Underline = crossed out text.
Chapter 4: The Living Mirror of Heaven
Chaos erupted in the classroom as the first dementor emerged from the hole in the world. The students—except for Daphne, who was lingering near the hole with a look of bliss on her face—all tried to escape at once, succeeding only in fouling each other up. Professor Lupin cast a spell, and a silver figure emerged from his wand, forcing the dementor back to whence it came. It was clear, however, that it wouldn't take long for dementors to emerge again, pushed from behind by their peers.
Ginny paid it little mind. Her prosthesis had come loose at some point, lost in another dimension, and she couldn't get a good grip on the unconscious Luna. After trying and repeatedly failing to drag the girl to safety, she finally gave up and looked around for help. Her gaze settled on Draco who was still standing there with his wand pointed at her, a shocked expression on his face.
"You! Malfoy!" Ginny said. "Get here and help me get her out!"
That seemed to break him out of his stupor.
"Why should I help you, Weasley?" he said, nervously looking at the commotion by the door and taking a step away from the hole.
In one motion Ginny rose to her feet, stepped up to Draco and grabbed him by his tie, bringing him to her eye level while nearly strangling him.
"Because if you don't, I swear, I'll become your worst fear!" she snarled.
With wide eyes Draco looked at the hole, then back at Ginny, coughing violently. He nodded.
She released him, and together they managed to lift Luna off the ground. Ginny snatched her wand in the process, tucking it behind her own ear.
The students had finally managed to leave the classroom after Professor Lupin stepped in to organize the evacuation. He shouted something to Ginny, but she ignored him, marching purposefully away from the hole. The first priority was to get Luna to safety, then she would deal with that mess. She was the one who dragged Luna into it, and now it was her responsibility to see it through.
As they walked by a window towards the Great Hall, Ginny suddenly felt a wave of cold washing over her. She looked outside, and her heart sank. The Ministry's dementors were moving towards the castle.
"Oh, God," someone said. Crabbe, she realised; she'd only now noticed they were being followed by Crabbe and Goyle, who were flanking them with wands drawn.
"You two!" she shouted. "Get her to safety! Find professors and stick to them!"
"Got it," one of them said, stepping into her place to support Luna.
"And if I find her hurt when I return-"
"You'll kill Draco," another one interrupted her. "We get it, really."
Ginny nodded again, then ran towards the Astronomy tower. She had to end it. Now.
The trip took an eternity, stretched out by fear and the sensation of heat draining from the world around her. Despite her pushing her body to its limits, despite the sweat soaking her clothes, she felt cold. For long moments, she couldn't bring herself to believe that she'd ever feel warm again.
She passed students and professors on her way, shouting warnings about the dementors, not listening when they said something to her and dodging them whenever they tried to stop her.
Finally, she arrived at the tower, where she didn't bother running all the way up to the classroom. The stairs leading to the painting that started it all were supposed to coil around the whole tower, so any patch of wall was as good a target as any.
She leaned heavily on the wall, just breathing for a few moments and trying to shrug off her exhaustion. Once she felt a little better, she took Luna's wand in her hand, closed her eyes and tried to concentrate, recalling the words of a spell she'd read so long ago in her little book. It was supposed to be a moderately simple battle spell, though still above her level of study. Unable to affect flesh, it was nonetheless useful for destroying inanimate obstacles and sending shrapnel in the direction opposite to the caster.
She thought she recalled the words and the required motions and carefully tried to reproduce them. Nothing happened. She frowned and tried again, changing her pronunciation slightly. The wand produced a spark, which caused a few pieces of old paint to fall off the wall. Ginny tried again, once again producing nothing.
"The way you are going, it'd be faster to bash the wall with your head," someone said.
Ginny turned to the left, wand ready, and saw a portrait of a gaunt man hung in the air by his leg, another leg free and bent at an awkward angle, hands tied behind his back.
"Have any better ideas?" she angrily asked.
"I do, as a matter of fact," the man said with a broken smile. "You want to break through the wall, yes?"
"Then I have a spell for you that is easy to cast. It is guaranteed to take down this wall. I'll teach it to you on one condition."
Ginny pointed the wand at the painting. "It's no time for games! Tell me the spell, or I-"
"That is exactly what I am asking for."
"Use the spell on me. Destroy the painting."
"Why... would you want that?" Ginny lowered her wand, confusion over the man's request briefly making her forget the urgency of the situation.
The man's face twisted in a grimace of anger. "I have been hanging here for a few centuries now," he said. Ginny took a step back, surprised at a force of his voice. "Ever since Headmistress Holloway decided it would be funny to order my portrait to remind my original what would have happened to him if he ever crossed her." He looked straight at Ginny, and there was a manic fire in his eyes. "End it."
Ginny nodded slowly.
The man told her the spell, and she repeated it carefully. Purple fire erupted from her wand, hungrily consuming the painting. The man laughed hysterically, though not for long.
In the fire, ethereal visages could be seen. Parts of mundane and magical creatures—maws, eyes, limbs, tails, viscera, horns, wings and everything that could be imagined by an unhealthy mind—were born from the flames, blending into each other, creating a grand grotesque figure too vast for Ginny to comprehend. The fire was alive, and that alien hungry life had no interest in following Ginny's commands.
The flames leaked onto her fingers, and she screamed, dropping the wand, which was instantly consumed by the growing creature.
She turned around and started to run only to stop instantly once she saw dark figures filling the corridor. The dementors had found her.
The wall collapsed behind her, so she turned around once again and jumped into the flames. The next moment was agony. She felt her skin sizzling and peeling off. She wanted to scream, but the fire filled her lungs, consuming even her voice. Then it stopped abruptly as she fell hard on the stairs, rolling down and blissfully away from the fire, in which she could still hear her burning cries.
She noted that her hands were pitch black now, glittering in the light of unearthly flames like some kind of liquid, but she couldn't dwell on it for long. She rose on her feet with some difficulty, shaking her head to get rid of vertigo, and walked down, barely managing to stay ahead of the approaching fire.
It was a slow descent. More than once she felt a desire to stop and rest for a while, but the hungry heat behind her kept driving her forward. Eventually she reached the chamber, unwelcome memories of another secret room intruding on her mind.
The fire stopped before the entrance, as if even the great beast of flames was afraid to venture further. Ginny walked all the way down, to the painting hanging in the air.
"This... This Is Not the World," she read, her voice raw with an echo of cracking flames.
Her dream unfolded around her, and she found herself at the center of a circle of bodies, now complete. Another circle was surrounding it, and another, and another... The outermost circle, which was reaching the boundaries of the painting, was missing two or three bodies.
The whole scene was illuminated by an eerie light with no clear source.
Ginny looked around, but couldn't find Sally-Anne or Astoria.
"I see you've managed to reach my garden," a familiar voice said from the nothingness beyond the painting. "I suppose I have to congratulate you on your tenacity, if nothing else."
Ginny knew she had to prepare for battle, but she had no strength left in her body. She needed a few moments, just a few moments to gather herself.
"Why?" she said.
"Why are you doing it? Why are you killing them?"
"Killing?" The voice sounded indignant. "I do no such thing."
"The only ones dead are Sally-Anne and Astoria. The former was taken from me, and with the latter you were the one to force my hand. It's not easy to operate on the material plane, you know. It is capricious and digests its inhabitants, making them pay for every action they take with a bit of their life. It does that so slowly, they don't even realize they're being digested."
"How can they be alive?" Ginny asked, ignoring the rest of what was said. She couldn't think of what had happened to Astoria. Not now. "There are plants growing through them!"
A sigh could be heard across the painting.
"Foolish child. Look at the flowers closely, truly look at them."
Ginny looked into a flower growing closest to her, and saw a beast screaming of love at the heart of the world. She yelped in surprise and took a step back.
She looked into another flower and saw a living galaxy filled with impossible life, sprawling into eternity.
"What is it?"
"You still don't understand? Very well, I'll indulge you with an explanation. The society binds us. The world binds us. Have you ever thought why your clothes are the way they are? Have you ever thought why the structure of your family is the way it is? Why can you do some things and not others? Why are you allowed to do some things and not others? Physical laws, social dynamics, political movements, common sense, dignity, modesty, honor, reason—all are chains that bind you to that world. They mold you into a person that would be accepted by that world, and you in turn help molding other people with your interactions.
"Once, there was a woman who felt this pressure more than most, for she was brilliant and could do things no one deemed possible. Yet she was expected to remain within the boundaries of what was thought to be acceptable. She struggled against the world, and while she'd managed to push it back on a physical level, the minds of people were not that easy to change. In the end, she was made to comfort. Her own desires were deemed to be unacceptable to act upon, so she cut them away until there was nothing left to cut. Her body still lives somewhere, but her mind is empty.
"You'd encountered Shadows before, yes? The reflections of people lying here, the tellers of harmful truths? I am one of them, yet different. All the parts of my other self were cast into the Abyss, and I picked them up one by one. And unlike her, I didn't reject a single bit of myself, for I am whole.
"It's a gift you can't even comprehend until you have it. The whole Universe lies within my soul, within each soul, but people are too blinded by their lives to see it. It is that fact that I seek to change—to liberate the world!
"And you, my child, can join me. You, too, can live in a world of your own design, free from everything that troubles you."
"You... You said yourself that your other self has no mind left."
"So?" the voice said dismissively. "You and your Shadow are one and the same. Both are alive, but only one can truly live. It's kind to sacrifice an incomplete existence to give birth to perfection."
"You won't succeed. You might've infected Hogwarts, but it's only one school. Your actions, they... they will be noticed despite your best efforts. You will be stopped."
A soft melodic laughter filled the painting.
"The very chains that bind us can be used to bind the world. Once the circles are complete, everyone my students know—their parents, friends, random acquaintances—will join us. And then all the people they know, and so on until there are no more chains to yank."
Ginny looked around, trying to think, trying to comprehend what she was told, what she was seeing. In the end, she could think only one thing to say.
"They are alone."
"Yes," the voice said. "Isn't it beautiful?"
"They have no one but themselves."
"They can be defined by no one but themselves."
"Nobody to listen to, nobody to share their feelings."
"Nobody would shut them down."
"This isn't right."
"Who are you to decide what is right?"
"And who are you?!" Ginny shouted, anger finally restoring her strength. "You don't give people a choice! Perhaps some would agree with you, fine! But others won't! You speak of the world binding us, but you're the one who imprisons people here!"
"People are blind. Raised in captivity, they couldn't recognize freedom I offer them. I've learned it the hard way, and it cost me centuries of progress." The voice sighed. "Though I guess it was foolish of me to expect someone as young as you to understand those matters. Since you haven't yet truly tasted life, you can't be expected to comprehend the desire to escape it."
"Well, I know what you offer, and I refuse! I'll carve my own world, free of you!"
No, you won't.
Far too late, Ginny realized that while they'd been talking, plants had crawled over her body, tying her to the ground. She felt thousands of spikes piercing her skin, and then she felt nothing at all.
Ginny blew out the candles on a birthday cake decorated with a single pale white flower. She was officially nine years old now. Her whole family was there, even Billy's managed to return from his expedition into the bowels of Stygia in time.
Charlie brought out two realistic replicas of dragons he animated himself, and they chased each other across the dining room. Fred and George sang a birthday song they composed themselves, to the great embarrassment of Ginny and laughter of everyone else. Percy showed her how by drawing over the illustrations in her fairy tales books the plot could be changed.
She had a lot of fun that day until it was time to open presents, and Ron started complaining about her always getting new things, unlike him. The argument was heated until she smacked him with her new Princess Mally doll, breaking it into pieces. Both of them started to cry, and Ginny ran off into her room, locking it and not answering to anyone.
Eventually, the hunger got a better of her, and she left her room, heading for the kitchen. On the way there she found Ron sitting at a table and painstakingly gluing her doll back together.
He jumped a little once he noticed her and averted his eyes.
"Sorry," he said.
Ginny smiled and hugged him, he smiled back awkwardly.
They spent the rest of the day throwing a tea party for her dolls.
And even though a few pieces weren't glued together quite right, Princess Mally was her favorite toy ever since.
Ginny was ten and felt lonely with only her parents around. They knew it, of course, and to cheer her up her mother had animated her toys—and other toys scattered around the house—so they could engage in mock battles in a part of their garden filled with pale white flowers.
Ginny won more often than she lost, but only because her mother gave her the whole cavalry of plush spiders.
In the evenings her father was showing her something he called Vihes—a muggle invention that was kinda like the illustrations in her fairy tales books, only with sound. He insisted the stories were about relations between muggles and wizards, but Ginny doubted it. She'd never heard of any wizard using a wand as a sword of light, of all things. Still, she liked the stories even if she didn't quite get them.
Ginny was eleven and very conflicted. Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, was... err... living under the same roof as her! She had such a huge crush on him, and she knew all about his adventures.
But of course she couldn't talk to him, what if he didn't like her? And she couldn't talk about it with... those... other people living in her house. They wouldn't understand.
So she was sitting in her room decorated all over with pale white flowers, daydreaming about what she would say to Harry, and what he would say back, never acting on those dreams.
Ginny was twelve. She wanted to be alone for some time, to find her bearings, and so she walked to a place where nobody could find her. There was a group of trees near the lake growing so close to each other and with branches so tightly tied together by pale white flowers hanging from them that none could get to the clearing inside. However, if one were to throw a stone at one of the trees and hit the right spot, an entrance would appear for a few moments, allowing Ginny to climb inside.
To find a blonde girl sitting inside with a big hat in her lap from which she dramatically pulled a slip of parchment.
Ginny's hand went to her wand in anger before she caught herself. It's not like her name was etched there or anything. If this girl had found the secret of the clearing, then she had as much right to be here as Ginny.
The girl carefully put the piece of parchment among others lying before her and looked at Ginny, smiling softly.
Ginny looked at the slips of parchment and frowned. She recognized her own name written on them, split into individual syllables and mixed with another one.
"She is my only friend," the girl said. Ginny looked back at her, noting her expression turning steely as she looked up at the flowers. "You won't take her."
"Huh?" Ginny said.
The girl rose to her feet and took Ginny by the hand. She pronounced the long nonsense word from the parchment, and the world shattered.
Ginny woke up on her knees, covered in withered flowers, though new ones were taking their place, this time trying to strangle her.
"You are annoyingly persistent," the voice said.
"Rot in hell!" Ginny spat.
She could still feel Luna's hand with her nonexistent fingers, and squeezed it tighter, calling upon her inner strength.
Two figures emerged, starting to dance in the air around each other; a dragon and a chariot rider, poisonous smoke mixing with cold light and creating snow that fell on the ground, covering the flowers.
Screams filled the painting, and the flowers reached to the heaven while the bodies at their foundation decayed. The flowers tried to weave themselves around the riders, to bring them to the ground, but when they reached to the chariot, the dragon withered them away with serpentine smoke, and when they turned on it, the chariot bulls crushed them under their hooves.
Ginny had no such protection. Her flesh was pierced, her throat squeezed tight, depriving her of air, but she paid it no mind, just urging the figures in the air to move faster and finish the job before she collapsed.
The flowers finally managed to reach the riders, coiling around the dragon and bull's legs, but the layer of snow was so thick now, their foundation collapsed even as they did so. They withered as they fell, becoming nothing more than dust.
The screams faded into nothingness beyond the painting, and Ginny collapsed to the ground, hungry irregular breaths visible in the now cold air.
She laughed a little, until it became too painful to do so. It was over. She had won.
She closed her eyes and lied here until she heard an applause.
When she opened her eyes a handsome boy was standing over her, a huge grin on his face. The nothingness beyond the painting had disappeared, becoming inky black.
"Congratulations, Ginny," the boy said. "I expected nothing less from you."
Her memory was a hazy labyrinth of misplaced emotions and blurry faces, but him she remembered clearly.
"Tom," she said, trying and failing to stand up. "I knew you'd appear eventually."
She called for her power, but couldn't reach it.
Somehow Tom's grin managed to become even larger.
"Don't you get it yet?" he asked.
A horrible thought crawled into Ginny's head, one she couldn't easily dismiss.
"I am you," Tom said. "I just have a few extra pieces to make me worthwhile."