Ginny Weasley was screwed. She had known it for all of two minutes, thirteen seconds, and still she was sitting here, her face practically screaming desperation, not even extricating herself from the crime scene. Not that it would matter, she admitted as she tilted her head to the side in fearful woe. For all her inner-monologue the past three weeks that she should ignore those niggling questions about what the Trio were talking about whenever they managed to sequester themselves away from her mother's watchful eyes (and Ginny knew better than anyone that alluding Molly Weasley was quite the feat), she had elegantly managed to slip up not only to the point of no-recovery as far as hiding her snooping went, but also past the all-too-dangerous point-of-no-return in curiosity. It wasn't that she didn't want to know what kinds of horrible danger they'd be undoubtedly facing once they escaped her mother's clutches; she could be patient, try to respect Harry's desire (though misplaced and frustrating) to keep her safe by keeping her out of their plans, and wait until she knew how she could help, apart from trying not to tempt him too much. Ok, so trying not to tempt him when her mother was in the room, as he'd developed a startling resemblance to her brother's ear-reddening and coughing feats when near Hermione. And that time she bent over at the waist to pick up a napkin ring she'd dropped while polishing in front of him? Completely accidental. It did gather a quiet but still distinguishable moan, however.

Yes, she was in a real pickle: though she'd tried not to pry, and it was easy enough to control herself when the trio hid themselves in obscure places like the chicken coop and the pantry in the basement, she had managed to walk into her own room and pick up one of Hermione's books without even thinking about what her subconscious seemed to be leading her towards. Upon perusing the title lazily, her eyes popped reading a title that this was definitely not what she'd been expecting, and the insistent voice calling in her head for answers, for even a hint at what the three closest people in the world to her would soon be facing, suddenly screamed for her immediate attention.

Making the Horcrux: Magick Moste Evil. Somehow, though the title meant nothing at all to her, a chill had run up her spine, the same feeling that led her to know that Harry having the diary would be bad, that Ron was in trouble somewhere in Slughorn's office, and that wherever Harry had gone with Dumbledore, things were not going to plan. She had learned by now to trust her instincts when it came to dark or suspect objects: flushing away the diary, slamming the music box closed in Grimmauld Place, and most recently, she had borrowed (ok, stolen) a bezoar from the potions stores to keep on her at all times- just in case. You could never be too careful, she reminded herself, knowing that it might make the difference someday soon between being able to save a family member or watching them twitch helplessly.

The word Horcrux itself sparked a cold recognition she couldn't quite place, something whispered by a male voice when she had been tired and half-asleep. Yet she was sure she'd never heard it said aloud. Feeling timid for the first time in years, Ginny panned open the cover and flipped to the first page, pulling her hands over the yellowing, red-inked pages. It had taken her all of a minute to decipher the script that was used- deep crimson letters seemingly etched into the thick vellum pages as though by a knife, using old English spelling and grammar, and another minute to pull her hand away in disgust when she realized the ink was not ink, but deep rivulets and lines of blood. Gingerly pulling the second page over, she continued reading, her eyes growing wide with fear and a sick sort of stretching within her stomach, as though she'd had to swallow the ideas within and couldn't quite stomach their potency.

This was what the diary had been. She knew it, as clearly as she had known that when Dumbledore had confessed he didn't know what magic was in the diary, it had been more the answer he wanted to give her at the tender age of eleven, and not the answer she had needed. She had long ago discovered from Harry who Riddle had grown to be, listening to his memories of what Dumbledore had showed him of the boy who had haunted her first year at Hogwarts, and had shelved her curiosity behind concern for Harry and the need to improve her dueling, to learn how to hide and shield dwellings, to understand how to communicate through patronuses and how to heal broken bones and stop bleeding. Never, in the last two months of studying next to a voracious Hermione, who seemed all too eager to keep the ancient tomes she was reading hidden from Ginny's eyes, did she question whether the events of her first year at Hogwarts could have anything to do with how the Trio planned to thwart Voldemort. Her lack in curiosity didn't put her off in the least; she knew she had been carefully practicing spells in her bedroom, covered by her mutual decision with Hermione that it would be best if she learned how to protect herself and others and that if anyone inquired, Hermione had been the only one to lift a wand in the room. She had no reason to assume that the things Hermione was reading with that slightly disturbed look etched on her face were anything more than complex protection spells, like the Fidelius that the girls had finally perfected together the week before.

She'd never been a match for Hermione in interest in studying, but her power was certainly on level, if not higher, they had both agreed. It seemed that while Ginny had trailed Hermione in marks by a letter in each subject where school was concerned, the tables changed once the two had a real life situation to apply their spellwork, and Ginny was surprised, but not disturbed, when she found she was meeting Hermione spell for spell once she understood the theory. Perhaps, she mused, she had grown too focused on learning that talking patronus last week, and that was why she'd failed to read all the blaring signals that Hermione knew much more than she was letting on.

For one thing, Hermione talked in her sleep. After an incident in Ginny's third year where she'd heard Hermione giggle Ron's name in a most un-Hermioneish way while they slept in the tent the night before the Quidditch World Cup, she'd decided she'd rather not tell her best friend, and rather see what blackmail she could divulge from this stroke of luck. Like arguing, it was a trait Hermione shared in common with Ron, and Ginny had heard snippets spoken though their sleep she would never have gleaned from conversations in daylight: like the time she'd gone to wake Ron up for breakfast earlier this week, and he'd been muttering about a snake and a locket. Or the time Hermione had been tossing and turning, repeating the initials R.A.B.- the same initials she'd seen on the note she'd removed from Harry's jeans when she had been about to do laundry with her Mum, which she'd quietly handed off to a startled and suddenly worried Harry under the dinner table. The itch to question him had burned, but one look at his anxious face had killed any intrigue before it reached her tongue.

It was four minutes into her reading, when she was really getting to understand the magic behind the horrible diary that had possessed her, when she tried to turn the next page, muttering about Ron's helpful hints from his sleep, that the thought dawned on her that if Voldemort had used the diary, then he must know from Lucius it had been destroyed, and with the note she'd seen from R.A.B.- which she had realized, now, must have been where she'd read the word before, then there must be more.

More than one. The diary hadn't been destroyed by R.A.B., and that meant there were two. At least two. Growing frantic as she realized what her family might be up against, she pulled out Hermione's backpack, a muggle one with two back straps that was pink canvas, and made her think of a third-grade Hermione, buck-teeth and all, and pulled out her notes without the slightest hesitation. It was just as she was turning over the second page, realizing with a jolt that most of the writing seemed to be Harry's, from the way he looped his g's, that she saw the list:

The locket

The cup

The diary

The snake

The ring

Something of Ravenclaw's or Gryffindor's

The ring and diary had been crossed out. This, she hoped, meant both had been dealt with. But what would that mean, anyway? Could Dumbledore have destroyed the ring? Or did R.A.B.? And the locket was still not crossed off, which meant they weren't sure that R.A.B. had truly destroyed it, she assumed. Then she remembered what little Harry had told her of his time with Dumbledore that fateful night, when she'd held him as he cried in his bed behind silencio'ed curtains: they'd gone to an underground lake, somewhere "special" to Voldemort, he said, looking for something important to him. Something that gave Voldemort the power to come back. There were Inferi that attacked them, and Dumbledore had to drink a potion that made him weak and confused. At this, Harry had started shaking so badly, she'd hushed him, stroking his mussed locks to try to comfort him as best she knew. He loved being touched, seemed to crave just holding her hand or running his fingers through her hair, letting her hug him. She knew it was likely from having so little of those simple touches growing up, and she'd been aware of the fact that outside of Hermione squeezing him to death after each time he escaped some horror, these were likely the most contact he'd had. She'd treasured the thought that he let her, that he could cry in front of her, that he could let her see all of him. It was terrible and yet beautiful to see him reach out for her touch, needing to feel her close to him.

But Ginny was brought back to Earth by thoughts of Harry's next adventure. So this was how Voldemort came back in her Third Year: his Horcruxes bound his soul to Earth, and it looked as though eliminating the remaining ones would be a deadly, lengthy process. Ginny felt tears well in her eyes, a foreign substance in the last months. She'd forced herself not to cry when he broke up with her, knowing his face said all too well how he hated doing it, pulled back tears when she saw Bill's face and heard the news about Dumbledore, but this was too much. The evidence was laid bare before her: her beloved would be lucky to survive the next two Horcruxes they went after, even if the Death Eaters didn't find a way to breach the security on the Burrow or wherever he stayed next. They'd be hunting down heavily guarded objects surrounded by Voldemort's best curses while she was expected to go back to Hogwarts, pretending her brother, ex-boyfriend, and best friend weren't probably being tortured or killed, and ignore the fact that for a year of her life, she'd been possessed by Voldemort's soul.

That's what had taken hold of her mind: not a memory or an enchantment, or a potion, but a piece of Voldemort's twisted soul, which had resided in her brain, moved her fingers, perhaps even smiled through her face at Harry. And all at once, Ginny knew she was going to be sick, and there was no way in hell she could prevent it.

With a horrible gurgling sound, she retched, snot and a half-stifled sob flying from her face as her half-digested breakfast projected onto not only her lap, but onto page three of what looked like Hermione's best reference. Even a quick evanesco would do nothing to save her now- though the saliva and food bits were gone, and her lap was clean, the smell remained: and so did a blotch the size of a handprint on the entire page, a stain that refused to budge. Her father had warned her from the time she was three: Magic couldn't fix everything. Even if you broke a vase and reparo'ed it, the break lines would still be visible.

Ginny closed the book shakily, replaced it in the bag, and tucked Hermione's notes in, hoping she'd gotten the placement correct. It was too much to hope she wouldn't notice they had been moved, but hopefully if she asked Ginny could pass off that she had been looking for her favorite sweater and had moved the bag, accidentally putting it upside down on her bed, and the contents had spilled. Maybe Hermione wouldn't look through that book again. After all, her notes made it clear they understood the basics well enough, so why go back through the nasty blood-book?

Five years of sharing library tables with Hermione told her an entirely different story. Yep, Ginny Weasley was fucked. She shook her head, cast another scourgify on herself, and went in to the bathroom to wash her hands.

Certainly, this was not something to tell the twins about. She knew the type of information that was to be gossiped about, and for the most part, that was the type she never cared to know. She valued her privacy and Harry's even more so, and for the first time since her anger at him for separating them, she started to see why he wanted to shield her. It hurt to know what had lived in that diary. It hurt to think about what they were up against- that with everything else they were expected to avoid or fight for, there would be this task to complete before Voldemort could even be mortal, let alone dead. She had often wondered what would happen if Voldemort were to learn, upon capturing her, that she had known Tom Riddle and talked to his diary. While Harry might be foolishly blind when it came to romance, Snape and Malfoy were certainly not without brains, and they would have told Voldemort by now that she and Harry had been together. Whether or not Voldemort learned they had "broken things off" from Pansy Parkinson or a joyous Romilda Vane would do little to protect her, she knew. Hermione had already loaned her several books on Occlumency, something she had been studying herself as a way to shield her mind were they ever captured. And after the looks Harry had been giving her still across the dinner table, she knew she had to pick up the subject and fast before she became a ticking time bomb that could lead to Harry's demise. But with the two girls testing one another, they could hardly feel secure: neither were a successful legilimens, though Ginny could almost always tell when Hermione was lying, spell or not. She knew she needed a better teacher before she was to go back to Hogwarts, where surely Voldemort would have a few well-placed spies, if he hadn't already overrun the school.

Ginny straightened up from her seat on the lavatory. Ron's voice could be heard hollering up the stairs that Mum needed her. Splashing her face with water, she noted in the mirror that the striking pale white had faded back to a more healthy color as she'd sat, and dried her hands. Mum probably wanted her to work with Hermione to separate her from Harry or Ron; somehow, she had forgotten that Ginny was already as easy accomplice to their planning. If it would keep Harry safer, she'd help, even if it meant taking him away from her. She'd already smuggled in Mad-Eye's polyjuice stores under her shirt for Hermione after her Mum had left it in the kitchen in a cauldron. The girls had split the vast cauldron's contents after deciding they couldn't tell which of them would need it most, and Ginny had spent half an hour patiently filling empty bottles in the dark bathroom by wandlight. Fred and George's love potion line were charmed to resemble shampoo, and made ideal containers. She then filled a conditioner bottle with her father's quiet donation: a single vial of Veritaserum, procured from Moody's trunk, just enough for three doses, and an entire healer's kit, which she'd shrunk to the size of a postage stamp and fitted within the bra she'd be wearing to the train.

She felt somewhat more prepared, knowing she had the kit and several excellent books Hermione had geminio'ed, page by page, listing dark curses, poison antidotes, ways to splint broken bones and how to brew a pain draught. Maybe this time, being prepared would make her feel more in control over the wild emotions and fears she'd been having over coming back to an alien, unwelcoming Hogwarts, where Muggleborns likely wouldn't be welcome and staff might change to Death Eaters once Voldemort took over the Ministry. If he took over the Ministry. She had to hope it wouldn't come to that. Hope was making her frail, making her feel like the slightest change in the wind would leave her helpless. And Ginny Weasley, though she stood at all of 5'2, was never helpless.

Ginny grimaced as she walked into the room. Tomorrow was Harry's birthday, and though she had some ideas as to what he'd like (not that she was going to act on any of her daydreams) she had spent the better part of her day helping her mother bake a golden snitch cake, instead of fantasizing about Harry taking her in his arms and promising to take her with them as he returned her passionate kiss. Really, she wasn't usually one for dirty romance-novelesque dreams, but he'd been staring at her for weeks, and brushing up against her only to avoid her for hours, just like before they'd been dating. It was driving her bloody mad that he wouldn't just snog her in the dining room as they set the table and get it over with. They both knew the break-up was bogus, so why hold to it if no one would be any the wiser but them?

But she couldn't just leap on him. No, this had to be tasteful, tactful- patient, the way the venomous tentacula in greenhouse three had lured in the squirrel she'd seen it chomp down on last year. He must never suspect she was going to break their no-touching taboo, and yet he must want her to very, very badly, until the moment she let him do so- the moment she pulled in just close enough that he could count her freckles on her nose, like he always used to do when they sat by the lake and cuddled.

Ginny looked at her mother as she came down the stairs, and saw a disgruntled Ron throwing apologetic looks at Harry, who was sorting favors for the wedding and eyeing her legs as she came down the stairs in her shorts. Behind him, Hermione had resorted to using a sign language unknown to any other human, gesturing madly to get Ron's notice so they could wordlessly decide how to circumvent Molly's divide-and-conquer demands. Ron, oblivious, was putting golden bubbles into boxes and shrinking them to take outside and hang in the trees. Harry looked up at her, meeting her eyes for the first time in days, and the longing she saw there before he quickly averted his gaze stole her cheeky "I'm here for duty, Mum!" from her mouth.

He must never know how much she knew, how much Hermione would now guess she knew, and how utterly terrified and desperate it was making her feel.