if I stumble, they're gonna eat me alive
The Burrow is quiet. For all the people packed inside, it's the land around that is stifling in its stillness. The wards and magics protecting them keep out everything, even belligerent gnomes and innocuous songbirds. Anything can be a weapon.
There is nothing harmless left.
Ginny feels like she is living inside a suspended breath—everyone waiting, waiting, even as they refuse to discuss what. (She's too young, let's not worry them, it can't be like last time, it can't-)
Ginny escapes outside as often as she can, and not just to avoid Fleur's obsessive wedding plans. She walks into the trees and brush until she can feel static rising on her skin and knows she's nearing the limits. The wards enclosing the property are the most powerful things she has ever felt, a hum in her flesh that part of her admires even as she resents them.
She wonders who built them. Once, she would have assumed it was Dumbledore (his body crumpled at the bottom of the tower, Harry leaning over with tears unashamedly on his face). She shakes her head and forces herself to mentally run through the list of Aurors Harry Potter has at his beck and call. None of the names stand out though, and there's something of the flavor on her tongue that makes her think of Molly Prewett.
Holding out a hand in front of her, Ginny touches the field of energy marking the boundary, feeling the tingle build in her flesh.
She starts at the sound of Harry's voice, but doesn't turn. She's a bit surprised he's followed her. It seems like he's been avoiding everyone since he was brought here by the Order.
Since Mad-Eye fell out of the sky.
Her fingers curl, the ward crackling against the intrusion.
Harry pulls her back before her hand can burn. "Careful," he admonishes.
She wants to laugh. A Gryffindor telling a Slytherin to be careful. The irony is painful.
She folds her tingling fingers into a fist. "I hate feeling trapped like this."
She misses the freedom of her broom and the wind in her hair, but most of all being at school where she feels like a person and not a daughter to be protected and caged and not trusted.
Harry's fingers tighten on her shoulders briefly before he lets go. "I'm sorry," he says, and she can hear it, the guilt dragging on his words.
Ginny sighs. She would have been part of the detail escorting him here herself, had she anything resembling a choice. But part of being the Chosen One seems to be absorbing all the blame, so she doesn't bother correcting him.
Not everything is about you, she wants to say. Only right now, she thinks it may actually be.
"They're going to wonder where you are," she says instead, turning to look at him. Worry is more like it. Mum has barely let Harry out of her sight since she heard of their plans (we're not going back to Hogwarts).
"I know," he says, tugging at the bottom edge of his shirt, the gesture jerky with guilt and frustration. "I just needed to-." He breaks off, shaking his head.
Almost seventeen or not, she can't help but see a little of that lost boy in him right then.
"Yeah," she says. "I get it."
"You always do," he says, focusing intently on her like a tricky piece of charmwork.
"What?" she asks, her heartbeat taking an unexpected uptick.
He shakes his head, gesturing at her. "Are you hurt?"
"Oh," Ginny says, lifting up her hand. Her fingertips are the slightest bit red.
Harry darts a quick glance at her face before taking her hand. For a moment he seems to just be checking her for injury from the ward. But then he turns her hand over, and she realizes he's staring down at her wrist, at the green form inked into her skin like a brand.
She's vividly reminded of thrusting her arm under his nose like a dare, the way he looked at her. He's frowning slightly now, and she waits for their fight to take off right where they left it.
But Harry merely tilts his head to one side, his fingers barely brushing over the tattoo. "The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin," he says.
Ginny's entire body stiffens, her eyes riveted to his fingers on her arm.
There's a terrible jumble of feelings rising in her chest all at once. Anger that he never said anything sooner because just a single word from him could have made an eleven-year-old Ginny just a little bit less lost, this idea that she wasn't so very different from a boy she thought of as a hero. Annoyance that he has the nerve to tell her now when it doesn't mean nearly as much. When it shouldn't.
But another part of her is trying to imagine it, to imagine Harry down in those murky spaces, navigating a world of unspoken rules and expectations.
Her eyes snap back up to his face, and she isn't at all sure he could have done it. Not on top of everything else he's being asked to do. Which makes her consider for the first time that maybe she has a strength he doesn't. Is that why he's here, once against dropping a confession at her feet?
"Is this what I am?" she asks, pressure building in her chest. "Your secret keeper?"
He blinks, pulling slightly back. "What?"
It seems so clear, the way he comes to her when whatever he's carrying is too heavy for him. Something too dark to be shared with anyone else.
"You keeping telling me all of these things," she says, her voice quiet and still, like Mum's at her most dangerous. "And I just…I don't know what I'm supposed to do with them."
He frowns, staring down at her arm still clasped in his. He doesn't deny it though. How could he?
He's been raw and rough since he arrived at the Burrow, since Mad-Eye and Hedwig and George's ear paid the price for his safe arrival. She thinks he's beginning to realize just how high the toll will be, what people are willing to pay for an outcome he can't even promise to deliver. He's threatening to topple, and maybe he's here because she's supposed to somehow hold him together, him and his dark places he doesn't dare speak of to anyone else.
"I suppose that's better than just being an inside source on your enemies," she says, and she knows he can hear it, the bitterness in her voice.
He winces, but at last seems to find his footing. "You were right. I never should have tried to use you to get to Malfoy."
She forces herself to shrug like it doesn't mean anything to hear him say that. "It's not like you were wrong."
"Yes," he says, reaching for her other elbow and pulling her around until she's facing him straight on. "I was."
Ginny supposes it's ridiculous to prefer Harry's anger to this strange intensity he's radiating, but for some reason she thinks fighting with him would be far less frightening.
"It doesn't matter," she says. "We should probably-."
But Harry only tightens his grip on her arms and says, "It matters."
Ginny feels an inexplicable surge of frustration with his stubbornness. "Why?" she demands. "Because we're friends?"
He hesitates, and that says more than anything he could ever put into words. Because the truth is, they have never really been friends.
It shouldn't hurt. But it does. More than it has a right to.
Ginny tries to pull back, to head back to the house, and Harry's expression shifts from conflicted and uncertain to focused and intent, like he's made up his mind to do something reckless and utterly foolish and nothing on this earth is going to stop him.
"No," he says. "Not because we're friends."
She barely has time to even be hurt by his blunt admission because for some reason he is leaning closer and-.
Harry. Is kissing her.
It's little more than a firm press of his lips to hers, too brief to give her time to react, let alone try to understand the tingle of something like energy ghosting over her skin. Her brain seems to be stuttering, unable to comprehend what is happening.
His cheeks are flushed when he pulls back almost as quickly as he leaned in. He's watching her like he's bracing himself for a slap or a hex, and maybe she should, maybe that's what she's supposed to do. Isn't it? But there's something else layered in the way he's looking at her. Something that makes it just a little hard to breathe.
She wonders how long he's been looking at her like that. How could she never have noticed?
His fingers tighten on her arms. "Please say something."
It's only then that she realizes she is just standing there staring at him, one hand pressed to her lips. She needs to think of the right thing to say, to consider what this means, but for once she's tired of thinking and planning and considering, and her lips are still tingling.
So instead she reaches for his face and kisses him back.
He's startled only for a moment before he's kissing her back, and it's tentative and clumsy, but somehow that doesn't seem to matter. She presses closer, letting the kiss linger and build, and Harry slides his hand up into her hair. It's nothing like the other kisses she has experienced; not cloying or aggressive, or even mysterious and confusing, but warm and thoughtful, like she's some precious thing. But also something more…something like friction and diving dangerously on her broom and laughing up into a clear summer sky.
They haven't moved, still stuck to the spot under a shady tree, but she feels it as his mouth moves against hers, gentle but gaining confidence—a burn just as fierce as the wards against her skin.
The sun is just beginning to dip down towards the horizon when Mum presents Harry's birthday cake with a flourish, the thick icing glittering gold.
Staring down the long table, Ginny smiles at Harry's obvious pleasure in something as simple as a birthday cake and knows this is one of the things she has always liked about him, the way he doesn't take anything for granted. It makes her ache a little for all the birthdays he must have had with nothing.
He catches her eye, and she realizes she is watching him just a little too obviously. She bites her lip and turns away, forcing herself to ask Fleur about wedding details. Listening to that should be punishment enough for the lapse.
The evening is warm, but softened by a gentle breeze carrying the sounds of frogs up from the pond. It's a nearly perfect moment stolen from the fear and flurry of preparations, something like a calm breath hidden in a small glass vial.
Ginny thinks they all deserve this, Harry most of all.
She no more than finishes the thought when Scrimgeour appears, sucking away any happiness Harry may have managed to conjure. Harry, Ron, and Hermione follow the Minister up to the house, leaving the rest of them outside to wonder what to make of the request for a private audience.
They all sit tensely in the garden, Mum and Dad sharing looks, until raised voices in the house bring them all to their feet.
They charge inside just in time to see Scrimgeour with his wand pressed to Harry's chest. Ginny stares horrified at the hole burned by the point of contact and wonders if there is anyone in the world Harry can't push beyond reason. But she also sees the way he doesn't back down, despite who holds the wand on him.
Long after the Minister leaves and they share all about the bequests from Dumbledore's will, the house settles back into the hushed expectancy that has characterized the Burrow all summer long. Ginny roams from room to room, unsettled and fidgety.
"Things have got to be bad at the Ministry," she hears Bill comment to Fleur as she passes through the kitchen. "Scimgeour took it way too far."
"Dad," Ginny says, catching him in the sitting room. She cants her head towards the porch, a request for permission.
He nods, knowing the wards will keep her safe and close, and as always, respecting her need for space. It's the one small thing he can actually give her these days.
She smiles at him in thanks and slips out off the front porch. She doesn't go far, just out of sight of the house, feeling tension leech out of her shoulders as the shadows swallow and hide her. She walks into the orchard, letting out a long breath and turning her face up towards the branches silhouetted against the starry sky.
Ginny spins on her heel, one hand flying to her chest, the other to her wand.
"Whoa," Harry says, lifting his hands where he sits in the shadows at the base of a tree.
"Merlin, Harry," she swears, lowering her wand. "You scared me."
"Clearly," he says, eying her wand. He nods as if in approval. "Nice reflexes."
A teacher to the bitter end. "You're lucky I didn't hex you," she says, stuffing her wand back into her pocket. "I thought you were upstairs." She winces inwardly, knowing how much that sounds like she's been tracking his movements. They've been awkwardly circling each other for days, being careful to never catch each other alone, and she doesn't want to think too hard about why.
"Hermione's repacking again," he says like facing that is the greatest torture in the world.
It's a reminder too, though. That he's seventeen now, officially of age, and free to leave. To just walk past the wards and never look back. Never come back. And once the wedding is over tomorrow, there will be nothing left to hold him. To hold any of them.
Something of her thoughts must be visible on her face, because Harry grimaces, looking down at his feet. She can tell he's been feeling guilty, been working his way around an apology for days. And maybe that's really why she's been avoiding him.
"Ginny," he says, voice heavy.
Part of her just wants to walk away from this conversation, but the stubborn part holds her ground and refuses to dance around this. "Do you want to take it back?"
He looks up at her, startled by her bluntness perhaps. She's not all that sure where it's coming from either, just acknowledges that Harry always seems to make her forget herself, her caution.
She thinks that should frighten her more than it does.
Harry is still warily regarding her, seeming to struggle. "No," he eventually says, and Ginny hates the feeling of relief that weakens her knees.
He blows out a frustrated breath. "But I should lie and say yes. It feels selfish. If anyone found out…"
"Found out what?" she asks, trying for flippancy. "That you kissed me once?"
It isn't a big deal. Is it?
He gives her a look like he knows exactly what she's trying to do. "That all I think about these days is kissing you."
She feels her cheeks flush and hopes it's dark enough that he can't see. "I imagine my brothers would have something to say about that."
"Ginny," he says, slightly chastising. "This is about way more than your brothers, and you know it."
"There are six of them," she reminds him.
He gives her an impatient look.
She lets out a breath. "You mean Tom."
His body tenses, maybe not liking the reminder of just how well she knows the wizard who is hunting him.
"Yes," he says, his jaw tight. "If he knew…"
They all know that Voldemort has no boundaries. He would use anyone or anything to get to Harry. It's the reason Hermione and Ron have gone to such lengths to protect their families. But Ginny isn't worried for herself. For all she knows Tom inside and out, she doesn't even exist to Voldemort.
"He never will," she says.
He cants his head to one side. "A Slytherin never shares her secrets?"
She folds her arms across her chest. "Exactly."
He sits up a little taller, like he's finally getting to the part that really bothers him. "I can't stay."
"I know," she says.
He looks thrown off for a moment, like he expected anything other than this easy acceptance. "Aren't you going to ask me why? Where I'm going? What I'm doing? If I have a plan?"
She almost smiles, imagining how much her parents and the rest of the Order have doubtlessly been pestering him. Even the bloody Minister of Magic. Shrugging, she says, "I guess I figured that if you could tell me, you would."
That may be presumptuous of her, of this new, tenuous thing between them, but it's how she feels.
Harry looks down at his feet, shaking his head.
"What?" she asks, wondering if she's misread the situation.
Then he looks up at her, his gaze warm with something she's scared to call affection. "You think I would be used to you surprising me by now."
She relaxes. "Not what you expected?"
He shakes his head. "No. I thought you'd be…"
She can guess. "Angry." It's what she does best around him, after all.
"Yes," he says. "I just…kind of can't stand it when you're mad at me, especially when I know I deserve it."
She huffs under her breath. "Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this, Harry, but I have no doubt I will get mad at you again. Probably a lot."
His smile slips, his expression painfully serious in an instant. Ginny feels dread drop down into her stomach like a rock. She's filled with the urge to turn and walk away from whatever it is he's about to say.
"It has to be me, Ginny," he says, voice heavy and almost apologetic.
She very carefully swallows. "The Chosen One."
He regards her for a long moment before nodding. "Yeah."
She turns slightly away from him, looking out into the trees. It's not like she hasn't suspected Harry's place in all of this. People have been speculating for years. But to hear it confirmed, that this will all come down to Harry and Voldemort, it leaves her feeling winded.
Could you kill if you had to?
She can feel his gaze on her, like this is the real reason he thinks he had no right to kiss her. Like he's waiting for her inevitable anger. But she isn't angry.
She wishes she could be.
Biting her lower lip, she forces the hardness back down her throat and turns to look at Harry. Crossing the space between them, Ginny lowers herself down to sit next to him. She leans back against the tree, their shoulders touching. "Okay."
She can feel his shoulder relax. They sit for a while, quiet in the dark as a soft breeze rustles the branches.
"Are you scared?" she asks, voice barely a whisper.
His foot scuffs against the dirt. "This is where I'm supposed to puff up my chest, be heroic, and say 'No', isn't it?" he says, his voice the tiniest bit bitter.
She watches him, the way his head is tilted just so that his eyes are hidden behind the surface of his lenses. It must be exhausting, always having to pretend.
"No," she reminds him. "This isn't where you do that."
His hand fumbles for hers in the dark, still hesitant, but griping tight when she doesn't pull away. "Then yes, I'm scared." He looks down, and there is just enough light that she can make out his profile. "Out of my bloody mind."
She's not sure she's ever heard someone sound at once so frightened and so determined.
She squeezes his hand, leaning into the warmth of his body that she thinks could, perhaps, feel familiar some day, if she ever got that chance. "Me too," she confesses.
Lifting his arm over her shoulder, he pulls her close. She wraps her arm across his waist, her head resting on his chest. She feels him press his face into her hair. More than anything, she's struck by the way this just feels right.
It scares the hell out of her.
"Ginny?" her father's voice floats out.
Harry's arm tightens around her.
Ginny lifts her head. "Coming, Dad," she calls.
She turns her face back to Harry's chest, sitting there a moment listening to the thud of his heart. She wants to ask him to promise to come back. Wants him to tell her how this will all end.
He can't though, and she can't bring herself to demand it of him.
So instead she lifts her face and presses her lips to his cheek, lingering there just long enough to feel him turn towards her. "Happy Birthday, Harry," she whispers.
Pushing to her feet, she heads back inside, leaving Harry sitting alone out in the dark.
The Burrow is humming with activity long before dawn. Mum is shouting and ordering everyone about. Fleur and her mum and sister are locked away in one of the upstairs rooms. Most of her brothers are outside putting up the tent.
Ginny isn't sure if all weddings are like this—utter bedlam—or if this one is a special case. International relations pouring into a country with a psychopathic killer on the loose could lend a certain edge to things.
"Ginny," Mum shrieks as she comes into the kitchen. "Why haven't you started getting ready yet?"
Ginny decides not to point out that it was Mum's idea to have her arrange flowers for the table by hand in the first place. Any hope of being underage and thus wandless as a reason to get out of a million wedding chores was abandoned days ago.
"There's plenty of time," Ginny says, trying to calm her.
Mum's face just seems to get redder.
"Best just to comply, I think," Dad says quietly as he passes near.
Ginny throws up her hands and does as she's told, stomping up the stairs. She runs into Mrs. Delacour in the hall upstairs.
"Dress first," Mrs. Delacour says, not even slowing down as she strides by. "Then the hair!"
Ginny is left standing in the lingering cloud of her perfume.
She is more than pleased to find her room empty. She isn't sure where Hermione is, but doesn't particularly care at the moment. Pulling the bridesmaid dress out of the closet, she gives it a critical glance. It could be much worse, she knows, even if gold isn't exactly her color. Gabrielle, of course, looks amazing in gold. Though unlike Gabrielle's dress, Ginny's is rather daringly low cut.
"You are a woman, not a child," Fleur said when it first showed up, a gleam in her eye.
Despite the neck line, Ginny can't help but feel like a child when she realizes she can't even use her wand to do up the ridiculously small buttons lining the back of the dress. She manages to wrangle the lower portion of them into place before she gives it up as a lost cause.
"Ugh," she says, pulling her door open in hopes of finding Hermione. Of course, the only person in the hall ends up being Harry.
He's at the top of the stairs, his eyes a bit wide as he catches sight of her. He makes an awkward little half step as he stumbles to a stop, halting his momentum down the stairs.
Ginny clutches the dress a bit tighter against her chest, keeping her cheeks from flushing by sheer force of will. They stare at each other another long beat before she pulls herself together.
"Come on, Potter," she says, forcing her voice brisk. "Make yourself useful."
"What?" he asks, looking adorably confused.
She turns her back on him, gesturing at the buttons.
"Oh," he says.
She laughs. "Yes. Bloody ridiculous, isn't it?"
She pulls her hair out the way, ready to point out that at least he has a wand to make quick work of it when she feels him step up behind her, his hands on her dress.
She swallows. "Not sure who designs a dress with so many tiny buttons."
"The French, apparently," Harry says, voice dry.
His fingers fumble a bit, and she tries not to think about the feel of his fingers on her skin. It seems to take forever, and she doesn't know if that is because there really are a million buttons or if she's just imagining it.
"There," he eventually says, patting her awkwardly on the shoulder.
She lets out a breath, testing the constraints of the bodice. She supposes it probably isn't tight enough to make her pass out. "Thanks," she says, turning around to look at him. "You're my hero."
He rolls his eyes. "Yes. I've saved you from a terrible fate."
She lifts an eyebrow. "Walking down the aisle half-naked?"
Harry clears his throat. "Um. Yes. That."
Letting her hair fall back down over her shoulders, she smooths her hands down the dress, tugging the sleeves into place. "So what do you think?"
Harry's attention seems to have drifted, his eyes snapping back up to her face. "About what?"
She smiles at him, taking a small step back. "About the dress, numpty."
"Oh," he says. "You look-."
But she never gets to find out how he thinks she looks, because Hermione appears on the landing looking nearly as frazzled as Mum. "Harry, it's time for the Polyjuice potion."
He jerks around to look at Hermione, nearly tripping over his own feet. "Oh. Sure. I was just…" He glances back over his shoulder at Ginny.
"I'm sure you'll make a great redhead, Potter," she heckles. "Now, out of my way. I'm off to get coiffed." Lifting her skirts, she tromps up the stairs, suddenly feeling in a much better mood.
Despite Mum's fears, the ceremony manages to begin on time with nothing more unpleasant than Auntie Muriel's presence to mar it. Looking at Bill and Fleur though, it probably wouldn't have bothered them if niflers started falling from the sky the way they are so wrapped up in each other.
Once the ceremony is over even Mum relaxes enough to sit with Mrs. Delacour, the two of them laughing over glasses of champagne.
"Conspiring about grandbabies," Charlie reports.
Ginny pulls a face. "What, already?"
Charlie just shrugs, frowning over his shoulder when he gets bumped from behind by someone reveling a bit too much.
She gives him another twenty minutes before his loyalty to Bill is trumped by his hate of crowds. He'll no doubt step outside and disappears for hours if history is anything to judge by. "Well," she says, "I'm afraid no one else seems interested in dancing with me, so you'll have to do."
Charlie smiles. "I'm pretty sure Bill threatened every bloke under the age of eighty."
"You'd bloody well better be joking," Ginny says.
He laughs, leading her onto the floor. "I don't think we've done this since you were seven and you stood on my toes the whole time."
"No promises I've improved any."
When they're done, Charlie hands her off to Lee Jordan who regales her with tales of the behind the scenes at the shop. She spends more time laughing than actually remembering any of the steps, but Lee doesn't seem to mind.
She doesn't manage to snag a dance with either Fred or George, as both of them are far too busy with the Delacour cousins. Ron is similarly occupied with watching Hermione and trying to pretend he isn't.
She does get asked to dance by none other than the Viktor Krum, amazingly enough. She never would have imagined it three years ago as she watched him in the World Cup. Of course, as with most fantasies, reality is a bit of a disappointment. He tromps her toe, has zero interest in talking Quidditch, and spends most of their dance not so covertly watching Hermione as well. It's a good thing he's such a good Seeker, because he's a terrible dance partner. She's more than a little relieved when it's finally done.
After a dance with one of Fleur's much more charming cousins, Ginny collapses down in a seat next to Luna. "A bit of a crush, isn't it?" she says, fanning herself.
Luna nods serenely, her fingers tapping absently along to the music. "Harry doesn't seem to be having a very good time."
It takes Ginny half a second to remember that no one is supposed to know Harry is here. "Harry isn't here, Luna," she says. "It would be too dangerous for everyone, including him." She gives Luna a stern glance, just to reinforce how serious she is.
Ginny would say Luna doesn't notice, but it's probably more likely that she just doesn't care. "He should stop frowning like that then."
Ginny follow Luna's line of sight, and sure enough a few tables over her 'cousin Barney' is scowling down at his glass in a distinctly Harry way.
"Looking cheerful would be a much better disguise," Luna says.
Despite herself, Ginny lets out a startled laugh. "Maybe I'll go check in with cousin Barney."
Luna nods. "He would probably listen to you."
Ginny isn't quite so sure, but gets up and crosses over to him all the same. Lowering herself into the chair behind Harry, she leans in to speak near his ear. "Luna thinks if you looked happy it would be a much more effective disguise."
He startles, turning to look at her. "Ginny."
She regards him, the red hair and unfamiliar face of a local Muggle boy staring back at her. "That is so weird."
He grimaces. "Not as weird as it is for me. This bloke is a good four inches shorter than me. I keep tripping over my own feet."
"That's too bad," she says with a sigh. "I suppose it means you can't dance with me."
He looks at her sharply. "I'm pretty sure I could manage."
"Yeah?" she asks, trying not to smile at how eager he sounds.
He grabs her hand, pulling her to her feet. "Definitely."
With her heels, she's taller than him. She gives him a little triumphant smile, and he rolls his eyes.
Once they are on the floor, he comes to a stop, frowning as he listens to the music.
Lee jitterbugs by, his elbows akimbo as he spins an attractive girl around the floor.
"I think I forgot something important," Harry mumbles.
"What's that?" Ginny says, bouncing a bit to the beat.
He looks pained. "That I can't dance."
They laugh, because there are so many levels of awkwardness here that it is impossible not to. Luckily for both of them, the music changes, smoothing out into something slower and far less dangerous. The crowd presses close, the lights dimming, and all they really have to do is sway.
"Think you can manage this?" she asks.
He reaches for her, his arm slipping behind her back, his other hand taking hers. "I can certainly try."
She tries to smile, but their bodies are very close now, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder. It would be wonderful, really, if only he looked anything like himself.
After a few awkward turns, she closes her eyes, trusting him not to let her crash into anyone.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
"It's easier this way," she says. "Remembering that it's you."
His hand tightens on her back, pulling her closer. "I never got to say, but I really like your dress," he says. "You look…"
When he doesn't manage to finish his sentence, she opens her eyes to find him watching her intently.
She feels her skin flush. "I'm pretty sure you aren't supposed to look at your cousin like that, Barney."
His lips quirk, and it is so quintessentially Harry that for a moment, it's almost enough to forget everything else. The crowd around them, his unfamiliar face. She slides her hand up his shoulder, her fingers brushing the back of his neck.
"Ginny," he says, drawing her closer, and even though it would be spectacularly stupid on many levels, she can't help but feel her heart beat faster at the thought that he may kiss her.
But before either of them can be that rash, someone shrieks, and they pull back from each other with a jerk.
A silvery animal streaks in through the roof of the tent, coming to a stop in front of her dad as people scatter out of its way. Kingsley's voice fills the tent.
The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming.
There is half a beat of horrified silence before someone screams. The crowd surges, people pushing into them, the tent echoing with the cracks of people Disapparating.
Harry pulls her tight against him, his wand drawn as they get pushed off the dance floor.
Lifting up on her toes, Ginny can see dark-cloaked figures appearing, bone white masks covering their faces. Death Eaters. There can only be one reason they are here. Craning her neck, she locates Ron and Hermione near the back of the tent, both of them looking frantically around.
A curse passes overhead, a flower arrangement exploding in flames, Ginny and Harry dropping down into a crouch.
"You have to go," she says.
"Ginny," he protests, his hand tightening on her arm.
She presses her lips to his in a reckless last kiss before pushing him towards Hermione and Ron. "Go!"
She doesn't wait to see if he complies, taking off in the opposite direction, pulling her wand out. She gives herself half a second to wonder if she'll ever see him again before turning her attention to the scene around her.
He's on his own. They both are.
The tent is utter chaos, filled with the noise of guests leaving in a flood, the wail of children being swept up into protective arms. Remus is wrestling Tonks out the back of the tent, and Ginny remembers that Harry isn't the only one the Death Eaters are after.
Dad stands near them. "Go!" he urges.
Near the front of the tent, Bill, Fleur, and the twins have started fighting the Death Eaters, hexes flying in every direction.
Fleur's cold fury does nothing more than add an icy edge to her elegance, the complex swish of her arm like a dance as she faces off with a Death Eater. Her opponent stumbles back under her onslaught, clearly unprepared for her skill. Fleur swears loudly at him in French as he loses his wand and scrambles back out of the tent.
A curse splinters a chair next to Ginny and she realizes with a jolt that she is just standing, a still target, watching everything happening around her. She pushes into motion, but feels strangely flatfooted. Her hands itch for her broom, and while she's used to the speed and shutter of a Quidditch match, this is like playing against a team she's never studied with no set rules. Spells seem to disappear from her brain.
The fight lurches around her, a blur of chaos she has a hard time understanding. She forces herself to stop focusing on the particulars, on each individual danger to her family, and instead darts back, watching it as a whole. Movement that Ginny knows needs to be ordered and contained.
Crouching behind a chair, she notices the long carpet still stretching across the tent. Muttering a spell, the carpet jerks back, rolling up in a tight ball, the Death Eater standing on it stumbling. Bill presses his advantage, his stunning spell hitting him square in the chest.
Glancing over at Ginny, he gives her an approving smile, but there's another coming up behind him, and she pushes to her feet, aiming Expelliarmus at him. The Death Eater just manages to hang on to his wand, and now she's got his attention.
She barely manages to throw up protection spells fast enough to counter his curses as he advances on her. It's all she can do to react in time, no room at all for offense. She feels sweat beading on her brow, her heels catching the train of her dress.
She falls, her wand caught up in the fall and this is it, she thinks.
Only for some reason the Death Eater pauses, sneering down at her as if there isn't a battle going on around them. "Is that all you've got, little girl?"
Ginny rolls, wrenching her wand free and throwing out the first spell that her terrified mind latches onto, one taught to her by Antonia.
It's a childish hex at best, but it hits him squarely in the chest, his entire body rigid as he gapes, his hands going to his throat. She watches in grim fascination as he vainly tries to draw in a breath, falling to his knees. In his desperation, he swipes at her, Ginny scrambling back away.
He falls to the floor, his eyes rolling wildly as he writhes.
Ginny is frozen, thinking of Harry and Mad-Eye and Dumbledore's broken body.
She jerks when a hand touches her shoulder. It's Fred, crouching behind her.
"Gin?" His eyes widen as he glances at the Death Eater.
His face is turning blue.
"It's the first spell I thought of," she says.
Fred jabs his wand at him, the hex ending. The Death Eater only has enough time to suck in a great gulp of air before Fred stuns him unconscious, scooping up his wand and pocketing it.
The table nearby rattles with the impact of a curse.
"Come on, Ginny," Fred says, dragging her to her feet.
She nods, turning away from the prone form, throwing herself back into the fight.
For every Death Eater they manage to take down, there seem to be three more. In no time at all, they find themselves vastly outnumbered. Especially once Dad catches a stunner, George loses his wand, and Bill goes down in a pile of ropes.
"Enough!" one of the Death Eaters bellows, some sort of magical wave seeming to echo out with his voice. Ginny feels it hit her, and it doesn't hurt, just makes her catch her breath for a moment, her spell dying in her throat.
In the ensuring silence, the tall one says, "No more magical blood needs to be spilled. We just want Potter."
"He isn't here," Mum yells, her wand flashing, something enormous shaking the tent. It's utter chaos then, Ginny's wand moving as fast as she can make it until she feels something hit her shoulder like a gong, reverberating through her entire body.
The next Ginny knows, she's lying face down on the floor, her body sluggish. There are voices around her, but she's having a hard time understanding any of them.
When her vision finally clears, she turns her head to find her family in various states of binding and consciousness. Dad is half lying in Mum's lap, blood tickling down his face. Fleur sits next to them, looking like she could murder them all just with a glance for all that she is bound and gagged tightly along with her new husband.
"Check the house," someone behind Ginny orders.
In the distance, she can hear someone cast Homenum Revelio. "It's empty," a voice calls back.
"Where is Potter?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny can see her wand poking out from under the closest table. She slowly stretches her arm out, trying not to draw attention to herself.
"As you can see," Mum says, "he isn't here."
Ginny has almost reached her wand when someone steps down hard on the back of her hand. She gasps, looking up into the masked face of a Death Eater.
"Someone's awake," he says, the heel of his foot grinding down into her hand.
Ginny bites down on her tongue, feeling the prick of tears.
"Good," another voice across the tent says. "Maybe she'll be more forthcoming."
She looks up in alarm.
Two of them drag her to her feet, shoving her outside the tent, her family yelling after her as she goes.
She tries desperately to focus, to think about what they want from her. For her to be terrified enough to tell them anything they want. She doesn't need to pretend to be afraid, her heart pounding away in her chest.
They shove her down to her knees, three of them standing above her.
The short one seems to be in charge, his eyes dark glinting behind his mask. "Where's Potter?"
She cringes back, trying to make herself as small as possible. "I don't know."
"Was he here?"
She shakes her head. "N-n-no. I swear."
"Then where is he?"
"I don't know! With those Muggles, maybe!"
"No, he's not."
She closes her eyes. "Please."
"I doubt she knows anything," another Death Eater comments.
"Probably not," he concedes. "But her family might, if we can convince them it's in their best interest to share."
The curse seems to come from nowhere and everywhere, an aching, burning pain like her bones are all broken, grinding against each other. She screams, and there is no need at all to pretend, to force the tears that are pouring out over her cheeks.
The curse leaves as suddenly as it came, leaving her shaking and cramping in residual pain.
"Please, please, please," she says once she has breath enough. "He was never here, I swear."
They hit her with the curse again, and it's even worse than the first time. She can't speak, just sobs with relief when it finally stops.
The short one kneels down on the ground next to her, his face up close to hers. "You're not trying to be a hero, are you?"
She shakes her head, arms wrapped tight around her torso. "I don't believe in heroes," she whispers through her tears.
Another wizard reaches down, grabbing his shoulder. "The boy isn't here. She would have told us if he was."
He still stares at her.
"We don't have time for this," the other wizard scoffs. "We need to get to the next location." With a crack, he disappears.
The remaining Death Eater grabs her hair, twisting it as he forces her face up to look at him. "If I find out you're lying… I won't just come back for you." He jerks his head back towards the tent. "I'll take out your whole blood traitor family. And I'll enjoy it."
He lets go of her, Ginny falling forward to the ground. She flinches at the crack as he Apparates away, her arms protectively wrapped around her head. She stays crumpled in the dirt for long moments, trying to breathe through the remnants of pain and fear.
She eventually becomes aware of her family calling her name.
She lifts her head, trying to get to her feet, but immediately falls back down, retching into the dirt.
Get up, Ginny, she tells herself. Just get up.
Pushing to her feet on shaky legs, she somehow manages to stagger back inside the tent. She finds her wand under the edge of the table, picking it up. She feels bile pushing at the back of her throat, but makes it to Bill's side before her legs give out. With trembling arms, she lifts her wand, cutting the ropes.
Bill wrenches the ropes away, his face thunderous. He touches her shoulder. "Gin?"
She nods at him, waving him on.
He stays looking at her for another moment before finally pushing to his feet, finding his own wand and cutting the rest of the family free.
"Ginny," Mum says, appearing next to her and pulling her into a hug. Ginny gratefully leans into her.
She can hear her father and brothers discussing things dimly in the distance, but she feels utterly drained.
"Molly," Dad says. "The wards."
She nods, giving Ginny another squeeze before pushing tiredly to her feet.
Dad puts an arm around her back. "Up we get," he says.
She gets to her feet, letting him lead her back inside the Burrow. She sits on the couch when he tells her, lets him wrap her in a blanket and it's only then she realizes she's shaking, her teeth nearly chattering. She doesn't understand what's wrong with her.
Dad sits next to her, putting an arm around her, crooning softly under his breath. Ginny leans into his warmth, but it's summer, why is she so bloody cold?
Nearby her brothers are speaking with Mum, faces dire. Ginny just stares at the ragged hem of Fleur's dress in sick fascination. It's been roughly ripped off just at the knee, too completely to be accidental damage.
The wedding seems a thousand years ago. The laughter and music and Harry-. She squeezes her eyes shut, nausea rolling in her stomach.
"You should let them know we're okay," she says.
They all turn to look at her, this being the first she's spoken.
She peers up at her dad. "You know he's exactly the kind of idiot to charge recklessly back here if he thinks we're in danger."
Dad touches her hair, giving her a tight smile. "Good point."
Her father's Patronus streaks out into the night.
"Ginny," Mum says, voice tentative as she kneels in front of her.
"I'm okay," she says. "Really. I barely even feel like throwing up anymore."
"Christ, Gin," Bill says, shaking his head.
She looks up at him. "Are they…coming back?" she asks, hating the way her voice trembles.
"Not tonight," Dad promises.
Bill and Fleur look at each other. "We're staying."
Mum shakes her head. "Go to the cottage."
Bill opens his mouth to protest.
Mum touches his arm. "This is still your honeymoon." She reaches for Fleur's hand, who squeezes her hand back. "Don't let them take that from you."
"You know what will happen," Bill says.
Dad nods. "The less people who are here, the better."
"But what about…," he looks at Ginny.
She lifts her chin.
Dad says, "We run now, we can't stop."
Bill gives a grim nod.
Fleur drops down in front of Ginny, taking her hand in hers.
"Sorry I ruined the dress," Ginny says, looking at her dirt stained knees.
Fleur shakes her head, brushing a strand of hair back from Ginny's face. "Gold isn't really your color, ma soeur."
"True," Ginny says, too tired even to smile.
Fleur presses a kiss to her forehead before getting to her feet.
Bill kneels down next, dragging her into a hug, his face near his ear. "You held your own, Gin. You held your own."
It doesn't feel like it. It feels like she was a little girl playing at things far beyond her.
Long hours later when she finally climbs up to bed, her room is bare and empty as if Hermione Granger never existed. Above her, she can hear the distant sounds of Dad and Charlie wrestling the ghoul into Ron's room. All their lies seamlessly in place.
The next morning they come with official papers and probable cause, as if they weren't the same people who came the night before with curses and violence. They all pretend though, pretend that her father is inviting them in of his own freewill, pretend that the government officials aren't trying to find Harry to serve him up to Voldemort.
"I hear there was a bit of a ruckus here last night," Rookwood says.
Dad shakes his head. "Just a misunderstanding."
They find Ron's pox-ridden ghoul, but don't get close enough to question it, even though Dad makes a big show of giving his permission.
Rookwood looks at Ginny, and she does her best to pretend his is a voice she's never heard before.
The greatest shock comes on Monday morning.
Dad stands in the kitchen in his work robes, kissing Mum goodbye. She's seen this scene countless times before.
"You're going in to the Ministry?"
"Yes, Ginny," her father says, a warning in his tone.
"How can you do that?"
"It's my job." Like the entire world hasn't fallen apart already.
"So we just carry on."
"Yes, Ginny," her father says, something just the slightest bit hard in his tone. "We just carry on."
We run now, we can't stop.
Mum is distracted all day, her eyes constantly straying to the family clock, which is still rather unhelpfully stuck at mortal peril. Ginny knows what they are really waiting for is for Dad to come home, for some sign of how things are unfolding at the Ministry.
Mum lets out a breath when he walks in the door, but other than that small sign, dinner goes on as always.
In the evening after they think she's gone to sleep, Ginny sits in the stairwell and listens to her parents talk.
"Is Ginny okay?" Dad asks.
Mum sighs. "It's hard to tell with her. I think mostly she's angry. Angry they made her afraid."
"They made me afraid too," Dad says.
They are silent for a long stretch.
"I have a cousin, you know, that one who married an accountant. Maybe…"
She feels her stomach clench at the idea of being sent away to live with Muggle relatives she's never even met.
"She'd be defenseless," Dad says.
She doesn't turn seventeen for another full year. Without a wand or any wizards around her, she'd be a sitting duck.
"How are Andromeda and Ted?" Mum asks.
"Shaken up, but no…permanent damage. The Death Eaters weren't happy they didn't know anything about Harry or Remus or Tonks' whereabouts."
Ginny's left to imagine what their displeasure may have looked like. Though she has a better idea today than she would have last week.
"Ted left," Dad says.
"He went into hiding. There's talk of a registry."
"It's monstrous," Mum says, fury shaking her voice.
Dad sighs. "I'm afraid it's only the beginning."
It's a strangely empty week, no one coming by the Burrow, no heads in the fire, not even silver Patronus messages. Everyone seems to understand that the Burrow is marked. Ginny's seen the people loitering out on the road, watching.
As if Harry would ever be stupid enough to come back here. Or rather, as if Ron and Hermione would let him, she amends.
At the end of the week, Dad brings home a poster. Undesirable Number One. 10,000 galleons on his head.
Harry stares out of the poster, his face half in shadows, expression set.
And Ginny finally begins to understand just how dangerous that kiss out in the woods truly was. Just how vulnerable she's made herself.
A week later, she sees Dolores Umbridge on the front cover of the Prophet, proud Ministry official, in charge of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission.
Harry a criminal, Dumbledore a liar.
They've been here before.
Her sixteenth birthday is a quiet affair.
Early in the day, an owl comes from Smita.
It's a birthday card. Hope your birthday blooms with joy! it reads. Ginny stares at it for a long time. The frilly border, the flowers twining around the edges. It's bright and cheery and completely unlike Smita.
It's not until the fourth time she looks at it that she finally sees the runes nestled into the petals and twisting vines.
Taking out a quill, Ginny carefully copies the runes onto a fresh sheet of paper. She swaps the order around, using an old trick they devised during long History of Magic lectures.
By the time you read this, we will be far away. I won't tell you where. Just please don't worry. Keep yourself safe. And keep an eye on Tobias for me. I'm not sure he'll understand.
No, he won't. But Ginny understands. All too well. Smita's mum's research makes her important enough to be contained, or destroyed. As for Smita's stepfather… He's a Muggleborn.
But it's okay because they are away and safe.
She reminds herself that she should be relieved. One less person to worry about.
She's not sure she believes it.
At dinner, the twins come with tales of Diagon Alley. Rather than presents, they bring bags full of her school supplies.
"Happy birthday, sis!"
"Wonderful," she says, voice wry.
Fred leans into her. "I think you'll find your new copy of Hogwarts: A History particularly interesting."
She lifts out the book in question, very cautiously lifting up the cover. After all, she's spent her whole life navigating the twins' increasingly complex pranks. But rather than blowing up in her face, the book opens up to reveal and impossibly large interior space, packed to the gills with various Wheezes.
"There's a few…special prototypes, you might say, in there as well," Fred says, giving her a wink. "After all, wouldn't do to send you back to Hogwarts without proper supplies."
"What am I going to do with all of this?"
Fred lifts a shoulder. "I'm sure you'll think of something. After all, we know where you learned your sneakiness."
She looks up at him, and for a moment they regard each other, and Ginny can't help but think of that moment in the tent, what he saw her do, what she almost did. She tries not to think about the wedding, and only part of that is because of what was done to her.
She still doesn't know if she would have let that Death Eater die. If she was simply frozen, or if she wanted it. Wanted it to happen.
All Fred does is squeeze her arm. "Happy Birthday, Gin."
If her smile is a little wobbly, he doesn't comment.
"Florean's gone," George reports during dinner.
"What?" Mum says, eyebrows lifting in alarm.
George nods. "And it doesn't look like he went willingly."
They all absorb this. Diagon Alley is more boarded up than not these days.
"Have you considered closing up the shop?" Mum asks.
Fred and George look at each other. "We're going to keep it open," Fred says.
George nods. "As long as we can."
Mum looks like she's going to protest, but Dad just squeezes her hand.
The next week, the Prophet comes out with Hermione's face on the front cover as a person wanted for interrogation.
When the news reaches them that Hogwarts has been declared compulsory for all magical children, that Snape will serve as Headmaster, they don't talk about what this will mean.
Dad simply says, "Be careful."
Ginny doesn't bother telling him that careful is what she is made for.
Platform 9 ¾ is strangely quiet. Sure there's still a gaggle of students running around, owls hooting, carts crashing. It's all the same. Except the way everyone is side-eying each other even as they are trying to pretend they aren't. Who's here? Who isn't?
There's a moment after Ginny and her parents step through the barrier that everyone seems to hold their breath, like Ron or Harry or Hermione may follow after them at any moment.
But no one watches them more closely than the 'Aurors' who are here providing security. The Minister of Magic was assassinated after all, and they are meant to believe that the rogue element responsible for it is still out there, a threat to the wizarding world.
We're here to keep you safe.
And somehow they are also supposed to believe that threat wears the face of Harry Potter. As if he has ever done anything other than try to protect these students for years, more than once with his very life.
Ginny lifts her chin and keeps her cart moving forward.
Ginny passes Seamus as he stares hard at the entrance. She considers stopping to tell him that Dean isn't coming, but she's pretty sure he already knows.
Near the train doors, Mum pulls her into a tight hug. "Don't forget to write."
Ginny pulls back like she isn't scared in the deepest reaches of her mind of never seeing her parents again. "Of course," she says, voice just loud enough for anyone who's interested to hear. "Ron'll be bored out of his skull otherwise."
She knows her role in all of this.
Dad hugs her. "I love you," he says.
She tightens her arms around him. "Love you, too."
The whistle blows, and she forces herself to step back.
"See you at Christmas." She gives them both the brightest smile she can manage and climbs up on the train.
The Hogwarts Express is full of new faces, not just first years, but also older students being forced into compulsory education. For every new face there are others missing, and not just Ron, Hermione, and Harry. There's Dean Thomas, the Creeveys, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Smita, Graham, and any other Muggleborn students.
She barely makes it through the first compartment before Neville appears, looking incredibly relieved to see her.
"Ginny," he says, rushing up to her.
"Hi, Neville," she says, voice pleasant. "Have a nice summer?"
He blinks back at her in confusion. "A nice summer?" he echoes as if he clearly thinks she has lost her mind.
Ginny continues on as if she hasn't noticed. "Mine was a bit chaotic. With Bill's wedding and all." She looks past him to see Luna standing a few steps behind. "Hi, Luna."
Luna looks her over. "Hello."
"Where's Ron?" Neville presses, clearly out of patience for pleasantries.
"Spattergoit," Ginny replies easily. "He's stuck home for the term. Looks a nasty fright, let me tell you. Of course, he never looked that great to begin with."
He looks back at her, clearly nonplussed. "And Hermione?"
Ginny meets Neville's gaze steadily. "How would I know? She's Muggleborn, isn't she? Who knows where she could be. Hopefully somewhere far away."
"You really expect me to buy that."
"Honestly, Neville," she says, very aware of just how many people are listening. "I couldn't care less what you believe."
What exactly does he want from her? He wasn't there, he can't possibly know.
But Luna was. Ginny meets her gaze.
She takes Neville's arm. "Come along, Neville. Let's go back to our seats."
With another confused glance back at Ginny, Neville complies, heading down the corridor.
Luna lingers another moment, looking back at Ginny. "Your disguise is much better," she says, voice quiet. "But still not very believable."
With that, Luna follows after Neville.
Taking a careful breath, Ginny turns down the hall in the opposite direction. In the next car, she finds Tobias sitting in a compartment.
He looks up as she enters, almost immediately looking past her.
"Tobias," Ginny says, voice slightly chastising.
He leans back in his seat, looking out the window. "I know."
The Death Eaters pretending to be Aurors walk by the window, peering in at them. Ginny looks calmly back at them, not allowing herself to wonder if either of them were the men at the Burrow. After a moment, they move on.
Ginny settles in the seat across from Tobias. "Just like old times."
Tobias' lips twist, his eyes completely devoid of humor. "Just like it."
There's no exploding snap or tall tales, just endless stretching silence as they steam northwards.
The castle looks the same, other than Death Eaters and Dementors on the perimeter, but by now those are beginning to feel normal too. Ginny considers that she's had a bit of a bizarre school experience.
In the Great Hall there is a Sorting, a feast, with McGonagall meeting the first years on the steps like every year before. It's all proper and right, like a thin veneer of normality pulled across everything as if to remind them all of the game they are playing. Prefects and Head Girl and Boy, Flitwick and Sinistra and Trewlawny and Hagrid sitting up at the staff table like nothing has changed. But not Burbage, which shouldn't be as much of a gut punch as it is.
Ginny glances at Tobias and can tell he has noticed as well.
Only when it's time for the Headmaster to say a few words, it's Snape who stands in that spot that used to be Dumbledore's.
There's a hiss from the Gryffindor table, a rumble of angry whispers.
Snape's frigid gaze falls across the tables. "Welcome back to Hogwarts. I will introduce our new faculty shortly. But first I wish to address important, pressing matters. The state of education in these hallowed halls has for far too long drifted. The days of mismanagement and leniency are now done. You will take your educations as seriously as I take them. Much will be asked of you, and as you owe this institution, your predecessors, your blood, you will strive to achieve these goals. Failure will not be tolerated. Misbehavior will be…swiftly punished.
"Under my guardianship, the education of our magical youth will take precedence. In that vein, Muggle Studies is now a required course for all students, and an extra block of time has been added to the schedule to accommodate this."
A short, stocky witch stands.
Snape gestures to her. "Alecto Carrow, who has been kind enough to come to us from the Ministry, will undertake your education in this area. She will also serve as my deputy Headmistress."
Ginny darts a glance at McGonagall to see how she feels about being pushed out of her long held position, but it is clearly no news to McGonagall, her face tight and pale but unsurprised.
"Your new Dark Arts professor will be Amycus Carrow," Snape continues. A wizard who can only be Alecto's twin nods at them, his expression an equal mixture of boredom and disgust.
Snape leans forward on the podium. "Despite the chaotic forces outside, inside these walls you and our ways are protected. And we will persevere."
Ginny eats as if the food doesn't taste like ashes on her tongue.
Back in the dorms, Ginny finds herself alone with Bridget and Helena. The two girls are eying Smita's empty bed.
"Serves her right. Her blood traitor mother marrying a filthy Muggle."
The words seem to fall off her tongue like something too big for her to understand, like a toddler blindly mimicking her parents. Ginny suspects that very well may be the way of it. But is it really any different than what she's doing?
We just carry on…
"It's about time this place had some standards," Bridget sniffs. "Though they could probably be raised a little higher. Still a bit too much riffraff around here for my taste."
Ginny knows this is for her benefit, but pretends not to hear.
The door opens and a young witch walks in, hair covered in a scarf and dark eyes wary.
Bridget and Helena give the girl nothing more than a dismissive glance as she crosses over to the closest empty bed.
"Hi," Ginny says, straightening up from her trunk. "I'm Ginny Weasley."
The wariness in the girl's eyes doesn't leave. She nods her head slightly. "I am Nadira Shafiq."
"Shafiq?" Bridget says, interest clearly piqued.
The Shafiq family is part of the Sacred Twenty-Eight. Gloriously, thoroughly pureblood going back generations, but also one of the most reclusive. A Shafiq hasn't attended Hogwarts in decades.
Helena crosses over to Nadira, brazenly sitting down on the edge of the bed. Smita's bed. "So," she says, leaning back on her arms and crossing her legs. "What's your story?"
Nadira seems to consider her for a long moment. Then, with a confident flick of her wand, the other girl slides off the bed and onto the floor with an undignified squeak.
"None of your business," Nadira says. With another wave of her wand, the curtains close around the bed and the girl with a smooth snap.
"Well," Helena sniffs and she scrambles back up to her feet, cheeks red. "I never."
It's on the tip of Ginny's tongue to say something. You mean like think before you speak? We all wish you would.
But the castle isn't the same place anymore, and neither is this room, so Ginny swallows the words down and pulls the curtains shut around her own bed.
The first week they don't have Dark Arts class or Muggle Studies. Instead, all of the students are individually dragged in to speak to the Carrows.
Entrance interviews, they are officially called.
Despite what they are called, no one fails to notice that some students quickly disappear into detention, many walking gingerly the next few days, Neville chief among them. The grim, determined look on his face is frighteningly familiar.
Even more frightening, a couple of students never come back at all.
Ginny's turn is near the end of the week, which is both good and bad. She's had a lot of time to think about what may happen.
At the appointed time, Ginny leaves her Transfiguration class, Tobias giving her a grim nod.
The Carrows have offices down in the dungeons. The room she enters seems designed for maximum intimidation. It's dank, with thick stone walls and no windows, just a plain heavy table in the middle of room. The walls are covered with various types of tools and weapons.
Pretty much the opposite of subtle.
Amycus Carrow sits at the table with a book in front of him, while Alecto Carrow restlessly prowls the space behind him.
"Ginevra Weasley?" he asks.
"Sit," he orders.
Ginny lowers herself into the hard chair, eying the chains clanking threateningly on the arms.
"Blood status?" Amycus asks, lifting his quill.
It's on the tip of her tongue to tell him to mind his own fucking business. She has learned far too well these years how not to let her temper rule her though, how to look five, ten, twenty steps ahead. So instead she bares her teeth, lets them see it as a smile, and says, "Pureblood," like it actually means anything. Like it should.
Tom is a half-blood after all, and as far as Ginny's concerned it's the human part that makes them all idiots equally—foolishness bred into flesh and bone.
Amycus writes a note in the book. "Your mother's family?"
"And her mother?"
It goes on in this vein for a while, Amycus seeming to triple check that she has no Muggle blood back for three generations. Apparently satisfied, he closes his book. But rather than dismissing her, he pulls out a sheet of paper, laying it on the table in front of her.
"We're aware that Harry Potter, Undesirable no. 1, often spent time at your home during the summer."
"Yes," Ginny says, carefully keeping her eyes averted from Harry's face. "As if already having six brothers weren't bad enough."
Amycus smiles, offering her a glass of water.
Ginny is in no way stupid enough to drink it, but she does take it, lift it to her lips. She thinks of Smita teaching her to vanish her alcohol from her cup without speaking back in their second year, never realizing at the time just how useful that would turn out to be.
"Did he visit your family this summer?"
"No," Ginny says, putting the glass back down. "Ron didn't seem to know where he was. With his horrid Muggle relations, I would imagine."
"And where is your brother?"
"At home. He has Spattergoit."
"Nasty," Amycus says.
Ginny nods. "It really is."
"And Hermione Granger?" he asks, putting her picture down on the table.
Ginny picks up the picture as if it in no way affects her. "She never had much use for me," she says, canting her voice with just the slightest edge of dismissal. She lays the picture back down. "The feeling was…mutual." She carefully chooses that moment to brush a nonexistent strand of hair back from her face.
The Carrows don't miss the green snake childishly inked on her arm.
She watches them share an indulgent smile like it finally all makes sense, this daughter of a blood traitor family who escaped to Slytherin to play at Death Eater. She's a role model for all. She remains silent and lets it work for her, the Carrows patting her indulgently on the head and sending her back to her lessons.
If she feels physically ill as she leaves that dark dungeon behind, she chalks it up as a necessary evil. The castle has become unfamiliar ground. She needs whatever protections she can find, and if playing into the Carrow's assumptions gives that to her, she'll take it.
After all, people's assumptions have been working against her for years. It's time she put them to work for her.
On Monday, the castle wakes to whispers of Harry breaking into the Ministry. Copies of the Quibbler are everywhere, miraculously disappearing the moment either of the Carrows near. It's the only media source still openly speaking out against the Ministry, peeling back the lies being fed to them.
"What would he be doing there?" she hears two young Gryffindors discussing in whispers as she leaves class, voices tight with excitement. With hope.
They look up at her as she passes, and she can see it there, a question on their lips. She averts her eyes and keeps walking.
Ginny doesn't read the article, refuses to speculate. She honestly can't think of a reason compelling enough to outweigh the foolish risk.
What are you doing?
On her way back into the common room, she comes face to face with Draco. They both come to a stop in the doorway, eyes meeting.
She's surprised to see that he looks even more paper-thin than he had last year. There's no denying that events have aligned themselves in his favor. In some ways, he has every right to traipse around like he owns the place. Only he hasn't been. Not that she's seen.
They look at each other, and for just a moment his expression is almost vulnerable before being replaced with ragged belligerence like somehow she's the bully, and he's the victim.
She doesn't know if she wants to reassure him that she's the last person he needs to worry about, or just punch him in the face for what he let happen to her brother, for letting that monster Fenrir Greyback into their school.
She does neither, mostly because she can't afford to, but also because she begins to imagine he's just as trapped as the rest of them. There's no heroes or villains here. Just scared little children.
She looks away, sliding past him without touching.
The common room is nearly empty, most people already at dinner. Glancing across the room, her eye is caught by the rough wooden door half lost in shadows. A door she hasn't seen a single girl move towards in the week they have been here.
Ginny's hand tightens into a fist, and after another long moment, she manages to get her feet moving, carrying her over to the door.
Gingerly, she reaches for the handle.
Hard, aching disappointment wells in her stomach when the handle doesn't move under her hand. She pushes harder, the handle rattling, but not budging.
"Foolish," she whispers to herself.
Down in her dorm, Bridget and Helena aren't there and Nadira's curtains are pulled tightly shut. Ginny climbs onto her own bed, pulling out her Runes homework. She stares unseeing at it for a long time.
Ripping off a small piece of parchment, she picks up her quill, giving in to the persistent itch for ink and words like the release of a pressure valve.
Dear Harry, she writes, her mind clogged with questions she can't voice. Where are you? What's happening? What am I supposed to do?
The words remain stubbornly inked in place long after she writes them and she isn't sure if she's supposed to be reassured or disappointed. There's no way for her words to reach him, no way to get an answer. No Harry, no Ron, no Hermione, no Fred and George, no Smita, no Antonia, no Tom. There's no one left to answer for her.
She writes, We do what we must.
Muggle Studies is held in one of the largest classrooms in the castle, one with sweeping tiered seating. Every student in her year is crowded into the space. On each table are two books. One titled When Muggles Attack and another thicker tome called The Origins of the Muggle.
Glancing around the room, she can see more than one student staring down at the books in horror.
Six people are given detention the first day, many of them Gryffindor.
At the end of the lesson, Alecto approaches her, student heads swiveling around to watch. Ginny feels her fingers twitch towards her tattoo, but manages to stop the telling movement.
"I see you were in this class already," Alecto says, an indulgent smile on her face.
From what Ginny's been able to glean, Alecto isn't particularly bright. A few subtle critiques offered by more circumspect students seem to have gone over her head even as she pounced on the obvious resistance of other students. Frankly, she appears far more interested in hearing what she wants than looking for underlying motivations.
Mouth service to her seems like a small enough price.
And if Ginny also thinks of being down in that dungeon, of her father putting on his robes and going to work, she tells herself it doesn't matter. We just carry on.
She nods. "My father made me," she says. "He wouldn't let me play Quidditch otherwise."
Alecto seems to swallow this lie without hesitation. "And what did you think of Burbage?"
Ginny lifts one shoulder in a shrug as if she doesn't feel something deep and heavy lodge in her stomach. "Fine, I suppose."
Alecto crosses her arms over her chest, her wand absently tapping against her shoulder. "What did she talk about?"
"Mostly art." She tilts her head to one side. "Did you know that Muggle art doesn't even move? It just sits there."
Alecto laughs, patting Ginny on the shoulder before moving off.
She blows out a breath, leaning down to collect her things, only to find Tobias staring at her like she's a stranger.
We all have to take Muggle Studies now. It means extra lessons. You should be glad you're missing it. Burbage isn't here anymore. We have a new teacher called Alecto Carrow. Her brother teaches the Dark Arts class. A new year, a new Dark Arts teacher. It seems things are ever as they were here at Hogwarts! Slughorn is my new Head of House as Snape has become Headmaster. We rarely see him. I guess he's busy.
Well, enjoy your lounging around, you great lazy oaf, and don't let the puss get you down.
Saturday morning, Ginny holds trials for Quidditch. They're pretty straight forward, almost her entire team returning. Almost.
While she misses Thompson more than she can say, the more painful opening is Graham. He should be here. He should be here with Bassenthwaite and instead he is just one among dozens of students who have disappeared without a trace, leaving only whispers in their wake.
Mudblood. Blood traitor. Criminal. Coward. Deviant.
Like maybe they've all become the same thing.
Instead of thinking about that, she focuses on picking a replacement Chaser for Thompson. Vaisey seem close enough with Urquhart that she should probably just pick him. He's the best talent she has, as much as she doesn't like him. Just part of the job, she tells herself.
At least there is joy to be found in Reiko flying circles around Harper.
As all the hopefuls file off the field, Ginny calls Bassenthwaite back. "What do you think?" she asks.
"About what?" he asks.
She rolls her eyes. "The other Beater."
He looks at her with surprise.
She lifts a shoulder. "You're the one who is going to have to work with them."
He considers that. "Rosier."
Ginny lifts an eyebrow.
"I know," he says. "He's a bit of a prick. But I can work with that."
It's more than him simply being a prick. The Rosiers are part of the Sacred 28, indelibly, carefully pureblood and proud of it. He already not so casually name-dropped during the trials, as if being in tight with the Carrows and Snape is going to make her more likely to pick him. But not selecting him because of that is almost as rash, and certainly hard to explain.
"Okay," Ginny says, ignoring the uneasy feeling in her stomach. "You want him, you've got him."
The weeks quickly fall into a pattern of classes and lies and fear, and Ginny just does her best to keep her head down.
She spends most of her time with Tobias, the two of them an uncomfortable duo. Tobias rarely smiles anymore, Smita's absence like a giant hole. They don't talk much, like there are no safe topics left anymore. But even sitting with Tobias in silence is better than sitting alone, or having to face the scrutiny of other people.
Tobias has nothing but hard glares to give anyone these days, and that has its uses sometimes too.
Nicola has tentatively approached Ginny a few times, but every time Ginny sees her, all she can think of is a locked door under her hand. She's been watching the door to The Parlor, but hasn't seen anyone so much as approach it. Instead, most of the girls seem to be sitting in the common room.
"I'm going to bed," Tobias says, scooping up his work.
"Night," Ginny says.
Not long after Tobias disappears, Millicent drops into his vacant chair.
Ginny gives her a wary glance. "Hi."
Millicent ignores the greeting. "You understand that we're waiting for you, right?"
Ginny feels a painful clutch of pressure around her chest.
"To open the door," Millicent clarifies as if talking to a hysterical toddler.
Ginny opens her palm, staring down at the thin scar. "I can't."
Millicent snorts, her hard eyes raking over Ginny. "Antonia must have seen something in you. But personally I think you're a bit thick."
But this, on top of everything else, is just one too step too far. "How the hell am I supposed to know? I'm not-." She sputters a bit in frustration. "You all keep forgetting that I don't come from here. I wasn't born to any of this. You keep forgetting that I'm-."
Millicent gives her a piercing look. "An outsider?"
Ginny opens her mouth only to close it again, feeling like there's no right answer.
Millicent shakes her head, getting to her feet. "Maybe she was wrong." With one last dismissive look, she walks away.
Ginny glances around the room, many of The Parlor girls looking away just as her gaze touches them. Only Tilly holds her gaze, giving her a bracing nod.
After everyone has gone to sleep, Ginny approaches the door. Trying the handle again, she pushes, but the door stays stubbornly shut.
Taking out her wand, she taps the door, trying to repeat the incantation she heard Antonia use only a handful of times. She wishes now she paid slightly more attention.
Almost as if it knows she is unworthy.
Hesitantly, she stretches out her hand, pressing her palm with the thin scar against the hard wood. She holds her breath for a long moment, waiting for what, she can't say.
She almost laughs at herself then, wondering what she expected. Leaning forward, she rests her forehead against the door, her fingers curling into the wood.
Who are you? a voice demands, echoing loudly in Ginny's mind.
She jerks back away.
Ginny doesn't sleep well, that deep fathomless voice following her into her dreams.
Who are you?
On her way to Muggle Studies the next morning she sees Reiko walking down the hall, her face set and books tucked tight into her chest. Very close behind her walk Crabbe and Goyle, faces full of hard amusement. Goyle reaches out and swipes at the back of Reiko's robes, saying something that makes Reiko's face burn.
Reiko comes to a sudden stop, spinning around and shoving both boys back as if they aren't easily twice her weight. She says something to them.
They laugh, saying something else to each other, nudging each other in the ribs. Reiko hurries away from them, and they don't follow her.
Ginny falls into step next to the younger girl. "Are they bothering you?"
Reiko looks less than pleased by her interference. "They're just stupid gits. I can handle them."
"I'm sure you can," Ginny says, looking back at Crabbe and Goyle. They shoot her hard leers, but don't dare do anything more. Too scared to come after her still, which is good, because Ginny can't afford to be that careless again.
Unfortunately, they are clearly not above finding other ways.
"You'll let me know if that changes?" Ginny murmurs.
Reiko rolls her eyes. "Yes, Mum."
Ginny is distracted during Muggle Studies, her mind too busy thinking of Reiko and that fathomless voice that has set into her brain like a fever. She tries to calm her mind, to remind herself that she just needs to keep carefully putting one foot in front of the other.
Keep your head down. Carry on.
She's so stuck in her head that it takes far longer for her to notice Tobias' growing agitation than it should. They are walking back from their lesson when he seemingly reaches his limit.
"You know," he says, voice cold and hard, "you could at least pretend that it bothers you. That she's not here."
They never say Smita's name, like she's become a thing between them even more dangerous than Voldemort.
"Don't be stupid," Ginny says. Not thinking about Smita is the only way she survives it sometimes, the ache of loneliness in her stomach. Can't he see that?
He pulls her to a stop, leaning into her. "Do you even care that it's your fault?"
Ginny pulls back, staring at him like he's lost his mind. "What are you talking about?"
His fingers tighten on her arm. "Everyone knows you dragged her along on that insane Department of Mysteries debacle. The stupid DA and their ridiculous sodding notions."
They both know the DA has nothing to do with it, but it's far easier than the truth. Tobias needs something to be mad about, and Voldemort will never be a safe target. She gets that, even if it pisses her off.
"I'm not having this conversation," Ginny says, trying to push past him, put enough distance between them to give him a chance to cool off.
He refuses to let go of her though, his voice rising in volume. "Do you really think you're fooling anyone?"
She spins on her heel, her ponytail nearly smacking the side of his head as she leans into him. "Lower your goddamned voice."
He does, but just barely. "Do you honestly think anyone here doesn't know whose side you're really on?"
She feels the dig of that deep down, like he's taken a painful swing at her teetering foundations. "And whose side are you on?"
He flushes at the implication. "The side I always should have been on. Mine."
"How blindingly altruistic of you."
"Hey," he snaps, jabbing his finger into her sternum. "I didn't bring the Dark Lord back. But I'm not stupid enough to think I can change it either."
"You know what?" Ginny says, voice going cold and hard. "I'm glad she isn't here. Now she won't have to see what you really are."
She might as well have hit him, the way he goes still and pale, completely motionless for the beat of a second. "Fuck you, Weasley."
She laughs, something high and artificial and utterly unlike herself. "Is that what this is really about?" she accuses, wishing she could take it back almost the second she says it.
His mouth opens and closes a couple of times, and then he just turns and walks away.
Ginny takes a breath and forces herself to walk calmly back across the quad, right past a small clutch of Ravenclaw girls.
"Trouble in paradise?" one of the girls asks.
Ginny forces herself to smile, relaxing her shoulders. "Some boys just can't handle rejection gracefully."
They all smile and snicker appreciatively, and Ginny lets herself get swallowed up by the easy talk of the immaturity of boys.
Her smile never slips.
In all of their classes the next day, Tobias deliberately sits as far away from her as he can.
She tells herself it's a relief. They both need time to cool down. It still doesn't stop the feeling that there is an ever-widening space around her.
It's probably better that way.
Even with her Quidditch team she feels strangely apart. She knows this is partly from being captain. But she was captain before. Only then she had Thompson. And if she really needed help, she had… She cuts herself off, refusing to let her mind wander in that direction. Some things feel too dangerous to even think about these days.
In the evening, she studies in the library well into the evening. She is very well aware that she is hiding, avoiding Tobias and the battleground that is her dorm room, but also the scrutiny of The Parlor girls waiting for her to get her shite together.
It can all get to be just a little too much.
She considers, for about half a second, retreating to the cloister, but just can't face it.
So the library it is.
She's just finished packing up her things to make it back to her dorm before curfew when Hannah Abbott walks into the room at a fast clip, her eyes skimming the space and falling on Ginny with something like palpable relief.
Ginny frowns, slinging her bag over her shoulder and moving for the exit.
At the door, Hannah puts a hand on Ginny's arm. "Can I talk to you?"
Ginny sighs, not really in the mood for this at the moment. "About what?"
Hannah glances around, biting her lip. "Not here."
Ginny lets the other girl pull her into a nearby empty classroom.
"What is it?" Ginny asks, closing the door behind her. "It's nearly curfew." When Hannah doesn't do anything other than warily stare, Ginny blows out a breath. "You came to find me, remember?"
Hannah's face is bright pink. She opens her mouth, but doesn't manage to get anything out.
"Great," Ginny says, turning on her heel to leave. "Now that we've cleared that up."
"Wait," Hannah squeaks. Her hands twist in front of her as a she blurts out a stream of smushed together words. "I think Neville's about to do something really stupid, and I couldn't get him to listen to me. I thought maybe he'd be more willing to listen to you."
Ginny frowns, but isn't really surprised. Neville has already spent more time in detention than anyone else. It was really only a matter of time until he did something stupid. "What is he doing?"
Hannah shakes her head. "He mentioned something Harry needs. Something that the Ministry refused to give him even though Dumbledore wanted him to have it."
"That stupid wanker," Ginny says, realization dawning.
The sword of bloody Gryffindor. How the hell he had learned about that, she doesn't know. His grandmother, maybe. What matters now is keeping Neville from doing something spectacularly stupid.
She's already moving for the door, the hard chill of foreboding filling her chest. "Where is he now?"
Hannah spreads her hands wide, voice trembling. "Seamus said he's not in Gryffindor Tower. And he hasn't been anywhere else I've checked."
Hannah's eyes widen. "No, I haven't seen her either. But she could be in her dorms. I could find Michael and ask."
"Don't bother." She won't be there if Ginny's growing suspicion is at all correct. He'll need Luna's help. "Go back to your common room. I'll take care of this."
Hannah steps across her. "N-no."
Ginny looks at her in surprise.
Hannah's chin lifts. "I'm coming with you."
Ginny shakes her head. "Seriously, this is going to be dangerous. Detention would probably look fun next to what this could cost us."
Hannah grabs Ginny's arm, pulling her to a stop. "I'm not a coward."
"I never said-," Ginny sputters.
"Maybe not, but I know what you all think of Hufflepuffs." Hannah's face hardens, tears in her eyes. "They killed my mother. Killed her."
Ginny reels back.
It's common knowledge that Hannah was pulled out of classes at the beginning of last year when Death Eaters murdered her mother. Ginny wants to argue that her mother's death doesn't have anything to do with this, but it would be a lie.
People are dying, many for little more than getting in Tom's way. They have been for a while now.
Hannah drops her arm, swiping at the tears on her face. "I'm just going to follow you anyway."
"Okay, you win," Ginny sighs. "But I need to know that if I tell you to do something, you'll do it, no questions asked."
If being given orders by a younger girl seems to sit strangely with Hannah, she doesn't show it. "Okay."
"Well then. We're going to the Headmaster's office."
Hannah's eyebrows shoot up, but she doesn't change her mind.
Together they race back up through the corridors, all of them deserted. Curfews are taken a lot more seriously these days.
At the top of the spiral stairs, the door stands slightly ajar, proof of Ginny's horrible suspicion. Luna stands next to the door, chatting with a gargoyle.
"Oh, hello," Luna says, seeing them.
"Is Neville in there?" Ginny ask.
Luna nods. "It was quite an interesting challenge, getting the door open. Gilbert has been telling me all sorts of fascinating history. Did you know that a Headmaster in the 16th century had a Sphinx guarding his door?"
The gargoyle nods sagely.
"Fascinating," Ginny says, pushing past her into the office.
Inside, Neville is rather precariously balanced on a chair, pulling the Sword of Gryffindor from its case on the wall.
"Neville," she says.
He starts, almost losing his balance. "Merlin, Ginny. You scared me."
Scaring him is the least of what she plans to do to him. "Have you completely lost your mind?"
He frowns at her. "Look, I know it was a bit of a risk…"
"A bit of a risk?" Ginny repeats, her voice shrill. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Helping Harry," he says, stepping down with sword in hand. "Someone has to."
She ignores the sting of that accusation, forcing herself to admit that shutting down Neville had never been a great strategy to begin with. "And how do you plan on getting a sword to him? By owl?"
Neville has the grace to flush. "I'll find a way."
"And say you do? Say you could manage to find him when every wizard in the country is already searching. You could lead them right to him! Use your head!"
"She's right, Neville," Hannah says from right behind Ginny.
Neville gives her a look like she's betraying him.
Ginny steps closer, refocusing his attention on her. "This isn't bravery, Neville, it's recklessness."
"Is gone," Ginny says, the words seeming to rip out of her chest. "And for all we know, never coming back. Getting yourself killed isn't going to change that."
Something in Neville's expression seems to soften. "You're afraid."
Ginny thinks she almost liked it better when Neville fumbled with his wand and was more likely to look at his toes as challenge anyone. "This isn't a war, Neville! Do you see anyone fighting? So stop pretending!"
"That Voldemort hasn't already won!"
It feels awful finally saying it out loud, her greatest fear. The words ring between them.
"Ginny," Neville says, voice horrified. "You don't mean that."
She shakes her head, pulling her wand. Someone has to save him from himself. "So help me, Neville. I will curse you if I have to."
Hannah's eyes go wide, but she doesn't interfere.
Neville looks enraged, but in no way willing to call Ginny's bluff.
Stepping forward, she wrenches the sword from Neville's hands. "Hannah, get them out of here. I'll put the sword back."
She pauses only a moment before bustling Neville out of the office.
Ginny stands there holding the sword, feeling its weight. She's honestly a little surprised it didn't disappear the moment she touched it with her Slytherin hands. She indulges the fantasy of walking it out of the castle. Walking out and never looking back.
She crosses the room and carefully puts the sword back in place.
As she turns to leave, she thinks she sees the slightest movement out of the corner of her eye. When she looks, there's a portrait of Albus Dumbledore slumbering in his frame. Just seeing his face is like a punch to the gut.
People are dying.
"Sir?" she asks, feeling stupid, but unable to resist.
Dumbledore continues to slumber.
Shaking her head at her whimsy, Ginny runs for the door. She jerks it open only to slam headlong into Snape. She bounces off his chest, his hands on her shoulders the only thing keeping her from falling.
It's the first time she's been this close to him since he cursed her and escaped. Since the night…
You killed Dumbledore, she wants to say.
"What are you doing in here, Miss Weasley?" he demands, forcing her back into the room.
She stumbles away from him, feeling his mind push up against hers, recognizing it this time. She tries to feed him exactly what he wants to see. Pulling a harmless prank. Hijinks and teenage stupidity.
Snape almost smiles, just the tiniest bit. He walks around her to stand behind his desk. "Detention, Miss Weasley."
"For how long?" she demands.
His eyes narrow, no doubt because of her less than apologetic tone. "For as long as I deem necessary."
Ginny clenches her jaw. "And what exactly does that mean?" she says, forgetting herself in her utter frustration, the unexpected burn of betrayal she feels just looking at him, this man she'd been foolish enough to trust.
Snape makes a small sound of what might be disgust, sitting down at the desk. "A true Slytherin never lets their emotions undermine their control," he lectures, and from anyone else that might have sounded like a warning, a caution, but from Snape it's just yet another criticism.
Ginny dares to let her eyes dart past him to the slumbering portrait of Dumbledore, just for a moment, but more than enough for Snape to take note of it. "Don't you mean self-preservation? Sir?"
She doesn't know what she expects from him, a flash of guilt or triumph or even sadness, but all she gets is the slight lifting of one corner of his mouth. "I see we understand each other, Miss Weasley."
"Perfectly, sir," she says, voice crisp and frigid and revealing none of the lava flowing right underneath.
He nods. "You'll begin Wednesday night at eight. Report to the dungeons."
Ginny feels a fission of fear under her skin, but is careful not to let it show. She's heard rumors of what passes for punishment these days. The Carrows apparently have a particular flourish for creativity that even Filch may have balked at.
She forces herself to turn and walk away, each step measured.
"Miss Weasley," he says just as she reaches the door.
"Don't ever speak his name again," he says, voice vicious.
She doesn't dare let her confusion or fear show, just nods and flees.
Ginny feels like everyone should be staring at her, whispering behind their hands, but everything seems to carry on exactly like before. There are no rumors about Ginny's attempted 'prank', no long looks from McGonagall or Flitwick or Slughorn. No warnings to be more careful.
Her first instinct is to talk to Tobias, to tell him what happened, but things between them are still frosty at best. Which, really, is better than the unpredictable burn of rage.
Instead, she keeps her own council, trying not to think about what her detention may look like.
"Well," she says on Wednesday evening. "If you'll excuse me, I have detention."
"Oh really," Reiko says, looking interested.
Ginny forces herself to shrug. "Homework is far less interesting than Quidditch. But I guess not everyone sees that."
The air is stale and noticeably cooler as she descends into the ancient dungeons to serve her first detention. She isn't sure where she is specifically meant to go, but only one door in the long hallway is open, a faint glow of light spilling out.
Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she walks into the room.
She's not sure why she's at once horrified and relieved to see Snape waiting for her instead of the Carrows. Maybe because he's a known entity, but only if she fools herself into thinking she really knows anything about this man—a murderer and a traitor.
Unlike the room the Carrows held their interrogations in, this room is nearly empty and small enough that a single brace of candles fills the space with light. A worn table and a couple chairs are the only furniture.
She steps up to the table, scuffing her feet slightly. "Headmaster."
He looks up. "Miss Weasley. Take a seat."
She complies, noting that this chair doesn't come equipped with chains. She isn't sure if this is a good sign or not.
Once she's seated, Snape pushes a thick tome across the table to her. "You will copy this text cover to cover, word for word."
She blinks in surprise, because hand cramps and the occasional paper cut seem like nothing in comparison to the stories already circulating the castle, even if this particular book may take the rest of her life to copy. Then again, she hasn't forgotten how Umbridge corrupted something as innocent as writing lines.
"With my own quill, sir?"
His jaw seems to flex for a moment before he replies. "Yes."
Leaning down to dig through her bag, she pulls out a quill and ink and a piece of parchment. The whole time, she watches Snape out of the corner of her eye, trying to work out the variables of the situation. She wants to ask why she is having detention with him, why she is only having to write lines, but something tells her it would be a dire miscalculation on her part to actually speak the words.
He stares back at her with hard black eyes and a face so blank it may as well have been carved of stone.
She eases the cover of the book open, bracing herself for a million possibilities all at once. The pages sit still and steady.
She starts copying.
A few sentences in, she frowns as the words finally register, flipping the cover closed to glance at the title. Rubbing her thumb across the worn leather, she can just barely make out the faded gilt letters.
Occlumency and Legilimency: An Exhausting Primer
"Is there a problem, Miss Weasley?"
She looks up at him, questions hovering on the edge of her tongue. She swallows them back. "No, sir," she says, flipping the book back open.
Despite the setting and the man sitting across from her, Ginny finds herself engrossed in the words in front of her, the weaving of lies and truths and protections and the grey places in between.
For a while, she lets herself get lost in the magic of secrets.
It's nearly midnight by the time she returns to the common room. Her arm and hand ache, her eyes are blurry, but none of these compare to the painful tumble of thoughts in her mind, as if she's on the edge of putting a particularly crucial piece of information into place.
She's so distracted that she almost walks straight by Tobias where he sits near the low-banked fire.
For a long moment they just look at each other. Tobias' gaze drops as he looks her over, and with a jolt she wonders if he stayed up for her, if he heard about her detention. If maybe he wanted to know she was okay.
"It was just lines," she says.
"What?" he says, jerking slightly like she startled him.
"I only had to write lines."
"Oh," Tobias says, one shoulder lifting in a shrug. He pushes to his feet, gathering up his papers. "What's that to me?"
He pushes past her.
"Tobias," she says with a sigh, sitting down on the arm of a chair.
There's no response, and as the silence stretches on, she assumes he went down to his room.
"I'm glad you're okay," he says.
When she turns around, he's gone.
Thursday afternoon, Ginny is heading to the pitch for practice when Neville runs down the lawns to catch up with her.
"You didn't tell me you got caught!" he exclaims, more than loud enough for anyone to hear.
She glances around them before grabbing his arm. She drags him off towards the Forbidden Forest. Once they are safe inside the branches, she turns to look at him.
"Neville, what the hell-."
He doesn't let her finish. "People are saying you had detention, with Snape."
Ginny sighs. "I did. So what?"
"So what?" he echoes. He shakes his head, he pushes past her. "I'm going to tell him."
She stops him. "Tell him what exactly? That you and Luna broke into the Headmaster's office to steal an ancient relic that happens to be important to Harry bloody Potter?"
Neville hesitates. "Yes. They must already know. The portraits would have told him."
"Don't you think that if they had, you'd already be in detention too?" For all they know the other Headmasters have taken exception to Snape murdering his predecessor. That could put a bit of a dent in their loyalty.
He seems to consider that, his brow furrowing. But then he's brushing it aside. "What does that matter, really? It isn't right."
"It isn't right?" Ginny echoes, feeling like Neville is speaking in tongues for all she can understand him right now.
"That you're being punished for what I did!"
Ginny blows out a breath. "Don't be stupid. You got away with it. Just be glad."
"I'm not thinking about myself!"
"Really?" Ginny says. "How exactly does turning yourself in help Luna and Hannah? The only thing it really accomplishes is making you feel less guilty. How is that not about yourself?"
"But if you won't think about Luna and Hannah, at least think about me."
He throws his arms up, looking utterly frustrated. "I am thinking about you!"
"Really," Ginny says. "So you're thinking about the fact that right now, I'm having to write lines for Snape because of some stupid prank he thinks I was trying to pull. You're thinking about the fact that he's probably being lenient with me because of some weird sense of indulgence towards his own House. You're thinking about the fact that if they suspected why I was really there, I would probably be down in the dungeons with the Carrows facing something much worse than writing bloody lines."
Neville gapes at her.
"Is that what you're thinking about?" she presses.
"No," he stutters. "I didn't… I mean…"
Ginny takes another step closer to him, her voice hardening. "The truth is, Neville, the greatest threat to my safety right now isn't Snape or the Carrows. It's you."
He looks like she may have well slapped him, but she doesn't have any room to feel bad about that.
"Do you get it?"
He nods. "I do. I get it." He takes a few stumbling steps back. "I won't say anything."
Ginny watches him slink away from her, his shoulders hunched. She can't help but feel like she's kicked a puppy and it just pisses her off even more. Glancing at her watch, she sees that on top of everything she's late to practice.
Finding her team already waiting for her just makes her mood even darker.
"Nice of you to join us," Bassenthwaite says.
She ignores him, scrambling to get everything together. She's leaning over the equipment box when one voice rises up above the general conversation.
"…his Mudblood father."
To Ginny, it feels like some last slender thread snaps, everything she's been holding back threatening to pour out all at once.
She straightens, turning to look at Rosier. "What did you say?" she asks, voice quiet and still.
He shrugs, clearly unaware of the implication of what he's said. "About Graham?"
The rest of the team are giving each other alarmed looks, clearly more familiar with Ginny's moods and tempers. "Yes," she says.
"That his father is a Mudblood?" he asks, glancing around at the other players as if looking for someone else to explain what her problem is. "What's the big deal?"
They've been sitting in Muggle Studies for weeks hearing Alecto casually toss the word Mudblood about, like it's a clinical term and not a slur. She shouldn't be surprised. But she is.
Ginny takes a few steps towards him. "The big deal is that I won't have that word spoken."
He huffs dismissively. "Don't get your knickers in a twist."
Ginny smiles, and Bassenthwaite seems to recoil in horror. She sees him put a cautioning hand on Rosier's arm, but he ignores it.
"You can call me a bitch or a tyrant or a slag or whatever you feel like. But I won't have that filthy hate language on my pitch."
"Or what?" he says, pulling up his chin as if to remind her of the physical height he has on her. It's a blatant, bullish move that really does nothing more than remind Ginny of his weakness, how uncertain he really must be.
She lets her posture relax. "Don't pretend you aren't replaceable. We all know you are."
"My parents-," he starts to bluster. He's been happy to tell anyone willing to hear how close his parents are to Snape and the Carrows.
"You think I care?" she says. "They may run this school, but out here, I'm the only lord that matters."
Everyone blanches, and Ginny knows she's let her temper push her too far, even as she knows, deep down that she means every damn word.
"Run ten laps, or get the hell off my pitch and never come back."
She doesn't wait around to see if he complies, instead turning her attention to the rest of the team, setting them up for the first drill.
Once they are up in formation, Ginny glances down to see Rosier working his way around the pitch in a steady, if not petulant, jog.
Reiko pulls her broom up next to hers, a broad grin on her face.
"What are you smiling at?" Ginny grumbles.
Reiko shakes her head. "Just happy to see you acting more like yourself," she says.
"Less talking and more flying," Ginny says.
Reiko darts away with a laugh.
At breakfast, Ginny watches students covertly read the Quibbler, heads lowered together. She catches Rosier's eye across the table, and after a moment, he's the first to look away.
It was reckless, letting her temper get the best of her like that, but it felt good. It felt right.
It's the first thing she's felt other than fear in a really long time.
She isn't quite sure what to think about that.
In Herbology, Hannah uses the cover of the general chaos to sit near Ginny.
"Are you okay?" she asks, eyes on the seedlings she is replanting.
Ginny snips a flower off the plant in front of her, ignoring it as it wails softly. "Fine."
Hannah looks her over. "You ended up with detention."
Ginny sighs, not particularly wanting to deal with another person's foolish guilt. At least Hannah is being circumspect about it. "It's fine," she still very nearly snaps.
When she turns to look at the other girl though, there is nothing of guilt or curiosity, just a soft sort of compassion that Ginny finds really hard to face.
"Really," Ginny says, voice softening. "It's not a big deal."
After a moment Hannah nods, clearly willing to take Ginny at her word. "Thank you, for what you did. It means a lot."
They finish the rest of the lesson in companionable silence.
The weekend passes quietly enough, Rosier subdued but compliant during Saturday's practice. Ginny manages to get caught up enough on her work not to get yelled at or assigned additional detention and it begins to feel like maybe the entire Sword of Gryffindor debacle has finally defused.
She should have remembered that things with Gryffindors are never that simple.
Sure enough, by the middle of the next week, Ginny can't help but notice that Neville is more often than not limping into meals. She overhears the Gryffindor Beater Ritchie talking to a classmate during Muggle Studies, saying that Neville has spent nearly every night that week in detention for mouthing off in class.
She can see that it's deliberate, like the guilty part of his brain demands he share in Ginny's punishment, even if for a different infraction. It would almost be charmingly stupid if it weren't so infuriating.
She feels like she's seen this before, a boy on the edge of losing control.
Sure enough, in her next Herbology class, Hannah leans towards her and says, "I'm worried about Neville."
"Yeah," Ginny admits. "Me too."
Hannah looks up at her, so painfully hopeful, but also like she doesn't dare ask for anymore help, considering how it all turned out last time.
Ginny sighs. Someone is going to have to find a way to save Neville from himself. "Do you think you could get him to the Room of Requirement tonight?"
Hannah brightens. "I'm sure I can."
"Bring Luna too." They will no doubt need backup.
"Make it seven. I have detention."
Hannah regards her. "Has he said how long they are going to last?"
"Until I die, apparently."
Hannah looks discomforted by the joke.
"He hasn't hurt me," Ginny says. "I don't know why. But he hasn't."
Even if she were willing to spill her secrets, she doesn't have an explanation for what is happening down in the dungeons.
"Okay," Hannah says.
Right before seven that evening, Ginny walks up and down the hallway thinking somewhere safe, somewhere safe, somewhere safe.
When the door to the Room of Requirement appears, she has no clear idea of what the room inside will look like. The Burrow maybe, or the DA room from years past. Walking in, she sees that it is neither of these places, but instead one of the places she is least prepared to face.
Warm lighting from an unseen source softens stone walls, falling across soft, elegantly upholstered couches. A fire crackles quietly in a fireplace to one side. She breathes in, and even the air smells like it. Like fine perfume and damp spaces.
Luna is the first to arrive, glancing around the room in interest. "Is this the Slytherin Common Room?"
"No," Ginny says. "Just…somewhere I belong."
Hannah and Neville are only a few steps behind.
Seeing Ginny, Neville automatically says, "I didn't say anything."
Ginny shakes her head. "I know," she says. "But that hasn't kept you from finding other ways to be punished, has it?"
Neville's cheeks burn, but he doesn't bother denying it.
"Neville," Hannah says. "We're worried about you."
Luna nods in agreement. "You've clearly been infested with Cholerims."
He looks around at the three girls. "What is this? An intervention?"
"If it needs to be," Ginny says.
Neville sighs. "I'm not just trying to get tossed in detention out of guilt or whatever."
"Then why are you doing it? Why provoke them?" Ginny asks.
"Because it's rubbish!" he says, throwing his arms up. "Everyone saying Harry is some sort of criminal, trying to pretend You-Know-Who isn't running things. And you've heard what the Carrows say in class. What they do. I'm just supposed to sit there and let that happen?"
"And letting them beat you somehow solves that?"
"It's better than pretending!" he snaps.
Ginny flushes, remembering their fight in the Headmaster's office.
Neville drags a hand through his hair. "It matters. Remember how much it meant to people, that Harry always spoke out, refused to lie no matter what they did to him to keep him quiet?"
"You aren't Harry, Neville," Ginny snaps, something like shame and rage and painful yearning burning up her throat.
"You don't think I know that?" he says, voice almost despondent.
Hannah touches his shoulder, giving Ginny a hard look.
Ginny sighs, taking a breath and walking over to sit down on the couch. There's a worn spot on the edge of the pillow that is exactly where she remembers it. She shakes her head, wondering if Hogwarts itself is trying to tell her something. If it always has been.
"That day on the train," Ginny says. "When you came up to me. What did you want from me? What did you honestly expect?"
Neville's face flushes. "I thought…" He shakes his head. "I wasn't thinking. I just hoped."
"That I would tell you about them?" she asks.
"I just…I don't know what we're supposed to do."
"And you thought maybe I could tell you?"
"If anyone were to start the DA up again, we all assumed it would be you," Hannah says.
Ginny feels a hard pain in her chest. "What?"
They all look at each, nodding, and Ginny can't help but think of all the looks she gets in the halls from various former DA members.
Ginny's hands tighten in her lap. "You really think people would do that? Follow a Slytherin?"
Neville once again looks uncomfortable, but she appreciates the honesty of it.
Luna's the one to pipe in. "You're a Weasley."
Ginny knows what she means. A blood traitor. A friend to Harry and the Order. She's wanted the Carrows to believe otherwise. And maybe she's tried to believe it too.
Neville is watching her, so damn hopeful. But Ginny is tired of trying to be what other people want her to be, what they need her to be.
"Yeah," she says. "I'm a Weasley. But I'm also something else."
"What?" Neville asks.
She gets to her feet, pacing over to stand in front of the fireplace, trying to find a way to explain this. "Death Eaters came to the Burrow this summer."
"Luna told us," he says. "They were looking for Harry."
Ginny nods, her jaw clenching. "You know the strange thing about Cruciatus? It's not that it hurts. I mean, Merlin, yes, it hurts. But even long after it's over, you can still feel it, you know? Like a tremor in your muscles. But I can never be sure if I'm just imagining that."
She looks up at Neville, and there is naked horror on his face. For her, but also for his parents. Hannah is touching his arm even as she stares at Ginny with teary eyes.
"You have to understand," she finds herself saying, like she's pleading with them. "They said that if I was lying, they would come back. Not just for me, but for my whole family. I have six brothers. Six."
"And were you?" Neville asks. "Lying?"
Ginny glances at Luna, realizing that while she may have told them about the Death Eaters, she never told them about Harry.
"That lie about Spattergoit is the only thing keeping anyone in my family safe. So you see, Neville. You're right about me. I am afraid. Too scared to lead some sort of student rebellion."
How can she lead when all she can see is every tiny way this can all go so horribly wrong?
"No. I can't." She takes a breath, sitting back down.
The other three eventually lower themselves onto the couches as well. It's Neville who drops down with a painful sigh as if he's been denied some amazing treat.
"If you believe in this so much, why don't you just do it yourself?" Ginny asks.
She isn't even sure the DA is a particularly good idea. Then again, Dark Arts class isn't as much of a joke as Umbridge's had been, but no one has failed to notice that 'defense' has been removed from the title. There's nothing left of protection. Just exposure.
And at least it would give him something to focus on.
"Me?" Neville asks. Ginny can tell that he doesn't think he's good enough. He never has, really.
"To judge from the rumors, you've inherited Harry's inability to keep his mouth shut," Ginny points out.
"That's why," Neville says, his words seeming to tumble out. "You were right. I don't think I'm particularly brave, really, but I know I'm not smart enough. I didn't think before trying to steal the sword, and you ended up punished. I didn't think about what trying to take the blame for it would mean to you." He shakes his head. "What kind of leader is that?"
He stares miserably down at his hands for a moment, but then looks up at Hannah with something hopeful in his face. "Hannah-."
Hannah is already shaking her head. "A leader probably shouldn't cry at the drop of a hat."
"People find me strange," Luna says when he looks at her.
"At least they don't think you're ruthless," Ginny says.
Neville's lips twitch for all he looks like his greatest hopes are disappearing. "Or reckless."
"I figured you'd take that as a compliment," Ginny says, voice wry.
They all sit back, Neville and Hannah looking miserable.
Only Luna seems unperturbed. "It's obvious, isn't it?" she says.
"What?" Neville says. "That none of us can do it?"
Luna nods. "Not a single one of us." She looks at Hannah expectantly.
Hannah's eyes widen. "Of course!" A smile spreads over her face that is brilliant and bright like a Patronus.
"No need to look so happy about it," Neville grumbles.
Hannah just smiles wider. "Don't you get it? None of us can do it. But maybe…maybe we all can."
Ginny frowns. "All of us?"
Hannah nods. "Yes. The four of us." When Ginny just gives her a dubious look, she pushes to her feet. "No, really. It makes complete sense! You'll keep us safe, Ginny. Luna will keep us smart. Neville will keep us brave."
"And you?" Neville says.
"Hannah will keep us kind," Luna says.
Hannah's cheeks turn pink, but she looks no less enthused.
Neville looks at Ginny as if trying to gauge the feasibility of this plan just from her expression.
"I don't know," she says, feeling a bit winded. It's a terrible idea for a million different reasons.
"We can't do this without you, Ginny," he presses, his excitement like a blanket threatening to smother her.
She gets to her feet. "I'm not saying no. Just… Let me think about it, okay?"
Neville looks like he wants to push, but Hannah puts a hand on his arm.
"I shouldn't be late for detention," Ginny says, and flees the room.
"Hand forward your homework," McGonagall says.
Ginny's hand dips into her bag to pull out her essay on Doubling Transformations, but pauses as her fingers touch the parchment's rough edge.
Professor McGonagall is not someone Ginny has spent a great deal of time thinking about outside of Transfiguration. She's the head of Gryffindor, and Ginny still doesn't like to think of that moment after her Sorting. But for some reason it occurs to her as she reaches for her essay that McGonagall is a member of the Order. That after Dumbledore, she is the greatest ally those resisting Voldemort probably have. Everybody knows that.
Ginny takes a moment to wonder how McGonagall could have been foolish enough to come back to Hogwarts.
Just another person carrying on as if nothing has changed? Or something more?
Bridget nudges Ginny from behind, trying to pass forward a stack of completed essays. After another pause, Ginny lets her essay fall back into her bag. She passes the stack forward.
McGonagall swiftly flips through the papers, marking next to each name on her roster. "Your homework, Miss Weasley?"
Ginny shakes her head.
McGonagall's lips compress in displeasure. "See me at the end of the lesson."
The class titters a bit at that, some sending Ginny a commiserating look. Ginny just crosses her arms and lifts her chin as if she is above it all.
At the end of the lesson, Ginny walks up to McGonagall's desk, standing stoically through the expected lecture on responsibility and coursework and her future. Minus the usual threats of detention. Detentions aren't what they used to be, and McGonagall is surely aware that she is already serving more than her share these days.
Ginny nods in all the right places. When McGonagall's done however, she doesn't move off, her fingers touching the edge of her desk.
McGonagall eventually notices. "Is there something else, Miss Weasley?"
Ginny gnaws on her lip, looks back over her shoulder, and weighs the risks one last time. "It's…Professor Burbage, ma'am."
McGonagall seems to pale one shade. Ginny thinks she probably needs to develop a better poker face if she's going to survive.
Ginny leans closer, her voice lowering. "Do you know where she is? I mean, is she…?" Okay? Free? A prisoner of Voldemort? The possibilities seem endless, each worse than the last.
McGonagall looks ready to brush Ginny off with some well-meaning platitudes, but seems to think better of it, her eyes studying Ginny intently. "I don't know," she admits.
Ginny shifts, feeling impatient. It's been a long time since she expected adults to have all the answers, but she really hoped for something more.
McGonagall seems to understand that. "The truth is, Miss Weasley, that we will likely never know. That's how it was…last time."
Ginny can hear it then, what McGonagall isn't saying. They think Burbage is dead. She feels the burn of tears pressing at the back of her eyes, but uses a wall of rage to hold them in place. She nods. "Okay. Thank you, Professor."
Ginny turns to go.
"Your essay, Miss Weasley?" McGonagall says.
Ginny glances back at her. "First thing in the morning, I promise," she says.
McGonagall just holds a hand out and stares back at Ginny in that imperious way of hers.
Ginny considers bluffing her way along, but even she isn't completely immune to McGonagall's stare. With a sigh, she pulls the essay out of her bag and slides it across the desk.
"Thank you," McGonagall says, adding it to the stack. She doesn't say anything else, not commenting on Ginny's subterfuge. She probably understands what a careful line Ginny walks these days. "Don't be late to your next lesson."
Ginny turns and walks out.
Passing through the Common Room that evening, Ginny notices Reiko sitting on her own. Ginny considers the girl for a long moment before crossing over and sitting down next to her.
Reiko looks up with a start. "Hi," she says, looking wary.
"What did you mean?" Ginny asks. "When you said it was nice to see me acting more like myself?"
Reiko's eyes widen. "Oh, no. I was just…"
She flinches. "You back to not taking shite from anyone, I suppose."
"Is that what I've been doing? Taking shite from people?" Ginny wonders.
Reiko shakes her head. "No… That's not what I…" She breaks off, gnawing at her lip, and for some reason Ginny is vividly reminded of herself flustering her way through a conversation with Theodora so many years before.
"Honestly," Reiko says, finally regaining her natural assertiveness. "It doesn't seem like you've done much of anything at all." She lifts her chin as if expecting rebuke, all the while damning Ginny to try to intimidate her.
But Ginny doesn't glare or hex, just nods thoughtfully. "I suppose you're right."
Reiko almost looks more disturbed by this easy acquiescence. "I swear, you are so weird lately."
Ginny narrows her eyes. "Don't push it."
Reiko swallows, managing to look scared and pleased all at once.
"Go away, Reiko," Ginny says.
She nods and flees.
Ginny lingers in the Common Room, watching the emerald flames and listening to the distant keen of the Merpeople. In a rare moment of weakness or exhaustion or just self-indulgence, she lets herself think of Harry, the night of his birthday, his body warm and steady next to hers.
Are you scared?
Out of my bloody mind.
But he'd still gone, still taken her brother and their best friend out into the wilds of the world and is no doubt actively working to finish all of this once and for all.
She's the one sitting here so scared she can barely breathe. Her brain is caught on a constant feedback loop of all the ways everything can go so wrong. Dumbledore is dead. Smita is gone. Burbage was likely murdered. She's being taught Dark Arts and Muggle hatred straight from the mouths of Death Eaters and the only thing keeping her entire family safe right now is a poxy ghoul pretending to be Ron.
It's all so terribly tenuous. It can't hold.
She's let it paralyze her. She's overthinking every step of her foot, every expression, every thought so much that she barely exists anymore.
She's been clinging to her protections, building lies around her like a wall. But for what purpose? To what end? To survive? To be safe? Tobias stares at her like a stranger and she wonders if that is what she has become. Does carrying on mean becoming someone else?
She glances at The Parlor door.
Who are you?
"I don't know," Ginny whispers.
The next morning, she sits and listens to Alecto talk about the unnatural Muggle, explain their inferior brain function that is atrophied in the magical quadrants of the brain. Demonstrate how they can only use magic by stealing it from a wizard.
She sits and listens to these lies and feels grief for Burbarge like a fire in her chest, burning through the fear that has kept her frozen for so long. Everything seems to shift, a blinding sort of clarity in that moment of pain and rage.
After the lesson, she waits in the halls, falling in step next to Tobias as he comes out.
He gives her a wary glance. "What?"
She touches his arm. "It's Burbage."
His jaw tightens. She leads him to the side of the hallway, out of the way.
He's quiet as she tells him, his face completely devoid of any emotion as he stares unseeing at the floor. When she's finished, he stands frozen for a long moment before finally lifting his eyes to her face. She sees it there, his utter rage, but also the blame like this is her fault on top of everything else, like this is the final straw of what he can handle.
He stands there another moment, and then he's ripping his arm out of her grasp and walking away.
She doesn't call out after him.
During detention that night, she reads late into the night about lies and secrets and manipulation and the tenuous ties between. She carefully writes the words as Snape watches, and thinks about Burbage and Alecto. But also Umbridge and Tom.
We must decide what they should and should not know.
Ginny has long been a keeper of secrets. It's time she honed them into a weapon.
What is it about boys and suddenly becoming utter tossers? Tobias is like some new person, someone I've never known. He has been, really, ever since we got back. Honestly, I don't know how I was ever friends with him. Maybe someday if you're able to hold a quill again, you'll explain it to me. For now, Tobias Wanker Burke can just keep the hell away from me.
In better news, the squad is shaping up to be quite a force. Your precious Gryffindor team doesn't stand a chance. I'll be sure to give you the play by play after we're done squashing them. Ha!
She's leaving the cloister the next day when she spies Hannah walking past in a nearby hall. Ginny picks up her pace, falling into step next to her.
"I'm in," Ginny murmurs.
Hannah beams. "Tonight at eight?"
"Yeah," Ginny agrees before peeling off and heading down a different hallway.
The three of them are already there waiting for her when she gets there. Today the Room of Requirement looks like it did in DA meetings.
Neville beams at her, his excitement palpable, like he's ready to start running rampant through the castle.
"If we're going to do this, and that is still a big if," Ginny says, not missing the way Neville's face sobers, "there are a lot of things we have to work out long before we bring anyone else in."
"Okay," Hannah says. "Where do we start?"
"Well," Ginny says, "the most important thing is going to be protection. We can't hope a cursed piece of parchment and a scabby face will keep us safe this time." Even if no one ever really knew officially who was a member of the original DA thanks to Smita, Snape still knows exactly where they met.
"What about the Fidelius Charm?"
They look at Luna. "It's quite a difficult spell," she says. "I'd like to try it. But we'll need a secret keeper."
"I'll do it," Neville automatically offers.
"Someone who isn't the obvious choice," Ginny says.
He crosses his arms over his chest. "And who is that?"
"Me," Ginny says.
Neville snorts. "You? A Weasley. Yeah, no one would ever suspect."
"Why should they?" Ginny looks at Hannah, giving her a tight smile. "I'm the Heir of Slytherin, and just like all Hufflepuff are cowards, all Slytherin are self-serving Death Eaters."
Hannah stares back at her for a long moment. "It s-should be me."
Ginny frowns. "What?"
"It may be obvious to them that I would be a part of a resistance. But I'm a Hufflepuff. Why would you ever make a bumbling coward your secret-keeper?"
"And if they break you?" Ginny asks because that's why she's here, to ask the questions the rest of them are too nice to ask. None of them can afford for her to pull her punches.
Hannah's chin lifts. "They won't."
Ginny doesn't trust her bravery as much as her loyalty. That's what this is going to have to be, the four of them depending on each other's strengths. To support each other through their weaknesses.
Ginny nods. Neville doesn't look pleased, but also agrees.
"I'll start researching the spell," Luna says.
"So what next?" Hannah says, trying to sound matter of fact even as her hands twist in her lap.
"We need a way to communicate."
Ginny shakes her head. "There are far too many unaccounted for. Marietta's. The Creeveys. Even my brothers' coins. We could never be completely certain who was listening in." They could serve a different use under the right circumstances, just not this.
"Tobias?" Hannah asks.
Ginny grimaces, knowing their fall out has been far from private. "Him too. He thinks he knows which way the wind is blowing and he's doing everything he can to get back in with them. To wash away the stain of being friends with me. He can't be trusted."
Hannah touches her arm, and Ginny gives her a grim smile.
"Okay," Neville says. "So we need a different way." Turning to a board Ginny isn't at all certain was there a moment ago, he picks up a piece of chalk and writes Communication.
"We should probably also work on stocking potions and remedies for the punishments the Carrows are using," Hannah says. "This should be a safe haven."
Neville adds it to the list.
"Defense lessons," he says. He looks at Ginny. "This may not be a real war, but we need to be able to protect ourselves."
She nods, conceding the point. "An exit plan."
Hannah and Neville turn to look at Ginny.
"Look. No one wants to be the one to say this, but this isn't the same as under Umbridge. The stakes are higher and things could go bad much faster. We need a reliable plan for getting people out of harm's way if we ever need to."
Hannah agrees. "Let's just hope we never need it."
They brainstorm for another twenty minutes, debating details and possible pranks and what they really hope to achieve.
Neville has grown increasingly animated. He catches Ginny's eye at one point, a rash smile nearly splitting his face. "The Carrows don't really stand a chance, do they?"
Ginny knows he doesn't see the obstacles, the risks. But maybe that's okay. Because she does.
Walking up to the board, she picks up the chalk, writing BURBAGE in large letters. "We aren't going to let her disappear."
Hannah comes to stand next to her. "We won't let any of them be forgotten."
It's a beginning.
The next evening in detention, Ginny finishes the book.
After copying the last word, she jots down a few final notes and then closes the book, looking warily up at Snape. She isn't sure if he will just give her a different book, tell her to start all over again, or maybe just dismiss her and put an end to this bizarre ritual.
"Finished?" he asks.
"Yes, sir," she says.
He stands, picking up his wand. "Then let us begin."
Ginny stiffens in her chair, a mix of apprehension and anticipation roiling in her stomach. "Begin what?"
He paces away from the table. "You've already proven adequate at detection. But that is only the first step." He pulls an apple out of a drawer and places it on the table between them, and never has a simple piece of fruit seemed so menacing. "I will leave the room for three minutes. You will hide this apple somewhere in this room. When I get back, I am going to take the location from you. You will do whatever you can to stop me."
He paces from the room without another word, Ginny staring after him in astonishment.
Her mind is spinning in a hundred directions at once, trying to sort through the implications of Snape wanting to train her. Not just make her slog through a book, but teach her to do the things she has read about.
Scrambling to her feet, she grabs the apple. Turning on her heel, she looks around the room, only to settle on putting it back right where it came from in one of the drawers.
She barely manages to retake her seat before Snape returns.
He sits quietly on the other side of the table, making eye contact and lifting his wand. The look on his face makes her wonder if this really is about punishment after all. And then he is digging into her thoughts.
It isn't painful exactly, but it is incredibly uncomfortable.
At first she tries fighting the intrusion, but it doesn't work. He easily takes the location from her.
"Again," he says, leaving the room.
And so it goes, time and again.
No matter how thick, her defenses always eventually crack under his onslaught. It's a thoughtless reaction, despite everything she knows from the giant tome she's just finished reading. It's just that as soon as she feels him prying, she wants to throw up a wall of protection.
A true Slytherin never lets their emotions undermine their control.
Snape makes no comment, does not get angry or impatient, just seems to be waiting for her to work it out.
She forces herself to remember everything she has learned so far. How lack of access is proof enough that you are hiding something.
She tries lying next, giving him a false location. But after fighting him for so long, her lack of defenses seem to render the lie blatant, and he just pushes past it with ruthless efficiency. She tries token resistance next, but by this point her head is aching, her limbs trembling slightly from the strain.
"That's enough for tonight," Snape decides.
Ginny doesn't argue, leaning back in her chair and trying to catch her breath, gather enough energy to stand and leave the room.
Snape busies himself with something on the other side of the room, and Ginny somehow manages to lever herself out of the chair, her legs wobbling dangerously.
"Yes?" he asks, turning to look at her.
She gestures at the pile of papers on the table. "May I take my notes with me?"
He considers her, eventually nodding. "You may take the book as well."
"Thank you, sir," she says, picking it up and tucking it to her chest.
She slowly makes her way up from the dungeons, and despite the weariness in her bones, she feels something painfully awake just under her skin. Like a hex just passing by.
She wants this, she realizes. Wants this more than anything.
The students walk into the Great Hall on Monday morning to find a simple message emblazoned on the wall.
We Stand With The Chosen One
Ginny glances at it as she walks in to breakfast, almost smiling as she imagines Harry's reaction. He would be mortified, but also, she thinks, the slightest bit proud. It was Neville's idea, of course. Just a little reminder to students, he said, while they work on getting everything organized.
In the hall, it's almost like that day at King's Cross, everyone looking sideways at each other. Alecto and Amycus are yelling at Filch in the entryway, demanding that he find some way to get rid of it, as if the Squib caretaker has any hope of countering Luna's inventive charms.
The only thing that keeps the entire situation from being hilarious is the presence of Snape up at the head table, his face utterly calm, his hard eyes missing nothing. How easy it would be, she realizes, for him to take whatever he wants if he just looks in the right mind.
She wonders if he will try to dig something other than the location of the apple out of her mind.
She decides, in the end, that it doesn't matter what he may be digging around for. She has a path at her feet now and there is no turning back.
At the other end of the table, Blaise's snide laughter rings out. Ginny glances down to see Tobias sitting a few seats down, clearly the source of Blaise's mirth. Blaise nudges Draco next to him, and he gives him a smile that is clearly half-hearted, as if he isn't all that amused himself.
Tobias' head turns, staring down the table at Ginny. He says something else that makes the students around him laugh again, and this time it's perfectly clear that Ginny is the source of their amusement, judging from the way they all turn to look at her.
Pansy leans towards Tobias, smiling brightly at him as she says something that makes Tobias grin.
Feeling her stomach burn, Ginny looks away.
She has other things to worry about.
Neville gets loaded down with detention that week, and not because he does anything. Reviving the DA has gone a long way to calming him down. Sometimes he even listens when Ginny advises caution. Sometimes.
Still, he ends up with detention, and Ginny knows this is really an attempt to curtail the DA. Neville and the other Gryffindor are obvious targets. Keep them busy enough and maybe there wouldn't be time to organize a student rebellion.
Just another way that Luna and Hannah's plan is brilliant, because Gryffindor is just one piece of a much larger puzzle, and pulling one piece has no hope of stopping it.
The general mood in the castle has noticeably changed. Where there had only been fear before, a stagnant sort of waiting quiet, now there is hope and energy and expectation.
Ginny is still serving detention herself, three nights a week. Add in Quidditch practices and she's stretched pretty thin. Still, things finally seem to be coming into focus, leaving one giant glaring hole.
It's well after midnight when Ginny gets back to the Common Room after detention. Ignoring her fatigue and the ache of her limbs, she settles down in front of the door to The Parlor.
She's been lying to herself, ever since she got here, trying to be something she's not. And she thinks The Parlor somehow knows that.
She sits on the floor for long hours, focusing on letting everything fall away. All expectations, all fears, all pressures. Let it all fall away and see what she is left with. Not a persona, not an act, not other's assumptions.
Nothing but herself.
Not an aberration. Not an outsider.
Who are you, Ginny Weasley?
She sits there all night, not moving, even as the pain sets in, even as her eyes threaten to slip closed. Around her, the room grows cold, quiet except for the groan of the lake.
Near dawn, she pushes to her feet, limbs tingling and protesting. Walking up to the door, she presses her hand flat against the wood. She is still, she is silent, and she feels it, the power, the magic, the hum of generations. She takes a deep breath, feeling it settle into her bones.
Not a surface, but a core.
"I know who I am," she says. "And I belong here."
The door clicks open.
Downstairs in The Parlor everything is quiet. On the table is an envelope that says Ginny in Antonia's slender script. Opening the envelope, a key on a thin golden chain pours out. She has no idea what it might be for, but the moment she slips the chain over her head, an ornate pair of oaken doors bleeds into existence on the wall almost as if from nowhere.
Ginny is unsurprised to find the key fits perfectly in the lock. Pulling the door open, Ginny walks into a large library multiple stories high. Shelves cover every available space, from floor to what she can only assume is the ceiling, disappearing up in the darkness above. The spines of the books are written in a dozen different scripts, many of which Ginny doesn't recognize. The entire room smells of history and ancient secrets. One glass window is set in the rear wall, glowing with light despite the time of day and location of the room, depicting an armored woman standing with a sword in one hand and a scroll in the other, her hair a curly black riot around her shoulders. The spikey runes under her feet are of a kind Ginny has never seen before.
In the center of the room is a solid stone altar with an enormous tome resting on it. Above the book rests an ornate quill and the knife Antonia used to slice Ginny's palm. She runs her fingers over the illegible words gilded on the cover of the book, and for a moment the words seem to swim and change, before eventually settling.
The Sisterhood of Nymue
Carefully opening the book, Ginny turns the pages. The book starts in runes, shifting later to a firm square script before morphing into a spidery hand that gradually begins to resemble the language Ginny is familiar with. She feels the centuries sliding by as her fingers turn the pages.
The very last entry says: 3rd of June, 1997, Ginevra Molly Weasley chosen as Mistress. May she find the strength of self-knowledge. She will steer them through troubled, treacherous waters.
The weight of Antonia's confidence should be crushing but instead it seems to shore something up inside of Ginny, this long litany of women to whom she belongs.
She lifts the quill and carefully writes a new entry.
16th October, 1997, Ginevra Molly Weasley opened The Parlor, eight sisters in the ranks and enemies in the castle. We will persevere.
"We will," she whispers.
The next evening after Quidditch practice, Ginny walks across the common room, aware, as always, of seven sets of eyes on her.
She sits with Tilly and Nicola. "Hi," Ginny says.
Tilly looks at her, eyes narrowing, almost like she can tell there is something different about her today. "Hi."
Ginny opens her mouth to ask them down to The Parlor when across the room, Bridget makes a comment that makes Helena laugh loudly, something cruel in the pitch of the sound. Ginny turns her head, and Helena is brashly commenting about the rudeness of Nadira and her siblings. Their strange clothing and accents. As if she isn't perfectly aware that Nadira sits curled up in a chair only a few feet away, her head tucked down as she reads a book.
"Helena," Ginny says, voice not loud, but clear enough to cut through the room. No heads swivel in her direction, but she is still perfectly aware of the weight of eyes on her, of conversations halting. "Does the irony of you calling anyone rude completely escape you?"
Helena is clearly taken aback. Or maybe just taking a moment to work out if Ginny has actually insulted her or not. Her lips eventually twist, her chin lifting. "No one asked you, blood traitor," she snarls.
A few people gasp, no one in the room even trying to pretend they aren't watching now, like this is an event they've just been waiting for.
Ginny simply smiles, draping an arm casually across the back of the couch. "Hasn't anyone ever told you not to use words you're too stupid to understand?"
Helena's mouth opens in outrage, but Ginny holds the girl's gaze, her smile hardening. Thompson called her terrifying, and it's long past time that was useful. If these people want to see ruthless Parlor Girl, Heir of bloody Slytherin, she will give it to them.
Helena falters, clearly having a hard time coming up with a proper response, and Ginny feels no compassion at all.
"Oh dear," Ginny says, going in for the final cut. "I suppose that doesn't leave you with very many words at all, does it?"
Helena's mouth snaps shut, her cheeks blazing as a few other students titter behind their hands.
Ginny lets her gaze casually sweep the rest of the room. Pansy is watching intently, but is apparently content to let Helena and Bridget dangle in the wind. She may be Head Girl, but Ginny is something more. And everyone in the room knows it.
Tobias is the one to scowl at her, but is no way stupid enough to stand against her. Instead he settles for leaning into Pansy, saying something in her ear that makes the girl smile.
Ginny rises to her feet. "Just as well, I suppose. After all, I have much more valuable things to do with my time." She looks at Tilly and Nicola. "Shall we?"
A rather self-satisfied smile spreads across Tilly's face. "Oh, yes."
Ginny waits as Nicola and Tilly collect their things. Walking across the room, she touches Hestia's shoulder as she passes.
At the door, Ginny hesitates for a fraction of a second, logically knowing the door will open, but terrified that it may not. How embarrassing would that be after making such a blatantly big show of it?
Shaking it off, she grips the handle, pushing in, and the door swings smoothly open.
Only Nicola is close enough to hear the soft breath of relief Ginny lets out.
"I knew you could do it," Nicola leans in to say.
Ginny gives her a wry smile. "At least that's one of us."
Nicola laughs and gestures for Ginny to go down first. "Mistress."
She starts down the twisting stairs, feeling nearly as breathless as she did the first time Antonia brought her down here.
"For the record," Tilly says, as she steps off the stairs behind Nicola, "it took Antonia just as long. And Theodora, well, they say it took her almost an entire term."
"Now you tell me," Ginny mutters.
Hestia and Flora and Caroline and Astoria file in next, Ginny nodding at them.
Last of all is Millicent.
"Hmph," is all she has to say, heading straight for her easels and supplies.
Ginny watches the girls settling in to The Parlor, picking up their projects as if they never left, and feels something settle in her chest.
She will protect this place, and these girls, no matter the cost.
Luna looks exhausted, as if she's been up all night for the last week and a half. "I'm ready."
Ginny and Neville watch as Luna performs the incredibly complicated incantation, the secret of Dumbledore's Army's meeting space binding deep within Hannah's body. The trick, Luna decided was not to hide the meeting location, but to hide the Room of Requirement itself.
Ginny knows it has worked when the knowledge seems to seep out of her brain. No matter how hard she tries to think of the DA, of the hours and hours she spent with the group, she can't remember where it was.
She glances over at Neville and he seems similarly perplexed.
"Well?" Hannah asks.
"Pretty sure it's worked."
Luna nods in agreement, because even she has been affected.
Hannah smiles. "The DA meets in the Room of Requirement. The entrance is on the seventh floor across from the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy."
And just like that information bleeds back into Ginny's brain.
Neville smiles. "It's time to start recruiting."
Filch and the Carrows have upped their surveillance of the entryway, hoping to catch one of vandalizers in the act. But that's okay, because Luna comes up with an even better idea.
While everyone is eating breakfast, a clap of thunder sounds in the enchanted ceiling. But rather than rain, pieces of paper fall from the sky.
One lands on top of Ginny's eggs.
Dumbledore's Army reminds you that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. Long Live the Chosen One!
She casually moves it aside, keeping her face neutral as Alecto begins to shriek.
In detention, Ginny continues to struggle with mastering Occlumency.
Snape has taken to using a Pensieve, which she thinks to take as a compliment until he informs her, "There are few things more dangerous than an uncontrolled, panicked child."
She feels a flare of anger, but is nowhere near reckless enough to show it.
His lips quirk as if pleased.
At times, she feels her anger towards him soften, and that just makes her even more confused. Then again, by the end of most of their meetings, she is comfortably back to resenting him, the way her body and mind ache after his relentless attacks.
The most cautious part of her brain is always reminding her that he is the enemy, that he may very well be doing this not just to punish but to discover. She has more than enough secrets he would like to have.
He's just looking for the apple though, she tells herself. Because if he wanted further information, he could have just as easily taken it without training her how to resist.
"Again," Snape says each time he ferrets out a crack in her lies.
She dusts herself off and pledges never to make the same mistake twice.
Gradually, she learns not to fight, but instead to build, to direct.
Still, she always eventually ends up here, on her knees, dizzy with the press of his attack. Her hair has fallen over her face, and she brushes it back with a sound of impatience. Getting to her feet, she is already formulating her next approach, when she catches Snape staring at her, eyes drawn and surprisingly...troubled.
He snaps his mouth shut, skin pulling tight across his jaw. "Again." He lifts his wand.
She barely reacts in time, the vicious attack catching her off guard.
As she leaves that night, she catches a flash of red hair in the silver of the Pensieve, but doesn't stop to look.
She may hate him, but even Snape is allowed his secrets. After all, she has a feeling he has spent his whole life training to protect them.
People slip into the Room of Requirement in groups of twos and threes, everyone looking around at each other, the room filled with tense expectation.
They all look expectantly at Neville as he steps up. "Thanks for coming. As you have no doubt guessed, Dumbledore's Army is once again up and running."
A cheer roars through the space.
"As you know, Harry isn't here. But we carry on in his name, and the name of every other student who should be who isn't."
"Dean!" Seamus shouts.
"Colin and Dennis!"
"Ron and Hermione!"
Half a dozen more names are called out, and Ginny feels the press of tears.
"Smita," she says.
Neville nods. "We're here for all of them. And we will do our part while Harry is out there, doing whatever important work he is no doubt undertaking to end this war."
The students cheer again.
Neville catches Ginny's eye, gesturing for her to come up. She's perfectly content to stay in the shadows, but he has insisted that all three of them stand with him. He waits as Hannah, Luna, and Ginny step up beside him.
"We know we aren't Harry, and that no one could ever really replace him. But the four of us are going to do our best to keep Dumbledore's Army moving forward."
There are some whispers in the crowd, but no arguments.
"We will be carrying on with learning Defense like before, but also have a few other important goals. Primarily exposing the Carrows lies, and making sure we know what is going on outside the castle. So first we'd like to give you some updates." He turns to look at Ginny.
Ginny steps forward. "The Dark Lord's title has been cursed. Anyone who speaks it breaks any and all protections and enchantments. It took us a while to confirm it, but we finally have. They are using it to find anyone who would stand against him. So you can call him You-Know-Who or He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named or even the Dark Lord. But personally, I think this gives him too much power. Like every one of us, he was once a child. He was once a student in this very school. And like all of us, he has a name given to him by his parents. One he hates and reviles. A Muggle name. His name is Tom."
The students are whispering to each other loudly, talking about this startling bit of information.
Ginny lifts her hands, waiting for them to quiet down. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I like calling him by a name he hates. But let it also be a reminder that he was once just a boy. I'm not saying he isn't dangerous, but he isn't unbeatable either. He will be defeated."
This gets a cheer from the crowd.
"We're here to learn to protect ourselves. We're here to fight the lies they are feeding us. But most of all, we are here to remind everyone that this is our school. So let's get started."
Soon the Room of Requirement is full of spells and laughter and determination.
None of them are alone. And if there is no one to protect them, they will protect themselves.
The soft pop and hiss of a muffled explosion echoes through The Parlor. Ginny glances up, seeing Nicola using her wand to put out a small fire. Her attempts to integrate certain aspects of Muggle technologies into her designs tend towards the pyrotechnic these days. Apparently the ambient magic does not play well with Muggle technology.
There's another pop and a low grumble, and Ginny smiles, turning back to her book.
"Doesn't that bother you?" Millicent says from the other side of the room.
Ginny shakes her head. "I find it kind of soothing, to be honest." It reminds her of being back at the Burrow.
Millicent mutters something under her breath about the utter bedlam Ginny must have grown up in. Ginny just smiles and casts another muffling spell around Nicola's workstation.
After roughly finishing off her Charms homework, Ginny glances idly over at the door to the Library. She's been trying to find any spare moment she can to poke around in there.
Millicent and Nicola both seem focused on their own work, so Ginny pushes to her feet and crosses over to the door, using the key from around her neck.
Inside, it is just as quiet as the first time she entered. There are enough books here that feels like it would take a lifetime even to figure out what is in here. She pokes about for a while, looking for some sort of filing system or a reference book.
Pushing the wheeled ladder out of the way, she leans down to take a closer look at a thick tome.
"Good evening, Mistress."
Ginny starts, spinning around to find the source of the voice. The door is still firmly closed, the space empty.
"Can I assist you in finding something?" the voice asks again.
Tracking the source of the voice, Ginny turns to the stained glass window. The armored woman bows slightly to her.
"Who are you?" Ginny asks.
"I am often called Nymue."
Ginny's eyebrows fly up. She's done a bit of homework since the day she first opened The Parlor. "You mean, the Lady-."
"No." She shakes her head. "I merely share her name. I am a guide. An echo. Of every woman who has stood where you do now."
"Where did all of these books come from?"
"A collection of texts brought together by generations of sisters from all corners of Britannia and further. As well as a rather interesting collection of Muggle texts I believe Antonia brought here at your behest."
Ginny always wondered where the books she, Smita, and Tobias liberated from the library before Umbridge could purge them. She's thankful now they never tried to return them to Pince last year just to be destroyed.
"Any histories of the Sisterhood itself?"
Nymue flicks a finger, and a large tomb from a high shelf floats down towards Ginny. "I believe this would be a good place to begin."
"Thank you," Ginny says, the book heavy in her hands with the weight of everything she has to learn.
On her way down to the pitch, Ginny passes by two Gryffindor players. Backup beaters if Ginny recalls correctly.
They glare at her, and Ginny just looks back at them with a raised eyebrow, not particularly moved by their animosity.
She's slightly less sanguine when she opens the door to the changing room and nearly gets beaned in the head by a shoe.
Demelza is standing inside looking livid.
When Ginny is certain a second shoe isn't following, she leans down and picks it up. "I think you misplaced this," she says, tossing it back to land at the fuming girl's feet.
Demelza just glares at her, going back to muttering angrily under her breath.
As much as Ginny respects Demelza as a player, she doesn't really have time for Gryffindor drama. "If you don't mind, our pitch time is about to start."
"Don't bother," Demelza says, jamming her foot into her shoe. "There isn't going to be a match this weekend."
"What?" Ginny asks.
"We're forfeiting," she says. "Happy times for you."
In all her years at Hogwarts, Ginny's never heard of a team forfeiting. Teams have played down players, been slaughtered, but no one ever forfeits. "Why would you do that?"
Her head lifts with a jerk. "You think I want to?"
Ginny is unmoved by her aggression. "Then why do it?"
She blows out a breath. "Jimmy and Ritchie have been banned from the team."
Ginny's eyebrow's lift. "Your Beaters? What did they do?"
"They took exception to some of the things covered in Muggle Studies last week."
Muggle Studies is becoming a battleground. The DA is emboldening people, and while Ginny is glad people are no longer willing to just swallow the Carrows' lies, she does not particularly like Gryffindor tactics. Or complete and utter lack of tactics.
Ginny sighs. "What about your backup Beaters?" she asks, jerking a thumb over her shoulder, realizing now who those boys were that she passed on the way in.
"You mean my first set of backup Beaters? Apparently their homework wasn't up to Alecto's standards. She wants to give them more time to dedicate to their studies."
Ginny frowns. "What do you mean 'first set of backup Beaters'?"
Demelza gives her a bitter smile. "Well, my second set of backup Beaters were given detention all day Saturday because they came late to a Dark Arts lesson. Even though they, and everyone else in the class, swear they were early."
Six students removed from the team? They were going to physically run out of Gryffindor students at this rate.
"And just when I was determined to put any two warm bodies up there come Saturday, Alecto decides that the Beater position on the Gryffindor team is filled with troublemakers and would be better off not being filled at all."
"She can't do that," Ginny says, even as she knows Alecto very well can. Who is going to stop her?
Demelza laughs. "And who am I going to complain to? Snape?" Demelza says with a sneer. "Like he would ever lift a finger for Gryffindor." She crosses her arms over her chest. "Even if he would, I would never lower myself to ask."
"So instead you forfeit."
Having no Beaters isn't like going into a game down a Keeper or a Chaser or even a Seeker. Sure, you'll lose, but going in without Beaters is suicide. It's asking your players to take on Bludgers completely undefended. Even a Gryffindor would never be so brazen.
"It's ridiculous!" Demelza explodes, pushing back up to her feet.
"No," Ginny says thoughtfully. "It isn't."
Demelza narrows her eyes. "Of course, I forget how pleased you must be by this."
"I'm not," Ginny says. "But it also isn't ridiculous. It's calculated."
She frowns. "What do you mean?"
"Think about it. This is about the DA. They may be stupid enough to think that Gryffindor and the DA are the same thing. Or maybe Gryffindor just makes the best target. You lot aren't exactly known for keeping your tempers."
"If you play, you not only look like rash fools, but you will get your arses beat, quite literally. Without them lifting a finger."
"And if we forfeit…"
Ginny nods. "You're bowing to their authority. They win."
"They win no matter what," Demelza moans.
"That isn't necessarily true."
Demelza gives her a wary look. "What do you have going on inside that bloody sneaky head of yours?"
If this were just about Quidditch, about the competition, Ginny thinks she would gladly let them forfeit. But this is about so much more. Turning the students against each other to make them easier to control, she suspects, to push that simmering animosity between house rivals into a roiling boil.
How afraid the Carrows must really be of student unity.
"I have an idea," Ginny says.
Doing this will cost her a lot. Not the least of which is the last thin veneer of protection she can claim. The Carrows have bought her lies up until now. This will probably destroy that.
But why is she really here? To survive? Is surviving enough?
"Yeah?" Demelza asks.
Ginny turns to look at her. "You'd have to be willing to trust me. Knowing I have nothing to lose, and you are risking your players."
Like most Gryffindor, she looks ready to jump off a damn cliff. She holds out her hand. "Deal."
Ginny takes it.
Demelza's hand squeezes painfully around hers. "But if you're lying to me, believe me when I say I will make you pay."
Ginny smiles. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Ginny builds her defenses, not so much to block as to direct, to distract. She erects things like a trap door over hidden tunnels radiating in all directions, each more tempting and twisty than the last. She piles haphazard information in there, innocuous things, loud things, confusing things. Piling, piling, piling. Underneath one of those piles is yet another door, firmly shut. It takes Snape a while to find it under all the chaos of thoughts, but he eventually tracks it, wrenching the door open. She struggles, resisting, and the first thought to surface in that protected space is a nasty, but completely honest thought about Snape.
Murderer, it screams.
She feels him stumble, just for a moment. He recovers quickly, reaching down past that hidden thought and others like it, ripping out a memory of Ginny eating an apple, vanishing the core.
Snape pulls back, and they are once again sitting across from each other in the dungeon room. He raises an eyebrow at her in inquiry, and she shrugs.
"I was hungry."
He eyes her for a moment, not using a spell, just considering her. "You're lying."
"Am I?" she asks.
"Yes," he says.
She tilts her head to one side. "Can you be certain?"
The Saturday of the first Quidditch match dawns hard and cold. The snow is still holding off, not much more than a dusting here and there. A perfectly beautiful day for a match, if not for the interference of the Carrows.
Ginny has not spoken of her plans to anyone, not even Demelza, not wanting to risk any of it somehow getting back to the Carrows. So instead she eats breakfast and gets set up as if it were any other match she has ever played in.
Only once the entire team is geared up and ready to go out, does she finally speak.
"Bassenthwaite, Rosier," she says. "Hold back."
They give her curious looks, but comply, standing quietly as the rest of the team files out.
"I need you two to do something for me," she says.
Bassenthwaite nods. "Of course."
"I need you two to keep the Bludgers away from the players."
Rosier gives her a funny look. "Don't we usually?"
"All of the players," Ginny says.
Their eyes widen.
"Each of you take one Bludger, and keep it away from the pitch. Forget the rest of the game."
Bassenthwaite frowns at her. "What's going on?"
Ginny doesn't elaborate. "Not a single person will be touched," she says. "I gave the Gryffindors my word."
They both still look completely thrown by the request.
"Can you do this?" she asks.
Bassenthwaite and Rosier look at each other, something seeming to pass between them. Looking back at Ginny, they nod.
"Yeah," Bassenthwaite says. "We can do that."
Ginny feels her shoulders relax. "Thank you. Now let's get out there."
They nod, heading for the door.
"Rosier," Ginny says.
He looks back at her.
"I know we've…had our differences. And I know I'm asking a lot."
"Don't worry about it," he says.
She stares back at him, trying to read him. She always knew it would come down to this in the end. "Okay."
His eyebrows lift. "Aren't you going to threaten me?"
"No," she says. "I'm going to do something worse."
He looks back at her warily.
"I'm going to trust you," she says.
They regard each other for a long moment.
"That's what a team is," she says.
His jaw is tight as he nods.
Together they walk out on the pitch.
The crowd is already abuzz with noise, everyone noticing that Gryffindor doesn't have Beaters.
At the center of the field, Madame Hooch is speaking with Demelza, clearly trying to talk her out of playing.
"This is madness!" Ginny can overhear Hooch exclaim as she nears.
Demelza just gives her a brazen smile.
Hooch turns to Ginny as if considering asking her to at least be smart enough to forfeit.
"Don't look at me," Ginny says.
Hooch sighs. "Fine. Shake hands. And don't say I didn't warn you. Foolish children."
Ginny holds out her hand, and after only a moment's hesitation, Demelza takes it. She squeezes it, just enough past comfortable to be a threat. "I'm trusting you," she says.
Ginny squeezes back. "I know."
Letting go of each other, both girls lift off up into the air. Ginny checks that everyone is in position and then turns her attention back to Hooch. Blowing a whistle, she pulls open the ball trunk, the Snitch and Bludgers streaking off up into the air.
For a moment, everyone seems frozen by the possibilities as the Bludgers whiz through the air. One heads straight for Gryffindor's Seeker, a slight third year. Just before it reaches him, Bassenthwaite zooms over, hitting the Bludger far over the closest stands.
Ginny doesn't look at the Carrows, pays no attention to the crowd's reaction, just shouts, "Go!" and scrambles after the Quaffle still held in Hooch's hands. She snatches it away from her, flinging it down the pitch towards Vaisey. All the same, she's a bit tense until she sees Rosier keeping the other Bludger occupied.
Gryffindor belatedly gets into the match, scrambling for the Quaffle.
It's not the cleanest match, tempers running high. Some of the Gryffindor players seem to decide to direct their anger over the situation at Slytherin for "lording it over them." Their impotence rankles, she knows.
Ginny puts her energy into keeping her players focused on the game, and leaves Demelza to handle her own people.
In the absence of Bludgers, there are a lot more shoves and fouls as the score climbs quickly on both sides, the Keepers pushed to their limits. It's brutal, but nowhere near as brutal as a Bludger to the side of the head.
It's clear that this match will come down to the Snitch in the end. Fortunately for them, Gryffindor's Seeker still seems far too aware of just whose position he is filling. Reiko is more than sharp enough to take advantage of it. She manipulates him with ease, confusing him with feints and sharp turns.
It's an intensely fast moving match, all things told.
Ginny makes a quick dive to catch a mediocre pass from Urquhart, getting an elbow in her ribs from her Gryffindor counterpart. Pulling hard to one side, she rams him with her hip, nearly knocking him off before rolling over the top of him and streaking down towards the goals.
She hears him curse behind her, the crowd roaring, but focuses on the rings. Right as she stretches up to take a shot, she gets hit from behind, hard enough that she's forced down low over her broom handle, nearly smashing her nose. Her fingers fumble the Quaffle and it plummets towards the grass.
"Whoops, sorry," shouts the Gryffindor Seeker as he rights himself on his own broom. "I could have sworn I'd seen the Snitch."
There's a gasp and a cheer from the other end of the pitch, and Ginny looks back. "You may want Pomfrey to check your eyes for you," she says with a grin.
The Seeker frowns, glancing back as well to see Reiko pulling up with the Snitch in her hand.
He lets out a rather creative string of curses, and Ginny just laughs.
She hears one of the Gryffindors say something particularly nasty, but other than the odd obscene gesture in return, her players hold it together.
They did it. The match is over. For the first time, she allows herself to glance over at the Carrows to see their reaction. She locates them in the crowd just in time to see them gesturing to someone on the field.
From behind her, Rosier shouts, but before Ginny can turn to look she hears the far too familiar crack of a bat.
"Demelza!" Ginny yells, but it's too late. The girl barely has time to turn before the Bludger is hitting her square in the chest. She tumbles back off her broom, hitting the ground with a nasty thump.
Ginny spins around, finding Urquhart holding Rosier's bat, a triumphant grin twisting his face.
He has the gall to grin at her, flipping the bat up in the air as if to catch it.
But before he can, a hex catches him in the chest, Urquhart falling to the ground. Things quickly get out of control after that, spells and fists flying as the two teams take each other on.
Hooch and McGonagall and Hagrid wade out to stop the fight, but the Carrows just remain in their seats laughing.
Ginny throws up protective spells to keep the players apart as best she can, grabbing Reiko when she would throw herself into the fight.
She gives her a look of outrage, but Ginny just digs her fingers in. "I will hex you myself if I have to."
Reiko lets out a really long string of abusive curses, but doesn't seem willing to call her bluff.
Nearly everyone on the Gryffindor and Slytherin teams end up with detention. Reiko and Ginny manage to avoid it, even if she's not sure Reiko will ever completely forgive her for that. Not having detention is great, not getting to have her teammate's backs with defending themselves against 'those bloody stupid Gryffindor pricks' as she put it, is something else entirely.
Ginny has no regrets. Well, almost no regrets.
Because there was one other person not to get detention, and that was Urquhart.
That night, Ginny waits until everyone in her room is soundly asleep, before slipping out of the dorms. Fortunately the hospital wing isn't far, and with a particularly helpful shortcut, she manages to avoid Filch and his bloody cat.
The infirmary is dark and quiet. Only one bed is currently occupied, and Ginny crosses over to it.
"Here to finish the job?" a quiet voice asks.
Ginny looks down at Demelza. "How are you feeling?"
She grimaces, pushing up to sit against the headboard. "Like I got hit in the chest by a Bludger."
Ginny purses her lips. "Yeah."
She sits down in the chair next to the bed, the two of them warily regarding each other.
"I know it probably doesn't mean much," Ginny eventually says, "but I kicked Urquhart off the squad."
"Did you," Demelza says.
Ginny shrugs. "He made a liar of me."
Demelza laughs before wincing and pressing a hand to her chest. "And you would never stoop to lie."
Ginny smiles, acknowledging the hit. Lying is not something that disturbs her in the least. "He ruined my plan," she amends. "My perfectly solid plan."
Making her look incompetent is something she finds very hard to forgive.
But if she's honest with herself it was really her own damn fault. She never should have put Urquhart on the squad. She knew he was trouble. But she spent so much time worrying about making waves, about doing anything that might look remotely suspicious, that she ignored her instincts.
"I'm sorry," Ginny says.
Demelza shakes her head. "As much as I'd love to pommel you, you can't be held accountable for the actions of one slimy git. And you tried."
Ginny doesn't point out that she much prefers success to attempts. Attempting just means you failed to do it right.
She shrugs. "I just don't like feeling like the Carrows won."
"Did they?" Ginny asks, looking at the other girl. "We're still here, aren't we?"
Demelza's eyes narrow. "Maybe I'm just waiting to hex you when you back is turned."
"Maybe you are," Ginny says. "But I don't think so."
She snorts, sliding back down to lie in bed.
"Besides," Ginny says, getting to her feet. "We'll find a way to get back at them."
Demelza grins. "Now that sounds like a plan."
When Ginny arrives at her next detention, Snape gives her a long, hard assessing look. "The Carrows believe you instigated that little stunt at the Quidditch match, but I told them you would never be so foolish."
Ginny shrugs. "I guess I'm not a very good captain after all. Can't even control my own players."
"Perhaps," Snape says, like he doesn't really believe that for a moment. He fingers his wand. "But perhaps I should see what I can find out from you?"
Ginny merely clasps her hands casually in front of her. "You could try."
He sneers at her. "Don't get cocky. It's one thing to hide innocuous information in a comfortable setting. It's another to protect vital information that could cost you your life or someone else's, memories fraught with emotion and intimacy and weakness."
She really doesn't like the sound of this.
"You've barely begun."
The next two hours he sets out to prove it. There is no more apple or parlor tricks, but only full assaults on her every thought and memory.
It's painful, and it feels for the first time that this is true punishment, as if he is reminding her of the cost of recklessness. She doesn't get mad, she doesn't let herself be afraid. She builds and protects and lies and lets it become second nature.
When she fails, she tucks it away to be analyzed at length later. And then she gets back up off her knees and tries again.
The castle wakes on Monday morning to the news that Quidditch has been cancelled for the rest of the year. The official line is because it is a hot bed of violence, but Ginny suspects it has more to do with the fact that the Carrows aren't at all sure of their ability to control it.
Ginny calls one final team meeting that evening. She waits in the changing room as her team files in.
She stands up in front of them. "As you've no doubt all heard, Quidditch has been cancelled for the rest of the year."
They all nod and groan, shooting each other commiserating looks.
"At least that means we won the Quidditch Cup, right?" Vaisey says, clearly trying to find the bright side.
"Technically, I suppose so," Ginny says.
"Sweet," Martin says, crossing his arms over his chest. "Makes me two for two."
Reiko snorts. "Yes, clearly you are the only reason we've won."
"The rest of us could have taken a few matches off," Bassenthwaite says.
Martin nods. "Pretty much."
"Wanker," Vaisey grumbles.
Martin gasps, putting his hands over Reiko's ears. "Not in front of Reiko!"
Reiko slaps his hands away. "Oh, sod off you stupid cunt."
Everyone nearly falls down with laughter.
Rosier, who up until now has been quiet, says, "Speaking of cunts, where's Urquhart?"
He's taken it as a personal affront, that Urquhart stole his bat. If I had wanted to start a fight, I bloody well would have started it myself, he snarled to Ginny after the match. She's beginning to realize that the trust she put in him meant more to him than she thought.
"It was the last thing I did as your captain," Ginny says. "I kicked his sorry arse off the squad." Little more than symbolic really, but it felt good all the same.
"Well rid of him," Reiko says, the rest of them grumbling in agreement.
"Well, as amusing as it is to abuse Urquhart," Ginny says, "that's not really why I asked you all here."
Bassenthwaite eyes her. "So why did you?"
"I thought you deserved to know why I did it. Why I helped Gryffindor like that."
"It's obvious, isn't it?" Reiko says.
"Is it?" Ginny asks.
Martin nods. "The Carrows are utter twats, trying to mess with Quidditch."
Everyone nods in agreement, even Rosier. Quidditch is far too serious to be used as a gambit.
"The thing is, I made a call, and you've all had to pay for it. I'm sorry for that. But I'm not sorry for what I did." Her jaw clenches. "This is our school, not theirs. And they would do well to remember it."
Bassenthwaite looks around at the rest of his teammates. "We understand," he says.
Ginny nods, feeling a little overwhelmed by the trust they have put in her. "Thank you."
They hang around another half-hour, chatting and abusing each other and it's hard to believe it's really over. She's going to miss them, miss this team.
After, Ginny is walking back up to the castle when Bassenthwaite, Reiko, and Martin catch up with her.
"Now what?" Reiko asks, falling into step next to her.
"What?" she asks. "Now nothing. Quidditch is done."
Martin shakes his head. "Not Quidditch."
Ginny stares back at them.
"We want in," Reiko says. "You said it. This is our school."
"'Want in?' On what?"
Martin pulls a worn flyer out of his robe. Dumbledore's Army: Still Recruiting.
Ginny leans back away from it like it's poisonous. "What makes you think I know anything about that?"
"Does anything in the castle happen without you knowing about it?" Reiko asks, betraying a level of trust in Ginny's omniscience that is rather unsettling.
"Maybe I don't approve," Ginny says, lifting her chin.
Bassenthwaite's lips twitch. "Maybe you don't. But I do. And the thing is, Graham was…is one of us. He should be here." There is anger in his eyes, a burning powerlessness that Ginny is far too familiar with.
She's trusted them this far. If she can't trust them with this, there really is no hope for Hogwarts.
Ginny nods. "I'll see what I can find out."
In the Common Room that evening, she gives each of them a small slip of paper. Dumbledore's Army meets in the Room of Requirement on the seventh floor across the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, it says in Hannah's writing.
"Done?" Ginny asks, pulling it away and flicking it into the fire, watching it incinerate.
"How do we know when?" Reiko asks.
Ginny smiles. "Ever noticed that poster on the board for History of Magic extra tutor sessions with Binns?"
Reiko pulls a face. "Who in their right minds would want-"
Ginny touches her arm. "Look at it again sometime."
UGH! They've cancelled Quidditch! I can't bloody believe it. They're paranoid, thinking there's some student conspiracy. I don't have time for pranks. I'm too busy serving endless annoying detentions and trying not to drown under homework. As if I could give a crap about Gryffindor. (Sorry, bro, but you lot are all impulsive prats and you know I'm right.) I just don't like people messing with Quidditch. Oh, well. I suppose it doesn't matter anymore anyway. Quidditch is done and at least I don't have to try to pretend to play nice with the other houses anymore.
P.S. At least we kicked Gryffindor's arses!
It starts with Astoria, strangely enough. Next to her, Caroline hiccups once and then twice, her face comically surprised. Astoria takes one look at her and lets out a really unladylike snort. It sets everyone else off at once, Hestia and Flora leaning into each other.
Nicola is the only one not laughing, watching them all intently without so much as a smile on her face.
For some reason, Ginny finds this unbearably funny. She taps Tilly's arm repeatedly, poking her in the arm. When she finally gets the other girl's attention, she points towards Nicola.
"Her face!" is all Ginny manages to get out.
Tilly nods enthusiastically in agreement. "With the—the—the eyes!"
Ginny wails with laughter, nearly falling off the couch.
A few of the now empty glasses fall to the floor with a crash when Caroline kicks her foot out, tears streaming down her face. But somehow this is only funnier, even as Nicola quickly vanishes the broken glass before someone cuts themselves.
"Oh, Nicola," Flora says between giggles. "What would we do without you?"
Hestia nods, giving her a sloppy kiss on the cheek.
The laughter slowly dies off, all of the girls falling back onto the couches, Astoria and Caroline tangled up together in an overstuffed chair that is far too small for the both of them. Ginny leans her head on Tilly's shoulder, feeling a big yawn stretch her jaw.
Once there is complete silence, the last giggle and hiccup fading, Nicola says, "Eight and a half minutes."
Tilly nods. "Not bad."
It takes maybe another five minutes for the ache in Ginny's belly to finally fade.
"How do you feel?" Nicola asks.
Ginny lets out a breath, leaning back against the couch. "Honestly? Better than I would have thought. Relaxed."
Hestia nods in agreement. "It's almost like when you need a really good cry and then afterwards you feel kind of…purged."
Caroline dabs at her running eye makeup with a grimace. "Could have done without the tears."
Astoria gives her an indulgent smile, reaching out to fix it.
"Well, you all looked like mad fools," Millicent observes from her corner of the room.
"Yes, well," Tilly says, "that was rather the point." She always tests the products out with them, claiming it wouldn't do to ask someone to do something you aren't willing to do yourself. "Laughter and silliness in a bottle."
"I bet my brothers would be interesting in selling this," Ginny says, eying the slightly bubbling golden liquid.
"You think so?" Tilly asks.
She shrugs. "You may need to get the dosage right first."
Tilly laughs, the sound a little weak. "There is that."
She spends a while jotting down a few notes, Hestia nodding off on the other side of the table while Astoria and Caroline continue to whisper about something.
"It's strange, isn't it?" Tilly says.
"What?" Ginny asks.
"Thinking about the future. After all…this."
She knows she means The Parlor and Hogwarts, but also the war. It feels some days like there may be no future, everything stretching so uncertain ahead of them. But as long as there is even a chance, they will prepare for all the possibilities. It's what they do.
Ginny rolls her head to the side, looking at Tilly. "What else is there to think about?"
Tilly gives her a tight smile and goes back to dreaming up her future.
There is tense silence as Ginny walks into the Room of Requirement with her teammates.
Most of the Gryffindor players are member of the DA, and they all stand, all of their attention riveted to the new arrivals.
Ginny is vividly reminded of the first time she brought Tobias and Smita, but shoves the painful thought away.
It's Bassenthwaite who breaks the stalemate. "You," he booms, pointing to Gryffindor's Keeper.
Everyone is tense as Bassenthwaite marches straight up to the guy. They glare at each other, the Keeper not backing down despite the height and weight Bassenthwaite has on him. "What of it?"
After a long moment, Bassenthwaite lifts a hand to his chin, rubbing slightly. "You have a pretty wicked left hook."
The Keeper's eyebrows lift. "You've got a pretty hard head."
Bassenthwaite grins. "Hope it didn't break your delicate hand."
"I think it would take a hell of a lot more than that."
"Come on, then," Bassenthwaite says, slapping him on the back. "Let's see if you can hex half so well as hit."
Reiko almost immediately searches out the Gryffindor Seeker, cornering the poor bloke into an intense conversation.
Everyone seems to relax, Martin moving over to watch a couple students working on their Patronus Charms.
Neville and Hannah appear next to Ginny.
"Now it's starting to look right," Neville says.
"If the Carrows hoped to divide us, that certainly backfired," Hannah says.
Ginny smiles. "I have an idea for our next prank. After all, it wouldn't do to let the Carrows think they've cowed us."
There was one winner in that scuffle, and it wasn't the Carrows.
Luna spends three days researching the best permanent sticking charm she can find, adding a few flourishes of her own.
Ginny is the one to write their message in clear letters below.
Above the words, a giant color photograph of Charity Burbage's face smiles down at students as they pass.
Predictably, the Carrows go on a rampage to find who is behind it. But their loss of control only makes the students more curious, people whispering behind their hands. Emboldened, maybe, to let themselves really ask for the first time where people go when they disappear. To consider the possibilities.
On her way down to The Parlor that evening, Ginny notices Nadira sitting by herself. People have taken exception to the way she isolates herself. Thinks she's stuck up. Ginny wonders if maybe she's just lonely.
Ginny sits down near her, opening a book on her lap. "Hi."
Nadira lifts her head. "Hi," she repeats back with the barest of civility before going back to her work and ignoring Ginny.
Ginny isn't put off by that. She's had much worse from Millicent over the years. "You're taking Arithmancy?"
Nadira looks at her. "What are you doing?"
"I'm sorry?" Ginny asks.
Nadira seems to consider her for a long time. "Oh, I see," she says, sitting back. "You're trying to save me, aren't you? Like one of your little project girls."
Ginny feels her cheeks flush, anger rising in her chest at anyone speaking so dismissively of her sisters, of the rare gift being a member of The Parlor represents. "You don't know what you're talking about."
Nadira laughs, a harmless trilling sound belied by the hardness in her eyes. "I know what you see when you look at me. You see my headscarf and assume I was forbidden from coming here, like some trapped bird who has finally escaped her cage."
Ginny opens her mouth to protest, but she honestly isn't sure what she thought about Nadira and her family, what assumptions she may have made. Because she has watched Nadira all year and seen an outsider.
Nadira presses ruthlessly on, voice still quiet and calm and almost conversational as she leans in to Ginny. "Well, I hate to destroy your fantasies, but I didn't want to come here. Because I have no interest in your version of education."
"My version?" Ginny says, feeling completely flat-footed.
Nadira shakes her head. "You know the saddest part of all of this? That it's never even occurred to you that it could be your world that is limited, not mine."
With that, she stands and leaves, Ginny still sitting with something hot and tight like rage stretching across her skin, the slight itch of what might be shame. It feels like everyone in the room should be staring at her, but the quiet confrontation seems to have unfolded without anyone noticing.
After another moment, Ginny pushes to her feet, continuing on her way to The Parlor.
Only Tilly and Nicola are down there, heads lowered together as they tinker with a project. They give Ginny distracted greetings, and she doesn't bother them. Instead she turns for the library door.
It feels a bit like escaping, closing that solid door behind her and slinking into the silence of this space. She leans back against the door, letting her eyes close.
"What troubles you, Mistress?"
Ginny looks up at Nymue, shaking her head. "It's nothing, I just…"
She glances helplessly around at the stacks and stacks of books. "Are there any texts on Occlumency in here?"
"No," she says. "You won't find any conventional magics in these books."
"Conventional?" Ginny echoes.
"Wand magic," Nymue clarifies.
Ginny frowns. "What other kind of magic is there?"
Nymue gives her a slow smile. "My dear, there are limitless other kinds."
Ginny's cheeks flush, Nadira's scathing voice echoing in her mind. It's never even occurred to you that it could be your world that is limited, not mine.
Nymue flicks a finger and a text slides out of one of the shelves. "If you have interest in the keeping of secrets, of mind protections, perhaps this book could be of use."
The book floats over and lands on the pedestal.
Ginny crosses over to look down at the rich blood red leather cover of the text, the title embossed in gold in a language she is unfamiliar with. She reaches for it.
"Fair warning that the magics contained in these texts have been banned by many of the modern governments."
Ginny pulls her hand back. "Why? Are they dangerous?"
"Dangerous to whom?" Nymue counters with. "To the casters? Or to the wand masters?"
"Wand masters," Ginny repeats, brow furrowed. It's a strange phrase.
Nymue gives her a smile that is a little hard, a little predatory. "Is anything truly without risk?"
Ginny picks up the book.
Her detentions with Snape continue three nights a week. It's a dangerous game, learning this skill that suddenly seems too important not to have, one she feels like she's been working on since the first day she set foot in this school. But she's also never unaware of just who she is, who Snape is, or the information she has that Tom would only be too pleased to know.
Ron's ghoul. Hermione's parents. The DA.
Harry leaning in and kissing her, his fingers sliding down a strand of her hair.
"What's the best way to hide specific information? Particularly information you are so intent on hiding that it may force itself to the front of your mind?"
As usual, Snape doesn't jump with an answer, instead waiting calmly for her to work through it.
Her first instinct is bury it deep, but she knows how useful it can be to put something else there, something false, but made believable by the protections put in place. The alternative would be to put it on the surface, make it look like a lie, but that seems too dangerous, especially when even the hint of the information would be enough to put people's lives in danger.
She tilts her head to the side. "What if I keep the memory, don't particularly hide it or make it available, but just change enough small things to render the information useless?"
Snape nods. "Authentic emotion is often enough to sell a thought as truth. If you can tie that emotion and taste of reality and detail to a false thought, it can render the subterfuge invisible."
She considers that. "Particularly if I make it something embarrassing to me? Or something that seems to highlight a weakness?" She's been thinking about the kind of person who would try to use this skill and what they would be after. Information, yes, but also a way to control you.
"Or if you take truth and make it seem to point to a different conclusion. Let them assume this truth would make you one way, when it really makes you a different way."
There's an uncomfortable pause as that statement settles between them. This, she assumes, is what he did to Dumbledore, how he managed that ultimate betrayal. Part of her is enraged, constantly screaming at the back of her mind. The more practical part of her recognizes this as more evidence that she is learning this skill from a master.
She feels like that a lot these days, like two people existing inside the same body.
She stills as it occurs to her that being two people could be useful. One of her would never think of the dangerous things at all.
Snape watches her calmly, as if waiting to see which side will win.
But maybe neither side has to win, Ginny thinks.
"I believe I understand, sir," she says.
Ginny spends most of the next afternoon trying to find Luna. She eventually finds her in the place she should have been smart enough to check first, the Room of Requirement. Members of the DA have started doing this, hanging out during off hours, like it's become more than a just place for defense lessons.
Today the room is filled with sunlit couches and tables. Luna is sitting with a clutch of girls, homework and texts spread between them.
Ginny sits down with them, setting down her bag but not pulling out her homework. She watches the girls work for a while before turning to Luna.
"What do you know about wandless magic?" she asks.
Luna looks up from her parchment. "It's quite advanced," she says. "Completing spells without a wand."
Ginny shakes her head. "I don't mean just doing normal spells without wands, but spells that never require a wand at all. That aren't meant to."
"Oh," Luna says, her head tilting to the side. "Do you mean women's magic?"
Something seems to prickle over Ginny's skin. "I'm not sure. Maybe?"
"Well, there were many historical periods where women were not allowed to have wands," Luna explains.
"Were there?" This is not something they ever learned about in History of Magic.
The other girls have stopped working, clearly interested in this conversation as well.
"Yes," Luna confirms, looking a bit mystified that they don't seem to know this.
"Really?" Hannah asks. "Why?"
Luna gazes back at her. "It was claimed they were too delicate to wield it."
"Bollocks," Demelza says. "Just wanted to make them easier to control, more likely. Couldn't fight back if they didn't have wands, could they?"
Luna nods. "Some say that women developed their own magics, mostly protective, to compensate for being wandless. Or perhaps the magics were always there. It's hard to say."
Ginny can't help but think of being powerless in front of the Death Eaters at the Burrow.
"Yes, but that sort of magic would be highly illegal," Susan Bones points out.
"Why?" Ginny asks.
Susan looks a little taken aback to have to defend the law. Like it just is. "Well," she says. "It's dangerous, right? I mean, we all did stuff when we were kids before we had wands. But it was sort of…raw and uncontrolled, wasn't it?"
Luna pulls her homework back towards her. "Yes, wands have always been about control. From the very beginning."
They all give Luna indulgent smiles like she has started talking conspiracy theories again, but Ginny feels something painful lodge in her chest. "What do you mean?"
"I think you know."
Ginny thinks maybe she does. "Hogwarts."
Luna nods serenely back at her, but the other girls just look confused.
"What?" Demelza asks.
"You build an entire education around the use of wands and then decide who has wands. Adults, not kids. Wizards, not…Goblins or House Elves."
Demelza lifts an eyebrow. "Wizards, not witches."
Ginny nods. "Purebloods, not Muggleborns."
Hannah looks at her wand. "I never really thought about it."
And that, Ginny thinks, is probably the point.
That evening, she goes down and has a long conversation with Nymue.
The first week of December Ginny walks into the dungeon to find Snape sitting at the table, a small book sitting in front of him.
"You will copy the first chapter of this book," he says.
It feels, in many ways, like everything has looped back around to the beginning. Only this time she does not question, just settles in to the exercise.
She starts writing. Less than ten minutes in, she is unsurprised to feel the barest ripple of his intrusion into her mind. She lets it slide by without reaction, her quill never pausing in her work. Her surface thoughts are for the words in the book, her boredom with the topic, her annoyance that they are back to writing lines as punishment, thinking about her runes essay she has little hope of finishing on time, wondering if Tobias misses her half as much as she misses him.
She lets herself be an open book, or at least one of her selves. The least dangerous but no less authentic one, the Slytherin with Muggle-loving parents and ruthlessness in her heart. The one who understands the importance of lowering her head and going along with whatever will keep her life preserved. Who misses Quidditch and hates History of Magic and is scared of what happens down in the dungeons. The girl who misses her best friends and is swamped by loneliness sometimes.
This Ginny has no doubts except about herself, no reservations about the lies she is being fed, no training in Occlumency. She's never kissed Harry or mourned Burbage.
There are no edges to be found, no trap doors or defenses. Just endless depths for him to probe and dig through and feel he knows her, all of her.
She is an ocean—fathomless and swelling.
She finishes copying the chapter and looks up at Snape.
"Are we done here, sir?" she asks.
He looks back at her, his own expression as empty and innocuous as her own. "For tonight, Miss Weasley, I believe we are."
Ginny slides the ancient tome back into its place on a shelf. She remains perched on the ladder for a long moment, breathing in the dusty smell of stone and vellum.
"Mistress," Nymue says.
Ginny doesn't turn, carefully climbing back down. With her back still to the window, she asks, "Is it ever possible to put it back together?"
"Perhaps. But never as it was before."
So be it.
Back in The Parlor, only Caroline and Astoria are present. Astoria is practicing her harp, her eyes closed as her body sways and her fingers pluck out a silent song. She is wrapped in an impressive muffling charm, the room completely silent except for the ever present distant moan of the lake.
Caroline sits on the couch, unenthusiastically flipping through a magazine.
"Hey," Ginny says.
Caroline glances up. Her dark blond hair is pulled back in a slick ponytail, large spiraling curls cascading down her back. Near her temple a stubborn piece of hair has pulled free, and there is a dark smudge near her eye, as if she rubbed impatiently at it, mussing her eyeliner.
"Skiving off?" Ginny asks, sitting down next to her.
Caroline shrugs. "Like Binns will even notice."
Ginny huffs in agreement. She wonders sometimes if they had a history teacher who actually knew what they were doing, then maybe history wouldn't keep repeating itself.
There's a stack of magazines on the table. Ginny leans over and picks one up, the glossy front cover showing a scantily clad witch with perfect, pale skin and an almost impossibly small waist.
"My mother sent them," Caroline says. "I'm supposed to pick out new robes."
"Yeah?" Ginny asks, trying to imagine what that would be like, just opening a magazine and picking something out.
Caroline sighs. "Every holiday she has the Notts and Rosiers and anyone else of consequence she can convince to come over for a dinner party. It's important to be presentable."
It sounds a lot like this is something Caroline's mother has told her many, many times. Not for the first time, Ginny wonders where that bright-faced first year girl with a dangerous glint in her eye disappeared to.
"Any contenders yet?" Ginny asks, flipping open to a page with the corner dog-eared. The robes on the page are in a soft dove grey, an elaborate train trailing behind with what appear to be pearls embroidered around the square neckline. It looks like something Auntie Muriel would wear, not a sixteen year old.
"You don't have to do this," Caroline says.
Ginny looks up at her. "Do what?"
She flips another page. "Pretend you're interested."
Ginny glances down at the magazine. "It's not that I'm not interested, it's that I don't know anything about it."
"There's never really been money for this sort of thing," Ginny explains.
"Oh," she says as if just remembering that everyone knows the Weasleys are poor. Only instead of looking scornful, she flips through a few more pages, looking thoughtful. "That must be nice."
This is pretty much the last thing Ginny expects her to say. She wonders what sort of weird fantasy Caroline may be indulging about poverty. "Nice?"
Caroline shrugs. "Not having any expectations. You pretty much don't have anywhere to go but up."
It's a callous, thoughtless thing to say, but Ginny suspects she doesn't intend it that way.
Ginny opens her magazine to a page with a set of ruby red robes, cut dramatically short in the front with a dipping neckline. "These," she says, pointing to it. "Definitely these."
Caroline looks at the page with wide eyes before letting out a startled laugh. "Grandmum would have a stroke."
"At least the party would be interesting."
Caroline lets out a distinctly unladylike snort, but Ginny doesn't miss that she folds down the corner on the page all the same.
Later that evening, Ginny is the last to go down to her dorm. Bridget and Helena's drapes are already tightly closed. Both of them have been doing a rather nice job of avoiding Ginny, not that they are above whispering nasty things when they are sure she can hear. She knows they are just trying to pick another fight, to find a way to even the playing field again, and she isn't willing to give them that chance.
Nadira's drapes are also drawn, but there is a small break in the cloth, light spilling out.
Ginny sits on the edge of her bed. "Nadira?"
For a moment, Ginny thinks she will ignore her, pretend to be asleep, but after another long moment her face appears in the break. "Yes?" she asks, voice frostily polite.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Nadira pulls her head back inside with a sigh. Ginny waits for the snap of her curtains and the bark of a spell, but instead Nadira crawls out to sit on the edge of her bed facing Ginny.
She's wearing her pajamas, bare feet poking out. But Ginny is more surprised by what she is not wearing—her headscarf. It's startling, seeing the dark, beautiful hair cascading down over her shoulders.
Nadira raises an eyebrow. "You wanted to say something?"
Ginny nods. "I wanted to apologize."
"Okay," Nadira says. "Now you have. Can I go to sleep?"
"I think you were right," Ginny says, pressing on like she just needs the words to be said, and she wonders if this is just another kind of selfishness. Doing this for herself and not Nadira. "I think I was trying to save you. Which is stupid really, because I pretty much believe people can only save themselves. But maybe that's what it was about. Me trying to save myself."
Nadira gives her a look like she's just explained the sky is blue.
"That bed you're sleeping in, that was my best friend's. And I miss her. I miss a lot of people. So maybe I mistook my loneliness for your own. I'm sorry."
Her eyes narrow. "Just because I took her bed, does not mean I owe you friendship."
"No," Ginny says. "It doesn't. You pretty much don't owe me anything. And all I owed you was an apology for making assumptions about you when I don't know anything about you or your life."
Nadira considers her for long moments. "Okay."
Ginny nods, swinging her feet up on her bed. "Goodnight."
She's surprised to hear Nadira say, "Goodnight."
The next morning they are comfortably back to ignoring each other.
In Slytherin, no one speaks of revenge. Revenge is hot and quick and reckless. Reciprocity, on the other hand, Ginny has learned all too well, is about control and planning and proportional response. It is quiet and cold and surgical.
She wonders if Urquhart never learned that particular lesson. After the disastrous Quidditch match, Urquhart settled in to hanging out with Crabbe and Goyle and Tobias and Pansy. Where Urquhart goes, Vaisey follows, though Ginny admits that he seems less than comfortable with the association.
Still, Urquhart has been strutting around the castle like he's the greatest thing since self-inking quills. Ginny supposes it was only a matter of time until reciprocity caught up with him.
Or at least that's the only way she can explain how a Venomous Tentacula found its way under his bed.
Martin is acting out the scene, Demelza nearly in tears as she howls in mirth next to him.
"It isn't funny," Hannah says, her face pinched with disapproval.
"You weren't there," Neville points out.
Hannah shakes her head, clearly frustrated. "This can't be what the DA is about. Cruel pranks."
"Why not? The Carrows don't have qualms about being cruel! You should see what they did to Nigel last week!"
"We have to remember who we are," Hannah insists. "We aren't monsters."
She turns to Ginny for support.
Ginny thinks she's probably the last person to ask about this, but remembers far too well what Hannah's place is in all of this.
She's come to rely on Neville, Hannah, and Luna more than she ever thought she could. It's terrifying, having to believe that someone will be there when you need them. Because she's thought about it, played out a thousand scenarios where this all goes horribly wrong. She can't help it.
"Okay," Ginny says. "We talk to everyone about taking things too far. Right, Neville?"
"Fine," he says.
Hannah looks appeased, Ginny and Neville sharing a look over her head.
At least, she thinks, after seeing what happened to Urquhart the other students will think twice about volunteering to be the Carrows' lap dogs.
When she reports to the dungeons for her next detention, there is a younger student already sitting with Snape.
"I'm sorry," Ginny says, backpedalling.
"Miss Weasley," Snape says. "Please come in."
She glances at the boy, but he doesn't seem to have noticed her entrance. She walks forward until she's standing near the table.
Snape remains sitting. "Your progress as an Occlumens has…exceeded my expectations. You show a rare gift."
She knows this is meant to be a compliment, but instead it seems to settle deep in her stomach like a stone. We aren't monsters.
"Some of that is talent," he says, "and some work ethic. But also, I suspect, something more."
Her chin lifts. She reminds herself that there is no way for him to know.
"Perhaps something a bit more unorthodox?" he presses, like she might be pushed into bragging.
She has learned far too well not to let her surprise show, simply mirroring back his own calm expression.
His lips twitch. "I could ask you about that, but I realize far too well I am doubtful to get an answer, even if I tried to take it."
She wonders if he's beginning to realize he has done his job better than intended. She's let all her other work slide, completes just enough homework not to earn detention. NEWTs and jobs and grades are the farthest from her mind these days. Everything she has, has gone into The Parlor and the DA and this…mastering the protection of her secrets.
"Regardless," Snape continues. "I believe it is time to move on."
"Move on, sir?" she asks, wondering if she is relieved by the idea that these detentions are over, or just disappointed.
"Yes. From the protecting of secrets to the taking of them."
Ginny glances at the boy, still sitting silently as if they aren't here, as if they haven't been talking. Only now does she notice the slight sheen to his eyes, as if he is unfocused. Ian, she thinks the boy's name may be. A Ravenclaw.
And she understands, finally, why he is here.
Snape is regarding her with his fathomless eyes and blank expression. He looks haggard, as he always does, cheeks sunken, hair limp around his face. In that moment he doesn't look evil or good or anything in between, but simply cold. Hard. Ruthless.
Ginny sucks in a deep breath, because it feels as if the walls are pressing in.
She has submitted herself to his tutelage, regardless of his murky motivations. She has done without question everything he has asked.
She stares at the young boy sitting senseless in his chair, thinks of what she could take from him. What that would mean. For him. For her.
What that would mean about her.
"I won't do it," she says, voice wavering.
Snape's eyes narrow. He pushes to his feet, seeming to fill the small space. "You will," he insists.
Why are you doing this? she wants to ask. What are you trying to turn me in to?
"I won't," she says, taking a step back.
"Don't make the mistake of thinking you are here by choice," he says, leaning towards her across the table.
Shaking her head, she turns and flees the room.
"Miss Weasley," he calls out after her.
She doesn't stop.
The last two weeks of term, Ginny is tense, constantly waiting for a summons that never comes. Snape doesn't seem like the sort of person to make hollow threats. And despite what she may have allowed herself to believe, those were not lessons, but punishments.
Still, she doesn't get any threats or dark looks from the Carrows, doesn't get dragged back down to the dungeons. She does her part, completing her homework on time, looking attentive in class, anything not to bring attention to herself.
All the while her brain is spinning with the possibilities.
"Ginny?" Neville asks.
Ginny pulls herself out of her thoughts, looking up into Neville's concerned face. "Yeah?"
Behind him, someone laughs, a spell apparently having gone awry. This sort of chaos is normal enough in DA meetings that Neville doesn't even look back. "Everything okay?"
She nods. "Yes. Of course. My mind was just wandering."
He gives her a smile that seems only half convinced, and turns back to helping a few first years master Expelliarmus.
Ginny blows out a breath.
"Neville's wrong, you know."
Ginny turns to look at Luna sitting near her, a letter from her father in her hands. "Is he?"
"Fear isn't bad," Luna says.
No, this Ginny knows. It can be a very useful tool. But that doesn't mean she isn't constantly struggling not to be overwhelmed by it. "Are you afraid?"
"All of the time," she says, like this is an obvious fact and nothing to be ashamed of. "It would be a bit foolish not to be."
Ginny nods. Glancing up, she sees a first year Hufflepuff stun Bassenthwaite, his huge frame hitting the mat with a thump. The Hufflepuff looks horrified, but when Neville revives him, Bassenthwaite just pops to his feet with a deep laugh, smacking the young wizard on the back so hard he nearly crumples.
"Nice shot!" Bassenthwaite says.
Luna finishes reading her letter, folding it back in a complicated pattern, tight corners folding in on themselves. "It doesn't mean we stop fighting."
"No," Ginny says. "It doesn't."
"Come on, you two," Hannah says, coming over to pull them off the couch. "These spells won't master themselves."
They let themselves get pulled up into the fray.
Ginny boards the Hogwarts Express with something like relief. She knows if Snape intended to punish her he would have done it already. But still, it's nice to know she will be out of his reach for a while. Being with her family, she thinks maybe she'll be able to lower her guard for five minutes, be in a place she doesn't have to constantly look for trap doors and tricks. Repercussions.
They are only two hours out of Hogsmeade when the train comes to a screeching, unscheduled stop.
Ginny frowns, and soon enough they hear loud voices down the length of the train. Easing open the compartment door, she glances down the hall.
Wizards in dark cloaks and bone white masks over their faces are pacing up the center aisle. Curious faces pull back into other compartments ashen with fear. Ginny closes the door, sitting back down, her back ramrod straight even as her heart pounds away in her chest. She's aware of Nicola's eyes on her, the way everyone is tense with expectation.
The footsteps grow louder as they near, Ginny's hand slipping down into her robes, gripping tight around her wand.
The wizards peer into their compartment.
I won't go quietly, Ginny pledges to herself.
With barely a glance at them, the Death Eaters move on.
Ginny lets out a breath.
"Getting a bit full of ourselves, are we?" Millicent says, voice just tiniest bit rickety under her bluster. "Like you're really that interesting."
Ginny forces a shaky laugh.
"We've got her!" someone yells.
Ginny pushes to her feet, pressing her face to the window just in time to see Luna dragged off the train by two wizards, her hair pale against their robes.
Ginny opens her mouth, her fist banging against the glass, but in a flash, all three disappear.
Ginny follows Bill into the Burrow, setting her bag down. With a competent flick of his wrist, Bill guides her trunk up the stairs to her room.
She walks into the kitchen, both of her parents waiting there, faces expectant and wary all at once.
She knows she looks exactly like she did when she left. She doesn't have any bruises, no scars. One of the lucky ones.
They pull her into warm hugs. You did it, the hugs seem to say. You survived.
She waits until her father and Bill settle back at the table, Mum bustling around the stove. "They took Luna."
She nods. "A few hours out of Hogwarts. Death Eaters."
Bill and Dad share a look, and they don't look at surprised as they should be.
"Why take Luna?" Her voice is calm, even. Not a child demanding answers.
Her father considers her for a long moment, something assessing in his gaze. She wonders if he can see that she isn't the same girl who left the summer before. She isn't even the same girl who left Hogsmeade only hours ago.
Ginny nods. She knows better than ever the power of information. Lies. Deceits.
The Quibbler is the last free press, the last voice of support for Harry and Muggleborns.
"They're trying to get him to comply," she says.
"Yes," Dad says. "And he will." He sounds utterly certain.
"How do you know?" she wonders.
"Because it's what we would do," her mother says, her attention still on the stove, but voice tight.
And that's really what this has always been about, hasn't it? Not just compulsory education, a way to indoctrinate them, but also a way to control the adults. She looks at her parents and understands that she is a threat hanging over their heads.
You don't want to cooperate? What if it cost you your child's life?
Is anything worth your child's life?
"This is going to start happening more often now, isn't it?" Students disappearing without a whisper, for things they themselves haven't done, choices they never got to make.
"Yes," her father says. "I'm afraid it will."
Ginny is sixteen. It means she doesn't have the right to protect herself with her wand. It may even mean she's a child. But being sixteen didn't keep Luna from getting taken off that train. And being sixteen won't keep Ginny from becoming whatever she has to to survive this war.
She crosses over and sits at the table. "Okay."
You'll keep us safe, Ginny.
She won't fail again.