Ginny kissed her daughter goodnight and made her way down the gloomy upstairs corridor toward the staircase. As usual, she avoided looking directly at the line of stuffed house-elf heads along the walls. She much preferred the cottage at Godric’s Hollow to this mausoleum. She and Harry had improved Twelve Grimmauld Place immeasurably in the sixteen years of their marriage, but it still had an edgy feel to it: little pockets of darkness that persisted in the face of cleansing spells and new paint. The stuffed elves had resisted removal, even though the derelict family tree tapestry had finally been pried and charmed off the drawing room wall and the portrait of Mrs. Black in the front hall had been tamed with threats and blandishments so that she no longer cursed their guests. Still the elf-heads stubbornly remained. Besides, Kreacher liked seeing his ancestors there on the wall.
Ginny started down the stairs, huffing a little at the thought of Kreacher and his territorial attitudes. It was not that she objected to having all the housework done and the regular, delectable meals served like clockwork. Let Hermione occupy her free time with reform schemes; to a pureblood like Ginny, the system of house-elf servitude seemed perfectly normal. Not that the Weasleys had ever had house-elves—except for Mum and me, she thought, with a thread of bitterness as thin but pervasive as the drop of wormwood in a Firewhisky Sour.
Two steps from the bottom she stopped, caught by the tone of Harry’s voice coming from the room the family used as a parlour. It wasn’t loud, or sharp, but something in it held a thrum of urgency she’d heard once before. She had been coming down the cellar steps at Godric’s Hollow while they were still reconstructing the house. Harry had turned to her from below and spoken only her name, but in a tone that moved her instincts and her Seeker’s reflexes to turn and snatch three-year-old Lily as she started to fall over the side to the stone-flagged floor below. She’d done it without thinking, without even realizing what she’d done till it was over. Now, hearing that note in Harry’s voice again brought her to his side with no recollection of any of the steps in between.
He was sitting on the hearthrug, but the person who’d been fire-calling him had disappeared. One hand was over his eyes, the other held his glasses so tightly the frames threatened to snap. She crouched beside him, hand on his shoulder. “Harry?”
He dropped his hand and turned to look at her. His face was mottled as though he’d been crying, though his eyes were dry and there was a look in them—of panic and despair and crushing responsibility—that she hadn’t seen there since the days after the fall of Voldemort, when in the midst of the victory celebrations all he could hear was the suffering of the wounded and the weeping of mourners. Her heart gave a lurch. “The boys?” she whispered. “My parents?”
He pressed her hand with his free one. “No, no,” he said, “no one in the family. Everyone’s… everyone is fine.” Then, “That was Minerva. Professor Snape is dying.”
Ginny felt a wave of cold as the blood sank out of her face. She forced herself not to clutch his shoulder as she said carefully, “Harry, Snape—Professor Snape,” (it had always been “Professor” for him since the war, even in the midst of his nightmares, as though to make up for the years he’d denied the man his title) “he’s… Harry, he’s been dead for years. He died in the Shrieking Shack, you told me about it, remember? Listen, love, Hannah Abbot told you to call on her if you started having problems again. Let me owl her for an appointment—”
“No, you don’t understand. I mean, he’s alive. He’s been alive all this time. Well, of course he has, he hasn’t risen from the… Ginny, we never went back for his body, I never went back, and by the time I thought to ask he was—”
“You had a few other things on your mind at the time, if you’ll remember—”
“Minerva said they’ve had him in some cottage in Scotland since the war, recovering from the snake bite first, then meeting secretly with Ministry representatives to clear him of murdering Dumbledore and mop up the Death Eater stuff, and they’ve been trying for years to get him to let them start—what was the word she used?—‘reintegrating’ him when this happened.”
She stared at him, trying to make sense of the spate of information and to reconcile it with the anguish on his face. Guilt, yes, guilt went with being Harry Potter, she was used to that, but fear? “You said he was dying, though?”
He dropped his forehead onto her breast. “It’s so stupid, Ginny, so bloody random and stupid, after all he’s been through. He came up to London to get his potions license renewed at the Ministry and some drunken Muggle in a lorry ploughed into a crowd at a zebra crossing. Everyone else jumped out of the way, but Professor Snape—I suppose he’s slower than he was, maybe preoccupied—he was hit full on and they don’t expect him to survive.” His voice had a reedy note of fear she’d hoped never to hear there again.
He rose to his feet and started to pace, picking up objects at random and putting them down again, pulling aside the window curtains and dropping them again without looking out, tripping on a footstool and stumbling on as though he hadn’t seen it.
Ginny stood up and felt her muscles and her mind knit into a unified focus, the familiar crisis mode that took over when in the last minutes of a game the Snitch was in view and her opponent hadn’t seen it yet, or when she had to keep her father from disintegrating in the wake of Fred’s death, or when young James was failing at Potions and tried to refuse to go back to Hogwarts. “Where is he, St. Mungo’s?” she asked briskly.
“What? No, they Apparated him to Hogwarts; Minerva insisted, and suspended the wards to bring him in. Where are you going?”
“Aberforth will give us a room at the Hogs Head, I’m sure. Kreacher can bring us a bag there. I was just going to ask Nigellus’s portrait to let Minerva know we’re on our way, and I’ll Floo Lily to the Burrow.”
“But—your game, we were supposed to see the Harpies tonight, and you were looking forward to—”
“For Merlin’s sake, Harry, I’m not even their manager any more. They’ll do fine without us there. You need to be at Hogwarts, and I need to be with you.”