Learning to Cope
By Bluebird 88
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe belongs to J.K. Rowling. No copyright infringement is intended.
The first days after Ginny was rescued from the Chamber of Secrets passed in a bit of a blur. Caught up in the excitement of the impromptu feast, the revival of petrified students, and Gryffindor's ecstasy over the points that Harry and Ron had been awarded, Ginny didn't have time to think, didn't have time to remember. Everyone was eager to return to their normal lives, and that suited Ginny just fine. The last thing she wanted was to dwell for too long on what had happened to her.
It had almost been a relief when her parents had left. At first, she had wanted them close, desperate for the security she felt when she was with them. Curled up in her mother's lap like a little girl, clutching her father's hand, it was easy for Ginny to feel safe. After a while, though, she had grown tired of her Mother's alternating bouts of fussing and scolding. She found she could no longer look her father in the eye. After he'd gotten over his initial shock, of course, he'd reassured her that he wasn't angry, that he was just happy she was safe. But she could see the disappointment in his eyes, if not the condemnation she had expected, and she knew it was justified. She should have known better.
Ron had told her gruffly, in typical Ron fashion, that he was glad she hadn't died. Percy had gone on quite the tirade for a while, ranting about how foolish she had been and demanding to know why she hadn't come to him, before snatching her up in a fierce hug and whispering in her ear how awful those few hours had been, when the whole house had thought her dead. Fred and George, looking about as serious as Ginny had ever seen them, had made her promise to never again keep something like that to herself.
Most of the other Gryffindors treated her kindly, if a bit cautiously. No one seemed angry, or even fearful. Ginny saw no blame, no accusation in the looks her housemates gave her. If anything, they treated her like something delicate and fragile, like they were afraid she would shatter if they weren't careful. They'd all accepted Harry's explanation of what had happened. No one questioned the fact that she hadn't been willing, or even truly conscious, while doing the bidding of a boy who would grow up to be the most feared wizard of the century.
Mostly, they seemed horrified at the idea of what she had been through. The older students made a point of keeping an eye on her, finding excuses to walk her to breakfast and clustering around her in the common room, forming a protective circle. They were appalled at the thought of such a young, innocent girl being exposed to something so thoroughly evil.
As the initial excitement and relief began to wear off, however, Ginny found herself struggling more and more to accept that things were back to normal. She tried desperately to keep herself busy. That was the key, she knew. If she focused all her attention on schoolwork and Quidditch and who was snogging whom, she wouldn't have to feel the frigid air of the chamber on her skin, or see Tom's cold sneer, or remember that awful, sick feeling in her stomach when she realized what she had done, how she had been deceived.
If she stayed up late chatting with her year-mates and studying her textbooks, she told herself, she would be too exhausted to dream. If she wore herself out during the day, she would never have to remember that awful, violated feeling she'd experienced when she had felt a brush of something other than herself, something unwelcome and alien, on the surface of her consciousness.
Every time Ginny found her mind drifting towards thoughts like these, she tried with all her might to push them away. Even then, though, she couldn't swallow the huge lump of disappointment that accompanied her wherever she went. This was supposed to have been the best year of her life. For as long as she could remember, Ginny had dreamed about what it would be like when it was finally her turn to enter Hogwarts.
She had had plans for this year. Big plans. Instead, though, she'd mucked it all up by being so unbelievably stupid. How could she have been so gullible? Why hadn't it seemed at all suspicious that someone as smooth and sophisticated as Tom would be interested in the day-to-day drama of an eleven-year-old girl's life? Why hadn't she remembered what her father had always told her about dangerous dark objects? Hadn't he warned her over and over about not trusting things that could think for themselves? Why had none of that seemed important amidst her excitement over her new friend? How could she possibly have been so naïve?
Ginny tried hard to hide how upset she still was, how the experience still tormented her. As far as everyone else was concerned, she was perfectly fine again. It was what they wanted to hear, she knew. No one really wanted to think about the kinds of lingering effects such an ordeal might have on a young girl. They were content to simply agree that it was all over, and that everything had turned out all right in the end.
And they were right, after all, weren't they? There was no reason to keep dwelling on it. She was fine. Fine, damn it!
She was relieved that it was all over, of course, and that Hermione had figured it all out. She was grateful that Ron and Harry had gone after her, if a touch embarrassed that her hero had been the one to find out what she'd been up to all year. The whole thing had been horrible all around, of course, but she'd bounce back. She was a Weasley, after all. Weasleys didn't go down without a fight.
I'm fine. It's over. I'm fine. This became her mantra. Over and over, she'd repeat it to herself, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the traitorous part of her mind that pointed out evidence to the contrary – that people who were fine didn't wake up in the middle of the night, soaked in sweat and gasping for air, unable to go back to sleep.
She invented excuses for the dark circles that began to appear under her eyes. She was just a little tired, that was all. Perfectly natural to have a bit of trouble sleeping. Nothing to worry about. And Ginny had always been pale, after all. Such things were bound to be more noticeable on her.
She forced herself not to think about the fact that people who were fine didn't experience brief moments of panic, didn't feel their breath hitch and their palms start to sweat, every time they forgot about a quiz or mislaid a quill. She was just a bit distracted, that was all. It wasn't because she was reminded of those awful gaps of blank space in her memory, when she couldn't remember where she'd been. She wasn't wondering if it was happening again, because she knew it couldn't possibly be. Tom was dead. Gone. He couldn't hurt her anymore. Or at least, so she kept telling herself
Ginny had been glad when classes resumed, grateful for the return to normalcy. At the same time, though, she had dreaded the reactions of her professors. The last thing she wanted was anyone making a fuss. She knew it was awful of her, but in a way she was almost glad that Colin was one of the students who had been petrified. She hoped his return might take some of the attention off of her.
Each professor's reaction had been different, in keeping with his or her own personality. Professor Sprout had been warm and motherly, while Professor McGonagall's eyes had gone suspiciously bright when she'd seen her two students back in class. Professor Flitwick had given Colin an enthusiastic welcome, and murmured to Ginny in his squeaky little voice, "It's all over now, my dear," patting her hand under the guise of offering advice on the charm she was working on.
Defence was cancelled, of course, now that Lockhart was without his memory. Ginny couldn't help feeling a bit of grim satisfaction at hearing that. For the first time all year, Ginny had found herself relieved to be going to History of Magic. Surely Binns, of all people, wouldn't be one to make a fuss. Sure enough, he was completely oblivious to her return, droning on in the same monotonous voice he used every other day, seemingly unaware that anything out of the ordinary had occurred.
If there was one class Ginny was dreading, it was Potions. She imagined Snape's cold, mocking voice and habitual sneer. Surely he wouldn't miss the chance to point out how stupidly Gryffindor she had been.
By the time Friday rolled around, though, Ginny was finding it difficult to care. Her difficulty sleeping was becoming harder and harder to ignore, and the lack of rest was taking its toll. She found herself zoning out in the middle of conversations, or getting halfway through an essay before realizing she had no idea what the assignment had been. She'd used all the Dreamless Sleep potion Madam Pomfrey had given her, but it didn't seem to be making much difference.
When Ginny finally made it to Potions class Friday afternoon, she found that her worry over what Snape might say wasn't nearly as strong as her fear of blowing up the entire classroom in her current, half-conscious state. She went to her desk and took out her things, swearing softly under her breath when she realized she'd left her Potions book in her dorm. She really hoped they wouldn't be using their books today, but with her luck, what were the chances of that?
A moment later, Snape made his usual dramatic entrance, black robes billowing and sneer firmly in place. He made no comment about Colin's return, but his gaze lingered on Ginny for a moment. The look he gave her was so piercing that she found she had to look away. She frowned, confused. What had that been about?
Ginny didn't have time to think about it. Snape was beginning his lecture, and taking notes took every bit of her concentration. Her hand began to ache as she scribbled furiously about the properties of nasturtium seeds, and their response to various temperatures.
Snape never paused to give his students time to write, or wrote anything on the blackboard. Instead, he spoke quickly, quietly, and with an air of supreme boredom. Every so often, he would pause in his lecture to demand that a student clarify a point. Snape never gave any warning before these questions – he might suddenly stop and ask something he'd mentioned ten minutes ago, making mocking comments while the unfortunate student hastily shuffled through his or her notes, wishing fervently that Snape had chosen someone else to single out.
Ginny held her breath throughout the entire lecture, hoping against hope that Snape wouldn't call on her today. She'd taken notes as best she could, but she hadn't absorbed a word. If asked, she'd have absolutely no idea what she'd spent the last ten minutes writing. Maybe, just maybe, Snape wouldn't call on her today.
"Miss Weasley." Ha! When was she ever that lucky in potions? She tried to look alert and attentive, rather than half-asleep, as she waited for Snape's question. "What effect would a bronze cauldron have on the brewing of a potion containing nasturtium seeds and a base of Bundimun secretion?"
A base of what? Ginny racked her brain furiously. Maybe she could guess? Bronze cauldron…didn't bronze have something to do with heat? Crossing her fingers under the table, she ventured, "Er, it prevents the potion from getting too hot, sir?"
Almost immediately, Ginny winced. She could tell by Snape's narrowed eyes that that had not been the correct answer. "Miss Weasley. Had you, in fact, been listening to me rather than daydreaming, you would have known that nasturtium seeds should never be used in any potion brewed in a bronze cauldron, as they will overheat and secrete oil. If you are lucky, this will merely cause your potion to boil itself dry. If anyone were idiotic enough to use nasturtium seeds together with bundimun secretion in such a cauldron, it would result in a massive explosion."
He glared around the room for a moment, before focusing his gaze back on Ginny and continuing, "As I rather dislike having such accidents occur in my classroom, I strongly suggest that you postpone your daydreaming until after the conclusion of class. In the meantime, I expect you to direct your attention to the lesson. Your complete attention. Is that quite understood?"
"Yes, sir," Ginny said softly, feeling herself going red. Of all the days for Snape to go off on her, did it really have to be today? She wasn't sure how much more of this she could take.
The rest of the class passed in a similarly hopeless fashion. Ginny's potion, which was supposed to be a light, translucent blue, had turned thick and gray. When Snape had come by to inspect it, he'd given it a derisive glare, narrowing his eyes and staring down his long nose in disgust. Shaking his head, he'd ordered her to spend the rest of class re-copying the directions and making note of where she'd gone wrong.
When the bell finally sounded, signalling the end of the period, Ginny sighed in relief. Hurriedly, she moved to begin gathering her things, wanting to get out of the dungeons as quickly as she could. As she stood to go, though, she heard Snape's deep voice. "A word, Miss Weasley."
Ginny took a deep breath and approached his desk, bracing herself for another lecture. To her surprise, however, when Snape spoke, his voice was stern, but not malicious. "You've had rather a disastrous lesson today," he commented. "Have you an explanation?"
"No, sir. I'm sorry, sir." What did he expect her to say?
"You've not been sleeping." It wasn't a question.
Ginny was a bit startled by that, but she knew that she definitely didn't want to be having this conversation with Snape, of all people. "I'm fine, sir."
"Yes, I can see that," he drawled sarcastically. "That explains why you look like something a hippogriff spat out."
Ginny just glared at that.
"Nightmares?" Snape's tone was neither mocking nor kind, simply level. Completely neutral.
"You, Miss Weasley, are a terrible liar." For a moment, Ginny could have sworn that Snape had actually looked amused. She dismissed the thought immediately. She'd be willing to bet that Severus Snape had never in his life found anything amusing. Other than mocking Gryffindors, that was. He gave her a long look, then said brusquely, "Wait here."
He pushed himself up from his desk and strode into his office in a swirl of black robes. Ginny could hear the clinking of glass. Presumably, he was sorting through potions bottles. She shifted her weight a bit, wondering what he could possibly be doing.
After a moment, the Potions master emerged, grasping a small bottle filled with a cloudy rust-coloured liquid in one hand. He held it out to her. "Take this."
Ginny eyed it suspiciously.
"For Merlin's sake, child! I'm hardly about to poison you." When Ginny still looked mistrustful, he snapped impatiently, "Miss Weasley. I quite assure you that had I actually wanted you dead I would have accomplished it long ago. What's more, attempting to poison you by handing a potion directly to you would be about as subtle as a first year Hufflepuff. If you must doubt my integrity, at the very least credit me with some cunning."
Strange that Ginny would find such a statement reassuring, but somehow she found Snape's blunt words much easier to believe than any flowery denial might have been. "May I at least ask what it is, sir?" she asked, just a touch impudently. "Madam Pomfrey's already given me Dreamless Sleep." She glanced away, before admitting softly, "It's stopped working."
Snape considered her for a moment before explaining, "It isn't working because you cannot quiet your mind enough to let it." He paused. "An encounter with the Dark Lord leaves….lingering effects, shall we say." Snape absently rubbed his forearm. "It isn't something one can just walk away from unscathed. This will help you to relax – to ease the tension in your body and calm your mind enough to sleep. Natural sleep, Miss Weasley, is always best." All this was said in a level tone. Snape might have been explaining the various uses of wild daisy roots, for all the emotion in his voice. No sympathy or concern, but also no derision. Just a concise presentation of the facts. Snape extended the bottle again. "Go. I'll not excuse you if you're late for your next class."
This time, Ginny took the offered potion. "Thank you, sir."
"Unnecessary, Miss Weasley. As Potions master of this school, I have an obligation to any student who requires my assistance."
Ginny gave a half-shrug. "Er, all right, then." She felt suddenly awkward. "I'd better go."
She turned to leave. Just as she had reached the door, however, Snape's voice stopped her once again. "One thing more, Miss Weasley." He was silent a moment. "The Dark Lord feeds on power and control. Fear from those he manipulates is his life's blood. If you allow your memories to plague you, to consume your life…" he paused, then said quietly, "he wins."
Ginny looked back at him in surprise, and saw that he had returned to his desk. His gaze on her was intense.
"I'm fine, sir," Ginny repeated, a bit more forcefully this time.
"You're not." Snape's voice was equally firm. "But you will be. You survived. He did not. What does that tell you?"
Snape had gone back to marking papers. He didn't look up as he replied simply, "Go."
A/N: Any feedback is more than welcome!