Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created and owned by JK Rowling. It is intended for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: This story is one that I've been thinking about for awhile. It's far different from what I've posted before. As such, it really does need a disclaimer. This is going to be an AU dark story. Can it be considered Dark!Harry/Dark!Ginny? Perhaps. Regardless of whether people think it qualifies as d!H/d!G, the story itself will be very dark. In all ways. There will be violence, bad language, sexual content, death, mayhem, and just all-around general badness. But… there will always be a light, however small, at the end of the tunnel. Harry and Ginny just have to find their way there.
June 7, 1992
A light breeze fluttered the curtains that covered a partially opened window in the Hogwarts infirmary. As Madame Pomfrey made her way over to close it against the afternoon winds, a small black beetle crawled over the windowsill and down the brick walls, scuttling in the shadows under the empty beds.
One bed in the infirmary was occupied. Harry Potter's dark hair lay stark against the white hospital linens, piles of candy and sweets almost toppling over on the bedside table next to him. As the small beetle was crawling across the floor beneath the beds, drawing ever closer to the one occupied, the voice of Hogwarts' Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, could be heard speaking to the injured boy.
"…not being truly alive, he cannot be killed. He left Quirrell to die; he shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies."
Harry nodded his head, but stopped quickly, grimacing at the pain of moving too vigorously. Then he continued, "But sir, how did Quirrell die? And why couldn't he touch me?"
A chair squeaking loudly in the hospital matron's office cut through Dumbledore's answer, and the beetle continued to crawl closer, heading towards a blanket laying over the end of the bed and trailing onto the floor.
"…It is in your very skin. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition--" By the end of the first sentence, the beetle had made its way to the top of the blanket, and was crawling up under the blankets, the man's words muffled by the thick wool and linen.
"How did I get the Stone out of the mirror?"
"Ah, now, I'm glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that's saying something." The young boy in the bed continued to listen to his headmaster speak, and casually brushed his hands against the blankets to help push himself further upright. As he did, he knocked the beetle to the floor, where it bounced and rolled under the bedside table.
A short time later, a slightly stunned, yet still alive beetle crawled slowly out from underneath the table, following along behind the shuffling gait of the white-haired Headmaster as he walked out the doors of the infirmary.
Monday June 8, 1992
Death of a Hogwarts Professor!
Boy-Who-Lived or Boy-Who-Kills?
By Rita Skeeter
Quirinus Quirrell, formerly the Muggle Studies professor, and this past year's Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, was found dead last Thursday, after what appears to be a vicious battle involving fire. But how could this have happened at the school where many of our children go to learn and better themselves?
Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, has always been seen by the Wizarding world as our supposed savior ever since his defeat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named when he was just an infant. However, the Daily Prophet has uncovered frightful happenings at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry surrounding Mr. Potter and Professor Quirrell's death.
Through careful investigation, it has been found that Harry Potter, age 11, was the last to see Quirrell alive, and is even now being held in the school infirmary under close observation. Though Headmaster Albus Dumbledore refused to speak to the Daily Prophet, we were able to learn that there was a suspicious artifact held in the bowels of the school this year, purportedly kept in secret by the Headmaster himself.
Lucius Malfoy, a prominent pureblood and generous benefactor of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, had this to say about the incidents, "As a Hogwarts School Governor, I am horrified to learn that a dangerous object was being held at the school. My young son, Draco, was attending his first year this year, and he has informed me that not only was Potter allowed to roam freely to cause mischief, but there was an incident at Halloween involving a mountain troll being let into the school. The incident was swept aside by the Headmaster; however the Board will be looking into the situation, as well as the death of a fine, upstanding member of the Hogwarts staff. It is with sadness that I must offer my condolences to Quirrell's family, and I assure the parents of those children attending our school that both the Headmaster and young Mr. Potter will be investigated."
So why was no notice given to parents regarding a troll being let loose in a school? And why is Mr. Potter being held for observation? What part of Quirrell's demise was at the hands of young Mr. Potter? These questions go unanswered as long as Albus Dumbledore remains silent. The Daily Prophet urges all parents of current students to inquire as to the safety of their children, in the hopes that the truth will be uncovered.
(For more on Harry Potter's supposed defeat of You-Know-Who, see page 3)
(Albus Dumbledore, defeater of Grindelwald, or Master Manipulator, see page 4)
Lunch in the Great Hall was usually a boisterous affair, especially at the end of a school year. This afternoon, however, the sounds were muted, and there was a hiss of whispers spreading across each table as students obviously discussed that morning's article by Rita Skeeter.
"Don't pay any attention to them, Harry!"
Harry's eyes rose and met those of one of his best friends. "How can I not, Hermione? Did you even read that article in the Prophet? It makes me sound like I killed Quirrell on purpose to keep him from exposing some secret artifact being hidden by Dumbledore!"
"He's right, Hermione. Don't know why they talked to that stuffed up git Malfoy, though. Load of bloody bull is what he was spouting. I'd like to--"
Hermione's head whipped around to look at the redhead sitting next to her. "It doesn't matter what you'd like to do to him, Ronald. If Harry and Dumbledore don't respond back to those idle accusations, well then, everything should just blow over by the time school starts up again in September. I searched the library this morning after breakfast and I read some of Skeeter's older articles. That woman is nothing but a hack journalist who likes to stir up trouble and write tabloid lies."
Harry skirted his eyes around the Great Hall, watching the other students. Many students had their heads bent over what appeared to be copies of the paper, and their eyes would occasionally jump over towards him where he sat at the Gryffindor table. Unlike Hermione, he didn't think this would blow over so quickly.
"C'mon, I'm not really hungry any more. Let's go up to the common room and talk about this there. I don't really fancy having most of Hogwarts staring at me like a venomous snake in the zoo."
As the trio stood from the table and began to walk towards the doors, whispers and sharp looks followed Harry's every step. And when he drew too near a young Ravenclaw who sat at the end of the bench, she pulled away from him with a gasp, almost falling over her plate to keep her distance.
Harry's shoulders hunched forward as he quickened his pace out the door and into the entrance hall. Hermione and Ron glanced at each other, their eyes showing their doubt over Hermione's hope for a quick death to Rita's story.
August 20, 1992
Harry Potter was fuming. He stalked angrily through the tall grass towards the Weasley's orchard, clutching the morning's Daily Prophet in his hand. He had snatched the paper from the table after breakfast and walked off, telling Ron he needed to be alone for awhile.
After yesterday's disastrous trip to Diagon Alley for school supplies, he knew the negative attention on him would get worse. But after reading that morning's article, he was definitely not looking forward to the coming school year.
Harry flopped down in the orchard and leaned back against a tree, drawing his knees up and smoothing out the crumpled newspaper. He ran a hand through his already messy hair and read the article again.
Gilderoy Lockhart Pledges to Help Boy-Who-Lived!
Famous Wizard is New Hogwarts Defense Professor
By Rita Skeeter
In a surprising announcement yesterday, Gilderoy Lockhart told the crowds at Flourish and Blotts that he would be taking up the post as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts for the coming year.
The announcement during Lockhart's book signing was interrupted by the
appearance of Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived. Mr. Potter was linked to the death of last year's Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Quirinus Quirrell, under seriously questionable circumstances. There have been rumors surrounding Mr. Potter since then, alluding to possible incidents of dark magic use, and questions regarding his famous scar and how he was able to defeat such a dark wizard as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Lockhart himself talked about these disturbing issues when he spoke to the Prophet after his book signing yesterday afternoon. When asked about the photo he took with Mr. Potter (see photo below), Lockhart had this to say:
"Yes indeed, I did speak to Harry Potter today, the poor misguided young man. In my expert opinion as a long-time champion of the light, it would seem as if Mr. Potter is infected with some dark tendencies and has been under the influence of those that don't have his best interests at heart. Who knows where he was and what he did during those years after You-Know-Who's fall?"
Mr. Lockhart spoke again on this matter later in the interview, and gave us some insight into Mr. Potter's behavior.
"I've had experience with the sorts of dark magic that might seduce a young wizard like Harry Potter before. If you've read my book, Year with the Yeti, you'll know that during my travels in Tibet I met a young monk who was attacked by a dark wizard I was tracking. After the attack he seemed drawn to the use of dark magic. It took me almost 5 days to convince the monk that he needed to turn from those thoughts and banish the vestiges of evil the dark wizard had left in him. It is my greatest hope that I shall be able to similarly help Mr. Potter when I arrive at Hogwarts, and I'm sure I'll be able to work closely with him, to convince him that what he's done in the past is wrong."
The Daily Prophet wishes good luck to Gilderoy Lockhart in his upcoming year at Hogwarts, and we can all hope that a man as great as he is will be able to shed some light onto Harry Potter's troubles and get him the help he so obviously needs.
(For the full interview with Gilderoy Lockhart, see page 3)
With a sigh, Harry threw the newspaper to the ground and leaned his head back, feeling the rough bark of the tree cutting into his scalp. The slight pain helped distract him from his anger, as his thoughts turned to the Weasley's reactions that morning. Mrs. Weasley tossing her entire collection of Lockhart books into the rubbish bin had pleased him on a visceral level. Remembering Lockhart's smarmy face being chewed up by the magical rubbish bin made him smile for the first time that day. His happy recollections were interrupted by the approach of his best friend.
"Hey mate… feeling any better?" Ron sheepishly asked, as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"Yeah. Thanks, you know… for giving me some time to cool down," said Harry.
"Any time, mate. S'not like I want to deal with a grouchy git like you first thing in the morning anyway, you know?"
Harry laughed and stood up, joining his friend in walking back to the Burrow.
Neither boy noticed the small redheaded girl perched on a branch halfway up the tree Harry had leaned against. Wedging her back more firmly against the trunk of the tree, Ginny Weasley sighed as she watched her brother and his friend walk away. She turned back to the diary she held in her lap, as she dipped her quill into the ink pot and continued to write to her new friend, Tom.
December 23, 1992
Potter a Parselmouth!
Slytherin's Heir Claims Another Victim at Hogwarts
By Rita Skeeter
In another vicious attack on the students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Justin Finch-Fletchley, a Second year Hufflepuff, was petrified last Friday afternoon, along with the resident Gryffindor house ghost known as Sir Nicholas.
This was the third attack this year at Hogwarts, and the second time a student was petrified. Both students were Muggleborns, and after the warning earlier in the term referring to "enemies of the Heir", it is certain that Slytherin's Heir is targeting those whom he or she considers to be of lesser blood status.
The identity of Slytherin's Heir is still unknown, however in a shocking revelation, the Daily Prophet has learned that Harry Potter himself is a parselmouth. This disturbing news was discovered during a dueling club meeting hosted by famous wizard Gilderoy Lockhart, who is serving as this year's Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Professor Lockhart was demonstrating defensive charms and shields when an unnamed student accidentally conjured a snake on the dueling stage.
What happened next is alarming. In an exclusive interview with a student whose identity is hidden for their own protection, the Daily Prophet has learned that Harry Potter spoke in Parseltongue to the snake, and appeared to direct it towards one of his classmates. That classmate was none other than Mr. Finch-Fletchley who was attacked just a day later.
Parseltongue is widely considered to be a skill of dark magic practitioners, and it is well known that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was a parselmouth. The other most famous parselmouth was Salazar Slytherin, who was purported to have built the Chamber of Secrets somewhere in the school.
Could this be proof positive that Harry Potter is Slytherin's Heir? Why have there been no investigations allowed by Ministry experts to determine the identity of the fiend who has unleashed Slytherin's beast? This reporter can only hope that Mr. Potter, if he is indeed responsible for these heinous deeds, will turn himself in and allow the Ministry to get rid of whatever monster he is using to attack the unsuspecting students of Hogwarts.
June 3, 1993
Harry stomped around the far edge of the Black Lake, as far away from the front doors of Hogwarts as possible. He wanted to avoid the stares and whispers of the students, and the wary glances some of the teachers had started to send his way. Yesterday's Daily Prophet story still thundered through his mind, causing acid to roil angrily through his guts. He knew if he saw Rita Skeeter today, he might just be capable of some of the dark magic she kept accusing him of.
He kicked his sneakers through the pebbles that lay on the shoreline, watching as they dribbled and bounced away from him into the lake. Harry snorted as he imagined each one being Rita's head, and wondered how much more he could take of her lies.
A sound off to his left drew his attention, and he grabbed his wand from his pocket. With a final rustle of branches the thick brush disgorged a small redhead who looked to be in a high temper, as she roughly swatted the leaves from her robes. She appeared to be both scowling and mumbling, but Harry noticed her eyes were red and puffy, and he could see tear tracks against the blush of her cheeks.
Ginny's head jerked around and she stared at Harry for a moment, her face beginning to blush even more.
"Hi Harry," Ginny said, ducking her head down as she walked over to the edge of the lake.
"Um… are you okay?" Harry asked. He wasn't entirely sure what he was supposed to say to a girl who looked like she'd been crying, but he figured that was a rather good start.
Ginny glanced up at him with an incredulous look on her face, before she shook her head and sighed.
"I'm just fine, Harry. Thanks." The tone of her voice left little doubt in Harry's mind that what he'd just asked had not, in fact, been a good start.
"Er… sorry. That was probably a really stupid question, wasn't it," Harry mumbled, shoving his wand back in his pocket and ambling over closer to where Ginny was now gazing across the lake.
"It's just… it's just been a really bad year. And then that article…" Ginny's voice trailed off as she obviously remembered what Skeeter had written about her. "I mean, I know you've had several of these awful things printed about you in the last year, but… the things she said… and all the other kids are just staring, and Malfoy said–" Ginny broke off at that point, her mouth drawing into a thin line and her brow furrowing in anger.
"Malfoy's an arse, Ginny. You should just ignore him," Harry argued.
"Like you do, you mean?" Ginny finally looked directly at him with that last comment, and Harry knew he was being a big hypocrite by telling her that.
Harry chuckled and admitted, "Yeah, I know. Yet another stupid comment, I suppose. What did the little git say to you, anyway?"
Ginny glanced away looking uncomfortable, her fingers starting to toy with the frayed ends of her robe sleeves, as she shrugged off Harry's question.
"It was nothing. He's a git, like you said."
"He mentioned what Skeeter said in her article, didn't he?" Harry grimaced as he remembered the vile things Skeeter had written, especially considering she was writing about an 11-year-old girl. He could well imagine that Malfoy would take special delight in reminding Ginny of what the article said.
Harry heard Ginny sniffle, and watched as she rubbed her hand across her eyes. She kept her head turned away, but he knew she was very upset by the allegations. He shuffled his feet and glanced back towards Hogwarts, hoping in vain that perhaps Hermione would show up and help. No such luck, he thought. Okay, so what do I do with a crying girl?
Reaching up, he patted her on the shoulder awkwardly, and murmured "There, there."
Ginny let out a laugh, and roughly scrubbed her face with the heels of her palms. "Merlin, Harry, you're awful at this, aren't you?"
"Sorry. It's just–"
"No, don't worry about it." Ginny laughed again, and turned back towards him, wearing the start of a smile. "It was funny, actually. And I haven't had much to laugh about, lately."
Harry flashed a lop-sided grin, and watched a light blush come back over her cheeks. But her eyes were brighter than they were before, and she fell into step with him as he started back towards the front doors of Hogwarts.
August 8, 1993
Harry's eyes roved across the newspaper as he read that morning's Daily Prophet. His guts clenched as he saw the announcement of his trial that would take place the following day, ignoring the large breakfast that Mrs. Weasley had just set down in front of him.
"What's the Daily Rubbish say today, mate?" Ron asked through a mouthful of toast.
Ron laughed and chugged his glass of pumpkin juice, then leaned over to whisper in Harry's ear. "That's what Ginny's started calling it, least 'round Mum and Dad. Her other name for it is way funnier, but Mum practically had kittens when she heard what Ginny said."
Harry forced a smile, and went back to reading the Prophet. The headlines were mostly concerning his trial, but there was another story about Ginny and the Weasleys further down the page. The Weasleys had won the annual Daily Prophet Grand Prize Galleon Draw earlier in the summer, and had used the 700 galleons to increase the strength of their wards. Soon after they returned from school, reporters and photographers started showing up at all hours of the day and night, trying to get pictures of Ginny or Ron, and fishing for inflammatory quotes that would sell more papers.
After Ginny had nearly hexed a Daily Prophet reporter when he quoted Skeeter's new name for her, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley decided against a trip to Egypt and had instead contacted Bill to come install better wards. Ron's eldest brother had made good use of his Gringotts connections and a team of ward builders had installed them a week later. Since then, not a single person not allowed in by the Weasleys had passed onto their property. Harry was extremely grateful for this, since he would be spending the rest of the summer at the Burrow.
After losing control of his anger and blowing up his aunt, he'd accidentally called the Knight Bus and ran to the only place he knew he'd be welcome – the Burrow. Showing up in the middle of the night wasn't his best entrance, but Mr. Weasley had been waiting for him, warned ahead of time by a floo call from Dumbledore. Mr. Weasley's warm welcome had been a comforting balm to Harry's flayed nerves, but the Ministry owl that showed up right after had set him on edge again.
A thumping could be heard coming down the stairs, and shortly thereafter a rather disheveled figure slouched into the room. Harry lowered the paper and watched Ginny scuff her way across the kitchen, her faded dressing gown almost falling off her shoulders. The ties that were supposed to hold it closed were dragging on the floor, and she wore an overlarge t-shirt and pajama pants that had obviously belonged to one of her brothers at some point.
"G'morning Ginny," Ron said, grinning at his sister's scowl.
Ginny fell into her chair at the kitchen table, and laid her head down on her folded arms, pointedly ignoring the paper that Harry had laid in the middle of the table.
"Where's Mum at, Ron?"
"She went out to get more eggs from the chicken coop. Why?"
Ginny raised her head and reached out to drag the Daily Prophet over to where she could read it, her lips thinning out and her scowl getting worse. Harry knew she must be reading Skeeter's latest comments about herself.
"I see Skeeter's Daily Shitecan report is all rot today. As usual. Mum's been tearing out the sections on me lately before I can read them. As if I didn't already know half the ruddy Wizarding world now thinks I'm Slytherin's Mistress. And 'Descent into Darkness', my arse. Bloody Skeeter is a cow."
Harry winced at the nickname Skeeter had coined, one that had quickly caught on amongst the students at Hogwarts during the last week of school. He caught Ginny's eye across the table, and she shrugged and went back to reading the paper.
Harry's thoughts turned back to his trial, and he wondered if Dumbledore would be able to help him that much, considering he really had used magic on his aunt. Even if that magic had been accidental and preceded by the foul insults Marge had hurled at his parents.
His residual anger at Marge met up with his already anxious stomach, and Harry shoved his plate away after barely taking a few bites from it. He knew the trial would not be easy for him, and he could only imagine what Skeeter would write after it, no matter the outcome. Harry wondered whether he'd even be returning to the Burrow the following day, or if they'd just march him straight off to Azkaban.
Harry shook his head at his own maudlin thoughts, and finally grinned a little as he watched Ginny tear the front page of the Daily Prophet into shreds. She stood up and dumped them into Errol's cage, startling the owl from where he'd been slumped over his water dish.
"There. That's about the only good use for that piece of shite," Ginny declared.
August 10, 1993
Potter Found Not Guilty by Wizengamot
By Rita Skeeter
In a narrow victory for the Boy-Who-Lived, the Wizengamot found Harry Potter not guilty yesterday after his trial before the esteemed court. Potter was charged with offenses committed under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of Secrecy, in connection with his attack on a Muggle at his place of residence. Potter, who has been linked to several dubious events since his return to the Wizarding world, was represented by Albus Dumbledore, recently removed from his position as Supreme Mugwump and Chief Warlock.
Stamford Jorkins, a Ministry spokesperson, had this to say when the Daily Prophet asked for a comment: "The Ministry of Magic stands by the Wizengamot's decision, however the offenses committed by Mr. Potter were serious and disturbing. We urge Mr. Potter to seek assistance with his obvious anger management issues. The Ministry hopes that any further incidents like this one will be avoided."
While reports indicate that the Muggle in question was returned to her prior state and swiftly obliviated to assure that she did not remember the episode, Potter's reasons for the attack are still unknown. Is this yet more evidence of his mental instability? And if the young man does indeed have "anger management" issues as the Ministry suggested, what else is Albus Dumbledore hiding in his constant protection of Mr. Potter. It is well known that all previous attempts to obtain a direct interview with the famous Boy-Who-Lived have been deflected by the aging Headmaster. What exactly is Dumbledore hiding?
For now, Mr. Potter remains a mystery. The Daily Prophet has learned however, that he is currently in residence at The Burrow, the ramshackle home of the Weasley family, for the remainder of the summer. We question the Headmaster's wisdom in allowing a young man with such obvious mental issues to remain in such close contact with a family that includes another student with a shameful past.
Ginevra Weasley, with her actions last term as Slytherin's Mistress in attacks on Muggleborn students, must surely know of such shady and underhanded magic as was most likely used by Mr. Potter. Is Mr. Potter's close relationship with Slytherin's Mistress a way for him to learn more powerful spells? Is it safe for our children to be attending school with such students as these? Ones who have repeatedly been linked to mysterious deaths and horrific monsters?
The Daily Prophet will continue looking into these serious issues and will keep the public informed.
(For more on Miss Weasley, see yesterday's front page article "Slytherin's Mistress – A Descent into Darkness")
September 1, 1993
Ginny rubbed her bleary eyes and glanced back out the window of their train car as the Hogwarts Express sped across the English countryside. Raindrops were splattering against the windowpane, and the dreary weather matched her mood. She'd had another dream the night before, waking in a sweat with a scream that she only just managed to swallow. Her mum was already hovering after last year and the summer's increasingly foul articles in the Daily Prophet. The last thing she needed was her mum barging in at 3 in the morning after hearing her screams.
Thoughts of last night's nightmare reminded her of how much she didn't want to return to Hogwarts. Her dreams over the summer had slowly switched from horrible scenes of Tom's laughter at the sight of the basilisk devouring Harry, to imagined encounters in Hogwarts dungeons with enraged students out to stop 'Slytherin's Mistress' before she hurt someone again.
Her nightmares were coming true already, as she'd had a taste of what was to come in the year ahead when she first stepped foot on the train. Ginny's roommates, Demelza Robins and Vicky Frobisher, had been just ahead of the Weasleys as they boarded, and she'd waved to them as she passed by the cabin they were entering. Vicky's horrified expression and Demelza's quick withdrawal from the corridor told her enough. Though they'd been somewhat friendly last year, it was obvious they'd read Skeeter's articles and believed her vicious lies. Whispers had followed her down the corridor to the cabin where her brother and his friends were sitting.
She hated that woman and the foul name. If Malfoy says it even once, I swear I'm going to hex his tongue to fork like the snake he is.
Pushing these thoughts to the side, Ginny turned back to watch her brother trouncing Harry again in Wizard's chess. She had no idea why he continued to play against Ron, but at least it brought his attention away from his previous announcement.
Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban, and Dumbledore had warned Harry after his trial that he needed to be more careful this year. Ginny knew he was disappointed that he wouldn't get to visit Hogsmeade with the other Third Years, but maybe she could keep him company during those days. They had grown a little closer over the summer when he stayed with them at the Burrow, and she had finally forced herself to stop acting like an idiot around him.
For the most part, anyway. Stupid crush.
She'd been surprised when Ron hadn't said anything about her joining them in the cabin when they boarded the train. Ginny had watched the play of emotions across his face, before he sighed and stepped inside. She'd been sure he was about to tell her to beat it, but Ron had been acting a lot nicer to her over the summer. And she knew there'd been a few scuffles between him and some of the Slytherins last year when Malfoy had started repeating what Skeeter had said in the first articles that appeared after the events in the Chamber had come out.
I'll have to think of something nice to do for him, she thought. She grinned to herself as she remembered that Hermione's birthday was in a few weeks. Maybe I'll remind him to get her a present. Of course, she wasn't sure if that'd be something nice for him or something nice for Hermione. Poor girl, dunno why she likes the big lump.
Ginny's thoughts about Hermione and her brother were interrupted at a tentative knock to their cabin door. Hermione stood up and opened it, letting in Neville Longbottom.
"Um, hi Hermione. Er… d'you mind if I join you guys? It's j-just that, um…"
"Of course, Neville. You're more than welcome to join us," Hermione answered, stepping back to let Neville into the cabin.
"Thanks," Neville said with obvious relief. He sat down in the seat next to Ginny, and glanced over towards the corner seat across from them where a haggard man continued to sway in his sleep as the train rumbled over the tracks.
"We're thinking that's the new Defense teacher," Ginny answered his obvious question. They had kept quiet for the most part in deference to the man's obvious exhaustion. She could see the lines of sleepless nights across his scarred face and wondered again about his presence on the train. She couldn't remember her brothers ever mentioning teachers riding the Hogwarts Express.
"So how was your summer, Neville?" Hermione asked in a hushed voice. Ron and Harry had put away their chess game when Neville joined them in the crowded train car. Ginny watched Neville become a little nervous when attention shifted to him, but he answered in a quiet voice, explaining about his Gran letting him visit several greenhouses over the summer vacation.
"How was all of your summers?" Neville asked. Ginny saw an angry look flash across Harry's face, and felt her own forehead wrinkling in a scowl as she thought of what to say.
"Oh. Er… sorry, Harry and Ginny, I know you, um… p-probably don't want to… I mean, I read the articles in the Daily Prophet. Or at least, some of them. My Gran cancelled our subscription after the one about your trial, Harry. I was really glad to hear that you'd gotten off okay." Neville's face flushed red in embarrassment as he realized what he'd said. But Ginny saw him take a deep breath and sit up a little straighter.
"Listen, I don't believe a word they say in the papers, you guys. And neither does my Gran. She's always said that Dumbledore has the right of things, and… well… I'm your friend no matter what the rest say." Neville's eyes grew wide after saying that, and he continued in a slightly more timid voice. "I mean… you know, I believe you and–"
"Thanks, Neville," Harry interrupted Neville's rapid explanations, and a small smile grew on the timid boy's face. Ginny was about to add her own thanks when she felt the train begin to slow down, then lurched forward with the rest of them as it came to a sudden stop. Just as she was about to ask if they were there early, all the lamps in the train went out and they were left in sudden darkness. The chill of the wind and rain seeped through the window and added to the now tense atmosphere.
As she listened to the others squabble over whose foot had stepped on whom, Ginny shivered a little as the car seemed to grow colder. The stern "Quiet!" that came suddenly from the previously sleeping man startled her, but it was the door to their cabin opening that drew all her attention.
The cloaked figure that hovered in the doorway seemed to suck all the remaining warmth from her body, and as it drew in a rattling breath, Ginny heard a quiet, disturbing laugh in her ear. The cold overwhelmed her… there was no warmth, no light, no sound except Tom's voice telling her she'd always be his. She'd always be surrounded by his darkness.
Her body shaking uncontrollably, Ginny sank into that darkness.
October 31, 1993
Harry walked alongside Ginny as they followed Ron and Hermione after the Halloween feast. The pleasant evening had made up for his earlier morose feelings about not being allowed to attend Hogsmeade, and he and Ginny had spent dinner listening to Ron and Hermione tell them all about the wonders of butterbeer and the candy at Honeydukes. They were heading back to Gryffindor tower after stuffing themselves to bursting and watching the Hogwarts ghosts entertain the students. Even Malfoy's annoying call of "Hey Weaslette and Potter! The dementors send their love!" hadn't dimmed his mood. Ginny even seemed to shrug off Draco's comments for once, and didn't react with her usual hexes and threats.
He had been rather depressed earlier, after the students had left for the village, and had wandered the castle, where he'd run into Ginny sitting on a windowsill near the stairs to the Owlery. Harry was going to see Hedwig after being told off by Filch, but decided to stop and talk to her instead.
Harry had noticed that Ginny seemed to be hanging around the trio more often since school started two months ago. But he didn't mind so much. She was funny, with a sharp tongue and a wicked sense of humor that she used to deflect the comments they often garnered in the hallways. And although he still occasionally saw her blush when he caught her eye, for the most part she was as fun to be around as Ron or Hermione. Her knowledge of Quidditch rivaled her brother's and they would often get into in-depth arguments over who had the best chasers, or when the Cannons would finally win a game. Harry rather thought Ginny had the right of things in supporting a team that at least had a chance of winning.
Ginny had joined him in his trek around the castle that afternoon, as they talked about their classes and made scathing comments about Snape, Malfoy, and Rita Skeeter. The reporter had been a little quiet lately, to Harry's relief, but he knew by now that it was only a lull before she came up with her latest lies and stories. Looking back on it now, Harry realized that it had actually turned into an enjoyable afternoon, especially once they'd run into Professor Lupin and joined him for tea. And though Snape's arrival with the potion for Lupin killed the rest of the conversation, he was glad that Ginny had been there for the trip back to the tower, trading quips about what suspicious compound Snape had just fed the kindly Defense Professor.
Their group was almost to the hallway that led to the portrait of the Fat Lady, when Harry, laughing at Ron's comment about Crookshanks, accidentally bumped into another student. He heard a gasp and looked down to see a young girl jerk away from him with a frightened look on her face. The girl stepped aside and almost ran into Ginny, who put her hand on the girl's arm to keep her from tripping over her feet.
"Don't touch me!" the girl screamed, then yanked her arm away from Ginny and ran ahead, disappearing into the crowd of Gryffindors.
"Who the hell was that?" Harry asked.
Ginny heaved a sigh and looked a bit reluctant, but answered Harry's question. "Vicky Frobisher. She's in my year. The other girls in my dorm don't… well, they don't like me very much. Usually I just… stay away from them."
Harry wished he knew what to say to his friend, and was about to mumble a quick "sorry", when they finally arrived near the entrance and found it jammed with students.
"Why aren't they going in?" Ron asked, as he, being the tallest, tried to peer over the heads of the students in front of them.
"Let me through please, I'm Head Boy. Here now, you can't have all forgot the password–" Percy's authoritative voice rang through the crowd, but the silence that followed shimmered backwards until the hallway was still.
Harry could just see Percy's face over the heads of the other students, and the Head Boy caught his eye from his spot near the portrait. Percy scowled at Harry standing shoulder to shoulder with Ron and Ginny. At the look Percy gave him, however, Harry felt Ron stand taller next to him, and saw Ginny's fierce gaze and crossed arms. Apparently, they weren't budging. The Head Boy's eyes slid away from his siblings and off to the side where Neville stood by himself.
"Mr. Longbottom, run and get Professor Dumbledore. Quickly, please," Percy asked. But just as Harry saw Neville turn to fetch the Headmaster, he felt a steadying hand fall on his shoulder.
"It's alright, students. I am here." Dumbledore's hand left his shoulder and Harry watched the crowd of Gryffindors part before the Headmaster as he swept towards the portrait. The four students followed in his wake to see what was going on.
The Fat Lady was missing from her portrait, shreds of canvas littering the floor showing the violence of the attack. Dumbledore turned a somber face towards Professors McGonagall, Lupin, and Snape who had just come upon the scene.
"We must find the Fat Lady. Professor McGonagall, please ask Filch to search every painting until he locates her. The rest of you aid in the search," Dumbledore said, but Peeves' sharp cackle interrupted any further instructions.
As Harry listened to Peeves tell Dumbledore what happened, the name of Sirius Black sent a chill down his spine, and his three friends turned to him with worried looks.
Professor Dumbledore sent all the students back to the Great Hall under the supervision of the other teachers, but before Harry could join the mumbling crowd, he was held back.
"Harry would you and your friends please wait a moment. I'd like a quick word with you, if you don't mind," Dumbledore said. Harry looked at Ginny and she shrugged back at him, as Ron and Hermione joined them in front of their venerable Headmaster. A few of the departing students threw suspicious looks back at them as they heard Dumbledore's request. A sharp look from the Headmaster quickly sent them scurrying to catch up with the rest of the Gryffindors.
"Now Harry, I am aware that you were unable to attend Hogsmeade today with the rest of the Third Years, however I would like to know how you spent your time today," Dumbledore asked.
Harry furrowed his brow at this question, but he quickly explained that he and Ginny had roamed the castle for awhile, before enjoying tea with Professor Lupin. Dumbledore repeated his odd request to Ron and Hermione, and their answer was obvious – they'd spent the day in Hogsmeade.
Dumbledore nodded the entire time, then asked all four, "Did any of you encounter anything odd, or see anyone you didn't recognize or who acted strangely? Was there any time you might have seen something… unusual?"
Ginny looked at him skeptically, but they all answered in the negative. Harry was uncertain what Dumbledore was looking for, but he didn't think Snape's odd potion delivery to Professor Lupin qualified for what the Headmaster had asked.
"Very well. I would ask you four to be especially careful after this, and Harry, please be observant walking around the castle. I would like to remind you that after-hours trips, even under an invisibility cloak, would not be prudent at this time. Sirius Black is not a man to be underestimated, if he could slip in so easily," Dumbledore warned them all, and Harry nodded his agreement.
Climbing into his snug sleeping bag later that evening in the Great Hall, Harry shared a hushed conversation with his friends. Hermione seemed very concerned that Sirius Black might still be in the castle, but none of them could come up with a viable way for the madman to get past Dumbledore's protections and the dementors at the front gates.
Wavering on the edge of sleep, Harry watched the moonlight shine off of Ginny's flaming red hair, and heard Ron's snores coming from next to him, interspersed with Hermione's sleepless rustles on the other side of Ginny. He wondered at his placement in the middle of his friends as they lay in their secluded corner away from the other students who refused to sleep near them.
Harry felt a sudden warmth in his chest that eased the fear, anger, and depression he'd experienced throughout the day, as he realized his friends had surrounded him in an effort to protect him from any possible attacks. A madman wants to kill me, the newspaper calls me an angry basket case, the other students think I'm crazy, or worse, a dark wizard. And these three still want to be my friends.
Harry smiled a bit, and for once slept without dreaming.
November 2, 1993
Sirius Black Attacks Hogwarts!
Lone Madman or Aided Assassin?
By Rita Skeeter
In a vicious attack, escaped convict Sirius Black is responsible for the destruction of a Hogwarts painting, said to be the entrance to the Gryffindor House dormitories. The attack happened during the Halloween Feast, when all the students and teachers were blissfully enjoying their puddings and ghostly entertainment.
Exactly 12 years after the death of his dark master, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, it seems Sirius Black is once again going on a rampage. His previous attacks that led to his incarceration included the death of one of his former best friends, Peter Pettigrew.
One might wonder at the timing and target of Black's assault; however the Daily Prophet knows that Harry Potter is a Gryffindor himself, and it has been speculated that Black's escape was in an effort to get revenge for the death of his master.
However, new sources have brought to light some interesting information that leads us to a different possible explanation. This reporter has discovered that Sirius Black, who was once best friends with the slain James Potter, was named as Harry Potter's godfather and guardian at the behest of his parents.
In addition, it is known that Halloween was the first Hogsmeade trip for the Hogwarts students for this school year. Yet, this reporter has learned that Potter himself was not amongst those who attended the day's festivities. What possible reason could a young man have for not attending his first ever trip to the famed Hogsmeade, where scores of students were seen making merry at the various shops?
Could it be that this young man is somehow in collusion with his godfather, and found a way for him to enter unseen to the school? If so, what dastardly deeds did Black intend to commit when the students returned from the night's feast?
While Black's motives and means of entry are still unknown, what is certain is Albus Dumbledore's increasing inadequacies where school security is concerned. Since Mr. Potter began his Hogwarts career less than 3 years ago, there have been deaths and attacks every year. How much more has to happen before something is done? What kinds of atrocities need to befall our students before action is taken to ensure their safety?
(For more information on Sirius Black's escape and previous crimes, see "A Murderer's Mind – The Depths of Madness" on page 4.)
June 9, 1994
Harry and Hermione slipped quickly back into their hospital beds, Hermione tucking the Time-Turner under her robes. Ron was still unconscious in a bed across the aisle, but Ginny's eyes were wide open and alert, and Harry had only a moment to press his finger to his lips before Madam Pomfrey came striding out of her office.
The hospital matron was in an obviously bad mood, and as she shoved chocolate at the three students, her murmurs and imprecations against intrusive professors and headmasters made Harry cringe. He exchanged anxious glances with Hermione, nibbling at his piece of chocolate. They waited, listening for any sound that might indicate that others knew of Sirius' escape. Just as Madam Pomfrey was removing the bandages from Ginny's arm, a distant roar of fury echoed from above them.
Angry voices grew nearer, and Madam Pomfrey's outrage was evident in her flushed face, her heels clacking across the stone floor as she approached the locked entrance. The hospital wing doors slammed open, startling the matron who gave out a short scream.
Minister Fudge strode into the ward, followed by a furious-looking Snape, and a short, toad-like woman dressed all in pink. Her eyes made Harry shrink back into his pillow, the look in them reminding him of his Uncle Vernon. The toad-woman's gaze turned to Ginny, and her lips thinned in a smile that was unnerving. Harry instantly loathed her.
Dumbledore ambled along serenely behind them, and joined the group as Fudge reached the foot of Harry's bed. He nodded slightly at Harry, just as Snape's fury reached a fever pitch.
"Out with it, Potter!" Snape bellowed. "What did you do?"
"Professor Snape!" shrieked Madam Pomfrey, bristling at the intrusion into her ward. Dumbledore laid a hand on her arm, calming her explosion.
"It would be in your best interest to talk now, boy," said Fudge with a scowl. "Whatever you did to aid in Black's escape–"
Harry's jaw clenched in anger, and his knuckles turned white as he gripped the sheets in an effort to keep back the retort at hearing the Minister use that hated name.
"You must see reason, Cornelius. This ward has been locked since I left it ten minutes ago, and Madam Pomfrey has undoubtedly not allowed these students out of their beds," Dumbledore said, calmly interrupting the Minister.
A high, girlish giggle bubbled out of the toad-woman as she stood next to the Minister, and she turned to Dumbledore with a condescending look.
"Surely, Dumbledore, you cannot expect us to believe that these students were blameless in all this? Severus has already said they attacked him without provocation, and with Sirius Black being Mr. Potter's godfather, it is evident that he would have some hand in his escape. Not to mention the history of the Weasley girl and Mr. Potter. Their tainted backgrounds certainly warrant further investigation in regards to this evening's events."
"Undersecretary Umbridge, if you don't mind."
"Apologies. Undersecretary Umbridge," Dumbledore continued. "My students' use of the disarming charm on Professor Snape was not, as you indicated, without provocation. They were in a highly stressful situation, and reacted to what they thought was an immediate danger."
Snape stood there, seething, and Harry imagined he could almost hear his teeth grinding together as he glared at the Headmaster.
"Now, since there is no evidence of these students being involved in Sirius Black's escape, nor did they have any opportunity with being locked in this ward the entire time, I see no reason to continue intruding on their recuperation. I'm sure Madam Pomfrey would appreciate us leaving her patients to get some rest," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling behind his glasses.
"And the attack on Professor Snape, Dumbledore? Something like that deserves punishment! These… these criminal acts cannot continue," Fudge blustered, his face turning puce at being dismissed out of hand.
"There were no criminal acts committed by any of these students, Cornelius, as I have said time and again," Dumbledore responded, his face stern. "If any punishment is required, it will be handled by the school, as the incident took place on school grounds."
Minister Fudge glared at the Headmaster for a moment longer, then turned and strode angrily to the doors. He was passed by Snape, his black robes swishing behind him as he stormed out.
"Dolores, we need to be off. I must go and alert the Ministry that Black has escaped again. Perhaps the Aurors can pick up his trail from here before he gets too far," Fudge said gruffly.
Dolores Umbridge turned her bulging eyes towards Harry as her short, stubby fingers fastened her cloak. The malice in her gaze seared into him until she broke away to face Dumbledore.
"Hem, hem. I'm sure you will keep a close watch on these two, Dumbledore. After all, one does not want to let darkness seep in like a lethifold in the night. Actions like these require accountability. It would be unfortunate if the Ministry had to step in, should another situation occur," Umbridge said, her high-pitched voice grating on Harry's ears.
He watched her walk away, primly setting a small, pink pillbox hat on her head as she drew near to Fudge. The Minister stomped out, Umbridge's simpering form following after him.
Dumbledore sighed, and then bid the students a goodnight before leaving, his long purple robes disappearing behind the doors as Madam Pomfrey locked them again. Muttering angrily to herself, she headed back to her office.
It was quiet for a moment, and then –
"What the bloody hell happened tonight?" Ginny hissed out in a whisper.
Harry looked over at Hermione, her worried eyes gazing back at him as she shrugged. He slipped out of bed quietly and padded across the cold stone floor to Ginny's bed. Propping himself up next to her, he began the long explanation of Sirius' flight from Hogwarts.
August 26, 1994
"Hurry up, Harry!"
Harry broke into a run behind Ginny's slim form as she darted between the trees in the orchard, a crumpled newspaper clutched in her fist. He panted as he tried to keep up with her, throwing quick glances back over his shoulder to see if Mrs. Weasley had noticed that the four of them were missing.
They reached the shade of a large yew tree, and Harry flopped to the ground next to Ron as Ginny tossed the newspaper to Hermione.
"Took you two long enough," Ron grumbled as he glanced at his sister.
"Well then next time you can be the one to sneak in and find where Mum's hid the Prophet. Besides, it took forever for Harry to draw her away from the kitchen long enough for me to sneak into the pantry," Ginny said, plucking an apple from her pocket and tossing it at Ron's head.
"Thanks, Gin," Ron mumbled around a bite of the apple.
Hermione huffed in exasperation as she opened the newspaper with a snap, smoothing out the crinkled pages against her legs. Her eyes roved quickly up and down, and Harry tapped his fingers anxiously against his knee. Glancing over, he saw Ginny biting her lip and shredding handfuls of grass.
"Well?" Ginny said expectantly, throwing a stalk of grass at Hermione.
"It's… well, it's rather… unflattering, I'd say," Hermione explained. She took a deep breath and started to read.
Dark Mark Terrorizes Quidditch World Cup!
Potter and Weasley Connected to Incident
By Rita Skeeter
Scenes of terror and violence tainted last night's Quidditch World Cup as the Dark Mark was seen over the skies of Britain for the first time since the demise of You-Know-Who.
Soon after the match ended, scores of dark wizards were seen torturing Muggles and sending fiery blasts into the crowds of Quidditch fans. Lax security allowed these culprits to go unapprehended, and many who attended the event wonder how that could happen.
One spectator indicated that Harry Potter was in attendance last night, and further investigation shows that he was in the company of several members of the Weasley family. That included Ginevra Weasley, known as Slytherin's Mistress, and the culprit behind the attacks on Muggleborn students at Hogwarts nearly two years ago.
A source inside the Ministry states that when Ministry employees arrived on the scene where the Dark Mark was cast they found several teenagers in the immediate area. These teenagers included Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley, who both apparently denied any involvement in casting the dark spell. However, a search of the woods surrounding the area turned up Mr. Potter's wand, and a Prior Incantato showed that it was the wand that cast the Dark Mark.
Just how did Potter's wand cast the spell that has always been connected with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? According to our source, Potter claimed a house elf stole his wand while he watched the Quidditch match. Unbelievably, his excuse was accepted and his wand returned to him, and Potter was allowed to leave.
Some might wonder how a young man of 14 could know that spell. Yet Miss Weasley is a constant companion of Potter, and she surely has knowledge of dark spells such as that one, from her months spent wallowing in Slytherin's darkest magics.
After the incident, terrified wizards and witches waited breathlessly for news at the edge of the wood. If they expected reassurance from the Ministry of Magic, they were sadly disappointed. A Ministry official, later identified as Arthur Weasley (father of Ginevra Weasley), emerged from the scene of the crime and alleged that nobody had been hurt, but he refused to give any more information. Whether this statement will be enough to quash the rumors that several bodies were removed from the woods an hour later, remains to be seen.
Were Potter and Weasley responsible for casting the Dark Mark? Are the rumors about the bodies true, and were they in any way connected to these obviously dark and troubled teens? The Daily Prophet will continue investigating this horrific crime, in an effort to find the truth.
"That's, um… that's all of it," Hermione said, weakly. She slowly folded the paper back up, her hands trembling slightly.
Harry's stomach burned in anger, and he scowled down at where his fingers were clawing into the soil, as if he could feel Skeeter's neck beneath his hands. His chest heaved faster as her words played back in his head. I swear, one day I'm going to find that bitch and –
A low growl built into a guttural scream as Ginny exploded next to him, her hand gripping her wand tightly as she paced under the yew's low branches. Red sparks shot from her wand and Hermione hurried to put out the small embers that smoldered in the dry grass.
Harry met Ginny's fuming gaze, his own outrage mirrored in her brown eyes.
"That bitch!" Ginny ground out between her gritted teeth. "If I ever see that lying cow, I'll show her just how dark I can be. Do you know what this school term is going to be like after this?!"
Harry nodded sharply, livid beyond the ability to speak. From the corner of his eye, he caught Ron and Hermione exchanging worried looks. But he remained silent, his chest burning, as Ginny continued her furious pacing.
This year is going to be hell.
November 14, 1994
Harry plodded along the hallway, absently wiping the last of the pickled rats' brains from his hands with the trailing end of his robes. He avoided the stares and loud whispers of the students that were still out late that evening as he returned to Gryffindor tower after Snape's foul detention. Ron was his silent shadow, and Harry wondered again if his best mate would ever get over whatever it was that made him so angry after the Cup disgorged his name.
Just remember what Ginny said, he thought, not for the first time. He'll get over it, eventually.
A small Hufflepuff boy was crouched ahead, picking up a stack of books that had fallen out of his bag. Harry approached him and knelt down to help, grabbing a Potions text that had slid further away.
"Here, you missed this one," Harry said, handing him the book.
The boy, small enough to be a first year, looked up at Harry and fell on his bum with a squeak, scuttling backwards like a crab after snatching the book from Harry's hands. The fear on the boy's face made Harry sigh wearily.
A hand reached down in his field of vision, and Harry followed it up to see Ron looking a bit worried and apologetic. Harry paused a moment, then grasped it, Ron's lanky body tugging him easily to his feet.
"Thanks," Harry mumbled.
Ron shrugged, and they continued down the hall side by side. The Fat Lady's portrait was within view before Ron finally spoke, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder to keep him from entering the tower.
"Listen, Harry… I, er… I mean…" Ron stopped and ran a hand through his hair. "Bollocks mate, I'm sorry, okay?"
A feeling of great relief flooded through Harry, but he needed to know one thing before accepting his best mate's apology.
"I know, Ron. But… why? I mean, why were you so convinced I put my name in the Cup? And why were you so hacked off at me?" Harry asked quietly.
"I guess…" Ron frowned and looked away uncomfortably. "I guess I thought you put your name in to try and, y'know… use the Tournament to prove you're not what everyone thinks you are. And I was hacked off because I didn't think you'd ever do something like that. I was more… disappointed, really. But I know you didn't do it, Harry. I believe that now."
Harry was taken aback at Ron's response. And the fact that Hermione and Ginny both had guessed his reasoning correctly. Bloody women's intuition.
"Best mates?" Harry said and stuck out his right hand.
Ron looked shocked for a moment, before grinning widely and shaking his hand, pulling Harry into a one-armed, back-slapping hug. They pulled apart quickly, ruffling their hair and clearing their throats.
"So… you think Hermione and Ginny are waiting for us in there? Wanna go give 'em a bit of a shock?" Ron grinned slyly.
Harry laughed, feeling a bit more light-hearted for the first time since term began.
Ron's grin fell from his face a bit as he chewed on his lip. Harry's laughter died off at the indecision in Ron's eyes.
"Well, it's just, er… I was wondering about that article from this morning. I mean… I read it, and what Skeeter said about you and Ginny using dark magic of some kind to get your name into the Cup–"
"Seriously, Ron, I really don't want to talk about it," Harry broke in, scowling as he remembered that morning's Prophet. It made him furious when he thought about the renewed fear it brought out in the students, and he really didn't want to think about it right now.
"Sorry," Ron said, sheepishly. "So, er… what about that detention the greasy git made us do? Can you believe that tosser?"
Harry laughed again as they gave the password to the Fat Lady's portrait and ambled through. He caught Ginny's glance from across the common room, and smiled at her as she poked Hermione to get her attention away from her stacks of books. Hermione looked up with a start, and then sat up straighter in her chair at seeing Harry and Ron walking in together.
"Hey you two! You won't believe what that slimy Snape had us doing for detention. Eurgh, I think I still have rats' brains on my robes," Ron said with a grimace, as he slumped into an open chair at the girls' table.
Hermione looked from one boy to the other, her smile growing at their easy camaraderie. Harry nodded at her, and grinned at Ginny when she kicked out the last empty chair.
Harry sat down at the table, and joined in with Ron's verbal bashing of Snape, letting his friends' laughter take him away from his worries for a short time.
December 11, 1994
"Why do they have to move in packs?" Harry asked Ron as a dozen or so girls walked past them, whispering and staring at Harry. "How're you supposed to get one on their own to ask them?"
"Lasso one?" Ron suggested.
Harry snorted and rolled his eyes.
"Lasso one what?"
Harry turned to the new voice to see Neville just behind him, apparently having come straight from the greenhouses. His hands were covered in potting soil, and his right cheek had a wide smudge of dirt across it.
"A girl, apparently. Ron thinks it's a proper way to get a girl away from the packs they travel in to ask them to the ball," Harry said.
"Neville, mate, you're covered in dirt. You better hope Filch doesn't see you," Ron said, glancing around to see if the old Caretaker was nearby.
Neville looked at his hands, and then inspected his robes where the hems were wet and muddy, grimacing slightly when he saw the state his clothes were in.
"Er, yeah… I was helping Professor Sprout with the Flutterby bushes. There were some left over from class that didn't get pruned, so she's giving me extra credit to help her," Neville said as he brushed his hands on his robes to try and get the dirt off. "Um… but Harry, er… I d-don't really think lassoing a girl to ask them to the ball is going to work. At least, it wasn't mentioned in the etiquette classes Gran made me take last summer."
"You take etiquette classes?" Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Um… Gran made me. She said it was so I could learn proper Wizarding behavior. Mostly it was a lot of drinking tea and learning about silverware," Neville said with a shrug.
Just then a pretty, dark-haired girl walked by, her school uniform sporting the Ravenclaw emblem. She ignored Ron, turned her lip up at Neville's soiled robes and dirty face, and then she saw Harry. Her face blanched and she clutched her books to her chest, quickening her pace as she walked by the Gryffindor boys.
All three watched in silence as she walked away, and Harry sighed as his eyes traveled down her back, admiring the sway of her hips and bum. His stomach swooped pleasantly, and he chewed his lip as he contemplated asking her to the ball. She'd never say yes. She thinks I'm a freak and a dark wizard, Harry thought despondently.
"She was quite good-looking," said Ron fairly, after she'd rounded the corner.
"She was a bit… er… well, she seemed rather… um, snobby," Neville said quietly.
"That's Cho Chang, the Ravenclaw Seeker. She's a fifth year," Harry said, a light blush covering his cheeks. He'd admired her from afar for some time, but whenever he caught her eye in the hallways, she'd always reacted poorly, usually cringing in fear and hurrying away. And on one extremely humiliating occasion when he'd accidentally bumped into her as she was coming out of the loo a month ago, Cho had yelped in terror and gone running back inside the girl's toilet. He'd stayed far away from her since.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Harry said, morosely. "McGonagall says I have to have a partner. And I have to dance! She's barmy if she thinks I'm going to go out there in front of everybody and not trip over my own feet." The three boys started up the nearby staircase on their way to Gryffindor tower.
"I think you should ask someone you're comfortable with. Someone who's already your friend," Neville said. He looked uncomfortable as Ron and Harry turned to him suddenly, flushing and clutching his robes in his hand. "Er… I just think that… um… perhaps it'd be easier if you went with a friend. Sorry, Harry, but… it's just… I know a lot of girls kind of… um…"
As Neville's voice fell off in an embarrassed mumble, Harry frowned and thought about what Neville couldn't seem to say – that most any girl he tried to ask would be afraid of him because they thought he was a dark wizard and believed Skeeter's articles. But who the bloody hell am I friends with that I can ask? Harry thought. He turned to Ron to see what he thought, but his best mate shook his head when he looked at him.
"No way, mate. I'm your friend, but there's no bloody way I'm going as your date to the ball," Ron said. He and Neville started laughing as Harry snorted and punched his shoulder. But Harry's head shot up as he realized something, and he looked at Ron again, wondering what his best mate would say.
"What?" Ron asked as his laughter wound down.
"I think… I think I know who I can ask, but…" Harry chewed his lip as he thought about it. She was his friend, she was someone he'd become very comfortable around, and they had a lot in common. And he knew for a fact that she didn't think of him as a dark wizard. But what will Ron say?
"C'mon Harry, who is it?" Ron asked. Neville looked on eagerly as Harry ruffled his hair.
"Er… she's just a friend, but… I think I can ask Ginny," Harry said. He tensed as he waited for Ron's reaction.
Ron looked startled at first, scrunching his face up and looking bewildered. Then he shrugged and started back up the stairs, Neville and Harry trailing behind him.
"Fine with me. She can't go anyway unless someone asks her, as she's just a third year. Dunno why you'd want to go with my little sister, but she'd probably say yes," Ron called back over his shoulder.
Ron's long strides took him up the stairs quickly, as Neville and Harry climbed at a slower pace. Harry was still thinking about asking Ginny to the ball, worrying if she'd say yes, and if it was even a good idea.
"I think you should. Ask Ginny, I mean," Neville said quietly. Harry turned to him, seeing a light pink flush on Neville's cheeks. The shy boy shrugged a little, fiddling with his robes.
"Yeah. I mean… she's pretty. And she's very funny. And, er… y'know, with everything both of you have to deal with all the time, she'd probably understand you better than most girls would. You guys have gone through a lot together," Neville said, catching the edge of the Fat Lady's portrait before it slammed behind Ron's lanky frame.
As Neville entered the common room, Harry frowned in thought, and then climbed in behind him. He saw Ginny sitting with Hermione at their usual study table, leaning over to dig through her book bag. As she sat up in her chair and tossed her long hair over her shoulder, Harry looked at her as he slowly crossed the room.
She is pretty. Guess I never really noticed that before, Harry thought. She's always making me laugh. And she's a good friend. Plus, she knows as much about Quidditch as Ron does.
Gathering his Gryffindor courage, Harry walked over to stand by Ginny's chair.
"Er, Ginny? Could I, um… could I talk to you for a second? Over here?" Harry asked, pointing towards a quiet corner.
Ginny looked startled for a moment, then nodded and followed behind him as he walked away from the table a bit.
This is better, anyway. I'll probably have more fun with someone who's a good friend, Harry thought as he took a deep breath and met her eyes.
January 4, 1995
"Oh, wow Ginny! I can't believe I missed the Yule Ball. I heard Dean Thomas talking about it and it sounded wicked. But you got to go, didn't you? And with Harry Potter! Was it fun? Did you have a good time?"
Ginny grinned a little at Colin's enthusiasm as they walked to class on the first day back from Christmas break. Care of Magical Creatures was going to be bitterly cold that day, so she pulled out her wand and cast a warming charm around her and her friend as they stepped out the front doors. Colin stopped talking a moment, and smiled brightly at her.
"Thanks, Ginny! I always forget I can do that now," Colin said cheerfully.
"You're welcome, Colin. And yes, I went with Harry. We had a good time, for the most part. How was your Christmas?" Ginny said. She let her mind wander a bit as Colin described his Christmas at home with his muggle parents and little brother Dennis. Ginny's face grew warm despite the chilly temperatures and brisk wind as she remembered her dream from the night before.
It had started as a lovely recreation of the Yule Ball, dancing around the floor with Harry. He was a bit more suave and light on his feet in her dream than in real life, but both Harrys had made her feel warm and safe while she was in his arms. The dream was even nicer though, because there were no sneering looks of disdain from the Slytherins, no frightful glances and whispers from the other students.
The dream had shifted, bringing her to the end of the night where Harry had given her a hug and thanked her for going to the ball with him. But her dream-Harry hadn't walked away to the boys' dorm after the hug. Instead…
Ginny shivered and raised her mitten-covered hand to her lips. She could almost still feel the press of Harry's lips against hers as he'd kissed her. Heat flooded her stomach and gave her a pleasantly lethargic feeling in her limbs as she recalled the way his hands had slid down her back to her bum, cupping it in his palms and drawing her nearer to his body. His thumbs had circled around and lightly brushed over her stomach and hips, and he kept kissing her over and over, until he pulled back and whispered her name.
Ginny bit her lip, silently cursing the fact that she'd woken up just then, roused from her sleep to find her blankets tangled around her legs, her thighs clenching together to try and relieve the ache inside of her. She had blushed heavily, thankfully hidden behind her bed curtains where no one could see. She'd had dreams before of Harry kissing her, but this was the first time one had been so explicit and left her feeling like this – breathless and waiting for… something.
"Ginny, are you okay?"
Colin's concerned voice shook her out of her daydreams, and Ginny looked over to see that Luna had joined them and they'd somehow made it all the way over to the paddock behind Hagrid's hut to join the rest of their Gryffindor and Ravenclaw classmates.
Ginny shook her head, trying to lose the left-over feelings from her dream. You've got to stop this, Ginevra, she told herself harshly. Harry's just your friend. Besides, he spent half the night gawping at Cho bloody Chang. She scoffed at her own thoughts and turned back to her friends.
"Hello Ginny. It's a wonderful day today. I think the nargles have all run off from the cold," Luna said, gazing up at the cloudy, overcast sky. "Oh look. Unicorns."
Ginny looked across the paddock and saw an older woman with closely cropped gray hair leading several unicorns towards their class. Who…? Where's Hagrid?
"Where's Hagrid?" Colin asked, glancing around towards his hut.
Ginny scowled as she remembered that morning's Daily Prophet. Skeeter had been at it again, discussing the Yule Ball in great detail. The Prophet's article had taken several digs at Harry and Ginny attending the ball together, going so far as to suggest they were using it to try and fool people into thinking they were 'innocent, fun-loving children, just like everyone else.' Her mind skittered past the other horrible things that were said about her, including several insults at her dress robes, and she remembered what Skeeter had said about Hagrid.
"It's probably because of that bloody awful article that cow Skeeter wrote this morning," Ginny said quietly. "She told everyone that Hagrid is a half-giant. Who knows what kind of mail he got after everyone read it."
The new professor waved the class closer to the railings, and Ginny and her two friends moved over to see the unicorns. Ginny smiled at seeing the beautiful creatures and she was utterly charmed when one came up and nosed against her palm. She laughed a little and tugged off her mitten so she could feel its soft muzzle as the gray-haired woman, now revealing herself as Professor Grubbly-Plank, lectured to them about the unicorn's habitats.
Harsh whispers from a few feet away drew her attention from the animal, and she glanced over to see her roommates looking between her and the unicorn. She lowered her head and drew her hand back, watching the unicorn step to the side a little to where Luna was holding out her hand. She swallowed hard against the sudden tightening of her throat. Colin noticed her glance, and looked over at Vicky and Demelza, an uncharacteristic scowl on his face.
"What are those two busybodies harping on now?" Colin whispered as he stood behind the two girls.
"Who knows… they're probably coming up with some new awful thing I'm supposed to have done. Perhaps they think I've used my dark magic to taint the unicorn or something. They're idiots," Ginny said with a shrug. She'd become used to the things her roommates said about her all the time. "It doesn't bother me anymore, Colin." It doesn't, she told herself firmly.
"Unicorns are powerful magical creatures and they're drawn to those with pure hearts. And they like apples," Luna said airily. She reached into her bag and drew out a few small, wrinkled crabapples, handing one to Ginny. The unicorn snuffled out, raising Ginny's fringe a little, before delicately taking the apple from the palm of her hand.
June 3, 1995
Harry Potter and Ginevra Weasley:
Disturbed and Dangerous Duo Run Rampant at Hogwarts!
By Rita Skeeter
Over the years, the Daily Prophet has maintained that there was something dark and dangerous lurking in the emerald green eyes of Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived. Since the end of his first year, where he was at least partially responsible for the death of his Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Mr. Potter has had strange occurrences surround him.
To add to this mystery, his involvement with Miss Ginevra Weasley, Slytherin's Mistress, has led to further attacks and destruction. Miss Weasley was responsible for attacking animals and Muggleborns alike in her association with a dark power that was rumored to be connected to You-Know-Who himself.
The latest events surrounding this dark duo are more astounding than ever before. Mr. Potter has become unstable and even more dangerous, regularly collapsing at school in fits, only to wake up complaining of pain in the scar on his forehead (a relic of the curse with which You-Know-Who attempted to kill him).
It has come to our attention that just last Monday, midway through a Divination lesson, Potter stormed from the class, claiming that his scar was hurting too badly to continue studying. It is possible, according to top experts at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, that Potter's brain was affected by the attack so many years ago.
In addition, the ease with which Potter has breezed through the Tri-Wizard Tournament shows a vast knowledge of spells and wizardry, far beyond his 14 years. What knowledge and dark magic was possibly transferred on the day Mr. Potter got that scar? Experts cannot say, but these attacks and his many dangerous outbursts and attacks cast doubt upon his suitability to compete in a Tournament against others who might get in his way. It is even highly questionable if he should be allowed to attend Hogwarts School all together. His close friendship with Slytherin's Mistress, along with dark creatures like werewolves and giants, can only further drive him towards the darkness that he so obviously craves.
Ginevra Weasley is the other half of this dark and dangerous duo. She, too, shouldn't be allowed to attend Hogwarts alongside upright and innocent children. Her attacks on her fellow students during her first year show a clearly disturbed young woman, who sought knowledge and power beyond her years from a very young age.
These two by themselves are quite prone to violent happenings, but together they become truly a danger to all Wizarding kind.
This reporter took it upon herself to seek out these two to try and learn the truth from their own mouths in an exclusive interview. Something that has always been denied by Headmaster Albus Dumbledore and the Weasley family previously. What I received instead was astounding and frightening beyond anything experienced since the dark times of the war against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
On January 16, the Hogwarts students were let out for a Hogsmeade weekend. I endeavored to seek the couple out in a public environment, hoping that the presence of others would stave off their usual violent reactions. This was in vain, however.
When approached, Weasley became dangerously red in the face even before any words were exchanged. Slytherin's Mistress obviously has problems with her temper, and is used to unleashing it upon her helpless victims. Potter, on the other hand, looked coldly cruel, betraying almost no emotion as I asked for an interview. After only a few words, the dangerous duo had to be restrained by their constant companions, Weasley's brother, Ronald Weasley, and the other female, Hermione Granger. Oddly enough, Miss Granger was one of the Muggleborn students attacked by Miss Weasley in her first year. Is Granger under some dark enchantment? Many have commented on Miss Granger's obvious intelligence. Are the dangerous duo using her to further their search of knowledge regarding dark magic?
Regardless, before too many words were exchanged, their 'friends' removed them from the vicinity, obviously taking them elsewhere in an effort to keep them from harming this reporter in front of so many witnesses.
Why does Albus Dumbledore continue to protect these two highly unstable students? Why does the Ministry of Magic not step in and do something before another witch or wizard is harmed, or even killed?
This reporter will continue searching for the truth in an effort to protect and serve the Wizarding public of Britain.
(For full biographies of Harry Potter and Ginevra Weasley, see pages 3 to 7 in today's Daily Prophet.)