Author's Notes: The method of how Head Boy and Head Girl is chosen is something I carried over from an earlier work that's not published on . Most likely, the Headmaster chooses them like with the prefects, but I do like this one too. I fully think that had they attended school in 1997-98, either Harry and Hermione would have been chosen Head Boy and Head Girl.

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Chapter 4: Masks of Blood

It took sheer force of will and a steely glare from Professor McGonagall to keep Ginny from sprinting out of the Great Hall and up to the seventh floor to see if Umbridge had broken into the Room of Requirement. She went through her classes that day in a fog, her thoughts centered more on Dumbledore's Army than her coursework. It was only during Defence Against the Dark Arts that her mind snapped completely out of it.

That was because someone was trying to break into it.

She was bent over her textbook, a specially prepared one issued by the "new" Ministry of Magic that listed spells that all good students should know. Ginny had spent Sunday going over the book and discovering that a vast majority of the spells were very dark and shouldn't be taught to adults, much less sixth-years.

It was late enough in the day that her mind only drifted toward Dolores Umbridge once, figuring that if the wicked witch of the Ministry hadn't come around for her by that point, that meant they were in the clear.

Then she felt it.

The moment her thoughts shifted, Ginny felt a very sharp prick in the back of her mind. For a moment, she thought that someone had thrown something at her, and she turned around to see who it was. Behind her, Colin was hunched over his textbook, Luna stared out the window twirling a strand of hair around her finger, and she really didn't know the other Ravenclaws that were in the room. She turned back in time to see Amycus Carrow staring intently at her. The moment their eyes met, she felt the prick in the back of her mind once more and the realization hit her with the force of a Stupeify.

"Professor," Ginny said quickly, raising her hand. "So sorry to disturb you. I'm need to use the loo." She shuffled her feet, crossed her legs and thought about the toilet.

Amycus didn't reply and Ginny increased her squirming, hoping that she looked like she was in dire need. Finally, he waved a hand at the door. "Ten minutes, or I come after you myself. Your wand remains here."

"Thank you!" Ginny sprinted to his desk, tossed her wand on it and ran out the door. She headed to the nearest girls' loo, where she decided to take advantage of it after all. Then she sank against the stall door, cradling her now-aching head in her hands as she fought to collect herself.

He's doing Legilimency on me, I'm sure of it. Harry told me a little what it was like, the lessons he had with Snape. It was like a battering ram had slammed into his head. This felt more like a prick though. Is Amycus doing it right? Oh, I wish Hermione was here!

Ginny tried to remember everything she had heard on Legilimacy and its counterpart, Occlumency. Both of them were extraordinarily hard to learn, and there was no guarantee that the Carrows were anywhere near as skilled as Snape or Professor Dumbledore. She wrapped her arms around her now-shaking legs as she fought to calm down. She had no idea how much Amycus had seen, if he'd gotten through at all. As soon as she felt him the first time, she had broken eye contact. Was it enough?

There was no question about it. She would need to learn Occlumency, and so would the rest of Dumbledore's Army. Amycus was most likely not a very skilled Legilimens, so it wouldn't take that much to keep him from knowing about the Army. But Snape … Ginny shuddered once more.

The summons Ginny had expected all day never came. Neville had seen Dolores Umbridge storm out of the school in a huff later shortly before dinner. Not wanting to take the chance that she would run into a better Legilimens, namely Snape, she headed for the library. Weighing her options carefully, Ginny asked Madam Pince about books on Occlumency.

"Those have all been relocated to the Restricted Section," she told Ginny in a no-nonsense tone. "Do you have permission from a professor to go in there?"

"No," Ginny admitted. "But, I'm sure Professor McGonagall would …"

"Professor McGonagall's time is most valuable and should not be wasted by filling out unneeded forms for the Restricted Section," Madam Pince said in a loud voice, casting a glance at the library door. Ginny angled her head to see Alecto Carrow swoop past the open doors. After a moment, Madam Pince turned back to Ginny.

"Unfortunately, the books you seek were removed at the Ministry's orders," she said in a whisper. "I will not be able to help you further, Miss Weasley."

"I see. Thank you." Disheartened, she turned to leave.

"Oh, Miss Weasley?"

"Yes?" Ginny looked over her shoulder.

Madam Pince gave the closest thing Ginny had ever seen to a smile. It was more like a grimace. "Good luck," she said in the same whisper. "I suggest you see Professor McGonagall about that pass for other research."

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Ginny thought Dark Arts classes couldn't get much worse. She was wrong.

In mid-October, Amycus Carrow proceeded to give a demonstration of several masks that were imbued with Dark Magic. Each mask automatically suctioned itself to the face of the student unlucky enough to draw the short straw to test them out. To her horror, Ginny realized that the masks drained a user of almost all their blood, leaving only the barest amount to live. The blood from its victims painted the masks a hideous shade of red.

She had gotten lucky. She hadn't drawn the short straw.

Larry Moore, a sixth-year Gryffindor, and Justine Carter from Ravenclaw hadn't been so lucky. After the masks were demonstrated at the beginning of class, the stunned Gryffindors and Ravenclaws had to watch their housemates struggle for an hour as their blood levels were drained to a dangerously low level. Ginny gauged her chances of slipping out long enough to cast a Patronus for help, but noticed that Amycus followed her every movement during the double lesson. As soon as the class was finished and Amycus strode out of the classroom, Ginny immediately cast her Patronus and sent for Madam Pomfrey.

"How do we get them off?" Colin asked a bit fearfully as the entire class gathered around their pallid, unmoving classmates.

Ginny tapped her wand to one of the masks. "Finite Incantatem," she recited, but the spell didn't work. She swallowed hard. "I don't think these will come off until it gets the blood it wants from the user."

"But, they're going to die!" one of the Ravenclaw girls wailed.

"Don't you think we can't see that?" Ginny snapped then sighed when the girl plopped on the ground and bawled.

Madam Pomfrey rushed into the classroom and gasped in horror. "You," she ordered Luna, "go for Professor Filitwick right away. Mr. Creevey, go get Professor McGonagall. Miss Weasley, tell me what happened."

Ginny narrated the events of the class as Madam Pomfrey conjured stretchers and started levitating the two students to the Hospital Wing. She had to run to keep up with the matron as she hastily transported Larry and Justine. By the time she finished her explanation they had arrived at the Hospital Wing. To Ginny's surprise, she saw Seamus Finnigan and Lavender Brown occupying two other beds. Seamus was asleep, but Lavender was watching them with one eye wide, the other swollen shut. It looked even worse than Neville's injury from a week earlier and that was saying something.

Professor McGonagall rushed in with Colin at her heels and halted at the foot of Larry's bed. She turned her attention to the battered Seamus and Lavender for a moment and looked like she was about to say something as Professor Flitwick ran into the Hospital Wing as well.

"Justine!" he cried, grabbing her hand. "Poor, poor Justine, what did he do to you?" He burst into tears, his head bent over Justine's hand. Professor McGonagall wrapped an arm around his shoulder until he composed himself. "What on earth happened?"

Ginny found herself narrating what happened in class once more with Colin adding in his perspective. As they talked, Luna walked in with Neville at her side. As Ginny reached the end of her narrative, the bodies on the bed started to twitch. The masks trembled as well until one by one, cracks appeared throughout the blood-soaked clay. Then they crumbled, the pieces landing on the floor with a loud crash and dissolving into smaller parts. Blood splattered Ginny's robes as the clay released its contents, spraying everyone standing in the vicinity of the two beds and reaching as far as Lavender's covers.

None of them noticed. They were too horrified at what was left of Larry Moore and Justine Carter.

Their faces were gone. It looked to Ginny that the entire top layer of skin had been burned away when the blood soaked into the masks. All that remained was the exposed parts of their skulls and the still-functioning organs that lay beneath.

Lavender started screaming, which woke Seamus up. Professor McGonagall took two steps back and pressed her hand to her mouth as if she was going to be ill. Colin did lose his lunch, quickly turning away before throwing up all over the floor. Professor Flitwick's mouth open and shut like a fish out of water. All the colour had drained out of Neville's face while Luna's remained remarkably impassive, her wide eyes the only sign that she was horrified. Madam Pomfrey let out a scream of outrage before flicking her wand at the curtains surrounding the beds. They immediately snapped shut, leaving Ginny, Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, and Madam Pomfrey within the enclosure.

"Is there anything we can do for them?" Professor McGonagall demanded.

Madam Pomfrey quickly Petrified the two students. "That will do for now. I'll contact St. Mungo's right away."

Professor Flitwick was sobbing again, and Ginny couldn't stand to see those two faces any longer. She knew they would be haunting her dreams for a long time to come. Silently, she picked up a pristine white towel and laid it over Larry's face. Then, she skirted around to the other bed and did the same thing for Justine.

"Thank you, Miss Weasley," Professor McGonagall said in a faint voice. "Go back to your common room immediately."

"Could I see Seamus and Lavender, please?" Ginny asked.

McGonagall hesitated, then nodded. "Very well. Stay no longer than 10 minutes."

Ginny emerged from the curtained beds and joined the small cluster that had formed around Lavender's bed. Seamus had squished himself into Lavender's bed and had his arms around her shoulders. She had turned her face into his chest, her back silently heaving with sobs.

"What happened?" she asked softly.

"Dark Arts," Seamus replied. "They're …" He swallowed. "They're requiring seventh-year Slytherins to learn the Unforgiveables." He gave them a rueful smile. "Guess who target practice is?

"It's horrible," Lavender sobbed.

"Goyle messed up Lavender pretty badly. Crabbe got me." Seamus gave Ginny a rueful grin. "We're lucky they can't pull off a Crucio. Yet. Crabbe's boasting that he plans to learn Fiendfyre. I'm not sure what it is, but I bet it's pretty nasty."

"We'll have to research some stronger shield charms. I'll see what's in the Restricted Section before the next DA meeting. I'll let you rest." Ginny bade them good night and pulled the curtains around the bed. She turned to Neville and Luna. "I'm not sure how well we're going to be able to defend ourselves," she admitted.

"There's only so much we're going to be able to do," Neville replied. "There's talk that once the seventh years learn the Unforgiveables that they'll be allowed to use them on the younger students."

"That's horrible." Ginny shuddered. "Let's go. We need to research some more spells. Luna?" She turned to her friend, who had her head tilted toward the curtained-off beds. Neville and Ginny glanced at each other before joining her.

" … sure it was Potter, Weasley and Granger?" Madam Pomfrey was saying.

Ginny's breath caught in her throat.

"Quite sure," Professor McGonagall replied. "No one is sure what they were doing in there, but it appears they were using Polyjuice Potion. It's no surprise that Miss Granger is able to brew it. I suspect she's known since her second year. They were in there looking for something. I wish Mr. Potter had said something. We could help."

"The boy does have the need to take the world upon his shoulders," Madam Pomfrey replied. "He wouldn't seek help unless it was his last resort."

"Agreed," Professor McGonagall said, and Ginny nodded as well. "I have a feeling whatever those three are up to is a result of the lessons Albus was giving Mr. Potter last year."

"What were they?" Professor Flitwick asked.

"Albus wouldn't say. Just that he was preparing Mr. Potter to take on You-Know-Who." Professor McGonagall cursed under her breath. "In any case, I suspect they're looking for something that will defeat him"

"Will they eventually come here?" Madam Pomfrey asked.

"I would be very surprised if they didn't. When they do, we will be prepared to render them aid." Professor McGonagall's voice raised. "And, I suggest that the three of you stop eavesdropping and return to your common rooms immediately, Miss Weasley, Mr. Longbottom and Miss Lovegood."

They scurried out of the Hospital Wing. But, instead of heading to their common rooms, they went to the Room of Requirement instead.

"Remember that article last month?" Ginny reminded Neville and Luna. "The infiltration of the Ministry. They were talking about that."

"But, everyone knows about it," Neville said, sinking into his normal armchair. "Everyone figured out it was them. Why remind us about it?"

Ginny waved her wand, summoning the copy of The Daily Prophet that wrote about the incident. It flew off one of the shelves into her hand. "I don't think it's that. I think Professor McGonagall was trying to let us know that they're looking for something specific. Maybe, if we can figure out what Harry, Ron, and Hermione are doing, we can help them from the school." She studied the paper. "The target seemed to be Umbridge, and she said that a family heirloom was taken. A locket." There were two images of Dolores Umbridge - one in the aftermath of the raid, the other a recent official Ministry portrait. "There," she said, tapping the portrait, making the Umbridge within scowl at her, "she's wearing the locket here." Ginny frowned, tilting her head as she studied the locket. "It looks familiar."

Luna peered over Ginny's shoulder. "It has the mark of Slytherin," she observed, absently readjusting her wand behind her ear.

"That's where I saw it! Grimmauld Place! It was part of the junk Sirius was getting rid of," Ginny realized. "Why would they need that?"

"Maybe they need something from all the founders?" Neville wondered.

"It's not a bad theory. You heard what Professor McGonagall said. They're probably looking for something that will defeat You-Know-Who, and maybe something from the founders will give them extra power."

"What are we going to do about students being cursed?" Neville asked.

"Step up the defense spells. We need to start teaching the younger students a basic Protego and some minor jinxes, even if it's enough to help them run away. The common rooms are still safe places." For now, Ginny added silently. "I'm going to set up our next meeting."

"Perhaps," Luna suggested, "you could study the poem."

Ginny gave her a blank look. "I'm sorry?"

"The Sorting Hat's poem. I believe the Sorting Hat knows how to help Harry. If you figure out the poem, you know what you'll need to give him."

Ginny considered this for a moment.

"The most obvious answer tends to be the one right under your nose," Luna said.

Ж•Ж•Ж•Ж•Ж

The next morning, Ginny was halfway through a rasher of bacon when Neville frowned, glancing about the Great Hall. "Something's missing," he said aloud.

"I think that's a bit obvious," Ginny said a bit sourly, glancing at the half-empty Gryffindor table. If she daydreamed enough, she could almost imagine Harry, Ron, and Hermione clustered near her, Hermione reminding them all to study for their N.E.W.T.s while Ron did his best to consume enough food to feed a small country. Harry tended to eat more quietly, but in the weeks they dated, they'd taken to squeezing each other's hands every so often under the table.

"No. Something's really weird about the Great Hall." Neville scanned the room, and Ginny finally followed suit.

It looked the same as it had since early September. The House tables were only half as full as they were in previous years. The remaining professors ate at the Head Table with the exception of Snape, whom Ginny had barely seen since the start of term, much to her relief. She couldn't figure out what was off except …

"Where are the owls?" Ginny suddenly whispered in horror to Neville. "There's not been any owl deliveries!"

"You noticed that, too?' Colin seated himself next to Ginny, and all three teens' gaze immediately shot toward the ceiling. There was nothing. No stately barn owls delivering copies of The Daily Prophet. None of the school owls with letters or packages. Ginny remembered that she'd sent Pigwidgeon off with a letter to her family, and he was due to be back that morning.

"Excuse me, students!" Professor McGonagall's voice, amplfied by a Sonorous charm, echoed through the room. "Students, due to changes in Ministry regulations, mail delivery via owl to and from Hogwarts will no longer be accepted."

The students fell silent before cries of outrage sounded. Even the Slytherins, Ginny noted, were upset at this change.

"Students!" McGonagall yelled, and it took another five minutes for the group to calm to the point that they listened. "Mail delivery will now be conducted through your Head of House. All mail will be delivered to your common room after breakfast. Classes will be delayed 15 minutes for the change, and your timetables will be adjusted accordingly. Any letters you wish to send home will be handed to your Head of House at that time. They will be delivered to a Ministry liaison who will take care of delivering them to your families. Your Head of House will meet with you in 10 minutes. Please go back to your common rooms immediately."

In better days, Ginny would have hung behind to speculate this development with Neville and Colin. But, in the absence of Ron and Hermione, no new prefects had been elected to take their place. Even the position of Head Boy and Head Girl were vacant. It was an oddity that had driven Ginny to peruse a copy of Hogwarts: A History to find that while the headmaster normally chose prefects, the Sorting Hat chose the Head Boy and Head Girl.

In the interim, Ginny and Neville had unofficially become prefects. They helped escort the younger Gryffindors back to the common room, comforting the first and second years who were nearly in tears at the thought of not being able to contact your family.

"Your mum and dad wrote you, I promise," Ginny said soothingly as she escorted a first-year girl named Colleen through the portrait hole. "Professor McGonagall has their letter in her hand, I bet."

"Is it safer this way?" Colleen asked, hastily brushing her robed arm over her eyes.

Ginny was torn. She didn't want to lie to the child, but she couldn't tell her the truth. "The Ministry feels that it's best at this time," she said.

"It's because of Harry Potter, isn't it?" Colleen turned angry eyes to Ginny. "They … they say all this bad stuff is happening because he broke into the Ministry. I thought he was suppose to be nice."

"He is nice!" Ginny dropped to her knees and gently took Colleen by the shoulders. "Harry Potter is the bravest man I know. You know he's a Gryffindor, right?"

Colleen nodded slowly. "But, all Gryffindors aren't nice."

"There's gits in every house," Ginny agreed. "But, not Harry. He was suppose to be in seventh year this year. But, he had to leave because he's going to save us all from You-Know-Who. He's going to keep your mum and dad safe, and he's going to keep you safe. That's what Gryffindors do."

"Mr. Potter is an excellent man, Miss Pensley," Professor McGonagall spoke up. "Do not listen to those who've told you otherwise." She handed Colleen a letter, and the little girl beamed and rushed off to read it. "Do show up in your class on time, Miss Pensley," she said, then smiled at Ginny. "Well done, Miss Weasley. Ten points to Gryffindor." She handed Ginny two letters.

"Thank you." Ginny broke the seal, then nearly dropped the letter when she saw that parts of the parchment had been cut away. "What this, Professor?"

Professor McGonagall took the letter with a disapproving frown. "Just what I feared," she told Ginny. "The Ministry is censoring mail."

"But, we always knew that our mail was at risk of being intercepted," Ginny protested.

"Yes, Miss Weasley, but in this case, the Ministry wants you to know it's been intercepted. I know your family is discreet," she continued as Ginny started to argue, "but it's more of a statement than anything. However, this is why the Ministry demanded that letters be passed through them." Her expression softened a bit. "I never got a chance to thank you and Mr. Longbottom for the work you're doing with the younger students, as well as your extracurricular activities. I wish I'd been able to name you both full prefects, but the Headmaster …"

"It's OK, Professor. I think Fred and George would have a heart attack if I was prefect," Ginny said with the first true smile that day. She figured since Professor McGonagall brought it up that it was a good time to ask the other question that she had. "Professor, why don't we have a Head Boy and Head Girl this year?"

"The Sorting Hat did supply me, before Headmaster Snape took over, with the names of the Head Boy and Head Girl," Professor McGonagall said. "However, neither student was able to attend this year, and the Hat chose not to name substitutes."

Ginny felt a lump in her throat, and she swallowed hard. "Harry and Hermione?" she whispered.

Professor McGonagall drew in a deep breath and gave the slightest nod. "Now, off to class before you anger the Carrows, Miss Weasley."

Ж•Ж•Ж•Ж•Ж

It wasn't until shortly before going to bed that Ginny remembered the second letter. This one, she noticed, wasn't censored. The letter from her parents was censored where her father had discussed the fake "Ron" from what she could tell, giving her an update on "her brother's" condition. The second missive was from Fred and George and only had one sentence.

Remember the candles we gave Mum for Christmas last year? We should do that again this year. Don't reveal the mini-ature ones to her in a letter. F&G.

"Candles?" Ginny spoke aloud as Crookshanks leaped onto the bed. He rubbed his head against her thigh until she began absently stroking him. Fred and George had given their mother a new set of high-end charmed knitting needles for Christmas the previous year, which caused her to cry and immediately order yarn for this year's jumpers. She thought back over all the gifts the Weasleys had exchanged with each other and with Harry, then gasped. Nudging Crookshanks aside, Ginny leaned over and held the letter over the candle burning next to her bed.

Fred and George had been inspired by Muggle spy techniques, including invisible ink. They were working on developing an invisible ink that would be revealed in two stages, they told her. The first would require holding the paper over a fire for a minute, followed by a charm that would reveal the actual letter. A code-breaker would try one or the other, they said, but not both.

After a minute, Ginny took the letter away from the flame and studied the words. "Don't reveal the miniature ones to her in a letter," she murmured, wishing Hermione was there to puzzle it out with her. "Don't … oh!" She grabbed her wand, remembering Fred and George experimenting with the charm. "Revelamini Litterae."

The original note faded, replaced by a full-length letter covering both sides of the parchment.

Dear Ginnikins,

So, in the latest, greatest move our *lovely* Ministry has ordered, all mail in the Wizarding Britain must go through a newly established censorship office headed by everyone's favorite witch, Dolores Umbridge! Aren't you just thrilled? You know we are! Luckily, we perfected the invisible ink and charm we were working on last Christmas just in time to send you this. However, we can't risk sending you bottles of the ink itself, so we've included the recipe. All the ingredients are available in Hogwarts student kit, so you can easily get them. Sign your letters to anyone with 'hugs and kisses' and we'll know you've got a coded ink message on the parchment.

Does the old wireless in the common room still work? If so, dust it off and use the password "Hedwig" around 9 tomorrow night. You might be pleasantly surprised.

When you get a chance, you might want to head down to visit Hagrid. He misses Harry a lot. Try Saturday around tea time.

F&G.

"Hagrid!" Ginny felt immediate remorse for not having gone to see him sooner. Care of Magical Creatures was no longer among her listed courses, and other than glimpsing him during the start-of-term feast, she hadn't seen nor heard from him. She'd never been as close to him as Harry, Ron and Hermione were, so the only time she'd gone to visit him outside of class was during the brief time she dated Harry. Even so, Harry would have wanted someone to check on Hagrid.

A quick check of her potions supplies revealed that she did have everything needed to make the invisible ink, but it would use up a good bit of her stores. She would need to order more, but with owl delivery restricted and nothing from the staff about a Hogsmeade weekend, she wondered how she could get more. There was one advantage to being the sole person in a dormitory, Ginny realized as she set up her cauldron over the fire. She wouldn't have to explain her actions to anyone but Arnold.

Still, it was a lonely existence. She'd always been around a large crowd of people constantly barging in on her personal space — from her family at home to sharing a dormitory with four other girls. There was no clothes other than her own strewn about. No giggling in the middle of the night or whispered gossip. No makeup spilling out of trunks or different perfume scents or snoring. Closing her eyes, Ginny fought back the sadness that started to creep through her. She was no good to anyone if she got miserable, she sternly told herself, but was mortified to see tears dripping onto her pyjamas.

Crookshanks butted his head against her leg and she plopped down on the rug in front of the fire. She gathered the large cat into her lap and, rocking back and forth, cried silently into his fur. He was remarkably patient and didn't start squirming his way out of her hold for a good five minutes. He slithered away, but settled next to her so she could keep petting him as Arnold chittered away as he rolled on one of the empty beds. Ginny quickly sniffed, wiped her tears away, then removed her cauldron. She could make the ink later.