Disclaimer: Well, considering this is an alternate universe, maybe Harry Potter does belong to me.
Notes: Thank you so much for all of your reviews, I think they set a record! They certainly inspired this chapter, which hopefully moves the plot along. I know it's been slow, but things are starting to pick up.
Dark. Dark. Dark.
Ginny carefully maneuvered through the jungle of blanketed lumps- more like corpses than bodies- as she counted the sleeping heads.
Dark. Dark. Dark.
Identical blankets, identical robes, identical shadows. No one stood out. No one dared to. But some people were born to counteract darkness. Sometimes, courage came in the strangest of forms.
Genetics. Ginny yanked the blanket off her brother and knelt beside him. "Ron," she hissed into his ear. He didn't stir. "Ronald Weasley."
Snorting, Ron rolled over, his hand feeling the air, as if for an alarm clock. Ginny rolled her eyes, resorting to the dirtiest of measures.
"Donuts!" she hissed.
"Food?" He jolted up, nearly tumbling off the cot. Ginny smirked at her brother's predictability. Ron's weary desperation disappeared when he noticed her beside him, his expression fading into one of terror. "Merlin's boxers…"
"They had boxers back then?" Ginny pondered lightly.
"They're going to kill us!"
"Seriously, Ron, even if Merlin did have boxers, I doubt they're coming to kill us."
"The overseers, they'll kill us both!" Ron flung himself down onto his cot, trying to hide under the covers. Ginny held the blanket back, eying Ron carefully. He'd hidden from her for long enough, but now she'd cornered him, and she was going to get answers, even if it ended with a pair of boxers- more likely the glove wearing kind- killing them both. After all, in hide and seek, the hiders never won; it was a game of time, seeing how much could pass before the seekers overtook the hiders. That was all life was, a game of time.
"Blankets don't stop curses," she told him, "and the monsters aren't under your bed."
"Well, they're beside my bed," Ron whimpered. "Why won't you leave me alone?"
"Me?" Ginny's anger flared as Ron crept back under the blanket. "You're the one who's left me alone! You won't even walk on the same side of the hallway as me, like I'm some sort of black cat!" Although, come to think of it, Ron probably was superstitious. She strained to think of which one of them had broken a mirror that could have brought upon these seven years of bad luck, called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
"It's one of the conditions," came a mumble from under the blanket.
"Conditions for what?" Irritated, Ginny yanked the blanket off Ron, who squealed at the sudden vulnerability. "Conditions for what?" she repeated.
Since she doubted he was suggesting they were polarized oppositely, she prodded him further. "Conditions for life?"
"You know, oxygen, water, food…"
"Everything's food with you!" Since he refused to look at her, she crawled to the other side of the cot. "What do you mean, it's a condition for life?"
"You were going to die." From his sleeplike position, Ron seemed helpless to the fact. Like he'd forgotten: they were born to die. "They wouldn't operate unless I agreed to some… conditions."
"That I would turn in any other traitors, that I would denounce my family and lifestyle," Ron listed glumly. "That I wouldn't try to talk to you." He sniffed hysterically. "And why would I? After what you did…"
Running for her life? Yeah, she was ashamed of that too. Ron had done a better job of that while standing still and handcuffed. And he was mad she hadn't obeyed Big Brother.
Obviously, he hadn't read 1984. Not that she had, aside from in the strange dream world of hers; she'd learned to read from nutrition labels and cigarette butts.
Ron's sniffles reminded her where she was. He'd just admitted to saving her life. (She ignored the fact that he was crying over it now.) And yet… the demands were too mild to be a punishment. The Death Eaters would have made these demands regardless of whether Ginny had cooperated or not. So why had they let her live? She glanced at Ron, who didn't seem to notice the terrible inconsistency: she should not have been allowed to live.
The only was reasonable explanation was that they wanted her to live. And, of course, whatever they wanted, she did everything to resist. She glared at Ron. "Shouldn't you have asked me?"
Even Ron's laughter had turned bitter. "Yeah, you're right, I should have waited while you died and then asked your ghost if it wanted to be saved." He shook his head. "No wonder no one wants to be a hero these days."
She wondered which would have made him the hero: saving his sister's life through compliance or condemning her to death with his defiance? Either way ended the same. With death. He was right. No wonder there were no heroes. "Why'd you agree?" she wondered aloud.
There was a long pause before, "I didn't."
The blanket must have jumbled his response. She whipped it off once more. "You didn't agree?" This time, Ron didn't disagree. "What do you mean, you didn't agree?" She forced Ron to face her, earning her a squeak of fear that didn't suffice as an answer. "You were just going to let me die?"
"Isn't that what you wanted just a few seconds ago?" he asked, trembling. "Death, life, it's all the same to you. Like you're still in some coma, flirting between the two…" He rolled over. "It doesn't matter. They did it anyway."
"Why?" she demanded, her mind whirring. Ron wasn't the suicidal kind; he wouldn't have even considered taking death over a confined life. He prized life too much, even this kind of life. Call it a weakness. Or was that his only strength? "Why wouldn't you agree?" she repeated.
"Because I was scared." He spoke nonchalantly, as if it were common sense and not something to be ashamed of.
"Scared?" she scoffed. "What's there to be scared of? Signing a contract?" He wouldn't answer. She recalled the way he phrased it: they did it anyway. "Ron, what did they do?"
She crawled over to the other side of the cot again only to find silent tears rolling down his cheeks. "The last condition," he whispered. She reached for his hand, to reassure him, but he pushed her away. "They put a chip in my head, to record all conversations. So they could catch traitors. They were going to pull out my eye too, and replace it with a camera… but the boy before me died on the operating table 'cause they didn't… No Muggles in the operating room." Ron shook his head. "Can't trust Muggles. So no eye. No eye in team." He frowned as she stared at him, horrified. "You remember the monkeys? See no evil, hear no evil…" His eyes flickered up as he trailed off, jolting back into reality. Ginny struggled to decide whether he'd gone insane or the world had. "And that's why we're going to die. We'll all going to die, because of you!"
Somewhere in there, Ron's words became sobs. Life was his weakness after all. True to his word, she heard footsteps. She only hoped they were her own.
Dark. Dark. Dark.
As always, the lumps in the blankets were despairingly similar. No one stood out. Except her.
She dove into the empty cot, probably just in time. Ron had taught her one thing, at least: the blanket could be a shield after all.
"Who're you talking to, boy?" a voice snarled, followed by Ron's whimpers as he was lifted out of bed. Without his safety blanket, he was helpless.
"My sister!" came Ron's whimpers. Ginny's heart skipped a beat. "She was right here, I swear! She ran that way! If you hurry, you'll catch her!"
Damn Ron. Prizing life so much, he's not afraid to throw it away. Anything to save himself, even if it damns him just as much.
To her surprise, the overseer merely laughed. Bitterly. The only kind of laughter there was. "Right. And I suppose there's a bird that nests in there with her too?"
"B-but," Ron sputtered over the overseer's cackles. "She was here…"
A crack echoed across the room as the overseer slapped Ron. Ginny winced silently, but no one stirred. So neither did she.
"You think your sister's gonna come save you from this, boy?" Another crack. "Maybe you should call for her now! See if she comes! Oooh, look!" Ginny's heart pounded as the overseer's voice came dangerously close. "There she is!"
She didn't move. She dared them to destroy their own instrument. But the overseer's voice went on mockingly, "Boxers, and Muggles and… and flying monkeys!"
He was addressing a bedpost. Ron was too terrified to do anything but squeak, although come to think of it, that might have been a squeak of laughter. Perhaps it wasn't only bitter after all. Seeming to realize he was embarrassing himself more than Ron, the overseer backed off. "Next time, keep your mutterings in your head. But if you wanna converse with ghosts, I'm sure we can come to a satisfactory arrangement." Releasing Ron, the overseer surveyed the room, conducting one last check.
Dark. Dark. Dark.
All filled with lumps. One per bed, no more, no less. And no monsters under the bed either. Satisfied, the overseer harrumphed as his footsteps disappeared.
Still, Ginny didn't move. She didn't believe in luck, but all the same, she didn't want to tempt it. It had been lucky enough Ron's chip had malfunctioned and only recorded his half of the conversation. Lucky? No. Remember? She didn't believe in luck. The overseer would have known if the chip had only been recording Ron's comments. But he hadn't. Therefore, nothing was wrong with the chip.
Something was wrong with her. The same thing, she realized, had happened with the Room of Hidden Things. It was as if these forces, whether magic or machine, hadn't recognized her existence.
Another thought occurred to her. Those who had operated on her certainly had enough time to insert a chip in her as well. Why else would they have saved her life, unless they had planned to take several more with it?
It stopped making sense after that. They had enough evidence to incriminate her, and Harry, and Luna, and Ron, and McGonagall even, for giving her the hat. Why didn't the Death Eaters destroy them all?
Unless they were waiting for her to incriminate more, significantly more important people. The only one mildly dangerous among them was Harry, and even he was behind on the times. He hadn't known the Death Eaters had resorted to using Muggle technology, as he had suggested. Therefore, he was of more use when he was revealing the plans of his organization. Who knew what he had left to reveal? She didn't even know his name!
And for once, she was glad. Then she wouldn't need to know who she'd betrayed.
Nowhere was safe. So she might as well come out now. She shed her safety blanket and crept out of bed. An engraving caught her eye, the only difference between each cot.
If only the chip relayed visuals as well! Sleeping in his cot would have been enough to incriminate him as well. Or… would it? As surely as his absence had saved her, her presence had saved him. Damn. It would have almost been worth revealing herself to implicate him.
Dark. Dark. Dark.
As she walked across the room, she scanned the cots, but the overseer had counted correctly. One body per bed. One empty bed. No Draco Malfoy. Only shadows.
It wasn't a surprise he'd be classified among them.
His electrifying hair stood out among the rest of the nameless lumps as he entered the room, his face cold as always. He didn't seem worried about being caught; in fact, he walked with a haughty air, as if he owned the place. As if he was where he was supposed to be.
Her blood grew cold. He'd been placed in all of her classes. A coincidence, right?
But as Harry had proved, there were no coincidences. He hadn't been randomly placed in all of her classes; he'd been planted there. She'd been placed in his.
He was a spy.
Somehow, she made it back to her own cot and pulled the safety blanket over her head. Under it, the monsters had no jurisdiction. There, the only monster that existed was her.
And that's what she'd be. To them. If indeed they'd made her one; if indeed there was a chip inside her head. She'd test the theory later, but already she knew something horrible was in her mind. She only prayed it was something unnatural and not her own brain.
Let them think she was a ghost; she'd haunt them forever. For all they'd learned, neither she nor they could understand the mystery of Ginny Weasley. They knew her chip didn't record her own words. They didn't know why. Neither did she, but she held the advantage. While they'd likely attributed it to something technological, she knew it was more. A weapon.
From now on, she wouldn't incriminate anyone but herself. As soon as they realized this, they'd flock to her like the vultures they were, feasting in death. They couldn't know, then. She'd have to work fast, like the game of time it was.
In the meantime, as any obedient servant would, she'd incriminate one other person for them: Draco Malfoy.
And only then, after she tore off the safety blanket, after the vultures came to gnaw on something that was already dead, would she be done.
I know it's shorter than usual, but I couldn't resist the semi-cliffhanger. Also, I'm considering changing the title (yet again) to Dead or Never Alive. The current title is a stylistic approach, but it's always been boring to me. So… comments? Thanks for all of your reviews!