Author's Notes: This is a "what if?" story, brought about by the musing of a single question - what if Ginny had gotten away with stealing the real Sword of Gryffindor from Snape's office? Even though I am working on several other stories, this is one that refuses to leave me alone until I pay proper attention to it. Much love goes to my two Betas for this story - cwarbeck on SIYE and smartasschef14 on LiveJournal. They have helped to convince me that the idea behind this story isn't strange at all.

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Chapter One: Alone

For the first time since the beginning of her second year, Ginny Weasley dreaded coming to Hogwarts. At that time, she had ridden in a carriage trembling while trying to shake off the effects of the Dementor attack on the train. Now she stood before the great doors leading into the castle preparing to start her sixth year, one hand gripping Pigwidgeon and Arnold's cages and the other Crookshanks' basket. Her jaw was set, her face calm and serene, but her heart beat as fast as the wings of the Golden Snitch.

"Come along now," Professor McGonagall told the students and Ginny relinquished control of the three animals she'd brought with her. McGonagall's gaze met Ginny's for a moment and she gave a brief nod.

Students were only allowed to bring one animal to school, but Ginny had cornered her Head of House after an Order meeting and begged to bring both Pig and Crookshanks in addition to her Pygmy Puff. Ginny had taken over the care of the two animals after Harry, Ron, and Hermione disappeared after Bill's wedding. She didn't want to lose her only tangible ties to her brother, her best friend, and... Ginny's eyes filled for a moment as she thought of poor Hedwig, sacrificed in the same battle that claimed Mad-Eye Moody. Then those same thoughts turned to Hedwig's owner and an ache pulsed deep in her heart. She blinked the tears away and, head held high, walked into Hogwarts.

Despite the order from the Voldemort-controlled Ministry that all students were forced to attend Hogwarts, the Great Hall seemed about as vacant as it had at the end of the previous term. Ginny's eyes skimmed the tables, her heart constricting once more when she realized that precious few Muggle-borns sat among them. They had gone into hiding when the Ministry act declaring that all Muggle-borns be registered had been issued. She thought of Hermione and prayed that wherever she was that she was safe.

Most of the returning students were Slytherin, a realization that did little to ease the ball of ice that seemed to be a permanent fixture in Ginny's stomach. The second-highest student turnout was from Gryffindor and Ginny knew the situation was dire when even the sight of Romilda Vane was a good one. Romilda glanced over her shoulder, caught Ginny's eye and then immediately leaned in to whisper to the girl next to her. Ginny's small amount of pleasure instantly evaporated. She made her way to the Gryffindor table and took the seat next to Neville Longbottom.

"Ginny!" Neville impulsively threw his arms around her and Ginny returned the hug. She pulled back to give her friend a serious look-over. He seemed much older, more like the Frank Longbottom she glimpsed in the picture of the original Order of the Phoenix that Harry had once shown her. "How are you? I'm sorry I couldn't make your brother's wedding. I heard it was a smashing ceremony until..."

Ginny squeezed his arm, giving him the first genuine smile she'd managed all day. "I'm fine. It's so good to see you," Ginny said honestly, then glanced over at the light blonde-haired girl sitting at the Ravenclaw table. "And Luna as well. Because of everything that happened, I haven't seen her since the day of the wedding. Did Luna tell you about the attack?"

"Yeah, on the train. Why weren't you with us?"

"Professor McGonagall insisted that I Floo to Hogsmeade and meet the other students," Ginny said. She stared at her empty plate, wanting to fidget with the silverware. "She said I would probably be a target at the Express because of..."

"Your relationship with Harry?" Neville asked kindly.

"Former," Ginny automatically corrected him, but didn't put much strength into those words. It was the exact reason why so many precautions had been taken for her return trip to Hogwarts. Her relationship with Harry was now a well-known fact among the Order of the Phoenix ever since Professor McGonagall mentioned it casually during discussions on how to get her to the Hogwarts Express. Her mother had promptly burst into tears and Ginny was quite sure she was planning the wedding already. Even though Ginny insisted they were no longer a couple, no one seemed to believe her. It didn't help that a newly pregnant Tonks had pulled Ginny aside and teased her for snogging Harry on his birthday in front of her open window. Ginny thought her face would be permanently scarlet when she realized just how many people in the garden had seen their embrace.

"Is it really true that Ron's so sick?"

Ginny's eyes met Neville's, hoping that he could see the truth in them so she wouldn't have to say anything. The official word was that both Harry Potter and Hermione Granger had disappeared, the former due to being Voldemort's number one target and the latter due to the fact that she was one of the best mates of said target and because she was Muggle-born. Ron Weasley was laid up at the Burrow, sick with a nasty case of Spattergroit. One of the few highlights of Ginny's summer after the wedding had been the reaction of the Ministry officials who had come to deduce Ron's whereabouts. They had literally flown from the Burrow after catching a glimpse of the transformed ghoul and even screamed when Fred offered to share the Spattergroit with them.

"Do you know who the headmaster is?" Lavender Brown asked as she took the seat next to Neville. She scanned the table. "Hey, where's Ha..." she stopped when Ginny shot her a pointed look, then sighed. "I should have known."

"My letter didn't say anything either." Colin Creevey took the seat next to Ginny and nudged her ribs. "Hey, you missed the train ride. Lock lips with the Boy-Who-Lived and suddenly you get first-class treatment?"

"Shove it," Ginny laughed and poked him back, immensely grateful to see her best friend. She laughed when he threw his arms around her and gave her a loud smack on the cheek, which she returned by cuffing him upside the head. "I'm so glad you're here."

"Mum and Dad are going to be furious," Dennis announced from his place next to Colin. "We snuck out."

Ginny's jaw fell. "You didn't!"

"We snuck out of the house last night and made it to London this morning thanks to the Knight Bus," Colin said, looking very smug. "Neither of them wanted us to come back, but we weren't going to do anything just hiding at home. Unfortunately, we're going to get a Howler or two. I wish your mum hadn't told mine about them."

"Mum feels it's her sacred duty to inform Muggle parents about them," Ginny replied and gave Colin a cheeky grin. She remembered his reaction to the Howler Ron got during her first year after he and Harry had stolen the family car to get to Hogwarts.

Seamus Finnigan took the seat next to Lavender. The normally exuberant boy was now subdued as he leaned forward. "Dean's on the lam," he whispered.

Dennis's forehead wrinkled. "He's riding a lamb? Where?"

"On the lam," Ginny corrected him, having heard the term from Hermione. "It means he's on the run from Vold… You-Know-Who." Her heart constricted at the thought of her ex-boyfriend being hunted down by Death Eaters because of his blood status. She and Dean hadn't worked out, but he was still a very sweet boy all the same. He would be perfect for someone like one of the Patil twins, or even one of her own roommates - if they were even there this year. A glance around the table revealed none of her fellow sixth-year female Gryffindors. "How'd you find out?"

"We worked out a code right before the end of term, when Professor Dumbledore died," Seamus explained. Lavender teared up and gave a loud sniff. "You know, just in case something like this happened. He managed to get an owl to me right before he left."

"Maybe Harry will find him," Lavender said hopefully. "He's on the run out there as well. If anyone could find Dean, I bet Harry could. I wonder what he's doing?"

"I think he's looking for a secret weapon to defeat You-Know-Who," Colin said.

"I think Harry should shoot him with a Muggle gun," Dennis piped up.

Lavender wrinkled her nose. "How barbaric. Why doesn't he just…" Her voice trailed off and the colour drained from her face. She grabbed Seamus's arm and pointed toward the head table.

Seamus gave her a confused look, then followed her finger. His jaw dropped. "Bloody hell!" he cried as more students started to look toward the head table.

Ginny froze as a frenzy of whispers erupted around the Great Hall. The ball of ice in the pit of her stomach suddenly blossomed into full nausea as she warily met Neville's gaze. He looked to be caught between fury and fear. With every ounce of her Gryffindor courage, she forced herself to turn around.

The teachers stood at the head table in front of their seats. In the middle, in the place where Albus Dumbledore once sat, Severus Snape stood. Black robes billowed around him. Stringy, greasy hair framed a face that was paler than usual. He peered down his crooked nose at the student body with a mixture of triumph and loathing.

Ginny heard Lavender burst into tears and Seamus murmuring words of comfort. She wanted to cry herself. The tears burned in her throat and she was caught between breaking down and hexing the former Potions Master off the dais. Her hand found Colin's and squeezed hard. "I wish Harry was here." The words burst from her in a whisper before she could stop them.

Colin squeezed her hand back. "I wish he was too."

"As some of you may not know, the Board of Governors have appointed me the new Headmaster of Hogwarts as of today," Snape announced, bringing all the whispers to a halt. "The Ministry has taken a vested interest in your education and they see me as the only man fit enough in these times to ensure that you are prepared for whatever faces you. I assure you that those students who experienced great leniency in previous years will find their privileges greatly reduced." His gaze bore into Ginny's as he said this and she glared defiantly back at him.

"As always, the Forbidden Forest is just that - forbidden. Those students who are foolish and big-headed enough not to heed that warning will deserve the consequences." Snape kept his focus on Ginny. "Mr. Filch has a list of banned products, including any and all things associated with the name Weasley." He said these last words in a sneer and Ginny's wand arm jerked in reflex. The only thing keeping her under control was the vice-like hold Colin suddenly had on her arm.

"Due to the lack of participants along with a Ministry mandate, there will be no House Quidditch teams this year," Snape continued, bringing the first audible reaction from the student body. Professor McGonagall looked nearly as furious as her students. "Silence!" he roared, and everyone fell silent again. "This is not the time to engage in frivolous games. Only those whose egos are sustained by such nonsense will suffer the loss." He flicked another glance toward the Gryffindor table.

Snape nodded curtly to two figures on his left. Ginny gasped in horror as she realized that Amycus and Alecto Carrow were now among the teachers. Amycus, the lumpy Death Eater she had dueled with months earlier, was scanning the student body with a shrewd expression. His gaze fell upon Ginny's and his teeth bared in what could be termed a delighted grin. Ginny shuddered, wishing she could shower after that leer. She thought of the near-missed Crucios he had nearly cast on her and how Harry had caught him off-guard by stopping to help her in his pursuit of Snape.

"Your new teachers this year will be Amycus and Alecto Carrow," Snape continued. "Amycus has quite the talent with the Dark Arts and will be overseeing a through restructuring of the class. Alecto will take over Muggle Studies." He said the last two words as if they were a curse in and of itself. Ginny's heart sank even further. "Both classes are now required for all years and will be on your timetables accordingly. The Carrows will also be in charge of whatever discipline is administered this year."

Snape flicked his finger and a silent Professor McGonagall led the few first-years who had enrolled into the hall. They had been gathered in a small clump near the door while Snape announced the changes. Ginny thought of Ron's comment about how they seemed to get smaller every year and, for the first time, she found herself agreeing with him. The first years looked terrified as they huddled together in a clump, looking around the Great Hall in a mixture of fear and awe.

McGonagall placed the Sorting Hat's stool in front of the table, then the hat on top of it. The familiar tear didn't appear for a long moment, causing a buzz among the older members of the student body. Then it appeared, the song coming from it much different than any Ginny had heard during her previous years at the school.

"Those who remain will bear the torch,
They will be the ones to carry on.
Of those sitting here, some won't survive,
but their memories will stand the test of time.
The one who was Chosen will become a Phoenix,
His presence here will signify the end.
The Phoenix's Chosen will be the one to bear his sword,
his burdens, his troubles, and make him whole.
She knows what she has to do.
Six shall be gathered, seven shall be destroyed.
Four started Hogwarts.
Four shall save it in the end.
Now to those who are new, it is your turn to be Sorted…"

Ginny never heard the rest of the song as the Hat sang about the differences among the Houses and the Sorting process. The buzz had returned among the older students. Voices were no longer whispers and drowned out what the Hat was singing. Every eye seemed to be focused on Ginny and she didn't need Hermione's analytical mind to figure out whom the Sorting Hat was talking about. She realized for the first time what it was like to be Harry Potter and found herself greatly sympathizing with him.

"Silence!" Snape bellowed, causing a few of the first-years to shriek. The Hat had fallen silent. Snape gave Ginny a particular vicious look before ordering McGonagall to continue with the Sorting.

The rest of the feast sped by in an amazing blur. Ginny knew she had put food in her mouth, but didn't remember what she'd eaten. It all tasted like sawdust to her. Her emotions swirled in a mixture of anger, loathing, fear, and loss as she processed the Sorting Hat's song. The Chosen One… Well, everyone knew it was Harry. Quite frankly, you'd have to have spent the past 16 years living beneath a rock not to realize it was Harry - even if they didn't know the contents of the prophecy.

Ginny Weasley was one of approximately two people still living to know the entire contents of the prophecy Voldemort had sought during her fourth year. Professor Dumbledore had told Harry in his fifth year. Harry had told Ron and Hermione of the prophecy, but he had only given them a summary and not the entire thing.

She stirred her chocolate pudding and thought back to the day that Harry had told her one of his greatest secrets.

The time they had together had taken on a surreal quality in the days following Professor Dumbledore's death. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had all taken to spending all of their time together when they weren't visiting Bill in the Hospital Wing or getting ready to go back home. Every afternoon, for at least two hours, Harry and Ginny retreated to their favourite spot by the lake where they curled into each other and watched the Giant Squid in the water. They didn't snog or explore the way they had done before that terrible night. They simply needed to be together.

Ginny knew it was coming. She had known it almost from the first day of their relationship and had taken on the knowledge that their time together wouldn't last long when a blushing Harry had finally asked her to be his girlfriend. He'd been so endearing that day following the Quidditch match, after he had snogged her in front of their entire House. He'd been crossed between hopeful and terrified and her response had been to embrace him and whisper "yes." That single word of acceptance meant she took on the burden of having to let him go.

She didn't question what he was going to do. She might not be the brightest witch of her age, but she was smart. Harry had described a little bit of what he and Professor Dumbledore had done that year and Ginny knew it had something to do with Voldemort. She hadn't liked not knowing what was going on. She had never been a fan of being kept in the dark, one of those things that came with being a little sister. But, she knew that this was important and, quite frankly, if Harry couldn't keep his vow to Professor Dumbledore to keep his secrets, how could she trust him with theirs?

She thought of that and those decisions she made as she enjoyed the simple pleasure of sitting in Harry's lap while he ran his hands though her hair, the long strands sliding around his calloused fingers as he played with it. Their times together these days were normally quiet, but today seemed even quieter than normal. He seemed to be weighing something, a very important decision. Ginny was half-expecting today to be the day, the day where she would have to give him up so he could save them all. She closed her eyes and silently begged to whatever powers that were listening to have him delay that final decision. She wanted him for herself just a little bit longer.

His hand stopped moving and his hold on her suddenly tightened. Ginny's breath caught in her throat.

"There is…," Harry said haltingly, sounding not sure of himself at all, "there is a prophecy. About me."

She covered his hand with hers. "I know that, Harry." She smiled, her eyes sparkling just a little. "I was there at the Department of Mysteries, remember?"

"Yeah," he chuckled and she shifted so she could look into his eyes. He stared down at her for a long moment, and then touched his forehead to hers. "I know what it says," he said quietly. "Professor Dumbledore told me after Sirius died. He told me that I could tell Ron and Hermione, that Sirius wouldn't want me to shut myself off. He didn't know - I certainly didn't at the time, that I liked you. More than a friend, that is. I think, if I was to ask Professor Dumbledore about it today, he would say he would trust me to make the right decision. They don't even know the whole thing, Ron and Hermione. I think you should know so that… I think you should know. Because there's other things I can't tell you. But, I can tell you this and I think it'll help you understand and I trust you. I don't think anyone will go after you regarding the Prophecy, because as far as Voldemort is concerned, the only copy is gone."

Ginny realized the amazing gift Harry was giving her. "I promise, I'll carry this to my grave," she said solemnly. He tensed and she pinched his arm. "Don't take it so literally."

He let out a half-laugh. "Sorry. Hard not to these days."

"You're forgiven." Ginny pressed a finger to the tip of his nose and he smiled. He glanced down at their hands, and then worked his fingers between hers.

Harry stared over Ginny's head at the lake, and she silently waited for him to speak. "Pretty much," he finally said, "I'm the only one who can kill Voldemort. There's part of it that says it - that neither of us can live while the other survives."

Ginny said absolutely nothing. She didn't think she could speak. Her heart was beating so loudly that she was convinced it could be heard in Hogsmeade. She threw her arms around him, giving him the tightest hug she possibly could. It was a very good imitation of one of her mum's bear hugs. She was relieved when he returned the embrace and they sat clinging to each other desperately until the sun dropped below the horizon and the first stars of night emerged.

When they stood to go back in the castle, she caught his face in her hands and gave him a slow, lingering kiss. They snogged for a good twenty minutes, something deep inside Ginny telling her that this would be the last for a very long time. They headed back to the castle, hand in hand.

Professor Dumbledore's funeral had been the next day.

"Ginny? Ginny, come on. Dinner's finished."

Ginny startled, the memories fading as the Great Hall came back into focus. Colin stood by her side, giving her a worried frown. "Neville's helping the first years get to the common room without running into Peeves. Say, did you realize they haven't appointed any prefects for Gryffindor this year?"

"No," Ginny said automatically and got to her feet. "I don't think there's any to be honest. Remember what he said," she said, referring to Snape with the viciousness she would give a nasty hex. "The Carrows are in charge of all our discipline this year." She sighed. "Why do I have a feeling that they're going to make Umbridge look like the tooth fairy?"

They were the last to leave the Great Hall. Because Colin looked so worried, she pasted a smile on her face and took his arm. "Last one to the common room's a dancing Hippogriff!"

"Oi!" Colin yelled and Ginny laughed, dancing ahead of him. She ran down the corridor, her red hair waving behind her like a banner. The forced cheerfulness actually made her feel light-hearted and she kept laughing, spinning in circles as she made her way toward Gryffindor Tower.

She never heard the jinx being cast. One minute, she was dancing, the next she had fallen. She landed on her knees, and heard a crack come from the left one. Then she was curled into a ball on the stone floor, her left leg buckled beneath her while horrific pain shot up her leg. Ginny pressed both hands against the cold stone and forced herself to look up. Whatever colour remained in her face drained when she recognized Amycus Carrow looming over her.

"Well, well, well, isn't it Harry Potter's pretty young thing? Ginny Weasley." Amycus's mouth curled into the same leer he had given her during the feast and Ginny very nearly lost what little food she managed to consume. He clucked his tongue and waved his wand slightly at her. "Didn't you know, Miss Weasley, it's not safe to run in the corridors? You never know when you might trip and land badly."

"She didn't trip! You hexed her!" Colin yelled.

Amycus shot Colin a nasty look. "Crucio."

"NO!" Ginny yelled as Colin collapsed to the ground screaming. She tried to get to her feet, but the pain coming from her left knee was excruciating. She collapsed onto her face again as Colin's screams subsided.

"Ten points from Gryffindor for each of you." Ginny managed to look back up at Amycus Carrow as he sauntered away. "Things in this school are going to be much different now."

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Ginny and Colin wound up dragging each other back to the Gryffindor common room. She had managed to shake off most of the Jelly-Legs Jinx that had been cast on her, but Colin wasn't taking the after-effects of the Cruciatus very well. They wound up nearly falling through the portrait hole after the Fat Lady gave a shriek and swung open without demanding a password. Ginny pulled Colin into the room and collapsed, tears of pain streaming down her cheeks.

"Merlin's beard!" Seamus cried out as he, Dennis and Neville rushed to their side. "What happened?"

"Amycus Carrow," Ginny managed to say through gritted teeth. "Cast a Jelly-Legs Jinx on me and the Cruciatus on Colin."

"What?" the boys yelled, Seamus nearly dropping Colin in the process.

"Can you walk?" Neville asked, kneeling next to Ginny.

"My knee's killing me." She grabbed his arm and let him lead her to an armchair. Neville pulled over a footstool and Ginny propped her left knee on it. She didn't protest when Neville blushed and pushed aside her school robes and her skirt just high enough to reveal her left knee. It had swollen to more than twice its normal size with black and yellow colours streaking angrily over it.

"Blimey, Ginny, you need Madame Pomfrey," Seamus said as he came back down from where he and Dennis had taken Colin to the sixth-year boys' dormitory. "You both do."

"We can't go back out there now. We'll just have to make the best of it." Ginny summoned her Standard Book of Spells Grade 6 from her room. The book zoomed into the common room and into her outstretched hand. Hermione had made a point of telling her that standard healing spells were covered during sixth year. She flipped to the one she wanted and cast an Episkey on her knee. The swelling went down and while the pain was still there, it was more bearable.

Ginny pushed herself to her feet and stumbled to the stairs leading up to her dormitory. She stared at the circular staircase and fought back a groan. None of the boys could help her upstairs and there really wasn't any of the Gryffindor girls she felt comfortable with asking. She gritted her teeth, took that first step and nearly sank to the ground in pain.

"Oh, honestly!" Ginny found the bulk of her weight settle on someone's shoulder and she glanced to her right to find herself leaning on Romilda Vane. Romilda shot Ginny an exasperated look. "Really, you're going to stand there gaping like a fish all night or let me help you? I've got no idea what Harry sees in you anyhow."

"It's the freckles," Ginny managed as the girls slowly made their way up the stairs. "Drives the blokes daft, you know."

"Obviously," Romilda said with a slight toss of her head. They didn't say anything else as they stumbled into the sixth-year dormitory. Ginny noticed with a pang of grief that all the other beds in her year were not occupied. Crookshanks had claimed one of the empty beds for himself while Arnold perched on Ginny's pillow, a pile of shed purple fur already surrounding him. Pigwidegon was nowhere to be seen and was probably in the Owlery.

Romilda and Ginny stopped by Ginny's bed and she sank gratefully onto it. "Thank you," she said sincerely.

Romilda didn't say anything at first, and then shrugged as she headed for the door. "Despite appearances, I'm not a complete prat," she said lightly. "Even though you did steal my Harry from me." She disappeared before Ginny could groan in response.