Once upon a time there was a little red-headed girl, the youngest of her family, and she grew up listening to stories of castles and dragons, pixies and princes. Astonishing as it may seem, she also lived in a world where most of these things existed. When she was old enough, she went off to school in a castle as her brothers had before her. Her older brother, Charlie, actually tamed dragons. Pixies were something you learned how to subdue at school. The only thing that didn’t turn out to be real was the prince, for she was fated to love a skinny boy with messy hair and bad eyesight. When she first met this boy, she put her elbow in the butter dish…
It was odd to think of himself as if he were part of a fairy tale, Harry mused as he continued to recite the story. He could say it from memory now. The ritual had become a nightly one, but one Harry had come to appreciate. The pale girl lay listening, he was sure, even though her eyes were already closed. He did this for her every night, out of love. She had to know the story.
As the tale went on, Harry struggled to hold off the end for as long as he could. He wanted to linger over the light parts, the happy parts, and they were few enough. But his mind had other ideas. As ever, it leaped ahead to the end….
Focus. The spell would require more focus than anything ever had in his life. Concentrating on a happy thought to produce his first Patronus was nothing compared to this. He might have been standing alone for all the attention he paid to the battle raging around him. The screams and explosions reached his ears, but he could not allow his brain to register them. Nor could he afford to let the jets of wand-light catch his eye. He refused to acknowledge the acrid smell of burning that reached his nostrils. Nothing could distract him now. He’d just have to trust to fate that a stray killing curse didn’t hit him by accident.
He raised his eyes to the dark-robed skeletal figure in front of him. His enemy. Harry was now grown to his full height, but still his enemy overtopped him. He couldn’t allow that to intimidate him, though. This wasn’t a battle whose outcome would be determined by physical prowess or simple advantages of reach or weight.
It would be a matter of mental strength.
Already Harry felt he was at an advantage in this regard. He’d had to search out Voldemort on the edges of the battle. The Dark Lord was commanding his minions from the back of the lines. Could he have failed so far in his quest for immortality so that he was afraid of the killing curse himself?
Harry didn’t know, and in the end it wouldn’t be the ability to cast an unforgivable that would decide which of them would be victorious this day. He’d trained long and hard to use another means, and he wasn’t about to throw that away now.
Sweat broke out on his face, in spite of the lingering cold of the day, as he stretched his wand out in front of him.
Immediately Harry braced himself for the pain he knew would come on entering Voldemort’s mind. He’d practised throwing off the sensation, purposefully subjecting himself to the Cruciatus Curse, until he was able to wrest his brain’s attention from his tortured nerve endings and ignore their pleas for respite. But this was far worse than any unforgivable curse. Still his training had taught him to endure, and he was able to reduce the pain little by little. Soon he felt nothing.
Nothing but the immense hatred in the Dark Lord’s mind. This, too, he had prepared for, until he could cast the sensation aside. There was only one thing left for him to do now. He reached out with his thoughts until his body was nothing but a husk left standing in front of Voldemort.
He was part of the Dark Lord’s mind now, and he sensed surprise and confusion. As Harry’s superiors had predicted, Voldemort had not expected this. Harry knew he had little time before his enemy recovered and began to repel him. He had to act now.
Concentrating harder than he ever had in his life, he began to channel his memories into the Dark Lord’s mind. He began with Sirius, knowing from personal experience that his love for his godfather was enough to drive his enemy from his own mind.
Voldemort recoiled from the alien feelings, and Harry’s courage was bolstered. This might actually work. Next Harry thought of Hagrid, Remus, Dumbledore, Mr and Mrs Weasley, anyone who had shown him the meaning of love. Neville, Luna, Parvati and Lavender, Seamus and Dean, anyone who had ever been a friend.
Hermione and Ron, his closest friends.
Voldemort was slipping away. Harry had to get out of here soon or risk being swept up in the emotional storm that was now pounding his enemy’s brain. But if he left too soon, Voldemort would merely be weakened and not completely destroyed.
And Harry must destroy him or be destroyed. There was no other way.
Harry remained, thinking about Ginny, how the girl he’d first seen over seven years ago on the platform in King’s Cross had come to mean so much to him. It had started out slowly, evolving from awkwardness, to friendship, to something deeper still. Harry had never known anything like Ginny’s love, and that love was the Dark Lord’s undoing.
A terrible scream went up. Even from inside Voldemort’s head, Harry could hear it, and he realised that it was coming from Voldemort himself. The Dark Lord was clutching his head and thrashing about in utter agony.
Not knowing if he’d waited too long, Harry pulled back into himself. He could no longer see. The blackness was weighing him down, and he knew no more.
When next he opened his eyes, Harry did not know how long he’d lain unconscious. It was still daylight but everything around him seemed to be draped in a fog that muffled sound. Great black banners of smoke hung over the field. Bodies lay around him. He tried to raise his head to see if he could identify any of the black-robed figures strewn about, but a searing pain cut across his scar, and he passed out once more.
The next thing Harry saw were Ron and Hermione’s concerned faces hovering above his bed in the hospital wing. For a moment he thought he’d been magically transported back to another year, back to before he’d left school, but then he remembered that the battle had taken place in Hogsmeade and had spread to Hogwarts grounds themselves. The hospital wing had been the nearest spot to tend the wounded. Both of Ron and Hermione sported cuts and bruises, badges of the battle. Hermione’s arm was in a sling, while a large swath of Ron’s hair looked as if it had been burned away.
But they were both alive. Or was it Harry who was dead, along with everyone else?
If this was death, it didn’t matter to Harry as long as he was with his friends. Both of them looked so worried, he attempted to smile.
“Harry, mate, how are you doing?”
Ron was still Ron, at any rate. “I’ve been better,” Harry replied, surprised at how weak he sounded. His voice was barely a cracked whisper.
“Should I get Madam Pomfrey? Do you hurt anywhere?”
Hermione hadn’t changed either. The thought was a comforting one. “I hurt all over,” Harry admitted, “but don’t send for Madam Pomfrey just yet. She has a way of making things worse before they get better.”
No one said anything for a few moments, and Harry felt uncomfortable. It was as if his friends were waiting for something terrible to happen. “What’s the matter with the two of you?” Harry asked at last.
“Nothing,” both of them replied at once, and far too quickly. A cold feeling of dread began to swirl in the pit of his stomach. There’d been battle, after all. People were certain to have died.
“Who is it?” Harry asked suspiciously.
Hermione bit her lip, and Ron looked at the floor. Before either of them could answer, he knew.
“It’s Ginny, isn’t it?” He sat up in bed, ignoring the appeals of his aching muscles, when neither of them answered immediately. “Isn’t it?” Harry insisted.
Hermione could only nod. Her eyes were brimming. Ron continued to stare at the floor. And Harry, not for the first time in his life, felt utterly alone. “Is she dead then?” he asked, wanting to get the worst over with as soon as possible.
Ron looked up then. Harry had never seen him with tears in his eyes before. “She’s not dead. It’s worse.”
Harry and Ginny had their first adventure together the same year they met, when Ginny became possessed by the memory of the Dark Lord after writing in an enchanted diary that had preserved his sixteen-year-old self. Under Tom Riddle’s influence, she unleashed a Basilisk on the school. At the end of the year, Tom took Ginny herself prisoner and held her as bait to lure out Harry. But Harry fought the Basilisk and saved Ginny’s life, not because he returned any of the feelings Ginny so obviously bore for him then. He was only twelve years old, after all. Liking girls was the last thing on his mind. But the Weasleys were the best family he knew, and even then he wouldn’t have been able to bear their sadness at losing one of their member.
After that, Harry went on to have other adventures with his friends and unfortunately didn’t pay very much attention to Ginny during that time. He was still too young to see what was right in front of his face. If Ginny’s feelings were hurt by this, she didn’t let it show, at least not very often. Sometimes Harry could be an insensitive prat, though, and would mention things like being turned down by the girl he’d wanted to take to the Yule Ball in front of Ginny. She let her disappointment show then. But she got her revenge as well. She came back from the Yule Ball having met her first boyfriend, while Harry spent the entire time sulking over Cho Chang.
The year after the ball, Ginny went on another of Harry’s adventures. Along with their friends Ron, Hermione, Neville and Luna, they rode on Thestrals from their school in Scotland to the Ministry of Magic in London to rescue Harry’s godfather, Sirius. Harry had heard that Sirius was being held hostage in the Department of Mysteries, but this turned out the be a deception to lure Harry away from school. The Dark Lord himself was there, as well as his minions, the Death Eaters. Harry and his friends escaped, but Sirius was killed in the fighting.
And this, in a way, became the beginning of a new adventure for Harry and Ginny. Not an adventure where they went places and did brave deeds. It was a journey, but not one where they rode on brooms or even Thestrals to reach their destination. It was at this point that Ginny showed Harry what a good friend she could be. And perhaps in time, she might even come to mean even more to him than that.
That is what happened in the end, but the road they travelled together wasn’t straight or easy. Harry, at the end of his fifth year, was going on sixteen and was full of grief and anger over what had happened to Sirius. He’d spent the previous year passing from one dark mood to the next, but his godfather’s death made matters all the worse.
She was asleep the first time he went to see her. Lying behind flowered privacy curtains on the fourth floor of St Mungo’s, she looked like a child rather than a young woman of eighteen. Staring at her red hair standing out in stark contrast to the white pillow case, Harry thought of Neville’s mother and how life on this ward had changed her. One day Harry expected to come here and find that Ginny’s hair had gone white, wispy and dead like Mrs Longbottom’s. Enough days without sun and her freckles would fade, as well. She’d just waste away here until she was indistinguishable from the sheets, unmoving, unknowing, spirit gone forever.
For she had suffered the same fate as Mrs Longbottom. Ron had seen her throw herself in front of a Death Eater who had aimed his wand at an unheedful Harry. Harry had been so completely focussed on the defeat of the Dark Lord – perhaps by then he’d already left his body and gone into Voldemort’s mind – that he’d never even known the danger. Ron himself hadn’t been aware of the exact nature of the curse at first. He’d been too busy fighting his own contingent of Death Eaters.
It was only later, Ron’s enemies vanquished, that he noticed Ginny still under the influence of the curse, writhing in agony on the ground. Even as Ron dispensed with the caster of the curse, he’d seen Ginny’s eyes open, staring blankly at her surroundings.
This is the mind of Ginny Weasley, broken for you.
Harry had no idea where that thought had come from. The words seemed vaguely familiar, if not quite right, but he couldn’t place them. In any case, he was overcome with the urge to weep. He didn’t deserve her sacrifice.
Sitting down in a chair that stood at her bedside, Harry took her hand and tried to call to her, while silent tears slipped down his cheeks. His voice broke, and the back of his throat began to ache. It felt full, full of something that would take a loud cry to let escape.
He couldn’t allow himself to act on the impulse, but he wanted to scream, “WHY?” Why had she thrown herself in front of that curse for him. He could have taken it. He’d been practising putting off the pain in preparation for dealing with Voldemort. It would have been like another training session.
Another voice in his mind argued that dealing with the Cruciatus Curse and Voldemort at the same time would have been too much. He, Harry, would have been the one to die.
He let out a sob even as he pushed that thought away. He still wanted to believe that it could have been all right. Somehow.
A movement under his fingers made him raise his gaze to Ginny’s face. Her eyes were open, full of a wild fear that wasn’t quite human. In that instant, she began to scream.
Ginny’s mother was of a mind to let Harry deal with Sirius’ death in his own manner. Ginny didn’t agree with this course of action, especially when Harry’s moods caused him to lash out unfairly at whoever happened to be around. More often than not, this was her brother Ron and their friend Hermione. But Ginny took it all in and decided it wasn’t right. While Harry might be having a rough time of things, it was no excuse for him to behave badly, and she decided she was going to teach him a lesson.
Harry had done the unthinkable and yelled at Ginny’s mother, Mrs Weasley, who was kind enough to let Harry stay at their house for part of the summer. Mrs Weasley barely reacted at the time, but Harry later discovered that his outburst had made Mrs Weasley cry. He knew this because Ginny had been the one to tell him. She also let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he was an incredible git of the highest order.
In reality, she put things a bit more crudely than that, which resulted in Harry and Ginny having a row. All the curses and jinxes they’d practised as members of Dumbledore’s Army were put to creative use. Ginny taught Harry three things that day: that he was indeed acting like an idiot, that Ginny wasn’t a good person to have hacked off with him, and that she wouldn’t hesitate to tell him where to get off. He apologised to Mrs Weasley and to everyone else for his behaviour, and from that day on, he and Ginny became closer friends.
But once they got back to school, that friendship began to turn into something deeper. The change might have occurred when Quidditch tryouts were held to fill out the Gryffindor team. Ginny, as she’d intended the year before, went for one of the Chaser openings. Watching her perform intricate moves with the other players, Harry saw her go into a dangerous-looking dive. His heart leapt into his throat as she pulled out at the last possible moment. Hovering near the ground, she looked straight at him and grinned, as if to say, “I got that from watching you.”
Harry’s stomach did an odd sort of flip – it was similar to feelings Cho Chang had aroused in him in the past, and yet not – and he wondered how her brothers could let her do anything so dangerous as play Quidditch.
As the year went on, Ginny seemed to be everywhere – in the common room at night doing homework at the same table, flashing him a smile across the crowded corridor between lessons, sitting with him at dinner. Even though they were still just friends, that odd lurch in Harry’s stomach became a constant companion. He’d long since lost count of the things she did to cause it. Something as ordinary as her hand on his arm could make it happen, or simply the way she’d sit and listen if he needed to talk, or the way her eyes lit up when she spotted him.
By the end of the year, he couldn’t stand it any more. He was prepared to take the ultimate leap of faith and ask her to Hogsmeade, when instead fate intervened and another adventure involving the clash of good and evil ensued. Harry preferred not to dwell on it. It merely represented more senseless loss to him. Dumbledore and Hagrid were both gone, and he was being sent back, broken just that much more, to stay with his aunt and uncle.
Saying goodbye at King’s Cross was going to be hard, but he steeled himself to do what he had to. It wasn’t as if they’d never see each other again, after all; not like others. The passing crowd jostled Ginny, and she stumbled forward into Harry’s arms. His stomach flipped, as she looked up at him and Harry saw her do something he hadn’t seen her do in a very long time.
Writing letters to her that summer was both easy and awkward. Harry took heart from the fact that Ginny’s replies seemed to mirror his confused feelings. They were dancing around each other, Harry realised, circling in a slow inward spiral that would eventually end with them meeting in its centre.
Outside, the world was growing darker. With Dumbledore gone, it seemed as if the wizarding world had nothing left to do but wait until Voldemort overtook them all. The Order had lost its leader, and while the Ministry was now co-operating in the effort against Voldemort, the future was still uncertain. Death Eater attacks rose in number, as their opponents floundered about without a strategy.
Harry knew it was all useless, in any case. Because of the prophecy, it had always fallen onto him to defeat Voldemort, and he still had a year of school left. He returned to Hogwarts subdued, wondering how the world could possibly hold out. He wasn’t ready to take on the Dark Lord – that much was plain – but as things stood, it would be a matter of time until Voldemort sought Harry out.
With circumstances as they were, it was natural for friends to turn to each other for solace. And that’s what happened between him and Ginny. Discussing their fears for the future became almost second-nature, and so did holding each other in mutual comfort. Harry couldn’t even have said which one of them had initiated their first kiss. It evolved out of their worries and need for each other, but once their lips touched for the first time, they both recognised their futures were tied together. Whatever the outcome of the war, Ginny would be at Harry’s side.
His final year ended and another summer passed, and he still had no idea what he could do against Voldemort. He began Auror training, while Ginny went back to school. Being separated from Harry was a wrench, and even if her studies kept her busy, she still had time to miss him. Sharing her worries with Luna wasn’t quite the same thing. From Harry’s letters, she learned that Harry was missing her just as much, in spite of the rigours of Auror training.
Harry’s training took up most of the following year, and it was almost as if Voldemort was waiting for him to become a worthy opponent. On an unseasonably chilly day in June of Ginny’s final year at Hogwarts, he attacked. Voldemort must have known that any threat to Ginny would draw Harry out, and so he attacked the village of Hogsmeade. Harry, having spent the previous months training especially for this confrontation spent the night before the battle at the school. Arranging for Ginny to meet with him, they spent that last night together, reaffirming a love that had long since been declared between them, and hoping against hope that this wouldn’t be their only chance to experience true intimacy.
Every day he visited her, and every day she screamed when she saw him. According to Mrs Weasley, Ginny didn’t even react to anybody else. She just lay there, staring blankly into space. In a moment of desperation, Harry attempted to use Legilimency on her. Entering her mind, he saw that there was nothing there. Nothing at all. Voldemort’s mind had been full of evil, corruption and treachery.
Ginny’s mind was like a slate wiped completely clean.
Not knowing what else to do in the beginning, Harry would desperately cast silencing spells around Ginny’s bed so as not to disturb the other inmates of the ward. Bracing himself, he’d take her hand. She never pulled away from his touch, but she never stopped screaming until she’d exhausted herself.
He didn’t know what made him start talking to her. It just happened one day. Perhaps it was a way of tuning out the shrieking; it certainly gave him something different to focus on. Or maybe, somewhere in his consciousness, he wanted to begin writing on that blank slate, and he wanted the writing to be his alone.
Neither did he ever understand quite where the fairy tale came from. It had simply evolved out of somewhere. In a way, it was easier for him to tell her about their relationship from the distance it afforded. If he let himself get too close, if he let himself feel too much, he would break down and wouldn’t be able to go on. And he had to go on, as much for himself as for her.
Over time, Ginny began screaming for shorter periods. The change wasn’t evident from day to day; it was more something that, when Harry considered it a few months on, he recognised its presence. He took hope from this, telling himself that his voice was soothing to her.
The Healers took a different view of the situation. According to them, Ginny was slowly weakening. Her lack of reaction to any other stimuli but Harry was evidence that she was slipping away. Eventually she would no longer react even to him.
Eventually she would slip away altogether and die.
Harry refused to believe it. The Healers were wrong. Neville’s parents had lived for years following their torture. There was no reason Ginny couldn’t do the same. She was young and strong. She might even get better. No one understood what was going on inside her head. All it would take was a miracle.
He pushed aside the thoughts of what her life might be like, a prisoner of her own mind, unable to recognise friends or loved-ones, unable to even feel anything but fear and pain. One day, he’d find the key, and he’d unlock her mind. He swore this to himself. He’d spent most of his life going on adventures. This was just another quest. Just like in a fairy tale, he’d become her prince and unlock her from the stronghold in which she was held.
And so he told the story, over and over. He never missed a day. And he told her the truth in that story, or almost. The only part he ever changed was the end. At the end of the story, she always came out of her madness and knew him. Then they’d walk hand in hand towards their future to live happily ever after. Wasn’t that their right, after all the anguish both had lived through?
And even that much might still come true, if Harry wanted it badly enough. Or so he kept telling himself.
The day came when even Harry knew he was lying to himself, but still he kept visiting. Still he told the story in hope that… He didn’t even know what he was hoping for anymore. Tonight was just one more in an endless line of evenings spent at her side. Ginny no longer screamed, but she no longer did anything at all.
As Harry came to the end of the tale, the part where fantasy and reality diverged, he felt the cool hand in his move at last. His heart began to pound and he looked up, dumbstruck, into Ginny’s face. Her eyes were open, and she was looking at him. Her fingers pushed them themselves through the empty spaces between his to clasp his hand.
They squeezed, and he couldn’t look away. For the briefest of moments, something flashed through her eyes. Was it recognition? Harry couldn’t say, for her expression changed once again into one of unmitigated sadness.
Her eyes closed again, and she let out a long breath. Harry couldn’t move. He did not know how long he sat there holding her still hand. Utter silence fell in the room, a silence so complete it was deafening.
An indeterminate amount of time passed before Harry realised there was a problem. Something was missing. Something to do with sound. And then it struck him.
He could no longer hear Ginny’s breathing. Shocked, he stared at her chest. It was no longer rising and falling.
And then he knew.
That brief instant of recognition was all he was ever going to get.