Percy doesn't slam the door as he leaves, probably only because it would be too undignified. The Burrow still manages to ring with his departure, the nasty things he said lingering in the air.
Dumbledore. Harry. Liars. Fools.
He'd taken all his things with him. All evidence of his existence gone, leaving his room empty like a giant ripped out hole.
Down in the kitchen, Mum is quietly weeping, Dad's voice low and hollow as he tries to console her. Tries to pretend his middle son hadn't just called him a disgrace and a failure.
You're picking the wrong side.
Fred and George, eavesdropping from the stairwell, turn to each other with matching rage.
"Slimy, overly ambitious little prick."
George's scowl is feral. "Sorting hat must've had an off day, day it put that twat into Gryffindor."
Fred huffs in agreement. "Better off in Slytherin."
One flight above them, Ginny silently shifts up off the steps and disappears into her room.
Strange owls arrive at the Burrow at all hours that summer. The only thing more plentiful are the visits of various wizards at weird hours, some Ginny recognizes, some she's never seen before. The children are told to stick close to the house, and not even Fred and George have the heart to argue with Mum over it.
They never speak of Percy.
They don't speak about a lot of things actually.
Ginny reads the papers, pulls them out of the bin when no one is looking, but they seem normal enough to her. Forecasts and politics and coupons. She lets herself wonder for a moment if Percy had been right. Because if terrible things are happening, evil wizards reborn, wouldn't that be in the papers?
Only then she'll catch sight of her father's exhaustion, the way Mum's eyes never stray far from her clock, and remembers Ron's face the night of the final Triwizard challenge.
It's true. Harry saw him.
Ginny doesn't doubt it, not really. It's just that she always thought that if the most evil wizard of all time came back to life, there'd be big fights and stirring speeches, good lining up against evil. This seems too…quiet.
Hermione shows up on their doorstep less than two weeks into break. If Ginny really needed more proof that things aren't right, now she has it.
"I just couldn't sit there and pretend nothing had happened," Hermione says, lifting a stack of clothes out of her trunk.
"What did you tell your parents?" Ginny wants to know, thinking of Mr. Granger's pleasant face and honest discomfort with a life he will never fully understand. Never fully be a part of.
There's going to be a war.
Hermione glances at the newspapers spread across Ginny's bed. "Not the truth."
Of course not.
Hermione's only been at the Burrow a week when Mum and Dad give them the news over supper.
"We're leaving the Burrow," Dad says.
Mum's hand is in his, creating a united front. "It isn't safe here any longer."
This is inconceivable, the idea that the Burrow could be anything other than the safest place in the world. But there are wizards appearing in the fire in the middle of the night, special charms around the perimeter of their property that her parents probably thought they wouldn't notice.
"Where are we going?" Ron asks, sharing one of his unsubtle looks with Hermione.
"To stay at the home of one of the members of the Order," Dad says. "Dumbledore has arranged it."
"Whose house?" Fred asks, picking up on Dad's deliberate vagueness.
Mum and Dad share a glance. "Sirius Black."
Ginny feels her stomach drop, remembering his face screaming out at them from posters.
"Sirius Black?" Fred echoes. "The Sirius Black who tried to kill Harry last year?"
"Year before that," George corrects. "Last year it was Mad-Eye."
Fred considers that. "Fake Mad-Eye."
"Right. I can never keep track, who's trying to kill Harry at any given time."
Fred nods. "Quite the thing apparently. Like a sport club."
"Wonder if they have blazers?"
Dad clears his throat. "Boys," he says. If you give Fred and George any steam at all, they can go on forever.
"I don't understand," Ginny says, something she's wanted to admit all summer long.
Mum reaches over and pats Ginny's hand as if to comfort her, like a young child in danger of being hysterically confused by the adult things around her. "It's a long story, but Sirius Black is on our side. He's part of the Order."
Ginny glances at Hermione and Ron, noticing that neither of them look remotely surprised. "Since when?" she asks, her voice rising in pitch.
Dad meets her eyes steadily. "He always has been. It was all a misunderstanding."
A misunderstanding? Murdering all those Muggles and breaking out of Azkaban and trying to kill Harry and her brother too by accident? Ginny isn't sure who, but she's convinced someone here is cracked. Maybe it's her.
"We'll explain more later," Dad says, pushing up from the table and officially ending the conversation. "For now we need you all to pack and be ready to leave for London in the morning."
Fred and George look delighted. "Spend the rest of the summer at a deranged mass-murderer's house in the city? Wicked."
"Lee is going to be so jealous."
It's only later that they realize just how protected the location is, that not only are they not allowed to tell anyone about it, but that they couldn't even if they wanted to. Secret-keepers and powerful spells, and Ginny is still looking for a war that doesn't seem to be coming.
She doesn't understand. Not why they are moving, what these meetings of strange wizards are about, why Percy left.
And still they don't talk about it.
It's hard to imagine a place more different from the Burrow than Grimmauld Place. Here everything is grand and opulent, a sort of elegance gone to seed like an abandoned formal garden. While the Burrow is made of hearth stone and scarred wood and sturdy tweed, patched and repaired and lovingly kept, the Black mansion is a gossamer web of marbles and velvets and fabrics Ginny can't name, each worn thin and clogged with dust. She begins to forget what color feels like after a few days, surrounded as she is by moaning silences and stifling shadows.
It's a place of secrets, Grimmauld Place, feels built on those shuddering foundations. Ginny supposes it's only right that it should serve as the Order's headquarters. Order of the Phoenix, they call themselves, and she wonders at the symbolism there, what they are rising from, wonders what Smita might say of it, these people apparently driven here by lies and truths they won't speak of.
She tries asking sometimes, asking why the papers are calling Harry a liar and Dumbledore a fool. Mum just sends her on her way, Ron and Hermione sharing dark looks behind her back.
"Nothing for you to worry about, dear," Mum says, over and over like she's trying hard to believe it.
Ginny writes long letters to Smita. Some complaining about her parents and the house and the doxy bite on her finger that just won't heal. Some about phoenixes and meetings and Fred and George whispering in the halls. Once, she writes nearly 30 inches about an imaginary summer spent at the Burrow running drills in the paddock and swimming in the river and a tiny room with a view over trees and space.
She wonders when the lies became more believable than the truths.
She even tries to write Percy a letter once, but doesn't get any farther than, You prat…, thinking of the way he made Mum cry.
She sends Smita the letter built on make-believe and burns the rest one by one in the hearth fire with Kreacher's beady eyes drilling in her back.
She gradually gets used to seeing Sirius Black in the halls and not have her heart beat out of her chest in fear. He's just as worn and furious and full of fractured energy as he seemed in his pictures back when he was trying to kill Harry. (Only not, she's been told, but not much else.) She isn't sure what it means that it's when Sirius smiles that she feels a true ripple of unease.
There are other wizards around too. Worn Professor Lupin and twitchy Mad-Eye (the real one). And even some young ones, like Tonks. She's one of the only people who can get anyone to laugh any more. The others just walk past like Ginny isn't even there.
The first time Ginny realizes Professor Snape is in the Order as well, she comes across him in the hallway. He's standing with Sirius, the two of them sniping at each other like schoolboys who never quite grew up.
Sirius is clearly on edge, like he's one more word away from losing his temper completely. It's Snape who is all cool surfaces that remind Ginny uncomfortably of Smita if not for the cutting edge to his clipped words. She wonders what it would take for Smita to ever be that vicious.
She steps into the hall with heavy, trudging steps, breaking the two men apart. Sirius glances at her and with one last scowl at Snape, disappears further back into the building, leaving her alone with Snape.
"Professor," Ginny says politely because for all she has learned to resent Snape, he's her head of house, her teacher.
"Miss Weasley," he says, head inclining the perfect amount like he's practiced it.
She nods in response, and idly wonders what the Malfoys would think if they knew he was here.
"Did you say something?" Snape asks, eyebrow lifting.
There's a slight buzz in her ear, but she brushes it off with a firm shake of her head. "No, sir."
She slides past him, taking the stairs two at a time, and bumps right into Ron and Hermione on the next landing.
She can't quite look either of them in the eye.
Dumbledore himself shows up one afternoon, setting both Ron and Hermione down for a serious talk about what they can and can't put in their letters to Harry.
Ginny doesn't consider it eavesdropping, not really. She's just field-testing Fred and George's latest invention: extendable ears. It has nothing to do with getting answers to things people refuse to explain.
Even so, the conversation doesn't make anything any clearer, the three of them seeming to speak in some code she isn't initiated in.
Dumbledore comes out first, so suddenly and quietly that Ginny is still practically standing against the door. She tugs the extendable ear, the flesh colored string disappearing up into her sleeve. She considers trying to scramble away, but has learned well enough what looks guilty and what can be played through. Besides, Dumbledore is a busy, somewhat mental wizard. He may not even notice her.
"Miss Weasley," Dumbledore says, his eyes unerringly finding her in the dim hallway as if he knew she were there all along.
So much for that theory.
"Headmaster," Ginny says with a nod of her head she hopes looks innocent and respectful.
He doesn't seem particularly interested in scolding her, so she expects him to move on, to walk past her like all the other Order members do, but he surprises her by lingering. "How have you found your holiday thus far, Miss Weasley?"
It's a polite inquiry, and she knows she's supposed to say something like, "Fine, sir," or "Pleasantly free of homework, sir," but all she can think of are secret meetings, closed doors, and furious whispers. The way people here have conversations that seem to be about anything other than the actual words said.
So instead, Ginny frowns and says, "Confusing."
Both of Dumbledore's eyebrows lift, eyes sparkling behind his glasses as if this were the most brilliant thing to say and not something stupid and childish.
He nods, leaning slightly towards her like a conspirator. "I am pleased to know I am in such good company."
Ginny stares back at him, not sure if she should find the idea of someone like Dumbledore confused comforting or simply terrifying.
"Perhaps the rest of the season shall be more elucidating," he says, smiling and taking his leave of her.
Ginny feels a shiver travel down her spine. Somehow that that possibility seems as unsettling as confusion.
Harry arrives three weeks into their stay. In many ways it's like a storm long on the horizon finally breaking, his anger snapping through the gloom as his voice shakes the walls of Grimmauld Place. She envies him his temper tantrum, just the littlest bit. He rages and slams and demands the very answers she's wanted all along.
She thinks she may finally get some of them too, as they all sit in the kitchen and listen to Sirius explain why everyone thinks Harry is a liar. She watches Harry's expressive face harden to stone and remembers what it feels like to have the entire world spin against you.
Mum sends her away though, when Sirius finally starts talking about the Order and their secrets. Sends her to bed like a little girl. She doesn't go with any sort of grace, dragging her feet, silently raging.
She doesn't know whether to be insulted or satisfied that Mum takes the precaution of locking her in her room. She clearly knows about the eavesdropping. She at least has the presence of mind not to say, 'This is for your own good.'
Ginny sits in her room and fantasizes about grabbing a broom and slipping out the window and never bothering to come back.
Too bad fantasies never amount to anything.
"Tell me," Ginny says into the dark later that night, knowing Hermione isn't really sleeping.
There is a pause. "Tell you what?"
Ginny rolls over to look at her. "All of it."
She pretends not to see the uncertainty flicker across Hermione's face, the moment of doubt. Doesn't let herself analyze if that is concern for her tender age (as if), or if this is something else entirely. Like maybe distrust.
"Please," Ginny says, hating herself for the pleading in her voice.
Hermione starts to whisper.
Harry quickly settles in with the rest of them, alternating between fruitlessly trying to spy on the Order and even more fruitlessly trying to avoid having to clean. With all the bedrooms done, they've moved on to a strange collection of seemingly purposeless rooms. Ginny supposes the rich need to invent something to do with all the extra space.
It's only an hour or so after lunch when Mum gets pulled away to speak with someone in the Order. She hasn't been gone for all of a minute when Fred and George disapparate back to their rooms with a pop, leaving Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Harry to clean the dingy solarium on their own.
"Wankers," Ron mutters.
Ginny grunts in agreement, thinking she's really going to like being seventeen and able to use magic whenever she pleases.
Ron rather carelessly flips up the cover on a rickety roll top desk.
Hermione smacks his arm. "Careful! We have no idea what might be in there!"
"Yeah," Ron says dismissively, picking up an old-fashioned fountain pen. "Real evil, these manky old things."
The pen explodes in Ron's face.
Ron howls in complaint, glumpy ink streaming out of his eye. Ginny and Harry rush to their feet, but Hermione is already there, pressing a handkerchief to Ron's face even as she scolds him. Ginny's torn between laughing and being concerned, rather unsuccessfully hiding a snort in her sleeve when it's clear Ron isn't in imminent danger of anything other than looking ridiculous.
"We should take him downstairs," Hermione says, heaving Ron to his feet and pulling him towards the door.
Harry glances back at Ginny uncertainly. "I'll stay," he says, probably deciding that leaving Ginny alone with a room full of things with the potential to explode in her face is not such a great idea. Still, his tone makes it clear enough that he'd rather not be stuck here with her. Of course, she'd pretty much rather be anywhere else in the world herself right about now, so she supposes she can't really take it personally.
Hermione nods, steering Ron out into the hall, the echo of his moaning trailing after them.
Ginny sits back down, flicking an embroidered cushion towards the bin. "Safety in numbers," she barks, channeling Mad-Eye.
Harry jerks around, looking at her with surprise.
"What?" she asks, shaking a cobweb off her fingers. This place is disgusting.
"You sounded just like him."
Ginny shrugs. "You should hear my Madam Pince."
He gives her strange look like maybe he's amused against his will. Ginny rolls her eyes and goes back to cleaning.
They work in silence except for the occasional "Yuck" or sound of something crashing into the dustbin. Kreacher wanders in once just long enough to pin Ginny with beady eyes and mumble something about the youngest blood traitor mongrel.
Ginny stares back at him with her best icy, Theodora-inspired glare.
Once he's gone, Ginny pulls a small dusty chest out of the rotting armoire. It's an ugly little thing, really, the outside rusted and faded and she can't quite even tell if it's wood or metal. It just feels wrong in her hands. As she moves to put it aside, her thumb brushes the front clasp, and the lid springs open without a sound.
Ginny traces the fine scalloped edge with a finger, her eyes drawn to the rich red velvet lining the inside. Blinking slowly, she sits back on her heels, a hum building in her mind. It's beautiful and soft and so easy, her body relaxing, limbs feeling boneless.
It's all so nice. The space between thoughts growing longer and softer and-.
The lid slams shut, Ginny jerking awake.
Harry is standing over her, his hand on the back of the box. "Ginny?" he asks, peering down at her. "Are you okay?"
She swallows hard against the bitterness at the back of her throat.
"You were just kind of…staring."
She nods. "I think it's cursed," she says, hating the slight wobble in her voice. She lets Harry take it from her, set it aside for someone else to deal with. It occurs to her how stupid it is to be doing this without Fred and George here, seeing as how neither of them can even use their wands.
She wipes her clammy palms on her jeans as if to rid herself of the feel of rusty metal. It's not that the trance was so terrible as much as how familiar it had felt, like a ghost walking on her grave. It's the one thing she hasn't let herself really think about, the fact that Voldemort being alive again means that Tom is alive again too.
Ginny's heart stutters in her chest.
Harry has gone back to work, but keeps sending her concerned looks back over his shoulder. She forces herself to move on to the next shelf, tipping a collection of dusty buttons and thimbles carefully into a bag.
"Looking forward to Quidditch this year?" Harry asks after a while, clearly trying to lighten the mood.
Ginny nods, thankful for the change in topic. "More than you know."
"I suppose we'll both have new captains this year." Oliver Wood and Marcus Flint had graduated at the end of the last year.
Ginny can only pray that Bletchley will get it, because if the badge goes to Draco, she doesn't have a chance in hell of getting on the squad again.
She groans, dropping her face in her hands. Harry may be a shoo-in no matter who is captain of the Gryffindor team, but Ginny knows just how close she'd been not to making it in the first place.
"What?" Harry asks.
She shakes her head. "I haven't been able to run any drills this summer. Trials are going to be a disaster."
"You're the highest scorer on your team," Harry says. "It would be completely mental not to keep you."
Ginny turns, looking at Harry in surprise.
He shrugs. "Wood kept statistics on everyone. Made us all memorize them."
"Of course he did," she says with smirk, remembering all the stories the twins used to tell about the obsessive Gryffindor keeper.
Harry smiles. "Well, you know what Mad-Eye would say."
Ginny thinks she might. "Know your enemy?"
Harry's smile fades, his eyebrows drawing together. "Something like that."
"Ginny?" Mum's voice travels up the stairs.
Ginny's heart lurches. "Oh, no."
"What?" Harry asks, looking around for another malicious item.
Ginny tosses a mysteriously stained tea cloth into the bin. "Mum," Ginny clarifies, glancing at the wardrobe and wondering if it would be big enough to hide in, or if it might just vanish her a convenient distance away. "She's been trying to give me knitting lessons all summer."
"Knitting?" Harry echoes, looking torn between amusement and confusion.
She nods, horror welling in her chest.
Mum appears in the doorway, hands on her hips and disapproval in her eye. "There you are, Ginny. You were supposed to come help me half an hour ago."
Something Ginny had worked hard to conveniently forget yet again. She's not sure she'll be able to get away with this time. Where's an exploding pen when you need one?
"Sorry, Mrs. Weasley," Harry interjects, eyes wide. "It's my fault. I thought it would be safer if none of us cleaned alone." He darts a glance at Ginny. "Safety in numbers, you know."
Mum's expression softens, and it occurs to Ginny that Harry is more than aware of his effect on Mum, and clearly isn't above using it. "Oh! Of course, dear. That is a very wise precaution. Ginny can help me later."
She beams at Ginny then, for her seeming forethought of keeping Harry safe.
All in all, rather brilliantly done.
Still, Harry looks just a little too pleased with himself after Mum leaves, so Ginny can't help it. Pressing one hand to her chest, she says, "My hero," in a breathy voice.
Harry blinks back at her, looking seriously disturbed, until Ginny can't hold it in any more and starts to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Ron demands, reappearing in the doorway with Hermione. He's still got one hand slapped to his eye, the skin around red as if from fresh scrubbing.
"Nothing," Ginny says, dismissing him with a wave.
Ron frowns, sitting down on a moth-eaten chaise. "I really hate this bloody house."
Ginny turns back to the armoire. "Constant vigilance!" she barks.
Behind her, she hears Harry snigger.
The rest of the summer settles into a mind-numbing sort of regularity as they conquer the house one dusty, dangerous room at a time. Judging from the equally dangerous bangs and smells emanating from the twins' room, their own secret projects are progressing as well.
Soon enough, their letters arrive and it's time to pack for school.
Ginny decides to clean out her trunk properly, something she hasn't really done since the first time she packed for Hogwarts. Cleaning has apparently become second nature after all these weeks. Mum would be so proud. Even if Ginny still hasn't been trapped into a single knitting lesson.
Tonks is helping her, partly to amuse Ginny with her favorite funny faces, but also because she just broke something in the kitchen, and Mum had not so politely asked her to be anywhere that was not near her. It's nice to know Ginny isn't the only one Mum finds to be lacking in domestic usefulness.
Digging into her school trunk is a little like excavating her life at Hogwarts. Clothes, books, potion supplies, quills, and parchment on the top. Midway through, her Quidditch gear. Ginny refolds them carefully and sets them aside with a painful sort of yearning. It's only at the very bottom of her trunk that she finds the Gryffindor scarf Mum had made her first year. Pulling it out, Ginny can see a black ink stain spread across the yellow and burgundy stripes.
Tonks takes the scarf from Ginny, siphoning away the stubborn ink with a few jerky pulls of her wand. She tries to give it back, but Ginny shakes her head.
"Put it with Hermione's things," Ginny says. It's not like she'll ever have a use for it.
Tonks tucks it into Hermione's disturbingly organized trunk without comment.
Ginny watches as Tonks scours out the bottom of the trunk and then starts piling her stuff back in.
"My mother was in Slytherin," Tonks remarks.
Ginny looks for censure, for motive, but Tonks just stares back at her with this fact floating between them like the unmatched pair of socks currently being more tortured than folded under the guidance of Tonks' wand.
"Yeah?" Ginny says, tucking her green scarf and gloves into her cauldron.
"Yeah." Tonks flicks her wrist and the socks zoom into her trunk.
"Was she disappointed?" Ginny asks, tripping over the words in a belated attempt to be delicate.
"That I was sorted into Hufflepuff?" Tonks finishes for her.
Ginny doesn't manage to hide her flinch. "Yeah."
Tonks shakes her head. "Why would she be? It's just a house." Screwing up her eyes in concentration, she makes her hair run long and silver, the sheen of green woven in.
If only it were really that easy.
At King's Cross, they all pile on to the train together, Mum making a slightly bigger deal of hugging and kissing them all repeatedly. Once on board, the twins take off with Lee immediately, Hermione and Ron splitting off to their special prefect compartment with apologetic glances at Harry.
Harry looks like he's trying to ignore it, but still seems a little lost without the other two. Added to that, other students are openly staring, whispering as they pass, and Ginny hesitates taking off in her own direction. She doesn't know why she bothers, it's not like Harry's going to follow her to the Slytherin section even if she offered.
Harry spots another boy in his year then, looking relieved when he lifts a hand in honest pleasure to see him.
"I'm going to…," Harry says, gesturing down the train.
Ginny smiles. "Of course. I'm off myself," she says, canting her head in the other direction.
"Okay then," he says. "See you around."
Only they both know probably not.
Ginny drags her trunks down past a couple compartments of Ravenclaws, but doesn't see Luna among them, so doesn't pause to say hello. Almost to the front of the train she starts seeing more familiar faces of people in her house, waving every once and a while. She passes Draco's crowd in silence.
She sees Bletchley just long enough to catch sight of a gold captain's badge on his chest and breathes a giant sigh of relief.
Further down, Smita appears out of a compartment. "Ginny."
"Hey," Ginny says, drawing the other girl into a hug. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," she says, pulling back and giving Ginny a speculative look. "Curious, mostly."
"Curious?" Ginny asks, reaching down to lift her trunk up on to a rack.
"Yeah. About whatever it is you really did this summer."
Ginny freezes, almost losing hold on her trunk. Smita steps up next to her and helps her settle it. Ginny had sent the letter full of lies because she couldn't very well have told the truth. If she'd sent nothing, Smita would have worried. It seems she needn't have bothered.
"That obvious, huh?"
"Well," Smita says, lips twitching, and somehow it's like no time has passed since they've seen each other. "You're never that cheerful."
Ginny laughs. "Dead give away."
Smita nods, eyes sparkling with mirth. "Definitely."
The compartment door slides open. "Oi. You birds going to spend the entire trip out here gossiping?"
Ginny turns to see Tobias half hanging out in the hallway. "Why, are you feeling left out? We know how much you love gossip."
He glares at her, and she smiles back as if he hadn't, and that's pretty much a fitting enough welcome after a summer apart.
"We'll be right in," Smita says.
Tobias waggles his eyebrows at her and ducks back inside.
"We can talk about your mystery summer later," Smita says.
Ginny nods, feeling relieved and not knowing why.
Inside the compartment there's a collection of fourth and third year boys in the middle of a rather pitched game of exploding snap. They're swapping more insults than cards, not rowdy like her brothers might be, but methodical and cutting. Ginny thinks the real skill being admired here is who can weave the most subtle insult rather than the turn of a card.
None of them look up from the game, so Ginny doesn't bother saying hello, instead sitting down with Smita near some other girls.
"Hi, Ginny," one of the third year girls says.
Ginny smiles. "Hey, Caroline. Have a nice summer?"
Caroline pulls a face before straightening back up as if automatically expecting a rebuke. "It was fine, I suppose."
The girl sitting next to her touches Caroline's knee as if in comfort.
"Tori got a new instrument this summer though," Caroline says, brightening and turning to her companion.
Astoria (apparently only Caroline can get away with calling her Tori) darts a glance at the boys, but they are still paying the rest of them no attention at all.
Late at night when the Slytherin dorm was quiet, sometimes you could hear the deep vibration of cello coming from somewhere, like the rich tenor of a human voice in the darkness. Ginny's heard rumors about Astoria and her musical talent, even if it is rarely acknowledged outside the safety of the dorms.
"What sort of instrument?" Smita asks, leaning in and lowering her voice.
Astoria pulls open a small case, no larger than a lunch box, letting them look inside. Ginny can just make out the golden glint of a bowed spine, taut strings plunging down into the bottomless space below.
"A harp," she says, eyes sparkling. "My father brought it back to me from the continent."
"Oh?" Smita asks. "Was he traveling?"
Astoria's delicate skin flushes ever so slightly. "On business."
There's just enough of a hesitation for Ginny to know she's lying, but not enough to know why.
Ginny smiles. "I can't wait to hear you play it."
"Oh, no," Astoria says, shaking her head. "I'm still just learning."
They move on to more innocuous topics then, Ginny spinning her own tales of long afternoons spent on a broom in the orchards. Smita lets the lies slide by, Caroline looking on in rapt envy.
Maybe she'll show up at trials his year, but Ginny somehow doubts it. Apparently Caroline's mum doesn't think Quidditch is appropriate for girls. Ginny still remembers Caroline as a first year, eyes wide with wonder as she stared at Ginny, the first girl on the Slytherin team in a decade. It's a sad reminder of just how quickly things can change.
At the other end of the compartment, the boys' card game ends in a shower of sparks, money and goods and insults changing hands.
Tobias drops down between Caroline and Astoria, hooking his arms over their shoulders. "And what are we talking about?" he asks, looking flush with victory.
Astoria turns her cool eyes on Tobias. "New curses we learned over the summer."
Tobias laughs, carefully removing his hand from Astoria's shoulder one finger at a time. "Roger that."
"Stupid berk," Ginny mutters with amusement.
"Now, Ginevra," Tobias says. "Don't be jealous. I'd let you curse me anytime."
The girls all roll their eyes.
And just like that, she's home.
The Sorting Hat is on a roll this year. Ginny doesn't think she's ever heard it sing a song quite so long before. The first years shift nervously as everyone else's stomachs growl.
"Get on with it," Tobias grumbles.
For her part, Ginny is actually more interested in what the hat is saying than she has been before. (It's possible she still hadn't quite forgiven the hat, as childish as that might be.) Mostly because the hat seems to be wandering into new territory this year.
Oh, know the perils, read the signs,
the warning history shows,
for our Hogwarts is in danger
from external, deadly foes
And we must unite inside her
or we'll crumble from within
I have told you, I have warned you...
let the Sorting now begin.
Ginny glances around, wondering how the other students will take this rather unexpected warning, but most of them are glassy-eyed by now, or whispering to friends they haven't seen in long months. This warning of dire peril seems to have gone over their heads entirely. She supposes she can't really blame them for that.
Eventually the last student is sorted, and Tobias is rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the feast. He's going to have to wait even longer though, because the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor strong-arms her way up to the podium, an amused Dumbledore looking on.
"Oh, come on," Tobias complains.
She's wearing all pink and her voice sounds exactly like someone swathed in pink should sound like, all giggles and squeaks and talking to them like they are toddlers. She blathers on about change and pruning and improving, and after a while Ginny starts looking to Dumbledore for a reaction, but he's as serene as always, bouncing a little on his heels like he might be humming to himself.
Umbridge eventually trails off, pausing expectantly as if for applause. There's a polite smattering from the Hufflepuff table, Tobias starting at the noise as if being woken from a trance.
"What was that?" Smita mutters.
Ginny shakes her head, just as confused as Smita.
The food appears then and they quickly forget the insanity that is Dolores Umbridge.
Happily stuffed and sporting ten new first years, the Slytherin work their way down to the dorms. She passes near Draco and his cronies, just close enough to see them with their heads lowered together and their eyes hostile, occasionally glancing in her direction. Ginny knows Draco's days of openly tormenting her are over, but that doesn't mean she isn't going to have to watch her back.
She glares right back at them and refuses to look nervous. It's all she can do at this point.
As they near the dorms, Ginny feels tension building up in her neck, her steps seeming to drag slower and slower. She braces herself as she steps into the common room.
It looks exactly the same.
"Ginny?" Smita asks, turning back to look at her.
She's not sure what she expected, giant banners and dark marks, secret hand signals and whispered meetings. Really, what could be more ridiculous?
Ginny shakes her head and follows Smita into their room.
Ginny wakes every morning and checks the board in the common room. There's no announcement for trials the first week. Other than saying 'hi' once when they nearly bumped into each other in the hall, Ginny hasn't spoken to Bletchley. It's making her a little crazy.
She does go down to the pitch every day after classes and run through a series of drills on her broom, trying to blow the dust off of a long year and summer with no Quidditch. She pushes herself until her stomach growls in protest, and slides into the Great Hall just in time not to completely miss dinner.
In the evenings, Ginny tries not to fall asleep from exhaustion and slugs through the piles of homework the professors are gleefully piling on them.
Near the end of the first week, Tobias nudges her in the ribs. "I hear Potter lost it in Umbridge's class."
Ginny squints down at her essay on Switching Spells, not really keen on splitting her attention. "What?"
He nudges her in the ribs again, clearly looking for a riveted audience. "Started shouting about the Dark Lord being back and killing Diggory."
Ginny looks up at Tobias. "Really?"
She remembers the look on Harry's face as Lupin and the others explained why everyone thinks he and Dumbledore are nutters. She isn't really surprised that he'd lost it. She just isn't sure that's the best tactic.
"Mental," Tobias says, shaking his head.
"What did she do?" Smita asks.
Tobias waves his hand dismissively. "Oh, gave him a zillion hours of detention, writing lines, apparently."
They laugh, knowing that can't be fun, but at least it isn't going into the Forbidden Forest or scrubbing toilets.
"But I heard she lost her temper too," Tobias adds, looking thoughtful. "Would have liked to have seen that."
Ginny makes a vague sound of agreement. She has more pressing interests than pink dressed professors and Harry Potter's detentions.
Finally on Saturday, the announcement goes up on the board. Quidditch trials will be held on Wednesday afternoon.
When the time comes, Ginny lines up with all of the other Quidditch hopefuls, trying to ignore how much taller most of them are. Bletchley gives her a weird look as he walks out onto to pitch, but she doesn't really have any attention left to give it, too focused on the task at hand, on refusing to be intimidated.
Bletchley starts by putting the few people trying for reserve keeper up in front of the rings. "Weasley," he calls out.
"Yes?" she says, stepping forward, trying not to look like he's startled her.
He jerks his head up towards the far rings where the prospective keepers are hovering. "Give 'em each five shots."
She nods, ignoring the grumbling around her, scrambling up onto her broom. Up in the air, everything is easier. She gives each keeper a tentative first shot, just to sweat out their weaknesses, increasing the difficulty with each shot. Few of them stop her second shot, and only one her third. None of them even get a hand on her fourth or fifth.
By the time she's done, there is a trickle of sweat running down her back, and all she wants is more.
Bletchley calls them back down, taking the position in front of the goal himself. He gives each of the prospective chasers five shots, stopping most of them easily. A few times he has to stretch all the way out, barely batting down a shot. One of them was thrown by Warrington, but Ginny's always known he is good, when he actually focuses his mind properly. A few others are a bit of a surprise, and Ginny does her best to keep an eye on them.
When it's time for her turn, Ginny doesn't bother with the tentative shots, varying the angles and approaches and speed with each turn. Bletchley has to be exhausted by now after going through ten series already, which probably explains the two shots she manages to sneak by him.
A few of the other players give her nasty looks, talking behind their hands as they wait for the rest of the trials to finish.
The beaters are a predictable group of brutes of various levels of clumsiness. Disappointingly, she can't see any that have any sense of finesse or cleverness that can be a huge asset at that position. Still, there are a few with promise, even though it is pretty clear that Bletchley is going to go with Crabbe and Goyle. There has to be some benefit to being friends with Draco after all.
Ginny carefully refrains from making any faces when she realizes that there won't even be a trial for the seeker position. Draco and those damn brooms.
Bletchley comes up next to Ginny at the end of the trials. "So what do you think, Six?"
She thinks back to the keepers she'd run drills against. None of them had been that great, few of them even managing to stop one of her shots. Not that it matters as long as they have Bletchley. She shrugs. "Martin and Gilbert could be good in a few years."
Bletchley gives her a look like she's being stupid. "For the other two chasers, nit."
She stares back at him in surprise, but not for long, forcing herself to answer the question despite the part of her running around in her brain jumping up and down in pure excitement. Other two chasers.
"Thompson," she says, the decision perfectly clear to her. He's two years older than Ginny and has been on the reserve team for a while. He's not flashy, won't ever play professionally, but he has a steady head on his shoulders and, even more importantly, doesn't seem to resent Ginny the fact that she apparently has Bletchley's ear.
He nods, looking thoughtful. "And Warrington?"
She's still a little surprised to find that he actually follows her advice when the team roster goes up on the board in the common room. Glancing at the list, she would have hoped for a better seeker and maybe some cleverer beaters, but as it is, the team does have a promising sort of balance.
Maybe this will be their year.
Everything seems just a little more doable, now that her Quidditch fate is decided. It's been her anchor before, and she's thankful to have that again. If there had been some other reason to cancel Quidditch this year, Ginny might have lost it.
Ginny's on her way out to practice when Hermione waves her down. Her hair is flying about her head, and she's slightly out of breath like she's been running around the castle.
"Hermione?" Ginny asks, surprised by the intent gleam in her eye—the one she usually reserves for trying to talk Ron out of mischief.
"We're going to have a meeting at the Hog's Head next Saturday," she says, voice hushed and eyes darting back and forth.
The Hog's Head? What was this, a dare? "What kind of meeting?"
Hermione's voice lowers even further. "We want to start a defense club."
Ginny's eyebrows shoot up.
"Well," Hermione says waspishly, "we all know Umbridge's class is useless."
"True," Ginny is forced to admit. But she's not sure taking on more work in their free time is really the answer. It's just like Hermione to start an academic club in the face of an incompetent teacher. She must be worried about her OWLs.
Hermione leans in closer to Ginny, expression hardening. "You know why this is important."
Ginny's lips press together, knowing exactly what Hermione is trying to refer to. The only problem is that Ginny isn't sure she does know why this is important. All she knows is what Hermione shared that one night, vague inferences about secret weapons and Order members taking shifts guarding Harry. A Dark Lord supposedly returned from the dead but completely absent.
Things at Hogwarts are ever as they have been and shouldn't that mean something?
"I'll see you then?" Hermione asks, her attention already distracted by trying to unobtrusively wave down a fifth year Hufflepuff girl.
She doesn't linger to hear Ginny's agreement. Ginny watches her go, gnawing on her lip a moment before shaking herself out of it. She doesn't have time to work out Hermione's quirks right now.
There are more important problems afoot, like being late to Quidditch.
Ginny pretty much ignores Educational Decree number 23 when it appears all over the castle. What does she care about a High Inquisitor?
Maybe if she had paid it a little more attention, she wouldn't have been surprised to see Umbridge sashay into Professor's Burbage's classroom during their Muggle Studies lesson. (Muggle banking systems and making money appear from nothing and disappear from people's pockets. She thought Muggles didn't believe in magic.)
Umbridge arrives late, and that's annoying, but maybe something even more since Burbage does her best to pretend Umbridge is even here, her spine straightening and voice rising.
Umbridge is undeterred though, clearing her throat with that annoying little ahem that Ginny is going to enjoy practicing later.
"As High Inquisitor," Umbridge says, speaking over Burbage, her sickly sweet voice somehow managing to drown her out, "I am evaluating all of the professors." She smiles. "We must make sure educational standards are being met."
Burbage sucks in a breath and nods. "I received your note, Dolores. Now may I continue?"
Umbridge's smile slips, her head lowering down to the clipboard in her hands. She jots down a note of some kind, seeming to take a long time doing it. Only after a protracted couple of minute pass, during which the students are all glancing around at each other in wonderment at the turn of events, does Umbridge finally nod and say, "Proceed."
Burbage's gaze sweeps across the classroom, the students falling silent again. Burbage isn't MacGonagall by any means, but they all like her enough to instantly be on her side in what seems to be some sort of strange battle.
"Now," Burbage says, "Where were we?"
Ginny can see it now, under the uncharacteristic stiffness—Burbage is shaken.
Tobias raises his hand, a rare enough occurrence. But he's always had a soft spot for Burbage. "You were talking about the machines the Muggles use to keep their money in." He gives Smita an exaggerated nudge, lifting his hand to his mouth in an elaborate aside. "Sounds safer than dealing with Goblins."
The class titters nervously, but Tobias playing the ass has the effect of breaking the tension.
Burbage smiles, some of her typical warmth and good humor appearing again. "Thank you, Tobias. Though we must remember that like Muggles, Goblins have their own unique culture that is often misunderstood by wizards."
Abnormally loud sounds of scribbling echoes from the back of the room. Ginny glances behind her to see Umbridge shaking her head and furiously writing notes.
Having recovered her poise though, Burbage seems to refuse to let Umbridge unsettle her again. She pushes ahead with every appearance of ignoring the intrusion entirely, and the students do their best to follow suit.
"All right, students. Good work today," Burbage says at the end of the hour. "Remember that you owe me ten inches on Muggle credit and lending practices next class!"
In noisy rush, the students gather up their things, giving Umbridge wide berth. Umbridge approaches Burbage, and together they disappear into the office attached to the side of the classroom.
Ginny pretty much thinks that's the end of it until she hears Burbage's voice raised in what sounds like outrage. She deliberately slows in the packing up of her things, but Tobias isn't as subtle, simply getting up and pressing his ear up against the door. The door is too thick for casual eavesdropping though, to judge from Tobias' curse.
Ginny pulls a few long thin strands out of her bag, holding them out to Smita and Tobias.
They star back at her in confusion, and not a little alarm.
"A Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes prototype," she whispers, holding one end up to her ear and sliding the other end under the door.
Smita doesn't hesitate to copy Ginny, stepping up next to her. Tobias looks dubious, but his curiosity wins out.
His eyes widen as the conversation becomes completely clear. "I'll take twenty," he mouths to her.
Ginny smiles, her attention quickly diverted by Umbridge's sickly sweet voice.
"I wonder in your defense of Muggles and Goblins if you aren't doing your students a great disservice, making them think they are harmless and not to be taken seriously."
Burbage's voice is hard. "I would never paint the issue so one-sided. Though I think teaching them intolerance would be the greater sin."
"I see," Umbridge says in a tone that betrays a great deal of disapproval. "We must be careful, don't you think, not to put the wrong information in the children's heads."
"The wrong information?" Burbage repeats, sounding nonplussed.
"Yes," Umbridge says. "We are the grownups. We must decide what they should and should not know. We wouldn't want them to become…confused."
There is a protracted silence, the scratch of a quill the only sound. "No," Burbage eventually says, her voice sounding flat and completely unfamiliar. "We wouldn't want that."
"I will look over the rest of your curriculum for the year and give you my notes. But I really think there won't be any need to talk so much about Muggle art."
Hearing the shuffle of papers and the finality of that last statement, they pull back from the door, and scramble out of the classroom.
In Defense Against the Dark Arts the next day, Ginny watches Umbridge.
She'd thought it was kind of a lark, copying out of the text those first few weeks in DADA. Stupid, but something that gave her time to think about Quidditch, to come up with new formations and drills. Only now that's she's really paying attention does it register just what a colossal waste of time DADA is going to be this year.
Twenty minutes into another lesson spent copying out of the droll text, Ginny is about ready to start yelling herself. She has a tiny bit more sympathy for Harry's infamous outbursts now, even if she still questions his methods.
She carefully shades in mustaches on the beaming faces in the illustrations of her text. Don't be a sneaker, go tell a teacher! They try to glare at her from under their new inky hairdos, but their faces seem stuck in perpetual pleasure, giving them a sort of demented look.
It should be funny, but it's really just frustrating. Her hand feels empty, sitting in this classroom without a wand.
You know why this is important.
Back in the common room, Smita and Ginny are getting a little work done before dinner while Tobias has his nose buried in a book. At least Ginny is trying to get some work done. Her attention just doesn't want to stick, the scene in Burbage's classroom running over and over again in her mind.
She sighs, abandoning her quill. "Why is Umbridge here?"
Smita looks up from her essay.
"Well, obviously not to teach us defense," Tobias says, coming out from behind his book. He says it like this is a no-brainer, and Ginny feels a bit stupid, that she'd let herself get so wrapped up in Quidditch that she hadn't seen any of this.
She presses on. "But then why?"
Smita shrugs. "Maybe Dumbeldore couldn't find anyone better."
But that didn't sit right with Ginny. Seemingly cursed position or not, Ginny doesn't think Dumbledore would be careless enough to leave them with someone useless like Umbridge, not this year of all years.
The year Voldemort is back.
That can't just be a coincidence. Can it?
But that reasoning leads her down a path where Umbridge is somehow working for Voldemort, and it's a ridiculous thought. Tom would dismiss her as ludicrous.
Tobias shifts forward, his posture belying the casualness of his words. "Why does it matter why she's here? Just another bad teacher, right?"
He is staring at her, his gaze penetrating, and she can tell there is a completely different question right there on the tip of his tongue. The same one that has been poised there all year. One the general code of privacy has kept him from asking.
No one here gives information away for free.
"Just say it," Ginny pushes. As much as he wants to ask her, she needs him to ask. She thinks maybe she's needed it for a long time.
"Is Potter telling the truth?" he says, voice low. "About the Dark Lord?"
For a moment, Ginny imagines asking Tobias why he calls him the Dark Lord. Because his parents do, no doubt. It all gets so confused in her head sometimes that she just finds it easier to think Voldemort. But maybe that's because she's never been able to separate him from Tom. He isn't some vague threat to her; he's real.
"I think he is," Ginny says, and it all seems to hit home as she admits it out loud—the confusion and fear that she has been doing so much to ignore and pretend doesn't exist.
She nods, voice growing firmer as she forces herself to think on it, on Hermione's whispered words in the dark, on the grave lines etched into wizards' faces as they passed through Grimmauld Place. "He is back."
A war has begun, no matter what Umbridge tries to say otherwise. It isn't even about believing Harry; it's about what she's seen. About a secret organization of wizards, strained conversations in the halls. About Dumbledore and her Mum and Dad, and the way Percy left. It's all of it.
She's been playing make-believe as much as anyone else, and she's sick with it, with the breaking of that promise she made to herself as she scrubbed ink off her hands at the end of her first year. A promise not to take the path of least resistance just because it was easiest.
Smita flips their useless DADA text closed with a thump. "And now Umbridge is High Inquisitor."
We are the grownups. We must decide what they should and should not know.
"Yes," Ginny says.
She still doesn't know what that means.
An hour later, Ginny is walking alone down to the Great Hall for dinner when Antonia falls into step next to her, arm winding through hers.
Ginny looks over at her in surprise, but keeps walking, knowing better than to try to fathom the intentions of Antonia.
"Power," Antonia eventually says.
Ginny frowns, feeling yet again like she's walking into the middle of a conversation.
"Power," Antonia repeats, looking bemused by her confusion. "It's why Umbridge is here."
Ginny doesn't even bother to try to be surprised that Antonia has obviously heard their conversation. She should know better than to talk about private things in the common room.
"Power," Ginny repeats. She thinks back on Umbridge in Burbage's classroom. Being late, writing loudly, making Burbage wait for her permission to start. Is that what power really looks like?
And to what end? To take Burbage's job? Umbridge is already a professor, what would she care? Maybe she wants to be Headmaster? Or something more?
Ginny is pretty sure she's still missing something, but at least now she has someone she can ask. "Whose power?"
Antonia smiles approvingly as if Ginny's question is impressive when it's really just born of confusion. "Dumbledore says the Dark Lord has returned. The Minister of Magic says he's a liar. Only one of them can be right."
"Or seem to be right," Ginny says.
Antonia laughs, her hand squeezing Ginny's arm. "You're finally starting to catch on."
Ginny scowls, but doesn't let her annoyance derail her. The Minister of Magic. Ginny hadn't made that connection. Umbridge isn't here for herself. This isn't about school or students or even who is Headmaster. This is about Dumbledore and Harry and Voldemort and the people who say they are liars. It has been all along, just not in the way she thought.
Ginny glances at Antonia. "What does the minister think Dumbledore is going to do?"
She shrugs. "Doesn't know, does he? And that's the problem."
No, he doesn't know. The only way he could know would be to plant someone here, to plant someone who could decide what the students should and shouldn't be taught. To make sure Dumbledore doesn't make a move against the Ministry.
"Umbridge," Ginny says, everything circling back to the beginning.
Not just teacher, but inquisitor.
"It's a misstep," Antonia says, arm slipping out from Ginny's as they approach the hall.
Ginny looks at her in askance.
"To mistake control for power. One never has as much control as they think." She lifts a book to her chest, clutching it there for a second before turning away from Ginny. Just long enough for Ginny to work out the runes pressed into the worn leather cover.
Advanced Defensive Magicks
They never have as much control as they think.
Ginny is wearily trudging back from a prolonged catch up homework session in the library when she turns around a corner and runs smack into someone.
She jerks back, putting a hand out to the wall to steady herself, already apologizing, just to have the other person speak over her.
"Sorry. Are you okay?"
It's Harry, looking nearly as bleary as Ginny feels. "Yeah," she says. "I'm fine. I should have been looking where I was going." She smiles in apology, only to notice that Harry has one hand cradled to his chest, the white cloth tied around it seeping red.
"Merlin," she breathes. "Are you okay?"
Harry starts, shoving his hand behind his back. "It's nothing. Just a little accident."
His face is red though, and she thinks that's not just the lie he is so clearly is telling her, but something of anger and embarrassment too. Ginny leans back slightly to look down the hall behind him, and there it is, a door with a shiny plaque bearing the name Dolores Umbridge.
It takes a moment to all come together, his hand, Umbridge's office, joking about his detentions.
Gave him a zillion hours of detention, writing lines.
Ginny reaches for Harry's arm, ignoring his protest, ripping the handkerchief off his hand. Under the oozing blood, she can just barely make out the words. I must not tell lies.
She stares down at Harry's bleeding hand and begins to understand that maybe this is what war really looks like. Not stirring speeches and two armies lined up with opposing uniforms, but pain and lies and evil hiding in plain sight.
War is about secrets. She should have known that, should have understood. Hadn't she spent the summer in the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix? She was too busy feeling left out and scared and small, when she should have just been paying attention.
Harry recovers enough to snatch his hand back, wrapping it back up with furious jerks. "This isn't any of your business, Ginny."
Maybe not, but he's just another person telling what she shouldn't know, what she can and can't understand.
They never have as much control as they think.
She squares her shoulders, but doesn't apologize, the decision finally making itself. "I'll see you on Saturday, Harry."
Because she knows why this is important.
On Saturday, she bundles up and trudges to the Hog's Head. It's easy to shake off Tobias, and Smita's always been one to understand the need for space.
Of course, when she arrives, it's not quite the small gathering of students she expects. She tells herself she's prepared for the way heads turn and gazes bore into her skin with suspicion. She tugs on her green scarf and ignores them.
Fred and George greet her with self-satisfied smirks as if taking her presence as proof of her blood. She can't explain why exactly that grates, just turns away from them and moves towards Luna and her vacant smile of welcome instead.
"Ginny," she says, pleasure blooming in her cheeks. "If you have no where else to sit, you may sit by me."
Ginny plops down next to Luna. "Sure you want to be seen with me?"
She looks confused, almost a little stricken, and Ginny immediately regrets the joke.
"Never mind," Ginny says as others continue to file in, sliding dark looks in her direction. "Is that a new necklace?"
Luna spins off on some tale about her father's research and not for the first time, Ginny wonders what it must be like, seeing the world through Luna's eyes. It's a welcome distraction.
The Hog's Head is nearly at capacity by the time Hermione stands up, clearing her throat.
Ginny watches as Harry gets more and more indignant as it becomes clear that most people are here for the freak show, the inside scoop on what really happened at the end of last year. Some of the students are still looking for proof of the coming dangers, others just want to know why Harry, of all people, should be the one to teach them.
It's probably inevitable that a list of Harry's mad adventures come out. Philosopher Stones and Triwizard Tournaments. But also Ginny's own sordid past.
"Didn't you kill a basilisk with that sword second year?" someone interjects.
She very carefully doesn't look at Harry.
He hedges his answers and tries to make it all sound like no big deal, but he knows what it's like, this uncertain world they are heading into, and the other students in the room aren't so stupid not to realize that.
At the first mention of keeping secrets, heads not so discreetly turn in Ginny's direction. One of the Hufflepuff girls leans over to whisper in the ear of the boy next to her, the sibilance of Slytherin hissing around the room like an accusation.
Ginny surges to her feet, some of the students nearby flinching away at the unexpected movement. Even Hermione looks a little wary, like she's wondering what Ginny is about to do. It occurs to her that even they don't really know anything about her. Not really.
Ginny paces up to stand in front of the table. Harry meets her eyes over the piece of treasonous paper.
Picking up the quill, Ginny signs her name—big, bold loops and unapologetic slashes.
"Who's next?" she asks, holding up the quill.
The next morning Educational Decree Number 24 appears, banning all student clubs, and there is no way that can be a coincidence. The entire hall is buzzing with it. Ginny watches the less clever of the students from the Hog's Head yesterday try to swarm the table where Harry and Hermione and Ron are eating. Hermione's face nearly turns purple with frustration as she tries to subtly signal them away.
So much for keeping the club a secret.
Terry Boot and another Ravenclaw get up from the table next to Slytherin's, looking like they may be heading that way too. Ginny pulls her wand, pointing it back under her arm as they pass. She whispers a Trip Jinx, both boys stumbling into each other in a heap.
A clamor erupts, the fallen boys protesting, other Ravenclaw jumping to their feet, and the nearby Slytherin enjoying a good laugh. Everyone is looking around trying to figure out what has just happened.
Under cover of the chaos, Ginny gives each of the boys a pointed look. She thought Ravenclaws were supposed to be clever.
They glare at her, but when they get back to their feet, they walk off in a different direction, away from Harry and the rest.
"Gits," Ginny mutters under her breath. She glances around the Hall, glad to see that the commotion provided enough time for everyone else to come to their senses. At the Gryffindor table, Ron is frowning at Ginny, but Hermione looks relieved.
Smita slides Ginny a look, like she's wondering where Ginny's sudden interest in picking fights with other students came from.
Ginny gives her a tight smile. "They were giving Luna a hard time yesterday."
Across the table, Tobias' eyebrow shoots up. "Ginny Weasley, school crusader. I didn't even see you get that curse off." He sounds impressed.
"Practice makes perfect," Ginny mutters, trying to ignore the unpleasant gnaw of something uncomfortably like guilt in her stomach.
We have to be able to protect ourselves.
"Ginny?" Smita asks.
She's saved from coming up with another lie when Bletchley slaps a hand on her shoulder. "Extra practice this afternoon, Six. Poor Gryffindors haven't gotten their team approved by Umbridge yet." It had been the no doubt unintended side effect of the new decree—all Quidditch teams had to get permission to be reformed.
"You already got ours?" she asks.
"Yeah," he says, waving a hand. "It was a breeze. So I snagged Gryffindor's pitch time."
"Great," Ginny says, forcing herself to smile. It sucks that Umbridge is making them all do this, but they can sure use the extra practice.
Gryffindor's woes aren't her problem.
Two days later as Ginny leaves the Hall after lunch, she spots Hermione hovering in the corridor.
"Give me a minute," Ginny says to Tobias and Smita.
They give Hermione a curious glance, but don't hesitate to continue on without her.
Hermione lowers her head towards Ginny. "First meeting is tonight, 8pm."
She nods. She'll barely have time to finish practice and grab a bite before, but she knows this is important.
"Meet on the seventh floor. You know the Barnabas the Barmy tapestry?"
Ginny frowns, being familiar enough with that part of the castle to know there aren't any classrooms or anything up there, but Hermione has already strode off, so she can't really ask.
Sure enough, when Ginny first gets to the corridor that evening, her hair still slightly damp from the shower, at first glance there's nothing but stone walls. Then, as Ginny approaches closer, a metal door seems to almost…bleed into place. It looks fortified and impenetrable, but opens easily under her hand, like it recognizes her. It closes silently behind her, leaving her standing in a large classroom full of pillows and strange contraptions on the wall.
Most of the students from the Hog's Head are already there, heads turning to glance at her and then quickly away.
Her brothers barely notice her, already embroiled in mischief, and Hermione just gives her a distracted smile before sticking her head back in a giant bookshelf. In the face of such indifference and outright hostility, Ginny is beginning to lose her nerve, especially when Harry has everyone pair up to practice.
Luckily before she can do anything stupid, a boy she recognizes from the train walks up to her. He looks about as sheepish as Ginny feels.
"Uh, do you, um, have a partner?" he asks, some of the words swallowed and awkward to the point of intelligibility.
Ginny swallows her anger and discomfort and takes a leap. "Not unless you'd like to be my partner."
He smiles, looking relieved enough to almost fumble his wand. Ginny wonders what she may have gotten herself into. "Great," he says, holding out his hand. "I'm Neville."
His palm is a little sweaty when she takes it. "Ginny."
"Yeah," he says, nodding enthusiastically. "Ron's sister, right?"
"Yeah," Ginny says, used to being known as one or another of her brothers' sister for her entire life.
They start out pretty simple, learning and perfecting basic protection spells, but Harry is thorough and endlessly patient. She's surprised by it and more than once has to remind herself that she doesn't actually know Harry Potter all that well.
As for Neville, he's a little hopeless, but determined, never giving up no matter how many times he fails. He relaxes around her after a while, like maybe he'd been waiting for her to hex him when he wasn't looking, or say something nasty about his questionable wand skills.
He pauses once after his spell has done little more than make some of Ginny's hair stand on end, looking down at his wand as if wondering if it has forsaken him. "My Da's," he explains, a world of hidden currents in the simple words.
Ginny used (stole) her brothers' wands a few times here and there over the years, just to try them out, but nothing has ever felt as right in her hand as her own wand.
Neville straightens his shoulders. "Let's try it again."
Hopeless, but determined. She can admire that.
Ginny stifles a yawn and tries not to panic about just how far behind she's getting in her studies. Between Quidditch and the DA, she's bound to fail at least one of her courses. Runes, probably. They all look exactly the same this late at night.
Tobias and Smita have the nerve to look completely relaxed and caught up. Gits.
Tobias casually turns a page of the book he's reading. "Muggles," he says with a shake of his head. "They can be deliciously twisted."
Ginny glances at the title, something about a prince called Machiavelli. She's halfway through another book Tobias lent her, all about the Muggle art of war. It's more useful on the Quidditch pitch than she initially expected. Technically they shouldn't be reading either of the books, but Tobias smuggled them in after letting his curiosity drag him into a Muggle bookshop over the summer.
It's strange what counts as contraband at Hogwarts.
Officially, Muggle books have to be carefully vetted through the school, the professors and Madam Pince deciding what is and isn't appropriate for the students. But it's not like that's ever stopped a Slytherin before. Ginny's heard rumors that Antonia has an entire closet of banned ancient books somewhere in the dorms.
She glances over at the sixth year sitting near the fire, wondering if she might ever let Ginny take a look.
"Before all else, be armed." Tobias looks up from his book. "Clearly Umbridge has never read this."
Ginny snorts, the thought of prim and proper Umbridge reading something not ministry-approved completely ridiculous.
Tobias nudges their DADA textbook with the smiling, vacant student faces beaming up at them. "But maybe it can be used as a shield somehow?"
"It's dense enough," Smita comments.
"Who are you calling dense?" Tobias quips.
Smita doesn't rise to the bait, simply shakes her head and tries not to look amused.
"Well," Tobias says, stretching his arms above his head. "Maybe copying out of the text over and over again will increase the strength of my wand arm."
"A fat lot of good that will do if you don't know how to do anything with it," Smita counters.
Complaining about Umbridge, or any professor, really, is just par for the course around the common room, but with these two it's more than just mere boredom. Ginny can see their hands twitch with restlessness—powerlessness. Not so different from her own.
She thinks of an evening with Neville, learning to protect herself, and feels that unbearable twinge once again, finally knowing exactly what it is: guilt.
"Would you be…interested in doing something to change that?" Ginny asks, face still buried in her runes text.
Tobias leans forward and hooks a finger over the spine of her book. "What exactly are we talking about?"
Smita is just giving Ginny a look like it's about time.
Ginny gnaws her lip. "It's dangerous," she says, just so they know what they are getting into. "And has to be kept completely secret."
Rather than being put off by that, Tobias only looks more interested.
Ginny glances around the common room. "I can't really tell you more now." She looks at Smita. "But I will."
Smita nods, putting a hand on Tobias' arm when he might push further.
"Okay," he says, gathering his things up. "But I'm holding you to that."
Ginny scribbles an ending to her Arithmancy essay and vows to do better next time. Pushing to her feet, she trudges blearily towards her room.
"You know," Antonia says as Ginny passes by, not looking up from her book. "You're getting a lot more interesting this year."
Ginny isn't sure what to say to that.
Ginny slips into Potions at the last possible moment thanks to a whispered conversation with Hermione out in the halls.
Her potion partner Bridget sends Ginny a slightly scandalized look, but is kept from saying anything by the arrival of Snape. His eyes sweep the students, lingering on Ginny for just a second longer, as if he knows she was almost late. Ginny meets his gaze squarely.
"Open your texts to page 57. Today we will be testing your skills at a Wit Sharpening Potion." Snape's eyes stray to the Gryffindor in the classroom. "Though I fear not even a potion can sharpen what is nonexistent in the first place."
Some of the Slytherin snicker appreciatively while the Gryffindor just glower silently, knowing better than to protest. Ginny glances across the room, catching Colin Creevey's eye. They'd met at the DA meeting last week. He's cheerful and earnest almost to the point of annoyance, but far from witless. Not that it should bother her.
She doesn't smile, and neither does Colin.
She glances away, only to find Snape standing over her desk. "Is there something wrong, Miss Weasley?" he asks.
Her book is still unopened in front of her.
"Trust me, Professor," Tobias butts in, filling the awkward silence, "her wit is already sharp enough to cut." The boys near him snicker, nodding along in agreement.
"Silence," Snape says, but his lips are curved in that indulgent amusement he always reserves for his House.
Ginny takes advantage of the distraction to flip open her text to the correct page, pulling out the needed ingredients.
"You have one hour," Snape says, giving Ginny one last long glance before moving back to his desk.
"Are you okay?" Smita asks out of the corner of her mouth. On the other side of Smita, Bridget sniffs loudly in disapproval.
Ginny sees Tobias move back towards the cupboards. "We need more wartcap powder from the stores," she mutters, getting to her feet.
Tobias gives her a wary look as she approaches, like he thinks she's going to tell him off.
Ginny finds the jar of wartcap powder, carefully siphoning out a small amount onto a piece of paper. "That thing I promised to tell you about?" she whispers.
Tobias's eyebrow lifts. "Yeah?"
"Tonight, after dinner. Meet me by the sticking step at 7:30."
Stepping away before he can pester her any further, Ginny feels the guilt in her stomach twist into something almost worse. She keeps walking.
Later that night as they linger in the hallway one corridor down from the Room of Requirement, Tobias frowns when he catches sight of Harry coming towards them, but doesn't say anything. Ginny's incredibly thankful for that. She's been feeling his patience draw thinner and thinner as they stood out here. He's still convinced this is some sort of prank she's concocted.
"Stay here," Ginny says to Tobias and Smita, moving down the hall to intercept Harry. "Harry."
"Ginny?" he asks, looking up as if surprised to see anyone here as early as him.
Ginny blows out a breath, fairly blurting the words. "I know more people who want to join."
"Yeah?" he asks, one eyebrow lifting.
"I haven't given them any details yet," she says. After all, she's certain that was no simple piece of paper they'd signed. (She knows the dangers of paper and ink more than anyone.) Besides, even if Harry is rash enough to damn the consequences, Hermione is too smart to let him.
Ginny glances over at Smita and Tobias standing just out of earshot.
Harry follows her gaze, his expressive face not hiding his moment of shock. From his reaction, one would think she just asked him to train a bunch of Death Eaters.
"They want to learn," she says through gritted teeth.
Harry doesn't seem to buy that, giving her a look like she's missing the big picture. "They're Sly-," he starts to say, biting off the word as he realizes just who he's speaking to.
Know your enemy.
Ginny stares back at him, feeling a weird sort of calm come over her. It feels like a relief to admit the truth—she isn't at all surprised. She knows this is why she hadn't told Tobias and Smita about the first meeting in the Hog's Head. Because she must have suspected this very reaction even then.
"Ginny," Harry says, trying to backpedal. "I didn't mean-."
"Yeah, you did." She lets out a huff, shaking her head in irritation, or maybe just annoyance with herself for ever hoping for something different. "You, who talk about banding together, protecting ourselves, finding strength in unity."
"I don't have a problem with you joining, Ginny," he's quick to say, as if this small gesture absolves him of the larger crime. She knows the only reason he's willing to accept her is because she's a Weasley. He thinks he knows all about Weasleys.
Not this Weasley.
"You're such a hypocrite," she says, voice flat and matter of fact, but she still flinches back as if she'd yelled it. She wonders if that's the horror of a Slytherin having the audacity to question his vaunted moral position. The memory of him staring back at her in the Chamber comes rushing back, Tom's voice whispering in her ear.
You don't fit his careful columns of good versus Slytherin.
Ginny steps closer to Harry, anger thrumming in her veins. "There's one thing you should remember, Potter. I'm a Slytherin. Not an aberration, not a mix up. A Slytherin. So if you're writing them off, you'd bloody well better write me off as well."
He stares back at her, stunned, maybe by her words, by her gall. She doesn't really care. Spinning on her heel, she strides away from him, making a nice dramatic go of it.
"Come on," she says to Tobias and Smita, both of them following her without comment when they see her face.
Back in their common room, Tobias flops down on a couch.
"He wouldn't let you tell us," Smita surmises, rightly putting all the pieces together.
"No," Ginny confirms.
"Did he have a reason?" Tobias demands, voice fairly dripping with aggression.
Ginny just looks back at him, leaving the words unspoken.
"Of course." He pushes back to his feet. "Sainted Potter-," he spits.
"Don't," Ginny says wearily, her own anger already draining in the face of pure exhaustion.
Tobias spins to look at her. "Why the hell not?"
Ginny sighs, that uncomfortable burning sensation back in her stomach. "He's in the wrong here, I know that. But just…don't."
Tobias gives her a long, sharp look that is no less painful than Harry's had been. After a while his jaw tightens, but he nods, seeming to accept that she has her limits.
Smita watches Tobias go without comment.
"Bugger it," Ginny swears, dropping her head back to the couch and slapping her hands over her face.
"You're disappointed in him," Smita observes.
Ginny doesn't know which boy she means, and isn't sure she wants to.
In History of Magic the next day, Ginny watches Smita trace complex runes on the edges of her parchment, her attention clearly a thousand kilometers away from the Goblin Wars.
Ginny smiles fondly, absently thinking Smita and Hermoine might be friends if they ever had the chance to meet.
Ginny's smile fades.
Ginny has more than enough to do between homework and Quidditch to keep her blissfully busy the next week. She doesn't bother giving Harry Potter and his bloody club a second thought. Not until Hermione pulls her to a stop in the halls.
"There's a meeting tonight," she whispers, watching Ginny closely. "Will you be there?" Clearly she noticed her absence from the last meeting.
Ginny shakes her head. "I can't."
Hermione's eyes narrow. "What's happened?"
"Nothing," Ginny says, not surprised Harry hasn't told her about their fight. He probably never gave it a second thought. "Nothing's happened. I'm just really busy right now."
The lies are easy. It's nice to be on this side of them for once.
Or so she tells herself.
She tries not to pay attention to the clock that evening, but despite the load of homework she has to lose herself in, she becomes increasingly short-tempered as the clock ticks towards eight. Both Tobias and Smita have long since wandered off to leave her to her sulk.
It's stupid, really. What does she care about the stupid DA or what Harry bloody Potter might think of her?
Right before eight, a shadow falls across the book she isn't reading.
Ginny looks up, surprised to see Antonia standing over her. "What?"
Antonia gives her an impatient look like she's dropping the ball. "Astoria's going to play her harp."
Ginny frowns, sure that Astoria has never publicly played before. She could be in the choir if she wanted, or in the musical chorale. But most Slytherin aren't big on participation.
Antonia raises one perfect, dark eyebrow at Ginny when she continues to do nothing but stare. "Well?"
There are a million reasons to keep sitting here pouting, but all of them suddenly feel rather stupid. Besides, Ginny is big enough to admit she's always found Antonia fascinating. Ginny quickly shoves her books back into her bag and gets to her feet.
Antonia leads her to what Ginny had up to now always assumed was a broom closet. The older girl taps the doorframe with her wand, murmuring something under her breath. When the door opens, it reveals a narrow staircase leading downwards.
Ginny peers down into the dark space. She may find Antonia fascinating, but that doesn't mean she doesn't also find her scary as hell. "Where are we going?"
Antonia rolls her eyes. "Stop being a ninny." She gives Ginny a little shove down the stairs.
Ginny lets herself get propelled down the small spiraling staircase. There are torches every half twist, and by the time Ginny gets to a doorway at the bottom, she's a little dizzy. The door opens out into a large, comfortable room. She has just long enough to pick out an array of instruments on one wall, cases full of books on another, and in the back what looks like chalkboards or easels, before she becomes aware that every person in the room is staring at her, most with varying levels of suspicion.
There aren't many people, all girls, including Caroline, Astoria, the Carrow twins, and a few older girls, but all Ginny can think of is being thirteen years old and surrounded by a crowd of tall, masked girls—Gregor's silently screaming face.
Antonia appears then, winding her arm through Ginny's. "Shall we get started?" she says, something like a challenge in her voice.
The rest of the girls exchange glances, but seem to accept Ginny's presence for now. At the center of the room, Astoria settles down with her harp, the rest of the girls sitting on the rich, comfortable couches arranged around her.
Ginny quickly takes a seat next to Caroline, thinking the less attention she draws to herself right now, the better. As Astoria tunes the harp, doing a few runs of quick notes, Ginny tries to surreptitiously get a better look around the room. There's a full potions station tucked in a dark corner she hadn't noticed at first, and next to it, a strange contraption made of tubes and glass beakers, a clear liquid quietly collecting in a large bottle.
She's squinting to make out the writing on one of the various chalkboards nearby when Astoria begins to play. Ginny quickly loses any interest in the room.
She's never been a huge music fan. She knows the most popular stuff, suffers silently through Celestina Warbeck during the holidays. Astoria's music is nothing like either of those. Not catchy or boring, but completely absorbing.
Ginny manages to forget everything while Astoria plays—this strange room, her homework, stupid Harry, Tobias's anger, secrets too big to keep, and Smita's quiet disappointment. It all just fades in the face of the sounds being coaxed out of the strings.
Before Ginny realizes it, thirty minutes have passed, Astoria quietly standing up from the harp and the other girls offering a few words of praise before moving off to do other things.
Ginny is still sitting rather stunned on the couch when Astoria joins Caroline, arranging her robes carefully as if they are in the most elegant of concert halls.
"That was…beautiful," Ginny says. Maybe not in the traditional, comfortable sense, but beautiful all the same.
Astoria smiles, clearly pleased but trying not to show it.
Ginny's always thought of Astoria as rather cold, like a perfect porcelain doll. She thought maybe that was why Caroline hung out with her, hoping a little of that polish might rub off on her and make her mother happy. But Astoria with her harp is an entirely different being, someone incredibly more understandable. She comes to life.
Caroline and Astoria lower their heads to talk to each other, and Ginny gathers enough nerve to get up and give the room a closer look. She's examining some of the chalkboards in the back when Antonia appears by her side.
"The Carrows," Antonia says. "Determined to be animagi." She peers at the equations. "Looks like they might be getting pretty close."
Ginny tries not to look surprised that so much has been going on right under her nose without her realizing, but Antonia's got an annoying smirk on her face all the same.
Ginny moves further towards the back of the room, peeking at some canvases leaning against the wall. They are covered in dark swirling images, eyes and faces peering out of the darkness.
"Don't touch those," a voice growls.
Ginny turns to find Milicent Baulstrode uncomfortably close, her face twisted with malice. Ginny draws back with a start, her hand brushing against the comforting weight of her wand in her pocket. She darts a look over Milicent's shoulder to Antonia. The older girl merely looks away, clearly not willing to come to her rescue. Not that Ginny really expected her to.
"I'm sorry," Ginny says, taking one careful step back. "I was just curious. Did you do them?" Like Astoria's music, the images are far from comfortable, but still clearly very good. She doesn't really know how to put that into words, and doesn't get a chance to.
Milicent glowers at her. "None of your damn business."
Ginny puts up her hands, perfectly able to believe Milicent capable of violence. "Understood." She retreats as quickly as she can without looking like she's fleeing.
"Wow," Ginny says when she gets back to Antonia's side. "What a thoroughly unpleasant person."
Antonia flicks something off her sweater. "Yeah. Maybe."
"Maybe?" Ginny echoes incredulously.
To her surprise, Antonia looks disappointed.
Antonia rolls her shoulders in a move far too elegant to be called a shrug, her face now indifferent. "I would have thought you, of all people, would understand that things aren't always as they seem."
With that, Antonia moves off to talk to other girls, leaving Ginny standing there feeling like she's failed some unspoken test. They mill about for another hour, and Ginny slips away as soon as she can. No one seems to notice.
"You went to The Parlor?" Smita asks later that night, looking impressed. Ginny can hear the capitalization in her voice.
"Yeah," she says, wondering now why she'd never heard of it before since it is clearly a big deal. Not that it really matters. "Something tells me I won't be asked again though."
Smita raises an eyebrow, but doesn't ask.
Ginny nudges her with her elbow. "Wouldn't want to leave you with no one but Tobias to hang out with, after all."
Smita shoves at her, still trying to pretend the idea doesn't appeal to her.
Ginny doesn't sleep well that night, dreaming of Milicent Baullstrode playing a cello with a Dark Mark floating above her head.
She looks straight at Ginny, her bow dragging with a groan across the strings. "Hypocrite."
Solitude is a habit Ginny has never shaken since her first year. She loves hanging around with Smita and Tobias, being in the middle of things, but sometimes she just wants a minute to herself, a place to retreat to. When she does, she comes here, to her secret hiding place. The odd little cloister is one of the few things she learned from Tom that she has claimed as her own.
It appears open to the sky above, sunlight radiating in, even though Ginny knows there are at least five stories of castle directly above. It feels like it once used to be a vast courtyard that was slowly squeezed and run over by the expanding castle. Now it is crowded with warped and twisted columns, moss and various plants growing across large broken blocks of marble lying on their sides. There's a soft trickle of water coming from somewhere, but try as she may, she's never been able to find the source.
It feels ancient and forgotten, and somehow completely her own.
Which is exactly why Ginny can't explain how Harry finds it. Hearing a noise, Ginny glances up to see him barely visible through the tiny sliver of space that serves as the entrance. She knows he can't have seen her yet, and seriously considers ducking out of sight.
He taps a piece of parchment with his wand before tucking it away into his pocket. Taking a few steps out into the cloister, he comes to a stop, eyes skimming the space as if looking for something.
It takes a moment for him to locate her among the intricate columns, his eyes settling on her as if he had fully expected her to be there.
"Hi," he says.
"Hi," she echoes, voice completely devoid of either welcome or censure.
He seems heartened by the fact that she hasn't hexed him though, stepping between the columns and scrabbling over blocks to get closer to her. She petulantly doesn't bother pointing out the clear path to one side.
"What is this place?" he asks when he finally reaches her.
She shrugs, glancing around. "I'm not sure."
He makes a big show of looking up at the lattice of marble above them, but Ginny gets the sense he's just stalling. He looks back down to find her watching him. "Charms homework?" he says, gesturing at her book.
She lifts an eyebrow at him. Does he really think she's going to believe he came all this way to find her just to talk about homework? Because it's clear now that this is his goal here. She isn't sure what to think of that.
He grimaces, hands disappearing into his pockets. "Look. Are you coming back to the DA?"
She's missed two meetings now, and she can only think of one reason that would bother him. "If you're here because you're worried I'm going to tell Umbridge…"
"No," Harry interrupts. "That's not-. I don't think you'd ever do that, Ginny."
She closes her book, giving him her full attention. "Why not?"
"What?" he asks, looking flustered.
"Why don't you think I'd tell Umbridge?"
"Because…you just wouldn't."
She tilts her head to one side. "Because I'm a Weasley?"
His mouth opens and closes a couple of times, like he's learned it's best to think his words through when he's talking to her, but can't quite decide what's safe to say. Maybe she'd find that funny if she weren't so annoyed.
"But unfortunately Smita and Tobias aren't. Is that it?"
Harry shifts, having the grace to look uncomfortable. He drops down on a marble block next to her like he's run out of steam. This conversation is clearly not going anywhere near where he expected it to.
"Malfoy," he says, letting the silence stretch long like this one word is an explanation.
"Is a wanker," Ginny supplies for him.
Harry looks at her in surprise.
She shrugs. "It's not like that's a secret. But neither does it have anything to do with this."
"Doesn't it?" he asks, his gaze sharpening like he's decided he's not going to let her get away with anything either.
"He isn't Slytherin," Ginny says. It's the same mistake she'd made, in the beginning. The same mistake she keeps making, if she's honest.
And that, more than anything, is why she finds it harder to be angry with Harry today. She's too busy being angry with herself. She knows why she really lost her temper with him. Because he'd dared to say out loud what she'd hated herself for thinking. For suspecting. There was a reason she didn't take Smita and Tobias with her to the first meeting at the Hog's Head, wasn't there? A reason she'd actually hesitated to tell Smita about her summer, her real summer.
She's just as guilty as he is.
It really pisses her off.
She takes a breath, looking over at Harry. "Have you ever considered that blind hatred of Slytherin isn't really any different than Draco's hatred of Muggleborns?"
Ginny picks at the edge of her parchment. "Look. I think the DA is important. I want to go back."
"But?" he prompts, apparently not quite so hopelessly dense as her brother.
"But not if the only reason you let me join is because I'm a Weasley. And not without Smita and Tobias."
This whole thing has been about being able to protect themselves, and Ginny just isn't willing to leave her friends out of that. Not any more.
She gets up, carefully piling her books and quills and parchment back into her bag. Harry watches her without comment.
She doesn't know him all that well, not really. She doesn't know if he's going to think about anything she's said. But he'd bothered to come find her and talk about this when there wasn't any reason to, and she thinks that must mean something. Like maybe he really is more than just a name.
She pulls her bag over her shoulder. "Just think about it, will you?"
She leaves him sitting alone in the cloister.
The next day, Ginny stifles a curse as her bag hits the ground with a thump and clang as she gets shoved from behind. She looks up from her belongings sprawled all over the busy hallway floor to find Harry Potter standing next to her.
"Oops. Sorry," he says, not sounding remotely apologetic.
She glares, wondering if this a sign of how things are going to be between them now. Antagonistic. Clearly she'd been overly optimistic, thinking he might take her words to heart.
Before she can formulate a response, he's on the floor, corralling all her things back into her bag. Frowning, she drops down next to him, swiftly snatching the embarrassingly chewed quills from his hands.
"I've got it," she snaps.
He doesn't argue, stacking up the last of her books.
She's about to push to her feet and stalk off with an appropriate air of menace when he touches her elbow.
"You forgot these." He presses something into her hand. She glances down, catching the glint of gold between her fingers before tightening her fist. She thinks she'd know if she had a small fortune in gold rattling around in her bag. What crazy new game is this?
Harry just smiles back at her, and it occurs to Ginny that he's amused, like he's enjoying her confusion.
"Tonight at eight, okay?" he says, voice barely audible.
Rolling the coins around her palm, she carefully counts. One, two, three.
She feels an absurd smile rising on the warmth bubbling up in her chest. But she also notices that people are beginning to stare. Jamming her fist into her pocket, she nods at Harry, giving him a pleasant smile.
Then she shoves him.
He sprawls back on his arse, a stupid look of surprise on his face. He frowns as he rubs at his chest, and Ginny thinks she enjoys seeing him look confused too.
Raising her voice, she pushes to her feet, flicking imaginary dust off her sleeve. "Watch it, Potter," she says, standing over him. "Next time I won't be so forgiving."
She doesn't give him another glance, her step light and springing as she hums to herself.
Ron, Harry, and Hermione meet them in the hallway in front of the Room of Requirement just after eight. It just looks like a plain stretch of wall at the moment, and she knows Tobias still thinks this is an elaborate prank. Getting him here at all had been an even bigger challenge than convincing Harry.
"We need you to sign this," Hermione says, giving them a hesitant smile and holding out the piece of parchment Ginny recognizes from the Hog's Head, her signature sitting right at the top.
"Why?" Tobias demands, crossing his arms over his chest.
Hermione's smile falters.
"Because she told you to, you git," Ron snaps.
Tobias glares at Ron, but doesn't rise to the bait. Ginny can practically see him filing away the insult for future retaliation. "What is it?" he asks, digging his heels in out of sheer perversity.
"It's your promise that you won't tell anyone what we're about," Hermione explains.
"What, we can't just pinkie swear?" Tobias sneers, clearly well into his total wanker mode.
Harry gives Ginny a pointed look.
"Just shut up and sign it," Ginny says, shoving a quill at Tobias.
He gives her a mutinous glare.
Smita, quiet up to now, is the one to calmly take the parchment from Hermione, her fingers skimming down over the surface. Nodding as if in approval, she lifts her wand, murmuring an incantation. Harry, Ron, and Hermione flinch, their hands flying for their wands.
A writing desk appears in the middle of the hall with a small pop.
Smita eyes the Gryffindors' wands as if to say, 'What did you expect?' They aren't barbarians after all.
Ginny has to bite on her lip not to laugh.
"May I?" Smita asks Ginny, gesturing for the quill.
Ginny hands it over with a small flourish. "Certainly."
Sitting down at the small table, Smita signs her name at the bottom in compact, careful letters. "Tobias?" she asks, holding the quill out for him.
Tobias makes a show of grumbling, but sits down in the vacated seat and signs his name as well.
Smita collects the parchment and vanishes the desk with a flick of her wand. Stepping over to stand next to Hermione, she hands it to her. "This parchment's cursed," she observes.
"It's what?" Tobias bites out, voice low and dangerous. Ginny touches his arm.
"Cursed," Smita repeats, clearly unconcerned by this fact.
Harry gives her a speculative look. "Yet you still signed it."
Smita nods. "I would have cursed it too. It's a wise precaution."
Ginny can't lie. She gets a lot of amusement out of how discomforted Hermione and Harry look to get Slytherin approval of their underhandedness.
"What spell did you use?" Smita asks, stepping closer to Hermione.
Hermione's mouth opens and closes a couple of times, her eyes still a little panicked.
"You're right," Smita says, tapping the side of her nose. "It's safer not to let anyone know."
"Should we go inside?" Ginny asks, trying to hide a strangled laugh behind a cough.
"Right," Harry says, moving to pace in front of the wall.
Despite himself, Tobias looks pretty impressed as the doors to the Room of Requirement appear. "Just what the hell have you gotten us in to, Ginevra?"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione walk through the doors, Tobias trailing slightly behind.
"Enjoying yourself?" Ginny whispers, threading her arm through Smita's as they follow.
Smita nods. "Oh, yes. Immensely."
Ginny laughs at the sparkle in Smita's eye. "I'm really glad you're here."
This, at last, feels right.
Inside, stillness invades the room as everyone notices the newcomers in the doorway. A Ravenclaw boy leans over to whisper in the ear of a Hufflepuff girl.
Ginny's jaw clenches.
Harry glances at her, and clears his throat loudly. "We have two new members today. This is Tobias and Smita."
Not exactly gushing, but she appreciates his matter-of-fact tone. He isn't going to justify their presence to anyone. Except maybe to himself.
Harry waits another beat, like maybe he's waiting for someone to greet them. The tension in the room only seems to grow though, until Luna steps forward.
"Oh, hello!" she says, floating over to their side.
"Hi, Luna," Smita says.
Their familiarity with Luna only seems to cement their weirdness with the other members, muttering breaking out all over the room.
Harry gives a smart blow on the whistle hanging around his neck. "Okay, let's get to work. Pair up and let me see how your disarming practice is going."
Neville crosses over to Ginny. "I'm glad you're back," he says.
"Thanks," she says, turning to Tobias and Smita. "This is Neville."
They only nod in return, Tobias still bent out of shape and Smita shy as always.
Ginny smiles at Neville to soften the blow. "Would you mind being my practice partner again?" Ginny asks, leaving Tobias and Smita to work with each other when she sees Harry approach them to help catch them up.
The rest of the meeting goes relatively smoothly, barring the time one of Neville's spells goes awry and makes one of Tobias' legs go numb. Neville looks horrified, Tobias indignant, but then Smita is leaning over him, looking concerned and Tobias seems to forget all about Neville. Stupid berk.
At the end of the meeting, Ginny pretends not to see the way people swarm around Harry. Demanding, no doubt, to know what the hell he was thinking, letting a bunch of Slytherin in. Tries to pretend Fred and George aren't right in there with the rest of them.
Neville gives her an apologetic look, Luna happily unaware of the undercurrents.
Ginny forces a smile on her face and gets Tobias and Smita out of the room as quickly as possible.
Back in the common room, Ginny eyes Tobias, who is clearly fuming. "Are you more angry because of the way they treated us, or because Harry is actually a good teacher?"
Tobias lets out a sigh, dropping an arm over Ginny's shoulders. "Can't I be angry about both at the same time?"
Ginny smiles. "It will get better," she promises.
It has to.
It doesn't get better. Well, it does for a little while. The others slowly get used to seeing them there, particularly after Tobias stops glaring at people and Smita's quiet competence becomes clear. Only then the first match of the Quidditch season looms closer and closer, and things in the halls outside get nastier and nastier.
Members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team keep ending up in the infirmary, and Ginny isn't so naïve not to know why.
She's in the library studying when she notices Bletchley eying Alicia Spinnet over his books, his wand twisting in his fingers under the desk.
Ginny crosses the room as if looking for another book, bumping Bletchley from behind just in time for the jinx to dong harmlessly off a table leg.
Bletchley spins around in surprise. "What the hell, Six?"
Ginny nods her head back over his shoulder. "Pince was watching."
Bletchley looks back in that direction, but doesn't see the librarian. Probably because she'd never been there in the first place.
"I don't want you to get caught with the match coming up. We need you too much." She stares guilelessly back at him, willing him to call her bluff. She tries to remember those weeks after the Yule Ball last year.
Like everyone else, Slytherin boys tend to be wary of Slytherin girls.
Bletchley shrugs and goes back to his books.
Alicia turns, catching Ginny's eye. Giving her a suspicious look, Alicia gathers her book bag and leaves.
The sooner this first match is over, the better.
Ginny takes it back. The match itself is even worse than the build up.
She prepared herself for a dirty match, but not for Draco's idea of amusements.
Weasley was born in a bin…
She can see Ron's red ears all the way across the pitch. Goyle and Crabbe are snickering, Katie and Alicia glaring back at them with the power of a thousand curses.
Ginny just clenches her jaw and tries to focus down on the match, noticing a similar expression on Harry's face when they pass. She ignores the singing coming out of the stands as best she can, too busy dodging bludgers and trying to keep their score up. Fred and George are long over any hesitance at trying to knock their baby sister off her broom.
The extracurricular antics are distracting Warrington. The song, the clearly one-sided commentary blaring out over the field, Ginny doesn't know nor care.
"Oi," she bellows as she flies by him. "Get your head in the game!"
She's worked too damn hard this year on offensive drills and plays to fall short now. The only way to win this is to go up enough points before Harry catches the snitch. She can't depend on Draco.
Besides, not giving Ron enough time to think is probably the nicest thing she can do for him.
Ginny signals Thompson to get in formation and makes another run on the Gryffindor goals.
Despite Ginny's best efforts and even Ron's abysmal goalie performance (she ruthlessly smashes down any sympathy), they can't keep the score up enough. Harry has the snitch and the game is over.
Ginny only has enough time to curse under her breath and petulantly fling the now useless Quaffle to the ground before she sees the triumphant Harry get nailed from behind by a bludger. Ginny winces as he hits the ground.
She'd fly over and give Crabbe a piece of her mind, but Madam Hooch seems to be doing a bang up job, and frankly Ginny is too tired to deal with any more shit at the moment.
"Idiots," she mutters under her breath, landing near Warrington and Thompson.
"Sorry, Ginny," Thompson says. Even Warrington looks a little sheepish, but as usual doesn't bother to apologize for their less than stellar coordination.
Ginny sucks in a breath and tries to smile bracingly. "We'll do better next time." Particularly after she makes them run enough drills to give them nightmares about it.
There's some sort of commotion happening at the other end of the pitch. Ginny glances over with very little interest just in time for Draco's voice to echo perfectly across the distance. "Or perhaps you can remember what your mother's house stank like, Potter, and Weasley's pigsty reminds you of it-."
The words barely begin to register with Ginny when George and Harry launch themselves at Draco, fists flying.
Ginny automatically moves towards the fray—that smug, talent-less, ridiculous arsehole.
Before she can move a step, Thompson grabs her arm. "Don't."
"Excuse me?" Ginny snaps, tugging at her arm. If he thinks she's just going to pretend-.
His grip doesn't lessen. "Let it go."
She turns to him, her mouth dropping open with indignation.
"I'm not telling you to forget," he says. "Just let it go. For now."
McGonagall and Madam Hooch are already sweeping in at this point, and Ginny blows out a breath. She knows Thompson's right, damn him.
He still doesn't let go of her arm.
She gives him an arch look, and he smiles sheepishly. "Just trying to make sure you aren't going to curse me the second I let go."
Ginny huffs a reluctant laugh. "No. But by the time we're done running drills next week, you might wish I had."
"Oh, great," Warrington complains.
Thompson lets go of her, and against everything screaming in her head, Ginny quietly follows them off the field.
Harry, George, and Fred banned.
Part of Ginny knows they earned it, letting their tempers get the best of them. Draco is a wanker, but they were just words. If she was going to be pissed about something, it would be Crabbe's late bludger. That was stupid and dangerous.
She mostly wants to yell at George and Harry for making it so damn easy for Draco.
"Did you like my song, Weasley?" Draco asks, blithely calling her out in front of the entire common room.
For a moment she feels it, her blood boiling up with anger. Everyone knows that song isn't just about Ron's Quidditch skills, but about her family, her parents. With effort, she swallows the rage back down. Draco isn't going to score any more points off of this. Not with her.
Ginny shakes her head, looking calmly back at him. "Can't say I heard it. Must have been too busy watching you not catch the snitch yet again."
Draco's face flushes, a few people nearby snickering behind their hands.
She stands staring at him another moment, to see if he has anything to follow up with, if he'll be stupid enough to pull his wand. (Please, oh please, she secretly hopes. Just give her a reason.)
She isn't really surprised when he does nothing more than glare at her. Just a little disappointed.
Giving him one last contemptuous glance, Ginny spins on her heel, carrying on as if he'd never interrupted her. She sinks down in a chair, pulling her Charms text up close to her face.
Ginny looks up over the edge of her book to see Antonia in a nearby chair.
"I'm letting it go," Ginny says, remembering Thompson's advice. "For now."
Antonia nods like this makes perfect sense. "Plenty of time for other things later."
Ginny's eyes narrow. "Like what, revenge?"
"Not revenge," Antonia says, her smile patient and a little predatory. "Reciprocity."
Watching Antonia disappear back behind her book, Ginny isn't sure she understands the difference.
It's only been a week since the disastrous match when the galleon in Ginny's pocket heats up, the numbers changing to reflect the time of the next DA meeting. She looks up from her essay to find Tobias and Smita sharing a dubious glance, hands on their pockets.
The question of whether to go to this next meeting doesn't seem as easy as it did the week before.
Ginny's still able to see the difference between Draco and Crabbe being arseholes and concluding that all of Slytherin is evil. She's not so sure about the rest of DA though.
Still, she's not ready to concede her hard won ground. "I'm up for it," she says.
Tobias shrugs, looking over at Smita. "One way or another, it should be exciting."
Smita nods her agreement. "I say we go."
Ginny tries to tell if Harry looks surprised or annoyed by their presence at the meeting later than night, but he's surprisingly stone-faced for him. She bites down on the ridiculous urge to apologize. Other than being on the same team as those berks, she hadn't done anything.
Of course, to a Gryffindor, inaction is probably sin enough in itself.
She moves over to stand by Neville, and he seems happy enough to see her. He's not so clueless not to notice her discomfort, the occasional nasty look slid her way by some of the Gryffindor.
"You didn't do anything, Ginny," Neville says quietly as she squares off in front of a practice dummy.
"Maybe I should have," she says. "Maybe I should have punched Crabbe in the face."
Neville grimaces. "Then you could have had a lifetime ban as well."
"Would I?" she asks, taking aim at the dummy in front of her. "Or would I have just gotten lines?" She isn't stupid. She sees the way things work and don't work by house. She can see the benefits next to the limits.
Neville sighs. "You have to live with them, Ginny. Everyone knows that."
Ginny's hand tightens on her wand. "Reducto."
The dummy explodes.
Things slowly thaw and simmer down as Christmas nears, everyone getting ready to go home. Ginny still occasionally catches snippets of that rude song in the common room, but has become expert at ignoring it. It's hard though, trying to look like they aren't getting to her when all she really wants to do is knock heads together.
Instead, she learns to pretend she's a glacier; Antonia's approving looks the only gauge she has to tell how she's doing.
It takes more than a song to crack ice.
Even the animosity directed towards them at DA meetings slowly drops to barely noticeable levels, but that may just be everyone's excitement over the holidays. Or the shared amusement over an ornament with Harry's face on it that Padma found under one of the cushions. Ginny thought a nice engorgement charm and a willing volunteer to stick it in Harry's bed would be a worthy endeavor.
Smita and Tobias bemoan their general lack of access to the Gryffindor common room.
Around them, the room has emptied out, students disappearing in twos and threes.
"We should probably go," Smita says into her ear.
Ginny looks back over her shoulder to see Cho lingering by the bulletin board, Harry taking an inordinately long time to put away the cushions. Which, considering how much of his attention is riveted to Cho and not the chore, is understandable.
"Ah," Ginny mock whispers back.
They head for the door, Tobias unable to resist. "See you later, Harry!" he says brightly.
Harry jumps a little at the too loud farewell, his cheeks burning red as if being caught doing something wrong. He waves vaguely at them, more a desperate shooing motion.
Ginny looks back over her shoulder one last time as they leave to see Cho crying, Harry looking panicked.
She shakes her head with a snort. Boys.
Ginny wrenches open her eyes to find Professor Snape standing over her bed, face eerily lit by the tip of his wand. She's pretty sure she's had this nightmare before.
She rubs hard at her eyes to dispel the image.
Only his face still lingers. "I need you to get up and come with me," he says.
Ginny frowns. "Sir?"
"There's been an accident."
She sits up so quickly they nearly bump heads. "Who?" She has so many people to worry about, her brain flying through the list at dizzying speeds.
Snape doesn't seem to be in a cooperative mood, his face giving nothing away. "Come along."
Deciding obedience will get her answers the quickest, she does little more than slip on a robe and shove her feet into her slippers, her heart pounding away in her chest.
Smita pokes her head out between her drapes, her face creased with sleep and confusion. "Ginny?"
Snape's head whips around in her direction. "Go back to sleep, Miss Gupta. This does not concern you."
Smita frowns, but does as she's told after darting Ginny a glance that seems to demand an explanation at some later time.
Ginny follows Snape through the dark halls with nothing but the tip of his lit wand to guide them, and tries not to think how eerie the castle feels like this, full of shadows and hidden things. Still, it's easier than thinking about what waits for her at the end of this walk.
Their destination turns out to be the Headmaster's office and that just can't be good. Up in the circular, bizarre office that normally Ginny would have loved to have taken the time to poke about in, her brothers are all already there with Harry. Harry looks like someone has drained all the blood from his body and for a second she thinks he may be the one who was hurt. But then why would she need to be here?
"What's going on?" she asks, making a beeline for the twins.
They mutely shake their heads, watching Harry almost warily.
Fred shifts over to make room for her between them. "Something with Dad," he says under his breath as if he's trying not to draw Snape or Dumbledore's attention.
"What?" Ginny says, barely more than a gasp, her heart dropping into her stomach.
George drapes a tense arm over her shoulders. "Just wait," he says. "We don't know anything yet."
Across the room, Harry glances up at them and then just as quickly away again.
Dumbledore eventually smuggles them out to Grimmauld Place, but there's just more waiting and trying not to panic once they get there. Ginny thinks it must be one of the longest nights of her entire life, sitting there waiting, swallowing her words and fears until she feels like she may explode.
It's nearly dawn when Mum finally appears, looking a bit like death herself, but with a smile plastered on her wan face. "He's going to be fine."
Around her, everyone erupts into whoops of joy. Ginny lowers her head, wanting to weep, but the tears just won't come.
What's left of the night passes in fits and starts, time seeming to drag and then speed up at unbearable rates.
Ginny's dead on her feet, but still manages to help Mum get breakfast on the table. The tension hasn't really left them yet, and she knows it won't until they can see Dad for themselves. Luckily no one tries to make them wait any longer than it takes for the hospital to open for visitors.
Part of Ginny doesn't really let herself believe he's okay until she finally lays eyes on her dad. Then she really starts to breathe again, and instead of crying, now all she wants to do is laugh, the pressure of giddiness building against her ribs. He looks awful, body covered in bandages, face bloodless, and there is absolutely nothing to laugh about, not even the way Mum is playing out her relief by scolding him like a child. But still, the pressure won't leave. She doesn't even mind getting shunted out into the hallway when the conversation turns to Adult Things.
Besides, the twins came prepared as always, pulling out Extendible Ears for them all, their faces seeming to reflect the giddiness in Ginny's chest.
They gleefully listen in from the other side of the doors, all of their smiles goofy with lack of sleep and sheer relief. Most of what the adults in the other room are saying isn't even registering, until Moody's voice growls out above the rest.
"Obviously Potter doesn't realize what that means, but if You-Know-Who's possessing him-."
Harry pulls back from the door with a jerk.
Ginny remembers it all too clearly in that moment—the way Tom can shove his way back in when you least expect it.
Ron is moping in the kitchen.
He's been there all morning. Harry must still be freezing him out, Ginny assumes, the same way he ignored all of them yesterday on the ride back from hospital. He's been in his room since then. Hiding, pouting, who knows?
Mum's beginning to look pinched, probably disturbed that is has been almost 24 hours since she was last able to feed up Harry. The lunch tray she's prepared for him looks like enough for a small army.
Ginny's had just about enough of this. Her dad nearly died two days ago, and even if Harry is the one who seems to have saved his life, he doesn't have the right to add more worry to her mother's overloaded plate. Plus, Ron is driving her nuts.
"I'll take it up," she says before anyone can protest.
Balancing the tray of food in one hand, Ginny knocks on Harry's door. There's a long silence, and she's forced to knock again, louder and more persistently to let him know she isn't going away.
"I'm not hungry," he finally calls through the door.
Too bad, she thinks, opening the door. He looks surprised by her nerve, swinging up to a seated position on the bed. She sees him take a breath like he's trying to rein in his temper.
"Really. I'm not hungry," he repeats.
The trunk by the end of his bed is open, stuff haphazardly thrown into it like he was packing in a hurry and then changed his mind.
Putting the tray down, Ginny closes the door behind her.
"Ginny," he says, the word a warning.
She ignores it. "Ask me."
He pushes off the bed, the anger nearly radiating off of him now. "I want to be left alone."
She takes a stubborn step forward. "Ask me…" She breaks off, swallowing. "Ask me what it's like to have Voldemort take over your body."
Harry stills, and she knows in that moment that he's been lucky enough to forget, to forget why he almost died in that chamber so many years ago.
She takes another step forward, her voice hardening. "Ask me."
All the anger and bluster seems to drain out of him, leaving him looking painfully uncertain. "What…what was it like?"
Ginny licks her lips, dragging back up the memories she has done everything to forget for so long. "It's like…everything is soft, cushioned, dulled. Like the effort it would take to actually feel an emotion is too much to even contemplate. Like you're fading so much that people only look through you until you start to think that disappearing forever would be the best thing that could happen to you. Best for everyone."
"Ginny," he says, his jaw clenching.
She swallows impatiently back against the tears she refuses to let fall. "There were long black periods that I still don't remember. Time I have no idea what I did, or who I hurt." She looks him in the eye. "Has that ever happened to you?"
She nods. "I didn't think so."
Harry sits back down on the bed like all of his strings have been cut, dragging a hand through his hair.
"You didn't hurt our father, Harry. We all know that. So stay up here and hide if that's what you want. But don't do it because you think you're protecting us." She turns to leave.
"I'm so angry," he says. "All of the time."
She pauses with her hand on the doorknob. It's been radiating off of him all year, the anger, but she hadn't known if that was just normal for him, if he is always like this, or if it was something new.
She peers back over her shoulder at him. "That's probably a good thing, don't you think?"
He frowns. "How do you figure?"
She shrugs, remembering those long days floating through the castle like a ghost. "You wouldn't be angry if you didn't care."
Tom never cared about anything or anyone. Only himself.
She opens the door.
She pauses. "Yeah?"
She hoists a shaky smile on her face. "Yeah. Just let Ron back in, will you? He's driving us all spare."
He huffs, not quite a laugh, but on its way.
She leaves him picking at the tray of food, passing the newly arrived Hermione on the stairs.
"All yours," Ginny says.
Christmas creeps into Grimmauld Place like an uninvited guest. Sirius attacks the holiday with a manic sort of energy that does nothing to make it feel right. It's a bit like sticking an icicle on Kreacher's forehead and calling him a unicorn.
Still, Mum is trying her best for them all, and Ginny figures she owes it to Dad to at least try. So when George and Fred decide to trim a tree, she pitches in by suggesting transmogrifying Kreacher's predecessors into shiny baubles. She really mourns that ornament with Harry's face that must still be sitting in the room of requirement.
She even overhears Harry say to Hermione, "Still better than Christmas with the Dursleys."
Unfortunately, Grimmauld place is still Grimmauld place, even under all the tinsel.
Dad isn't home yet either, so Christmas breakfast is a bit subdued even with everyone's new brightly colored sweaters. There's one more unopened package sitting under the end of the table that Ginny pretends not to know is meant for Percy. To judge from the set lock of Mum's jaw, he'd had the unmitigated gall to send it back. She wonders if he even cares that Dad is in hospital. That he'd almost died.
But thinking of Percy only makes Ginny want to use her Reductor curse on something, and Mum doesn't deserve that on top of everything else today. So instead she tucks in and does her best to let Sirius's obvious glee at having them all here not feel weird.
Soon enough it's time to go back to school, still not knowing why or how Dad ended up nearly dead by giant snake attack.
Ginny thinks it will be relief to have her wand back in her hand.
Hogwarts in the snow is widely accepted as one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
Ginny couldn't be less moved.
"Merlin's beard, did you dimwits forget everything over Christmas? It's like a drunken band of Muggles out here." She hears the other two chasers' feet hit the ground slightly after her, but doesn't bother turning to look at their reaction to her diatribe.
She considers throwing her broom down in disgust, but isn't willing to let her emotions out on her equipment. It would be far more practical to take them out on Thompson and Warrington's stupid heads. Gripping her broom tightly, she stomps off the field.
She hasn't made it far when a wet, soft ball of snow hits her on the back of the head, the slush working its way into her collar.
She spins to find Warrington unapologetically brushing snow off his hands. Her mouth drops open, turning to the nearby Bletchley.
He just shrugs and says, "You pretty much deserved that, Six."
Next to Warrington, Thompson nods in agreement.
So maybe she was a little harsh. Worked up, even. She just really wants to win their next match. Don't they get that?
Warrington raises an eyebrow at her, probably waiting to see if she's going to pull her wand.
She lets out a breath, forcing her shoulders to relax. She waits just long enough for Warrington to relax too. Then she says in a mild voice, "You understand, of course, that this means war."
Warrington's eyes widen, and Ginny ducks to scoop up a handful of snow. She launches it towards him, but he dodges out of the way at the last moment, and the snowball catches Thompson square in the face.
Ginny lifts her hands to her mouth in horror.
Thompson flicks the snow out of his eyes and shrugs. "All in." Then he dumps two handfuls of snow down on Warrington's head.
Ginny chokes on a laugh, looking back over her shoulder at Bletchley.
He lifts a hand, backing away. "Don't you dare-."
He doesn't get to finish, Ginny's next snowball exploding on his chest.
After that, all bets are off. The four of them scramble for cover, wands appearing and snowballs beginning to sneak up behind people at strange angles. Through her laughter, Ginny reflects that this is actually pretty good practice for evading bludgers. Bletchley, she knows, would never admit they were doing this for any other reason.
She sees Crabbe and Goyle snickering together near the stands, but doesn't think anything of it. Thompson is making a valiant attempt at flanking her, so she's got more pressing things on her mind than Crabbe and Goyle's snide remarks about their childish behavior.
Then she gets hit from behind by something much faster and harder than a mere snowball could possibly be. She goes down like a sack of potatoes. Despite the press of snow around her, the slush working in through her robes, her arm is on fire and she knows something is seriously wrong.
"Oh, suck it up, Six," Bletchley calls out, peering up over the rise as if expecting a trap.
Ginny doesn't reply, her jaw clenched tight against the moan of agony she refuses to let out.
"Gin?" Thompson says, dropping his snowball as he approaches. Warrington takes the opportunity to dust him again, but Thompson just brushes it off. She must look as bad as she feels.
"Bletchley," Thompson says, picking up what looks like a solid ball of ice nearly the size of a bludger.
"Son of a-," Bletchley swears, looking up from Ginny to find Crabbe and Goyle laughing uproariously over by the stands. "Stupid sods." He disappears from Ginny's vision, no doubt off to give the idiots a piece of his mind for endangering their win against Ravenclaw.
"Shoulder?" Thompson asks, kneeling down next to her.
Ginny nods, biting down on her tongue.
"Let's get her inside," Warrington says.
Thompson slides an arm under her knees and one behind her back. Ginny hisses in pain, letting out a curse. "I can walk," she snaps.
Bletchley reappears. "Shut up and let him carry you."
The way up to the castle takes forever, and she's nearly frozen through by the time they get there.
"Bludger accident," Bletchley succinctly lies to Pomfrey in the infirmary.
Ginny doesn't bother contradicting him. They can't get Crabbe and Goyle in trouble. They need the stupid morons for their game.
Pomfrey mutters a few words over Ginny, her fingers unerringly digging in right on the tender bits. "Collarbone is broken."
"You can fix that, right?" Bletchley presses. Ginny would feel warmed by that if she didn't know his concern is for the match.
Pomfrey gives him a stern look. "The bone, yes. But the tissue damage will take longer to heal."
She presses her lips together. "Four weeks to heal completely."
Four weeks? Their game against Ravenclaw is in less than one.
Bletchely swears, Madam Pomfrey giving him a scandalized look.
"I can play," Ginny says. It's only her left arm, thank goodness. She only needs that to stay on her broom, not score.
"No you can't," Madam Pomfrey contradicts.
"There's almost a week until the match. I'll wear a sling, I won't use it at all, I'll stay lying here the entire time if you want, drinking any potion you can think of. I just have to play. Please."
The rest of the team is nodding along.
"Please," Ginny repeats, giving Madam Pomfrey her most pathetic look.
Pomfrey's lips press together. "One week of total and complete rest. And then I will check you again. If there is any lingering pain, I won't allow you to play."
It's not perfect, but she'll take it. "Deal."
DA meetings are decidedly less interesting when all you can do is sit and watch. Still, Ginny is good to her word, sitting off to one side with her arm in a sling.
She'd gotten more than a few curious glances when she arrived, people clearly interested in how she'd been injured. She hasn't changed her story, just says, "Bludger accident," anytime anyone asks.
Most of them take that at face value, even with Tobias rolling his eyes with disbelief each time. (Ginny hadn't even bothered telling Tobias and Smita anything; just let them draw their own conclusions.) Fred and George frown at her story, but don't push.
Ginny is even more annoyed with her injury when she realizes that Harry is finally going to introduce the patronus charm. Sitting up a bit taller, she watches in awe as the silvery stag leaps to life, its bright light filling the room. It's not just light either, but something tangible, something that seems to make everything buoyant, warmer. When it fades, disappearing into wisps, Ginny has the foolish thought that everything is slightly less cheerful in its wake, the dull ache in her arm intensifying. Nearby, she hears one of the Ravenclaw girls sigh as if with disappointment.
Harry lowers his wand. "With practice, a patronus can serve as a barrier between you and a Dementor."
"It's so beautiful," Lavender sighs.
Harry coughs, looking embarrassed by the girl's breathy enthusiasm. "I'm not going to lie to you. They're wicked hard to produce, but are the only thing that can save you from a Dementor."
"It's pretty," Angelina admits. "But how does that protect you?"
"It's made from happy thoughts," Harry explains. "The same things that Dementors seek to drain away from you, but the patronus can't feel despair. Ultimately, that much pure happiness and goodness simply drives the Dementor away."
There's a smatter of whispers at that, many remembering what it had felt like to be near one that one year on the train.
Smita raises her hand. "What determines the shape a patronus takes?"
Harry frowns. "I'm actually not sure." He automatically turns to Hermione.
She doesn't disappoint. "Some theorize that it reflects the caster's personality, or something tied to the happy memory used to produce it, but no one knows for certain."
Smita nods, sharing a look with Tobias that Ginny can't quite interpret.
Someone behind them mutters something about Slytherin not having any happy memories to pick from.
Tobias shoots a menacing glance back over his shoulder. Fingering his wand, he says, "I know how I could make some happy memories."
People laugh, a few more nervous than amused, but Ginny thinks not even that would have happened before the DA.
"Okay," Harry says. "Let's give it a try."
At the end of the week, Ginny is able to sit perfectly calm through Pomfrey's examination, betraying not so much as a grimace no matter how times she pokes her. Of course, that's really only thanks to a nice potion Smita brewed for her. It isn't really cheating, exactly. Not when the situation is so dire.
Pomfrey still looks suspicious, giving Ginny one last hard, unexpected poke. Ginny flexes her stomach, managing to hold in a groan at the pain in her arm. She breathes carefully and lets her face soften into a smile. "See? Right as rain."
Pomfrey sniffs. "All right. But if there is permanent damage because of this, don't come back crying to me."
Ginny feels a twinge of worry with that, but quickly shoves it aside, focusing instead on the match. Her team doesn't stand a chance without her and they all know it.
Saturday dawns hard and cold, with heavy grey clouds glowering above. Not exactly promising, but Ginny doesn't need sunshine, just another hit of Smita's amazing potion.
As they get ready to head out onto the pitch, Bletchley grabs Draco's shoulder. "Catch the damn snitch," he growls. "And sooner rather than later."
Draco scowls, shaking off Bletchley's hand. Crabbe and Goyle follow him out, still looking faintly amused by the situation. Too stupid to understand the impact of what they've done.
Bletchly sighs, but doesn't bother pressing further. He must know a losing battle when he sees one. He doesn't bother to ask Ginny if she is okay, and she wouldn't expect him to. One thing they have always implicitly agreed on is how much Quidditch matters.
He does reach out to punch her in his normal pre-game ritual, ending up changing last moment and patting her awkwardly on her head.
Ginny rolls her eyes and calls him something profane.
Bletchly grins, knuckles digging into her scalp.
She shoves him off, shoulders her broom, and walks out onto the pitch.
As the two teams line up on the field, there's no visible sign of recognition when Ginny stands across from Cho, no sign that they are both in the DA together. Not surprising.
The match starts off okay, the pain manageable, but as the match stretches on and on and no one finds the snitch and the cold starts seeping in, it takes everything Ginny has just to stay on her broom.
After a half hour in, Bletchley calls a timeout, and Ginny has to wonder if she's begun to look green from the pain. He doesn't speak to her though, instead yelling at Draco to get the damn snitch and for the beaters to do their bloody jobs.
Smita slips into the clutch of players with a steaming goblet in her hand, blithely ignoring the yelling.
"For the record," she says, handing the goblet over, "this is a really bad idea."
Probably, but Ginny still downs the contents of the goblet, feeling a flush of instant relief.
Ginny does her best to run up as many points as possible while the potion is still strong, and Warrington and Thompson step up their game accordingly. Luckily the Ravenclaw keeper is not very good, even if Cho is still flying circles around Draco. Draco seems incapable of doing anything more than getting in Cho's way from time to time, relying on his thuggish friends to fire bludgers in her direction.
Still, it does afford the chasers time enough to build a lead. Just enough to ensure that even if Cho gets the snitch, they can still win.
A late, stupid, stupid, stupid foul nearly destroys their precious lead. Crabbe, of course.
Ginny manages to fling one last quaffle home right before Cho grabs the snitch.
Stepping off her broom in the midst of her cheering teammates, Ginny almost collapses to the ground. Thompson steps up as if to slap her on the back, his arm sliding carefully around her back. "You, Weasley, are one of the craziest, stubbornest, most foolhardy people I know," he says, helping her get back to the locker room. "It's kind of amazing."
If she wasn't in so much pain, she might punch him for that.
"I just hope it's worth it," he says.
So does she.
The next morning, Ginny feels pretty close to death, the price, she knows, for the temporary reprieve Smita's potions provided. As much as she wants more potion, she thinks food might be order. Food and then more bed. For like a week.
After breakfast she sits in the common room with Tobias and Smita. Her head is pounding away, she's overwhelmingly behind on her homework, and the last damn straw is Crabbe sitting in the common room, flicking little paper wads at Millicent. Her shoulder, the song, the late bludger, the look on Millicent's face as she pretends it doesn't bother her…it's all just too damn much.
Unbidden, Neville's voice rises up in her head.
You have to live with them, Ginny. Everyone knows that.
No, Ginny thinks. Neville got it wrong.
They have to live with her.
"What are you thinking about when you look like that?" Smita asks, voice wary.
Ginny's eyes narrow. Shoving her books aside, she gets to her feet, marching across the common room. She passes Crabbe without pause, caching a snippet of the barely coherent, nasty things he's not bothering to whisper about Millicent.
"Antonia," Ginny says when she nears the older girl's chair. "I was wondering if you could help me with something."
Antonia takes one look at Ginny's face, a lazy smile spreading across her face like a cat presented with a bowl of cream. "I thought you'd never ask."
Just to be extra careful, Ginny decides to belatedly take Pomfrey's advice, keeping her arm in the sling for another two weeks. She doesn't use it at all, too worried about what Pomfrey had said about permanent damage now that the match is over. Not that she regrets it. Quidditch is a serious business. Which is exactly why now that she has the time, she is going to get her recovery done right.
The lack of Quidditch practices even allows her to finally get caught up in her studies again.
At the DA meetings, they have finally begun trying to produce their own patronuses, with minimal success so far. Mostly they manage nothing more than shooting short bursts of glittery mist at each other. But even the mist has the effect of endless smiles and giggles. Even sitting on the sidelines, Ginny's arm hurts far less.
The whole group is in high spirits, swapping insults and tall tales. Fred is relating their latest prank on Filch, Lee Jordan doing a credible impersonation of the caretaker clutching his blue dyed tongue.
"I hear Crabbe is in the infirmary," George cackles, not bothering to hide his malicious pleasure.
"Stupid git fell down the stairs," Tobias supplies, ever happy to jump in with well-timed gossip. "Too thick to remember the sticking step, poor sod."
They all laugh.
Ginny looks up to find Harry watching her from across the room.
She meets his gaze unblinkingly.
He calls an end to the meeting, the wisps of light dissipating.
The room feels a little darker than when they began.
In February, the newly cobbled together Gryffindor Quidditch team loses bad to Hufflepuff.
From the stands, Ginny winces, and tries to remind herself that Gryffindor losing to Hufflepuff is a good thing for Slytherin's chances. Still, it's painful to watch.
The only good thing is that no one dares to sing Malfoy's stupid song anywhere near her. She doubts anyone will ever again.
She glances over at Malfoy and Goyle, looking a little lonely just the two of them.
Biting her lip, she turns back to watching the game.
Off the pitch, things have begun to ramp up. Starting with Harry's interview for the Quibbler and Umbridge's more and more over the top attempts to control the school, sacking teachers and belittling them and trying to make it look like she rules the school and not Dumbledore.
It would almost be impressive if it weren't so damn annoying.
Smita rushes up to Ginny one evening after dinner, her face pale.
"Smita?" Ginny asks, glancing across the room at Tobias. "What's wrong?"
"Umbridge is purging the library of all non-wizard materials."
This is probably the last thing she expected Smita to say. "What?"
She nods as Tobias joins them. "Everything by Muggles, or Goblins, or Centuars. She has Pince boxing them all up."
Ginny really wants to say, she can't do that, but knows very well that she can. This must be about Firenze and Trewlawny. About Umbridge feeling the need to reassert her power again in the face of Harry's interview and all the things she can't control.
"Madam Pince was actually…crying," Smita says, looking seriously disturbed. She looks up at Ginny. "We're going to do something, right?"
"Of course we are," Tobias says, disgust clear in his voice. If there is one thing he won't tolerate, it's someone trying to separate him from books. "Nicking them should be easy enough. Pince would probably help us. We just need somewhere safe to keep them."
"Room of Requirement?" Smita asks.
"No," Ginny says, glancing towards the non-descript door that doesn't lead to a broom closet. "I think I might know somewhere even better."
She walks over to the door, Smita and Tobias trailing behind her. She isn't sure whether she should try the door handle, knock, or what.
It should surprise her, the way Antonia materializes, languidly strolling around the corner, but Ginny has long since stopped wondering the limits of the girl's powers.
Ginny walks up to her, Tobias and Smita hanging back. "If we were to…liberate some books, could you help us find someplace to keep them?"
"I could," she says, paying more attention to a hand of perfect fingernails than Ginny's proposition. "But why should I?"
Ginny is taken a little aback, not expecting obstructionism from Antonia. She wonders if she's been getting a little too comfortable with thinking she actually knows the older girl.
"Because Umbridge is going to destroy them," Smita blurts from behind her. Ginny glances back to see Smita looking stunned at her own daring.
Next to her, Tobias nods, taking a bold step forward. "Plus, they're forbidden. Education Decree number bazillion should be telling us so any minute now. Don't know about you three, but it makes me really want to read them." He winks at Antonia, but she remains stone-faced and silent. As the moments pass, for possibly the first time Ginny's ever seen, Tobias seems discomforted, dropping his eyes to his toes and shifting his weight.
"Because no one has the right to tell us what we can't read," Ginny says, finally recognizing this for the test it is.
Antonia is silent for another long moment, her gaze finally shifting to Ginny. "No," she agrees. "No one has that right."
Ginny holds her gaze.
Antonia finally nods. "Bring them to me, and I'll take care of the rest," she says, disappearing down into The Parlor.
"Merlin," Tobias breathes as soon as Antonia is out of sight. "I think a basilisk could probably take lessons from her."
Probably. But that's another worry for another day.
"Come on," Ginny says. "We have plans to make."
The disappearance of dozens of forbidden books from the library remains a secret only known to Umbridge, Pince, and the perpetrators. But secret or not, Umbridge continues to ratchet up her attempts to control every aspect of the castle the more things slip through her fingers. She sets up an Inquisitorial Squad. A group of students given the power to patrol and generally snitch on their peers. It's probably unsurprising that most of the members are Slytherin boys, with a few Ravenclaw sprinkled in here and there.
If Percy were still here, Ginny has no doubt he would have been the first to sign up, Gryffindor or not.
They still have the DA though. Just another secret reminder that Umbridge doesn't control things as much as she thinks she does. For many of them that knowledge is like a nice warm little patronus in their pocket.
The Room of Requirement is full of them these days, bright glittering animals of various shapes and sizes.
At the time, Ginny hadn't really been sure what Smita was getting at, wanting to know what determines the shape a patronus takes. Now, watching the other students laugh and stare at their patronuses in awe, she wonders how none of them can see it, see how much they are revealing of themselves.
Smita, Tobias, and Ginny share glances, their patronuses remaining nothing but spits of mist. Better to look incompetent than to give away so much information for nothing.
Harry works his way over to Ginny's side. "What's going on?" he asks, voice lowered so it doesn't carry.
She glances up at him. "What do you mean?"
He gives her a look as if to remind her he's not an idiot. "I've seen your Reductor curse," he reminds her.
She smirks a little, remembering the sheer destructive energy that spell had unleashed.
"You aren't trying," he accuses, lifting her wand arm slightly like he's adjusting her technique.
She isn't sure how to play this, go with fake indignation or maybe just feign ignorance. Could she still blame her shoulder injury somehow?
"The truth," Harry presses, like he can see the lies she's considering.
"No," she admits. "I'm not trying." She glances at Ron's terrier trotting past. "Are you really surprised?"
He frowns, but before he has time to work it out, a loud crack nearby distracts him. Ginny expects to find Seamus has blown something up, but instead a small house elf stands next to Harry, his hands wringing anxiously in front of him.
It takes precious moments to get the news out of the elf as he tries to simultaneously punish himself and speak, but the words are finally free.
"Umbridge is coming!"
There's horrified silence, the patronuses blinking out of existence, and it isn't until Harry bellows at them to scatter that it really sinks in.
Tobias grabs for Ginny's arm, already heading for the exit when Smita breaks away, heading further back into the room.
"Smita!" Ginny snaps. "We have to go!"
Smita sprints for the bulletin board against the wall, her wand jabbing in the direction of the piece of parchment hanging in with all the clippings and photos. Ginny has just long enough to see the names on the list bleed and morph incomprehensibly underneath the blatant lettering of DUMBLEDORE'S ARMY.
"Let's go!" Ginny shouts, dragging Smita out into the hall.
They are easily the last students out into the hall, complete sitting ducks for Umbridge and her enforcers.
Tobias gestures up the first staircase they reach. "Owlery," he says.
They've only made it halfway up the distance when they hear feet pounding behind them.
Tobias' hand on Ginny's elbow lurches her to a stop. "No time," he hisses, shoving them both against the wall just in time for two of the student goons to round the corner. They're Slytherin, a year younger than themselves.
"Oi," the taller goon says. "You lot seen any students running around out here?"
Tobias looks up as if bored. "No," he says, his hand tightening on Ginny's waist. "But I haven't exactly been paying attention either now, have I?"
The boys glance at Smita and Ginny, their hair still askew from their run, and guffaw loudly.
Tobias smiles, slow and lecherous. The two goons are still laughing as they turn back in the other direction.
Once they are out of earshot, Ginny punches Tobias in the arm.
He yelps, rubbing at the spot. "Ow! What was that for?"
"Brilliant," Ginny says, shaking her head. "But disgusting."
A triumphant bellow echoes down the hall. "I've got him, Professor! I've got Potter!"
It only takes a moment to identify the voice as Draco's. Ginny moves as if to push off the wall, Smita's hand stopping her.
"There's nothing we can do."
Ginny stops, knowing Harry wouldn't want them to even if they could.
The walk back to the dorms is quiet with expectation. Tomorrow everything will be different.
The next morning the Great Hall is buzzing with Dumbledore's abrupt departure, with Umbridge's elevation to Headmaster. Things seem to have gone from bad to worse. And all because of their little rebellion.
All the DA members are eying each other, their suspicious regard lingering more on Tobias and Smita than anyone else. Someone must have betrayed them.
Ginny waits for the stupid gits to finally realize that there is only one DA member missing from the hall, and she's not a Slytherin. Cho looks slightly embarrassed by the obviously empty seat next to her, the one her friend and reluctant DA member Marietta normally would have occupied.
It's not until the next day that she reappears with thick red bumps blazed across her face. "SNEAK." It's awful and perfect and Ginny can't honestly say how she feels about it other than righteously absolved of everyone's biased suspicions about the Slytherin.
Smita gazes as Marietta as she passes, a puzzle piece seemingly to finally fall into place. "So that's the curse Hermione used. Impressive."
Tobias snorts with derision, probably more pissed that he almost got caught than the fact that the DA was betrayed. "Got what she deserved if you ask me."
Ginny glances down the table, her eye caught by Millicent sitting on her own. "Yeah," she agrees distractedly.
Ginny meets Harry's grim stare across the hall. He eyes Smita and Tobias next to her and nods. She thinks this is all the acknowledgement she will probably ever get. It's enough.
If Umbridge thought destroying the DA and Dumbledore in one swoop would solve anything, she didn't bank on two things: Fred and George Weasley. There is hardly any part of the castle that doesn't feel the effects of their reign of terror. It's blatant and over the top and stupidly brave, and Ginny knows her brothers are loving absolutely every moment of it.
It's not long until Ginny's galleon heats up in her pocket again, only this time not for a DA meeting, but rather for a coordinated prank.
Fred, George, Ron, Harry, Neville, Luna, and a mulish looking Hermione are all already gathered in the empty Charms room when Ginny shows up, Tobias and Smita in tow. "What's going on?"
Fred nods in welcome, face grave as it only is when serious mischief is afoot. "We need to get Harry into Umbridge's office."
They all glance at Harry, and Ginny notices for the first time that he looks a little grim. This is more than a lark, she can't help but think.
Tobias looks surprised. "Ballsy," he comments. "Sounds like fun."
Ginny smiles, glancing at Smita and getting a small nod. "I guess we're in."
Fred and George lay out their plan to turn an upper level into a swamp. By the time they are finished, Tobias is less enthused.
"What?" Ron asks, voice tinged with animosity.
Tobias ignores it. "Seems a bit of a dodgy plan."
Hermione perks up, nodding along as if finally glad to have someone agreeing with her. "Better not to do it."
Ron glares at her before turning his annoyance back to Tobias. "What, too scared to get caught?"
If he expected Tobias to take that as an insult, he clearly has no idea who he is talking to. Caution isn't stupid, opening yourself up to pointless punishment is.
"Ron, don't be a prat," Ginny says. "He's just saying that if we are going to do this, we should do it right."
Smita nods. "There's no need to rush ahead and get caught."
Fred and George look like they are speaking a different language.
"The swamp is a good start," Ginny says, walking around the table. "We just need a few other obstacles to make sure no one walks in on Harry in her office, or the twins laying their trap." She taps the map in a few key spots. "Keep Peeves distracted, professors out of the corridors, that sort of thing."
The Gryffindor have gone silent, Luna's soft humming the only other sound in the room.
"What you really need is someone with a bit more cunning," Tobias points out.
"And subtlety," Smita adds, glancing at the bright jumpers worn by her brothers.
Ginny bites back a smile.
Ron is still staring at them with his mouth hanging open, but Fred is looking at them with narrow, assessing eyes. "You volunteering?"
Tobias drops a courtly bow. "Why don't you just let us do what we do best."
George peers at him. "Be a sneaky git?"
Ginny crosses her arms over her chest. "Exactly."
They all know the only reason they didn't all end up in detention after the DA was busted was because Smita kept her head.
The plan comes together easily enough after that, though she can tell it's not quite as by the seat of their pants as the Gryffindors might have preferred. But why get caught or be punished if you don't have to?
They have all agreed on the timing and are splitting off their separate ways when Fred drops an arm over Ginny's shoulders, holding her back. "You always were the sneakiest of us all, weren't you?" he says in her ear.
"Finally catching on, are you?" she asks like her heart isn't pounding away in her chest. She wraps an arm around her brother's waist and squeezes as hard as she can.
He laughs, dropping his chin to rest on the top of her head. "My hero," he says.
Ginny isn't sure if she wants to laugh or cry.
Of course, things don't quite go to plan (they never do when Gryffindors are involved). Harry manages to get in and out of the office unobserved, but Fred and George get themselves caught. She can't quite be sure that wasn't their intention all along. Bloody brave fools.
Either way, she isn't sure she's ever been more proud to be a Weasley than the day she watches her brothers streak out of Hogwarts on their brooms, the crackle of fireworks exploding in their wake.
Tobias bumps her arm, awe on his face. "Now that is an exit."
One would think that with the departure of Fred and George, troublemakers extraordinaire, things might quiet down in the castle. But Peeves and the remaining members of the DA instead seem to be working very hard to fill the gap left behind. Helped a great deal by the fact that the professors are doing their best to constantly look the other way. They seem to have had their fill of Umbridge's reign as well.
Still, the constant bang of explosions and stink of foul potions and pranks can wear on a person after a while. Ginny starts making a habit of spending every Saturday morning in the blessed quiet of her hidden cloister. This morning though, it's not quite as empty as it usually is. Harry is sitting in her favorite spot, staring down at a piece of parchment in his lap.
He looks up at her.
"Oh," Ginny says, deciding Harry must have wanted to find some of his own solitude. "I'm sorry." She starts to back-pedal, but Harry stops her.
"No, it's okay." He gestures at the parchment in his lap. "I saw you coming."
She frowns. "You did?"
He waves her over, holding the parchment out for her to see. It takes a moment for her to make sense of it, the intricate lines, the small moving dots.
She locates the cloister, seeing two little dots called Ginny Weasley and Harry Potter. At least that explains how he found the cloister in the first place.
"No wonder you get away with as much as you do," she says.
Harry huffs with amusement that doesn't really seem to reach his eyes.
She glances sideways at him. She doesn't want to press, but there's something almost…expectant about him right now. "Harry?"
He flips to the map over to the library, sitting there for a moment watching students studying. "I saw something I wasn't supposed to," he admits.
"You did?" Ginny asks, pulling her eyes away from the Patil twins' dots hovering in a strange part of the library stacks.
He nods. "It's why I wanted to get into Umbridge's office. To talk to Sirius."
Clearly talking to Sirius didn't fix anything though, to judge from how miserable he looks. It reminds her a bit of the last time they talked alone, that dark morning in Grimmauld place.
Harry rubs at the back of his neck. "I saw one of Snape's memories from school. Back when Sirius and my parents were here."
She doesn't ask him how he accidentally saw something like that. He looks sheepish enough for her to suspect curiosity played a large part in it.
"My father bullied him," he says in a rush, like the words are painful to get out. "They all did. For a lark."
"Snape?" Ginny asks, feeling something tight building in her stomach.
She thinks of Snape and Sirius sniping at each other in the hallway at Grimmauld place, Antonia's voice in her ear.
Things aren't always what they seem.
"I know what you're going to say," Harry says, voice bitter. "That they were just kids."
Ginny frowns. "So are we."
He's clearly surprised by her response, turning to look at her straight on, eyebrows lifting. "Exactly. If he knew what that was like…"
"Did he?" People have always talked about James Potter like a golden boy, and she doesn't know if that is all respect for the dead or something grounded in history.
Harry considers that, his lower lip caught between his teeth. "No, I don't think he did."
Harry doesn't talk much about how he grew up, certainly not to her. She just knows bits and pieces from Ron and Hermione, things her parents have said about the Dursleys in passing. James Potter never could have comprehended that. There was a time Ginny wouldn't have been able to either.
And maybe that, more than anything, was Antonia's point.
"I just…never thought I'd feel sorry for Snape." He glances quickly at her, like he's belatedly realized she might feel protective of her head of house.
"Yeah," she says. "Me neither." She thinks of Snape, cool and pointed, his eyes full of hatred as he picks on Gryffindors. It's enough to make her wonder where viciousness really comes from, but she thinks she may already know. "Everything always looks different from the other side."
"Yeah," Harry says. "I guess it does."
He's still staring at her with something like reluctant regard, and it isn't embarrassing as much as feeling that she doesn't deserve it.
Ginny glances away, her eye caught by the parchment still open on Harry's lap. "So this map…," she says, thinking fast.
"It could probably confirm something for me that I've been wondering about for a while."
Harry's brow furrows at the change in topic. "Possibly."
She flips the folds of the map until she can see the grounds, her finger tapping on a row of buildings. "I've heard Flitwick spends far more time in the greenhouses than is proper," she says, waggling her eyebrows in an impersonation of Tobias at his most suggestive.
Harry lets out a startled laugh. "I hadn't noticed," he says. He leans in closer as if imparting a great secret, his shoulder bumping up against hers. "But I can tell you that Madam Pince does on occasion actually sleep in the library."
"I knew it!" Ginny says.
They laugh, chatting a bit more about various people on the map, eventually settling into silence, spending the rest of the morning catching up on their homework.
It doesn't occur to her until much later that with that map, Harry could have easily known her Saturday morning schedule. That he might have expected her.
Just another mystery of Harry Potter, she decides.
The thawing snows and clearing skies gradually reveal the grounds of Hogwarts again. Her arm finally completely healed and once again as strong as it was before her injury, Ginny throws herself back into practice. They have one last match left this year. It's just against Hufflepuff, but a big enough win would almost guarantee the Quidditch Cup for Slytherin. Even Snape seems excited by the possibility (as much as he seems excited by anything). The week leading up to the match, he lets the entire Slytherin team off their homework.
Ginny's gaze lingers on him as the students work on the day's potion. Despite all of the revelations about Snape she'd learned from Harry, it's comforting to see that he's still predictable. Still, when Ginny meets Snape's gaze over the potions table one day, she finds herself looking just a little closer, surprised to find the animosity she's built up against him soften a little.
"Is there a problem, Miss Weasley?" he asks, voice as hard as his gaze.
"No, sir," she says, turning her attention back to her cauldron.
He paces back across the classroom, sniping at Colin for the abysmal color of his potion. "Completely hopeless," he declares, siphoning the potion out of the cauldron. "Start again. And try not to blow us all up with your incompetence."
Soon enough it is Saturday, the Quidditch pitch glorious in the warm spring sunshine.
Waiting for the balls to be released, Ginny glances around at her teammates, checking their positions. She catches Crabbe watching her, his expression unreadable. He's the first to look away. She doesn't feel as satisfied by that as she thinks she should. Still, at least she knows there won't be any late or stray bludgers this game.
That should mean something. Shouldn't it?
She's scared that it doesn't.
The whistle blows, and they are all off.
After the tense match against Gryffindor and the sheer agony of the Ravenclaw match, Ginny almost feels like she has too much time to think against Hufflepuff. Her game is seriously off, but they still win handily.
Hufflepuff's new seeker has big shoes to fill, after all. Draco manages to do the seemingly impossible and actually catch the snitch.
Just like that, they've won. Gryffindor would have to beat Ravenclaw by near 800 points. Considering what a tough time of it the Slytherin team had with Ravenclaw, the gutted Gryffindor doesn't stand a chance.
Glancing up at the professor's box, Ginny catches sight of Snape speaking with McGonagall, almost looking smug as if he's just asked for her to get ready to hand over the cup.
McGonagall, for her part, looks rather pinched around the face.
Thompson slams into Ginny then, hugging her tight, and she tries to forget anything other than the win.
Ginny is moping.
There really isn't any other word for it as much as she would like there to be. She's sitting in the common room, listening to the waters above, the occasional distant groan of a merperson's horn resonating in the walls. She isn't thinking how familiar is has all become, how comforting, but rather concentrates on the heavy feeling in her stomach that she just hasn't been able to shake.
She tries to tell herself this is about the Quidditch season being over, about the DA being disbanded, Fred and George being gone, but deep down she knows this is about something else entirely.
Coming into the Common Room the day before, Ginny had reached the doorway the same time as a first year boy. He'd quickly stepped out of her way, but not before she'd seen it there on her face: fear.
That look has settled deep into her stomach and refuses to leave.
Her thoughts keep spiraling back to Snape and feeling sorry for him and hating herself for it all at the same time.
Antonia had tried to warn her when she'd gone to her for help with Crabbe, with her reciprocity. Antonia had tried to warn her that there was a cost.
There is always a cost.
You just have to be willing to pay it.
Ginny had been too angry to really listen. Too filled with self-righteousness. But here she sits, paying the price all the same.
"I'm going to do a reading," Antonia says, her voice almost gentle as she appears over her shoulder. "Want to come?"
Ginny looks up at her and remembers the way she completely blew her first chance in The Parlor, and has to acknowledge how much that actually bothers her. Down in that mysterious room is a collection of girls not willing to be dictated to, to be told what they are capable of. Ginny knows she has a lot to learn from them.
And here Antonia is, giving her one more chance.
It occurs to Ginny that Antonia is one of the few people in her life willing to let her make own mistakes. Willing to let her figure out how to fix them, and not hold them against her.
"Yeah," Ginny says, still feeling that weight, but refusing it let it hold her down forever. "I would really like that."
The rest of the year seems to pass in a blur. The seventh and fifth years disappear under massive piles of homework and revision for OWLs and NEWTs. She suspects Fred and George really let themselves get caught just so they wouldn't have to bother taking them.
She misses the DA, but she's still meeting with Smita and Tobias sometimes, sharing spells and tricks Harry hadn't covered, ones she thinks he probably wouldn't approve of. Passing on things she's learned from Antonia.
And in the mornings now as she leaves for class, she passes by Millicent like she does every day, but now takes a moment to pause.
"Hi, Millicent," Ginny says.
She looks up, brow furrowed and eyes wary. "What?" she practically snarls.
Ginny smiles and keeps walking.
Tomorrow she'll try again.
In June, Gryffindor faces off with Ravenclaw, and maybe because they have nothing to lose, Ron doesn't do half bad. She suspects he just needs a little confidence in himself. (And a much better team to play with. Ginny doesn't like to be uncharitable to other players, but the replacement Gryffindor Seeker and Beaters are really, really terrible. Yet another reason it is probably a blessing Fred and George aren't here anymore.)
Still, eking out a win isn't enough to take the lead from Slytherin, and just like that, the cup is theirs. Bletchley jumps around the common room like he's deranged, Ginny laughing with Thompson. Draco predictably struts around the place like he'd single-handedly pulled off the victory, but Ginny's too happy to care.
Ginny starts to daydream about the presentation of the cup, the hall festooned with green and silver.
She has to put all of that aside for a while as her own finals loom.
Ginny has just finished sending an owl off to her father when Smita lifts an arm to stop her. Voices are echoing down the hallway, what sounds like Hermione and…Umbridge? They quickly step back into an alcove just in time to see Umbridge holding Harry and Hermione at wand point, marching them towards the grounds.
"What the hell is going on?" Ginny mutters to Smita. Neither of them is foolish enough to try to take on Umbridge, but Ginny is already spooling out the implications.
"We need to tell someone," Smita points out. She's read the Quibbler, she understands the kinds of things that are happening around Harry.
Ginny automatically thinks of the Order, of Grimmauld place. For all she knows, that's where Dumbledore is living. "Umbridge's office."
Smita looks up at her, quickly doing the maths. "You know who to contact?"
"Yes. Let's go."
They walk down the corridor as casually as possible, hoping not to run into any Inquisitorial Squads. They usually get a free pass as Slytherin, but there is no reason to push it with so much clearly going on right now.
Ginny slips an extendible ear under the door.
"From the sound of it, Draco, Crabbe, Goyle, Montague, and Pansy. With Ron, Luna, and Neville."
"Bad odds," Smita says.
Ginny frowns, considering all of the options. She shuffles through them, trying to find the best one with the least chance of getting caught. Or of giving Draco and his henchmen yet another reason for open hostility.
Why couldn't Umbridge have taken some of her squad with her?
Ginny straightens. "I have an idea." She lifts her wand to Smita's face.
Smita eyes Ginny. "They can't really be this thick."
"Oh," Ginny says, "I think they can be. Ready?"
Smita nods, her face and clothing seeming to float and blur. Ginny reminds herself to thank Antonia later.
Lifting her hand, Ginny bangs her fists against the door. "Boys," she bellows, voice pitched just so. Commanding but sickly sweet. "Come out here at once!"
The door just barely opens when the sound of choking echoes from inside, a few spells ricocheting off the walls. Luna yelping.
Smita shoves the door open, curse taking out Pansy while she has her hand still on the door handle. Ginny takes in the scene before her, but has little to do other than stun the moaning and writhing Goyle on the floor.
Ron, Neville, and Luna lift their wands, pointing them at Ginny and Smita.
"Whoa," Ginny says. "It's us."
Smita waves her wand, the enchantments melting from their faces.
Neville looks relieved, but Ron is still glancing around. "I heard Umbridge."
Ginny smiles. "I will have order!" she snaps, in a pretty great impersonation if she says so herself.
"Merlin, Gin," Ron says, looking freaked out and impressed.
"Shall we go after Harry and Hermione?" Luna asks, stepping over the prone form of Draco.
Ginny gestures towards the fire. "Shouldn't we tell someone?" she asks, trying to give Ron a significant glance.
Ron shakes his head, gathering up all the wands. "Harry tried already. There's no one there."
"What is going on?" Ginny demands, her head spinning with everything that has happened.
They step out into the hall, Ron pulling her close. "Harry thinks they have Sirius."
Ginny blanches, but refrains from asking any more questions as they rush out into the grounds.
They run into Harry and Hermione coming out the forest, both looking incredibly worse for wear. They're covered in what looks like…blood.
"How did you-?" Harry starts to ask, his eyes falling on Ginny and Smita.
"Ginny and Smita broke us out," Neville says.
"Ron nearly had it done on his own," Ginny says, giving her brother a grin.
Ron shrugs. "Ton-tongue toffees."
"Never take candy from strangers," Smita says with a solemn nod.
Ron startles them all with a loud laugh. "Sorry," he says, looking sheepish.
Smita suppresses a smile. "So where to now?"
Harry blusters and very nearly insults them all, but in the end has to capitulate.
They are going to the Department of Mysteries. Together.
Thinking back on what happened in the Department of Mysteries, it's mostly a giant horrifying haze. Ginny remembers the terrible feel of flying on nothing but faith that there is animal you can't see. She remembers the hard cold masks of the death eaters, the shattering of glass under her Reductor curse, Ron being attacked by brains (can that memory be right?), but most of all, Smita falling. Falling, falling, falling.
The way Smita didn't get back up.
There had been Death Eaters and a wand at Ginny's throat, and in a blur the Order members sweeping in to the rescue. Ginny getting thrown back by a curse, slamming into the benches.
Sirius falling oh so quietly. Barely a whisper and then gone.
Harry bellowing and running and everything sliding black.
Then she's waking in the infirmary, safe and sound and tucked back in at Hogwarts as if the night had never happened, if not for the screaming pain in her side and the smell of potions and astringents in her nose.
Ginny sits up with her heart in her throat, her eyes scanning the infirmary. She sees a shock of red hair that can only be her brother, and next to him, the bushy brown of Hermione. Down at the far end she finally locates Smita. Her eyes are open, her lips moving even if Ginny can't hear the words. She's sinking back into her own bed with relief when she realizes someone is sitting in a chair next to Smita's bed.
He has his head low over her, her hand clenched tightly in his. Pale and drawn as if he'd been part of the fight even when Ginny knows he wasn't. What is he doing-?
Ginny gets her answers as he presses his lips to Smita's forehead, Smita leaning into the touch.
Madam Pomfrey draws the curtain, blocking them from view.
Ginny barely thinks anything more than here we go before sinking back into oblivion and away from the pain.
Ginny hears a slight shift of air, like leaves rustling, and looks up to find Harry pulling off a cloak, that worn piece of parchment once again in his fingers. She feels a beat of relief seeing him, apparently whole and sound. Somehow, against all odds, they'd all made it back out.
She feels her gut clench, remembering a dark arch and the empty space beyond.
Almost all of them.
"Harry?" she says, her voice a hushed croak. It must be day by now, or maybe even night again, to judge from the low light and quiet in the infirmary.
He seems surprised to find her awake, looking back over his shoulder and pulling the curtain tightly closed behind him. "They said you were all okay, but I…"
"Wanted to see for yourself?" she says, shifting up slightly in the bed. She grimaces when the movement pulls across her ribs. Oh, Merlin. Moving is not good.
"Ginny?" Harry asks, stepping further into the cubicle.
"I'm okay," she gasps, biting back against the pain flaring in her side.
He picks up the goblet on her bedside table. "You didn't finish your potion."
She pulls a face. "It tastes like feet."
His lips twitch. "Yeah. But it will make you feel better." He hands it to her.
She takes it, but doesn't drink it. She seems to remember it being warm, the metal cup now dull and cool against her fingers. "How is everyone else?" she asks, stalling.
He eyes her. "Sleeping." As she should be, is the unspoken part. Mum would be proud.
"Okay, okay. You win," she says, pinching her nose and downing the tepid, slimy potion in one go. Harry trades her the empty goblet for a glass of water. She chugs the whole glassful, but it still doesn't completely wash away the disgusting taste in her mouth.
She shudders with distaste, handing the glass back to Harry.
She expects him to leave as soon as she drinks it, but he lingers, looking awkward and uncertain in the enclosed space. Maybe exhaustion has finally taken hold. He stares at the curtains in the dim light as if they might hold some hidden answer.
"Harry?" she asks, already feeling warmth spreading across her ribs.
He blinks, refocusing on her. "Can I ask… Do you think…" He trails off.
"Do I think?" she prompts.
He looks like he might lose his nerve for a second, but this is Harry Potter, brave to the point of stupidity, no matter how exhausted and worn he looks. "Could you kill? If you had to?"
Ginny feels her gut clench, the potion roiling unpleasantly. "What?"
Harry shakes his head, stepping back as if to leave. "Forget it," he says.
She makes a clumsy grab for his sleeve, keeping him there. Things are moving too fast for her poor potion-addled brain, so she says the first thing that pops into her mind, something she feels like she somehow knows deep down in her bones. "You aren't a killer, Harry."
He closes his eyes, and she can't tell if that's what he wanted to hear or not.
She thinks about his rage tonight, the way he tore after Bellatrix like a wild thing. Is he scared of what he might have done to her, given the chance?
Could you kill?
Ginny thinks sometimes (worries) that maybe she could. Worries what that makes of her. But Harry? No. She doesn't have a doubt. She's watched him this last year, has gotten to know him as more than just her brother's friend. She's paid attention to the things he has chosen to teach them and the things he has not. And now that she's seen him actually in that moment, those rushing, terrifying moments where there is no time to think or remember ideals, he'd still lived them.
No, he's not a killer.
Her hand slips to his wrist, the potion working its way up her limbs. "I'm sorry," Ginny risks saying, her voice slow and dull. "I'm sorry about Sirius."
Harry looks away, his jaw clenching and eyes blinking rapidly. "Yeah," he says, voice rough.
Ginny's eyes drop closed, her body beginning to feel feather light.
She feels Harry place her hand back on the edge of the bed with almost undue care. "Ginny?" he whispers.
"Do you think maybe I could just…sit here for a little while?"
She nods her head, her cheek pressing into the pillow.
She falls asleep to the sound of Ron's snores and the feeling that Harry is sitting nearby.
They are all released from the infirmary the next day, to a castle alive with whispers and changes and everything being different and yet exactly the same.
Ginny and Smita sit together on a couch in the common area.
"So," Ginny says.
"So," Smita agrees, cheeks red.
They glance at Tobias across the room with the other boys in their year.
This will be different.
Loading up on the Hogwarts Express is bedlam like always, made even trickier by Tobias' absolute refusal to let Smita lift anything, particularly her heavy trunk. They all three know how to do a locomotor charm, but Tobias has been in a particularly strange and annoying mood ever since Smita was injured. He's trying to heft both his own and Smita's trunks up onto the train. Ginny tries to intervene, but it's Neville who appears from nowhere to lift the other ends of the trunks.
Tobias scowls something fierce, but doesn't complain.
Somehow in Tobias' twisty mind, he has decided that the DA is responsible for what happened to Smita, for the danger she'd thoughtlessly put herself in. Ginny wonders how much of that is anger that he hadn't been there himself.
She smiles at Neville in thanks when Tobias doesn't bother to.
Walking down the train together, they pass by a compartment full of DA members.
Neville pulls open the compartment door, giving the three of them an awkward wave. "See you, Ginny. Smita. Tobias."
Tobias nods stiffly, Smita smiling slightly. They move on down the hall, Smita's hand tucked firmly into Tobias'.
"Have a good summer, Neville," Ginny says, glancing at the DA members one last time.
From inside, Harry looks up, but it almost feels like his eyes don't quite connect, like he's distant from everything around him.
Could you kill, if you had to?
Turning for the Slytherin compartments, she follows after Smita and Tobias, leaving the DA and Umbridge and the Department of Mysteries firmly behind her.
She doesn't look back.