A/N: This story is a sequel to pick it up, pick it all up and start again and takes up right after the epilogue of The Changeling in Ginny's seventh year at Hogwarts. Special thanks to Bethany and TimeShifter and Sorcerer's Muse for the betas and encouragement and making this story better.
You're on an aeroplane right now. Flying around in one of those Muggle contraptions I've only ever read about and peered up at as they pass overhead. It seems unreal. But then again, I imagine a lot of things in my life would seem unreal to a Muggle. I hope you and Hermione are keeping Ron from panicking too much or loudly asking stupid questions. It's a shame it never occurred to him to take Muggle Studies.
We're going to go into Diagon Alley to get my school things tomorrow. Which means soon enough it will be time for the Hogwarts Express. I imagine it speeding me back to a place I'm honestly not sure I ever want to see again. It freezes me up sometimes, thinking about it. But then I tamp it down and give myself a stern talking-to, not to let my fear stop me. I'm going back because I choose to, and because no one can take Hogwarts away from us. They tried, and I'm going to prove that they didn't win.
I'm going to prove a lot of things.
Ron was too terrified to make a scene. I can't pretend to have been much better. It's just…really far up. And kinda shaky and I'd much rather be on my broom, to feel like I could control it all at least. It's a long time to be stuck in a metal tube. Very glad to have it behind me.
Still it's kinda weird to think that I'm halfway around the world from you. Things here aren't that different. Not really. Everyone speaks English, and there is the same odd mix of wizards hiding in Muggle space. But then I'll see something just weird enough to remind me that I'm in a completely different place (like the things they spread on toast or the animals that seem put together wrong).
They have Aurors assigned to me even though the local Ministry tries to pretend there aren't. It's stupid if you ask me. Not that anyone has. They don't seem any more likely to listen to me than our own Ministry. Most people here have no idea who I am. It's nice. But also weird, and sometimes I wonder if that makes me exactly the arrogant berk Professor Snape always accused me of being.
I came down to breakfast the first morning at Hogwarts, and everything was different. The house tables were just gone. Instead there were small round tables everywhere, fitting six to eight people. One long buffet ran along each side and everyone had to get up to fill their plates. (Tobias loves complaining about the inconvenience, of course. He's a war hero, he likes to remind people.) But the part that was so unexpected, so wonderful, was that everyone walked around and talked and sat in different places and no one thought 'House'. No one sticking to 'only their own kind' (whatever that may be). It felt right.
It's strange, traveling again. I mean, I spent half a year living in a tent with Ron and Hermione so it should be more normal than anything else, really. We're still just as lost, most days. Still have no clear idea how to achieve our goal. Only it doesn't feel the same this time. And not just because we're staying in proper homes and hotels most of the time. Not even because we aren't being hunted anymore. Everything is different now, but mostly Ron and Hermione. You know, them . Together.
Don't get me wrong. I'm happy for them, I really am. It's just, it feels like for the first time they've gone somewhere I can't follow. Ugh. That sounds stupid. I should probably just scratch that out, but I promised myself when I started writing you that I wouldn't edit myself, wouldn't rewrite and consider every word fifty times. No matter how dumb I sound. Because if I start that, I think I'd never get a single word down.
I miss Smita. I mean, I understand why she didn't come back. Lots of people haven't and I can't blame them for that. After all, I nearly didn't come back myself.
Smita and I weren't even as close that last year as we had been, but she's been my best friend since I was eleven, even before I realized she was my friend. But now she's gone, and it isn't the same kind of hole left by people who are never coming back. She's fine, she's happy. She just isn't here. Even so, Tobias and I still can't even speak her name. I thought maybe he still hadn't forgiven me, feeling it was my fault she left in the first place, but I think maybe he just can't forgive himself, even if I'm not sure for what.
Smita would remind us both that her choices are her own and to stop being such melodramatic prats.
Writing that brought a smile to my face. She'd want me to hold on to that.
I never thought it would take this long to find Hermione's parents. I mean, I know I said probably months rather than weeks, but I didn't think it would be weeks and weeks without even the tiniest bit of progress. Hermione reminds us that even the elimination of likely locations from our list is progress, but I thought we'd have something concrete by this point. Not that I've actually told her that. She followed me around with very little progress and much higher risk, after all, so I definitely owe her.
All the same, Ron's patience is beginning to fray. You can imagine how it goes. "Bloody hell, Hermione, you couldn't have imprinted a specific address on your parents instead of an entire bloody continent?" "Don't be stupid, Ronald. What would be the point of sending them away if I knew where they were?" Ron actually goes silent then, and I know he's thinking about that day in Malfoy Manor. Just like I do. We both know why she did this.
I still can't get the sound of Hermione's screams out of my head. I wonder if I'll ever be able to.
They tend to disappear together for a while after that.
I'm beginning to wonder though, if Hermione isn't maybe dragging her feet a bit. I mean, how is she really supposed to undo what's been done? How do you even begin to explain any of this to people who don't even remember you exist? What if they can't forgive her?
I actually don't mind the delay all that much. You were right (of course). It's nice to be away for a while. It makes a lot of things easier. Sleeping. Just, you know, being, I guess.
Not that I don't miss you.
I definitely do.
I walked down the northern corridor the other day. You know the one I mean. I was on the way to class, moving fast, mind on something stupid like an essay or an upcoming test, and I turned the corner to find two first-years sitting in that exact spot playing Exploding Snap. For a moment everything slipped back in time and there was rubble and smoke and screams in the castle and when I came back to myself I was standing over the boys with rage in my heart. I could feel the words crawling up my throat, the demand to know how dare they and didn't they know? But of course they didn't know. They had no idea where they were or what happened there. Soon no one will unless I slap a giant plaque in place that will only be a constant reminder of shattering loss that still won't really mean anything. Still, the only thing that got me to finally walk away was Fred's voice in my head saying, "Leave them be, Gin." And I know, somehow, that a couple of silly, laughing boys is a much better legacy to Fred than a brass plaque could ever be.
We finally found them.
We sat on a bench, waiting for them to pass by and Hermione walked up to them, like someone asking for the time, and they just looked back at her with blank, polite faces. I don't know what any of us really expected; some bolt of recognition, some easy undoing. We all know how tricky memory charms can be.
She just let them walk away from her.
I can hear her now, in the next room.
I think part of her wonders if it would just be easier to leave them like this. Ignorant. Blissful. But this was never their choice. She can't walk away from that. We won't let her.
I think tomorrow—
"What is it with you and that bloody parchment?" Tobias asks.
Ginny glances up. "What?"
"You've always got your face attached to it," he says, trying to grab the edge of the letter.
She pulls it protectively into her chest. "I do not," she automatically defends.
Tobias rolls his eyes. "Fine. Cling to your illusions. Have you even started your Transfiguration essay?"
"Of course," she says, but it's another lie, because she may have forgotten all about that. She came straight back from dinner and back to her parchment.
"Let's see it then," he says, calling her bluff like the complete arsehole he is.
Ginny starts shoving her things into her bag. "You know, you used to be a lot more fun."
"You mean back when we were fighting a war?" he shoots back.
She flees to The Parlor, just for a little more breathing room. It's much quieter anyway, only Nicola and the twins ever down there.
Four sisters. That emptiness is just another problem, one she prefers not to think about. Rubbing at her forehead, she pulls Harry's letter out again, her shoulders relaxing as she skims the by-now very familiar handwriting.
She's barely found where she left off when Nicola sits down next to her. "Ginny?"
"What is it?" Ginny very nearly snaps, feeling strangely besieged from all sides.
Nicola shrinks back at her less than welcoming tone. "Never mind," she says, pushing back to her feet. "It's nothing."
Ginny sighs, pressing her fingers to her temple. "No, stop. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to take my mood out on you."
Nicola hesitates like she's trying to decide if she's sure she wants to risk it, and that just makes Ginny feel worse. Whatever she wants must be important though, because she sits down on the edge of the sofa.
"Nicola," Ginny says, carefully softening her voice. "What is it?"
Her fingers pluck at the frayed edge of her sleeve. "I was just wondering if you've noticed Gemma. The second-year?"
Ginny frowns, the name not meaning anything to her. She honestly isn't even sure she can conjure the faces of any of the second-years.
She looks back down at the letter in her hands. She'd really rather just keep reading. Rather just pen her response to Harry, pour her words out and then go to bed before facing yet another day in the castle.
With great difficulty, she rolls up the parchment and turns her attention to Nicola.
"Tell me about her."
The next afternoon Ginny wanders down to the greenhouses before Quidditch practice. Hannah is there, her apron dusted liberally with dirt and other various stains. Ginny's greeting dies in her throat as she notices Professor Sprout dozing in a nearby sunbeam, hands folded in her lap and head leaned back against the wall.
Hannah glances at Sprout. "You won't wake her," she says, not even bothering to lower her voice. "She could sleep through a dragon attack."
"Let's not put that to the test, shall we?" Ginny says, pulling up a stool. Leaning an elbow on the table, she fiddles with a packet of seeds. Hannah eyes her but doesn't push, the two of them sitting in silence.
Eventually Hannah holds out a spade. "If you're going to be here, you might as well be useful," she says.
"Oh, sure," Ginny says, pulling a pot closer and starting to fill it with a mix of earth and volcanic ash.
There's a certain comfort to be found in the simple mindless rhythm of the task, almost like a quill moving across parchment. Almost.
She sighs, frowning down at the pot.
"What is it, Ginny?" Hannah asks.
She considers playing dumb, making a deflective Tobias-like comment about just wanting to hang out with a friend and not realizing that isn't allowed. But the truth is she is here for a reason and they both definitely know it. Which makes Ginny wonder just how long it's been since they've done this.
Still, she doesn't answer right away, her fingers pressing into the cool soil as if it requires all of her focus. She feels Hannah shift, just the tiniest indication, and Ginny knows it means she plans on pushing.
She straightens, wiping off her hands. "It's just harder than I thought it would be."
Ginny shrugs, poking her fingers petulantly into the soil.
"Dreams?" Hannah asks. "Flashbacks?"
"Some," she admits. Those she can handle. Most days.
Hannah passes her a sapling and Ginny carefully settles it into one of the pots. Hannah sprinkles the soil with a powder and gives Ginny a watering can. They work in silence, completing almost the entire batch before Ginny gets around to what she really wants to ask.
She rubs the back of a hand across her forehead. "It's just…how do you know when you're coping, and when you're hiding?"
Hannah's expression softens. "You're here, Ginny. That's a lot."
She used to think that too. She just isn't so sure anymore. "Am I though? Here?"
They've already been back for nearly two months. If she's brutally honest, she barely spends any time in The Parlor, rarely attends DA meetings. A quick glance at Hannah's expression tells Ginny she's certainly noticed it.
Ginny wonders sometimes if the only reason she still goes to Quidditch is because she's the one in charge. That almost terrifies her more than anything, Quidditch having become a chore.
"You're doing your best," Hannah stubbornly insists.
"That's the thing," Ginny says. "I don't think I am."
She's here, yes. But some days it still doesn't feel like it. She's just a body going through the motions a lot of the time. She attends class, never misses practice, does enough of her homework to get by, but other than that, where is she?
Sitting with a piece of parchment attached to her face according to Tobias. He has the annoying habit of being right about things like that, the prat.
Because the ugly truth is that she has been pouring a lot of her energy and attention into that parchment. To Harry, she tells herself. But there is the tiniest part of her that isn't quite sure. Just the faintest doubt like an itch at the back of her mind, because some days it feels like a quill in her hand is the only thing that gets her out of bed.
She made this promise to herself before. Not to pin all her hopes on a voice bleeding through on a piece of paper.
Not to use it as an escape.
"What are you going to do?" Hannah asks, watching her closely.
Picking up a spade, she pats down the soil. "What I always do," Ginny says, fear and regret twisting in her stomach. "Something necessary."
No matter how painful.
She goes to Quidditch practice, throws herself into it as best she can. Even manages to yell at one of her Beaters for being a complete moron, and to judge from Reiko's gleeful expression it was probably long overdue.
After practice, she eats dinner and does all of her homework and sits in The Parlor and talks to Nicola and Hestia and Flora in turn. It feels nearly impossible, exhausting and uncomfortable, everything in her wanting to escape, but she stays, like a specimen pinned to a board.
When it's late, she goes down to her dorm. Opening her bag, she pulls out the parchment, looking down at Harry's writing sprawled across the page with something like painful relief. She finishes reading the last paragraph and then reaches for her wand. Casting the charm, she wipes the words clear away.
The urge to reach for a quill is horribly familiar and hard to resist, but there is this life around her. She has to do better than this.
Opening her trunk, she lays the blank parchment inside and closes the lid.
She sleeps poorly, but sticks to her plan, waiting three long days before responding to Harry, just to prove she can.
I'm sorry, she writes, things have been a bit crazy here. The first Quidditch match is almost here…
It's shorter than usual, but she doesn't trust herself with more because she just doesn't have it in her to explain the dangers of quill and ink, to apologize. To say that she thought she could do it, she really did. She thought she was stronger than that. But maybe she isn't.
She's never been as brave as he is.
She sends the letter and puts it away and pledges to herself to only take it out three times a week. She doesn't carry it around and she doesn't only watch the events around her simply as fodder for letters, but forces herself to be a part of them. A participant. And when her fingers feel that frighteningly familiar itch to pick up a quill, she takes out a pair of knitting needles instead.
That November, it isn't unusual at all for people to walk into the Slytherin common room to find Ginny sitting there, needles in hand. She owled her mum asking for some yarn, and she far overcompensated. Now the table is nearly overflowing.
There are a few raised eyebrows, but not one dares to comment. Not even when Tobias eventually demands to give it a try. "Okay, what the bloody hell is this all about?"
"It's therapeutic," Ginny insists.
Tobias glares down at the yarn, tongue poking out in concentration. "I really doubt this is making me sane."
"It's just yarn, not a miracle worker."
"Hush," he says. "I'm trying to concentrate!"
Tobias gives it up as a lost cause rather quickly. Ginny is relieved. His complaining doesn't really help her focus.
Then one evening Astoria shows up. They haven't spoken a single word to each other since Caroline's funeral. But Astoria just sits down without comment as if this in no way extraordinary.
Astoria has her own pair of needles. Not the clunky ones Ginny's using, but tiny ones with spools of thin, gossamer threads.
Ginny watches her over her tangle of yarn.
Astoria hasn't been down to The Parlor this term. Not a single time. Which more than likely means she has also given up music.
Ginny doesn't blame her. But just because she is rejecting The Parlor doesn't mean she isn't still Ginny's responsibility. Another thing she refuses to let slide anymore.
It's very late, most of the common room emptied, when Astoria finally speaks.
"She hated it."
Ginny stops, looking up at her.
Astoria is still focused on the delicate threads in front of her, like she could almost be talking to herself. "The world we lived in. The rules and traditions and an entire childhood geared towards a proper marriage. She used to always say she was only brave enough to hate it, not brave enough to do anything about it."
Her hands drop to her lap, threads tangling and needles clicking against each other.
"My father said the Dark Lord was supposed to make us safe. And powerful. And protect our way of life. But it was a lie. All the war did was kill. Both my father and our way of life. And I'm left wondering what I'm supposed to do with that. Mourn a father than enabled a monster? Celebrate a resistance that killed my best friend?"
She finally looks at Ginny. "My father's war killed my best friend."
Ginny nods, because that is a truth that can't be escaped. "Yes. It did."
Astoria's jaw clenches. "I'd still rather it was your fault. That would be…easier."
Ginny's chest constricts painfully. "I played my part."
She spears her with a hard glance. "No. Don't you dare do that to her. That was Caroline's choice. In the end, that's all she bloody had."
Scooping up her threads, she strides out of the room.
Ginny slumps back in her chair, staring into the deep nebulous depths of the lake.
Astoria returns the night after that, and the night after, and Ginny soon gets used to having her as a companion. They rarely speak, and Ginny wonders if Astoria is keeping her fingers busy for similar reasons. Like maybe her fingers itch for a bow she can't stand to let herself touch.
Like maybe she thinks she doesn't deserve it either.
"Who knew you had a domestic bone in your body, Weasley?" Draco comments one evening as he passes by.
Ginny doesn't stop knitting. "Who knew you had a witty bone in yours?" she says, giving him a smile that is equally friendly and predatory.
He rolls his eyes.
They've developed a strange sort of relationship. They aren't friends, don't even particularly like each other. But on some level, they understand each other. She thinks he is more than aware of their complete shift in position. The fact that Ginny speaks to him at all can only benefit him.
He's been persona non grata since he came back, everyone aware that his father is in Azkaban and his mother under house arrest, her wand confiscated. It's not that he's reviled, necessarily, but rather it's acknowledged that he played the game and lost and now he has to pay the price. Ambition is one thing. Poorly executed ambition another all together. Anything he wants in this world, he's going to have to start again from the bottom. No one is going to help him on that climb.
Not that there aren't a few younger students who seem to want to turn him into some tragic hero. Children of fallen parents, maybe, who see redemption for themselves in his story. Some are just young and stupid. Draco, to his credit, seems to have no patience for any of them, which unfortunately only seems to encourage them.
Draco hasn't moved on, his fingers tapping the back of the couch.
Ginny decides it may be time for a calculated risk. "If you're going to keep hovering, sit down."
"What?" he asks.
"There's an extra pair of needles in the basket."
To her surprise, he actually complies.
It's not long until one of his wanna-be acolytes walks by, eyes wide. "What are you doing?"
"Knitting," Draco says, peering down at the yarn in concentration. "Now bugger off."
The younger student blinks in astonishment, but does as he's told.
"Isn't there anything more…refined?" Draco asks after a while, eyeing the delicate spin of threads in Astoria's hands.
Astoria huffs under her breath, glancing at the tangle in his hands dismissively. "And let you mangle the expensive materials?"
Draco falls back into sullen silence, but keeps working.
A few younger students join them over the next couple days, and the next thing Ginny knows, she has a crafting circle on her hands. Hannah thinks it's wonderful when she tells her.
"It's weird," Ginny insists.
"It's comforting," Hannah says. "Building something with your hands after spending so much time tearing the world apart."
Ginny shakes her head.
As Ginny their first Quidditch match against Gryffindor approaches, she leaves the circle to Astoria.
"Could you do something for me?" Ginny asks Astoria one evening.
"What?" she asks, looking wary.
Ginny juts her chin towards Gemma. "Could you just keep an eye on her for me?"
Astoria frowns, looking at the girl. "Why?"
"There's something about her." Ginny still hasn't completely figured it out one way or the other. She shakes her head. "I'm just swamped right now. So if you're going to be here anyway, I thought you could just let me know if anything…interesting happens?"
Astoria neither agrees nor disagrees, but Ginny knows that's probably all she can hope for at this point.
The match against Gryffindor does not exactly go to plan. If anyone is in danger of being eviscerated, it's not Gryffindor. Martin struggles in the goals, and their new Beater is still lost more often than not, but Ginny takes most of the blame for their abysmal performance on herself. For her distraction, her lack of dedication. Lack of focus.
The score climbs and climbs, well beyond what they can hope to catch, and Ginny diverts from her path. Streaking by Reiko, she calls out, "If you see that Snitch, get it."
"But-," Reiko protests, because to catch it now means they'll lose.
There's no bloody time to debate it. "Just catch it!" she shouts, and heads back into formation.
It's more important to end this match before Gryffindor scores any more goals than it is to win. She may lose this match, but she sure as hell isn't going to lose the cup. She can salvage this.
Gryffindor only scores twice more before Reiko gets the Snitch. It closes a lot of the painful gap in the score, and they will just have to live with the loss.
Still, Reiko is so pissed she won't even speak to Ginny for the rest of the day.
The next day, she writes a long letter to Harry detailing the match-her mistakes, her failures, her ideas for fixing it.
She doesn't apologize for breaking her promise. Just puts the parchment back away and resolves to do better.
The last weeks of the term pass in a blur of homework and DA meetings and evenings in The Parlor and Ginny doing her best to keep on top of everything.
One evening near the end of term, she sits in The Parlor, a stack of letters in her lap. There's one written on fine, expensive vellum with pressed tool work around the border that Ginny is studiously avoiding. Instead, she reads a slapdash note from Ron that arrived that morning from a very weary-looking owl.
Sorry we'll be missing Christmas. Hope Mum doesn't take it out on you lot. Just think of poor me with no family at all and Christmas in the melting heat. Barmy place this country.
Ginny knows none of them expected to be gone this long, but as usual, she's tried not to have any expectations at all.
Hermione and Harry say hello.
"She's really going to go through with it," Nicola bursts out, her own fancy vellum letter clutched in her hands.
"Apparently," Ginny says, glancing at the wedding invitation from Tilly.
"Ginny…" Nicola says, sounding pained. But also like she expects Ginny to fix this somehow.
She feels a spike of pain in her temples, rubbing absently at it. "It's her decision."
Nicola crosses her arms over her chest and very nearly pouts, for once looking like the fifteen-year-old girl she's supposed to be if not for the war and her parents. "It isn't fair."
"No," Ginny says. "It isn't. But since when has fairness mattered?"
Pushing to her feet, she leaves The Parlor.
In the common room above, Astoria and Draco are sitting on a sofa together, a tangle of threads and yarns and needles between them. Having long since abandoned his own projects, Draco only holds the skein for her.
Ginny watches them. Astoria has already fallen into the habit of reporting to Ginny about Gemma, always sounding distant and uninterested. It's progress all the same.
Draco leans closer, his fingers fumbling as he lets out a low curse. Astoria regards the top of his head with the closest Ginny has seen to a smile on her face. It's intimate and comfortable and makes sense on some levels. Two broken people, pulling together. Children of Death Eaters trying to find a way forward. Together.
Ginny looks away, feeling something burn in her stomach.
Turning for the stairs, she goes down into her room. It's time to pack and go home and face the empty spaces no matter how much she'd rather not. And in January, she'll attend Tilly's wedding and try not to think about how much peace is nothing like what she thought it would be.