Like A Sentence Of Death
Chapter One: Like A Sentence Of Death...
Hidden deep within the Department of Mysteries, behind a door that was locked to all but a handful of wizards and witches, were a series of chambers in which the mysteries of love itself were studied; studied, but never fully understood. It was, after all, recognized that love was the purest and most powerful form of magic... so powerful, in fact, that the normally magically-blind Muggles felt its effects and could, in their crude manner, generate and manipulate the magic of love in some small way.
Behind the locked door, down a long hallway, if one were to pass the Chamber of Madrigals, and the Court of the Dancing Fellowship, past the majestic Throne of Desire Itself, one would come to the Chamber of Soul Stones.
The room was large. Along its walls were pedestals of rose marble. Evenly spaced along the long, curving wall, these pedestals each supported a large book. Most of the books were closed, and next to the closed books always lay a Soul Stone. No stone accompanied the small handful of open books, for these Stones were still out among the world, slowly being passed from one wizard or witch to their one true love, or being handed down from generation to generation until such time as someone took up their family's Soul Stone heirloom and braved it's anger by gifting it to their lover.
The Soul Stones were not artifacts to be used lightly. Most scholars who studied such matters believed, above any other evidence, that Soul Stones were tangible proof of the power of love. They were not trifles to be passed as one passed more common tokens of affection. They could not be given, nor received, by lovers if either heart were anything but truly, madly, deeply in love with the other. To even attempt such an act courted the anger of the Stones, and brought on punishments better left unmentioned.
No, they weren't passed from one to another lightly at all. For most of the Soul Stones, this meant that their accompanying book, in which the names of the giver and receiver of a Stone were recorded automatically and without error, was covered in dust. The Stone of Songs, for example, had last been given to Darius Black by his true love, Artemis Horne, in July of 1422, while the Dragon Stone hadn't been passed since the year 950.
What made one Stone, the Stone of Burning Bright, unusual was the sheer number of times it had been passed. The book that recorded the giving and receiving of this stone was dust free. At first glance it looked as if the Stone of Burning Bright had been tossed willy-nilly, hither and yon, but this was not the truth... for the book only recorded true love. In every case... almost twelve exchanges over the last two-hundred and fifty years, averaging once every twenty years or so... the transfer had been accomplished perfectly.
The last entry in the Book of Burning Bright said Given by Harry James Potter to Ginevra Molly Weasley, August 11, 1999.
No more and no less, it was the function of a Soul Stone to protect and continue and insure the existence of true love. Between hearts that were true, the passing of a Soul Stone from one to another created a purity of feeling that perpetuated the lovers' devotion to one another in perpetuity. The bond between the giver and the receiver was stronger than any other known.
It transcended such petty matters as life or death...
Her parents and siblings always treated her with kindness and care, even when they couldn't keep the pity or (on rare occasions) disgust off of their faces. For her part, Ginny Weasley never seemed to notice the difference. For the most part, Ginny didn't seem to notice anything. She did, however, spend most of her day staring into the space in front of her.
She wasn't truly catatonic. If pulled up from the antique, padded wheelchair in which she spent most of her time, Ginny could stand on her own without falling. If a bit of food was placed in her mouth, she'd chew and swallow. She'd even speak if the right thing was said within her hearing range... though what she said almost never had anything to do with what was going on around her.
Once, when he was seven, her nephew Hugo stood next to her for almost twenty minutes, staring at her blank face. After twenty minutes or so, he asked, "Aunt Ginny, are you sad?" Before he could be rushed away by his father, Ginny had turned to look at him.
This had surprised everyone in the room so much that Ron hadn't, in fact, scooped up his son and hustled him away. Thus, Hugo got an answer. Ginny blinked, rather deliberately. The she had smiled at him. There had been other smiles over the years, but they seemed to come and go at random and never lasted long.
"Harry will be back soon," she said. "Everything will be fine once he gets here. You'll see." And with that, Ginny turned her attention back to the empty space in front of her. Hugo, for his part, didn't notice the shudder Ginny's words caused in his father.
Later on, the boy would ask Ron who Harry was, anyway. "He was a friend of your Aunt Ginny's, Hugo. He was your Aunt Ginny's special friend." It shocked Hugo to realize that his Dad... his Dad who was strong, and fierce, and who caught bad guys and was afraid of nothing except maybe spiders, but that was okay because so was Hugo... his big, tough Dad who would always watch out for him... was about to cry. "He died a long time ago, Hugo. There was a bad wizard and Harry... Harry was a bit like an Auror... it was his job to stop the bad wizard and protect everybody... Well, he stopped the bad wizard, but when he did it, Harry got really hurt. He was hurt so bad that the Healers couldn't fix it, and he died."
"Just like Grandma Molly?" Hugo remembered his grand-mother's funeral, which had occurred a month before, very well. He hadn't enjoyed it very much, and thinking about his Grandma made his tummy hurt for some reason.
"Yeah..." Ron wiped his eyes. "Just like Grandma Molly."
Hugo put his finger to his lips and tapped it there for a moment. It was a mannerism he picked up from his mother; she would perform the same action when thinking over a problem. "Dad... is my middle name... was I named... after...?"
His father had just nodded. "Yeah... Harry was one of my best mates. Not a day goes by I don't miss him, son. He was a great friend and a great man, and you should be honored to carry his name."
Hugo was quiet, thinking about it. "Daddy, was Harry Aunt Ginny's boyfriend or something?"
Ron nodded. No one would ever accuse his kids of being dumb; not with their mother. "Yeah, he was." Hugo had given his father a big hug and had gone off to bed, thinking about the secret knowledge he had gained that night. For a seven year old, he thought he'd actually figured Aunt Ginny out. She was sad because her special boyfriend had died like Grandma Molly, and now was in a box in a hole in the ground. It was almost like a secret... a secret that his sister Rose, and his older cousins... which meant all of them, since he was the baby of the family, didn't know.
His older cousins sometimes made jokes about Aunt Ginny when no one else was around. Victoire and Fred, the two oldest of the cousins, would sometimes be asked to 'babysit' their Aunt Ginny, a job they treated like a chore. But Hugo understood now. Aunt Ginny was just very sad.
The next time he was over at Grandpa Arthur's, Hugo made a point of seeking out his Aunt Ginny. He made sure none of the adults were in the room; when he was sure they weren't paying attention, Hugo climbed up into Ginny's lap and snuggled against her. In response she wrapped her arms around him and held him gently.
When his mother found him on Ginny's lap, asleep, she was at first horrified; then confused; then, at last, touched. Hugo slept in the crook of Ginny's arm, and Ginny gently stroked his back. Deciding he wasn't hurting her, or vice-versa, Hermione left Hugo sleeping in Ginny's embrace. For her part, Ginny never once looked away from the far point in space she stared at, and never made a sound.
It was the first real interaction Ginny had, other than the purely functional, in almost fifteen years.
The exact strength and power of the various Soul Stones had never been precisely measured. Most scholars who studied them believed the Stones actually grew in power the longer they were in contact with a loving soul, and the more souls with which they were in contact. Because of this, the Stone of Burning Bright was, generally speaking, assumed to be the most powerful of all the Soul Stones, with its nearest competitor being the Stone of Songs. Of course, the exact strength of the two stones was completely unknown. But there had been some interesting speculations.
It cannot be said that the Soul Stones were truly intelligent, as Wizarding portraits were; nor were they semi-sapient in the same manner as Wizarding chess sets or talking mirrors. There was no directing intelligence when it came to a Stone detecting a false love, or going to extremes in order to protect and insure the continuation of a great love.
In addition, to every possible test ever devised by the Unspeakables of the Department of Mysteries, Soul Stones were some of the most inert objects ever discovered. They simply did not exist, as far as most of the commonly-known magical tests were concerned. This, of course, was nonsense... the Soul Stones existed, but they seemed to be magically undetectable to spells that tried to pinpoint their activities, or their exact powers. The Books of the Stones were, and remain to this day, the single exception.
The mystery of the Soul Stones was thusly one that Wizarding-kind had studied, nearly fruitlessly, for thousands of years.
June 1, 2020
When Hugo Weasley got home, the first thing he did was drag his things up to his room. Having stowed away the artifacts of the past year at school, he got a drink of water and went looking for his Aunt Ginny, who had moved in with his family upon the death of his Grandpa Arthur. He'd only just started at Hogwarts that year, and was looking forward to talking to her about it. Before he'd started school, he would always spend a part of each day talking. He'd tell her about his friends, and the games he played, and his fears and his worries.
Admittedly, Ginny might not be the best talker in the world, but as a listener she was the best. And, at least to Hugo, it seemed to brighten her day some just to be included. And besides, he never knew when she'd actually talk to him. It had happened several times again since he was seven. Generally, she said the same sorts of things; that Harry would be here soon and when he did everything would be okay. She tended to say this in response to just about everything, but he'd stopped caring a while ago.
He dragged a chair over (having long ago outgrown her lap), took one of her hands in his, and smiled at her. "Hello, Aunt Ginny," Hugo began. He paused, thinking. "I'm sorry I haven't been here to talk to you. I had to go away to school."
He looked through the window in front of which Ginny had been placed. He could see his Grammy-Jane... his mother's mother, digging around with a tool of some sort. She, too, lived with Hugo's family. Hugo smiled and waved, then turned back to his Aunt.
"I rode on the train with the cousins... I mean, except Victoire and Fred, of course, because they're already left... but I guess you knew that. I met Hagrid, and the boat ride was wicked! And the castle looks all spooky and fantastic in the dark. And when the Sorting Hat was put on me it yelled 'Gryffindor' almost as soon as it touched my head! And the food was... Aunt Ginny?"
As he had been speaking, she had slowly turned her head to stare at him. Only she wasn't just staring at nothing anymore, she was staring at HIM. And the expression on her face... he couldn't tell if she was angry or frightened or both.
"H-Hog... Hogwarts... Hogwarts..." She was barely able to get the words out. "The cas-castle!" Before he could recover from the shock of hearing her speak, Ginny had grabbed him by the hand. She was squeezing, and it began to hurt. "You're... you're going... going to Hogwarts..." She stammered.
"MOM! DAD!" Hugo yelled. "HELP! THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH AUNT GINNY!"
"No... No no no no no no no...." Ginny was getting frantic "... you can't go to Hogwarts! Not you too! You can't go you can't go you can't go.... Not to that place... not to where he...!" Ginny gasped and let Hugo's wrist go.
Hermione and Ron ran into the room just in time to see Ginny collapse back into her chair. Her eyes were wide... not the vacant stare she had kept for twenty years, but the terrified look of an animal that's been trapped and knows it soon will be killed and eaten. Tears poured from her eyes. Both of Ginny's hands were covering her mouth, but everyone in the room could hear the deep sobbing.
Jane Granger hurried into the room, and was visibly shocked by the noise that she had heard all the way outside. "What's going on? Is someone hurt?" When she saw Ginny, she put a hand to her heart and backed up a step. "Is she...?" She looked the question at Hermione, who shrugged.
From the staircase, Hugo's sister Rose appeared, looking terrified that something bad had happened. "What's going on? Who's yelling?"
Her mother waved her to silence. Hermione turned to her son. "Hugo! What happened?"
"I don't know, Mum... I was just telling Aunt Ginny about my year at Hogwarts and she went all... well... look!" Hugo gestured toward where his Aunt was crying. She'd never cried before. Not for as long as he knew her. "She told me I shouldn't be going to Hogwarts!"
Hermione looked shocked and confused. "She told you? She actually spoke to you and it made sense?"
Ron frowned at his wife. He took a deep breath and approached his sister. "Ginny?" He put a hand on her shoulder and knelt beside her. "Gin? It's Ron... Are you okay?"
Ginny flinched at the physical contact, but the crying slowed down. She took a series of deep breaths. "Oh God, Ron... Ron... he's not coming... he's not coming! He's gone!" She turned, almost falling out of the chair. Ginny pulled herself to her older brother and cried into his chest.
Hugo, feeling protective of his Aunt Ginny, and feeling guilty that what he said might have started all of this, stroked his aunt's back. It wasn't much, but it was the only thing that occurred to him. The boy looked at his mother, but it was obvious even to an almost-twelve year old that Hermione was barely holding it together.
After what seemed like an eternity, Ginny pushed back from Ron, looking around in confusion. "I don't... Ron? I think I need to..." she tried to climb to her feet, but years of doing nothing but sitting had ruined her balance and weakened her legs.
Effortlessly, Ron picked her up. "Where are we going, Gin? Where do you need to go?"
"Bathroom," she whispered. "I think I'm going to be sick..."
"Right," Ron said. He looked to his daughter and jerked his head to the side. "Clear the way, Rosie..." He climbed the stairs as carefully as he could, all the while trying to be reassuring to his sister. She seemed, finally, to come out of wherever it was she had been trapped for the past two decades. In the bathroom, he put her down next to the toilet and stood, watching.
Ginny grimaced as she lowered herself onto the tile. "I'll be fine, Ron... really... Ron? What happened? You look... old..."
Ron snorted. "Yeah, sis... we all do these days. Are you going to be okay?"
"I think so... maybe it's going to pass... I don't feel so much like throwing up right now..." Ginny looked around. "How'd I get here, Ron? This isn't the Burrow... where's Mum and Dad?"
Ron looked heartsick. "We can talk about that later. Is there anything you need me to get you right now?"
Ginny shook her head. Her eyes landed on the bathtub. She studied it for a moment, and then turned to her brother. "I think I want a hot soak... can I take a bath, Ron? Is that all right?"
"Um... a bath? Sure, Ginny. Hold on." Ron stepped past her and turned the water on. He tapped it twice with his wand, bringing the water temperature up to a nice warm, but not scalding, level. He tucked his wand into his back pocket. "There you go, Ginny... um... let me help you up."
Ginny allowed Ron to pull her to her feet, and even allowed him to undress her. She realized, somehow, that this wasn't the first time he'd done it, after all. Without warning, Ginny pulled her brother into a tight embrace.
Ron jumped. While he appreciated the fact that his baby sister seemed to be active and at least approaching normal, and while he loved the thought of her hugging him like this, being hugged by his absolutely stark naked baby sister was a little too... wrong... for him to be comfortable with.
"Thank you for taking care of me, Ron. I love you," she said at last. "Tell Hermione I love her, too."
Ron nodded, a bit confused. "Okay, Ginny... I'll see you when you're done. Hermione'll bring you some clean clothes. Then we'll get some dinner, okay? Whatever you want..."
"Okay. Thanks." She watched her brother leave, her eyes filling with tears. When he closed the door behind him, she quietly locked the door. She climbed into the tub, contemplating the object in her hand: Ron's wand, taken from his back pocket during the hug. Ginny lay back in the tub, submerging as far as she could in the hot water. She was crying freely now, as the last twenty years spent mourning washed over her like waves on a beach. "Not like this... it can't be like this..."
Downstairs, the adults talked in quiet, whispered tones, trying to not let the children hear how worried they were. The children huddled together in another room, doing their level best to come to terms with what happened. In this, Hugo was actually better off than his sister, having spent so much time with his Aunt.
The quick flash of sickly green light was visible only from outside of the house. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, there was no one there to see it...
Right before he left to hunt the Horcruxes created by Tom Riddle, Harry had given the ring to Ginny, his one true love. It had been his mother's engagement ring, he had told her. She had gasped at that, her eyes asking him silently if he meant that as it sounded. He nodded to her, and told her of his intentions to marry her when he returned. He asked if she... and she said yes. Before her eyes, the inscription on the ring had changed.
Harry and Ginevra, Always.
The Stone of Burning Bright, which has been set into this ring by Harry's great-great-grandfather, now lay on the dressing table in Ginny's room. When Harry Potter had been killed outside the gates of Hogwarts, the stone had gathered up the torn remnants of the boy's soul that had lingered... it now did the same to the soul of Ginny Weasley. The power of the Stone wrapped itself around these remnants, combining them into one shining whole. There was a flash of white light, and the ring was gone, taking the Stone with it. The power of the stone, dedicated as it was to the protection and continuation of true love, followed the last wishes of its bearer.
The Stone left no trace of where it had been, or where it was going. Far away, in the Chamber of Soul Stones, a book closed forever...
One thing that was known about relationships that were overseen by a Soul Stone was their permanence, and their parity. The people involved were together, with no thought for another, for their entire lives. When one died, the other would never long survive. In the famous case of Nicholas Flamel, who gave the Stone of Roses to Perenelle de Clarmonde in 1380, Perenelle survived the death of her husband (in 1992) by only three days, passing away in her sleep peacefully.
The exception to this rule, as was true in so many cases when dealing with the Soul Stones, was the Stone of Burning Bright. Its last recipient, Ginevra Weasley, survived the death of her soul mate, Harry Potter, for just over 21 years before her own death. Scholars note, however, that as she spent most of that time in a catatonic or near-catatonic state, she shouldn't necessarily be counted as an exception at all...
July 18, 1992. 7:02 am
Ginny sat up suddenly, rubbing her eyes. There had been a voice... it had been calling her. Nervously, Ginny looked around her bedroom, but no one was there. She crawled out of bed and checked her door, but it was closed tight. So was her window.
It must have been just a dream, then, Ginny thought to herself. It had started out as a Harry Potter dream, but then it had changed... a beautiful woman had appeared, and she looked so sad. She had long, bright red hair, and chocolate eyes. When she spoke to Ginny, she said things that didn't make a lot of sense. The exact words the woman had said were already fading from memory, but that was okay. It was something about love and destiny... strange things like that...
Ginny sat back on her bed and stretched. As she yawned, she saw the ring.
The ring was laying on top of her quilt, glinting in the morning sunlight. It was a very bright silver color, with a rather large blue-white diamond that seemed to shine with a light all its own. And it seemed to be calling her...
Ginny picked the ring up and studied it. It was just a ring... a diamond ring. It's pretty, she thought. Then her eyes fell on the inscription. Harry and Ginevra, Always. Ginny immediately blushed from her hair to her toes. The twins are pranking me. But she wasn't sure. This didn't feel like a prank. She stared at the ring for a long while. Without thinking about it, she slipped the ring on over her left ring-finger.
The connection closed. Ginny collapsed unconscious as the power of the Stone of Burning Bright poured into her. She was only out for a moment, and when she opened her eyes, Ginny knew that everything had changed. She was supposed to stop something from happening. She wasn't sure what; or how; or why, for that matter. One thing she was certain of... I have to convince Fred, George, and Ron to rescue Harry from his horrid relatives now, before Dobby had a chance to get him in trouble.
It occurred to her to wonder for a moment just who Dobby was supposed to be. Someone important, she was sure... but she couldn't quite... Ginny shrugged. It will come to me, or it won't. Either way...
Ginny could just barely hear her mother begin to shuffle around in the kitchen, and decided that this was as good a time as any to get dressed and start her day. She'd talk to her brothers after breakfast. They'd help her out... she just knew it.
In the Chamber of Soul Stones, Lawrence Lowdly (who, it should be pointed out, had always taken some enjoyment from being called Unspeakable Lowdly) paused in his study of the Stone of Dragons, which had come into ministry possession back in 1744. He turned in time to watch the quill next to the Book of Burning Bright record the passage of the Stone of Burning Bright from one person to another.
He felt so absolutely giddy he almost fainted. No Unspeakable had ever witnessed the recording of a transfer before, and yet here he was, large as life, and had just watched it happen! He rushed over to the book to see who had given the stone to whom.
Given by Harry Potter to Ginevra Molly Weasley, July 18, 1992.
The names caught his attention. The Boy-Who-Lived had given a Soul Stone to his true love? Lowdly did some quick math in his head... Harry Potter can't be more than twelve or thirteen years old! How could he possibly hand out a Soul Stone? He shook his head and laughed. "Boy survived a Killing Curse, and you're wondering how he could be old enough to find a soul mate at age thirteen. Someone here needs a vacation..." Lowdly laughed at himself. "Still... thirteen is a bit young to be getting married..."
"And Weasley... Weasley... there's a Weasley in Misuse of Muggle Artifacts. Wonder if he's related." Unspeakable Lowdly headed for the door. "He should be getting in soon... so let's ask him, Lawrence me-lad..."
As the Unspeakable exited the Chamber of Soul Stones, he thought of another register, this one recording magical weddings. He wondered how that office was taking the sudden appearance of the Boy-Who-Lived on their rolls...