Chapter Two
In Which It Escalates

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There was rain.

Her robes clung to her thighs. Her fingers were clasped together in a frozen arch, and she held them in a fist so tightly that her knuckles turned white. It was cold, and there was rain, and she didn't like to think about rain (because of when). She had stumbled off of the train, her bags whipping against her legs in the night wind, and had stepped into a small boat on the edge of the lake, which was wide and black and deep. She remembered this. There wasn't really a way to forget, regardless.

She looked for Hagrid in the pitch darkness, but then remembered that he was gone.

Her hair fell out of its bun at her neck, and curled desperately about her ears.

The castle loomed ahead of her, and it was... there, just there, and she didn't know how else to describe it. Because there was nothing else to see - it was eleven, and the night hung over the moor like a thick cloud - and she glanced at it, and there was nothing else. She had decided; she had done it; and here she was. There was nothing to think about, or wonder about. There was no time for thinking. There was no time for second thoughts.

None at all.

So why are you having them?

"Lumos," she said to her wand, which gave a familiar buzz in her hand, and lit with a comforting yellow light. She wrote down the words quickly on the tanned parchment, her fingers wrapping around the quill base, tense and stifled.

Patient shows unsettling signs of paranoia. Suffers from disturbing thoughts of hypocrisy and apathy. Wishes to turn this goddamn boat around and go scrub rich people's floors. Diagnosis, doctor? A quick cuppa, a chocolate frog, a bag of Every Flavor Beans, and a spell to turn this goddamn boat around.

The last sentence was hastily scribbled in a not-quite-cursive print. The spell that was propelling the oars to the left and right of her legs slowed with a creak, and she lifted the hem of her sopping robes to step off the edge of the boat, but ended up stumbling onto the shore instead. She wondered, amiably, why they hadn't sent a guide for her. Was this some sort of test for new teachers? Was she truly categorized as a 'new teacher'? Was she really wading through knee deep grass to get to a path that she remembered from her childhood? Was she truly avoiding the sight of the Whomping Willow that waved its branches in her direction? Was she really standing at the foot of a castle that-wasn't-supposed-to-be-here-anymore?

Was she really murmuring apologies into the edges of her thick black gloves, and hitting the knocker against the boom of the great front doors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

…Was Draco Malfoy really standing in front of her, his robes torn and tattered and patched, his thin hair longer and pulled into a half-ponytail, staring at her with an utter look of shock on his pale and drawn face?

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

- - -

"-- And I am pleased to announce that the arrival of our newest member of staff will be staying with our humble family for the entirety of this year --" Dumbledore was alive. She half-hated him for it. "And I sincerely hope that she will find her times here most enjoyable."

She was standing in front of a table of teachers, half of whom she remembered from before her time. Lupin clapped enthusiastically, his crinkled blue eyes warm. Luna clapped as well -- dear, dear Luna -- who looked like something out of her half-forgotten dreams, with long beautiful blonde hair that passed her waist and the same, dreamy, beautiful eyes that had haunted those same dreams from time to time. Dear, dear Luna, who smiled and waved, despite the dark and dreary circles under those beautiful eyes. Dear Luna, who sat next to Draco Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy, who Ginevra Molly Weasley remembered, and wished she didn't.

Draco Malfoy, who didn't look at her with a face full of hated -- who, in fact, didn't look at her at all. He was staring at Luna's hands, which were drumming slightly on the white-spotted tablecloth, with an intense look of concentration. Oh, she realized with a pang of recognition, as Dumbledore went on speaking diligently and patiently and delightedly. He wasn't looking at her on purpose. She had a feeling that if he did in fact look at her, she would fall to that place again, where a thin-and-wiry blond boy of seventeen was curled up into a corner, his hands over his face…

"--Miss Weasley…?"

She started back into today, gratefully. "Oh," she said. "…Was I --"

"I was telling of your many achievements, Miss Weasley," Dumbledore replied warmly, his blue eyes twinkling, his hands over his long white beard. "I believe you were Head Girl, seventh year, were you not?" Oh, seventh year. Seventh year. Don't fall, don't fall. "And you are, of course, trained in Muggle arts and studies --"

"--Only briefly," she stammered quickly. "I only finished three fourths of the semester --"

A couple of the teachers, some of whom she did not in fact know, started in their chairs from their slumps and glanced at her, wide eyed, and tittered amongst themselves. Many of them were quite young, and this surprised her a bit. The older teachers -- the N.E.W.T level teachers -- nodded at her approvingly, McGonagall the leader of the pack, her firm chin bobbing up and down. Malfoy was looking at her, now. She felt his stare on the side of her neck.

"That," she said quietly after a moment, "was a very long time ago."

"Quite," Dumbledore murmured, and gave her a wise look. "It must be said, then, that you are the first witch to teach the healing arts that Hogwarts has had in five hundred years. I believe the exact year was 1567 that our fifty-fourth healer retired, which makes you our fifty-fifth. Ms. Weasley," he said joyously, "will be teaching N.E.W.T level students with an interest in healing. I'm sure she will be made welcome by faculty and students alike."

A brief, hesitant burst of applause that was led by Remus and Luna once more.

"Good job," Remus said comfortingly, as she sat down in a slump next to Luna, who idly picked her hands off the table cloth and tucked a piece of stray blonde hair behind her ear. "You've done well. I daresay they'll think twice before placing you in the dungeons like they planned."

"Thank you," she murmured, and watched Remus send a look -- disapproving? -- across the table. She didn't see where that look was directed; instead, she turned to Luna, who was smiling calmly. "It really was nothing."

"Nonsense," Luna said brightly and passed Ginny a teacup that was full of a creamy mixture that tasted wonderful, as well as passing one to Lupin and one behind her.... "You did splendidly. You will come and visit me, of course?"

"Of course," she replied, and sipped quietly. "You can show me what you've done with the Divination room, I've been wanting to see it --"

She heard someone -- someone being a relative term -- choke from behind Luna, who didn't bat an eyelash. Remus sent a concerned look in the direction of the sound, and gave a quite audible exhale a moment later, disapproval firmly etched on his face. Luna either didn't notice or didn't show a sign of noticing, because a moment later she smiled dreamily and asked about Ginny's plans for the semester, and asked if she thought they might combine classes sometime, because that would be simply lovely and there were a lot of herbs used in common for healing and divination, you know.

Ginny was grateful for the distraction. Luna was a distraction -- not that she had planned to be, of course, but it was convenient -- and it gave Ginny a chance to regain her composure and to talk to someone who knew what they were doing. That was nice. It was very nice. It was also nice to talk to someone who didn't cringe to her face, or look at her with eyes full of pity. Luna was still Luna, and Ginny felt a tension in her stomach release, as if she'd been holding her breath for weeks. For all she knew, she could have been.

Oh, it was good to have a best friend again.

"Do try to be careful this month," said Luna thoughtfully, after a moment. "The planets are in conflict with your sign. Any unplanned activities could be dangerous. And try to watch out for unfriendly acquaintances." The blonde woman sipped her tea favorably and smiled dreamily. "But there's always a smidgen of good luck in every fortune… I think there's a nice little surprise in yours."

Ginny found herself smiling back. "Trelawny would have disagreed with you."

Remus snorted politely into his tea. "I'd eat my hat if Sybill taught the students a single thing. Delightfully dramatic woman, of course, and a gifted Seer, but not quite with those in the waking world. Not as lovely as our Luna, either, now was she?"

"I found her to be quite fascinating," Luna said. Her was voice light and full of an honesty that Ginny envied. "She always gave the most interesting predictions."

Whatever Remus was going to say in reply, however, was drowned out by Dumbledore, who had stood up once more at the head of the staff table and called attention to himself by asking for it. "Friends," the old man said, "I believe it is time to retreat to our comfortable beds once more. I bid you all goodnight!"

Drawing himself up, past the multitude of still-chatting teachers and staff that passed him toward the great hall, Dumbledore smiled at Ginny and Luna warmly. "Miss Weasley, now," he said calmly. "You'll be needing a room."

"I'll be happy to show her, Albus --"

"--That won't be necessary, Remus; I believe your room is in the far West Wing? No, Miss Lovegood, your rooms are far as well…" Dumbledore paused. "I'll have a house elf bring you down, then. I trust that you do not have the same aversion to them that Miss Granger seems to have about her…? Good, good. Yes, we shall talk more in the morning, when our heads are not full of fluff."

Dumbledore had a very strong aura of persuasion. She remembered that.

- - -

Two minutes later she was holding her bags close to her hip -- she had refused to give them to the train attendants and the house-elf, who had stared at her reproachfully as she'd tried to send him off.

"I don't need help," she'd said, but the house-elf had simply tugged at her skirts and told her in a squeaky voice that it was the Headmaster's wish and that Mistress shouldn't be so foolish, no, not when the headmaster was being so nice. She had been very close to giving him a stocking and getting him out of her hair, but had decided against it.

Ginny managed to lose him around the corner of the second level of the dungeons. On her way in, the suit of armor her brothers had bewitched to tip its hat at her rumbled a greeting.

Several portraits, still awake, glared at her out of the corners of their eyes. She swallowed, her bags clicking against her thighs, and pressed onwards, too numb to worry about where she was going, and too numb to distinguish the spots along the way that would have jolted her to the core had she been paying attention.

"Uhm --" she murmured, staring out a charmed window toward the east, which was bewitched to show the northern skies, bright and pretty. "Patient is distracted easily and refuses to cooperate. Diagnosis, doctor? Oh, I'd say a nice nap and a visit to – ouch"

Her bags went flying everywhere, spilling various papers and books and quills. Scrambling on the floor, her hair falling in her eyes, she began to form a sentence of apology, quiet and controlled, expecting a fumbling student. "Oh dear -- excuse m--"

She froze as her eyes caught the edges of tall-and-thick black robes.

She slowly moved her gaze upward. Oh. Oh, good God.

This is you, staring at Severus Snape, who is staring at you.

His hair was long and thick and black, and it hung in a loose ponytail down his back, and he stared at her, and she stared back, and neither of them said a word.

She was thrown back into that place of this-was-when, and she fought it, kicking and screaming, but was dragged back anyway. Because this was the man who could have -- and she was standing in front of him, and she could feel his hand on the place on her neck where he had knocked her into darkness. This was the man who could have. This -- this was wrong. He was wrong. No, she wouldn't let this happen. She grabbed for her wand in her back pocket, and opened her mouth to scream --

"Hullo," someone said in a strangled voice, and she realized it was herself.

His brows were furrowed in concentration. He looked... older. His skin was sallow and cracked, and there were lines on his face that hadn't been there fifteen years ago. But it wasn't fifteen years ago, was it? It was twenty-and-three years in the future, and she realized with a helpless feeling that she was staring, and gave up.

"'Mmm sorry," she murmured, and grabbed in vain for her quills and parchment; her ink bottles had spilled over on the cold stone floor, staining the tiles a deep purple. "...Wasn't watching where... I... damn, sorry..."

"Miss Weasley," Snape said, as if not quite believing that she was there, scrambling about on the floor in front of him. "Weasley."

"Y-yes?" She squeaked, and covered her mouth with ink stained hands in horror at hearing her voice and its ridiculous pitch. "I mean, uhm, yes?"

He merely stared. She suppressed a complimentary shiver and continued to gather her books, her hair falling out of its prim bun and scratching against her cheeks. She suddenly felt very young, like a student caught doing something particularly nasty, and Snape really wasn't helping, because he was still the same no matter how old he looked, and he was staring at her and she really, really wanted to sink into the floor.

She realized with a jolt that she hadn't felt like that since she'd been seventeen and young and all-too-foolish, but that perhaps this was the point where she'd stop blushing like a schoolgirl and be what she was supposed to be. (It didn't matter that she didn't quite remember what that was, at the moment.)

"Yes?" She asked as firmly as she could, and stood, her bags clinking around her hips once more, tucking a stray strand of wild red hair behind her ear. "Yes?"

"…You've arrived," Snape said, and his eyes narrowed in confusion. "…Late?"

"It was a… a late invitation. I wasn't prepared," she said, as if that explained everything. "I had to get everything in order -- materials, that sort of thing --"

"-- I trust your trip was -- enjoyable."

"…Yes."

"…Good." His brows locked in a deep line, he glanced at her one more time with a strange sort of empty glare, and continued on his way, his black robes billowing out from behind him, his heels clicking on the cold stone floor. "Good."

She watched him walk away with her mouth open about as wide as it could go.

- - -

Her room was quiet and dark, and covered in a thin layer of dust. She lit all the candles she could find and charmed a broom she found in a cobwebbed corner to sweep the floor, as well as a duster that looked as if it hadn't been used in centuries (but with Hogwarts, one could never tell). She was vaguely surprised that the house elves hadn't gotten around to cleaning -- she had been under the impression that they cleaned every single room in the castle at least seven times a year, more -- but she supposed that even they couldn't be much bothered with the dungeons.

She tapped her wand to the newly dusted wardrobe and gestured to her bags, which un-compacted themselves and spilled themselves of their contents. Within minutes her skirts and robes were neatly hung on rusted hangers and the candles she'd lit twinkled brightly. She gave out a breath of half-satisfaction, and told herself not to collapse.

A low canopy bed sat in the middle of the room, scarlet velvet sheets nearly stained black with dust, and it sagged with a groan when she sat carefully on its edge.

"Lovely," she said cheerfully, and buried her face in her hands.

- - -

Ginevra found, to her great disgust, that she couldn't sleep.

It was perfectly natural that she should be surer of herself during the night, wasn't it? She didn't tell herself to hesitate during the night; she simply did what she had to do. Craving relief from the pitch black, she nearly snapped her shinbone as she stumbled in the dark toward the door, her hair free and crackling around her hips. Damn damn damn.

This had absolutely nothing to do with Draco Malfoy. Absolutely nothing.

"Honestly," she hissed, and waved the candles alive, their wax dripping on her fingertips. "If you keep deluding yourself like this, dear, you're going to have to pay for it later."

Talking to herself had become perfectly manageable and she didn't feel like battling herself about the habit, so she continued with an air of superiority, and stayed away from the hesitant doubt that she was slowly and surely going insane.

It was just like Dumbledore, to give her a classroom in a dungeon.

She went back to bed amongst velvet sheets and bright, flickering lights, and dreamed against her will of the weeping boy in the corner.

- - -

Morning came, even if she couldn't see it. She managed to find her way back to the main hall, and froze at the sight of twenty-odd students who were chatting noisily and swallowing crunchy toast. Gryffindors, with the addition of a few quiet Ravenclaws and a studious Hufflepuff. Quidditch season, then.

Nervous and pale, she edged past the wide doorways and slid into the teacher's hall, which she was relieved to find empty. It was nearly half past four in the morning, after all. Her feet were freezing in their stockings, and she was thoroughly relieved to see the beginnings of breakfast appearing on the table.

She managed to finish before anyone appeared, and with building apprehension stepped into the hallway, a deep appreciation rising in her chest as she viewed the shimmering visions of brooms and dangling legs outside of the window.

"They're brilliant, aren't they?"

She started and whirled around, her heart jumping in her chest, to see the visage of a tall black-haired sixth year, whose handsome face was alight with recognition. The boy nodded in greeting, and glanced at the players once more, their bright uniforms shining a bright scarlet and gold in the sun. "I bet they're the best Gryffindor's had in years."

"Really?" She murmured, her interest catching fire despite herself. "Who's the seeker?"

"Crimea. Obnoxious, but passably brilliant in key. Wicked seeker." The boy gave a charming grin in her direction, bright brown eyes twinkling warmly with a fiery interest similar to her own. "I've seen him pull off a Feint in two minutes."

"Wow," she said appropriately. The boy seemed satisfied with that and frowned at her in a gentlemen-like way, his mercurial face open and welcoming. He thinks I'm a student, she thought amusedly. Do I look that young? "You're --"

"--Yates," he broke in cheerfully. "Gryffindor. Sixth-year. You?"

"Ginevra Weasley," she murmured gently. "Professor Weasley, to you." His face lit with shocked recognition, his eyes widening almost comically, and she waved a hand dismissively. "Don't worry, I won't pull points off for being pert." His shoulders relaxed, and she found herself grinning. "Yates. I'll remember that."

"I apologize, Professor," Yates said charmingly, the gentlemen act back in its firm place. "I was under the impression that you were a visiting visage from Bulgaria. They seem to pop up all over the place, now and then."

"Then again," she said, and gave a half-frown, which twitched into a reluctant smile. "I should take points off after all; but I won't," she said, at the sight of Yates opening his mouth to correct himself. She shook her head. "Are you always this friendly with your professors?"

"None of my professors are like you," said Yates appreciatively, and grinned boyishly. She laughed, a warm feeling of affection rising in her chest.

"Have you had breakfast yet, Yates?"

"No, Professor. I was just heading down."

"Then get to eating. You'll need the energy for the match." She brushed a strand of red hair behind her ear. "I expect you to be cheering the loudest. Gryffindors do have strong lungs, if I do remember correctly."

Yates grinned. "Of course, Professor. We'll see you at the match, then?"

"Wouldn't miss it," she said, surprising herself with her honesty. "And now I hope you'll consider removing yourself from my sight before I decide to change my mind and take ten points off Gryffindor."

The boy grinned cheekily. "Of course, Professor."

She watched him go with a kind lightness in her heart that hadn't been there before.

- - -

Rurouni Star kicks ass! 3 You crack me up.

Anyway. Changed a few minor things. Nothing huge, mostly grammatical type stuff. As for continuity, do we want Ginny meeting Draco Malfoy at the door or in the Great Hall? I just don't know why he would be out there waiting for her if he didn't know she was coming…