Disclaimer – Characters and universe for this story are borrowed from JK Rowling and the Harry Potter universe. I own none of that, and receive no financial compensation for this work. I only play here.

A/N: This story follows canon until approximately August of DH. After that, it is completely AU.

It will be rather on the sexy side in later chapters (not smut, but mention of nudity - you are warned)

Reviewers: if you find that something in the writing makes you decide you don't want to read further, please pop a review and let me know why. It is an area where I'm trying to improve, and I value your input. Thanks.

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Chapter 1 - Leading to Desperation

-- - --

"What brings you to this decision, Genevra?" The blue eyed creature asked.

She found herself focused on the magnitude of the meaning behind that question. What would lead a person to give up everything they've ever known? What circumstances could possibly be so dire as to force a person to be willing to transfigure their very selves into a different being?

The answer was simple, she thought as she responded, "Everything that matters."

There was only one certainty-- regardless of her choice, she would never see most of her family ever again.

- - -

The dream haunted Ginny. She'd had the same dream at least four times since Harry, Ron and Hermione had left only a few short weeks ago. Each time she woke, she convinced herself that the dream was only a result of the stress of the current circumstances and her frustration over her inability to do anything to help. For the entire summer, she'd been trapped in the safety of her home, making the situation feel more stifling than the late summer heat.

Normally the end of August was a time of joy for Ginny. Over the years, she'd always welcomed the time when her brothers would be enjoying the last days of summer before school started, and of course, Harry would always manage to visit. It was typically a time where she could enjoy the company of everyone she loved together under the same roof.

To her dismay, this summer had been completely different.

This summer Voldemort had taken control of the Ministry of Magic and uncertainty about the future overshadowed the lives of every single individual she had ever known. Nothing seemed like it would ever be normal ever again.

No wonder she was having nightmares about giving up her life. Unlike summers past, the house which once buzzed with summer activity was practically empty.

If she didn't think too hard about it, she could imagine that it was just a normal part of everyone growing up and moving on. After all, Bill was now married with a home of his own, Charlie was off with his dragons, and Percy was, well, wherever Percy was.

But that type of thinking was only a short term diversion.

She didn't want to dwell on that right now. She was busy packing and doting on thoughts of Harry, and trying her best to figure out a way that she could be of help him. She worried about him, she worried about her brother, and, of course Hermione, all gone all summer. She was angry she wasn't asked to join them, and she was frustrated about being unable to do anything but sit and wait for whatever would happen. She didn't know how, with such distraction, that she'd be able to concentrate on school work at all.

Taking a break from her late night packing, she decided to wander downstairs for a snack before bedtime. Certain that her parents would be asleep, she moved out of her room quietly.

As she approached the kitchen, she began to overhear tones of a heated conversation. She debated about turning back to her room, but upon hearing the mention of her name, she froze.

"I don't want Ginny to have any part of it," she heard her father insist.

Something about the conversation caused her to feel a small amount of indignation about not being included. The words prompted her to remain outside the door and hopefully find out what 'it' was.

Not that she was surprised that they were trying to keep something from her. All summer, her parents had discussed current events in hushed whispers, protecting her from what lay ahead. She was certain they knew about what Harry was doing, yet whenever she asked or tried to hint about being involved, she was brushed off. What was most annoying, however, was that it seemed that each time she came near, conversations were dropped.

She paused by the door to the kitchen, trying to ascertain who was in there, justifying her intrusion by saying to herself that if they really didn't want her to eavesdrop, they should have put a silencing charm on the room.

Through the crack in the door, she identified her mother and at least one of the twins as well as her father. Bill was there too, and she felt annoyed that nobody had bothered to let her know he'd arrived. Obviously, they didn't want her to know about whatever was happening. Again.

"Dad, we may not have a choice," she heard her brother Bill say. "She's going to be at school. We can't watch over her there."

"We can try," her father argued. "We can move her to a safe house somewhere."

"For how long? Dad, this could last for years," her brother reasoned.

"I know."

"She's got to finish school and live her own life. She's a lot more capable and independent than we give her credit for," Bill added.

She silently thanked Bill for the vote of confidence.

"Things are getting worse, then," she heard one of the twins say.

"No question about it," Bill said. "The disappearances have increased, despite what we see published in The Prophet. Enough information gets out to keep people scared. If You-Know-Who is capable of anything, it's manipulating the masses and he's doing a right good job of it. From what I'm seeing at the bank, people have stopped spending money, and there is serious speculation that the economy is going to collapse. It will create chaos, and I'm sure that he's orchestrating that to gain even more control."

"People will gravitate to a leader, a bad one in absence of anything else," her father added.

"Exactly," Bill agreed.

"So, do you think she'll be safe at school?" her mother asked.

"I'm pretty sure. They want to train the ones young enough to fit into the new order. I don't think he's after the kids... yet."

"Maybe she could go somewhere else?" she heard a twin. She thought it was George.

"Hey, America's got a couple of good schools..." Fred suggested. "We could have a great time visiting her there.

"She'll do no such thing," her mother said, firmly closing the door on the subject. "Hogwart's is far enough away. We'd never be able to get proper word to her should anything happen."

"Agreed, Molly" her father added.

"When Harry finds what he needs, You-Know-Who will get desperate," Bill stated.

"Yeah, like a cornered rat."

She couldn't help but wonder what exactly Harry was looking for. She barely suppressed saying something.

Bill added, "It won't be fun when that happens."

"No, it won't," Arthur agreed. "Does the Order still think that Hogwart's will be the location?"

"More than likely," Bill said. "There aren't many places that are that central to so much old magic. The castle itself has over a thousand years of secrets. Anything could be hidden in there. Even before it was a school, it was the hub of research in both Dark and Light magic for generations."

"Well what's a thousand years of focused magic, give or take?" Fred remarked somberly.

"It gets more interesting," Bill said. "Even before the castle was there, there was something about the place. There are divining lines crossing that location, even more than can be found at Stonehenge. The magic in the spot goes deeper than almost anywhere in the wizarding world. If there's a physical place for drawing power, that school is sitting right on it."

"Oh, dear," she heard her mother mutter.

"So, we need a plan for what to do if it happens that You-Know-Who decides to try to attack the school," her father suggested.

"I think so. With Snape in charge, I don't know how we'll be able to gain access to the place. We'd need to find a way in, if necessary to defend it and the students."

"Can Ginny help, by being inside already?" George asked.

Bless her brothers, she thought.

"No!" her mother interjected, cutting off any possible continuation of the idea. "She will NOT be involved." Ginny felt her anger rise. She wanted to help, needed to help so very badly. Why couldn't they at least consider that?

"Alright then," her father agreed. "We get in, and one of you gets her out of there. She'll not be anywhere near any sort of fighting."

Arrgh!

She clamped her hand over her mouth to keep any sound from escaping, although every fiber of her being wanted to shout and stomp and throw a legitimate temper tantrum. The feeling only intensified as she listened to the conversation turn to possible plans for how they would effectively kidnap her and force her into hiding should events become dangerous.

Fuming, she quietly crept back up to her room to finish her packing.

She had a difficult time hiding her anger at her family for the next two days, as she waited to return to school.

- - -

Ginny boarded the train for her sixth year at Hogwarts with a heavy heart.

She didn't want to go. She didn't want to be there. She wanted to be with Harry, helping him in whatever way possible. It took every ounce of will to not to turn back and try to find some way of getting involved. As she waved a final goodbye to her parents, she saw their fear at letting her go.

She felt frustration at their protectiveness, but, after a great deal of thought, she'd finally come to the conclusion that being at school might prove marginally better than remaining at the Burrow. The more she considered the options, the more she realized that, at least at school, she might have a chance to do something outside of her parents' almost smothering supervision. After all, she thought, look at what Harry, Ron and Hermione have gotten by with over the years.

She sighed heavily as she thought about Harry, worrying about him, and wondering if he might be missing her too.

Neville, Luna and Colin eventually joined her in her compartment, and she felt herself releasing a heavy sigh as she embraced each of them.

"I am so glad to see you!" Ginny greeted them, her relief at seeing them evident.

"Glad to see you too, Gin," Neville returned. "I'm surprised that you're here, though. I figured you would be off with Harry."

Ginny shook her head, "Sorry Neville. I think they think that I'm too young, if you can believe it. So, you all are stuck with me."

Her friends smiled at her and she suddenly found herself feeling much more comfortable than she had over the entire summer. They held the same respect for her that she felt for them. They'd earned each others' trust and it was a nice change from dealing with her family.

Luna interrupted her brief reverie, "I heard Ron is sick. Is he alright?"

"He'll be fine. It's just spattergroit. Nothing a few months of rest won't cure," Ginny lied.

She couldn't believe that her parents had actually gone along with that little ruse, faking Ron's sickness while he was gone. But, in retrospect, they'd had little choice. She hated lying to her friends about it though. Ron wasn't sick, but she had no intention of correcting them on that matter. The fewer who knew the truth, the better for all involved.

"Are you sure he just doesn't want to come back because Hermione's not here?" Luna prodded. Luna was astute, Ginny had to give her credit. She was sure Luna suspected that the illness was a lie. How she did that, Ginny had no clue.

"I wouldn't put it past him," Ginny smiled.

"Hard to believe Hermione isn't allowed back to finish," Neville added. "I can't believe the smartest girl in the seventh year isn't allowed back."

"All because she's muggleborn. Dean too, and at least six others from Gryffindor," Luna added.

"The school is going to be awfully quiet without all of them," Ginny sighed, thinking once again of how she missed Harry. She was going to have to push those feelings aside, and soon, or it was going to be a very long, miserable year.

Apparently the others were also thinking about the obviously missing Harry Potter. Colin piped in, changing the somber topic. "Do you know where Harry is, Gin, or what he's doing? Can we help at all?"

The sight of the three inquisitive faces, all assuming that she somehow had some mysterious insight renewed her feelings of frustration.

"No," she replied, watching the three matched expressions of disappointment, "they've kept me out of everything. Apparently, they think I'm too helpless to be of any use to them."

Colin's spunky response lightened her mood, "You're about as helpless as a cranky hippogriff." he remarked. "I can't believe they think that."

"I agree," Luna said calmly. "I'm sure they have good reason to keep things secret, Ginny. I mean, they probably know that you'll just be unable to help while you're stuck at school with the rest of us."

"But there has to be something we can do!" Ginny insisted. "I mean, at the very least, we could spend our free time doing some sort of research, or coming up with a distraction, or ... anything."

"Maybe we can do something like that," Neville suggested. Ginny looked at her long time friend. Neville, always so shy and sweet, had somehow changed since the death of their headmaster. He seemed more hardened, more determined.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"They want us at Hogwart's to keep us out of the fight. They made it mandatory for us to be at the school, and I can guarantee, from what we know about the staffing changes, that they are going to start trying to train us to accept the new order that You-Know-Who is putting together. We can make sure that we don't make it easy for them. We can continue Dumbledore's Army."

Ginny smiled, and the others voiced their agreement. Yes. Yes they could. Maybe school wasn't going to be so awful this year after all, she mused.

- - -

Draco Malfoy had boarded the Hogwarts express, maintaining an air of confidence that he'd practiced all his life. It had always been a facade to some degree. He'd always been in the shadow of his powerful father, always had money and prestige to hide his insecurities about himself. He'd gotten so adept that he'd even come to believe his outward bravado, at least for a time. There were few who truly knew the real person underneath.

Unfortunately, Voldemort was now one of those few.

The last year had given ample opportunity for him to prove himself, and he'd failed.

He was smart, he knew that. And persistent, as he'd discovered as he worked through the year to solve the puzzle of the broken cabinets. But he was not a Death Eater.

For the first time in his seven years of attending Hogwart's, he was unsure of his status at the school, which said a great deal. All his life, his position had been well established, based clearly on his social standing. Each year, he'd entered the train being the envy of his friends. He'd been the undisputed leader of his house, the one that all the Slytherins had followed, feared and admired, largely due to his family's wealth and power.

In previous years, as the Dark Lord's power grew, so did Draco's position amongst his classmates, the ones that mattered anyway. This year, however, it was different.

This year, he'd been branded a coward and a failure by the Dark Lord himself. This year, he was no longer backed by his father's influence in the Ministry, nor the perception of his family's favor by the Dark Lord himself.

His family's years of loyal service to the Dark Lord had been wiped away in mere moments by, of all the foolish things, his own conscience.

He passed Vincent Crabbe and Greg Goyle on his way forward to the usual Slytherin compartments. Crabbe's reaction was his first indication that things had truly changed.

As they passed, Crabbe, who had been a constant companion for the past six years, now literally looked down his nose at Draco, as if he was somehow inferior. Goyle, as always, stood by his friend Crabbe, but had at least had the courtesy to look somewhat contrite about the snub. Draco drew up to his full height, looking up at the enormous bulk that was Vincent Crabbe, and drew on years of aristocratic upbringing to appear unaffected by the change in his classmates attitude toward him. He might be terrified, but at least he wouldn't outwardly show it.

He entered the compartment that the pair had just exited and found the remainder of his seventh year housemates. As he expected, the conversation was either about him or his family because their intense conversation abruptly stopped as soon as they recognized that it was he who had opened the door.

To say it was difficult to maintain an attitude of superiority was an understatement. Theodore Nott was giving every indication that he was holding court inside the car. 'Of course he would,' Draco mused to himself.

Nott had been at the meetings over the summer and, unlike Draco, had gotten his Dark Mark. He'd witnessed first hand the humiliation the Malfoy family. He'd seen the Dark Lord take Lucius' wand, he'd seen Draco be declared unworthy. He had watched as Draco visibly shook with fear for himself and his family. There was no question that Nott had openly enjoyed it.

Theodore Nott was no fool. He'd seen that the balance of power among Voldemort's followers was being shifted away from the Malfoy family. The Dark Lord was leaving an opening for others to move up in ranks, and the vultures of the wizarding world were now positioning themselves to take advantage.

Viewing the situation objectively, it was logical that the Dark Lord was manipulating this situation to suit his own ends. By removing a powerful person such as Lucius Malfoy from his circle of leaders, Voldemort created an opening. The most ambitious of Voldemort's followers were now beside themselves in their efforts to impress him. It was quite Slytherin of him, actually.

But, Draco did not want to be objective.

The only reason that Draco was alive today was because of his aunt Bellatrix and her insane devotion to the creature that was the Dark Lord. Her position had, by its very nature, given the Dark Lord enough pause to show mercy. What was almost funny about the situation was that Bellatrix had done nothing to defend either Draco or his father by any direct action. The irony was almost poetic.

Now, however, Voldemort had somehow found degrading the Malfoys to be humorous. It suited his purpose, and Draco was now in the process of dealing with the repercussions of the Dark Lord's tactic.

Draco's disgust of the creature was only overshadowed by his fear of him. As Draco viewed his current situation, he felt a profound contempt for the Dark Lord growing inside of him. His father had risked a great deal for himself and his family while awaiting the Dark Lord's return, and their reward had been to be kicked aside as if they were trash.

His life was now changing drastically as he found himself to be now on his own, working to rebuild his position amongst his peers as best he could. It was new territory for him.

He entered the compartment and watched Theodore Nott behaving as though he was now the leader of the group, recounting his exploits over the summer. Theodore had personally been the one to lure Professor Burbage to her capture and subsequent death at the hands of the Dark Lord's pet snake, and he was currently basking in the glow of the Dark Lord's favor.

Draco sat among them, pretending that nothing had changed, as if he was somehow allowing Nott to have his moment of glory. He could not concede otherwise, but as time passed, he knew that things truly had changed. Even Pansy had turned to fawning over Nott.

Draco tried his best to look disinterested and bored, eventually feigning sleep to avoid taking part in the conversation while he took the opportunity to eavesdrop.

Nearing the end of the trip, he finally found the conversation palatable enough to join in.

Millicent had triggered the conversation with, "So, I hear we no longer will have to suffer with Muggle studies."

"Oh, we may, but I'm sure that it will likely include how we are going to subjugate the beasts," Nott gloated. "At least we no longer have to worry about dealing with that idiot, Burbage."

"Nott," Draco interrupted, "this is not the place to discuss such matters."

"Oh, Malfoy, so you've decided to join us," Nott sneered. The others watched the exchange with interest.

"Don't change the subject, Nott. You're mouth is running amok."

"Things are changing, Malfoy. You know that better than anyone. I've earned my place, and I'll speak as I like. The Dark Lord is in control now, and we don't need to hide any longer," Nott paused, then prodded his rival. "Of course, I understand that you might not have the courage to do anything but hide. Am I right Malfoy?"

"You're a fool, Nott. You'll find out in time."

Nott scoffed at the remark, "I think we all know who the fool is here. Things are different, and we have to earn respect, you don't get it for free anymore."

Mustering his best sneer, Draco got up and left the compartment, Pansy following quickly behind him.

"Draco, wait," she grabbed his arm before he stalked down the corridor.

"What do you want, Pansy. Nott might miss having you decorate his arm in there."

"I'm sorry, Draco," she almost looked genuinely regretful. "I've stood by you all last year when you ignored me, but I can't anymore. To be successful in this world, one needs power, and I'm afraid that things have changed. I have to do what's best for my future."

"Of course, Pansy. I wouldn't expect any less of you." He held no anger toward Pansy. She was simply being a Slytherin and looking out for herself.

He'd never loved the girl, though they'd been paired off and on for the last three years. In fact, during last year she'd spent more time with Blaise since Draco had been busy with his "project" and had neither the time nor desire to cater to the high-maintenance witch. But, she'd been convenient, an appropriate match and, at the very least, an ally. He fell short of calling her a friend. True friends were a rare occurance among Slytherins.

No, the actual insult to him was not that she'd left him, but why. Power. His name was no longer worthy of indisputable respect.

He wandered down the corridor of the train, working to avoid other students and barely containing his fury.

Draco faulted himself, of course. He had spent his sixth year in fear of failure, though he didn't know until the final moment that his failure would be his inability to utter a single killing curse.

He regretted failing his parents, but, as much as he had detested Dumbledore, the man had been right about one thing: killing was not an easy thing. As many times as Draco had recounted the moment, he simply could not have reacted differently. He was a failure in that regard, but, he was also angered by the severity of his family's punishment.

It was going to be a very long, tedious school year.