3 May 1998

"So, that's all," said Professor McGonagall wearily. "We'll survey damage in the morning and begin repairs, if we're ready. I'm told that both the Hufflepuff and Gryffindor dormitories are relatively undamaged. I suggest you all get some rest."

With quiet, exhausted murmuring, the fifteen or so people who were gathered around the Ravenclaw table in the Great Hall began to break apart. Ginny nodded at Neville and Luna as they passed, and Charlie patted her shoulder.

"Come on, Gin," he said. "Let's get to bed."

"I'm okay right now," said Ginny, giving him a nod. "You go up. I'll be in the common room soon."

"You should sleep, Ginny," said Fleur gently. She and Bill stood just behind Charlie.

"Yeah, Gin, we're not leaving you down here alone," said Bill seriously.

Ginny was on the verge of retorting that she was nearly seventeen years old and could handle herself, when Ron's hand descended on her shoulder.

"I'm staying down here, too," he said. "Just for a bit. We'll be up later."

Bill and Ron stared at each other for a moment before Bill finally nodded. "Just don't let Mum find out."

Ron nodded, and Ginny's stomach twisted in a guilty knot as she thought of her mother worrying needlessly. Then she pushed it from her mind, annoyed at Bill; Mum was asleep, and that was that. She wouldn't miss Ginny.

She watched the others leave before turning to Ron. "Thanks," she said.

"Yeah," he answered, sitting down beside her.

She looked sideways at him. "Shouldn't you be with Hermione?"

"No, she's…she's exhausted," he said. "She's been sleeping a lot since…yeah, well, she's upstairs. Harry said he'd go check on her."

"Since what?" Ginny asked softly.

Ron shrugged. "Nothing, just something that…it's fine."

"Malfoy Manor?" Ginny asked, and Ron looked startled.

"How d'you—?"

"Bill," said Ginny. "He told us where he thought you'd been, but you just told me for sure." She swallowed. Ron was looking away from her. "Was…was he there?"

"No," Ron insisted, shaking his head. "No, we never would've made it out alive if—if he'd been there." He fell silent. Ginny watched him closely.

"How long?"

"What?" he asked.

"How long were you there?"

Ron blew out a long breath. "Couple of hours, maybe. Not even that. Then we got rescued."

"So what does that have to do with Hermione?" Ginny asked, growing a little impatient.

Ron glared at her. "Nothing, Ginny."

Ginny glared back just as fiercely. "Ron, was Bill right? Was Hermione tortured?" she asked.

Ron was staring at the floor in stony silence.

"Ron," Ginny said firmly. "You know I'll find out what the three of you have been doing for the last year if I want to."

"You are not asking Hermione about that night," Ron snapped.

"Then you tell me!" Ginny said, slapping the tabletop. "I've been worried out of my mind for all of you, every day for nine months! I deserve to know! And don't try and tell me I'm too young, you know better than that." She lifted her chin, glaring at Ron.

He stared at her for a moment. "You look like Mum when you do that," he said after a moment.

Ginny softened slightly. "Shut up."

Ron sighed heavily. "It'd probably be better if Harry and Hermione were here…"

"No, Ron," she said seriously. "I don't want to hear it from them. I want to hear it from you."

Ron sighed again, rubbing his face. There was uneven stubble coming in on his jaw, and Ginny smiled a bit, putting one hand on his shoulder.

"Tell me, Ron," she said, more gently, but firmly. Ron nodded.

"Until Gringotts yesterday," he said slowly, "We were hiding out at Bill's, with Dean and Luna."

"I know that," said Ginny calmly. "That's only a few weeks, though."

"I'm getting to it," Ron grouched. "The night…I guess the night you had to go to Muriel's, we got caught by Snatchers. They recognized Harry."

"They took you to Malfoy Manor," Ginny said impatiently. Ron glared at her again. "Just—just tell me, Ron—was Hermione tortured?"

Ron stared at her for a moment, and Ginny chewed her lip. "Yes," Ron said at last.

Ginny's heart sank, and she looked down at the table. "I was really hoping Bill was wrong about that."

He nodded tersely, brushing one hand beneath his nose and sniffing. "She's all right, though," he added, in a voice full of bravado.

"Of course she is," Ginny insisted, gripping his arm suddenly. "Look at me, I'm just fine!" Then she snapped her mouth shut, but it was too late; Ron's eyes had widened. He stared at her.

"Come again?" he asked.

"Nothing," Ginny said quickly. "I—I just meant—"

"Did those Carrows do something to you, Ginny?" Ron demanded. "Did they get you like they got Neville and Seamus?"

"I had it easy compared to them," said Ginny quickly. "Only—only a couple of times, and they never—"

With a noise of frustration and anger, Ron buried his face in his hands. After several minutes of silence, he spoke. His teeth were clenched. "I know we're supposed to be happy, and everything, but—"

"I know," Ginny sighed. "I know."

"We should go to bed," Ron said.

"Not me," she answered. "Go if you want to, but…I'm staying here for a while." She looked up at the stars in the enchanted ceiling.

Ron didn't move. "Why don't you want to go up?" he asked.

Ginny blinked, still staring up at the ceiling. "Is it bad if I say that I don't want to see Mum and Dad right now?"

Ron shook his head slowly. "Not if you don't think it's bad that I don't want to see George."

"Oh," Ginny gasped suddenly, clapping a hand over her mouth and repressing a sob. She squeezed her eyes shut. Ron put an arm around her, hugging her tight, and she leaned against him.

After a few moments, she recovered herself and sat up, but couldn't bring herself to meet Ron's eyes. She heard him give a hearty sniff and took his hand gently.

"You know…the other night—" Ginny drew a deep breath as Ron's hand clenched under her own. "The other night, at Aunt Muriel's…George and…and Fred," her voice caught on Fred's name. "They were talking about…about after. When all of this was over, they—Fred especially…wanted you to come to the shop with them."

Ron was looking away, and Ginny was practically shaking with the effort not to cry. "He really, really wanted you to come with them," she managed, before she felt her tears spill over.

"Stop," Ron said sharply, pulling away from her. Ginny looked down in her lap, clenching her hands tightly together, her vision blurred by her tears. After several long minutes of silence, Ron spoke again. "D'you think I don't feel bad enough about it?" he asked in a low voice.

Ginny looked up, hastily wiping her cheeks. "Ron, that—that's not what I mean—you've got it wrong, I only—"

"D'you think I didn't care, the whole time I was gone?" Ron asked angrily, gathering steam. His neck and ears were bright red, and there were still tears on his cheeks. "I spent every single night—listening to the bloody wireless, nicking newspapers—anything I could just to find out if all of you were safe."

"Ron," Ginny said fiercely, her temper rising. "I never said—"

"It's not like I went on some long vacation," Ron said angrily, as more tears filled his eyes. "I was mad worrying about all of you, and now—now—I—I wish it was me, not Fred—"

"Shut up!" Ginny shouted suddenly. She shoved Ron hard, tears pouring down her face. "Don't—ever—ever—" she shoved him again and stood up, pacing up and down the aisle between the tables.

She turned and faced Ron, combing her hair back with her fingers. "If you ever say that again, Ron, I swear, I'll…" Her chin trembled. "Just…please, please…" She buried her face in her hands.

Silence fell for a moment.

"I'm sorry," Ron said.

Ginny sank down on the bench across from his, fixing him with a sharp stare. "We lost Fred, Ron. I lost my brother," she said. "So—so don't tell me that—that you wish I had lost a different one."

Ron nodded. Ginny sighed and wiped her cheeks with her sleeve, looking up at the stars, which were glowing brightly. She could only remember being in the Great Hall late at night twice before; once at the Yule Ball, and once the night that Sirius had broken into the castle.

That could have been a million years ago, now, she thought, and suddenly, she was exhausted. She was too tired to get up and leave Ron, too tired to keep missing the people she loved, too tired to think about anything at all. She blew out a long breath. The torches around the hall were flickering out, and the moon and stars above provided the only light.

"So you and Hermione finally made it?" she asked, staring up at the cloudless sky. Ron said nothing, and Ginny smirked. He was avoiding her eyes sheepishly. "What, you have to approve before I snog Harry, but I don't get a say in who you snog?"

Ron sniffed and gave a half-hearted smile, rolling his eyes.

Ginny got up and switched back to the seat beside his, putting her arm around his neck. "I approve," she said, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"Thanks," he muttered. Then he sighed, quickly standing up. He looked down at Ginny. "You'll be all right?"

"Yeah," she nodded. "Going to bed?"

"Reckon I should check on Hermione," he shrugged, rubbing his hands on his jeans. "And…yeah." He trailed off, looking to the floor.

Ginny stood up. "Mum's probably looking for us," she lied. She held out her hand, which Ron took. "I missed you," she said, smiling up at him.

"Me too," he answered, nodding as they started to walk. They made it all the way to the ruins of the entrance hall and up the destroyed staircase. As they turned down a corridor, they passed an enormous pile of rubble before a gaping hole in the wall. Ron froze.

A wave of nausea washed over Ginny. She closed her eyes. "This…this is…"

Ron nodded briefly. Ginny took a deep breath before taking his hand and hurrying forward, past the site; it was too painful, right now. Perhaps tomorrow, they would be able to face it.

"Thanks for telling me," Ron said, swallowing hard as they continued towards Gryffindor tower. "You know, what he said."

"It was the truth," Ginny said, averting her gaze.

Ron stopped walking. "Thanks anyway," he said, awkwardly putting one hand on her shoulder.

Ginny smiled sadly and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I'm glad you're back," she said, fighting to keep the tears from her voice. "Don't…don't go anywhere, all right? I can't do this again."

Ron shook his head once, and he and Ginny walked in silence to the end of the corridor, where the Fat Lady's portrait hung open, dangling on a broken hinge. Ginny climbed through first, and stopped.

Bill and Fleur sat on the carpet before the dying, flickering fire; Fleur rested her head in his lap, tears on her cheeks. On the sofa behind them were Harry and Hermione, and Charlie and Percy filled the armchairs nearby. Ginny's heart sank; George was nowhere in sight.

Noticing their entrance, Fleur sat up and smiled slightly.

"Come on, you two," Bill said, waving them over. Ginny gave Harry a smile and glanced back at Ron, who had eyes only for Hermione. He hurried over to the couch and squeezed in beside her. She smiled and put her arms around him.

Ginny walked more slowly to the sofa, stopping to give Charlie a kiss. She hugged Percy briefly, but he didn't seem to notice; he was staring unblinkingly into the fireplace. She climbed over Bill's legs and slid into the narrow space at end of the sofa beside Harry. He put his arm around her and she tipped her head against his shoulder.

"All right?" he murmured.

She smiled a bit, wiping her cheeks quickly without looking away from the embers of the fire, and laced their fingers together.

"We'll be fine."

Hi everybody! God, I miss you guys so much. Things are insane, but I'm really and truly plugging away at my big DH story. This is my final entry for the Fanfiction Idol Competition (I'm in the top two). You guys don't need to do anything to vote or whatever, just wanted to let you know! :) Teehee.

No prompts for this round, we were just told to write what we wanted to write, which was awesome. I obviously decided to find out what Ron and Ginny said the first time they really had the chance to talk. Their brother/sister relationship interests me, mostly because after the twins, they're nearly as close in age as you can get. Hope you like it! Miss you all! I'll surface again soon...