It seemed strange that the skies should be so bright and clear today, when Ginny's every thought felt clouded and gloomier by the second as she pushed her trolley through King's Cross, keeping her eyes open for anyone she knew. Mum was walking briskly at her side, with one hand on Ginny's elbow and the other clutching her wand, deep inside her pocket. They came to a stop at the barrier between platform nine and platform ten.
"Weird that's it just me," Ginny said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Arnold the Pygmy Puff, who sat comfortably nuzzled against her neck, made a purring noise.
Mum nodded and patted her arm. "Go on, dear. I'll be right behind you."
Ginny did, striding straight through the brick wall to Platform 9¾. It was still a quarter to eleven. The platform was full of billowing steam and the sounds of screeching owls; it was teeming with Hogwarts students saying their goodbyes to their family, the same as every year, but…
"Oh, my," said Mum, materializing at her side. Ginny looked at her. She, too, was staring at the tall, cloaked wizards who were patrolling the platform and stationed at every entrance to the Hogwarts Express, eyeing students suspiciously. Ginny saw a nervous-looking young boy beg his parents to stay with him.
"Hey, Ginny—hi, Mrs. Weasley." A friendly round face emerged from the crowd, a good three or four inches taller than when Ginny had seen him last.
"Neville," Ginny breathed, throwing her arms around him. "Luna!" she said excitedly, as she appeared as well, a dreamy smile on her face.
Luna beamed and embraced her, then turned to Mum. "How are you, Mrs. Weasley? I don't believe I ever thanked you for inviting us to the wedding. It was lovely."
"Hm? What? Oh, thank you, dear—it was nice to have you," said Mum distractedly. She was still frowning at the security guards.
Neville caught Ginny's eye. "We've got a compartment. Come with us, we'll take you."
"Be right back, Mum," Ginny said. Mum nodded, now moving to put her back to a nearby pillar. "Ignore her," she murmured to Neville and Luna. "She's a little anxious about sending me back."
"Not that we have a choice now, right?" Neville asked, with false cheeriness.
"Look out," said Luna.
"Ticket," barked a gravelly voice. Ginny looked around, arching an eyebrow at the security guard and reached into her pocket, coolly presenting him with the ticket. "You got a wand?" he asked, squinting at her.
"Yes," she retorted indignantly, "as a matter of fact—"
"We've already been on board, sir," said Neville quickly, shuffling Ginny out of the way as Arnold made a tiny, ferocious snarling noise. "She's just putting her trunk in the compartment."
The guard glowered, but gave a grunt and handed Ginny her ticket. She snatched it back, seething, and followed Luna and Neville, dragging her trunk down the train corridor. They turned into an empty compartment, and Luna shut the door.
"Let's just not get ourselves thrown off the train before we even get back to school, shall we, Ginny? The three of us are attracting enough attention as it is," said Neville, hoisting her trunk into the overhead rack.
"What?" she asked. "That's not—"
"We'll tell you later," Luna said, laying a hand on Neville's arm. "Let's go say goodbye to our families." And she led the way out of the compartment. Ginny, with a sense of great ill ease, followed and exited the train, giving the security guard another glare to make herself feel better.
It was only five minutes until eleven, now, so Ginny hurried to find Mum. She was still standing with her back to the wall, her gaze sweeping up and down the platform sharply while her hand was still in her pocket. When she saw Ginny, she gave a strained smile.
"Got everything on all right?"
The train whistle blew as Ginny nodded.
"All right," Mum said, kissing her forehead and tugging her jumper straight. "Be careful, dear, and—"
Ginny gave a small smile and caught her mother's wrists. "I'll be fine, Mum," she said, trying not to sound annoyed.
Mum nodded, her chin trembling slightly.
"I promise," Ginny told her, giving her a tight hug. "I love you. I'll see you at Christmas. Give Dad a kiss for me."
"Oh, I love you too, sweet pea," Mum sighed, hugging Ginny tightly. Arnold gave a squeak as the train whistle blew again, and Ginny pulled back.
"I've got to go," she said. "All of you, stay safe. Make the boys behave. Don't let Fleur drive you completely mad—ah, and don't—no, don't cry—"
Mum gave a great sniff and hurriedly wiped her tears away. "Get on the train, Ginny, for goodness' sake, and write to me when you're there."
"I'll do my best," Ginny promised, and Mum nodded.
"Go on," she said, chivvying Ginny towards the train as the whistle blew again. "I love you!" she called. Ginny waved at her once and hopped through the door at the last moment, presenting her ticket to the same mustachioed guard, who glowered at her suspiciously.
"I was just here with my trunk," she told him, and he grunted, this time taking her ticket and pocketing it. Ginny shook her head and headed straight for the compartment, where Neville and Luna were waiting for her.
"Well, I do love the welcoming committee," Ginny said darkly, tucking Arnold safely into his cage and sitting down beside Luna.
"I think they were warned about us," she said sagely as the train lurched into motion. "That's what Neville was talking about earlier. One of them gave us both a rather bad time. He took away my Quibbler and said I'd be in trouble if I was caught with another."
Ginny felt a knot of anger in her stomach tighten. "What d'you mean, warned?"
Neville sat forward. "They know we're friends with Harry—you know, because of all that at the Ministry last year," he said. "I had to open my trunk and everything before they'd let me on the train."
"What, did they expect him to be hiding inside?" Ginny scoffed.
Neville shrugged, but Luna said, "Well, it's not as if they have any other ideas as to where he might be."
"Oh, come off it," said Ginny incredulously. "They can't honestly believe he's stupid enough to turn up on the Hogwarts Express, can they?"
"Speaking of which," Neville began in a low voice. He rose and looked through the glass door of their compartment to the corridor, and then faced Ginny again. "Have you heard anything from…?"
She sighed and shook her head. "Nothing since the wedding. Mum's been beside herself."
"They've got to be safe," said Luna calmly. "I think You-Know-Who would have liked to make a big deal of it if he'd caught them."
Ginny gave her a flicker of a smile. "If he'd caught Harry," she corrected. "But what's one more unreported death of a blood traitor or a Muggle-born?"
Luna gazed at her.
Ginny shook herself. "Sorry," she mumbled. "Can't start thinking like that."
"Right," said Neville bracingly. "They've got to be safe. Maybe we'll hear from them soon," he added, and Ginny smiled, though she could tell that Neville and Luna knew as well as she did that no such message would ever make it past the new Hogwarts staff, even if Harry and the others tried to send it.
"So," Luna said suddenly, "are your family all right? The wedding ended rather abruptly, didn't it?"
Ginny nodded. "Fleur and Bill were really upset, but mostly because so many people just vanished, and we didn't know where they'd gone. The Ministry people who turned up made a big show of questioning everybody about Harry. They didn't leave for hours."
"Death Eaters?" Neville asked.
Ginny shook her head. "None that I recognized."
He whistled. "You got lucky, then."
"Tonks—one of the Aurors who was here last year, remember? She was at the Ministry, too—she said that she heard Rufus Scrimgeour wouldn't tell them where Harry was," said Ginny. "Even when they were going to kill him."
Neville shook his head and looked out the window.
"And for the record," Ginny said, as the words stuck painfully in her throat, "Harry wasn't at the Burrow this summer, I don't know where he is. Hermione's gone into hiding, too. And Ron's got spattergroit." She looked them both in the eye significantly.
"How dreadful," Luna said, her eyes widening a little; Ginny couldn't quite tell if she was joking.
Neville snorted. "I wouldn't count on McGonagall to buy that, Ginny. She's like my Gran, she knows everything."
"Well, maybe so, but at least McGonagall can be trusted," Ginny said a little sourly.
"It's really just us then, isn't it?" Neville asked.
"Certainly not," Luna said. "We've still got a lot of the D.A., haven't we?"
"Well, yes, but we don't know how many of them we can still count on, Luna," Ginny said reasonably. "I don't think they'd willingly give us up, but…who can tell, now? We could put everyone in a lot of danger by assuming they'll join up."
"But are we supposed to just sit by and do nothing?" Neville asked. "Let whoever these Carrows are run the school? I don't want to give up on Hogwarts," he said grimly.
"Nor do I," Ginny began slowly, "but…I think we can manage alone, don't you?"
Luna wrinkled her brow and fell silent. Neville, however, nodded slowly. "I mean…we have fought Death Eaters before."
"Exactly," Ginny said eagerly. "And it's not as if we'd be dueling them in the corridors, right? I think that between the three of us, we can definitely cause some trouble for Snape."
"How?" Neville asked.
"Well, that's the beauty of just having the three of us," said Ginny excitedly. "We can plan almost anything we want, if we just keep it secret."
"What about the D.A.?" Luna asked.
"Ginny's right—I don't think we can count on it anymore," said Neville, who seemed to be warming up to this idea. "At least not as it used to be. I think if the three of us just watch what's going on with these Carrow people, we can end up doing more good."
"It's settled then," Ginny said brightly.
"Only if Luna agrees, Ginny," Neville insisted, looking back at Luna.
Luna sighed. "I don't know," she said slowly. "I just think it would be a better idea to stick together. They've already started a campaign against Muggleborns. If we start deciding that only a few of us are worthy of fighting back, we're no better than they are."
"What about this," Neville said quickly, "we lay low for a while, get a feel for these new folk, and then we see about finding the old members of the D.A."
"But just us, to start with," said Ginny firmly. She looked at Luna, who still seemed perturbed. Ginny took her hand. "It's not a question of worth, Luna, you know that. We can't just put people in harm's way, especially if they're unsure. If they have the slightest hesitation, we could be in very real trouble very quickly."
"I suppose," Luna said, looking down at her hands for a moment. Then she met Ginny's eyes. "All right," she said at last. "I'll do it."
"Brilliant," Neville said, grinning. "So what do we know about these two Snape's got for us?"
"The Carrows," said Luna, looking straight to Ginny. "Do you know anything about them?"
Ginny shook her head. "Not much, except Harry's said…they were on the tower last June…"
Neville looked a little taken aback for a moment. "Right," he said. "So they'll be loads of fun."
"Loads," Ginny echoed, glancing at Luna, who seemed to be suddenly lost in thought, her large eyes staring off into space. "Luna?"
She looked back to Ginny, startled. "I was just thinking," she said. "This might be the last time we ride the Hogwarts Express."
Ginny stared at her; an icy chill seemed to fill the compartment. Neville sat back in his seat, and Luna turned her gaze out of the window, watching the countryside flick past.
When the train finally arrived in Hogsmeade and they disembarked, Ginny was shocked by the unseasonably cold and misty night air. She felt Neville and Luna standing directly behind her, staring up at the silhouette of the castle, where hooded figures in long cloaks hovered, almost indistinguishable from the clouds overhead.
"Dementors," Ginny muttered, tucking Arnold's cage more securely under her arm.
"Let's get a carriage," Luna said softly, her enormous eyes on the dementors.
"Firs' years! Firs' years, this way! C'mon!"
Ginny smiled at the first familiar sound she'd heard all day, and ran over to Hagrid, who beamed when he saw her.
"Ginny! We've got one!" Neville shouted.
Ginny gave Hagrid a hurried hug around the middle. "I'll see you at the feast!" she said.
Hagrid looked momentarily upset. "Nah—I—I can' make it tonight," he said. "Why don' yeh—oi, you lot, get back here!" Two of the first years had nearly wandered off towards the lake.
Unable to linger with Hagrid, Ginny gave up and hurried over to Luna and Neville, who stood by the nearest horseless carriage, and they all clambered in.
The musty old coaches swayed and bumped along, up the winding road to the school. Ginny felt a shiver rush down her spine as they passed the dementors, and she reached for Luna's ice-cold hand as a sharp mental image of the Chamber of Secrets threatened, as it always did in the presence of a dementor, to overtake her. She pushed it back, focusing on Luna's hand and the warmth she knew was waiting for her inside the castle.
"Lovely weather we're having," said a familiar voice as Luna, Neville, and Ginny disembarked before the sweeping stone steps. Seamus Finnigan was rubbing his arms as he, Parvati Patil, and Lavender Brown climbed out of their carriage. Luna and Neville both happily greeted the others as they followed the crowd of students making their way to the double doors that led to the cavernous entrance hall.
Ginny was having a hard time stopping herself from shaking as they passed the burly guards placed by the castle doors, but it was not just the cold of the dementors that was getting to her. Something was very odd. Walking across the threshold of the castle felt wrong; her stomach twisted in a knot of anxiety. She clasped her hands together tightly, trying to warm her fingers—
"No one's talking," Luna whispered in her ear, as though she'd read Ginny's mind. "That's what's wrong."
She was right. Ginny looked around at all the students around her. Everyone wore an expression of mounting unease. There were two second year girls at the very front of the knot of students filing into the Great Hall who both looked as though they were on the verge of tears.
"This is all wrong," Neville said.
Ginny stopped on the threshold of the Great Hall. It seemed that nearly all of Slytherin House was seated. She caught sight of Draco Malfoy sitting with Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy Parkinson, and scowled. The other House tables looked severely depleted. In fact, compared to the sheer number of Slytherins, there were next to no Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, or Gryffindors. Ginny looked around at the group of sixth and seventh years that had followed her, Neville, and Luna inside the castle; there were not many, and they all stood together, stopped at the doors of the Great Hall, as though terrified to move alone.
"Oh, blimey, look at him," Seamus groaned, and Ginny followed his gaze.
Standing at the very center of the staff table was Professor Snape, looking exactly the same as ever. His hooked nose, sharp eyes, and greasy black hair hung in front of his pale face, which stood out sharply in contrast to his sweeping black robes. But, as Ginny watched him, a prickle of fear ran up her spine. Perhaps it was just her imagination, but something about him seemed even colder.
"Is it just me, or does he look more evil this year?" Seamus muttered. "Go on, find us a spot before he decides to murder us too."
"Seamus," Parvati hissed.
"Take your seats, now." Professor Snape's voice rang out over the Great Hall, and the little knot of sixth and seventh years clustered at the door broke at once, scattering themselves to the four House tables. "The Sorting ceremony may begin," said Professor Snape to Professor McGonagall, who stepped forward, holding a scroll and the three-legged stool bearing the Sorting Hat. She looked a little thinner than usual and very pale, and her mouth was set in a very firm line.
But there was a steely look in her sharp eyes that Ginny remembered all too well; it was the exact one McGonagall had always had when she'd looked upon Professor Umbridge. Ginny smiled inwardly.
"Look at McGonagall," said Neville, grimacing up at the staff table. Ginny frowned, gazing closely at her. She looked a little thinner than usual and very pale, and her mouth was set in a very firm line.
But there was a steely look in her sharp eyes that Ginny remembered all too well; it was the exact one McGonagall had always had when she'd looked upon Professor Umbridge. Ginny smiled inwardly.
Parvati shook her head. "She looks furious—they all do—"
She was absolutely correct; Ginny couldn't remember ever seeing the staff look so distressed. Professor Sprout had an uncharacteristic scowl, while Professor Slughorn seemed to be torn between putting on a show of joviality for the students, and shooting occasional looks of utter terror at his colleagues. Even Professor Flitwick was sullen and unsmiling, tapping his fingers testily on the wood of the staff table.
Ginny frowned suddenly, seeing three empty seats—if Hagrid was the only staff member missing, then the Carrows should have already been in their chairs. "Hang on," she whispered in Neville's ear. "If McGonagall's up there, who's with the first—"
With an echoing bang, the doors of the Great Hall swung upon, and all heads turned to see a line of no more than thirty or so petrified eleven-year-olds being hurried down the center aisle.
"Is that—?" Seamus began, his jaw dropping.
"Must be," Neville muttered, as a witch and wizard, black-robed, round-shouldered, and rather ugly, shoved the line of first years towards the staff table.
"Do they have their wands trained on those kids?" asked Parvati indignantly, as Lavender put her hands over her mouth. Ginny scowled at the sight of one Carrow's wand prodding into the back of a young girl who looked as though she were about to burst into tears.
Muttering had broken out all over the Great Hall, for everyone seemed to have noticed exactly the same thing. Professor McGonagall had paled even more by the time the first years stood before her.
Seamus lifted his eyebrows, glancing at Neville and Ginny. "Wonder if Snape'll let the Hat do its song…"
And at that precise moment, the rip at the brim of the Sorting Hat opened wide.
Centuries ago, my dears,
when first this castle stood,
there lived four wizards whose lives always
aimed for their students' good.
They founded Hogwarts school, you see!
They started something great,
which through the years still stands today,
a pillar inviolate.
Inviolate it seems, at least,
though some might disagree,
for discord broke the Founders four
and brought them down to three.
So discord threatened us again,
and bravely Hogwarts fought.
Sometimes, however, the bravest men
must fall and take their lot.
But is it gone, this dream of good?
Is it lost to time?
For I feel within these walls
a power of some kind.
This power cannot be contained,
so long as it is fed,
as armies cannot be detained
so long as they are led.
I urge you now, be like the four!
Be wise, kind, sharp, and brave.
Else these times we live through now
will become Hogwarts' grave.
The Hat fell still. No one applauded.
"Oh, no," Lavender muttered. Even more, louder murmurs had broken out over the Great Hall.
"That was colorful," Ginny said, looking at Neville and Seamus, who looked a little shaken. She glanced back up at the head table, to where the first years stood. One boy was not facing front, but staring at the large double doors he had just come through, as though he were debating whether or not to make a break for it. Ginny couldn't blame him.
"Silence," called Professor Snape from the staff table, and a hush fell immediately throughout the hall.
Professor McGonagall stepped forward. "When I call your names," she said clearly, though in a much kinder tone than Ginny had ever heard her use, "You will step forward, put on the Sorting Hat, and be placed in your Houses." She unrolled the scroll she held. "Alistair, Evelyn."
The little girl whom Ginny had noticed before stepped forward. She was whiter than a sheet, and positively shaking from head to foot as she seated herself on the three-legged stool before the staff table. Professor McGonagall placed the Sorting Hat on her head, and it dropped below her eyes, but took only seconds before it shouted,
Evelyn Alistair hopped off the stool and scurried towards the Gryffindors, who burst into raucous applause, as though they were trying to make up for the poor welcome that she'd received up till now. Seamus stomped his feet and whistled, while Ginny, Parvati, Lavender, and Neville all yelled at the top of their voices—Evelyn Alistair looked quite overwhelmed, and was just starting to grin when a loud volley of bangs silenced the Gryffindors' cheers.
"There is no need for talk," barked Professor Snape, lowering his wand. He looked at Professor McGonagall and nodded curtly, seating himself again.
Professor McGonagall stepped forward again, and even from halfway down the table, Ginny could see the telltale muscle in her jaw twitching.
The boy who had earlier looked as though he wanted to run stepped forward and sat down on the stool. Professor McGonagall put the Sorting Hat on his head. It deliberated for a short while before announcing,
This time, no one applauded. There was only uncomfortable silence as the oldest students in each House made eye contact.
"Fourteen," said Seamus as "Bryn, Bronwyn" was Sorted into Ravenclaw. Ginny frowned.
"Fourteen what?" Neville asked.
"Fourteen original members of the D.A. left," said Seamus. "Us, Luna, the Hufflepuffs if we count that Zacharias git, but if he comes anywhere near us I might hex him myself, and all the other Ravenclaws except Cho and that sneak Marietta."
Neville looked surprised. "That can't be right," he whispered, as "Kendall, Magda" became a Slytherin.
"It is," Parvati said, shaking her head. "Without Ron, Harry, Hermione…anyone who wasn't too old was Muggleborn. It's just us."
"Don't think we can do it, Patil?" asked Seamus, grinning, and Parvati smiled back. Neville and Ginny exchanged nervous glances.
"Of course we can," Parvati whispered. "We just need to be more creative, that's all. Get some new members."
Seamus winked and faced front again as the Sorting concluded as Ginny and Neville had a brief but silent argument about what to tell the others. Ginny shook her head furiously, and Neville finally relented.
Professor McGonagall carried away the Sorting Hat and the stool and Professor Snape rose once again.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," he said slowly. "I have several start-of-term announcements. First and foremost, the Quidditch Cup Inter-House Championship has been disbanded."
There was an outbreak of angry muttering, but Ginny's heart just sank. She had guessed, somewhere in the back of her mind, that she would not be able to play Quidditch this year. Still, she had hoped that maybe, just maybe, something of the old Hogwarts would be preserved.
Snape was glaring down his hooked nose at the Gryffindor table, waiting for silence. The whispers stopped at once. "This is in accordance with safety concerns on the grounds," he said. "Your access to the lawns and Black Lake will now be closely supervised. Any students found in or near the Forbidden Forest without express permission will find themselves in detention." He looked around the hall, his black eyes glittering. "Now, for those who may not be aware, we have had a few last-minute changes to our staff."
"Yeah, you and your ugly friends, you overgrown gargoyle," Seamus muttered angrily, but Ginny shoved his shoulder, for Snape's eyes were fixed on the Gryffindor table.
"You will all welcome Professor Amycus Carrow, who will take on lessons in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Professor Alecto Carrow, who will teach Muggle Studies," said Snape, gesturing first to his left, and then to his right, where the Carrows had seated themselves on either side of the Headmaster's chair.
There was a faint, half-hearted round of feeble applause, during which Ginny glared at Alecto's pudgy, misshapen face; she was leering at the small collection of first year Gryffindors, who looked petrified with fright. Amycus had a vile, lopsided grin on his uneven features, plopped in his seat between Snape and Professor Sprout.
"And just where is Professor Burbage?"
Stunned gasps echoed around the Great Hall, as every pair of eyes sought out the speaker.
"Oh, no," Neville groaned, staring in shock at the Hufflepuff table, where Ernie Macmillan was standing, his chin raised high and his fists clenched. Ginny's spine tingled, and she slipped her hand inside her pocket, closing her fingers around her wand.
Professor Snape met his eyes for the briefest of moments before looking away. "As I was saying—" He paused and looked coldly down at Alecto Carrow, who had risen, and was whispering something excitedly in his ear.
At last, Snape sighed and nodded. "You will also find," he said loudly, "that your new professors are also in charge of discipline, as of this evening."
"Oh, bloody hell," Seamus muttered, as Parvati and Lavender both gasped. None of them were listening to Professor Snape. All eyes were on the Carrows, who had both stood by now, and were walking slowly towards the Hufflepuff table, where Ernie had sat down again, though his eyes were locked on the Carrows and his jaw was set.
Snape was still speaking. "They have sole discretion over all detentions and punishments for rule-breaking," he explained. "As such, you would all do well to acquaint yourselves with the new rules set in place for your safety and protection this year."
"What are they doing?" demanded Ginny, not bothering to lower her voice, for the entire hall was chattering loudly as the Carrows both stopped before Ernie.
"Wha's your name, handsome?" asked Alecto, with a nasty giggle.
Ernie looked at her as though she were scum on the bottom of his shoe. "Macmillan," he said proudly. "Ernie Macmillan."
"Well, Ernie Macmillan," wheezed Amycus, still grinning, "You're about ter show all yer friends here what happens when we speak out of turn at Hogwarts."
"Like hell," Ginny said violently, rising simultaneously with half of the students and all of the staff. She reached for her wand, but before she had it out of her pocket—
Everyone in the hall turned to see that Professor McGonagall had returned to the hall. She raced forward with her wand drawn and eyes blazing, reaching Ernie in seconds. She planted herself between him and the Carrows.
"That is enough," she growled, though it seemed to echo throughout the Great Hall. "You have made your point."
"You're not deputy anymore, Minerva," spat Alecto venomously. "You don't have a say in this."
"As Macmillan's head of house, I certainly do," cried Professor Sprout; she was hurrying down from where she had leapt to her feet at the staff table. She stood before Professor McGonagall, ten times more furious as she stared Alecto squarely in the eye. "He is a prefect. He will be briefed on your new rules, and you won't have any more trouble from him. You have my word." As she spoke, she looked back at Ernie, who gave a reluctant jerk of his head and sat down again, where Hannah Abbott pulled him tightly into her arms.
"Stand down, Professor Carrow," said Snape at last, breaking the tense silence that had fallen. "It's time to begin the feast."
With last looks of bitter hatred, McGonagall, Sprout, and the Carrows broke apart, each returning to their seats at the staff table. Amycus made quite a show of pulling out Professor Sprout's chair, which she took, her expression appropriate to one who had just been force-fed a dirt-flavored Every Flavor Bean. McGonagall and Alecto, meanwhile, took the only two empty seats, directly on Professor Snape's other side.
"All of you, sit down," Professor Snape barked suddenly, startling Ginny, who hadn't realized that she and most of the other Gryffindors were still on their feet. She sat hurriedly, glancing sideways at Neville. He looked furious, but said nothing.
"All Heads of House will meet with their students in their common rooms immediately following dinner to discuss the new rules now in place," said Professor Snape. He then raised one arm and passed it over the four tables, which filled immediately with food, and sat down.
After a few moments of stunned silence, the scraping of forks and knives could be heard, though there was next to no talking. Ginny looked up at the head table once again. Professor McGonagall was not eating, but staring testily down at her empty plate, while on her left Alecto Carrow ladled stew into her own dish. Professor Slughorn and Professor Flitwick were exchanging anxious glances, and Professor Sprout was ignoring the undoubtedly crude remark Amycus had just made in her ear.
"We are not putting anyone else in danger," Ginny said in a low voice, as Neville scooped some mashed potatoes onto her plate. "Tell Seamus we're not planning anything, and I'll tell the girls. They can't know."
"Right," Neville muttered back.
Note: the most recent update to this story has been to shuffle around a few chapter endings and beginnings for the purpose of flow. Nothing dramatic, plotwise, but I hope you like it!