Walking Higher 11
by Faith Accompli

Disclaimer: Most characters Rowling's.

Notes: This was started before OotP, so is not canon-compliant with books 5-6. It won't be compliant with book seven, either. Anything that does seem to be compliant after that is probably pure coincidence! Thank you to those few souls still reading. ;)

Other Note: three thousand ffn-caused-html-screwups later: akeuhfaek.wtg ekvtvr. I hate the ff.n formatting RUBBISH. It is just... oh, I'm going to have to go through old stuff to fix up the lovely reformatting job ff.n did a while ago and I'm LAZY and I don't want to. Also, Foofy, post more chain or else you'll never see chapter 12 finished!

"So you've now decided that not only is the heir back, he's working with Virginia to...do what?" Snape muttered quietly beneath the secrecy spell all three of them were consciously keeping up in a space not two feet wide around them as they glided swiftly down the empty halls of Hogwarts, all students except those dispatched on intraschool missions safely locked within the classrooms or in the comfort of their common rooms if they had no class that day.

"The same thing he does every time, Severus," Vector murmured back as she toyed with a hair-ribbon, knotting it precisely as her own version of the silence bubble thickened and blurred the exact movements of those within so no particularly clever person could lip-read and thus determine what they were talking about.

"Try to take over the world," Sinistra finished for the blonde, straightening her robes as she walked until they swished to her satisfaction in a suitably Slytherin manner. "What do you think he's going to try to do?"

"Oh, I don't know, my first thought was a range of designer hair products," Severus snapped, turning the corner and walking a half-step in front of them by the time they passed Peeves artistically gluing a Gryffindor second-year to the wall. Draco, Blaise and Casca were loitering in a most unsubtle manner just a few feet before them, and peeled off to slip inside the protective safety of the silencing spell, questioned the moment they arrived as to whether they had any idea about exactly why Weasley had been called up.

"Grunge was throwing accusations to the effect of Ginny having mucked with her brother's mind, no difference that we can see," Blaise volunteered first, nodding to Draco to continue.

"It's not just that she's been in bed with a snake, either," Malfoy nodded towards the statue leading to the headmaster's office. "The wanker's got no idea what's going on, I'd say, or else he'd have stomped down on her a lot sooner, not that I even know half of what's happened."

"And it's not just about house sanctuary," Casca added. "I looked it up, they've never dragged a brat out of class over it--it's always been handled after school hours, the few times it's happened."

"So we're going to have a lovely knot to untangle here, aren't we?" Severus remarked drily, kicking the gargoyle statue that took the password and dropping the silencing spell in unison with his fellow professors in order to snap the password, "Cockroach Clusters" before the door opened and the staircase began to wind upwards.

The spell that had allowed them a measure of privacy in which to use actual names and specific terms gone, Sinistra glanced sideways at Malfoy as they climbed the stairs, taking them two at a time to spite the staircase in their usual Slytherin manner as she deliberated on her choice of wording. "Oi, Malfoy," she settled on after a moment. "You haven't given Virginia Weasley access to illicit literature in the last month or so, have you?"

Draco looked at her for a moment in genuine startlement--he'd thought she spent so much time looking at the stars that she couldn't see what happened beneath her feet--and nodded once. "Just one book. She asked."

"What book might that have been?"

"Oh, I don't know how to describe it," Malfoy said softly, choosing his words with as much care as she did. "It was just one of those old books we've had in the family collection for some time. I think it was the only one ever made."

Oh yes. Virginia Weasley had Tom Riddle's diary back, which made her capable of anything. They had certainly best protect her from the lions until such time as she made full disclosure to her concerned and caring professors, then.

"Fuck, but this is boring," Ginny grumbled as they waited in Dumbledore's office. Mordion was busy poking at a silvery contraption on a small side-table with a book that he'd plucked from Dumbledore's bookshelves, an undoubtedly priceless volume that began to smoulder from a puff of smoke emitted by said contraption, and the boy quickly threw the book into a wastepaper basket beside Dumbledore's desk.

He returned to his place beside Prudence and crossed his arms in unconscious mimicry of his fellow five Slytherins on guard that ringed in a half-circle behind the chair Ginny sat in to await her punishment, with Emeryth on her lap, the younger girl beginning to braid Ginny's hair in slender snakelike plaits.

"No kidding," Emeryth murmured, finishing one plait and moving on to another lock of hair, shifting restlessly and glancing up at their guard. "You'd think, wouldn't you, that if they were in such a rush that they had to yank Gin out of Potions they'd actually bother to see her 'fore the hour's over."

"But they couldn't do that," Pru snorted, leaning on the carved back of the chair and flicking a stray strand of Ginny's hair back to the side on which it belonged. "The whole point is that they want her to sit and Think About What She Did Wrong so she's a quivering nervous wreck by the time they come to show her how she can change and be good again."

"Sounds right," Julia said in a tone fit to carry through to the next room where Dumbledore, McGonagall, Granger and the Weasley boy were ensconced coming up with their master plan. "And what do you say to that, Virginia?"

"I'd like to go with a resounding 'Fuck that!' thanks, Julia," Ginny smiled wickedly and kissed Emeryth, one hand straying under the girl's shirt to take advantage of her whilst she was distracted, knowing that although the Gryffindors probably weren't watching, they'd hear all about it.

"Would you stop that?" an outraged voice carried from the next room, a voice beyond scandalised and moving well into horrified mortification.

"Just because you can't get any girls, Granger!" Julia called back with perfect innocence, winking at her fellow Slytherins and waiting for the fallout, deliberately looking devastated when not another word was heard. "Now she won't even rise to the bait. Gryffindors are a sorry lot."

"Aren't they? I'm well quit of them." Ginny's hand paused over Emeryth's ribs as Fawkes entered the room through a window conveniently left open for just such an instance, the bird alighting on Dumbledore's desk and tilting his head to glance at Ginny thoughtfully.

For a moment, for a heartbeat, she felt deeply chilled--the bird remembered Tom from last time, the bird had helped murder Tom's basilisk, the bird had to know that Tom was back, that she had brought him back--and then she relaxed. Fawkes' eyes turned away from her as the bird began to preen out his tail-feathers, for all intents and purposes ignoring the seven Slytherins and the snake curled around Ginny's neck.

A golden-red feather fluttered away from Fawkes as he took off to swoop over their heads and land on his perch by the door, the bird's eyes closing with a finality that signalled he at least didn't care to wake up until such time as they'd departed his bedroom.

Ginny's gaze rested on the feather, biting her lip in deep thought. Fawkes had been the contributor of Tom's original wand-core, she knew that much from what he'd mentioned in her first year... surely a feather from Fawkes would be best for his next wand--and a feather so freely given? "Emeryth, love? Nab that for me, would you?"

Emeryth complied without question, darting forward to snatch the feather from the desk and hide it in an inner robe-pocket with nary a moment to spare before the Gryffindors clumped out of the other room, both professors and prefect with their stern faces on, Ron with the same somewhat cute but deeply stupid expression he'd been wearing for days.

"Ginny, dear," Professor McGonagall started as Dumbledore took his seat and she and Hermione claimed chairs to either side of the old man, their placement careful to ensure the Slytherins knew whom was in charge overall. "We asked for you alone to come to this little informal gathering on account of--we want to help you. We've noticed you're not happy, and we want to make things better."

"That's so very kind of you to notice," Ginny replied quietly, her hands snaking around Emeryth's waist to hug the girl close and glare over her shoulder at the Gryffindor panel, "Now, that is. Where were you in my first year when Tom was driving me insane? Where were you in my second year when my lovely Gryffindor yearmates were too scared that I'd contaminate them to even talk to me, and the only person who actually wanted to be my friend was a Slytherin, the kind of person I'd been conditioned to fear because of her inherent evilness? Where were you?"

"They were deeply wrapped up in the affairs of Potter, ensuring that he didn't die, of course," a nicely sarcastic voice said from behind them, loud enough to carry.

"Professor Snape!" every Slytherin in the room nodded in recognition of their house head, and Ginny felt relieved--the Slytherin professor, flanked by Sinistra and Vector...why was Vector there? ...behind them, Draco, Blaise and Casca. Warrington alone could cause enough distraction to get her out of the interrogation chair, with all of them...?

"Professor Snape," Hermione frowned uncomfortably under the gaze of McGonagall no doubt wanting to know just why the Slytherin was there. "Your presence isn't necessary, Ginny's not undergoing a trial."

"Of course she's not. You usually torture the witch for days on end before you try her and burn her... at least, I believe that's how it goes. My knowledge of Muggle customs is not so extensive as it could be."

"Severus! That kind of remark is completely uncalled-for!" Professor Dumbledore spoke for the first time since Ginny had arrived, looking quite disgusted with the man he had appointed head of house Slytherin.

"My apologies, headmaster. I should know better than to make a judgement based purely on a thousand-odd years of closely documented history. Next time I will presume that Miss Granger acts with the most noble of intentions with thought for her fellow witch." Professor Snape's look remained impassive, although Blaise, Sinistra and Vector all had to act quickly to hide their smiles, Draco coughing to cover a rude snicker.

"Your prejudiced nature aside, Severus, perhaps we should cut to the heart of the matter. What have you done to make Virginia Weasley run away from Gryffindor?"

Ginny was stunned a moment, and her fellow Slytherins' ire was even more swiftly roused than hers, a chorus of voices rising to claim that that wasn't fair, Professor Snape had done nothing wrong, and that Dumbledore was a stupid old bastard.

"Prudence, it might be an idea for you to not speak your mind in quite such succinct terms at this moment. Remember that for which you were named," Professor Snape chided softly, moving to stand behind Ginny's chair as Julia and Osiris stepped aside and gave him room. "Headmaster, I have done absolutely nothing to lure Virginia to the snake house. The only responsibility I can claim is having signed the required paperwork as dictated by Mrs. Malfoy to Blaise--paperwork that, as you know, has the support of two notable members of Slytherin house, a prefect and the head boy, in addition to Emeryth's sponsorship claim."

"You are aware that this sort of thing should not, strictly, even be legal any more?"

"But why, Headmaster? You were so quick to approve when Vinnie made a habit of washing Lockhart's hair for him in his time here."

"Such a stupid name he chose...That is because, Severus, Walden washed Gilderoy's hair in the toilet," Dumbledore gave Professor Snape a sorrowful glance.

"I'm well aware." Professor Snape glanced back toward the Slytherin and Ravenclaw professors he had brought with him, nodding for them to come forward. "Perhaps we should move on and attempt to get this entire debacle over and done with. Virginia came to me with supporting Slytherins and the correct documentation because she has been the victim of unwanted attention from Miss Granger owing to her choice of friends. I had noticed some of said unwanted attention but I was not then at liberty to intervene. My esteemed colleagues Professors Sinistra and Vector had also noticed that things were amiss with Virginia, but as you made it blindingly obvious that Slytherins and sympathisers were not to interfere with sweet and innocent Gryffindors unless said Gryffindors were caught blatantly breaking school rules, we could not act."

"Much as we were tempted to and simply blame it on obscure school rules that haven't been followed for six hundred years, but were dragged out of the records room by Irma at the beginning of this year," Vector added, clasping her hands behind her back in the perfect picture of innocence that almost had Ginny believing her, despite Ginny's years of employing just such a posture and expression.

"It makes no sense," Professor McGonagall spoke up, shaking her head. "Ginny, why would you do this? And you Slytherins, why would you take her? Her family has been Gryffindor since Godric ran this school, I don't know why you'd think she could ever be happy with you! And, and, you hate Gryffindors!"

In her peripheral vision she could see Casca deciding to take this question, the head boy taking a few steps to kneel before McGonagall and pat her consolingly on the knee. "Well," the boy began, "it's really quite simple. She and Emeryth are shagging like rabbits, and she's not nearly so Gryffindor-suited as you might think. Plus, we don't hate all Gryffindors, not even those that hate us. Generally we're filled with apathy towards them. Ginny's the first Gryffindor we've found, though, that doesn't suck. In the wrong way," Casca paused, a wicked grin spreading over his face. "But, oh, Minnie, the stories we've heard about your sucking days..."

McGonagall's response was an emphatically appalled kick aimed right at Casca's head, but the boy wasn't a Slytherin Chaser without reason, having scrambled back in time to be hiding nonchalantly behind Snape as McGonagall's boot passed through the air where his head had been.

Dumbledore frowned. "Enough, all of you! This disgraceful behaviour--Minerva, I'm surprised at you."

"Sorry, professor," Casca snickered from behind the safety of Professor Snape. "It's not like I know, it's just written in the Slytherin loos and signed by Tom Riddle." Almost as an afterthought, he added "He said you were really good, you know."

Ginny bit Emeryth's shoulder to stifle her giggles as McGonagall looked flustered. She knew her Tom hadn't had anything to do with McGonagall, but that didn't mean that his other self hadn't done disturbing things with the woman...and it would be something interesting to tell Tom on his return. "Oh. Ahem. Well, then." The Gryffindor head of house glanced down and then looked up again. "Let's move on, shall we? Virginia, were you truly not happy in Gryffindor?"

"I wasn't," Ginny murmured, intentionally pitching her voice soft so they had to expend extra effort listening to her and would thus heed her more than they would ordinarily. "You said, when I came here, that my house would be like my family...actually, you were right there. They ignored me just as much as family do, if you don't count Bill, Charlie or Percy. Slytherins are nicer t'me--hell, most of them were nicer to me in my second year than the Gryffindors were. At least they didn't tease me about being a stupid child."

"Y...you should have come to me and told me about it," McGonagall seemed abashed, perhaps a little remorseful. "If I had known--"

"I'd have been teased for being a stupid child and got a thumping for being a nark. No, thank you."

"Well...tell me who the worst ones were. It's not too late to punish them for their petty cruelty," McGonagall said briskly, ignoring the startled gazes that both Hermione and Dumbledore were giving her.

"It's not an issue any more," Emeryth gestured vaguely towards where Casca stood, having moved out from behind Snape when it became apparent that McGonagall wasn't going to try and kick him in the head again. "I paid him and Millicent a galleon and a bag of green Slithering Snakes each to thump every Gryffindor in Ginny's year except for Colin and Will, who were fairly oblivious to politics and hadn't bothered to hurt her feelings."

"I'd like to note that I accepted that payment long before I became a prefect, and thus cannot be held accountable for my actions."

"Held accountable? What on earth are you talking about, Warrington? Don't you know that you've been given a position of authority specifically for you to use and abuse it as you see fit?" Sinistra murmured under her breath with a glance to Casca's feet, noting with a glimmer of pride that he was wearing the gorilla-feet slippers she had purchased for the Slytherin Quidditch team. "Before I forget, help yourself to an extra bottle from the cellars. Nice performance at breakfast, or so Vic told me."

Hermione glowered around at the entire room save for Dumbledore, forgetting herself--she was forgetting herself, the arrogant Mudblood bitch, she dared to glare at them as though she was their equal, hardly cowed by the uncaring looks she received from the Slytherins and Ravenclaw, taking McGonagall's lack of attention to be approval. "All right, fine, if you're happy to let her fester in the snakepit--what about what she did to Ron?"

"What did I do to Ron?" Ginny asked lightly, raising her eyebrows in a look of puzzlement that made her fellow Slytherins avert their eyes lest they betray the fact that they, at least, knew she had to be acting. "Ron? Did I hurt you?"

"Of course not!" Ron protested enthusiastically, shaking his head. "I don't think you'd have had the time, anyway. You've got a girlfriend and all sorts of new friends now, you don't have time for me."

Hermione gaped, pointing an accusing finger at Ginny only to pull it back when Emeryth snapped her teeth at the Gryffindor, despite the wide gap between them. "She's bespelled him! He was suspicious of her, and she--she--"

"Miss Granger," McGonagall patted Hermione's shoulder consolingly. "I checked myself for any signs of enchantment, and whilst I think it's quite possible he's taken a bludger to the head at a practice, there's no signs of recently-worked magic on him that I can see." Hermione opened her mouth to argue again, but closed it again quickly when McGonagall added "You do trust my judgement, do you not?"

"Y...yes, Professor," it was Granger's turn to look abashed as McGonagall turned away from her and looked on Ginny and Emeryth with more forgiving eyes.

"Minerva..." Dumbledore said at last, after long moments had passed. "You've now decided that nothing amiss is going on here beside the treachery of one Gryffindor student having decided that she prefers the company of her sworn enemies?"

"We're not her sworn enemies! She's with us now," Osiris pointed out before any other Slytherin could beat him to it, his expression set almost mutinous as were those of his fellows, Ginny included.

"Professor Dumbledore," Ginny began, aware after a second from peripheral vision and senses that were... other... that Professor Snape was about to say something terribly cutting about Gryffindor sensibilities and prejudices, "I don't see why you're making such a big deal out of this, you or Hermione. Slytherins are just as much a part of this school as any other house is, and so yes, this might come as a terrible shock to you, but I'm enjoying myself with them. In Gryffindor I existed, in Slytherin I live."

"You can't turn your back on four and a half years of your life, Miss Weasley," Dumbledore protested. "The Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor for a reason and so we're here until such time as we've resolved the issues you have with your true house, and you feel ready to take your place within it once more."

"Oh, gods," Ginny heard Vector mutter from behind and to the right of her--to Sinistra, probably, because the two seemed to spend their time almost exclusively in each other's company when they were both conscious--the Slytherin teacher was in the habit of waking up in the early afternoon and wandering down to see what the Arithmancy witch was doing--if it was teaching a class, so be it, and Sinistra would more often than not take a seat and help the students disrupt the class until Vector gave up teaching and began pelting her with chalk.

Alternatively, she knew, Vector sometimes made a point of staggering up to the Astronomy tower just after breakfast and doing all sorts of unholy things to the Astronomy witch until the Slytherin gave up and staggered out of bed. It was rather surprising they were still alive, come to think of it. Maybe one got used to sleep deprivation?

"Selene, better send one of your Slythie brats down to the kitchens with a standing order. We're going to be here for years."

"Victoria! You had slipped my mind...but I'm glad you're here. I had thought to discuss Virginia's grades with you most of all--she's made truly startling improvements in her marks over the past few weeks, and I think you ought to be able to prove that alone signifies that she wasn't suffering so terribly in Gryffindor as she claims."

"Professor Dumbledore," Vector stated calmly, "I've absolutely no idea what you're on about. Ginny's always been good at Arithmancy, of late she's simply had another one of those little breakthroughs those who can be mathematically minded have."

"Her marks in every other subject but Muggle Studies have increased, too."

"It can have a catalytic effect."

"Are you lying to me, Victoria?"

Vector, Ginny could see out of the corner of her eye, didn't even assume an innocent look before she stated that she wasn't, she had no reason to.

"Virginia's exceptional skills in Potions aren't without due cause either," Professor Snape said quietly. "I'd like you to recall that she has been working with a Slytherin partner for the last three years, it's hardly as though some of the talent didn't rub off, and I believe she has a natural aptitude for the more complex arts and sciences."

They were covering for her. It suddenly became blindingly obvious--they had all come up to Dumbledore's office to defend her and cover for her, deliberately flouting his unspoken command that she alone was to enter the lion's cage. Potential allies were almost literally crawling out of the woodwork around her, all with varied degrees of interest and loyalty--she'd won a greater part of House Slytherin to her side the night before with the ripples of the intrigue that centred around her, yet more to her this morning when Dumbledore had so pointedly attacked her and Emeryth in his breakfast lecture, and the Ravenclaws had looked something akin to impressed once one got past Cho and her friends. Some of the Hufflepuffs, she recalled dimly, had looked quite intrigued--and there were a few in her old house who she wouldn't mind luring into the darkness.

So many useful little witches and wizards at this place--it was the best place to organise a tactical strike from. The Ministry, as a place to start, had nothing on the school...not when the entire next generation of Wizarding Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales had to walk through these halls for seven years before they would be 'allowed' to work their magic.

"Binns, too, has noticed a remarkable change in her dedication to her work--and all three of you have slept through his many lectures, you can't deny that there is nothing abnormal about that," Dumbledore pointed out, fixing his beady eyes on Ginny, watching to see her reaction to his every word.

"Stimulants," Ginny answered him with maddening calm, letting the edge of ire rising in her be soothed by Emeryth's fingertips stroking her hair as she ransacked her memories, Tom's memories, for a follow-up. "They can be purchased at Dervish's. Grind them up in Potions class, throw in with dilute Arnica and Common Thornapple extract, simmer for four minutes. Keeps you conscious all day."

"I told you that Virginia had an aptitude for Potions," Professor Snape murmured from behind her back, resting a hand on her shoulder. She understood the message he couldn't state aloud, wrap it up, wrap it up, get out before she was tricked into saying too much. "Are there any other false accusations you or Miss Granger would care to level at her, headmaster, or might we be permitted to leave once we've completed the several dozen forms that need to be registered with the Ministry denouncing Virginia to be a threat, complete with a listing of her weaknesses and strengths? You might have to wait a few days to complete her psychological profile given that the psychwitches from St. Mungo's require four days notice."

"That's not a problem, Severus," Dumbledore smiled. "Had you forgotten? Sibyll gained her license twelve years ago. True, it expired two years ago, but that doesn't detract from the fact that she was capable of doing it and might still be."

McGonagall had risen from her seat and slipped away to the racks of scrolls behind Dumbledore, carefully selecting pieces of parchment from various cubby-holes and plucking a handful of quills from the headmaster's desk, handing them out to Casca, Ginny, Emeryth and Professor Snape. "The rest of you aren't necessary for the moment--" she said as she passed Vector, Sinistra, Blaise and Draco, "So you may as well go down to your next classes, especially you, Victoria--you're supposed to be a teacher, aren't you?"

"So I've been accused," Victoria nodded. "But I have time to stay and watch the fireworks. Padma knows to check by my classroom in the morning, and take over if I'm not there."

"Thank you, Victoria, for reminding me--Draco, one of your housemates will fill you in on what you're missing--would you be so kind as to go to Potions now without me? You may teach the class until such time as I arrive," Professor Snape murmured to the blond boy as he began filling out the declaration he had been given by McGonagall.

"Yes, sir," Draco nodded, winking at Ginny as he pointed imperiously towards her brother and Granger. "You two, get to class now, or it'll be ten points from each of you!"

Granger threw a pleading glance to McGonagall, only to have her head of house nod and say with genuine enthusiasm "Yes, yes. Go, I can't let you miss out on your classes any longer."

Ron looked a little lost himself, not quite comprehending the fast pace at which they were being hurried out of Dumbledore's office. "Ron," Emeryth called to him as she scribbled her way through her own form that had to be filled out to Ministry satisfaction, detailing her reasons for sponsoring Ginny in Slytherin. Once Ginny compensated for angle and the appalling state of Emeryth's handwriting--deliberately messy, to make the Ministry work at it--she read 'Because she's a good shag' and couldn't help but giggle. "You'll go to Potions and be good, won't you? Ginny would be really upset if you tried to disrupt Draco's class."

"Oh. Oh, yeah." Ron nodded and set off before Malfoy with a firm resolve, as Hermione stared in abject outrage and Draco smirked.

"There's nothing wrong with him, see? He's just a little slow." Emeryth pointed out with a wave in the direction of the door, turning back to her statement with no further thought shown for those that departed.

"You manipulative--" Hermione's snarl was cut off abruptly as Vector and Sinistra pitched her out of the room to the approval of all Slytherins inside, their actions unnoticed by McGonagall who was chuckling over something to herself and couldn't care less. Dumbledore had glared at them but they had pleaded innocently that they were aiding her to get to class--after all, Dumbledore wouldn't like it if the witch had lost Gryffindor more points, would he?

"Virginia--you understand what we're doing now, do you not?" Professor Snape inquired from beside her chair as he knelt and rested the parchments he held on the armrest that she and Emeryth weren't leaning on. "Emeryth would have told you, I'm sure, about the files the Ministry began collecting on all Slytherin students as of last year--psychological profiling, family background, a record of every misdemeanour they've been caught in the act of..."

"She went on about it for an hour or so last March, yes," Ginny answered as she sketched a little picture of herself giving the fingers to whoever read her declaration of intent, "and isn't it good to see that the moral majority's just as capable of blatant stereotyping and prejudice as they claim we are?"

Professor Snape graced her with a smile, nodding and murmuring "Of course, they're just doing it for your own safety and well-being, they tell me. They want to help us. It was Professor Dumbledore's idea, after all, and you know he only acts for the good of the entire school."

"Of course!" Ginny smiled sweetly at the watching Dumbledore. "I'll remember his touching concern, believe me." And oh, she would. She would remember everything for when Tom returned and she took her place, when he returned and they casually murdered everyone who irritated them in the slightest. It wasn't as though they really mattered, after all... they weren't important to her.

"Virginia Weasley. You've met her?" Tom asked quietly as he set down his cup, his hands returning to stroke the young kneazle named Lionsbane who flat-out refused to move from his lap.

"Of course. Delightful girl. Her wand chose her when she was...let me see. Her brother Percy was picking his first wand and one happened to fall from the shelves, the box opened, and it rolled toward her. Her mother was horrified and slapped the girl for playing with 'things she shouldn't'," Ollivander's expression had turned from amused interest at the mention of Virginia to a carefully-controlled look of detachment, although a flicker of quickly-hidden anger showed through at the mention of Molly Weasley.

He didn't have to ask why Ollivander found the Weasley matriarch distasteful--Slytherins, Ravenclaw purebloods... hell, Hufflepuffs found the very thought of domestic violence repulsive: one might merrily and with gay abandon slaughter one's enemies with nary a thought nor care, but then one came home to their loving family for a blissful respite from the destructive chaos that waited outside their estate. A Slytherin might be somewhat cold, somewhat distant to their family depending on the situation...but unasked-for violence was never acceptable behaviour.

Even if blood loyalty--when one had blood worth loyalty to--wasn't everything, to alienate one's family, to wilfully initiate a tension in one's family was just stupid.

Of course, if anyone was going to do something that ranked so high on the scale of sheer and utter lunacy, it would be a Gryffindor born. They had no grasp of the concept that honey caught more flies than vinegar, and likewise thought more often than not that the perspective one got through their pretty rose-tinted spectacles was everyone's perspective, Slytherins, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs simply had to be shown the light and they would renounce their shades of green, blue and yellow to embrace the red. It was a mistake that had cost them dearly in the past, and would continue to do so.

"I saved the wand for her, of course. Five years later she returned to collect. Her mother thought a new wand an unnecessary expense for a girl and donated two galleons. Her brother contributed all his savings, and she got her wand." Ollivander smiled, continuing "It was spoiled for any other witch after choosing her, so I lowered the price to seven galleons."

"And then you slipped a galleon back to Virginia," Tom fought to hide his amusement. "She told me that night. Her mother didn't find out."

"Oh, good. She--told you that night?"

"Of course," he smirked now. Despite Ollivander's high intellect and historical knowledge, there remained a few things the man had not yet figured out. "I was Virginia's only confidante her first year of Hogwarts. The... Potter brat killed me at the end of that first year."

"And yet you live again, back in perfect health... or better."

"Virginia brought me back from the dead."

"Seventh-born daughter of a seventh daughter," Ollivander commented lightly, his old eyes gleaming with interest as he alluded to Virginia's family history, enlightening Tom with the knowledge that despite the Weasley woman's many faults, she was an unwitting half-step toward the deeper power Virginia held. "That and... perhaps more?"

"Witch." A fair trade of information, mere confirmation of what Ollivander had already hinted at knowing, what the man deeply suspected and could find out himself if he had to--but not without risk to the fragile safety Virginia currently had in the low number of people who could know or could think what she was. "Witch-in-potentia when I first met her... Witch now."

"Did you, ah, awaken her?" Ollivander read Tom's expression well, and rolled his eyes. "I do not mean it with that implication!"

"Much of it was her own doing. I was merely a catalyst, or perhaps a goal."

The old man sighed with genuine relief at that, all dirty thoughts evidently quite faded from his mind, which obviously walked at fevered pace as he went on, "That's good to know. You may be able to restrain her if no one else can. Witch is...sometimes passionate."

"To what extent?" He was now speaking with knowledge about the subject, he wouldn't have been nearly so sure in tone if he hadn't meant it.

"Lady Grey very nearly destroyed the world before she went to the block." The man nodded once at Tom's expression of mild shock. "My father was witness. He went--first to convince her to flee the tower. She refused, and in going willing she held off a Great Hunt for ten, maybe eleven years. She was promised fifty, but of course--the Muggles lied."

"Lady Grey...Ravenclaw house's Grey Lady...was Witch?" Witch were virtually crawling out of the woodwork of history, more than he had expected--more than he had hoped. He'd gained glimpses of Witch nature in his researches--deep in the restricted section's heyday, when Irma Pince--Ravenclaw prefect, a year younger than he--had taken over librarian duty at the demise of Mr. Ceirwan. He suspected dear Irma of poison, but didn't mention it. She in turn had suspected him of carrying out illicit research, but she had returned the favour and somehow forgotten to mention his time there to that old git, Dumbledore. Ginny had been to the restricted section in her first year for him, but it had been sadly decimated at the whims of the Gryffindorian authority... still, some few of the books with a bare mention of Witch in them still remained...

"She could have been. If she had taken the mantle of Witch instead of sacrificing herself for her people and dying at the treacherous hands of her Muggle kin..." Ollivander trailed off to shrug helplessly. "She could have been great. Could have taken her place with the likes of Morrighan, Circe, Rowena, Helga. Her loss is the world's...and so, Mr. Riddle," he paused for effect, to underline the very seriousness of his words, "I'm no expert in Witch nature, Witch lore, but you should find your lady a teacher. Soon."

"Virginia?" Professor Snape caught her attention as she and Emeryth started toward Arithmancy, and she looked back to see her head of house standing beside Professors Sinistra and Vector.. "Professor Vector excuses you from Arithmancy today, given that Miss Patil has already taught half the lesson and you are quite capable of catching up if you're not past the current point in the curriculum."

She halted, as did Emeryth, as did the six Slytherins drafted to protect her from any particularly daring Gryffindors. "Professor?"

"You will accompany myself and my fellow teachers to the Astronomy tower, which will--at this time--be empty provided that no foolish Gryffindors are attempting to tryst in Selene's domain," Professor Snape was silent a moment as he gazed over the assembled teens. "Emeryth may accompany you if she so wishes. Everyone else, go to class and tender my apologies to your professors. My ...sincere apologies. The reason for your tardiness may be explained succinctly if you believe it will smooth your late entrance."

The six Slytherins summarily dismissed nodded their heads in respect and acknowledgement, peeling off in four different directions to leave herself, Emeryth and the three professors in the hall. "D'you want me to stay?" Emeryth asked uncertainly, the fragment of doubt in her voice fading out at Ginny's brisk nod. "Oh, good."

"Vic, my lovely," Professor Sinistra murmured as they entered the sitting-room area of her suite, closing the door behind herself, "A complete block, lest menacingly twinkly eyes are watching?"

"No worries," Vector assured the other woman as she found a pencil on the table and skipped back to the door to sketch a quick line of numbers, symbols and runes above the doorway, balancing carefully on tiptoe to accomplish such a feat, the blonde professor being an inch shorter than Ginny herself. The numbers sparkled and a bronzed tint spread over the walls, the door, the windows, the floor and the ceiling before it faded out. "Anyone watching will see naught but us conversing about an enthralling...ah...project which Virginia and her partner might do in three months time. Astronomy and Arithmancy both, very intellectual, that covers us all with a nice motive for this chat. So, let's get to it."

There were only three chairs in a state fit to be used, Ginny saw as she assessed the room. A fourth chair was half-buried beneath books, scrolls and clothes, and she and Emeryth acted with one thought to squeeze into one armchair, Professor Snape taking the second and Professor Sinistra taking the third. Vector snorted disdainfully at the fourth before perching on the arm of Sinistra's seat.

"Virginia, I'm not going to go into some dreary monologue about how you ought to trust us. That's your decision. We do, however, have one or two questions for you."

"Hex away," she offered, her tone light. While she waited, while Professor Snape pondered the best possible phrasing of his question, searching fingertips found her hand and the chill she felt at her impending interrogation--less dangerous than her previous; Slytherins and Ravenclaw only, more dangerous; Slytherins were likely to come closer to truth--melted away for the moment.

Melted only to return with reinforcements. "Draco admitted, under our questioning, to giving you a book. Something of a family heirloom. One of a kind, you might say. Do you still have this book?"

She tensed, and Emeryth held back a wince at the force exerted on her fingers, squeezing back for just a second both as a reminder that her hand was still there and as a soothing gesture. "The book is no longer in my possession," she admitted slowly, stalling for time.

Professor Snape--and by extension Professors Sinistra and Vector, the latter of which pair was now sitting in the lap of the former quite comfortably--they knew she had had the diary in the recent keeping. His name had not been mentioned, but it didn't need to be. They were all Slytherins or Ravenclaws, they didn't need beating about the head with a big stick to make a few observations that were none too difficult.

She had not been cautious enough, she had not been subtle enough. During the little tug-o-war she and Tom had engaged in, she had not covered her tracks well enough, and after...Emeryth had helped her as much as was witchly possible, but she had been...careless. Not as heedful as she could have been.

"Victoria, Selene and I suspect that you have somehow freed the shade of Tom Riddle from his diary."

'Oh, shit' didn't even begin to cover her first thought. Think clearly, she had to think clearly. She could possibly bullshit her way out--even if Professor Snape resorted to veritaserum. Tom had told her in her first year that a pathological liar could avoid telling the truth if they believed wholly that their lies were true, she could make herself believe a convincing story, if she had a moment to plot a likely scenario... perhaps...

The three professors were still awaiting her answers, curiosity writ large in their avid expressions, but no condemnation despite their strong suspicions. A hint of impatience from Vector, but that had always been the Arithmancy witch's way, unwavering but polite curiosity from Sinistra who had learnt a kind of patience from the stars themselves--and Professor Snape watching, always watching. He could watch until the end of the world if her answer was not forthcoming before that time.

Did she dare tell? Did Tom trust her judgement truly? He had said he trusted her in regards to Em--a halfgrown witch, quite the far cry from the adult wizard and witches before her.

Would he trust her judgement in this matter?

Would she trust her own?

"Yes," the word fell from her lips like lead, too late to change her mind, too late to deny, and though the thought did strike that she might command them as she had her brother, subverting their wills to her own, she was oddly loathe to do such a thing.

She had felt no real guilt when she had effectively grabbed Ron by the ears and shaken him so hard she broke his brain, and Ron was blood-family. She should feel less concern now, not more.

"Did you return him as a shade or in mortal form?" Professor Snape asked, the hint of formality in his tone pulling her up short and causing her to wait a moment, just a second while the words came to her.

"I begged Draco for the diary to return to my hands, I bled for Tom, life's blood and heart's blood, and through my blood--through my magic--he was cast into flesh." The very ostentatious tone of her words struck Ginny as she stopped, shrugged a little ashamedly, finished. "Theend."

"Hardly the end, Virginia," Professor Snape said after long moments passed. "You're telling us that we have a young Tom Riddle back--living, breathing and in a more sound mind than Lord Voldemort. As powerful as he was in his late teen years...or perhaps more?"

"I'm Witch," she admitted, her fingers tightening around Emeryth's hand still safe within her grasp. "I support him to the extent of my power. I, ah, also don't yet know my limits...if I have any...and Em's with me in this."

"Emeryth?" Professor Vector asked softly, her usually-light eyes dark as she watched both girls. "Are you?"

Emeryth nodded firmly, Ginny saw, biting her lip before she spoke. "I am. Gin's...whatever she wants, I want for her. I don't mind being second to...well, not to him. Anyone else would be in their grave by now, but," she smiled sweetly, almost too sweetly for the Slytherin she was, "I'll be content. Second still ranks."

'No!' the thought not her own sparkled vibrantly in her mind, no less emphatic for all that it was no more than a whisper. 'Not second,' the thought continued, a tangle of confusion and calm that clawed inside Emeryth's mind, twisting and burning like ice-fire... like Ginny.

'Not?' she thought questioningly, curiosity creeping through her.

'Not!' Ginny thought, confirming that she was really hearing the older girl, that if the voices still meant madness it wasn't hers alone. 'There's no first nor second in my mind,' the thought reassured her, Ginny's eyes shining blue as her free hand found Emeryth's, the additional skin-on-skin contact strengthening the mental touch. 'Both equal,' Ginny promised with a firm kiss, the tone and the nuance of the words showing her just how much Ginny meant it, letting her feel it.

Vector was still watching her intently, a smile curving the blonde's lips before she shook her head as Emeryth and Ginny drew back for breath with the tacit promise to continue the mental exploration at a later date.

"Young love," Vector murmured, unaware of their private words. "Sel?" she asked, tracing short fingernails down Professor Sinistra's neck in a gesture of obvious affection. "Were we ever that young?"

"Vic, darling, look at your everyday behaviour. You're thirteen." At Vector's outraged look, Sinistra smiled guilelessly, tweaking her nose. "On your best days."

"Hmmph. That's beside the point," Vector proclaimed, turning back to where she and Ginny sat. "Point is, what are you three going to do? Take over the world?"

"Of course," Ginny replied from beside her, soft assurance, confidence in that voice, sending a little ripple of excitement through her that doubled when Ginny's hand rested on her knee, the contact forming another conduit for a thought to hit her between the eyes, Ginny telling her privately 'I'll fill you in tonight.'

"Oh, will you?" she whispered aloud, enjoying the hint of confusion on the faces of the teachers. Confused that she would contradict Ginny, or somewhat aware of the fact that unspoken communication must be going on between them?

The look on Vector's face as she brushed a few strands of hair from her eyes, as she surreptitiously pressed at her left temple indicated the latter, judging by what she'd read of what Ravenclaw scholars termed the 'misplaced' arts of the mind. They weren't lost, weren't forgotten, it was just that almost everyone was incapable. That, or those few that were capable weren't talking about it. "I'll hold that to you tonight, Ginny dear."

"Better not be the only thing you hold to me," Ginny quipped, her cheer infecting Emeryth as she fought to remain serious. The three professors were on to them and she was only half in the game as it was, Ginny was more powerful than she'd thought remotely possible, and now she had to cover them as best she could.

Professors Vector and Sinistra were good sorts, though, and had both saved her from Gryffindor-given detentions at times when she'd been sure she was sunk, Sinistra even saving her retroactively at one point by swearing black and blue that the cigarette Emeryth had been caught with she had just been holding for the Astronomy professor.

Hagrid had been none too pleased about Sinistra's intervention, but the teacher had brought up several drunken incidences of bestiality that caused the filthy-blooded half-giant to back down, and fast. Sinistra was... could be... safe.

Vector had let her bludge cigarettes when she'd run out after Blaise had raided--hell, Vector had bought for her, Apparating to the nearest Muggle town when Hogsmeade was out of her favoured brand, since she was going shopping anyway. The professor was none too Gryffindor-friendly either, unlike the head of Ravenclaw who was everyone's friend... everything indicated that this Ravenclaw was in bed with Slytherin, probably so far as to count as honorary.

And Professor Snape... no matter what his past history entailed, even the Slytherins probably didn't know the half of it, but he had their best interests at heart just as much as his predecessor. Even if he wouldn't help them as fully as he could, he would not hinder.

"Are any of you," she nodded to the professors, "in allegiance to another? Past familia," she narrowed the field of her question for greater precision as it occurred to her, for very few proper Slytherins and Ravenclaws would not be in with their immediate family--it would take a very, very strong reason for them to bite the hand that fed them, "true allegiance without intent to betray?"

The chances of them lying in answer if they were, of course, was high--but Ginny ought be able to tell lie from truth even if she couldn't--Ginny could read minds, oh fuck, she'd spot every single dirty perverted thought Emeryth had ever had, she'd find out about that night with Luc at the end of last year when Ginny had finally agreed to go out with Potter, the night that had ended in absolute disaster pure and simple, the night when Emeryth had stupidly said one wrong word...

If she knew, she knew. Bit late to avoid it now, Emeryth could hardly unthink and undo the past.

"Vic and I are together," Sinistra admitted pleasantly enough, one hand tangled in Vector's hair so the other woman couldn't escape her, "but we've no other allegiances; we signed up to teach here, not to join Dumbledore's cause. Severus, on the other hand..."

"Is currently playing two sides--Dumbledore and Voldemort--against each other," Professor Snape finished for Sinistra, guessing with ease why she was asking, "Realistically, I need a safe out. Both of them are too involved in their little war, both of them are entirely too detached from reality for my tastes. Virginia, would it be a safe assessment to say that Mr. Riddle has no intention of joining forces with his elder self, and does not sympathise with..." he didn't even attempt to hide his disgust at Dumbledore now, dropping the pretence of deferring to the old man's 'wisdom', "Dumbledore and his noble wizards?"

"Not in this lifetime or the next," Ginny murmured. "Professor Snape?" her tone changed, power lacing her voice as she straightened in her seat. "What likelihood that their argument will have lethal repercussions for you?"

"Unavoidable," Professor Snape's voice was grave, his countenance matching, and he tapped once, twice on the arm of his chair--a nervous gesture, as much of one as a master of potions would allow himself. "Lord Voldemort is, I think, well aware that I'm a counterspy. Potter happened to let that slip at the beginning of last year. I live yet on his sufferance, he uses me to misinform Dumbledore as much as possible. Dumbledore twigged to this fact a month ago. He's trying to push Selene into play as Slytherin head so I can be retired in a little...accident. Martyr for the cause, you know."

Funnily enough, she for one was unsurprised. The only good Slytherin was a dead Slytherin, after all, her mother had heard words to that effect when the Ministry had 'tightened security' and incidentally fired every Slytherin and half the Ravenclaws, some of whom were actually financially dependent on their jobs and not just working to keep their fingers in each pie that came along.

Fired with absolutely no notice on arrival at work, it had been a mad scramble at home and at the Harpies' bank; every fired Slytherin and Ravenclaw of means, and the handful of Hufflepuffs who had resigned in disgust with loyalty towards their fired research partners or fellow Aurors, all of them had thrown whatever they had in loose change (from her mother, something in the range of three thousand Galleons) into a need account. The Harpies were trusted far more than goblins would be to distribute the money to those requiring it, and thus every family had managed to hold its head high in society despite the way the Ministry had attempted to cripple them.

Slytherins were so scorned on grounds of what they had been at eleven, what a subsequent seven years of discrimination had made them, and yet Gryffindors still wondered why they chose to keep house business just that--why they refused to rat on their peers and would have rathered snort razorblades than run to Dumbledore, all "Professor! Professor! Draco's dad is blowing the Dark Lord!" or something equally personal.

"Swear to me," Ginny said quietly, the offer coming slowly, "Swear to our side, Professor, and I promise no harm will come to you."

"...no harm will come to you," Virginia held out one hand to him, palm upmost, her eyes shining a feverish blue with the vivacity of Witch showing through the pale girl, her hair like dark fire and her skin pale, almost translucent.

Under ordinary circumstances he would not consider trusting the word of a Weasley--any Weasley, but he would vouch at that moment that this one was changeling, was other to what the rest of her family was or ever could be.

Truth be told he hadn't at all suspected Virginia capable of controlling, restraining Riddle, nor of having the will to be anything but a pawn... then, of course, she had said that word. Witch. her voice had resonated truth, and he hadn't missed Victoria's little gasp when the girl had admitted it, either. Victoria had confessed to being Witch-Insidiator when they had been drunkenly arguing about the sexism inherent in Euro-centric wizarding society after the rise of Muggle Christianity, and she'd pointed out Sinistra as another.

Not that they were the first he'd come across, of course.

When he'd visited Bellatrix in Azkaban, on one of the rare occasions when she let some madness fall away to appear almost lucid and thus capable of visitors...when the Dementors had retreated out of hearing range, Bella had admitted as much about herself, which made him suspect that Narcissa was another.

Bella had also explained what kind of physical and mental stimuli was necessary to actually become Witch...if Virginia had passed through that and remained in shouting distance of sane, any promise she made would be worth listening to.

The fact that he would escape the snares coiling about him wasn't lost on him, either.

Feeling just a little odd promising his allegiance to a girl twenty-four years his junior, Severus reached out a hand to cover Ginny's and paused, for a second lost on words appropriate to the moment.

"We're not that caught on formality," Emeryth chided after a heartbeat's time. "A simple 'fuck' will suffice."

A grin flickered on Ginny's face before being smothered by her serious expression, but she didn't nay say Emeryth's hint, leaving him to assume the younger Slytherin meant every word.

"Fuck, then," he swore.

"Accepted," Ginny said, covering his hand with her other and pressing lightly, raising that hand after a moment and leaning across the coffee-table with one knee on the polished mahogany to reach with unshaking fingertips, touching his brow and allowing the words to flow through from her subconscious. "No harm shall befall you by earth, air, fire or water. No hex, no curse, no spell and no poison. No blade and no rope." Then, as though she realised the grand scale she spoke on--as though there was just a touch of shame at it--she drew back again, breaking their contact.

With that loss her vow snapped into place, geas, unbreakable wards spinning around his mind and body, their touch electric on his skin but refreshing as a cool breeze. All the stress, all the tension and the worry he had carried years deep was driven away, soothing him to a degree he'd not imagined possible. He...he felt free for the very first time without a single shadow not his own, and it was an invigorating experience.

Thank you, Virginia... Emeryth. I'll be... indisposed for the next hour or so. You'll be able to find me after lunch if you..." A thought occurred to him, and he shook his head to negate his previous sentence. "You'll be able to find me when and wherever you will, but I trust to your Slytherin sense of discretion. Victoria, Selene, can I trust you to finish business without me?"

He actually grinned at Selene's cheerful suggestion he fuck off, and with a swift bow to Virginia he left, scaring Gryffindors and the more feeble Hufflepuffs with the deranged look in his eyes as he hurried toward the dungeons.

"That...took it out of me," Ginny said quietly, one languid brush of her hand pushing back the long red curls that had fallen into her eyes. She had acted purely on instinct after Professor Snape had mentioned the likely end-result of the scenario he was trapped in, she had probably expended needless energy when if she had stopped, if she had thought, she would have found a better way to do it than pure, not-quite-focused magic--but then she didn't feel wrong for doing so, it was one of the wisest moves she'd made so far.

Professor Snape knew what was happening in the current power-plays, probably the very best source of information short of Dumbledore or Voldemort, and she doubted either of them would be predisposed toward helping herself and Tom in any way more strenuous than finding a very short pier for them to take a walk off.

That and she found when she examined her thoughts, she genuinely liked and respected Professor Snape. He held a job that many others would have faltered at in the current situation, and despite his scorn of most Gryffindors he had not been so harsh to her, even when she was in the reviled Lions' den herself. His treatment to the Slytherins was perfectly fair, on the other hand. He did try to balance the scales, and for that...

"Y'did well," Professor Vector told her, inclining her head in the direction of the door. "You've pulled him from the gallows."

"And you seem like between you--you two and Riddle--you just might succeed," Sinistra added, shifting her weight to sit more comfortably since Vector showed no intent of taking the chair vacated by Professor Snape, "if, that is, you're planning to push for a more rational society along the lines of what the first Lord Voldemort had planned before he became a raving loony."

"S'pretty much it," she admitted, raising Emeryth's hand a moment to indicate to the girl. "The main thing holding us back at the moment is that Tom's missed fifty-five years of social and political changes--and you must know that my family is pro-Muggle to such a point that mentally...well, they're as clueless as a first-year Mudblood. Luckily I've got Em, whom I'm sure I can con into helping me."

"Conning's not necessary." Emeryth had already taken it for granted that all her skills and knowledge would be used ruthlessly in their bid for global domination, which saved time and effort on her part, on Emeryth's, it was best for everyone that way.

"You've got a fair few details to work out yet, but,"

"If you think you could put up with us..."

"We'd quite like to join you," they finished in unison.

Ginny and Emeryth both blinked in impressed amusement at the way Sinistra and Vector interwove their words, picking up this thread or that alone and finishing with a synchronicity that spoke of a long friendship--and everything else they'd confessed to--that they seemed to revel in. "I... I, we would be pleased to have you," Ginny managed after a minute, finding the recruiting business a great deal easier than she had thought it would be. "Swear?"

"Cagar," Sinistra said with a little grin, and Vector tsked at the dark-haired witch's dirty mouth--cagar... if that was from a Latin root, she'd just said something about the after-product of defecating...

Not to be outdone, or not caring if she was outdone, Vector sighed and patted Sinistra's shoulder. "Bollocks, then."

"Accepted," Ginny could only say with a shake of her head and a wry sideways glance to Emeryth. Sinistra had been right when she said Vector was thirteen, she'd seen more maturity from the stupid first-year Gryffindors she'd shepherded for months.

"Lest you think you're getting the worse side of the deal, I might as well mention that Selene and I both have Witch-potential," Vector commented after a minute or so of silence. "We weren't pushed to the point that we're actually Witch, but we're a tiny bit more powerful than the usual lot, so..."

"So I didn't recognise it," Ginny could almost have kicked herself as she read the signs, the little crackle of power around both professors, easily visible in Witchsight. "If it was really necessary, you could become Witch?"

Sinistra shook her head, then shrugged uncertainly. "Well, we didn't fancy pushing it because with unlimited power usually comes lunacy, but if the situation ever arose that we had to, we probably would."

"That's...good enough, I guess. More than I'd anticipated. Thank you, Professor Sinistra--Professor Vector." Ginny bit her lip, and tucked away the comment about lunacy for further thought at another time.

"Quite all right," the Astronomy witch murmured graciously. "You two may as well call us Selene and Victoria now, you know. We are aiding and abetting."

"We'll remember that in future," Emeryth said with a little grin, curling an arm around her knees. "Selene, Victoria? D'you think one of you could alibi us for Defence? We've...things to talk about."

Vector glanced at her watch at Emeryth's question, swearing once before she nodded. "Not a problem. Padma's got Arithmancy now so she may as well just teach it, I'll skip along to Lupin's and make your excuses in person--Selene?" Victoria had scrambled to her feet and now turned back to her--Ginny couldn't think of a term suitable to both the situation and the dignity of the teachers, so settled on--'friend', "You want to tag along or have you enough to keep you occupied for now?"

A strange light shone in Selene's violet eyes at the query, something best described as a cheerful murderous rage. "Oh, you wake me up after a pathetic three hours' sleep and now you think you can take off? Fine, I'm going back to bed." Selene stormed off in high dudgeon, slamming her bedroom door behind herself only to open it and peer out again, seeming perfectly calm. "Virginia, Emeryth, don't take this as indicative of our normal behaviour. We're ordinarily much worse. Vic, you think you can get them out of Dark Arts Avoidance for Sissies and tell them a little, then be back within half an hour?"

"Or else?"

"Or else."

"I can do it," Victoria nodded firmly, waving towards the door. "Gin, Em? Let's go inform Lupin that you'll not be attending class today."

They scampered quick enough from Selene's tower, Victoria swiping at the equation above the door to blur them out of working order as she left, closing the door behind herself without explaining her motive.

No explanation was necessary, Ginny found as they raced down the stairs, Victoria giving them a run for their money despite being about twice their age. Dumbledore knew the castle reasonably well, he had to. He was a powerful wizard simply by virtue of his advanced age, even if he was nothing compared to what she would, what she was becoming.

While there were parts of the castle that would remain dead silent to him by nature, Slytherin areas and Ravenclaw areas, probably places claimed by Helga Hufflepuff in fits of paranoia too, any 'common' area couldn't have remained silent or too benign without rousing suspicion.

Victoria explained to them her thoughts on a valid excuse for skipping Defence as they slid down the banisters from the sixth floor to the fifth--an independent research project on the use of Arithmancy in countercurses and wards, one usually handed out to seventh-years too big for their boots--and scribbled them a restricted-section pass as they made a more restrained and demure descent from the fifth to the fourth floor.

Then Victoria halted, waved a hand in the air--and Ginny saw her spell come into being, saw through Witchsight as arithmancy symbols and numbers flew from Victoria's fingertips in a shimmering wash of green and gold light that encircled them, spinning in a gentle pattern that prevented any sound from escaping, prevented anyone from hearing a word they said. It was no spell they would ever find in a book, arithmancy being one of the best crafts for making up spells on the fly and more easily customised than spells from a Latin or Runic base.

It would have made for a fascinating study, and if it wasn't obvious to her that Victoria had drawn a veil of secrecy around them to a purpose she would have lost herself in the numbers then and there.

"We don't commonly discuss this with anyone who hasn't found their own way there yet, but," Victoria glanced from Ginny to Emeryth and back again, "Either of you been to the library yet?"

"Which library?" Ginny asked after a second's consideration. The school library everyone had been to, they'd not have made it to second year without it, so Victoria couldn't have meant that one. Rumour had it that there were private libraries within the labyrinthine mass of tunnels within the school, libraries that had belonged to the founders and not been found since...she might have thought it simply a myth, Ravenclaw students' unattainable paradise, but then she had seen Salazar's office, which hadn't skimped on books. If he was anything to go by...

"Close. Rowena--well, she started Witch library. If you may, if you could someday be Witch, you usually find your way there before you awaken. That's a no, right?"

"I had no idea it existed," she admitted, feeling the fool. "All I know is what Percy told me, and what the...ah...voice dropped in my mind after Tom and I..."

"I didn't know either," Emeryth's confession cheered her for a reason; if her more well-informed friend with a Slytherin heritage stretching back to the times of the founders was as ignorant as she was, it made her own lack less galling, less of a shame. United by ignorance, that was them.

Victoria seemed a bit disturbed by this, to say the least, but she covered remarkably well. "Perhaps not yet time," she said, motioning them to continue downstairs. "Selene and I found each other there when we were twelve, but some in the book didn't find their way until they were seventeen or eighteen."

"The book?" Emeryth questioned, tilting her head to regard Victoria in a way that Ginny thought adorable. "There's more written on Witch than we can decipher from nursery-rhyme and children's books?"

"Much, much more," Victoria told them. "Soon, I'm sure, you'll be taken there. I'd guide you myself but it's not my right."

A month ago she'd have stopped and demanded Victoria take her to this Witch library at once. Of course, a month ago she wouldn't have been on first-name basis with the professor, or known any more of Witch than the most ignorant child. She wouldn't have had the untapped reserves of power she now held at her fingertips, and with that power came, on examination, patience. All things would come to her in time, and a Slytherin knew the... virtues of patience. "We can wait."

"That's good. Rushing things gets you nowhere, after all." Victoria dispelled the arithmancy working around them as they reached the Defence Against Dark Arts classroom, rapping casually on the door and looking in a moment later. "Oi, Remus--a word?"

Professor Lupin emerged swiftly, Ginny seeing past him her Slytherin yearmates all looking various stages of disgruntled at the course material and at the fact it looked as though Ginny and Emeryth wouldn't be joining them in tedious torture going over and over countercurses to the more fun hexes and curses they'd learned at their mother's knee. The ones, Ginny though with amusement as Julia pitched her book at Osiris' head, that they knew there was no sufficient countermeasure to, the only thing to do was avoid being hit by whatever curse--Osiris had ducked back out of the way and tossed his own textbook at Julia--retaliate, and--Lupin turned back to glower at the Slytherins only to see Julia and Osiris peacefully at work taking notes with reference to each other's books--not be caught in the act.

"I don't know if I can justify..." Lupin said reproachfully to Victoria, trailing off to let her agree that of course his class shouldn't be the one time was taken out of, that Victoria would find another time for Ginny and Em to do their research in.

"Honestly, it's as much to keep them out of trouble as anything else," Victoria admitted, gesturing for them to step back a little. They did and she nodded in approval, continuing in a hushed tone that they could hear anyway. "Ginny's switched to Slytherin, you know, and she's devoting even more time in the pursuit of academic excellence now that...well, Granger...Ginny's been improving and I think there's a little jealousy. You've seen Ginny's improvement yourself, don't you think she's fully up to date in your class?"

"Well, yes..." Lupin admitted, looking at Ginny with his wolf-eyes, studying her as though his mind wanted to rip hers apart and see what made her tick, made her special--and then looking at Emeryth. "Why her... friend, though?"

"Not far behind Ginny in your class, equal in mine...it's a topic that intersects neatly between our subjects. Dumbledore's looking too closely at them. Thought I'd find something for them to do before they're called onto the carpet again. That'n if you want, they could give you a list of reference-materials they used when they're done. Could give you a nice insight you'd not have come across yourself."

"Ravenclaws. Typical," he commented on Victoria's attitude, but he nodded in acceptance. "Your reasoning's not terminally unsound, I can see the method to your madness."

"Brilliant," Victoria waved them back within 'hearing range', pulling the restricted section pass out of her pocket and passing it to Lupin. "Sign. Two authorities is better than one."

He accepted it with grace, raising his eyebrows at the reason she'd stated--a simple 'research' with no further detail--but signed anyway, handing the pass to Ginny. "I'd be interested to hear anything you've found--within a week or so, say? And now I must get back to the snakes in my class--they already know near as much as I do on the subject, it's difficult to keep them busy for ten minutes at a stretch. Bye, Victoria--Ginny, Emeryth."

"Professor Lupin," she and Emeryth nodded their thanks, Victoria just waved, and they departed from the corridor leading to Lupin's classroom.

"Not a bad sort," Victoria commented lightly in regards to the professor they had just left, her arithmancy working for silence spinning up around them once more. "Should have been one of us, but I think Gryffindors were thin on the ground that year. Too many offed when Voldemort started making his bid, pathetic attempt to keep Gryffindor strong, tragically erroneous Sorting."

"The hat really does make mistakes?"

"Judgement errors. You weren't really a Gryffindor, were you?"

"No..." the teacher made an interesting point, she really did. Food for thought.

"And sorry, it looks as if you really are going to have to hit the library for a little. It'll do you good," and there the Ravenclaw came out again, "Look in the mythology shelves of the restricted section. Anything that's got my name, or Selene's, or the Black sisters in the withdrawal slip is worth a read. Ask Irma if you can use a Ravenclaw room, 'cos you, Ginny, look as though you should have a bit of a lie-down."

"Oh, thank you. I am a pale and delicate flower and ought not exert myself in any way."

"Don't be stupid--you're Witch. And if you don't take the time to pull your magic in, or sooner or later someone's going to notice."

"What!" Pull her magic in? Was it showing? What on earth was Victoria on about this time? There were so many things she had left to learn--why couldn't they have told her this before now?

"Hogwarts has so much magic in it that your power is obscured from outside view. If you're leaving for the holidays--if you're planning to go to Hogsmeade any time in the near future, you should make an effort to hide it." Victoria sighed, shaking her head. "Witchsight on. Look down."

Doing as she was told, really looking, Ginny saw... and swore.

Victoria was telling the truth, she could see the magic coiled within her; reaching out with snakelike tendrils of blue and green all around her, flickering over Emeryth and the professor, moving with single-minded intensity as it sought and probed the magic in the very walls of Hogwarts, the magic of those around her. Their magic was held firmly beneath their skins, Emeryth's invisible and she only knew it was there by sense, not sight, Victoria's fingertips were overshadowed with green-gold but otherwise her magic was in check, and she... she was... "I'm a bloody tentacle-monster!"

"What you're doing now is a bit rude, to tell the truth," Victoria informed her with a smile. "I'd have noticed the Cthulhu effect earlier but I try to keep Witchsight turned off for the most part, it gets distracting. I'm 'ooo, shiny!' enough as it is now, y'know?"

Ginny nodded, only half-aware of Victoria and Emeryth's hushed conversation in the background, filing it away in her memory for later when she wasn't immediately distracted by an attempt to control herself. Something in her internal struggle must have woken Nidhogg, or the poor serpent was hungry, for he slithered further around her neck, raising his head and speaking quietly, his tongue flicking her earlobe every few words. "No, not like that," he commanded, sounding very sure of himself for a snake that hadn't yet hibernated once. "You can't just sssuck it up, there'sss nowhere for the magic to go."

"Oh, if you're ssso clever, how would you do it?" she snapped, unable to stop herself before the words came out. "Sorry, I didn't mean..."

Nidhogg nudged her gently, snorting in a rather human way as he answered "Underssstood. You mussst coil, like a sssnake. Coil the magicss within you."

His advice was sound, probably the best she could get at the time as magic--one's own, personal magic differed from everyone else's by temperament, strength and vitality despite the 'everyone is just as good as everyone else' theory Dumbledore tried to push on them as a way of minimising anti-mudblood sentiment. Any control-method would have to be individual, and Nidhogg's way worked, she found as her magic indeed coiled within her, spinning fast as a whirlwind over and over that she could see, even with her eyes closed, more than she had thought of in her wildest power-hungry dreams, wrapping around her innermost spark of power, layers upon layers of magic until she was punch-drunk on it.

Eventually she recalled that she was standing in a third-floor corridor, one without classrooms in use but nonetheless anything but the place to take a private moment, Ginny opened her eyes once more. Witchsight most emphatically on--and she looked normal. As normal as Emeryth or Victoria, with her magic drawn back into herself, lurking beneath her skin until she needed it. It lurked at her fingertips, just as Victoria's did, and she could use it that way...

A thought occurred to her in that moment and she reached up, sketching the same rune into the air that Blaise had used the night before.

"Oh, bugger!" Vector cursed, grabbing their hands and tugging them away from the symbol that quivered in the air. As they dashed toward the stairs, jumping over the rail, a wall of water followed them, thunderously loud and more menacing than the worst storm--

But they landed hard on one of the moving staircases, Ginny off-balance and saved from a roll down to the first floor only by the intervening hand of Emeryth, all three of them sufficiently far from the water that it cascaded down in front of them, flooding the bottom floor.

"You might," Victoria muttered calmly as she dispelled the silence ward for good and dug out her cigarettes, as Peeves zoomed in from higher levels called down by the chaos running rampant, "want to be more careful in future."

"Oooooh!" Peeves shouted, spinning around them like a short and demented top. "Look what--" he paused a moment to assess who they were, and Victoria flung the nigh-full box of cigarettes at the poltergeist with a hiss for him to take the fall, they'd reckon the balance that night. Peeves caught the box easily a half-second before it would have hit him in the head, and once more began to spin around the hall in ever-widening circles, chanting with renewed vigour, "--I did! Look what I did!"

"Now let's get the hell out of here," Victoria pointed toward the library with one hand, the other sketching a tumult of numbers and symbols that whirled around her alone in a tight spiral. "Go. If I don't return to her now, Sel will be spitting tacks. Seeya 'round."

With that order, when they turned and pelted the rest of the way downstairs as though their heels were aflame, Victoria disappeared.

"Must get her to teach us that one," Emeryth said with one last backward glance as Ginny hauled the library door open, both of them slipping in quickly as heavy footfalls sounded from the direction they had fled.

"Oh yes."

"Strategic murder, of course. There are a regrettable number of self-styled heroes," Tom explained with a dismissive snort at the thought of the two most annoying thorns currently in his side, although they didn't yet know it, "and most of them would be less than content with our vision of a new world order."

"I quite understand. I've seen a number of them who enter my shop to purchase a wand...and there, I was thinking, I might be of quite some use to the cause," Ollivander stretched comfortably on the small sofa that was just around the corner and out of sight from the inside of his shop, cracking his knuckles in a way that would be particularly menacing to one of less strong disposition, for all that he was a man of four hundred and thirty six years. "The wand chooses the wizard...but the wand also remembers its maker."

"You have a deviously cunning mind, Mr. Ollivander. What would you have them do?"

"Why, thank you, Mr. Riddle. I was thinking something along the lines of spontaneous wand combustion, as a matter of fact."

"Which would quite ruin their chances, if I'm not mistaken?" Few of those on the 'light' side had the mental discipline to learn purer magic, whether it be the small spells one could do sans wand if the will was strong enough, or magic by the old ways--runes, arithmancy, blood and tears. Few, if any. Which reminded him... "The Ancient Runes professor at Hogwarts--and the Arithmancy one. Do you know if they're likely to oppose us?"

"Ah, no. I'm acquainted with both girls... Ravenclaws of our sort. They're too young to have been involved in Voldemort's campaign, but they've no anti-Slytherin sentiment as some of the very young do. The Arithmancy professor's with a Slytherin and the Runes is easily-bribeable with shiny artefacts."

"Should I see if they can be swayed to our cause?" Tom asked lightly, examining the chair in which he sat as though his question was but an idle thought instead of the actual concern that it was. Polished rosewood that matched the sofa, heavy shot silk from the orient in a rippling blue-green shade, lightly embroidered with iridescent thread, more interesting to look at than one would think from first glance--

"Winning them would not be difficult, in my opinion." Ollivander looked thoughtful, almost curiously so. "You could take them. The Malfoys, now, they were...very firm supporters of yourself, even after Voldemort's fall--however, they were not stupid. Narcissa's silver tongue kept herself, her husband and nearly fifty others out of Azkaban, and they had to pay for that freedom after Voldemort's resurrection. That they had not suffered the full thirteen years was seen as disloyalty from what Death Eater gossip says. They've fallen into disgrace."

"Punished for having the intellect not to get locked up in Azkaban? I had realised Lord Voldemort had lost his brain, but not to such an extent. I'd prefer free agents to aid me rather than devoted and crazed followers locked up with soul-sucking creatures."

"And that brings me to Narcissa's sister, Bellatrix Lestrange," Ollivander smiled wryly.

"...yes?" he prompted.

"She took much of the blame for her sister's misdeeds and went to Azkaban for that as well as torturing the Longbottom family past the point of insanity."

"Impressive." Mad, but impressive. The woman had to have known the risks she took, the chance that she would get the Dementor's Kiss instead of a lifetime sentence--first-degree torture, and Slytherins knew how to torture, was enough to get one kissed as a menace to society. Then she claimed responsibility for the actions of her sister, saving the other woman from sharing her fate?

"Her loyalty was not rewarded. One and a half years after Voldemort's second rise she still languishes in Azkaban."

Ollivander had a reason for telling him this, of course. Their conversation wasn't the idle roaming thing it might seem to an unwitting eavesdropper, although the area they were in was bespelled for sound not escaping and thus an eavesdropper was impossible. Every word, every sentence was pure information exchange. "You believe I can gain her loyalty for myself, as my older, crazier self has forgotten what he owes?"

"I think, with a little work, you could do so." Ollivander frowned at the tinkle of his doorbell, and rose with a speed that belied his age. "If you will excuse me a few moments?"

Tom nodded, and Ollivander left him to his musings.

The Malfoys were Ollivander's first thought of likely allies for him, and it had been with their assistance that he had come back to life. Virginia had done the work but they had returned the diary to her in the first place, they had to have some idea what she would do. Narcissa Malfoy, from what little he knew of her, was one of the sharper knives in society's back--she would realise that a sixteen year old girl wanted more than a diary to talk to, and she would realise he wouldn't twiddle his thumbs and lounge about in book form when there was a chance he could have something more.

Lucius Malfoy had been one of his other self's most trusted men before that self's fall, and his demotion in status had to rankle. If Lucius was a clever man, and Tom had to assume he was, then he had to see that Tom stood a greater chance of success than Voldemort, and the odds were that Lucius had as equal a hand in returning him to Virginia as his wife had. Was Lucius, however, a pragmatic man?

And their son, Draco. Virginia knew more about the boy than he did--she had yet to say anything bad about him. Arrogant, but rightfully so, charming, but not a patch on Tom. Affianced to Pansy Parkinson who likely had some pull with her own family to be granted such an advantageous match. The girl was also--involved--with a Ravenclaw, another tie to the Eyrie-dwellers. If he chose the right people for his inner circle, and just happened to tug... with the domino effect, who knew how many would end up firmly within his camp?

Then there was the sister of Narcissa, probably married into the Dark Arts-favouring Lestrange family unless that was their maiden name. Loyalty seemed to be one of her strong points, and if he could win that loyalty...

"You might also inquire about a matter of a... personal nature when you meet Narcissa," Ollivander spoke as he re-entered the little sitting-area. "I can't really say any more on that, as I know none of the details, and a misinterpreted fragment of the truth is worse than no further information at this date."

"Acceptable." A matter of a personal nature? What on earth? If it was that his other self was the real father of Draco, and owed some seventeen years of child support, he would not be impressed--no. Impossible. It was simply too wrong.

"This way," Blaise murmured, gesturing impatiently to the small group of Slytherins and Ravenclaws following her as she followed the tiny green ball of light that floated above her hand--followed it to her sister, who ought to be with Ginny unless something was very wrong. They were skipping lunch to hunt down the fifth years, and if she was leading her yearmates up the garden path, they wouldn't be terribly happy. But the library wasn't an impossible place for Emeryth to hide out, and it was deserted the first twenty minutes of lunchtime almost always...

Unless one was hiding.

They stopped at the door to the second Ravenclaw room of the library, Padma nipping forward and placing her palm flat on the door, and it swung open. Beyond them, leaning over the table, were their quarry.

"Ginny? It's time we had a little talk."

The taller redhead turned, gazed at Draco as the one who had spoken whilst they all filed in. "About?" she asked, her voice trembling ever so slightly.

The door shut behind them, and Draco answered, "Tom Riddle."