, but Harry quickly told them they didn't have time. "We have to go, me and Ginny," he informed them.
"What?" they all said incredulously.
"They're going to arrest us if we don't. We'll come back when we're cleared. You have to stay and keep teaching the DA," Harry instructed them as he threw the most important things he had into his bag, his broom still in his hand from practise and his invisibility cloak in the other.
"Harry," Hermione sobbed and he took her into his arms, allowing her to sob into his shoulder. He met eyes with Ron over her shoulder.
Fred and George looked grimly at Harry and promised that they'd do all they could to help them out of the castle by distracting the aurors. At this point, Ginny arrived, a backpack slung over her shoulders. She sobbed at the sight of her brothers and the three of them engulfed her into a hug. Harry hugged Hermione as fiercely as the three Weasley brothers hugged their sister, but they had to pull away eventually.
"Tell Mum and Dad that we'll be back, one day, whether it's in a week or a year. Tell them all I love them," she sobbed to her brothers. "Tell Bill and Charlie and- and tell Percy, when he figures it out," she begged them and they each nodded. In the corner of the room, Harry was clinging to Hermione, who was sobbing heavily into his shoulder.
Ginny wiped her eyes and looked over to Harry. "Harry," she whispered and he nodded, pulling away from Hermione. Hermione nodded at him and squeezed his hands. Harry grabbed his bag and pulled Ron in for a quick, rough hug.
"Look after her," Ron instructed him gruffly. Harry nodded gravely.
"Look after her," Harry said, nodding towards Hermione, "and you look after him."
The two of them nodded. "We'll see you soon. I promise," Harry swore, before taking Ginny's hand and fleeing the room.