There is only one week left of summer when Molly Weasley finally notices her daughter's tattoo.
Ginny had just begun to feel like maybe she'd got away with it. She'd made a trip down to Ottery St. Catchpole at the beginning of the summer, wandering into the Muggle cornershop with a stolen handful of her father's Muggle currency. Foundation, the potion-like substance was called.
She'd grown complacent, between her long sleeves and the sticky flesh-colored substance. The weather has turned hot though, the sheen of sweat on her skin betraying the green lines as she reaches for the butter.
All movement at the table stops until Molly Weasley shrieks, "Ginevra Weasley, what is that?"
Fred and George are the first out their seats, sending her awed looks back over their shoulders as they go, as if she has pulled off the greatest single piece of misbehavior ever. Percy clucks his tongue in dour disapproval and goes straight upstairs, mumbling something sanctimonious about cauldron thickness as he flees. Only Ron hesitates, as if their newly forged truce requires it, but no amount of sibling accord can stand in the face of Molly Weasley at full volume.
He shoots her an apologetic glance and ducks out into the garden after the twins.
Ginny doesn't see any point in bluffing at this point, lifting her chin and letting her sleeve fall further back. "It's a tattoo," she says calmly (or petulantly, more like, the words tumbling out as if saying that only an idiot wouldn't know that).
Her father's eyes narrow at her tone, but Mum jumps in before he can get a word in edge-wise. The ear-splitting complaints range from unladylike and long-term consequences to irresponsibility and had she completely lost her mind?
Ginny lets the rant wash over her, reflecting that Howlers really have nothing on her mum. She takes a moment as her ears ring to be thankful for the acres of space around their house, and the fact that neither Hermione nor Harry have arrived yet. The last thing she needs is an audience for this.
It only becomes unbearable when she makes the mistake of glancing at her father, finding him staring at her pale-faced as if she is a stranger, like she has disappointed him in some fundamental way she doesn't even understand.
Her own expression falters, bravado leaking away. She blinks back against the unexpected prick of tears, tugging at the edge of her sleeve. The words are on the tip of her tongue now, the it wasn't my choice and you don't understand.
Ginny looks away. She's not going to blame someone else for it, not when it had been her own damn fault.
"You are staying home from the Quidditch match!" Mum yells.
Ginny's mouth drops open, discomfort forgotten. "Mum!"
Only Dad's hand on her shoulder keeps Ginny from beginning to shriek in indignation herself. They can't not let her go to the World Cup. They can't!
"Ginny," Dad says, voice quiet and infinitely calm in the face of Mum's ringing anger. "Please go outside while your mother and I discuss this."
Ginny stomps outside, leaving her parents to discuss their most wayward child. With an irritated huff, she sinks down on the top step.
Ron comes to stand next to her after a while, staring out over the pasture. "Who?" he asks.
Ron may be stupid and clueless about a lot of things, but he's close enough in age to know that second years rarely come up with the idea of tattooing themselves on their own.
Ginny folds her arms around her knees, pulling them up into her chest.
Ron's mouth tightens, pressing into a thin line, and she knows she doesn't even have to say the name. "Right," he says.
He goes back inside, closing the door with enough careful deliberation that Ginny winces.
She can't help but think she's thrown another log onto an already raging fire.
There's no more talk of tattoos and punishments, but mostly only because Hermione arrives the next afternoon.
Ginny is relieved to see her. Not because they are close friends or anything, but because Hermione's brought her parents along the first evening, so Ginny knows there won't be any more scenes. Her mum can continue to slam food down in front of Ginny and level her most disappointed stares, but she won't yell. They have to be pleasant in front of the nervous Muggles, prove that leaving their daughter here for the rest of the summer isn't a completely crazy idea.
It's Hermione's first time here, so while the adults have tea in the parlor, Ron takes Hermione around on a tour. Ginny watches him as he leads her around, his eyes wary as if scared of what she'll think of the place. Right up until Hermione nearly crawls into a bush trying to get a closer look at a garden gnome. Then she watches Ron shove his hands into his pockets as he watches Hermione, shaking his head in seeming exasperation. Ginny doesn't miss the smile hiding underneath.
At dinner, Ginny ends up sitting next to Mr. Granger. In many ways he looks exactly like she'd expect a Muggle to. He's wearing a nice suit and button up shirt that manages to not look anywhere near as fussy as Percy's ministry getups these days. He cuts his food into small, even pieces and chews thoughtfully, even when he's trying to pretend he hasn't seem Mum float more rolls over from the pantry.
Ginny would expect her father to keep Mr. Granger busy with an endless litany of embarrassing questions, but tonight he's oddly quiet. Enough so that Mr. Granger looks a little lonely with only his plate to entertain him. Ginny takes a careful sip of water and asks Mr. Granger what exactly a dentist is.
Mr. Granger smiles and explains his job in simple terms, not like she's stupid, but more like he's gratified by her curiosity. He tries to make a joke that goes way over her head, though to judge from Hermione's expression, it probably wasn't funny even if it hadn't. Ginny smiles anyway, noticing the way Mrs. Granger looks at her husband with exasperated affection, something she's seen on her mother's face her entire life.
Ginny decides that Mr. Granger is probably a pretty good father.
When it's time to clear the table, Ginny takes Mr. Granger's plate, finding her Dad watching her as she does.
Later that evening, he pokes his head in Ginny's room as she and Hermione are going to bed. "Do you have everything you need girls?"
"Yes," Hermione says. "Thank you, Mr. Weasley."
Dad smiles at her, patting the foot of the camp bed a bit awkwardly before moving over to Ginny's bedside. His fingers fiddle with her covers, and Ginny wants to remind him that he hasn't tucked her in for years, but lets him do it all the same.
He sits on the edge of her bed and lowers his voice. "Your mother and I decided that you can still go to the match."
Ginny's heart leaps up into her throat. "Thank you!" she says, throwing herself at him and hugging him. "Thank you, thank you!"
His arms tighten around her.
Ginny Weasley is at the World Cup.
The. World. Cup. Watching the final match between Bulgaria and Ireland.
It's the most exciting thing that has ever happened to her. (She supposes there was a time she would have thought first laying eyes on the famous Harry Potter was more exciting, but she's not quite that young and silly any more. And besides, he's standing next to her, gaping around at the stadium with as much awe as she feels.)
She never thought she could be lucky enough to see the Quidditch match to end all Quidditch matches in person. Bill and Charlie are no doubt still green with envy, stuck as they are abroad. They were even more jealous when they heard their seats are in the top box along with the ministers. (This is the part Percy seems to care the most about, Quidditch a mere afterthought. Ginny can't help but think that Charlie would have appreciated it all so much more.)
As for Ginny, she would have been content to sit on the grass far, far below and break her neck trying to squint up at the distant players streaking above. Anything just to be near this match and these players. The box and its illustrious inhabitants are more distraction than bonus.
"It's bigger than the bloody Burrow," Ron mutters, tinkering with the set of Omnioculars Harry bought him.
"I imagine most things are," a snide voice remarks.
It seems they are to have company in the top box. Ron, Harry, and Hermione turn on the newly arrived Draco Malfoy almost as a unit, and it's hard to say which face betrays the greatest amount of animosity among the four of them.
Draco hasn't come alone, however, his parents a few steps behind.
Ginny feels her body go cold.
Lucius Malfoy's eyes sweep across them, not lingering on Ginny as he makes some snide remark to her father that she can't quite make out over the buzzing building in her ears. When Mr. Malfoy does turn his attention away from her dad, it's only to stare at Hermione like she's a bug, a disgusting smell he just walked past.
Ginny flinches, but Hermione holds firm, refusing to look away from the frank stare Mr. Malfoy is giving her.
Ron and Harry have already tensed, ready to jump into the fray, but it's Ginny who finds herself shuffling closer to Hermione as if to shield her somehow. (Like she could do anything against a full-grown wizard, and an evil one at that.) She really accomplishes nothing more than drawing attention to herself.
Mr. Malfoy's eyes land on her like he's only just noticed her, like it even takes him a minute to figure out who she is. She is nothing to him. Less than that. It's a painful realization, this evidence of just how casually he condemned her to Tom Riddle's ceaseless whisper years before without giving her a second thought.
"Ah, yes," he says, his eyes glacial. "The youngest Weasley. You play Quidditch with Draco, if I recall." He glances up at her father. "In Slytherin." His lips curl as if this fact fundamentally proves something.
Ginny wonders if it does.
Her Dad's hand presses down on her shoulder, warm and comforting. "We're very proud of her," he says, an edge of fierceness under his calm tone. "She's said to be the best player on her team, despite her age."
Draco flushes, his father's lips pulling back from his teeth with distaste. She wonders if he is more pained by the slight to his son, or the fact that he can't really defend his woeful Quidditch skills.
Harry unexpectedly pipes in. "She's brilliant," he agrees, though it's probably more a dig at Draco than a compliment to her.
Ludo Bagman blunders in then before things can become more tense, his glistening, child-like face split wide with excitement.
"Let's get the match started!" he says with a clap of his hands.
Ginny turns and blindly heads for the front of the box, leaning hard against the railing. Staring down over the writhing crowd, she lets the swoop of vertigo shake the crawling itch of the Malfoys' presence off her skin.
"Ginny?" Hermione asks, appearing next to her and looking for all the world as if there aren't people who hate her standing a few feet away. Ginny wants to know how she can do that.
"Here come the mascots," Ron shouts, pointing.
In the rush to get the best view, Ginny ends up wedged in between Harry and Hermione, enveloped in the group. It feels surprisingly nice.
Once the match starts, the noise of the crowd is deafening, even in the top box. Ginny forgets Malfoy's glare boring into her back in the face of the glitter and energy and soaring excitement of the two best Quidditch teams in the world squaring off against each other. She won't let them ruin this.
The Bulgarian seeker drops in a dive unlike anything she has ever seen before, and she and Harry are plastered up to the rail side by side, knuckles white.
"Did you see that?" she shrieks.
Harry lets out a whoop. "I know! That was amazing!"
His shoulder remains pressed against her the rest of the game, the hum of excitement from his body like the feel of a broom under her palms. Hermione occasionally grabs Ginny's other arm, tugging on it with an excited squeal.
Ginny bounces in her toes and lets out a shout as Moran swoops and feints, sliding the quaffle home with an aching sort of grace.
Yes, Ginny thinks. One day this will be me.
The moment the match ends, everything becomes a blur of Quidditch stars and trophies and celebrations.
They talk it out for hours after, just how Krum pulled off that move, how he had been brave enough to end the game on his own terms. Hermione looks on with bemusement while Fred and George dance triumphant jigs around Ron. Harry leans across Ginny, his hand cutting a tight arc through the air as if to work out the specifics of a new technique. He half-trips over a root in his eagerness, and Ginny laughs as she grabs his arm to steady him.
"You may need to work on that one," she comments.
Harry shoots her a sheepish grin and joins in with Fred and George's mocking serenade of Ron.
Leaning her head back to look at the stars, Ginny thinks this must be one of those perfect moments that should be bottled up in a little glass jar and kept forever.
She's barely managed to close her eyes and dream of heart-stopping dives and the feel of a warm arm next to hers when screams and chaos shatter the night, sweeping them all up into a nightmare.
Wedged between Fred and George in the pitch-black, Ginny feels just how small she is, the sweep of panicked crowds on either side as the faceless wizards torture the Muggles like a little kid pulling the legs off a spider. She grips her wand in her pocket, but knows her small catalog of hexes won't save her.
She stares up at the skull and snake floating in the air like a stain and tries to remember to breathe.
Even when dawn comes, everyone safely back home and away from the danger, it feels like something has changed, like the chaos was a signal the grown-ups were just waiting for.
Ginny feels it in the way they look at her.
There's never been a witch or wizard who went bad that didn't come from Slytherin.
They're all thinking it. They just aren't brave enough to say it. (And isn't that ironic?)
She takes the stairs two a time and disappears up into her room.
Ginny's room feels like an oven. It's like the weather is doing its best to add to the already tense atmosphere. In some small attempt to cool down, she's wrestling her hair up into a pony tail.
Hermione eases into the room like she's going to apologize yet again for taking up some of Ginny's precious space, a dance they already played the first night. Everything feels reset though now, like nothing can be taken for granted.
Ginny isn't so stupid not to know why.
She'd finally worked it out, that horrified stare her father had given her upon first seeing her tattoo, finally understood as she stared up at a green stain in the sky with screams of fear on all sides. She knows why he'd watched so closely as she spoke to Mr. Granger.
Even if she'd somehow managed to forget it, here it is again on Hermione's face as she stares at Ginny's exposed tattoo.
Ginny drops her arms, cursing that she hadn't thought to wear long sleeves despite the crushing heat.
Hermione doesn't say anything, slipping into her camp bed.
Ginny douses the light and follows suit.
They don't say goodnight. Ginny isn't sure how much time passes, just feels thoughts and unspoken words heavy in the air between them.
"I don't agree with them," Ginny blurts when she can't stand it any more. She keeps her eyes trained on the anemic flutter of the curtains above her. "Just so you know."
Hermione doesn't ask what she doesn't agree with, or even whom. Slytherins? Death Eaters? Are they the same? Ginny's scared to look for differences and not find any. The memories of careless and cutting words are far too clear.
Sticks and stones, she thinks.
Hermione still hasn't said anything, and Ginny begins to hope that maybe she's is asleep and they won't have to have this conversation. She chances a glance. Hermione's eyes are wide open as she stares at the ceiling, sweat plastering strands of hair to her forehead.
"I didn't assume-," Hermione starts to say. "I mean, it doesn't-. Really, it's not-."
Ginny flinches with each unfinished, fractured thought.
Hermione lets out a frustrated breath and swings her feet to the ground. "It's hot," she announces, like this is root of all the world's problems.
Ginny feels the bizarre urge to laugh, biting down on a snide remark about the brilliant deduction. Did you read about that in Hogwarts: A History?
Hermione gives Ginny a wry glance. Ginny has to remember that Hermione is perfectly familiar with the Weasley temperament.
"I could braid your hair," Ginny says.
Hermione looks surprised.
"It would be cooler," Ginny explains.
"Okay," Hermione says, holding her gaze, and it feels like more than a simple agreement.
They sit near the windowsill, bodies turned towards the non-existent breeze. Ginny clumsily works through plaits of Hermione's hair and waits for Hermione to speak. She swears she can hear the thoughts clanking around in Hermione's head.
"I don't like brooms," Hermione announces after a while.
Ginny frowns. She leans to one side, noticing that Hermione is staring hard at a poster of Gwenog Jones. It's possible she's trying to apologize for not being as into Quidditch as the rest of them are. Harry and Ron must give her a hard time about that from time to time.
"I see," Ginny says. Lack of interest in Quidditch may be unfathomable to Ginny, but it's hardly a capital offense.
"Do you?" Hermione asks, turning her head. She doesn't so much look embarrassed or apologetic as determined. "I'm supposed to be brave, aren't I? But I'm terrified of brooms."
Ginny feels her chest tighten, like someone just chucked a Quaffle into her solar plexus.
"Ginny?" Hermione asks, trying to turn further around and wincing.
Ginny realizes her fingers are tighten in Hermione's hair. She forces her hands to relax.
"Well," Ginny says, swallowing past the thickness in her throat. "While we're confessing things, there's something about me you should probably know."
"Yeah?" Hermione says warily.
"Yeah. I'm completely rubbish at braiding."
Hermione blinks, looking like an owl, before she laughs.
Breathing out, Ginny finishes Hermione's terrible, crooked braid.
They sit on the sill together until the moon rises up and out of sight, a cool breeze finally fighting its way up over the pond.
September the first is always a day of chaos in the Burrow.
Mum is flitting back and forth between rooms and the kitchen and the washing lines out in the yard as usual. But as Ginny packs the last few things in her trunk, Mum is moving around her room, straightening her bedding even though it's already been made and remade twice. Ginny recognizes hovering when she sees it.
Fred and George come in to help Hermione get her trunk down the stairs, leaving just Ginny and her still fiddling mother.
"Mum?" Ginny dares to ask. Things have been less frosty between them since Ginny almost got herself trampled by dark wizards, but no less strained.
"What?" she says, seeming surprised to find them alone. "Oh, yes." She compulsively straightens the pillows on Ginny's bed again.
"I'm almost done," Ginny says.
"Good." She looks like she wants to say something more, but instead pulls something out of the pocket of her apron. She presses a cool jar into Ginny's hand. "Secrecy Salve," she says, looking awkward. "It will work much better than that Muggle makeup."
Ginny wants to say she's sorry, but she doesn't even know what she's apologizing for any more.
Mum gives her a brief squeeze and disappears out into the hall.
Ginny tucks the jar safely into her trunk.
She's glad to be back, ready to throw herself into things that are simple and predictable, like classes and Quidditch. Even the confusing minefield that is her House's common room offers a sort of familiarity at least. This she can handle.
Only Hogwarts decides to do to her what it does best: pulls the rug out from under her feet. There isn't going to be any Quidditch this year. Just two more classloads of strangers to be wary of and an archaic tournament she can't participate in anyway.
Honor and glory? She's more interested in surviving.
Next to her, Flint's fist smacks the table, a goblet of pumpkin juice jumping. "What a fucking waste."
Ginny flinches, but reminds herself that this is even worse for him in some ways, being a seventh year and the team captain. That would piss her off too. "I take it you aren't going to put your name in the Goblet," she says.
He glances over at her as if surprised to see her. He lets out a humorless huff of air. "Yeah, Six. I think that's pretty safe to say." His brow furrows, and Ginny can feel herself changing in his eyes from chaser to useless third year.
He pushes to his feet. "See you around, Weasley," he says, moving down to the table to talk to some other seventh years.
Just like that, she's back to square one. Another first night spent lying in bed staring at her curtains with a long year stretching ahead of her.
Only then Smita climbs up on the foot of Ginny's bed, clearly not willing to be put off by the black cloud hanging over Ginny's head. She's cut her hair, the dark strands now curling just below her chin. "How was your summer?" she asks.
Ginny shakes her head, only able now to think how it ended, the good days faded from memory. "A disaster. You?"
Smita's nose crinkles with distaste. "Cousins. Lots of them."
They stare at each other a moment, expressions perfectly mirroring long-suffering annoyance. Then Smita's lip twitches, and Ginny starts to laugh. Laughs long and hard until her stomach begins to ache with something other than disappointment.
They draw the curtains and sit in the cocoon of Ginny's bed, talking until the wee hours of the morning, Smita's weight heavy against her legs.
Ginny decides that maybe square one won't be quite so bad after all.
For a while, classes and new subjects are substitute enough for Quidditch. Smita is still trying to convince Ginny that Ancient Runes was a much better choice than Care of Magical Creatures. Despite how much she'd love to be outdoors, Ginny is convinced enough when other students in their year start appearing back in the castle with singed fingers and sooty faces. At least Professor Babbling's lessons rarely lead to physical injury. Besides, as much as Ginny hates to admit it, runes are pretty interesting.
In exchange, Ginny strong-armed Smita into Muggle Studies for their second elective. Probably because she knows it will make her Dad happy and she's looking forward to having things to write to him about. Things he can relate to.
Professor Burbage pulls her aside at the end of the first day of class. "You're Arthur Weasley's daughter, aren't you?"
Ginny looks up into her smooth, kind face and nods. "Yes, Professor."
She smiles. "Would you tell him hello for me? We did a great deal of work together on the Muggle Protection Act. He's a very dedicated, very kind man."
"Of course, Professor," Ginny says, feeling her face flush. She knows her father isn't a Ministry big shot. Far from it, really. She isn't embarrassed by that, she's just heard her mother complain far too often over the years that he doesn't get the credit he deserves. Dad doesn't seem to care, but it still makes Ginny feel warm inside to hear someone say such nice things about him, to see the things Ginny admires in him.
Burbage touches her arm. "I'm glad you're taking my class, Miss Weasley." She says this like she knows exactly why Ginny is here, knows it has less to do with her father than she'd like to think.
Ginny gnaws on her lip, and mumbles something about not wanting to be late for her next class.
Burbage doesn't single her out again, or treat her any differently than any of the other students, and Ginny's glad. She decides she likes Burbage, who talks about Muggles not like they are the enemy or even wayward pets, but people. (Though Ginny still isn't convinced those areoplane things Muggles travel around in can possibly be safe. She'll stick to brooms and floo powder, thank you very much.)
There's only one other Slytherin in the class with them, a boy called Tobias. Despite the fact that Ginny and Smita have had all their classes with him since first year, they've never spoken. In the end, he's the one to approach them. Class has just ended, the typical chatter of post-lecture freedom filling the room.
Tobias leans a hip against the edge of Ginny's desk, his sandy hair falling into his eyes. "They all want to know what the Heir of Slytherin is doing taking Muggle Studies, in case you're wondering," he announces.
Ginny's trying to figure out if he is mocking her or if people honestly still associate her with the Chamber. She glances around at the other students, most of them looking hastily away. She feels her face flush.
"What, this isn't the class where we learn how best to season Muggles before we eat them?" she snaps.
A few heads nearby whip around so fast that Ginny worries for their necks. Tobias simply looks surprised, his eyebrows lifting. "No," he says with calm seriousness. "I think that must be some other class."
Ginny blinks at him, wondering what his problem is. It's annoying to realize she's just as confused by his presence in this class as the others are about hers.
"What other elective are you two taking?" he asks. "The care and tenderizing of magical creatures?" His lips twitch, and Ginny realizes he's trying really hard not to laugh.
"Merlin," Ginny curses, shaking her head and letting out a breath.
Smita's eyes widen. "She didn't mean-."
"He knows, Smita," Ginny says, touching her arm. "He's just having a nice go at us." Teasing her, really. And not the vicious kind she would expect. It's kind of confusing.
Tobias presses his hand against his chest like he's taking some sort of oath, and she's beginning to wonder if he's incapable of taking anything seriously. "I would never." He jerks his head towards the door. "Come on. Maybe we'll learn something useful about basting in Potions."
Ginny rolls her eyes, but grabs her books and follows Tobias out into the hall. "I suppose we are all going the same place."
"That's the spirit," Tobias says, holding the door open for Smita. "We poor, outnumbered Slytherins need to stick together, after all."
Ginny frowns, wondering what he means by that, but his attention has already turned to asking Smita if she thinks Muggle pets can really be as useless as they sound.
To Ginny's surprise, Smita quirks her head and starts telling them both about a dog her father had as a child that her Muggle grandfather had taught to carry in the newspaper each morning.
She isn't quite sure which shocks her most, that Smita isn't a pureblood (aren't all Slytherins supposed to be purebloods?), or that she's talking with Tobias. Chatting, even.
When they get to Potions, Tobias leaves them to join his friends across the dungeon, and Smita notices the look on her face. "What?"
Ginny stows her bag and pulls out her cauldron, a grin playing at her lips. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
The weeks begin to slide by with greater and greater speed. Ginny still misses Quidditch more than she can properly express, feels a little lost without it. But she likes her classes and she has Smita to talk to. Even Tobias is pretty amusing from time to time, when he isn't being a complete berk.
Though by the time the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students arrive at the end of October, Ginny is already sick of the Triwizard Tournament. It's all people have been talking about for weeks, and she thinks if she hears the phrase 'honor and glory' one more time she's going to lose it.
Though seeing her brothers get knocked back by the Goblet's Age Line sporting matching grandfather beards is almost worth all the fuss and bother. Almost.
Only then things take a turn for the worse.
Sitting in the Great Hall on Halloween, Ginny thinks that she should have seen this coming: Harry Potter getting himself swept up in the middle of everything, rules be damned.
For about half a second she believes it. Believes Harry Potter has been stupid and brash and arrogant enough to bend all the rules to his fame, but then she turns to stare at him like everyone else. She sees it, the way he flinches back as if wishing he could melt into the very woodwork itself. This isn't guilt, Ginny recognizes, having seen more than her fair share of it growing up. It's something more like…terror. It makes her think of a battered boy staring across ink-stained stones at her, the feel of a shoulder against hers as brooms sped through the air.
Harry sends a panicked look to Ron as he flounders, but her brother is looking at the floor, his ears tinged red enough to be seen all the way from where Ginny is sitting. Hermione has to shove Harry to get him moving.
He looks so small, walking up the aisle towards Dumbledore between the rows of fully grown Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students. Ginny bites down on her lip and watches his progress, trying to pretend that she doesn't see that Dumbledore looks more worried than a wizard of his power and position has the right to.
Once Harry disappears out the door after the other champions, the hall erupts into chatter, Harry's name floating above the din with varying levels of sharpness and venom.
Cheater, they call him. Glory hound. Full of himself.
Even Rita Skeeter talks about him like that in the papers.
They don't know the real Harry, Ginny thinks, remembering the boy tripping over his own feet in his excitement over something as simple as Quidditch, the way his eyes still grow large over things she's long since learned to take for granted. He may be a lot of things, but she can't quite picture him doing this on purpose.
Over the next weeks, she watches from afar as Harry is ostracized, turned into a walking pariah. She watches the way he tries to pretend it doesn't bother him, knowing with absolute certainty that the other students' vicious scorn is nothing to him next to the desertion of her stupid brother.
She remembers the look on Ron's face as he first showed Hermione around the Burrow. His utter dismay at moldy old dress robes as Harry stood nearby with a brand new set. She'd always silently wondered what it would be like, having someone like Harry Potter as a best friend.
Oh, she understands her brother perfectly well. Well enough to know that no word from her will change anything, or make him understand that abandoning his best mate because of his festering jealousy doesn't make him a hero, just a wanker.
So Ginny doesn't talk to Ron, just walks in the grounds with Hermione occasionally, letting her vent her spleen about the stupidity of boys. She looks exhausted, spending all her time running back and forth between Harry and Ron like an overworked owl. So much so that Ginny wants to smack some sense into both boys. Or hex them. She still hasn't decided.
"I worry about him," Hermione confesses once between classes.
"Ron?" Ginny asks, thinking of her brother's pale and set face, the way he walks around like he's beginning to suspect he wandered down the wrong path but refuses to admit it.
Hermione shakes her head. "Harry. I think he's terrified, but refuses to admit it. Any more than he'll admit that he misses Ron like an amputated arm." She gives Ginny a shaky smile. "They're rather pathetic without each other."
Ginny tries to smile back, thinking that Hermione isn't any happier herself.
Two days later, Draco's stupid badges appear, and Ginny's had enough. She tells Smita that she'll catch up with her and slips down a different hallway. It doesn't take her long to find him, particularly with the swath of open space that seems to float around him these days.
When she gets close enough, she makes a grab for Harry's sleeve. She tries not to notice the way his eyes track to her robes as if expecting to see 'Potter Stinks' blazoned there. She can't blame him for that, not really. It hasn't been all that long since she walked the halls trailing after Draco, forced laughter on her lips.
"Ginny?" he asks, eyes guarded. (Trained to expect the worst from all sides, she thinks.)
She takes a careful breath, jaw tightening. "Ron's a prat."
Harry's eyebrows shoot up in surprise, as if this is the last thing he expects to hear from her.
"But he'll figure it out eventually," she promises. He always does. This is what she needs Harry to understand. That her brother, for all his stupidity, is also honorable to a fault.
Harry tries to smile, but it's just a grimace, and she doesn't blame him. "You think so?" he asks, the tiniest painful bit of hope hiding under his forced humor.
Inexplicably, she feels the urge to give him a slap get replaced with the bizarre impulse to hug him. He is rather pathetic. Instead she squeezes his arm, giving him a bracing grin. "Good luck on the first task. I know you'll do brilliantly."
He doesn't seem quite as optimistic, but still manages a grateful look. "Thanks, Ginny."
She watches him go, knowing she hasn't fixed anything, but hoping maybe he feels a tiny bit better. That maybe Hermione won't have to worry quite as much.
"Aw," a mocking voice drawls. "I think little Weasley has a crush."
Ginny turns, colliding with Draco. Her face flushes, half with anger, half with the embarrassing memory of a stupid little girl struck speechless and clumsy by the very sight of Harry Potter.
Draco seems to take this as all the confirmation he needs. The Weasley's support of Harry is no secret after all. His eyes dart down to her robe, something flinty and frightening taking up residence there. "You've forgotten your badge."
"No, I really haven't," Ginny snaps. She moves to shove past him, but Crabbe and Goyle step across her.
Draco fingers his wand. "Maybe you'd like something a little more permanent?" He grabs her right hand, twisting to expose her wrist. "A matching pair, perhaps?"
Her first year, as unspoken head honcho of the younger students, Draco mostly ignored her. She thinks maybe that was a matter of demonstrating daily that she wasn't even worth his notice. Her second year things changed, her mystique rising in tandem with the Chamber of Secrets scandal and her position on the Quidditch team. But when she had subtly shown that she was not going to be in his pocket, the silent war had begun.
This year, Draco does not seem content with the silent part. She doesn't have Quidditch to lord over him any more, and he's more than aware of it.
All term he's been talking loudly about Ginny's poor family and Muggle-loving father, his stage whisper echoing through the common room. Did everyone hear that she's taking Muggle Studies? Pathetic.
And what has she done about his verbal attacks? Nothing.
Ron, Fred, George…even Harry, they would have already drawn their wands, flown across the room to shut Draco up any way they could. She hasn't.
She isn't her brothers. That probably makes her a coward. (Not a Gryffindor, at the very least.)
Draco's hand tightens around her wrist. "What do you say, Weasley?"
She wrenches away from him as hard as she can, his nails raking against her skin as she escapes. Ducking her head, she dives into the swarm of students, the sound of their laughter following after her.
"Ginevra," a voice drawls. "Is that a love letter?"
Ginny looks up from her dad's latest letter describing a new plug he'd found at something the Muggles call a 'Swap Meat'. (Though what meat has to do with elektricity, she still doesn't know. She'll have to ask Burbage.) Tobias, sprawled on the Common Room floor with an acre of notes spread around him, is waggling his eyebrows at Ginny.
She rolls her eyes. "Oh, yes. It's from Heathcote Barbary. He wants to take me on tour with him."
Tobias snorts. "Thought you had better musical taste than that." Looking back up over his shoulder, he nudges Smita on the couch behind him. "How can you be friends with her?"
Smita bites her lower lip like she's fighting off a smile and buries her face in her runes book.
Tobias and Ginny share a grin. It seems to have become one of Tobias' greatest ambitions, trying to get Smita to laugh. Ginny wishes him luck with that insurmountable task.
Turning back to her letter, Ginny is interrupted yet again when a badge flies across the room, bouncing off her chest before landing on her lap. 'Potter Stinks,' it announces. She feels her smile fade.
Draco has been quieter in the common room since a seventh year grew tired of his heckling and told him to shut it. But that just means he's always finding new ways to torment her.
Ginny brushes the button off her lap and goes back to her letter as if nothing happened.
Smita sighs. "I wish he'd just…give it up."
Tobias picks up the badge, turning it over in his fingers. "Yeah, well," he says, the badge disappearing into his pocket. "The bloke has to have a hobby."
Ginny wishes he'd find a different one.
"Anyway," Tobias says, scooping up the papers and getting to his feet. "Thanks for letting me look at your notes, Smita." He passes her a giant stack of parchment covered with her careful writing.
To Ginny's endless fascination, Smita's face flushes the slightest bit red. "Sure," she says. "Any time."
Tobias smiles at her, one of his hands scratching at his neck. "Yeah, well, I don't plan on getting the firepox again anytime soon."
The blush on Smita's face deepens, her mouth dropping open. "Oh! I didn't mean-."
Tobias' grin widens. "Course you didn't."
Ginny snorts, both of them turning to look at her.
"What?" Tobias says.
"Nothing," Ginny says. "Nothing at all."
Tobias' eyes narrow at her, promising later retribution. Ginny just smiles pleasantly back.
Tobias shakes his head in defeat. "See you later," he says, abandoning the girls for his more macho guy friends, no doubt.
She watches him cross the common room, her eyes straying over Draco.
He leers at her, and Ginny lifts her letter, the words swimming in front of her.
At the first challenge, Ginny has to rethink her indifference to the Triwizard Tournament. It may still be a giant imposition and nowhere near as important as Quidditch, but it isn't a total joke. Not to judge from the four enormous dragons waiting to eviscerate the champions.
"They can't be serious," Ginny says, trying very hard not to think of how small Harry looks from the top of the stands.
"Brilliant," Tobias breathes, looking positively giddy at the prospect of carnage.
Smita doesn't offer a comment, just fists her hands against her mouth, eyes wide over her knuckles.
Despite Ginny's misgivings, Cedric and Krum and Fleur do credible jobs. There are only two or three times she's certain someone is going to lose an arm. (She's only slightly disappointed not to see the glamorous Beauxbatons champion lose some of that shiny perfect hair of hers in a stray flash of dragon-breath.)
By the time it's Harry's turn, Ginny's posture closely mirrors Smita's.
Fortunately, Harry doesn't get torn apart or reduced to a Harry-shaped column of ash, but instead faces his dragon (the biggest, meanest one, she's sure) with a blinding sort of courage that she can't help but admire, almost as much as she admires the way his broom becomes an extension of his body.
(She wonders if he misses Quidditch too, or if he's too busy with the not dying and people glaring at him in the halls to bother.)
She sees Ron and Harry later, arms strung across each other's shoulders, hands thumping each other's backs in that jubilant way boys have. Like there'd never been a breach between them.
Hermione walks a few paces behind them, Ginny catching her eye as they pass. Hermione rolls her eyes in exasperation at Harry and Ron, the censure softened by the brilliant smile on her lips. Boys, she seems to say.
Ginny shrugs her shoulders in commiseration and turns back to Tobias and Smita, who are still madly debating the scores assigned by the judges. (Rather Tobias is madly debating, Smita only occasionally disagreeing.)
Tobias throws his arms up. "No way Potter should have gotten that many points. He used the simplest spell ever!"
"No one else thought of it though, did they," Smita counters. "Besides, you have to admit he flew very well."
Tobias frowns. "Yeah. I suppose so. But I still say Fleur had the best…technique." He gets a stupid grin on his face.
Smita doesn't glare exactly, just gets this look on her face like maybe she wishes Fleur had gotten a bit more singed as well.
Ginny slows her steps and lets them get ahead of her as the crowds stream up towards the castle. Smita has never said anything, but Ginny isn't stupid.
This is how she ends up alone when Draco ambushes her. He shouts a spell she doesn't know, something hitting her in the back like a gong, vibrating unpleasantly through her bones. It doesn't particularly hurt, so she doesn't immediately panic. Not until she tries to turn and face her attackers and realizes she can't.
She's completely immobilized, from toes to throat, her body frozen as if encased in ice.
It's the worst thing she has ever felt.
Draco circles around in front of her, standing much too close. "You think you can pull one over on me, Weasley?" he hisses, holding up a badge. In her panic, it takes her eyes a while to adjust to what he's trying to show her.
The badge no longer says 'Harry Potter Stinks.' It's now stuck saying 'Draco Malfoy is an inbred tosser.'
Her eyes widen, not so much at the insult as the livid lines of Draco's face as it occurs to her that she's utterly helpless. She never wanted to feel this again.
"Is there a problem here?" a calm voice asks.
Ginny's tormentors look up to see Professor Snape approaching, and Draco drops his wand. Ginny feels her limbs soften and relax and wants to cry with the relief of it.
"Just practicing for Charms," Draco lies, clearly comfortable in his assumption that their Head of House will choose his side.
Sure enough, Snape gives him an indulgent smile that makes Ginny's teeth ache. I'm in your house too, she wants to say.
Snape's eyes flit over her, catch, and then almost linger. "Is there something you wish to add, Miss Weasley?"
Draco gives her a threatening glance from behind Snape's back.
She clenches her jaw, not sure which of them she hates more in that moment. "No, sir."
Snape nods, black eyes glittering. "Then why don't you move along."
Draco and his cronies saunter off, and Ginny watches them go, willing her heartbeat back to a normal rhythm. She's not sure if it's fear or anger that is making her legs shake, but with Snape still there watching her, she forces herself to start walking, legs be damned.
Snape follows a few paces behind her all the way back up to the castle, as if he doesn't even trust her to do that properly.
"Miss Weasley," he says as she splits off in the entryway.
She turns back to look at him, not bothering to hide her blazing anger. "Yes, sir?" she asks, clipping the words short.
He looks taken aback, as if he hadn't expected that sort of a response from her. But then his face clears, settling back into cool, uncaring lines, and she's sure she imagined the glimmer of something almost…sad in his eyes.
His chin lifts. "No loitering in the halls."
It takes her a moment to understand that he's chastising her, when he'd been the one to stop her in the first place. "Yes, sir," she says again, spinning on her heel and disappearing down the steps.
She can feel his eyes on her back as she goes.
"Ginny," Smita says as she enters the common room. "Where did you-?"
But she must look almost as bad as she feels, because Smita stops talking mid-sentence and steers her to their dorm.
Her hands are still shaking.
Ginny spends the next thirty minutes calling Draco and Snape every dirty word she can think of.
"I didn't even do it!" she exclaims, hands slapping down on her quilt. It's the most galling part, not that Draco had done that to her, but that she hadn't been brave enough to think of pulling the prank he'd been getting revenge for in the first place. She should have thought of it.
"It was Tobias," Smita says, eyes wide and horrified.
"What?" Ginny asks.
Smita bites her lip, shooting her an uncertain look. "The badge. I'm sure he never meant for you…"
Ginny shakes her head. Lying down on the bed, she wraps her arms around her pillow. "It doesn't matter."
Smita curls up on the foot of the bed with her, her hand tight and comforting around Ginny's ankle.
Ginny starts awake the next morning with Smita's weight heavy across her legs and a voice ghosting her ears, fading dreams of ink stains and pulling strings and limbs moving without her control.
"Ginny?" Smita asks, blinking sleepily up at her from the foot of the bed.
"Cramp," Ginny lies, pulling her legs up to her chest and rubbing at her calf.
"Sorry," Smita says, sitting up and grimacing as she stretches her back.
The other girls in the room are stirring, and it's time to get dressed and go down for breakfast and go to class. Normal.
In the weeks leading up to the Yule Ball, Ginny is careful never to be caught out alone in the halls. She isn't sure what Smita has told Tobias, but the two of them seem to slip into an unspoken sort of buddy system.
Part of Ginny wants to make a caustic remark that Slytherins aren't supposed to care like that, but it seems stupid and petulant and this is Smita she is talking about. Even Tobias seems sobered by what happened.
We Slytherin need to stick together, after all.
She feels like there's supposed to be a joke in there somewhere, but she doesn't much feel like laughing.
In potions, she looks up from time to time, almost certain she'll find Snape watching her. He never is. Why would he be?
The night of the Yule Ball, Ginny sits up waiting for the older girls to return, wanting to listen to their stories of dancing and dresses and gossip. Maybe dream a little of a day she will be the one out late.
Only the bustling group of girls returning from the party are not laughing or yawning with weary satisfaction. They sweep into the common room in a frenzy of agitation and high-pitched voices, one of their numbers cocooned in the middle.
"He deserves to die," one girl puts in.
Even from her hiding spot, Ginny can see the angry bruises rising on the skin of the girl standing in the middle, streaks of tears on her face. Torn cloth. It takes her a moment to put it all together, to work out the pronouns against the colors. When she gets it, she feels a prickle of fear work its way down her spine. She remembers not being able to move, being completely under someone else's power.
Ginny can't help but consider how fragile it is be to be a girl sometimes.
"Suffering is so much better," another girl counters, seemingly not so much disturbed by the hypothetical murder as the limited opportunity for punishment.
The other girls chime in, plans swirling around the room. How they can get on the boat, sink it, curse the doors shut for all time, each idea more vicious than the last.
"No," Theodora cuts across, the seventh year's voice silencing all the others. She isn't particularly tall or loud or even beautiful, isn't technically Head Girl, but Ginny has seen the way everyone defers to her. The way she is in charge in all the ways that matter. "It will have to be public. Everyone needs to learn what happens when they try to take from a Slytherin."
One girls casts a charm on everyone's faces. They aren't transformed, just blurred. Try as she might, Ginny's eyes keep sliding away from their faces like a raindrop down a window pane. With the dark hood pulled up over their heads, they look enough like Dementors that Ginny feels a thrill of fear streak down her spine.
Ginny turns to find Smita sitting right next her, face a bit paler than usual, but calm all the same.
"I'm going," Ginny decides, knowing somehow that she needs to see this unfold.
Smita swallows. "Okay."
"You don't have to…," Ginny starts to say.
"If you go, I go," Smita says.
Ginny slips her hand into Smita's, giving it a squeeze.
Hogwarts has taken a lot from her, including Quidditch, but following out after them feels a lot like flying.
By the time they catch up with the older girls, they've spirited Gregor out of the Durmstrang ship. They frogmarch him forward to stand in front of Liza, only recognizable by the torn hem trailing out of her robes.
"Is this him?" one of the girls (Ginny suspects Theodora) asks, her voice harsh and distorted.
"What?" Gregor tries to protest.
One of his keepers whips out her wand, snarling, "Petrificus totalus." Gregor's body snaps upright, only his eyes still wildly swiveling.
"Is this the boy?" Theodora repeats.
There's a rustle of cloth that Ginny thinks may be a nod. "It is."
"Did you tell him his attentions were unwanted?"
Liza's hand flinches towards her shoulder. "Yes."
"Did he listen?"
"Do you swear upon your magical blood that this is true?"
The circle of girls closes around Gregor.
Ginny is thirteen when she sees her first Unforgivable Curse up close. She knows she should be horrified, knows the punishment for these terrible crimes is a life in Azkaban, but watching the Durmstrang boy writhe and babble, beg for forgiveness, doesn't seem so much evil as well deserved. What is more unforgivable, a nasty spell or the crime this boy committed?
Might is right, Tom reminds her, voice cruel and cutting.
Ginny and Smita watch at the girls force Gregor to write out a confession, his hands clumsy under the Imperius Curse. The girls then enlarge and copy and slather the walls with his words. It's only when they bind him, a rope around his neck that Ginny shifts forward, her heart in her throat. Surely they wouldn't-.
Ginny surges forward as they stand him up on balcony above the entrance. Smita grabs her arm, trying to hold her back, but Ginny shakes her off. Gregor goes over the edge with a muffled squeak.
Ginny must have made some noise of protest because they all turn to look at her, faces still warped and twisting, a ghostly layer hanging over their features like mist. For the tiniest moment, Ginny thinks, This is it. I'm next.
But the one Ginny suspects is Theodora raises her hand, the group of girls parting as if inviting Ginny to inspect their handiwork.
She isn't sure how she gets her feet moving, just swallows hard against the tightness in her throat and steps quietly through the ranks.
There's a whisper as she passes, a cool breeze fluttering across her face. It takes her a moment to register that someone has disguised her. To protect her or themselves, she doesn't know. She leans over the ledge, her fingers pressing hard against the cold stone.
Gregor stares up at her with wide eyes, swaying side to side from a harness tied around his waist. Terrified, but very much alive.
She thinks maybe she should be horrified, that she should disapprove of this form of Slytherin cruelty. But all she feels is a grim beat of satisfaction, the corner of her mouth lifting.
When she turns back around, all of the girls have disappeared. Only Smita stands in the hall, hands pressed to her mouth.
Ginny scrambles over to her, grabbing her arm. "Come on. Let's get out of here." It wouldn't do to be caught so close to the scene of the crime.
Smita doesn't argue, letting Ginny drag her away.
Gregor's body is found swinging over the entrance of the Great Hall the next morning, his eyes wide as he screams soundlessly against his gag. And above him, written in his own hand, is his confession.
I am a pervert and a thief. I took from a Slytherin what she was not willing to give. For this I deserve to die.
They'd made him believe it, too, right up until the moment the rope around his middle stopped his fall—safe, but shaken. If there needed to be any more evidence of his fear, all one had to do was look at the suspicious puddle collected right underneath him.
It takes the professors almost an hour to figure out how to get Gregor down. It's another two weeks before the signs fade. Long enough for every student at the school to have witnessed the spectacle first hand.
As the days pass, the girls watch Ginny, eyes following her, and she suspects they are waiting to see if she is going to turn them in, going running to Snape or Dumbledore. They'll have a long time to wait.
She still doesn't understand what happened that night, or how she feels about it, but she's not going to run to a teacher. Not Snape, not McGonagall. She suspects they don't have all the answers the way they want the students to think they do.
In the end, there's no one to punish, not even after Gregor regains the ability to speak. He can only babble about faceless wizards in robes. This is yet another part of what it means to be Slytherin, Ginny learns. Just because they are willing to do the task doesn't mean they are willing to take the fall.
It doesn't keep the boys of Hogwarts and Durmstrang alike from sliding the Slytherin girls wary glances. Ginny feels it as she walks down the hall, the green of her uniform like a brand, a warning.
For weeks, Ginny can't think of that night without a strange swooping sensation unsettling her stomach. She doesn't think it's fear, but something else entirely. Something new and strange and somehow…incredibly right.
She wonders what that says about her.
In her dreams at night, Tom laughs long and hard, victory trilling in the sound.
The second task isn't quite as exciting as the first, though no less tense. It's just the entire school on the banks of the lake, standing around staring at the surface of the water until one by one the champions resurface, their hostages in tow.
Harry's done well again (despite his best efforts to let his brain be overruled by rash bravery yet again), and as usual Draco seems to take that as a personal insult. But Harry is surrounded by admirers and well-wishers (funny how quickly things can change) and less well-wishing reporters (and how some things don't), and Draco can't touch him. Instead it's time for his second favorite game.
He walks a few paces behind Ginny all the way up to the Castle, muttering insulting things under his breath the whole way. She's tense in her shoulders, but not particularly worried as they are surrounded by other students.
Draco appreciate being ignored, eventually stepping across her, opening his mouth as if to lay into her yet again.
Only nothing comes out. He just sort of croaks, one hand lifting to his throat.
Ginny frowns, wondering what the hell is going on. Before she can think better of it, she half-reaches for him to see if he's okay.
He jerks back away from her, glancing down at her wand hand, still hanging empty and useless down by her side.
Ginny spreads her hands wide. Whatever this is, she hasn't done it. He may try to blame it on her, but there are more than twenty witnesses to the fact that Ginny never even pulled her wand.
He starts panicking in earnest then, Goyle clawing at Malfoy's throat as if to free him from something.
Just when she's beginning to worry he's going to suffocate, whatever has a hold of him seems to let go, Draco gulping in giant lungfuls of air as he hangs between Crabbe and Goyle.
Above the crowd, Ginny notices one of the Slytherin girls from the night of Yule Ball walking away, her long black ponytail jaunting behind her as she goes. Antonia, Ginny remembers. A fifth year. Not sparing a glance for the still gasping Draco, Ginny follows after her.
She catches up just as Antonia reaches the common room. "Did you…did you do that?"
Antonia's eyes widen with fake innocence. "Do what?" Continuing ahead, she glides down the steps. Ginny wonders if she does anything less than elegantly, like her entire life is choreographed.
Ginny isn't going to be put off that easily though, elegant exit or not. She's convinced now that Antonia had been behind whatever happened to Draco. The why of it is much more confusing, but she can't quite imagine asking Antonia why she'd bothered to help her, so instead she asks, "How did you do that?"
Antonia turns to Ginny like a conspirator, like she'd just been waiting for the question. "You know the best part of that little spell? It's utterly untraceable. Even if someone were to inspect your wand, check prior spells, it only shows up as Accio." She laughs, flourishing her wand. "It's brilliant."
"Is that…legal?" Ginny asks.
Antonia's eyebrow lifts like this is the most ridiculous question Ginny could have ever asked.
Someone else decides to answer the question. "I don't think that's what you're really trying to ask."
Ginny turns to see Theodora reading near the fire, her blond hair pulled back in a glossy, tight ponytail. Ginny glances at Antonia to gauge her reaction to this uncharacteristic interjection by the seventh year. She rarely lowers herself to the conversations of others.
Antonia just smirks at Ginny, a bit like oh now you're in for it.
"What…" Ginny's voice falters and she clears her throat. "What am I trying to ask?"
Theodora presses a finger to a line in her book to keep her place. "You didn't seem to have an issue with legality the night of the Yule Ball."
Ginny feels her stomach lurch. No. She really hadn't. She'd had her chance to turn them in, to raise the alarm, to do anything other than simply watch and stay silent. But it's still not the same as participating.
"You don't really want to know if it's legal or not," Theodora says, eyes lifting to Ginny's face as if asking a question.
Ginny gnaws on the inside of her lip. "I want to know if it's right," she says.
"They aren't always the same," Theodora says, something just slyly superior enough in her tone to put Ginny's teeth on edge.
Ginny frowns. "And who decides that? You?"
Ginny hears Antonia suck in a surprised breath behind her, but doesn't dare look back. It's very possible she's pushed too far, miscalculated, but she's not going to turn tail and run, even if she should. Her back straightens, chin lifting.
Theodora surprises them both by smiling, something broad and faintly patronizing, but amused all the same. "That's the interesting part," she says, snapping her book shut and pushing to her feet. She steps closer to Ginny, towering over her by a good five inches. She's only four years Ginny's senior, but at this moment feels as if it might as well be five hundred.
Theodora reaches out towards Ginny's face, and despite herself, Ginny flinches, not sure what to expect. Theodora's smile broadens, her fingers pausing before sliding down a strand of Ginny's hair.
Leaning into Ginny, Theodora says, "You're stuck deciding that for yourself."
Ginny frowns, wanting to ask more questions, but Theodora is clearly finished with the conversation. With a brief nod to Antonia, Theodora sweeps from the room, moving past a wide-eyed Smita standing in doorway.
Antonia recovers, laughing as she pats Ginny on the shoulder. "Bloody hell," she swears under her breath, amusement tingeing the words.
"What was that?" Smita asks, watching Antionia leave.
Ginny shakes her head, feeling her knees still trembling. She has no idea.
Charms is one of Ginny's favorite subjects. It's a little chaotic but productive and almost every class is spent with wands in hand actually doing something, not discussing theory for hours as in Transformation, or worse, the endless drone of things that happened long ago in History of Magic. Smita prefers numbers and theory, but that's just her nature. Ginny has always preferred the doing.
This year they've settled into sitting with a girl called Luna Lovegood. She's a blond, willowy, dreamy Ravenclaw who is somehow incredibly likable in her own bizarre way. Smita doesn't seem to mind Luna, despite the things she says sometimes. Luna may be weird, but she's clever and takes the work seriously unlike some of their other classmates. That's more than enough for Smita.
Ginny likes Luna for the simple fact that she may be odd, but she's honest. Ginny likes talking with someone and knowing with absolute certainty that they mean everything coming out of their mouth, even if it is about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks or something equally crazy. It's soothing.
For all they like Luna though, she's still just a passing acquaintance. They don't talk or hang out or meet to study. So when Ginny and Smita are stuck cleaning up a catastrophic cascade of ink splattered all over the walls by a rogue spell, Luna leaves with everyone else.
Ginny shows Smita a useful siphoning charm she picked up from her mum, so they're able to make pretty quick work of it. By the time it's all done, the last stragglers of their class are still lingering outside.
Ginny steps out into the hall just in time to hear a voice drawl, "Loony, loony Lovegood," in a singsong voice, laughter echoing behind the taunt.
Two boys are standing in Luna's path, blocking her way as they tease her. Ginny recognizes the blue and silver of their uniforms, identifying them as Ravenclaws. She wonders if being in the same house as Luna makes them feel like they have the right to ridicule her.
It's time to walk away, to leave Luna to her own. Smita has already turned, a few steps down the hall to where Tobias is waiting. Ginny's about to follow, only then one of the boy's wands lifts, twitching as if to deliver a hex to go with the stinging words. Ginny remembers with shuddering clarity the feel of her body totally immobilized.
Her feet move her forward without any conscious thought.
"Oy," Ginny snaps, stepping up behind the two boys.
"What?" they say.
The first boy blanches when he realizes who he is talking to. Not Ginny Weasley, but a Slytherin. For the first time that terrified look doesn't make Ginny feel like a monster.
"Leave her alone," Ginny says.
The second boy looks a little steadier, crossing his arms over his chest. "Or what?"
There was a time she wouldn't have had the guts to stand under that challenge, would have preferred to walk away. Don't draw attention to yourself. But, dammit, she likes Luna. And this isn't right.
Ginny takes a small step forward, lifting one eyebrow the way she's seen Theodora do. "Do you really want to find out?" she asks, fingers toying with her wand.
It starts off as nothing but bluster, a moment of make-believe, but she realizes in that moment that she will hex him if she has to, that she has that in her. She's had years of practicing on her brothers after all, been standing up for herself her entire life. (And why, oh why had she forgotten that? Why had she tried to be something different?)
She can do this.
But Antonia's voice is in her head, cautioning Ginny that it would be better not to hex the stupid gits out here in the hall in front of so many witnesses. Ginny smiles grimly at the properly Slytherin reasoning.
Her smile seems to make the bolder boy falter, just for a moment. He's not a Gryffindor, after all, not one to be fueled to stupidity by bravery. So when Smita steps up next to Ginny, Tobias by her side, the Ravenclaw boy backs away, clearly having done the maths. He scowls at her, but turns away.
Smart, those Ravenclaws.
The remaining students who have loitered long enough to see the outcome all turn to each other in a rush, whispers and shouts echoing against the stones as they rehash what just happened.
Ginny stows her wand and turns to Luna, who has been watching the proceedings with wide-eyed placidity, as if she's wondering just what all the fuss is about.
"Would you like to go down by the lake and work on our Charms homework?" Ginny asks.
It hurts a little bit, the way Luna beams as if she's been given the keys to some hidden paradise. "Oh, yes. That would be lovely. I've been meaning to collect more wemba wipplies."
Ginny has no idea what a wemba wipply is, just knows that no one will dare say a thing to Luna when she's around.
Not any more.
Ginny grips her wand tighter and takes a cautious step closer to the object in front of her.
It's a mirror, one of those tall, fancy oval ones Auntie Muriel is partial to. Only the glass on this one is scratched and foggy, and almost seems to creak, as if tiny faults were opening in the surface. More than anything, Ginny wants to turn away, to get as far from the sinister object as she can.
Steeling her spine, she forces herself to step closer, centering herself on the mirror. Her reflection slides into view. Only it isn't her reflection looking back at her. Cool, angular features stare out at her from under a mop of dark hair, his deep green robes reflecting her own.
"Changeling," he accuses, voice like a snake.
Instinctually, Ginny lifts her hand, trying to block the image, hide it from view. His hand breaches the mirror surface, grabbing her wrist. She struggles, pulling back, but he only smiles, almost as if a proud brother. "Strange likeness," he says, fingers digging into the green ink burned into her skin.
Behind her, Mad-Eye says something in the distance, encouragement maybe, but more likely harsh instruction. Vigilance!
Ginny shakes her head hard as if to dislodge the buzzing in her ears.
I'm not like you, Tom, she wants to say.
Tom smiles as if he can hear her. I made you.
"Weasley," Moody growls, growing impatient. Peripherally, a whispered hum gets louder, the other students shifting around and growing curious.
Looking Tom straight in the eye, Ginny grips her wand and says, "Riddikulus." She gives him a shock of red hair and a pair of round, black spectacles held together with white tape. He stumbles back in fury, knees caught up in the plaid skirt twining around his legs, and a laugh works its way free from Ginny's throat, the glass shattering.
Strange likeness, indeed.
The Boggart dances back away from her, searching out a new victim to terrorize. It turns into a shark, fluid body slicing through the air like water, and Ginny steps back into the crowd of students to watch. To hide, maybe, Tom's voice still buzzing in her ears.
Only not, because Tom is gone. She knows this. She's always known this, despite her clinging doubts. She is the only one here any more, the one left wondering…wondering if he made her something she never wanted to be.
She glances at the Boggart, now a miniature shark doing laps in a goldfish bowl.
Tom changed her, this she can't deny. He opened her eyes to things she would not have seen otherwise. He hardened her, made her more powerful, but no longer has the ability to manipulate her. Her actions and reasons are all her own.
"Who was that?" some of the girls want to know after Moody has wrestled the Boggart back into its wardrobe. "An ex-boyfriend?" they tease.
Ginny laughs, the wardrobe shuddering. "Something like that," she says, feeling her cheeks flush.
She walks out of the room, leaving Tom locked in the stones where he belongs.
Finally put in the past.
Harry Potter comes out of the final Triwizard challenge with a dead body clutched in his arms, and just like that, everything changes.
The grounds are in utter chaos, people shoving in panic. Ginny has long since lost hold of Smita's hand, but knows Tobias was with her. She tries to push forward to where she last caught a glimpse of Harry, searches for the gleam of familiar red hair, the comforting profile of her mother's face.
Instead she finds herself shunted back towards the stands, forced to step into the shadow under the seats to avoid being trampled.
There's a break in the crowd, and she sees Draco standing across the aisle.
For a moment, he looks a little lost, disconcerted among the crying, screaming crowds, the echo of Cedric and Potter and the Dark Lord gaining in intensity. Then he turns to find her watching him, his lips twisting into self-satisfaction, as if he has somehow been responsible for all of this.
She remembers the tick of fear that was there first though. Memorizes it.
Draco nudges the ever present Crabbe and Goyle, gesturing towards Ginny. It's blatant intimidation. She pretends for a moment she's on her broom and this is nothing more than a Quidditch match. Even with the chaos around them, he wouldn't dare try anything on her.
A hand closes on her shoulder, and she nearly jumps out of her skin.
"Ginny," George says, reeling her in. Fred is next to him, wand pulled and eyes on the crowd as if not sure what to expect any more.
Ginny steals a moment to glance back across the aisle, but Malfoy is gone.
"Come on, Gin," Fred says, pressing close to her other side. "Mum wants us to wait inside."
They walk her back up to the Castle, veering off for the Great Hall while everyone else is still milling around outside. She can just make out the echoes of hysterical voices rising up the hill, bouncing off the stones.
Inside, they settle in the neutral middle ground, taking seats at the Hufflepuff table.
A whole year of school and somehow Ginny's right back where everything started. Scared witless, feeling so damn small, but with her brothers pressed in on either side like a set of bookends.
Over the next hours, they watch people stream by in the entrance, students to their common rooms, ministry workers and professors, and even once when the hour is very very late, a Dementor.
Ginny draws back against George, feeling the frost ghost her skin, but for once, her ears remain clear. Quiet.
It's maybe another twenty minutes before Mum appears in the hall with Ron.
"Is it true?" Fred asks, jumping to his feet like a spring, all those hours of sitting still snapping in a moment.
Mum gives him a stern look. "Come along," she says, taking Ginny's hand.
But the twins aren't to be shaken off, not tonight. "Is You Know Who really back?" George demands.
Mum blusters and doesn't want to burden them, but if You Know Who could find his way to Harry, he can find his way to anyone.
Ron is the one to stop, to turn back and look at them, his face pale and uncharacteristically serious. "It's true. Harry saw him."
Mum spins to glare at him. "Ronald!"
For once, he doesn't look contrite, looking straight back at her like even he's beginning to grow up a little in the face of what's coming. "They deserve to know," he says.
Mum shakes her head, bustling them all out into the entranceway. "Off to bed with all of you."
As a unit they all turn toward the stairs. Ginny comes to a stop in the middle of the foyer. "Uh, Mum. My room is that way," she says, pointing in the opposite direction.
Mum stops, one foot almost comically lifted over the bottom stair. "Right," she says, looking flustered. Torn. She turns back towards Ginny. "Of course."
Fred drops an arm over Ron's shoulders and grins in a way that doesn't even begin to travel anywhere near his eyes. "Don't worry, Mum. We'll see little Ronnikins back to his bed."
"Tuck him in real nice," George agrees, patting Ron on the head.
Ron takes an indignant swipe at George, and Ginny wants to follow them with more sharpness than she's felt since her first day at Hogwarts.
Mum takes the time to kiss and hug each of them before letting them go up, and Ginny knows things have to be bad when they all let her with minimum fuss. Even Ron.
"Night, Gin," Ron says. She watches him walk away with one hand shoved hard in his pocket, no doubt tight around his wand, like he's waiting for something to jump out at him any moment.
Mum takes her hand, clearing her throat. She looks around. "I don't actually know where-."
Ginny nods. "This way."
She leads her down the stairs and under the grounds towards the lake, the air becoming cooler and humid in a way that has become familiar to Ginny. Mum is quiet, and Ginny tries not to let that put her even more on edge.
More than anything she wants to hear her Mum say everything's going to be okay, that You Know Who being out there isn't the end of everything, but Mum looks so pale and worried that Ginny doesn't dare ask.
"Is Harry all right?" Ginny asks instead as they stop in front of the entrance to her Common Room.
Mum's eyes are worried when she turns away from an intent inspection of the blank stone wall hiding the entrance to the Slytherin dorms. The smile she summons doesn't quite hide it. "Of course, dear. He's fine. They're only keeping him overnight in the infirmary to be certain."
Ginny gnaws on the inside of her cheek. "Will you go back and stay with him?"
Mum gives her an assessing look, like that one she uses sometimes to gauge if it's time to buy another pair of robes for her constantly growing sons. "Do you think I should?"
Ginny nods. She doesn't like the idea of Harry all alone in the infirmary, especially after what's happened. She knows if it was one of them, Mum couldn't have been forced to leave, by Dumbledore or anyone. "I think he'd like that."
Mum gives Ginny another smile, only this one is bright with something that makes Ginny's chest tight. She brushes her hair back from her face the way she used to when she was still a baby, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. "You're a good girl, Ginny," she says, fierce pride in her voice.
Ginny gives her a hug, lingering a second longer to breathe her in. "Good night, Mum."
She whispers the password into the wall and disappears inside. In the common room, not too many students are still up.
She's just turned into the hall leading to her room when she hears Draco's voice in the distance behind her.
"Too bad it wasn't Potter instead. Suppose it would have been too much to ask for both of them to snuff it."
Ginny freezes as their laughter jangles discordantly in her ears.
She's heard her brothers speak of 'seeing red', of reaching the end of their tether and losing it completely, but for her it's not really like that. Nothing snaps. Her vision doesn't change. It's more like a giant calm welling up in her, a sense of knowing, for once, exactly what she has to do.
You're a good girl, Ginny.
This is easy, this is concrete. Something she can fight, unlike the things that are unfolding outside, already pulling her family apart.
She turns on her heel and marches straight for Draco.
Draco pops up to his feet in surprise when he notices her—her furious pace—his companions much slower on the uptake. She doesn't stop striding towards him until she is right up in his face, pushing him hard in the middle of the chest. He falls back down to the couch with an exclamation of protest, his goons jumping to their feet on either side.
Ginny pulls her wand, hitting Goyle straight on with a bat-bogey hex and stepping back out of Crabbe's reach as he lunges for her. Just another Quidditch match, she tells herself. Another quick curse and she has Crabbe's arms bound, leaving Draco sitting wide-eyed on the couch by himself. (All that misery-fed studying paying off, and, oh, does life work in mysterious ways sometimes.)
She steps closer to Draco until she's standing over him and says what she should have the first time he laid a hand on her. "I'm not afraid of you, Malfoy. So if you want a fight, I'm more than happy to give you one."
She can tell he didn't expect her to fight back, to go on the offensive.
He's stuck now though, being called out. There aren't many people here to witness it, just a few Slytherin with no interest in spectacles or Triwizard Tournaments. (They have no idea still, no idea what has happened outside these walls, how everything has changed.) They watch on with various levels of indifference as if merely curious to see how this turns out rather than caring at all who wins. It gives Ginny the strange sensation that she's safe in here, safe in the knowledge that her housemates aren't blindly bound by rules.
It's the very last thing she ever thought to feel here.
Time stretches long, and Draco still hasn't reached for his wand, too frightened to act without his brutish friends. He seems to realize it too.
"You'll regret this, Weasley," Draco drawls, voice dripping with menace.
"No," she says, wand twisting in her fingers. "I don't think I will."
You're stronger than you know, Ginny.
It's the only thing Tom was ever right about.
She's no longer an easy target, and they both know it.
He proves her right when she turns her back on him—a risk, but a necessary one—and he does nothing other than sit and watch her walk away.
She passes by Theodora on her way out. Her eyes are glued to her book as if nothing untoward has happened, but Ginny thinks there is the slightest smirk playing at her lips as she reads.
You're left deciding that for yourself.
Not if You Know Who has anything to say about it.
Ginny feels her own grim smile slip.
She turns down the hall and heads for her room.
A week later they all go home, whispers and rumors and lies twining and building like a gossamer web.
Slytherin's brightest son has been reborn.
Ginny waits along with everyone else to see what that will mean.