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Tell me that girl is not a song of burning

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Ginny Weasley is looking for a compartment. Ron’s made it quite clear that she’s not welcome to intrude on the sanctity of him, Harry, and Hermione’s holy trinity, and she doesn’t feel like being the unwanted fourth wheel, anyways.

She had enough of tramping after Ron and the twins all summer in Egypt, nevermind that Mum kept fussing over her and Dad wouldn’t her out of his sight, as if all his worst fears were confirmed last year, that’s she really fated for something terrible, just because of her house. She’s being a bit dramatic, of course- she knows Mum and Dad just want to keep her safe, and they have a right to be overprotective after what happened. After what she did.

It’s just that- well, it’s just that most of the school is convinced that she’s, at best, quite mad, and, at worst, a would be dark sorceress who got caught trying to set a massive, deadly snake on innocent students. So her hopes for finding someone to sit with who doesn’t want to tease, hex, or cower in fear from her, are really rather low.

And Merlin forbid she runs into Malfoy or Pansy. That’ll be spectacular. Just really fantastic. The last thing she needs after the stress of this morning is an encounter with Slytherin’s finest. Ginny isn’t sure exactly what’s going on, but whatever it is, it’s not good, and she’ll wager anything that Sirius Black is after Harry. It makes sense, doesn’t it? He went to prison after betraying Harry’s parents to Voldemort and killing a bunch of muggles. Of course he’d want to properly finish the job.

Besides, Dad doesn’t have nearly enough influence at the Ministry to commandeer private cars, and everyone knows it. Well, maybe not Ron, because he’s oblivious, or Percy, because he’s caught up in his lifetime dream of being named Head Boy, but really now. It was all for Harry. And she’s glad- she’s not- well, she’s not stupidly in love with Harry like she was last year, it’s just a bit embarrassing- a lot embarrassing- since he did save her life and almost get killed himself. By…

By Tom. It’s difficult for Ginny, to reconcile Tom, who was handsome and kind and ever so sweet with her, telling her she was pretty, and clever, and special- his special girl, that she was meant for great things, her family was just too blind to see it, and if she just did as he wanted more greatness could await her but- she didn’t want to do any of it, she didn’t, and she could feel him… she could feel him taking over more and more the more she resisted and pulled away.

Sometimes, when she’s trying to go to sleep, she can still feel him, just under her skin, whispering in her ear. It’s sick and foul and she’s taken a million scalding showers and listened to loud music and gone on long walks but she can’t quite shake the feeling that he isn’t really gone, that part of him will always be lodged in her head, in her heart, just waiting… just waiting for her to relax, ease up, and he’ll take over again.

And next time, maybe, it’ll be too late and too much and Harry nor anyone else will be able to save her. Tom told her all sorts of things about himself, and she’s not sure what’s true and what’s not, but she doesn’t think they were all lies, and that’s the most terrifying part. The idea that he could have been honest with her, however fleeting, when he said they were similar. Wands of yew, darkness true. But that’s an old wives tale. Cedrella Weasley, nee Black’s wand doesn’t make her any more of an aspiring dark witch than her grandmother was. And Cedrella rejected her family’s teaching on blood purity and dark magic, chose another way.

Tom was just manipulating her. He didn’t really care about her. He didn’t love her. He was a wretched shade of a boy long since dead, desperately trying to use her to claw his way back into existence. But that’s impossible. Voldemort is dead. He’s never coming back. Wizards can’t raise the dead, not truly. She knows all of this.

But in her dreams, she is still down there, with him, and she can feel his joy as he pulls the last of the life from her body. It hurts, so much, like she can’t even cry or scream, and she can feel his happiness, like a parasite, leeching everything from her. There are no physical marks on her from his possession, his magic, but a single, long strand of red hair, near the back of her scalp, has gone prematurely silver white. It’s impossible to see unless you’re combing through it, but it’s a reminder.

What’s really sickening is that despite her terror and pain and the growing numbness, deep in her bones, there was a sliver of happiness in her, even then, because a tiny, deluded part of her truly believed she was helping him. Isn’t that what friends do? Help each other? Of course, she didn’t understand. She didn’t realize. Had she known who she was writing to, she would have… she would never have....

Ginny is just afraid that part of her knew exactly who she was dealing with all along, and didn’t care, because she was so lonely and so upset and so desperate to have a friend, anyone who could understand what it felt like to be an outcast, the only Slytherin Weasley in generations upon generations, to feel as though she was a disappointment, a nasty shock, undeserving of her family name. And he did understand. He really did. He told her about his childhood, his time in that miserable orphanage, the suspicion and hatred turned upon him with every passing year.

I know what it’s like to feel unwanted, he told her. I know what it’s like to feel unloved. They don’t understand you, Ginny. They don’t want to. You’re more powerful than any of them could ever dream of becoming. You have so much potential, and they would see you squander it for the sake of conformity. A life of shuttered dreams and wasted ambition. But I know you’re different. I know just how different from them you are. And I understand you better than any of them could.

Her nails dig into her palms, and she stops walking down the train corridor abruptly, feeling her stomach lurch. No. She is not going to be sick on the train. She’s stronger than this. She is not a victim. She’s going to be fine. She is going to have a nice, normal year, even if she’s worried she’s tainited forever, Voldemort might be coming back, and there’s a mass murderer on the run. She is going to make it through her second year if it kills her. Her first year certainly tried.

A door slides open next to her, and Ginny jumps a bit, schooling her frightened look into a fierce scowl. Sinead Rafferty stares at her, then wrinkles her pointed nose. “Are you comin’ in, or what, Weasley?” She nudges the door open a bit more with a skinny elbow, and sits back down with a huff.

Sinead is in her year, and in her house. They shared a dorm with two other girls all last year. Ginny still doesn’t know any of them all that well since she spent very little time speaking with them or much of her time holed up in bed, writing furiously, or avoiding the dungeons and common room in general. All she knows is that Sinead is a muggleborn, which is very rare in Slytherin, and refuses to hide the fact that she’s a muggleborn, which is even more rare.

Scowl subsiding, she steps warily into the compartment. Sinead is sitting with another girl from their dorm, Mavis Vance, who was a hat-stall, she claims, between Slytherin and Ravenclaw. Sinead is tall, gawky, and pale, with pin-straight brown hair she keeps into two long, thin braids and suspicious, narrow dark eyes. Mavis is short, round-faced, and olive-skinned, with her thick black hair cut short and ruffled, and eyeglasses that change color every so often. Right now they are red.

Mavis is a halfblood, her mother being a secondary school teacher, but the Vances are a well-known wizarding surname and considered upper middle class, so she’s not given much trouble over her it. Pansy teases her horribly over her glasses, though, and Ginny’s waiting for the day Mavis finally snaps with great interest.

Ginny takes a seat beside Mavis, who glances up briefly from her book and nods in recognition. After a moment of further brow-furrowed reading, “Did you have a nice summer, Ginny?” She’s never quite sure if Mavis is being sarcastic or not; she speaks in an often disinterested, neutral tone, only showing any real signs of interest or passion when the topic changes to something she enjoys, such as Potions.

“Yeah,” Ginny says after a moment. “We went to Egypt. Dad won some money, so all of us went to go visit my eldest brother and see the pyramids.”

Sinead makes a noise that is either one of approval or outrage; Ginny’s not sure. Sinead at least understands what it means to be poor, hailing from one of the worst sections of Derry, but she doesn’t have a familial reputation for it, either, being the first Rafferty to attend Hogwarts. People only know what she wants them to know about her family, and all Ginny knows is that she has a little sister named Nora and that her dad is a dockworker.

“Hm,” Mavis hums under her breath, turning a page. “That must have been very interesting. We went to Rome for a week in August. Daddy had Gringotts business there.” Ginny knows that Mavis’ father is a cursebreaker like Bill; she’s a bit more forthcoming about her family. Mavis has an elder sister, Adelaide, in Ravenclaw, and a younger brother who will come to Hogwarts next year. Mavis didn’t seem terribly pleased at the prospect of it. Then again, Mavis is not normally a very exuberant person.

Ginny relaxes after a few moments when no accusations are hurled her way, and glances out the window at the landscape rushing by. This time last year she sat with the twins and Angelina Johnson, wondering where Ron and Harry were and eagerly awaiting her Sorting. She’d felt like she’d been waiting for centuries to attend Hogwarts; Ginny is competitive by nature and can’t stand the thought of being left behind or left out, a feeling she knows very well as the youngest of seven and the only girl.

“I think I might try out for Quidditch this year,” she says aloud when the train finally leaves the suburbs and strikes out into the country.

“What, don’t like the way your face’s arranged?” Sinead snorts.

Ginny bristles. “I’ve been flying since I was six. I know my way around a broom.” She might be little, but she’s fast and cunning in the air, and although she doesn’t expect to make first string right off the bat, she knows she’d do well as a chaser.

“The Slytherin team doesn’t allow girls,” Mavis says matter of factly, and Ginny suddenly wants to slap her.

“They can’t ban an entire gender. That’s not in the rules,” she retorts, already picturing Flint’s sneering face. He might be approaching the size of a half-giant, but she’s not going to be intimidated by him. If she could withstand Voldemort himself (however poorly) for an entire school year, Marcus Flint should be a kitten in comparison.

“Not sure if you’ve noticed, Weasley, but we don’t have a house reputation for followin' the rules,” Sinead drawls in amusement. “They’ll laugh you out of tryouts- or hex you out.”

“I’d like to see them try.” Ginny doesn’t really know many hexes, but maybe she’d better start learning some. Magic is supposed to be the ultimate equalizer, isn’t it? See how weak they think girls are after she hands their arses to them.

“They won’t hex her,” Mavis continues, “I overheard Graham Montague saying she should get a medal for service to the school for trying to rid Hogwarts of mudbloods. During the end of term feast.”

Ginny exhales quickly as Sinead’s face darkens.

“Well, those are the exact words he used,” Mavis amends after a long moment, seemingly puzzled as to why Sinead looks so… murderous.

“If they don’t let me try out, I’ll go to Snape,” Ginny is eager to change the subject, but the words feel sour on their way out of her mouth.

“Snape hates you almost as much as your brother,” Sinead shrugs. “But good luck with that.”

Ginny sinks into a foul mood for the next hour or so, as the sky grows steadily clouder outside the compartment window and Mavis reaches the end of her book. The trolley witch comes by, but none of them buy anything. Sinead sits and picks at a hole in her jeans, and eventually lets out her cat, Redmund, who is, ironically, not red in the slightest but a grey tabby.

He curls up on her lap, purring in affection. Ginny wishes she could get a pet, but they haven’t got the money. Besides, if she’d had a pet last year, Tom would probably have made her kill it. He doesn’t like animals. Didn’t. Didn’t like animals, because he’s gone, he’s dead, he’s not here-

The compartment door rattles open and Ginny looks up. Draco Malfoy and the trolls he calls friends are sniggering in the doorway. Mavis snaps her book shut and scoots away from them, towards Ginny. Sinead shifts, Redmund jumping off her lap, her hands balled into fists. “Get out,” she snaps. “Go bother Potter.”

“Just checked in on old Potty,” Draco sneers, looking around the compartment as his pale eyes alight on Ginny. “Sad to see he survived the summer. Couldn’t you have bumped him up to top of the list when you opened the Chamber, Weasley? I mean, he’s practically a mudblood himself.”

Crabbe and Goyle are too thick to have caught on to the joke but chuckle anyways.

Ginny stares at them. “Shut up.” Her voice shakes, just a little. Draco’s father gave her the journal. She knows he did. He slipped it in with her school things last summer. It wasn’t an accident. He knew. He knew it would call to her.

She doesn’t think Draco knows. He’s not the type of boy you tell your plots to rid Hogwarts of muggleborns to, because everyone knows Draco can’t keep mum about anything for more than five seconds. He likes the sound of his own voice far too much.

Draco curls his lip at her, and then gives a little annoyed shrug when none of the three girls give him anything more to work with; Sinead is glowering, Mavis is staring determinedly at the floor, and Ginny has her hand on her wand in her pocket, even though she doubts Draco will pick an outright duel with a few second year girls on the train.

“Move along, third years,” a prefect snaps from further down the corridor at Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle, and they skulk off, slamming the door shut behind them.

“So what?” Sinead demands after a minute or two. “We’re just not goin' to talk about last year?”

“Ginny was possessed by an evil journal,” Mavis explains patiently, fishing in her bag, presumably for more reading material. “That’s why she acted so odd and talked in her sleep all the time. And killed those chickens to write in blood on the walls.”

“Thank you, Encyclopedia Brown,” Sinead mutters. “Right, but- is that just a thing, in the magical world?" She waves a hand, long fingers wiggling. “Evil notebooks? Is my pen goin' to start tellin' me to kill, kill, kill-,”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Ginny interrupts her forcefully. “It’s over. Harry killed the… the spirit in the book. And the basilisk,” she adds, almost as an afterthought.

“I’m just sayin',” Sinead snaps, “I'm the one who had to walk around in a pack all year 'cause I was top of the menu for giant snakes.”

Ginny wrote about Sinead, and Mavis, and other people in the diary. She wrote about Harry. About her siblings, her parents. Tom said- Tom said awful, awful things about them, disguised as advice. What if he knows things now, things he shouldn’t? He practically had her spying for him. If- If Voldemort were to ever… come back… would he remember? Would he remember what she told Tom?

“What was the Chamber like?” Mavis asks abruptly. “Malfoy said there were lots of jewels and gold in it. All of Salazar’s treasures that he didn’t want Gryffindor to get ahold of.”

“Malfoy was never there,” Ginny scowls. “It- I don’t really remember. I was knocked out.” That’s a lie. Tom made her go down there all on her own, while she begged and pleaded for him to stop, trapped somewhere in a dark corner of her own mind. It’s hard to describe seeing your body move and knowing you’re not in control of it.

He wore her skin. He was inside her. He made her go down into the Chamber and she could hear the basilisk hissing and writhing in the walls and all she could do was lie there on the floor, too numb and helpless to even move a muscle, as he got stronger and stronger and his voice louder-

She saw his face for just a moment. He was very handsome. His smile was bright. His hand brushed her face for a moment and it was ice cold but real. She felt flesh. “Thank you, Ginny,” he said, and it was cruel and mocking but sweet and tender and then she blacked out.

The compartment is silent once again, and the rain begins to patter on the window, and the sky grows darker outside. Ginny is suddenly tired, and starts to sink into a drowsy state, although she was terrified to sleep for ages after what happened last year, convinced normal tiredness was a sign that Tom was trying to take over again. Mum had to brew her potions to help her sleep through the night. Egypt helped more; the change to her normal schedule and the difference in time zones was enough to knock her out immediately most nights.

But she is on the train now, and the movement of it is enough to lull her eyelids into fluttering and starting to close. Then the lights flicker on, and she groans. A sudden surge of wind makes the rain grow louder. Sinead glances out the window. “I think we’re slowin' down.”

Mavis sounds indignant. “We’re twenty minutes away. I know we are. I timed us last year!”

“Shut up,” Sinead murmurs under her breath, craning her neck as she stares out into the darkness, and Ginny suppresses a giggle. But Sinead is right. They are slowing down, but it seems too soon for them to be at Hogwarts.

Then the train stops completely, and suddenly enough that Redmund yowls and skitters under the seat. A spike of fear pierces through Ginny’s gut, and she ignores it. She’s being silly. Maybe there’s something wrong with the train, and they’ve stopped to fix it. But she wishes she were sitting with Ron, or the twins, or even Percy.

The lights go out. Mavis makes a little sound like a whimper. Ginny presses back against the seat, trying to control herself, but she doesn’t- she doesn’t like the dark anymore. She sees things that aren’t there. Sinead steps back from the window, shaken, eyes like black pin pricks in her pale face, translucent in the darkness. “Why's it so cold?” Her breath is misting in front of her, despite the compartment being comfortably warm mere minutes before.

Ginny remembers the last time she felt this cold, and slides off the seat and onto the floor, mute and trembling. She can feel him, she swears she can, and it’s not fleeting this time, it’s not going away. There’s a faint cry from further down the car, and her trembling grows into full-fledged rocking. He’s coming, he’s coming-

The door shakes a little as it slowly opens.

Chapter Text

Ginny doesn’t actually see the dementor because her head is buried in her knees, drawn up under her chin, the entire time. Her eyes are tightly closed like a little child’s, and she almost plugs her ears as well, only she feels too weak and cold to exert that much movement.

She can hear the blood rushing in her ears, and fights the urge to faint not once but twice. Tom is there, she knows he is, she can hear him, soothing her and mocking her at the same time, he might as well be crouched down right next to her, murmuring in her ear.

I see you, Ginny, you can’t hide from me- I thought we were friends, best friends-

A shriek tears out of her and her eyes snap open, determined to fight him this time, not to meekly succumb to his influence, but he’s not there. The compartment is empty. The door is slid open, but no one’s there. Sinead is backed up against the window, face ashen and breathing harshly, as if she’s just witnessed something awful, and Mavis’ big brown eyes are shining with tears behind her glasses, now bone white.

“What happened?” Ginny asks in a strangled voice from her position huddled on the floor. She feels a little warmer, but not much. The lights are beginning to flicker back on, and as she struggles to her feet she feels the train lurch, the brake undone, and it slowly begins to move once more.

“There was a- somethin’ was lookin’ in on us,” Sinead rasps, “but it was dead- it’s skin was all grey and rottin’, like the Grim Reaper-,”

“It was a dementor,” Mavis says in a high, frightened voice. “The ones who guard Azkaban. They must have been looking for Sirius Black.”

“Why would he be on a train to Hogwarts?” Sinead demands, recovering some color in her thin face. She sits down slowly, one hand still braced on the fogged up window. “If it was me, I’d want out of Britain entirely-,”

Mavis gives a small shrug, hands clasped nervously in her lap. “Maybe he wants to kill Dumbledore.”

Ginny has some idea of who Sirius Black wants to kill, but she doesn’t trust either girl enough to tell them. She says nothing, hoping neither will comment on her breakdown. Her eyes are stinging, and she blinks hard a few times. They’re nearly to Hogwarts now. She just has the feast to get through, and then she can sleep. Or attempt to sleep. The last time she was in her dorm…

“Are you alright, Ginny?” Mavis asks after a few moments of uneasy silence, as the train continues to chug along. The rain outside is even louder now, and the wind working its way up to a howl.

“Yes,” says Ginny in a low, flat voice. “I’m fine, I just- I thought,” she trails off.

“Dementors feed off fear and despair,” Mavis sounds a bit more optimistic now that she has knowledge to impart, tone brightening slightly. “That’s why… well, you must have a lot of fear in you, after last year.”

Ginny flushes scarlet, and then unravels a little inside. It’s not as if Mavis was killing herself to check up on Ginny last year, was she? None of them were. They didn’t care, they were too busy worrying about being petrified and- they don’t understand.

“What d’you know about fear, then, Mavis Vance?” she demands angrily, turning on Mavis, whose eyes widen almost comically behind her glasses. “You don’t,” Ginny snaps, “because you’re a silly little girl who doesn’t know nearly as much as you think you do. So shut up about it, alright?”

Mavis draws slowly into herself like a wounded tortoise, and Sinead arches a dark eyebrow but says nothing, avoiding Ginny’s gaze. Ginny feels a brief stab of guilt; they didn’t have to let her sit with them, and neither of them blamed her for any of what happened last year, not really, and now she’s gone and ruined her chances.

When the train pulls into the station, Ginny makes herself scarce, walking quickly down the corridor and out into the cold rain, ducking her head and pulling up the hood of her robes. Her swift pace slows as she nears the carriages- this must be what the upper years use to get up to the castle, and she bumps into someone in front of her, staring at the carriages as well.

The girl she’s stumbled into turns around with a quizzical look and Ginny realizes it’s Luna ‘Loony’ Lovegood, that dotty Ravenclaw everyone’s always teasing. She worked with Luna in class a few times, and ate lunch with her once or twice, at the beginning of last year. She was very odd, but really rather nice, quirks aside.

“Hello, Ginny,” Luna says, with a dreamy smile. “I was just looking at the thestrals.” She’s completely soaked, unbothered by the sleeting rain, her dirty blonde hair bedraggled and plastered to her pale face.

Ginny nods without really pressing for more information; Luna is always looking at things that aren’t there, and often aren’t even real. “Want to get a carriage?” she asks Luna instead, and the blonde girl’s smile widens.

“I’d like that.”

They clamber into the nearest carriage, which immediately sets off up the hill towards Hogwarts. Ginny knows she should be excited to go back, but after last year all she feels is dread, and she’s not even all that hungry anymore.

Luckily, she’s distracted by Luna’s off-kilter humming and commentary on her summer, “Dad and I went to Trondheim to investigate reports of moon frogs falling from the sky…”, the train ride, “I sat with Colin Creevey on the train, he says he might have gotten a photo of Sirius Black disguised as a lorry driver over the summer, you know,” and finally, “What did you do over the summer, Ginny?”

When Ginny mentions Egypt, Luna lights up, silver-grey eyes luminous with excitement. She scoots forward a bit in her seat as the carriage rumbles towards the front gates of the castle. “Tell me everything you saw! I’ve always wanted to investigate the rumors about the half-goblin dynasty living in the tombs!”

Her avid interest is enough to keep Ginny from flinching much as they pass by the dementors at the gates, and she tells Luna all about the two months they spent in Egypt, about the tombs and the skeletons and the glimpses of treasure, and the bazaars and the wizarding sections of Cairo and the food and how they slept in tents at Bill’s dig site for a few nights and how you could pick out constellations every night.

They’re still chatting about Egypt when they scramble down from the carriages and Ginny briefly spots Ron’s head of red hair in the crowd, Harry and Hermione right beside him as the students head towards the Great Hall. As she enters the hall, she hears McGonagall’s voice in the background, and glances back to see Harry and Hermione, looking tense, follow the professor away.

She wonders if they saw the dementors, too. As if she’s read her mind, Luna says, lightly, “They were awful, weren’t they? I heard my mum, but it wasn’t really her.” Luna has never mentioned her mother before, so Ginny just looks at her. “She died three years ago,” Luna adds, and then flits off to the Ravenclaw table before Ginny can say anything else.

She approaches the Slytherin table with no shortage of trepidation; she ate most of her meals last year alone, and she spent the Sorting Feast of her first year near tears and avoiding eye contact the entire time. Malfoy was incredulous that a Weasley had been sorted into Slytherin and only shut up about it when one of the prefects threatened to dock points for ‘incessant obnoxiousness’.

“Alright then, Weasley?” It’s Gemma Farley, a brunette Slytherin prefect with bright green eyes and earrings in the shape of tiny silver snakes, which slither around her earlobes as she talks. She asked after Ginny a few times last year, but this must be her seventh year now; she carries herself in the casual, slightly exasperated way all the oldest students do.

Ginny nods stiffly, and Gemma gives her a sympathetic look, lowering her voice a little. “If anyone gives you any trouble about last year, let me know. I’ll set them straight.” Her tone indicates that she might go a bit beyond just a scolding.

She wanders down the length of the table to take a seat with the other Slytherin second years, hoping neither Draco nor Pansy are too close by; they seem to love exerting their influence over the younger years, whereas most older Slytherins are happy to ignore them.

“Well,” someone says snidely, “look who it is- the Heir of Slytherin.” Jocasta Moore is sneering at her, which isn’t that unusual. Jocasta wears her ash blonde hair in a high ponytail and has a pretty, heart-shaped face, which is typically ruined by the way she contorts it when displeased.

Jocasta is always upset about something, and quite vocal about her disappointment with her dorm-mates. Ginny is a freak, Sinead is a ‘mistake’, Mavis is ‘weird’- the only one she’s satisfied with is Katrina Liu, who has attached herself to Jocasta’s side in the hopes of never being one of her targets. Katrina is a snide, arrogant girl with Asian features and dark hair that falls neatly to her waist.

Ginny ignores her, but Jocasta keeps up the remarks throughout the Sorting Ceremony, albeit in a quieter voice, until Professor Flitwick reaches the end of the list and she can afford to speak up again. “Watch out,” she tells a timid looking first year who sits down nearby, “you’re in the presence of the Dark Lord’s biggest fan-,”

“Keep it up,” Sinead says in an unusually sickly-sweet tone, tapping her fingers on the table in irritation, “and I’m gonna cut that ponytail off with my steak knife, Moore.”

“She’s just teasing,” Katrina rolls her eyes. “Get a grip.”

“What’s it to you, anyways? Didn’t think you and Ginny were best friends,”Jocasta goads, smiling nastily as she spoons potatoes onto her plate.

“We’re not,” Sinead replies shortly, looking down her nose at Jocasta. “But at least she’s not an annoyin’ little shite who thinks she’s funny.”

Ginny shoots Sinead a grateful look for that, but the Irish girl ignores her in favor of digging into her stew. Jocasta sulks silently for a few moments before whispering back and forth with Katrina, occasionally glaring in the direction of the other girls.

Ginny glances over at Sinead and Mavis. “I’m sorry for what I said on the train,” she tells Mavis, who is picking at her brussel sprouts. “It wasn’t fair to you. I didn’t mean it, I was just upset.” Mavis might be annoying and a bit weird but she’s not a bad person, and she’s certainly a lot more tolerable than Jocasta or Katrina.

“That’s alright,” Mavis doesn’t look up at her, but she doesn’t sound angry, either. “My mum says lots of people lash out when they feel overwhelmed. It’s a defense mechanism.” She tentatively forks a sprout and swallows it, grimacing.

“Glad we got that over with,” Sinead snorts, “‘cause don’t think I’ll be rushin’ in to the rescue every time Moore comes after you, Weasley.” Still, she smiles wryly at Ginny while she chews on a roll. “Forget how shrill her voice is after a summer away, ya know?”

Ginny snickers a little at that, and the rest of the meal is surprisingly peaceful, despite the occasional carry of Malfoy’s voice down the length of the table and Pansy’s shrieks of eager laughter. Ginny has a sudden surge of relief that she’s older now, not a first year anymore, when the prefects call for the first years to leave the table before the older students, so they can be shown the way to the Common Room.

“What d’you make of the new DADA professor?” Sinead demands as they stand up to leave after the first years have gone. Ginny glances in the direction of the head table and Professor Lupin, who can’t be much older than thirty but who has the greying hair of a man twenty years older.

“Has to be better than Lockhart,” she shrugs, feeling a rush of anger when she thinks of what he tried to do to Harry and Ron.

“I hope this one doesn’t wind up in St. Mungo’s… or worse,” Mavis comments dismally, following them out of the hall and towards the winding, narrow stairwell leading down to the dungeons.

Malfoy is ahead of the pack, surrounded by his friends. He happens to look back and calls over his shoulder, “Going to make Potter another card this year, Weasley? He could use a get-well one, after what happened to him on the train!” Crabbe and Goyle laugh uproariously as the third years head down the stairs, voices echoing.

“Yeah,” says Sinead, recklessly taking the steps two at a time, in danger of tripping over her own robes, “apparently he went and fainted when the dementors showed up.”

Ginny winces in sympathy; everyone will know what happened by tomorrow at the latest- he’s Harry Potter. At least she has the relative anonymity of being just another Weasley, even if she’s the only girl and only Slytherin of the bunch. When they finally reach the common room, she’s practically dead on her feet, although she does linger in the doorway of their room.

Jocasta and Katrina are gossiping as they unpack, and Sinead is kicking off her too-small dress shoes with gusto. Mavis sits down on her bed and gives an experimental bounce; it groans in approval. Ginny looks over the room, where she spent so many sleepless, tearful nights last year, and long, grim afternoons, writing in the diary, ignoring everything and everyone.

And then she walks over to her bed, unlocking her battered trunk with a wave of her wand. This year is going to be different, she’s sure of it. She’ll make sure of it.

Chapter Text

Ginny walks down the slope to the Quidditch pitch, lugging a school broom and trailed by the twins. It’s not raining anymore, but the ground is wet, and she slips around in her trainers, occasionally glancing back at her brothers to glare at them.

“I don’t need your help,” she says pointedly. “You’ll just make Flint even angrier, showing up at Slytherin tryouts.”

“Did y’hear that, Georgie?” Fred asks in mock shock. “Gin doesn’t need our help. She’s going to duel the entire Slytherin quidditch team all at once.”

George snickers, and then adds, “Think of us as backup. We’re just making sure Flinty follows school rules by holding open tryouts, which rule #215 of the Hogwarts Quidditch Manual clearly states. Percy’d be proud.”

Ginny huffs and walks a bit faster, but she’s no match for the twins’ long strides, and they’ve been shadowing her since they found out she was trying out. She expected them to be angry with her for wanting to play for Gryffindor’s rivals- Ron is equal parts annoyed and amused, because he doesn’t think she has any chance of actually making it onto the team- but Fred and George seem remarkably accepting of it. Even if they never let her play Quidditch with them when she was little.

As Fred had said, “If you want to play with a bunch of mentally bereft trolls, we won’t stop you, but we will beat Bole within an inch of his life if a bludger so much as brushes you.”

She hoists her broom a little higher as they walk under the looming shadow of the stands, and steels herself before entering the pitch, her brothers on her heels. The Slytherin team is preparing for tryouts, stretching and jostling each other, drinking water and arguing.

She recognizes two fellow second years here to try out for the first time as well- Nicholas Campbell, a skinny, angular boy with close cropped blond hair, and Cyril Harper, a short, slightly pudgy boy with a round, pale face.

They both look at her in surprise as she approaches, squaring her shoulders. Flint is tall and broad, with cold, flat grey eyes and dark hair trimmed short and bristly. Ginny doesn’t know much about him aside from the fact that he’s ruthless when it comes to Quidditch and has a notoriously short temper.

“Is this some kind of a joke, Weasley?” he demands when he finally glances up from his Quidditch notes and sees her and the twins. It’s unclear which of them he’s actually addressing, but his glower is focused on Fred and George, not her.

“Sorry, but we’re not talking about your teeth right now, Flint,” Fred says amiably, and claps Ginny on the shoulders, making her jump a little.

George goes on, “Our sister’s here to try out, and we thought you might need some help spelling her name. Now, it’s Ginevra- with a G, you see, like George-,”

“Get out,” Flint snarls, obviously unimpressed. “All of you, out. I’ve got tryouts to run, I don’t have time for this-,”

“I want to try out,” Ginny says loudly, and everyone looks at her. Draco Malfoy is staring, mid-polish of his shiny new broom. The Cleansweep she’ll be flying on has never felt more battered in her gloved hands.

Flint’s hard gaze bores down on her. “I said get out,” he repeats, tone only slightly lowered.

“Rule #215 in the manual says you have to,” Ginny counters, heat rising in her cheeks. So what if she has to take this directly to Madam Hooch? She will. “You’re letting Campbell and Harper, and I’m a second year, just like them. You can only ban first years from tryouts.”

“I can ban whoever I like from tryouts,” he sneers, “and I’m not having some jumped-up little girl who has her brothers fight her battles-,”

Fred pulls his wand, and Ginny swats at him without looking back. “What do you have to lose by letting me?” she demands. “If I don’t make the team, fine. I don’t care, but I’ve got the right to try out, just like everyone else.”

Flint looks her up and down, lip curling. “What do I have to lose? I’m not having you run crying to Snape when you get roughed up in the air.”

“Because I’m a girl?” This isn’t fair. She’s the same height as Harper, and probably weighs as much, if not more, than Campbell. Yet she’s a delicate little flower, or worse, a weakling, and they’re not? Quidditch is supposed to be for everyone. The Holyhead Harpies are proof enough of that, and they’re far from the only all-female team out there.

“Yeah,” Flint says roughly, “because you’re a tiny little girl, Weasley, and you don’t belong on the pitch. Go try Charms Club.”

Montague sniggers.

George starts to say something, but Ginny whirls on him with a look so wildly angry that he closes his mouth, although both he and Fred are tense. She turns back to Flint, breathing harshly through her nose, and then straddles her broom and shoots up into the sky.

“Campbell!” she calls. He has a quaffle under his arm, and with a confused look, tosses it up towards her. She dives down to grab it, and without looking back, heads for the goals.

“WEASLEY!” Flint roars after her, but she doesn’t stop. She hasn’t flown like this since the very start of the summer, before they left for Egypt, when she swiped Fred’s broom and took off over the countryside, trying to clear her mind. She’s not small, weak, mousy Ginny Weasley in the air. She’s sleek and fast and strong and she can go anywhere, do anything.

Her ponytail whips out behind her, and she sees Graham Montague rise up into the air to try to block her path to the goals. He races towards her, smirking, but she feints left, then right and narrowly avoids him, his fingers trailing the back of her jersey.

He’s after her again then, but she soars up higher, adjusting her grip on the quaffle, and then dives down in a corkscrew dive, spinning like a top and bypassing him a second time. She hurls the quaffle towards the goal posts, and although Miles Bletchley is nearby, he’s far too slow to block her shot.

Fred and George are cheering wildly, Montague is cursing up a storm, Bletchley is staring at her in shock, and the rest of the Slytherin players are silent. Ginny lands neatly near Flint. He’s just standing there, breathing harshly, face red.

“I don’t belong on the pitch?” she asks him, a little too innocently, head tilted to one side. She’s bursting with adrenaline and exhilaration. Even if he kicks her out or screams in her face, she’s still at least proven she can fly- and score.

“That was brilliant,” says Nicholas Campbell honestly, and Draco glares at him, then looks to their captain.

“Flint,” he snaps, “that was all some- some joke, an elephant could get past Montague, don’t let her-,”

“Shut up, Malfoy, and go see about that snitch for once,” Flint growls without looking back at the younger boy.

“But-,”

“NOW. Harper, you too.”

Draco furiously kicks off into the air, Cyril Harper not long after.

“Weasley,” Flint’s eyes are narrowed to near slits.

“Yes?” she asks, more confidently than she feels, since he’s thrice her size and although she’s sure the twins will jump in, he could probably wring her neck with one thick hand.

“Get back up in the air, do that again, and I’ll consider you for reserve.”

She grins, Fred saying, “Glad you’re not too thick to not recognize Weasley talent when you see it, Flinty,” as she does just that. Nevermind that Flint ejects the twins from tryouts mere minutes later, he’s giving her a chance, and she’s going to make the most of it.

By the end of the hour long tryouts, she’s scored four goals, nearly as many as Flint himself, and as many as Adrian Pucey, who actually offers her advice on the best angle to shoot from, and while sweaty, tired and jittery, and littered with sore spots that will be bruises by tomorrow, particularly the elbow she took in the stomach from Montague when she tried to cut him off to snatch away the quaffle, she’s proud of herself, which she hasn’t felt… in a long time.

Quidditch is something she’s good at. She’s not some prodigious talent like say, Harry, but she’s a damn sight better than most second years, and while she’s not arrogant enough to think she deserves a spot on first string right off the bat, she doesn’t waste time with false modesty when Flint reluctantly names her first chaser reserve.

After tryouts, while she puts her things away, Campbell comes over, after Malfoy makes a point to sneeringly remark that she’ll last about five seconds in a real game, not this ‘mockery’. He’s rubbing at his hands ruefully- Ginny knows the feeling, since her palms are raw and split too, gloves or not- and says, “You played better than me or Harper- or Malfoy.”

“Harper and Malfoy were seeking, not chasing,” she points out, fidgeting with her ponytail, but smiles. “But thanks. Nicholas, right?”

“Nick,” he shrugs. “I’m second chaser reserve. I think Flint was really impressed- with you, I mean. He just couldn’t admit you showed him up in front of everyone.”

“You played good too,” she tells him, honestly. “You’re a great stealer. Does your family fly much?”

“I’m the oldest of three brothers, so it’s more so… them following me around in the air, and crying when I don’t let them score,” he admitted. “But we live in York, so we only get to fly out in the countryside during the summers, at my nan’s house.”

They walk back to the castle together, sharing stories about brothers and Quidditch stars they idolize. Ginny had previously had a rather dour outlook on the Slytherin boys in her year, but Campbell seems decent enough, even pleasant, as opposed to Harper’s snideness or Leander Ayers’ cold looks.

When she gets back to the dorm, it’s nearly dinner time and she’s starving. Sinead is lying on her bed, reading, Redmund on her stomach. She looks doubtfully at Ginny over the top of her book, raising her sharp chin a bit.

“First reserve chaser,” Ginny says, perhaps more smugly than is necessary, but triumphant all the same.

Sinead’s dark eyes widen. “You’re jokin’.”

Ginny smirks and shakes her head and she unlaces her trainers, sitting down on her trunk. “Flint nearly didn’t let me try out, but I showed off a bit for him, and that seemed to win him over. Didn’t even let Malfoy whinge about it, much.”

Sinead sits up, setting down her book and prodding her cat out of her lap. Redmund growls in annoyance before settling further down on the bed. “Reckon they’ll write you up in the history books, huh? Chapter right after Potter’s- first girl on the Slytherin team.” Her tone is as sarcastic as ever, but she’s clearly impressed.

Ginny pulls off the sweat-stained jersey. “I can’t be the only girl to have ever been let on the team. Maybe the only one in years, though. Who knows what the captains before Flint were like.”

“I figure they just pick the biggest, dumbest bloke and hand him the title,” Sinead muses, “though they’ll probably make an exception for the case of money, when Malfoy’s time comes.”

Ginny briefly pictures Draco as quidditch team captain, and then pushes the thought away. He’s bad enough as it is without the power trip of being in control of an entire team. No matter how much his father is willing to pay to make that happen.

“Are you coming down to dinner?” Her stomach is growling fiercely, and she hasn’t had this much of an appetite since getting back to school, even if the food is delicious (although Mum’s cooking still puts it to shame).

“You don’t wanna take a shower or somethin’ first?” Sinead snorts, eyeing her.

Ginny huffs. “After I eat. I feel like I just flew into the Whomping Willow a few times.” She cricks her neck for good measure.

“What’re you, your brother?” Sinead mutters, getting up with a groan. “Fine, you can spread the good news. Mavis’ll be in shock. She of so little faith.”

“You didn’t think I’d make it either,” Ginny retorts as they leave the room.

“Yeah,” says Sinead evenly, “but I’m used to bein’ wrong, ya know?”

Chapter Text

Ginny has always loved Hallowe’en, but last year at this time she was possessed by the Dark Lord and busy awakening an ancient evil housed within their school, so the holiday is most likely permanently soured for her.

It doesn’t mean that she’s not going to try to enjoy herself, only that she’d really rather get the day over with. Last year is a muddled blur of emotions in her head, and it’s better to avoid the wreckage entirely than try to sort through what was her doing and what was Tom’s. In general, it’s just easier to start with a blank slate.

Hallowe’en falls on a Sunday and the first Hogsmeade weekend for the third years, but the second years only have homework to look forward to. Ginny is still relishing in her newfound place at Quidditch practice, and the fact that Flint has let her fly-in for seeker a few times due to Malfoy’s ‘injury’.

None of the older Slytherins seem terribly impressed with his dramatic account of near-death in Care of Magical Creatures, and Ginny even spotted Blaise Zabini rolling his eyes while Draco told it for the fifth time in the Common Room. The worst of the third years are really Malfoy, Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle.

Millicent’s got a nasty temper and seems to enjoy the intimidation being 5’8” at the tender age of thirteen brings, but she doesn’t go out of her way to be cruel. Daphne is blonde, simpering, and attached at the hip with Pansy, but would never say half the things Pansy spouts in public, preferring arch looks shared with Theo Nott, who’s clever in a defensive, sullen sort of way, as if expecting people to challenge him on it at any moment.

Blaise is horribly vain and doesn’t seem to like anyone, but he is handsome. Tracey Davis doesn’t get along with any of the other girls, and for what it’s worth, doesn’t seem to care, either. The second years are a more subdued lot; of the boys, Leander Ayers and Marcel Leto are worst of the bunch, and Nicholas Campbell and Eamon Sullivan are both decent, if quiet.

Ginny’s marks last year were horrid, and she’s lucky exams were canceled, or she’d really be in trouble. She feels like she barely paid attention in any of her classes, and is frantically playing catch-up, especially since she’s busy with Quidditch practice three nights a week now.

Her favorite class is easily DADA; Professor Lupin is kind without being condescending, and everyone likes him, even most of the Slytherins, at least, the ones not part of Draco’s clique. She does very well in Charms, too, but she can’t stand History of Magic or Potions, which she’d probably still loathe even if Snape wasn’t teaching it.

She turns to Mavis for their latest Potions essay, and has six inches of parchment done when the third years filter back into the common room, weighed down with shopping bags and sweets of all shapes and sizes.

“Do you smell something?” Pansy asks Daphne sneeringly, as they walk by Sinead, who is curled up in an armchair playing chess with Nick Campbell.

Nick scowls, glancing up from the board at the two older girls, but Sinead only stiffens and snaps, “Pawn to E4.” As Pansy and Daphne start up the stairs, giggling, she calls out, “I hope you bought a better brand of acne lotion, Parkinson.”

Nick snickers and Pansy whirls on the stairwell, flushed with anger. “Watch your mouth, mudblood.”

Daphne cringes a bit, as if the word might spatter dirt on her.

“Should I? Come and make me then, or shut up,” Sinead is still focused on the board, and Ginny smirks, knowing Pansy will never take the bait. Dueling isn’t exactly her strong suit.

Pansy storms off upstairs, Daphne hurrying after her, and Tracey Davis shoots Sinead an approving look from her spot by the fire. Ginny is now completely distracted from her essay and glances over at the clock on the mantle. “It’s nearly time for the feast, I’ll finish this after.” She tosses down her quill and stands up, stretching.

“Suit yourself,” says Mavis, adjusting her glasses, which are fading from black to red. She sounds doubtful that Ginny really will finish it tonight, which just makes Ginny all the more determined to prove her wrong. She’s at least got to do better in Potions than Ron, who barely tries since ‘Snape hates me anyways’.

In a few minutes people start coming down for the feast, a few dressed up since it’s the weekend and no one is in uniform, and Ginny joins the crowd heading out into the dungeons. The dungeons are freezing, and she walks fast, keeping up pace with the tall Sinead, who is still arguing with Nick about who had the better strategy.

“Wizard chess is different,” Nick argues loftily as they start up the stairs leading to the main floor.

Bullshite,” sneers Sinead. “You can’t rely on your rook to just-,”

“I’m shocked you’re coming to the feast, Ginny,” Jocasta Moore says from just behind her, and Ginny turns around with a glare. Jocasta gives an innocent little shrug. “Just that you were a bit busy last year.”

“Can’t you ever give it a rest?” Ginny snaps. She’s still not sure what she ever did to Jocasta, aside from being a Weasley in Slytherin.

“Get over yourself, Weasley,” Katrina Liu cuts in, rolling her eyes. “Don’t think you’re better than the rest of us just because you made the Quidditch team-,”

“I don’t remember seeing you at tryouts, Katrina,” Ginny retorts hotly, and walks away from them in annoyance as the Slytherins enter the Great Hall.

She gazes up at the ceiling as she takes her seat; she doesn’t remember anything about the decorations from last year, but this year the sky is dark and full of brooding storm clouds, thunder rumbling overhead, but beyond that the walls are lined with massive jack-o-lanterns as big as a first year, bats flutter overhead, weaving in and out among the floating candles, and festive orange streamers come perilously close to lighting themselves on fire.

Without the pressure that the first feast of the term inadvertently placed on her, to seem normal and sane, Ginny relaxes a bit. Escaped murderer roaming the highlands or not, so far this year is shaping up to be a good deal more ordinary than her first. Her sleep has improved due to being tired out from Quidditch, and while she wouldn’t say she’s great friends with anyone yet, she is on amicable terms with Luna, Sinead, and Mavis, which is better than nothing.

And she’s yet to make a fool out of herself in front of Harry, which is always a positive.

Of course, she ought to have known it couldn’t last. Not the ‘don’t humiliate yourself in front of Harry Potter’ bit, the ‘ordinary year’ bit. Ginny is a bit sleepy from all the food and too tired to care that Mavis was right and she doesn’t have the energy to finish her essay tonight, so she shuffles back into the common room with everyone else and heads up to her room.

She’s just taken off her shoes and is taking out her ponytail when there’s a clamor from the common room. Sinead pokes her head out the door and then frowns. “I think Snape’s here.”

Professor Snape doesn’t make it a habit to visit the Slytherin common room, so everyone is curious to see why he’s here- someone would have to be in a good deal of trouble to draw their Head of House out from his Potions laboratory. Ginny, suppressing a yawn with her hand, follows the rest of her dormmates back into the common area, where Snape is in serious, barely audible conversation with the Slytherin prefects.

Gemma Farley and Alaric Norton are the seventh year prefects, and as Snape swiftly leaves the common room in a flurry of black robes, they and the other prefects call for order. They don’t get very far with that- Malfoy is loudly demanding to know what’s going on, among a few others- until Alaric’s expression darkens and he shoots off a shower of fizzling, emerald green sparks, while fixing the younger years with a menacing glower.

Silence falls over them all. Ginny scrambles up atop a chaise to see what’s going on, and Mavis, who’s even shorter than her, joins her.

“Not another word out of any of you,” Alaric says darkly. “You’ll do exactly as you’re told for the rest of tonight, or Professor Snape’ll have a private chat with you- and Dumbledore as well. Sirius Black is inside the castle.”

A murmur of horror and shock ripples through nearly everyone- Ginny doubts even the purist idiots like Montague or Malfoy want to be anywhere near a lunatic like Black, Voldemort’s right hand man or not.

“Are we evacuating the castle?” Draco asks in a far meeker tone than he was using a minute ago.

Alaric looks at him as if he’s the village idiot. “No,” he snaps, “we’re to take you all to the Great Hall, immediately. Professor Snape is waiting outside to escort us. Students are spending the night there.”

“But we can’t sleep in the Great Hall!” Pansy pipes up in displeasure. Daphne is clinging to her in fright. “We haven’t even changed out of our clothes, or-,”

Enough, Parkinson,” Gemma interrupts her flatly. “Your life’s worth a bit more than your dressing gowns, don’t you think? I want two lines, boys and girls, right now.” Her tone brokers no room for further arguing, and between that and Alaric’s heavy-lidded stares, everyone hurries to comply.

It’s a silent, nerve-racking walk through the dungeons. The torches seem to flicker more than usual, and the drips and creaks most Slytherins have grown used to unsettle Ginny, and she doubts she’s the only one. She’s not as frightened as some people seem to be- if Black is after Harry, she doubts he’d spend much time down here, he must know Harry’s a Gryffindor- but that doesn’t mean she’s a bastion of calm, either.

He’s no Tom Riddle, but he’s still a real man with a stolen wand, not a ghost, and if he’s managed to infiltrate the castle- well, even Voldemort and his forces couldn’t manage that during the war, could they? Hogwarts is supposed to be impenetrable. She glances over at Mavis, who is shaking slightly, either from the cold or fear. Ginny tentatively puts an arm around the bespectacled girl’s shoulders. Mavis doesn’t jerk away.

Sinead is walking ahead of them, and keeps glancing back frantically until they’re up on the main floor and filing into the Great Hall, Snape grimly overseeing their every move. The rest of the houses are all there, and Ginny eventually picks Harry, Ron, and Hermione out of the crowd of Gryffindors, who look more distraught than the Ravenclaws or Hufflepuffs. Did one of them see Black?

She shifts restlessly from leg to leg as Dumbledore explains that he and the other teachers will be searching the castle, while the prefects (and ghosts) watch over the students in the sealed hall. Everyone stands there, stunned, as the heavy doors shut behind them, leaving the students locked in with sleeping bags. “Go to sleep,” Alaric is telling the Slytherins, “now. I don’t want to hear it, Malfoy, you can write your father in the morning-,”

Ginny turns to Sinead, who is nudging at her sleeping bag with her foot. Finally, she says, “I can’t believe they left us in here with the prefects.” Sinead’s opinion of prefects is well known; they’re fairly useless, at best, and pompous arseholes, at worst.

“Well,if Black does get in here, he can’t exactly kill all…,” Mavis glances around the hall, “all of us,” she finishes a bit lamely. “I think the Heads are duty-bound to sacrifice themselves to save us.”

“I’d rather camp out in the bloody forest than sit here waitin’ for some madman to break the doors down,” Sinead grumbles. “Hasn’t anyone seen The Shining?”

Ginny and Mavis exchange confused glances, and Sinead sighs. “How do they know he’s here, anyways? Leave a message on the wall in blood?” Noting Ginny’s blanch, she frowns. “Sorry.”

But Tracey Davis is winding her way over to them and a few others- she must have heard it from some Gryffindor, because she says, with an incredulous look, “Black tried to break into the Gryffindor common room during the feast. Shredded their portrait with a knife, Seamus says.”

Ginny sucks in a breath; Black being spotted skulking about some dark corridor by a house elf or prefect on patrol is one thing, trying to force his way into the Gryffindor Tower in a rage is another.

“Then they’ll have to bring the Ministry and the dementors in here,” Mavis reasons, eyes wide. “That’s what they’re here for, to catch Black.”

Tracey shrugs, running a hand through her braids. “Dumbledore wants to try to catch him himself, I reckon- you know, he’s not fond of those dementors. Or the minister,” she adds dryly, and then is off to tell Nicholas Campbell and Eamon Sullivan the same thing.

Ginny sits down atop her sleeping bag quickly, as Gemma is approaching, looking annoyed that no one is listening to the prefects, and Sinead and Mavis follow suit. A few moments later all the candles extinguish themselves, and everyone at least pretends to be getting into their sleeping bags. Ginny doubts she’s going to sleep a wink, and everyone else is wide awake now as well.

Malfoy and his mates are one row away, a little further down to the left, and she strains to hear them. “But you do know, don’t you?” he’s hissing to a horrified looking Daphne, who is shaking her head mutely like she really doesn’t want to hear anymore. “What Black did to Potter’s family? Father told me all about it.”

Ginny swallows hard and continues to eavesdrop, while pretending to bury her face in her pillow in a attempt to doze off.

Draco sounds torn between uneasiness and a sort of sick excitement, the kind you get when telling a particularly morbid story to your friends. “He betrayed them to the Dark Lord- handed them over himself. He orphaned Potter.”

She suddenly doesn’t want to hear any more, and rolls over abruptly, muffling the sound of Malfoy’s murmurs with her pillow. Across the hall, Harry is probably whispering with Ron and Hermione, completely oblivious, not knowing that the man who may as well have murdered his parents himself is roaming the castle, perhaps only a few corridors or floors away.

Chapter Text

Ginny is perhaps more outraged than the Gryffindor team when Flint informs the Slytherins that the first match of the year will not be Gryffindor versus Slytherin but Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff. It’s a bitterly cold November evening, but her cheeks are flushed with angry warmth as she scowls at Marcus, who after nearly a month of practices has ceased to intimidate her… much.

“That’s a load of rubbish,” she snaps, “and you know it- Malfoy’s arm is fine!” She casts a furious glance at Draco, who is still wearing that stupid sling, and adopts a look of faux righteous indignation at her accusation.

“I’m in pain,” he retorts, glaring. “And it’s not your place to be questioning the captain, Weasley, you’re only reserve anyways-,”

“We’ve got a reserve seeker,” Ginny continues, as Graham Montague rolls his eyes and Flint stares at her with a rather unamused, flat affect, “put Cyril in instead.”

Cyril Harper shoots her a nasty look for that, as if the idea of actually having to play a match personally offends him. She ignores him, and turns back to Flint beseechingly, but his expression is unchanged.

“I don’t give a damn about Malfoy’s war wound,” he sneers, “but I’m not playing in a bloody storm that’s liable to knock him out of the sky. He barely weighs seven stone, and Harper couldn’t catch the snitch if it kissed him on the lips.”

Malfoy looks afronted at that, straightening from his ‘can’t you see I’m crippled?’ slouch, but doesn’t contradict Marcus. Cyril stares sullenly at the muddy ground.

Ginny adjusts her grip on her broom- Flint has a point, the weather’s supposed to be horrible, and he’s obviously concerned it will be a wash out, playing against Harry- but she was looking forward to this, hoping she’d get the chance to be subbed in and play her first match. Even if it’d be against Harry and her own brothers. It has to happen some time.

“Then put me in for seeker,” she argues, “I can play it, you’ve seen me catch the snitch before.”

“It’s not a debate, Weasley,” Flint snaps. “You’re chaser reserve, or hadn’t you noticed? Keep it up, and you’ll be polishing brooms in the locker room during our first match.”

Peregrine Derrick mutters something along the lines of knowing a broom in need of a polish, and Marcus fixes him with a dark look. “Shut your fat fucking mouth, Derrick.”

Ginny will give Flint that- he may be hostile, easily riled, and far from encouraging of his players, but he more or less treats them all equally, and he’s kept any dirty jokes or sidelong glances at the only girl on the team to a minimum through sheer force of intimidation.

She gives up on this battle- Flint’s already made up his mind, and resolves to support Gryffindor during the match, just to spite him. It’s not as if she’s good friends with anyone on the Hufflepuff team, although Daphne Greengrass has the most ridiculous crush on their captain, Cedric, even if he is ‘a blood traitor’.

Her bad mood only increases when Lupin takes ill and Snape is assigned to cover their DADA class. He’s reasonably fair with the Slytherin students, but can’t help curling his lip slightly whenever he looks over her, and Ginny doesn’t have the manners or grace to not glower back. Jocasta would blame it on her ‘ill breeding’.

“I can’t take two classes with him,” Sinead grouses at dinner the night before the match, “it’s like bein’ taught by Sister Mary Agnes all over again, only at least we didn’t have to look at her greasy hair-,”

“You should be more respectful of our Head of House,” Mavis points out archly, pouring herself more pumpkin juice. “I heard the Gryffindors had much more homework…”

“Mavis, you’re just saying that because you’re the only one of us to ever get points from him in Potions,” Ginny observes in exasperation, and Mavis just shrugs as if to say ‘and how is that my problem?’.

The sounds of the weather is always muffled in the Slytherin dorms, under the lake, but the storm is so bad that night that the faint sound of the howling wind keeps Ginny up. She curls up in the window seat that looks into the pitch black water, where merpeople occasionally swim by, peeping at them, and reads a book borrowed from Hermione, who she doesn’t get the chance to talk to very often but who has always been kind, by the light of her wand.

In the morning she is grim and tired and the weather reflects her mood, but she still intends to go down to see the match. Sinead declares she’s not going due to the storm, but Mavis, who follows the Tutshill Tornados, is still game, so Ginny walks down to the pitch, bracing against the wind and icy rain, with her, Nick, and Eamon.

They find seats not as high as Ginny would usually sit, but no one wants to be that high up due to the winds anyways. Mavis’ large purple umbrella is almost blown away, but Eamon, who is tall, stringy, and dark-haired, leaps up to grab hold of it at the last minute, and Nick grabs the back of his coat to keep him from getting blown off balance as well.

The match starts quickly, but it’s nearly impossible to make anything out- not the scarlet Gryffindors nor the yellow Hufflepuffs- in these conditions. The sky grows darker and darker until it seems as if it’s evening, not morning, and the stands are restless- the only time they can tell when someone’s scored is when Lee Jordan belatedly announces it, and applause and cheers are smattering.

A small part of Ginny is secretly relieved to not even have the potential of playing in this storm, but she keeps her face up to the sky, trying to make out what’s going on. Nearly an hour into the game Gryffindor calls a time out, and Ginny squints down at the pitch at the huddled team before they take back off into the air. Gryffindor is up fifty points, but Hufflepuff could very well wear them down- they’re much better than they were last year, and Diggory is a talented flier.

Lightning flickers in the sky overhead, and the crowd murmurs anxiously in response. Madam Hooch and Professor McGonagall look grim. “If it gets much worse,” Nick comments, “they’ll have to call the match early- either declare Gryffindor the winners or reschedule it for tomorrow or something...”

“The last seeker to get hit with lightning died instantly,” Mavis says in her usual darkly frank way, and Eamon mouths ‘is she serious?’ at Ginny.

But suddenly the crowd seems to hush itself, and Gnny frowns, looking down from the sky and at the bottom of the pitch, where a multitude of dark shapes are appearing. Her stomach churns suddenly and she can feel her breakfast roiling inside her. She shifts back in her seat, bumping shoulders with Nick, who looks where she is and mutters, “Holy shite.”

The dementors are flocking to the pitch as if summoned, and everyone is looking around wildly, distracted from the game. “D’you think Black’s nearby?” Eamon asks nervously, but surely he can’t be lurking in the stands- although, if he was mad enough to try the Gryffindor common room, who knows…

Black or no Black, Ginny is far more concerned with the dementors than the killer. They’re a good distance away from her, it’s not like on the train, she can’t… she doesn’t hear anything, at least, aside from the crowd and the storm, but she feels completely, utterly hopeless all at once, like nothing matters at all, least of all Quidditch.

Her teeth start to chatter a little, and Mavis glances over at her with something like concern. “Maybe you should go back to the castle,” she says, “because last time-,”

“I’m fine,” Ginny snaps, instantly infuriated now that Nick and Eamon are looking at her strangely.

But then she is not fine, because there’s a series of screams and shouts and something- someone- is plummeting out of the sky. As he falls, Ginny glimpses a shock of black hair, and her heart constricts in her chest. “Harry!” she gasps, and shoots up to her feet, but everyone else is scrambling up in horror as well.

There’s a sudden roar and a glint of silver, and when she does get a look at the pitch, she sees Harry’s limp form being levitated onto a stretcher by Dumbledore, as the dementors fly away like dark shrouds in the wind. “He stopped his fall,” says Nick in amazement.

The rest of the Gryffindor team and the Hufflepuffs are all landing, and Madam Hooch is blowing her whistle- Diggory just caught the snitch, although he looks upset, and is arguing her with about something. Ginny couldn’t care less; she’s busy shoving her way through the crowd and down the stands, even as Mavis calls after her, the rain soaking her hair and jeans.

Her boots squeak as she collides with George, who is white-faced and for once, speechless. “Is Harry okay?” she demands. “What happened? A bludger?”

“Dunno,” says Fred shakily. “I didn’t think he got hit… he just fell, all of a sudden, slipped or something… Dumbledore’s taking him to the infirmary.”

By the time she makes it back to the castle, the news is that Harry is unconscious in the Hospital Wing, and Oliver Wood is considering suicide, having lost his first match. Ginny wants to offer to help Wood out with that, if he’s really more upset about the bloody cup than his own seeker, but she can’t get into the infirmary until early the next morning.

As she does slip in, while everyone else is at breakfast, she feels a brief surge of doubt. It’s not as if she and Harry are friends, not really. But… well- he saved her life less than six months ago, surely that counts for some sort of bond, however thin. The only reason she’s not dead is because of him, a fact she doesn’t like to consider often, but that’s the reality of it.

She owes him her life, and potentially her sanity. What if she had died down in the Chamber? And been remembered as some… aspiring Death Eater or simple-minded little fool? It would have crushed Mum and Dad, and Ron… even if she and Ron rarely get along, she knows he’d do just about anything for her. All her brothers would.

She shuffles along until she reaches his bed; he looks completely hopeless, staring at the wall, but at least there are bright yellow flowers on his bedside table, however ugly said flowers might be, and a few cards. She suspects they are from Hagrid. She made him a card herself, albeit it with some ‘creative advice’ from Sinead, who thought it’d be hysterical to charm it to sing.

“Harry?” She hates how girlish and shrill she always sounds around him, how unsure of herself.

He glances over at her, and manages a small, distant smile. “Oh, hi, Ginny…”

“I heard about your broomstick getting smashed up,” she says, biting her lip. “I’m sorry, that’s… your Nimbus was amazing.” Leagues better than her stupid school broom. She’d have given anything just to fly on a Nimbus.

“Yeah,” he says, studying the bedsheets. “It was.”

She awkwardly hands him the card, which he slowly opens, then flinches when it starts to sing. Ginny goes crimson, and snatches it away from him, putting on the table. “Sorry- my friend thought it’d be funny to charm it… it’s stupid.”

“No,” he says, politely, because Harry has always been nothing but polite with her, and she almost wishes he were snide or teasing, because at least it’d be something to provoke conversation. “That was really nice of you. Thanks.”

He’s clearly not in the mood to talk, and she knows she should just leave, before she embarrasses herself even further, but she feels like she has to say something. “Um, the dementors,” she murmurs, looking past him and out the foggy window, “they… they’re really bad for me too. I mean… you shouldn’t feel guilty about it, it’s not just you-,”

“Yeah, but you haven’t fallen fifty feet off a broom from them, have you?” he interrupts her, sarcastically, and she knows he’s not trying to be rude to her, he’s just upset, but it stings nonetheless.

“No,” she says, forcing herself not to shrink before him or skulk away, and manages to meet his gaze. “But I… when they’re around, I can still hear him. To- You-Know-Who,” she corrects herself at the last moment, although that’s not right. She’s never heard Voldemort’s voice, never seen so much as a picture of him. She’s only ever met the boy he used to be, who is infinitely more threatening to her than faceless, dead evil.

“Can you hear him too?” she asks quietly, because Harry is just looking at her, not saying anything, an inscrutable look in his bottle green eyes. At last he gives the slightest nod, and seems about to say something, but remains silent.

“I’m sorry, Ginny,” he says after a moment. “About last year. If.. if I’d realized sooner that you were in trouble-,”

“That’s not on you,” Ginny says immediately and fiercely, “you couldn’t have known- nobody could have, Harry. I should have gone to Dumbledore, or anyone, when I first thought something might be wrong with the diary- it’s my fault.” She feels the aching coil of guilt in the pit of her stomach harden once more.

“It’s not your fault,” Harry leans over and gives her a tentative little pat on the shoulder. “You were just a first year. It was him who got in your head and twisted everything around.”

Ginny jumps back as if smacked, as much as she appreciates his effort to console her- but it’s all wrong, he’s the one in a hospital bed after plummeting from the sky, and he’s right, the dementors must be so much worse for him… The worst thing that happened to her happened when she was eleven years old. The worst thing that happened to him happened before he could even talk.

“I should get going,” she turns away from him so he doesn’t see her face. “I hope you feel better soon, Harry.”

“Thanks,” he calls after her as she quickly walks out, but he doesn’t sound very hopeful, and she can’t really blame him.

Chapter Text

Ginny discovers the boggart the week before the Christmas holiday. She’s excited to go home for two weeks, even if this term has been far better than her first two. She misses Mum’s cooking and watching Dad tinker in the garage, and Bill and Charlie will be there. Bill has always been not-so-secretly her favorite brother, and Charlie was the only one to react with no surprise at all when she wrote him about being sorted into Slytherin.

She misses having her own room, as cramped and cluttered as it may be, and she’ll enjoy being able to sleep in and wander around outdoors without fear of the dementors or Black. Home might be noisy and claustrophobic and overbearing, but it’s still home, and she’s still a Weasley of the Burrow, even if she wears more green than red.

Ron says he’s not going home for Christmas, which isn’t that much of a shock. Ginny knows it’s because of Harry. Her brother might be annoying, stubborn as a bull, and incredibly lazy, but he’s loyal to a fault. Mum will miss him; Ron is her baby boy as much as Ginny is her darling girl, but she’ll busy herself with knitting a new sweater for Harry amidst all the cooking and baking, most likely.

On a quiet Monday afternoon Ginny is on her way to the Great Hall for something to eat; she’s thinking soup, given how cold it is outside, and the fine layer of frost covering the ground. At least the weather is something different from rain and mud. Ginny has always liked watching storms rumble outside and lightning crackle, but this autumn has been enough to make anyone wish for a little sunshine.

She’s walking down a silent corridor, footsteps echoing off the stone floor, when she hears a faint sound from one of the empty classrooms. Ginny pauses, hair on the back of her neck prickling, and for a split second of panic wonders if a dementor has somehow gotten into the school, but she doesn’t feel the icy dread or sickening sensation she’s felt before.

No, the sound is more like… crying. A girl, weeping. She glances up and down the empty corridor; classes are over for the day and most people are studying or in their respective common rooms, counting down the time left until the official end of term. There’s no reason for someone to be around here. Nevertheless, she approaches the door, more out of curiosity than anything else, and peeks inside the darkened room.

A girl is huddled in a corner under a desk, crying fitfully, knees drawn up under her chin like a little child. Ginny recognizes the head of thick black hair instantly. “Mavis?” she calls out quietly, approaching the desk, and then a nearby cupboard bursts open with a rattle.

As she pulls out her wand in alarm, Tom Riddle strides towards her. His face is somewhat blurry, misshapen, like melting wax or mist, but she recognizes the dark hair and his smile. He’s dressed as a Slytherin, prefect’s badge glinting on his chest. He’s not wavering at the edges the way he was when he came out of the diary. He looks perfectly corporeal right now. Ginny’s heart crawls up into her throat, where it throbs forcefully until she feels like retching as she scrambles backwards.

“Did you miss me, Ginny?” he asks in a deceptively pleasant voice, and although every instinct is screaming at her to run, all she can do is make a strangled, whimpering sound reminiscent of an injured animal. Her terror paralyzes her, numbs her hands and feet and makes her mouth hot and dry, as if she’s just finished vomiting.

Her back collides with the doorframe just as Mavis scrambles out from under the desk, stumbling into her, and Tom disappears with a jolting crack, turning into something else- a little boy?- before Mavis’ momentum propels both girls out of the room and into the relative sunlight of the corridor. Ginny slams the door shut behind them for good measure as she shakes off Mavis, whose face is swollen and tear-stained, glasses smudged. “What was that?!”

It can’t have been Tom. She has to convince herself of that, or else she’ll really lose it. It wasn’t him, just some sort of imitation. The ghost of Tom Riddle has not been holed up in an empty classroom for six months. That’s ridiculous. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t him. It was just some sort of sick trick- one of Peeves’ inventions?

Mavis opens her mouth to answer, but all that comes out are hiccuping sobs. She’s not normally the most emotional sort of person, and Ginny is taken aback by this display. She wraps an arm around the smaller girl’s trembling shoulders, and leads her a short way down the corridor- whatever is inside the room clearly isn’t going to chase them. Maybe it’s scared of the light?

As Mavis begins to calm down, there’s the sound of rapid footsteps, and Ginny looks up to see Professor Lupin hurrying towards them with a crate in his arms, Luna trailing after him. He looks concerned, but not frantic, and Ginny is relieved to see him. “Professor, there’s something in that room, some sort of monster, it-”

“It’s a boggart, Ginny,” Lupin says bluntly, but not unkindly. He never addresses her as ‘Miss Weasley’ like the other professors, nor anyone else by their surname, for that matter. She supposes it’s because he seems to be the youngest of the teaching staff by at least a decade… aside from Professor Snape, who doesn’t really count, given his general low opinion of his pupils.

“Luna encountered it earlier as well, and came and found me,” he continues, glancing back at Luna, who looks more inquisitive than upset, wide silvery eyes looking from him to Ginny and Mavis. “It’s an ultimately harmless shapeshifter- it can’t physically hurt you, but it can be very unsettling. I’m sorry you had to deal with it; it managed to escape my classroom this morning.”

“It-,” Ginny pauses, wary of informing Professor Lupin that said shapeshifter is parading around as Tom Riddle- he’ll think her mad for sure- “It looked like someone who… who’s been dead for a long time.”

“Boggarts take the form of whatever the person before them fears the most,” he says calmly, although his brow furrows. “And unfortunately some of us have far more real fears than others. I’m going to subdue it and force it into this crate. If you two feel ill or in need of a lie-down, go to the infirmary. Madam Pomfrey will understand.”

With that, he steps inside the classroom, shutting the door firmly behind him. Ginny looks at Luna, who says, “I was looking for my scarf when it popped out at me.”

“Why would your scarf be in an empty classroom?” Ginny asks, frowning.

Luna shrugs. “People hide my things all the time, to tease me.” She doesn’t sound very offended, only bemused.

Ginny glances over at Mavis, who has stopped crying and is wiping at her runny nose with a handkerchief. “Are you alright? How long were you in there?”

“I don’t remember,” says Mavis flatly, avoiding eye contact, shoulders slightly hunched. Maybe it’s best not to pry into it. Ginny certainly doesn’t want any probing questions about her boggart, and most likely, neither does Mavis, whatever it was for her.

Ginny has completely lost her appetite for soup, or for that matter, anything else. As if she didn’t have enough to worry about- now she’s got to avoid every shadowed nook and cranny in case Tom materializes out of nowhere, taunting her.

“I’ve got something to cheer us up,” Luna says after a moment of silence. “Follow me.”

She sets off almost gaily down the corridor, and after exchanging a glance with Mavis, Ginny follows. They haven’t gone very far when Luna pauses in front of a statue of a one-eyed crone, hunched over and smiling rather toothlessly. “Gunhilda de Gorsemoor, inventor of the dragon pox cure,” Mavis recites in a small voice, which Ginny takes as a good sign. She must be feeling a bit better if she’s back to imparting information that may or may not be useless.

“You wanted to show us this statue?” Ginny doesn’t see how this is supposed to make any of them feel better, aside from perhaps amused at the sight of it.

“It’s hollow,” Luna says, rapping on the stone witch’s hump with a pale fist.

“So?”

“It’s hollow,” Luna explains patiently, “because it’s a secret passageway.”

“To where?” Mavis asks, brightening a bit.

“Hogsmeade,” says Luna, voice hushed. “And I know how to get in, because last year I saw your brothers use it,” she nods to Ginny.

Ginny frowns. “Fred and George?” She can’t imagine Ron stumbling upon some secret passage, unless he quite literally tripped into it. He’s never been terribly observant. Thank Merlin he and Harry have Hermione.

Luna shrugs as if which Weasley boy is rather unimportant. “The muscley, loud ones. They were using it to sneak out of the castle during the week- upper years are only allowed to go to Hogsmeade on the weekends.”

“And they didn’t catch you spying on them?” Ginny is impressed. The twins have certainly caught her eavesdropping more than once, to her chagrin. That Luna managed to go unnoticed is particularly impressive, given her… not exactly subtle appearance. She wears the most ludicrous earrings and necklaces, and if you’ve ever seen her with those glasses on...

“If you’re quiet enough, people forget about you most of the time,” Luna gives a slow, nearly sly smile. Maybe she’s not as dotty and scatterbrained as Ginny had thought, if she managed to outwit Fred and George, who know a thing or two about sneaking around. More than a thing or two, really.

“So how does it work?” she asks, taking a step close to Gunhilda.

Luna beckons them around the back of the statue, and leaning up on her tiptoes, taps the witch’s hump with her wand, whispering, “Dissendium.” To Ginny’s surprise, the hump immediately opens, revealing a hole wide enough to easily fit a child or short teenager, although a full grown man or woman would be a tight fit.

“Should we try it?” Ginny is eager to, but Mavis catches her by the hand.

“We can’t- it’s a Monday, there won’t be any students in the village.” She’s right. They’d look too suspicious, scurrying about on a week-day.

“We can use it during the Hogsmeade weekends, and blend in with the third years,” Luna says. “It’s silly that we have to wait two whole years to go.”

An entire array of possibilities are opening up before Ginny. This can’t be the only secret passage in the castle. And if Luna’s right, and it does go straight to Hogsmeade… They’ve got a path out of the castle any time they like. It’s ingenious.

“I thought Ravenclaws were supposed to be very by-the-book,” she teases Luna.

The blonde girl smiles. “Only if the book’s smarter than we are.”

“We should try it out after break,” Mavis sounds almost excited. “But we’ve got to make sure no one else finds out.” She frowns. “Swear we won’t tell anyone.”

“If we don’t tell Sinead, she’ll kill us,” Ginny points out. She’d feel mean leaving the Irish girl out of it, anyways. Sinead’s a grump, but she’s reliable.

“Swear we won’t tell anyone besides Sinead, who will kill us,” Mavis amends.

“Alright,” says Luna amiably. “I haven’t got any friends to tell, besides.”

Ginny flushes a bit in embarrassed empathy. Luna’s just as much of an outcast as her, even if her Sorting was no surprise. “Well, we’re your friends, Luna,” she reasons after a moment. Mavis nods.

Luna’s smile is bright and open, alarmingly different from her usual quizzical look. “I’m glad.” She taps the hump again with her wand, and it slides shut, the damp, earthy scent of the passage lingering in the air, like an unspoken promise.

Chapter Text

Ginny comes back after New Year’s in high spirits; she had a good Christmas, even if there weren’t many gifts- there never are- and although the threat of Black and the dementors still loom, the castle seems more lively and less fraught.

With the exception of whatever is going on with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. She finds out exactly what when she runs into Hermione obsessively studying in the library, a few days after the spring term starts.

“What’s Ron so angry about?” Ginny asks curiously, as Hermione flips even faster through the textbook before her. “He was glaring daggers at you during breakfast.”

“Harry got a Firebolt in the mail for Christmas from some mysterious person,” Hermione says shrilly, without looking up, “without any note or anything, so I thought, well-,”

“That Black had sent it?” Ginny guesses, frowning. A Firebolt- she’d gazed at one longingly in Diagon this summer. Only the very wealthy would be able to afford a broom like that, top of the line and brand new...

“Yes,” says Hermione pointedly. “So McGonagall has taken it to do some tests, to make sure it isn’t cursed or anything, and I suppose Ron and Harry would rather Harry be dead than have to go a few weeks without a shiny new broom!”

“Ron’s an idiot,” Ginny says immediately. “Want me to jinx him? I learned a good one over break from Fred and George. And Harry-,” she hesitates, “he... “

“He’s not used to getting presents at all, I know,” Hermione sighs. “But I’m just looking out for him!”

“I would have done the same thing,” Ginny shrugs. “You’re right. It’s really strange for him to just happen to get a new broom from some stranger, right after his Nimbus got smashed up.”

“Isn’t it?” Hermione demands. “They’re just so Quidditch-obsessed they don’t see it.”

Ginny snorts, adjusting her grip on the books in her arms. “Sure you don’t want me to jinx Ron?”

Hermione smiles briefly, pushing a few errant curls out of her face. “Well- maybe not too badly-,”

Slytherin faces Ravenclaw in a match only a week into the new term, and to Ginny’s delight, she is subbed in for the last half hour when a bludger sends Montague spiraling to the ground. Montague’s distant moans of pain don’t exactly hinder her smug satisfaction when she scores mere minutes after entering into the match, either.

Ravenclaw also only has one girl on their team as well; the seeker, Cho Chang, a petite fourth year who reveals very white teeth in a triumphant smile whenever she spots the snitch. Luckily, Draco manages to beat her, although Ginny almost (almost) wishes Cho had shown him up, since he can’t stop talking about it afterwards.

With the pressure momentarily off in terms of Quidditch, Ginny is able to turn her attention to the Hogsmeade passage once more. Sinead was suitably impressed when informed of it, and seems rather miffed that ‘loopy Luna’ found it before her; “I’ve got the whole dungeons mapped out- I should have started with the upper floors!”

They agree to try the passage the weekend of St. Valentine’s Day; Hogsmeade is sure to be packed with students, and so long as they don’t draw any attention to themselves, they’ll blend right in with the upper years. Besides, it will distract Ginny from remembering last year’s infamy, and Lockhart, and her stupid card to Harry.

“C’mon,” Sinead snorts, as they hastily make their way up to the third floor, hoping they don’t run into any professors, or worse, Filch, “it wasn’t that bad-,”

“It was awful,” Ginny mutters. “Harry avoided eye contact for a month afterwards.”

“Well, you weren’t quite right in the head, yeah?” Sinead points out. Mavis wisely keeps mum. “Blame it on that.”

“I don’t think Tom Riddle influenced me to make a singing Valentine’s Day card,” Ginny says scathingly, just as they round the corner. For a moment her heart stops, as someone is standing right in front of the statue, but then Luna turns to greet them, and she calms down.

“Filch won’t be around here for a while,” Luna says with a small smile, “I told him all about the wrackspurt terrorizing the owlery.”

“Is there a wrackspurt terrorizing the owlery?” Mavis asks, frowning.

“There could be,” Luna’s smile widens.

Ginny glances up and down the length of the hallway, and then walks behind the statue, tapping it with her wand. “Dissendium.” The hump parts, just like the last time, and she looks back at her friends. “Who’s going first?” After a moment of silence- “Fine.”

She clambers up into the hole, bracing herself at the rush of cold air, before feeling her way inside- it seems to be some sort of slide or ramp, which she slowly scoots down, before calling up, “It’s safe, come on! Lumos,” she mutters, lighting her wand.

Luna is next, followed by Mavis, then Sinead, who cautiously closes the hump behind them. Ginny leads the way through the passage, squinting into the dark, and listening for any sounds up ahead, but everything is muffled by the packed earth.

“So, what’re the chances of this leadin’ to a dead end? Or another secret chamber full of monsters?” Sinead asks dryly, after a few minutes of hushed walking.

“My brothers are still alive, so not high,” Ginny retorts.

But it does seem like they’re walking for ages, and just when she’s beginning to grow worried- what if they can’t get out the way they got in?- the light of her wand illuminates a set of stone steps in front of them. Spurred on by this, she starts up them eagerly, the others not far behind, until they’re all breathless and panting, having reached the top.

Ginny can hear faint sounds, and reaches up with her hands, touching what must be a trap door of some sort. Carefully, she pushes it open, and swiftly scrambles up, hoping the others don’t take too long to follow suit. They’re in the cellar of a shop of some sort, that much is obvious, and after peeing around the boxes and crates for a moment, Ginny realizes that it’s Honeydukes, the candy shop.

The four of them crouch in the dark for a few moments; they can’t just go bursting out of the cellar and into the busy shop, someone will be sure to notice. “One of us should sneak up, and distract the shopkeep,” Ginny whispers after a moment of frantic looks are exchanged in silence. “Then the rest of us can come up.”

“I’ll do it,” Luna says after a moment, and darts up the cellar steps before any of them can stop her. Ginny leads Sinead and Mavis up to the cellar door a few moments later, and peering through the crack, spots Luna asking the woman at the counter some question, drawing her away from the back of the shop.

“Now,” she breathes, and quickly, the four of them slip out of the cellar and into the crowd of students filling the shop. Ginny momentarily loses track of the others, but they quickly reconnect outside, gleeful in their success. Snow is flurrying around the cobblestone streets, and while the Christmas decorations have all been taken down, Hogsmeade still resembles a postcard scene, quaint and idyllic.

It’s immediately decided that splitting up is likely the wisest course of action; they’re more likely to be recognized as a group, so Luna and Sinead wind down the lane towards Dervish and Banges, and Ginny and Mavis head in the opposite direction, uphill towards The Hog’s Head Inn. Ginny is content to walk silently with Mavis; what if someone overhears them in passing and recognizes her voice, but eventually a nagging thought emerges.

“What is your boggart?” she asks abruptly after a few moments, brow furrowed. It doesn’t seem like such an intrusive question to ask when Mavis has seen hers, and furthermore, Mavis is no stranger to being nosy herself, given her lack of a filter and constant surprise at people taking offense to the way she awkwardly words things.

To her surprise, Mavis doesn’t answer immediately, and then she realizes that perhaps it wasn’t the shock of the boggart that worked Mavis up into such a state a few months ago, but the form the boggart took, although all Ginny remembers is something like a little boy… Why would Mavis be terrified of a child?

She glances sidelong at Mavis; her glasses have gone a deep, foreboding green. “Sorry,” Ginny says, as they approach the entrance to the pub. “I… I shouldn’t have asked.”

Mavis doesn’t look at her, concentrating seemingly on the slush and mud on the ground, then the stained hardwood floor of The Hog’s Head. Ginny finds them a table in the back and rather daringly orders two butterbeers; the waitress doesn’t look twice at her- twelve and thirteen year olds can hardly look that much different, can they?

Then suddenly Mavis says, “My brother,” as Ginny sits back down again.

“What?”

“My brother,” Mavis repeats, somewhere just above a murmur. “My boggart is my brother. His name is Elliott. He’s ten. He’ll be eleven in May.” It's a flat statement of facts; she's distancing herself from the entire thing, as if to soften the blow.

Ginny isn’t sure what to say. Mavis’ brother is obviously still alive- is she frightened of losing him? Something terrible happening to him? Why specifically her brother, and not her sister? Is it because he’s younger? She traces a groove in the oily wood of the table top. Mavis doesn’t seem like she’s about to burst into tears. She’s almost… agitated, shoulders taut.

“I’ve never told anyone,” she says then, “about Elliott, but I- I’m going to tell you because you know what it’s like to have something else in control. Something evil.”

Ginny looks up at her warily.

“He got bit when he was seven,” Mavis is maintaining perfect eye contact, for once, unblinking, and she doesn’t look quite so silly or childish, with her face drawn in seriousness. “We don’t know by who. Daddy thinks it was Greyback; we were on holiday near one of his last sightings.”

Ginny is still confused until ‘Greyback’ and then it hits her. Mavis’ brother was bitten by Fenrir Greyback, one of the most notorious werewolves in Britain. Noted for going after children. Ginny has heard about werewolves, of course, she just… You hear about werewolves in the grisly write-ups in the Prophet, whenever there’s a death.

People don’t talk about the people who survive the attack, live with the bite. Lycanthropy is, well- Ginny learned, growing up, like most young witches and wizards, that lycanthropy was a fate worse than death, and those who had it were to be pitied at best. Certainly not associated with. But Mavis is talking about a ten year old little boy.

“Mavis,” she swallows hard, “I’m sorry. That- that’s horrible-,”

“Why are you sorry?” Mavis asks tightly. “You didn’t bite Elliott. You didn’t make my parents blame one another, for not stopping it in time. You didn’t make them blame my sister and I, for not watching him well enough. He spent a month in St. Mungo’s recovering. Daddy started taking longer and longer cursebreaking missions, after that. Wolfsbane potion is expensive.”

She grimaces. “Addy and I stay with him during the summer, and Elliott lives in Norwich with Mum. Daddy can’t even look at him anymore, and Mum’s only letting him attend Hogwarts because Professor Dumbledore…”

Ginny stares. “Dumbledore?”

“Professor Dumbledore said a werewolf had attended Hogwarts before, and further attacks and infection had been avoided,” Mavis recites quietly, taking an anxious sip of her butterbeer.

“I.. then that’s good, right?” Ginny asks weakly. “Your brother can be…”

“Normal?” Mavis offers a nearly sardonic smile. “He’s registered with the Ministry. He’ll never be able to hold down a job in our world. They’ll throw him out on the street, attack him in mobs. People will act like he’s a murderer if they find out about it. He’s doomed to a life of fear and poverty. So no, he’ll never be normal. Even I’m scared of him sometimes, and I’m his sister. I’m supposed to look out for him, and he’s my boggart. My own brother.”

Ginny bites her lip, hard, and then reaches across the table to grip Mavis’ hand. “What happened to your brother isn’t fair, but you can’t blame yourself for how you feel about it. That’s not going to help. If you didn’t- if you didn’t love him at all, then you wouldn’t feel that fear. You care, Mavis, I know you do.”

She wants to say more, but just then she spots Luna’s rainbow-hued scarf in the crowd, and almost doesn’t hear Mavis’ near-silent “Thank you,” before Luna and Sinead arrive, laden down with bags.

“What’s with the glum faces?” Sinead demands happily, slumping into a chair. “Are we breakin’ the rules and riskin’ expulsion, or late to a funeral? Though, Luna reckons we just saw a Grim in some alleyway. Looked like a stray dog rooting through the bins to me.”

“Ooh, butterbeer,” Luna says, sniffing appreciatively at Ginny’s cup. “You know the smell of it is said to attract nargles.”

Chapter Text

Ginny’s second term of her second year continues on a rather uneventful pace of sneaking out, Quidditch practice, ceaselessly mocking Flint and Malfoy for their failed attempt to throw Harry off during the Gryffindor v. Slytherin match, during which Ginny was forced to restlessly watch from the sidelines, and waiting for either Dumbledore of the Ministry to apprehend Black.

There is of course Ron’s wild claim that he woke up one night in April to see Black standing over him with a knife, but Ginny isn’t so sure it wasn’t just a vivid nightmare, although the professors do think Black has managed to find a way into the castle. But if he really has broken into the Gryffindor dorms twice now and is armed with a stolen wand, how he has failed to kill or even injure Harry?

It doesn’t make much sense to Ginny; unless Black truly is a lunatic with no rhyme nor reason to his actions, he could have simply quietly suffocated Harry in his sleep with a pillow, for Merlin’s sake. It’s not as if a short, skinny thirteen year old boy would present much of a threat to an escaped convict, who presumably has quite a lot of experience murdering people.

By June Ginny is focused solely on her exams, determined to do well- she didn’t have exams last year, after all, what with the basilisk and everything, and the McGonagall has been warning for months now that murderer on the loose or not, they shouldn’t expect another cancellation. Ginny doesn’t enjoy studying anymore than Ron does, but she is capable of applying herself, and it pays off.

The only exams that prove any real struggle are Potions and History of Magic, but even in those she thinks she pulled off decent marks, if not great ones. Relieved by her triumph over the tests, and buoyed by the warm weather- this autumn and winter were one of the worst, and the cold weather has always depressed her- she should have known it couldn’t have lasted.

“Well, you’re obviously lying.”

Ron shifts uncomfortably, cornered in the courtyard, under the warm June sunshine. The story Ginny has been told, by Madame Pomfrey, Hermione, Harry, and Ron himself, is that he was attacked by Sirius Black, who has successfully escaped once more, after being momentarily captured by Professor Snape. Madame Pomfrey truly believes it, and Hermione does a noble job of keeping a neutral expression, but Harry is a bad liar, and Ron even worse.

“Ron. It doesn’t make any sense.”

“You sound like Hermione,” he grumbles.

“I heard Hagrid’s hippogryff escaped too,” she retorts, folding her arms across her chest. “The one Malfoy’s father was going to have executed? For injuring him?”

Ron scowls. “So what?”

“It’s just very convenient,” Ginny says mildly, and doesn’t bother to mention that Mavis recognized the faint howls of a werewolf long before anyone else that night. The word in the corridors is that Lupin’s resigning; she’s resolved to see him before he goes. He was a good deal better than Lockhart, at any rate.

“Ginny,” Ron snaps, “just let it go, alright? The important thing is that Black’s long gone by now, and Harry’s alright.”

“Yeah,” she sniffs, “if Snape doesn’t murder him before the train ride home.”

If Snape is this furious with Harry, it can only mean that Harry somehow prevented something Snape wanted to happen, and half the castle has heard about his breakdown when Black escaped by now. But it also doesn’t make sense for Harry to have somehow assisted the man responsible for the deaths of his parents in escaping.

Ron says nothing. Ginny groans. “Fine. Don’t tell me. Hermione will, eventually.” She’s confident of that; she’ll wear her down, sooner or later. Hermione doesn’t really have any female friends, and Ginny is the closest thing she’s got.

She sets off for Lupin’s office, and finds him packing. He looks surprised to see her lingering the doorway, hands in the pockets of her baggy jeans. “Can I help you, Ginny?”

She could tell him that she figured out he was a werewolf at last two months ago, after realizing what Mavis had been referring to when she mentioned another werewolf having once attended Hogwarts. The frequent illness didn’t exactly hinder the discovery.

Ginny’s less unnerved than she thought she would be, standing mere feet away from a ‘monster’. Lupin looks like a tired, thin man, not something to fear and despise. Real monsters, she’s well aware, usually hide their monstrosity behind friendly smiles.

“Um,” she says, “I just wanted to- you were a really good professor, sir. And I know you… you did help Ron, when his leg got… hurt…,” he’s obviously not about to tell her anything more than the others were, but a strange look does cross his face.

“I hope he’s feeling better, your brother,” is all he says, politely.

“Loads,” Ginny shrugs. “But- I know you’re very busy, I just wanted to ask you about something- school related, before you leave. A spell. I know it’s not second year level, but I’m nearly a third year, anyways, and who knows who we’ll get stuck with next year as a professor.”

Bemused, he does as she asks and writes down a few notes for her. Ginny pauses, clutching the parchment to her chest. “Professor, I know… well, I know of someone, like you. He’s starting at Hogwarts next year, and I was just wondering… if you had any advice for him? About… coping with it?”

Lupin studies her for a moment, pausing in rifling through his desk drawers. “I would tell him to worry more about character than appearances,” he says. “There are things about ourselves we can’t control, and things we can. And true friends, Ginny, will worry more about your choices than your scars.”

Ginny smiles at him, shyly. “Thanks, sir. Good luck.”

The boggart is where he’d said it’d be, in the cabinet in the unlocked DADA classroom. Ginny quietly slips inside, and paces for a few moments, palms slick and clammy, and then steps up to the gently shaking cupboard. Her fingers hover over the latch, and then she quickly undoes it and steps back as Tom climbs out.

“You haven’t changed at all,” he says, spitefully, gaze flickering up and down her frame. “Don’t let them delude you, Ginevra. You’re still the same weak, helpless child you were when we first met. Desperate for protection in the shadows of the more powerful, more capable.”

“You’re wrong,” she tells the boggart quietly. “You’ve always been wrong, Tom. About me. About everything.” She raises her wand.

“Oh,” he sneers, this delusion of a boy, ragged at the edges because he’s been scraped together from her memories, buried deep, a trick of the mind, “learned some real magic, have we? Remember, Ginny. You’ve got to put some force into it, to really want it-,”

“Riddikulus!” she yells, and he ripples, then collapses as if his strings were just cut, a little china doll in a sailor suit where the teenage boy just was. She stares down at the doll, then snorts, and then a hysterical chuckle slips out, just at the aggravated expression on the doll’s face. The future Dark Lord, reduced to a child’s plaything. The doll’s face cracks, then shatters, the pieces blown back into the cupboard by an invisible wind.

Ginny firmly shuts and latches the door, and then leaves the room.

The train ride back to King’s Cross is a good deal more peaceful than the train ride there. Ginny shares a compartment with Sinead and Mavis, exchanges theories about where Black really is and what actually happened in the Shrieking Shack, and plays several rounds of Exploding Snap.

“Honestly,” Sinead points out, as the train begins to leave the highlands behind, settling into the dense, green foliage of the forests, “I’d still call it an improvement over last year. Man with knife beats giant snake in the walls, any day.”

“We still lost both Cups,” Mavis acknowledges, petting a purring Redmond, who is rubbing up against her elbow, to Sinead’s mutter of ‘traitor beast’. “Watching Draco go through the five stages of grief every end-of-term feast is going to get old at some point.”

“I’d give anythin’ for a video of Granger slappin’ that smirk off his face,” Sinead sighs, staring out the window. “I can only do it in my dreams so many times.”

“I don’t think he was as obnoxious this year,” Ginny comments. Sinead looks at her balefully. “What?”

“Maybe not to you, not that you’re on the Quidditch team, Miss Reserve Chaser,” she snorts.

“He hates me being on the Quidditch team!”

“He knows Flint’ll have his head if he tries anything,” Mavis says wisely.

“Exactly! You’ve grown on Flint, Gin, you really have.”

“Gin, now? Not ‘Weasley’?” Ginny teases.

Sinead shrugs. “Eh, you got me into Hogsmeade a year early. Points for that.”

The trolley witch stops buy with her wares, and Mavis buys them all sandwiches, to Ginny and Sinead’s delight. “Is your family going to see the World Cup this summer?”

“In the States?” Sinead demands skeptically.

“The Quidditch world cup,” Ginny explains. “It’s being held in Dartmoor, this summer. Transylvania, England, Luxembourg, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Uganda, Peru… oh, and Bulgaria, they’re all playing. And Dad usually gets tickets from the Ministry, so yeah.”

“Good,” says Mavis approvingly. “I’ll see you there, then. Mum’s already got our tickets.”

“You know, I’d be offended if I was more interested in a game played on brooms,” Sinead mutters. “Just you watch, somethin’ mad will happen- every time you wizards have some big celebration, it does.”

Ginny leans back against her seat, letting the sunlight from the half-open window pool across her face, and falls into a dozing sleep for the majority of the remainder of the ride. It’s a much better nap than the one she had on the way to school. Sinead and Mavis’ conversation (and occasional bickering) fades into a pleasant buzz around her, and her head lolls against the window pane.

When she does wake up, the train is racing through London, and the sun is far lower in the sky. She straightens up, getting her things together, as Sinead and Mavis do similarly. By the time the Hogwarts Express has pulled into King’s Cross, they’re exchanging somewhat awkward looks. None of them had this sort of goodbye last year.

“Right, then,” Sinead coughs. “Come on, let’s get a move on here. Da’ll be cheesed if I take forever gettin’ off the bloody train. Nine hour drive home and all.”

“Have a good summer,” Ginny elbows her gently as she moves out into the aisle. “See you in September.”

“I could still drop out- St. Anne’s would still take me!” Sinead yells over her shoulder as she jogs down the corridor to the nearest exit. Mavis huffs in amusement, straightening her glasses, which are an optimistic shade of magenta.

“Mavie! Come on!” Adelaide Vance, Mavis’ elder sister, is waving from the opposite end of the train car. “I see Mum!” Adelaide looks like a taller, leaner version of her younger sister, who wears her dark hair long and straight.

Mavis sighs, and glances over at Ginny. “I can’t stand it when she calls me that.”

“Be grateful; you could have six of them,” Ginny advises, prompting a small smirk from the shorter girl.

“I’ll try. See you in August, Ginny!”

“Bye!” Ginny steps off the train herself, quickly picking her brothers out of the crowd. Ron is waving goodbye to Harry, who looks remarkably happy for someone walking towards a man like his uncle, and for someone whose would-be murderer is on the run.

She waves after him as well, but he’s not looking back, and then turns to Ron quizzically. “Where’d that owl come from?”

“Conjured it up,” her brother says snidely, and Fred and George hoot with laughter.

“Right, Ronnie, and we got all Os on our OWLs-,”

“What was that?” Mum is nearer than they thought, and already narrowing her eyes at the twins, who glance around as if in confusion.

“Mum, hello, you look lovely, let’s get going now, we’re absolutely famished-,”

She brushes past them in favor of Ron, who she kissed on the cheek, ignoring his squirms and grimaces, and Ginny, who she pulls into a painfully tight embrace.

“Did you have a good year, Gin?” she asks anxiously, and Ginny knows that what she’s really asking is, ‘are you better’. And she is. She hasn’t had a nightmare in months, and in her head, Tom is still locked up in that boggart cupboard, rattling around angrily.

“Fantastic, Mum,” she grins, relishing the way her mother’s worried look relaxes into relief.

“Well, that’s good, love. Boys! Help your sister with her stuff, come on now… is your father interrogating the Grangers again? Ron, go get him…”

Ginny hands off her bag and trunk to the twins and Percy rather smugly, and cooes at Ron’s tiny little owl as he reluctantly sets off to retrieve Dad, who is rambling away to the politely puzzled Grangers, beside a smiling Hermione.

She feels a brief surge of… something in her gut as she looks back at the gleaming train, and realizes after a confused moment that for once, she will miss Hogwarts, no matter how happy she is to be home again. Part of her is already counting down the days until she goes back.

It’s a strange sensation, but she rather likes it, being eager rather than dreadful. It feels a lot like hope, or something stronger, reassurance.

Chapter Text

Ginny wanders off from the tents as soon as possible after lunch- it’s not that she doesn’t like spending time with Dad, the boys, Hermione, and of course, Harry, but- well it’s August, she’s had about enough of family time, and it’s always a bit awkward because while Hermione has spent the past week with her, now that Harry is here the holy trinity has formed again.

Besides, she’s got better things to do than follow Ron around, or worse, listen to Percy’s sanctimonious prattling about his work, or the twins sulking over their fight with Mum. Idiots. They’re going into their sixth year, and the best plan they could come up with was hiding their sweets in their clothes?

Besides, she’s never seen this many wizards and witches in her entire life, and it’s the Quidditch World Cup, and for all she knows, this will be the most exciting thing to happen to her all year. Not that she’d mind that- last year was practically idyllic compared to her first year, and there was still a convict on the run in Hogwarts. (Although she’s managed to pry enough from Hermione to surmise that Sirius Black may not in fact want to kill Harry).

To be honest, she is hoping to catch another glimpse of Cedric; he is terribly handsome, and she was silently thrilled to learn they’d be taking the same portkey as him. Of course, he’s way too old for her- seventeen- but that doesn’t mean she can’t look, right? She walks quickly along the dusty ground, weaving around campsites and the occasional group of children running by, whooping.

“GINNY!” someone yells distantly, and she turns, frowning- she knows Mavis will be here, but this was a boy’s voice, and then grins when she spots Nick Campbell making his way through the crowd towards her. She hasn’t seen him since the end of exams, and he’s already slightly taller, and grown his hair out; it’s practically shaggy now, compared to the buzz cut he was sporting last autumn, when they were at tryouts together.

“Hi Nick,” she says, happy to see a familiar face. “Are all your family here?”

He nods eagerly. “Me, my brothers, and my parents. I had to get away from Alex and Chris- they’ve been hyperactive all morning, and Mum and Dad are still arguing over how to set up the tents,” he snickers.

“Magical or muggle?”

“Muggle,” he rolls his eyes. “I have to share with my brothers. Alex talks in his sleep, and Chris, no offense, still has ‘accidents’ sometimes-,”

Ginny is distracted from Nick’s complaining by a familiar glint of glasses in the afternoon sunshine, and calls out suddenly, “Mavis! Over here!” The glinting glasses turn and Mavis appears, followed by her older sister and a skinny, slightly wan boy who must be her brother, Elliott.

“There you are,” Mavis says reprovingly, like an exasperated parent who’s been searching for an unruly child. “We’ve only just got here- nearly missed our portkey,” she shoots a look at her sister, “because Addy almost forgot her ticket-,”

Adelaide rolls her eyes; she’s a pretty, slim girl, whose affixed a bright green shamrock to the end of her dark braid. “Almost, Mavie.”

“Hi,” Ginny says to Elliott, who is hanging back shyly behind his mother like a boy far younger than eleven. She feels something like recognition of the wary, timid look in his eyes.

“Ginevra, is it?” Mrs. Vance asks; she’s a striking, olive-skinned woman with long, dark lashes, who wears a mossy green headscarf. “I’m Yasmine Vance. Mavis has told me all about you.” Her words are slightly accented, but very precise.

Ginny remembers then that she is a muggle, and is impressed she was able to get herself and her children here with seemingly no difficulty. Then again, if she’s been married to a wizard for years, the magical world can’t be that foreign anymore.

“Hello Mrs. Vance,” Ginny says politely. “Ginny’s fine.” Nick introduces himself as well, with a small smile directed at Elliott.

“Are you both supporting Ireland as well, then?” Mavis asks them, and Nick says dryly, “Seeing how Eamon would murder me in my sleep if I didn’t… He’s around here somewhere, think he went to get water with his sister.”

Nick heads off in search of Eamon, and Ginny splits off with Mavis, wandering through the campgrounds and into the market of vendors that have suddenly sprung up to sell outrageously overpriced merchandise. “I didn’t know your mum was…”

“She’s from Lebanon,” Mavis says abruptly, squinting at a somewhat grubby looking wizard hawking Ireland pennants. “My dad met her in Beirut, on cursebreaking business.”

“Oh,” says Ginny, flushing a little, “I just-,”

Mavis shrugs. “People always ask.” Then she launches into one of her usual topics; “What electives have you picked? I can hardly wait, I’ve got my schedule all color-coded in each of my notebooks.”

“Muggle Studies and Care of Magical Creatures.”

“Only two?” Mavis frowns. “I picked Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, and Divination.”

“You’re going to have… ten OWLs,” Ginny snorted, pausing before a witch selling pastries in the shape of broomsticks. “You’ll be studying like mad, Mavis.”

“Not if I keep on top of things! And if Divination turns out to be completely absurd I can always drop it. But I don’t want to be too rigid.”

“Rigid is not how I’d describe you,” Ginny smirks at Mavis’ neon green glasses and slightly askew bangs. Mavis flattens her bangs against her forehead, and frowns, before groaning slightly. “Don’t look.”

“Don’t tell me it’s Jocasta,” Ginny mutters. She doesn’t think Jocasta Moore is on the same level of wealth as say, Draco Malfoy or Daphne Greengrass, but she certainly acts as though she is. It’d be just like her to be sashaying around the campgrounds, sneering at the common people.

“No, just Katrina. I’ve never actually seen her before without Jocasta.”

Ginny looks up; Katrina Liu is walking with a bearded Asian man who must be her father, and a little boy who’s likely her brother. She looks happy enough, but when she does spot Ginny and Mavis looking at her, and presumably whispering about her, immediately glares in their direction before turning away.

“It is odd, seeing her without Jocasta,” Ginny murmurs, watching the Lius head towards someone selling scarves. “Do you think she’s here?”

‘I doubt it,” Mavis shrugs. “Given her family’s circumstances.”

Ginny frowns. “What are you talking about?”

“You don’t know?” Mavis is delighted as ever to be telling someone something they don’t know. “Her father’s been in Azkaban since You-Know-Who’s defeat. He was a Death Eater, or near to it, at any rate. One of the ones who didn’t deny it. She lives with her brother- he’s of age. I doubt they’ve got the spare galleons to attend.”

Ginny has never wasted much time thinking about Jocasta’s family- she’d just assumed they did as well for themselves as most notable pureblood lines. Old money and all that. But apparently she hasn’t got much of a family at all, or much money.

Does that make all her sneering and posturing a defense mechanism? Ginny, despite her dislike for the girl, does feel a dull stab of pity. It can’t be easy, having your father in prison, and unlikely to ever be released, no matter what he’s done.

“Have you heard from Sinead?” she asks Mavis, to change the subject, and then laughs suddenly at the look Mavis gives her. “Oh.”

“Hm, she hasn’t got an owl, only the tomcat,” Mavis rolls her eyes, vocalizing what they were both thinking. “And even if I did write her- oh, you know her, she’d never put quill to parchment to reply. She’s probably too busy, I don’t know, terrorizing Derry.”

“Probably,” Ginny agrees, and then thinks of the time, noting how the sun has sunk lower above the distant treeline. “We’d better head back, the match’ll be starting soon… where are you sitting?”

“Fourteenth row up,” Mavis wrinkles her nose. “It could be better, but I suppose it could be worse…”

“Top box,” Ginny says guiltily.

Mavis looks aghast at her. “I know your father can’t afford that- no offense,” she tacks on unconvincingly at the end.

“My dad knows Ludo Bagman.”

Unbelievable,” Mavis mutters a bit too loudly, and then waves a hand at Ginny. “Fine- but take pictures for me if you can. Addy will talk through the match, I know she will, she does it in the cinema, and Elliott’s going to ask a million questions- this is his first ever match.”

“Oh, but that’s exciting for him!” Ginny vaguely remembers her first match- a local one, nothing spectacular, but she was six and wide-eyed with wonder, perched on Bill’s shoulders, watching the players take to the sky.

“Yes,” Mavis smiles slightly. “It is, isn’t it? He’s really nervous about this year… I hope he gets Slytherin, then I can keep an eye on him…” She waves goodbye as she heads back to her tent, a row or two over from the Weasleys’, and Ginny reunites with Dad, the boys, Hermione, and Harry, just in time to set off for the stadium.

The match is everything she could have hoped for, Malfoy’s smirking presence just behind her or not. His father gave her a very strange look, as if not sure of what to make of Arthur Weasley’s solitary Slytherin daughter staring him down, whereas his mother seemed intent on pretending none of them existed.

But the players were excellent and Hermione let her borrow her omniculars throughout the game, and the look on Bagman’s face when Fred and George won their bet.. Ginny almost wishes she had put money down herself, but Dad would have never let her, and Mum would be incensed…

The match must have lasted at least two hours, but it seems to have flown by, and she’s not sure how quidditch this year will ever compete with it, now that she’s seen what pro international players are capable of. She’s giddy and chatty on the long walk back to their tent, reveling in the cool evening air and the triumphant feeling, elbowing her way into Harry and Ron’s animated discussion of Krum’s ability in the air- he really is a prodigy.

It’s not until they’re back inside the tent that the events of the day and all the walking and yelling catch up with her, and while she’s determined to stay up just as late as everyone else, she’s quickly nodding off over her cup of cocoa at Hermione’s side. Then Dad finally orders everyone to bed, and Ginny, blinking heavily, follows Hermione into their tent and kicks off her muddy trainers, taking off her jeans and orange and green tee shirt and changing into a nightgown.

And then she’s awake. She’s had a nightmare of some sort, she’s sure of it, although she has not dreamed of Tom, the Chamber, or the basilisk in months now. But unlike most of her dreams, she doesn’t remember this one, and simply finds herself sitting bolt upright in bed with a gasp, hair matted to her neck with sweat. Hermione murmurs in her sleep, and then the door flies open- Ginny gasps.

But it’s just Dad, breathless and pale. Ginny hasn’t seen him this upset since… well, since he and Mum were called to Hogwarts at the end of first year, and she and Harry were brought into Dumbledore’s study. “What is it?” she asks hoarsely, pushing back the too-warm quilt; her nightgown is riding up around her bare legs.

“Get up now,” Dad says, “and get your coat, Ginny- Hermione-,”

Hermione awakens with a startled-sounding yawn. “What’s going on?”

“There’s trouble outside,” Dad ushers them out of the room, and out of the tent, for that matter, and Ginny only realizes then that what she’d assumed was drunken celebrating is actually screams and shouts of panic.

People are running for the woods, tripping over camp stoves and long-extinguished fires, and nearby a baby is crying fitfully. A few people take off into the air on broomsticks, Ministry sanctions be damned. Ginny stares at the crowd of rioters in hoods and masks approaching, and then looks at what is floating up above them.

“What are they doing to that woman?” she asks in a voice that sounds shrill and babyish, as the muggle camp manager’s family screams and struggles- one of the children can’t be any older than five or six, and is clearly unconscious, spinning wildly in the air, head lolling back and forth like a rag doll. Mrs. Roberts is screaming for her husband as she struggles to cover her exposed chest and knickers.

“Don’t look, Ginny,” Percy says quickly, but she doesn’t look away. There’s something surreal about it; she’s never seen human bodies move like that, like toys being bent the wrong way. At any moment, she expects to see the Roberts family plummet to the ground- the fall will surely kill them, they must be at least sixty feet up-

Then Dad, Bill, Charlie, and Percy, are running off to join the Ministry wizards and witches confronting the crowd, and Fred grabs her hand. Ordinarily, Ginny would jerk away from him- she turned thirteen only a few days ago- but now she feels the need to enlace her clammy hand with his and pump her legs hard to keep up with his run.

Once they are running, it’s impossible to slow down, given the constraints of the frightened crowd around them. At least until Fred collides with someone, swearing. “Watch it!” He quiets when he and Ginny both see that it’s a crying boy, not an adult. “Hey, where’s your mum and dad gone?”

The boy’s breath is hitching wildly as if he’s just run a mile, and when Ginny draws closer to him she recognizes him. “Elliott? Where’s Mavis?” He just shakes his head, another sob tearing out of him.

“We can’t stop here,” George says insistently from right behind them. “Come on, let’s go-,”

Ginny grabs Elliott with her free hand, and forcefully pulls him along with them, looking from right to left for any sign of Mavis, Adelaide, or Mrs. Vance in the crowd. They finally reach the tree line as a volley of bangs echo in the distance, and Elliott flinches, shaking. He’s having some sort of panic attack, Ginny recognizes this, and she keeps an arm locked around him to prevent him from bolting.

They stumble along a wooded path until they can no longer see any trace of spell or torch light from the field, and then slow to a walk. “Where’re the others?” Fred demands, and Ginny glances back to see that only George is following them; Harry, Ron, and Hermione are nowhere to be seen.

“We left them behind,” she says urgently, and makes to head back the way they came, but George blocks her path. “We can’t go back there, Gin, it’s dangerous. They’ll catch up to us later. They made it to the woods; they’ll be alright.” He doesn’t look entirely convinced, but Ginny can’t find the words to argue with him. She turns to Elliott, who has calmed slightly; his trembling has mostly stopped, although he’s still tearful.

Suddenly she thinks of Mrs. Vance, who must be one of the very few muggles in attendance, and her stomach tightens. “Do you know where your mum went, Elliott?”

“No,” he finally gasps out. “I- people bumped into us, and I fell… Someone set our tent… on fire,” he rubs furiously at his eyes, and then calls out, desperately, “Mama!”

Ginny looks around at the other people who have come to halt around them in the grove; she spots Eamon Sullivan and his sister, who can’t be any older than fifteen, nearby, backed up against a tree, warily. There are plenty of teens and children without parents; many of the adults must have told their children to run and hide in the forest, like Dad, and have gone to confront the rioters.

She glances down at her feet, which hurt; she crammed her bare feet into her trainers without socks or having laced them up, so she kneels down to fix her laces, as Fred and George continue to glance around, wands out. When she straightens back up, a few people break through the bushes, and she feels a loosening of relief at the sight of Mavis.

“Ell!” Ginny has never seen Mavis run before, nevermind this fast, but now her pajamed friend sprints over, barefoot, to her younger brother, grabbing him by the shoulders, her sister and mother just behind her.

“You’re alright,” Mrs. Vance says soothingly as Elliott practically throws his arms around her, knocking her back a step. “It’s alright, habibi. You’re okay. We’re all fine, see? Your sisters and I were just so scared for you...”

“Did you see anything?” Ginny asks Mavis, who has wrapped her arms around herself for comfort.

“They went right by us,” she says in a voice barely above a whisper, obviously not wanting to further alarm her little brother. “We barely got out of the way- it was like a stampede, everyone was panicking, I was so scared that Mum…,” she glances over at her mother, still soothing Elliott, and then back at Ginny.

Ginny understands. Mrs. Vance would be a prime target for the masked men, and there would be nothing Adelaide or Mavis could do to protect her, in the face of grown wizards. She might be worried for Dad and the older boys, but at least they have wands, and know how to defend themselves.

She puts a hand on Mavis’ shivering arm. “We’re safe now; the Ministry is handling them. My dad’s out there with my brothers.”

“Where’s Ron?” Mavis asks, frowning, just as a noise like a massive firework goes off; there’s a flash of green light that breaks through the trees, and several people instinctively duck, but it’s not any spell aimed at them- high in the night sky, barely visible through the leaves, a starry skull materializes, a serpent slithering through its mouth.

Holy shit,” Fred says under his breath, George quickly pulls Ginny behind him, as if to shield her from the sigil, and Fiona Sullivan lets out an ear-piercing scream, which is quickly echoed by others. Several people apparate away immediately, and Mrs. Vance jumps to her feet, pulling Elliott close and reaching for her daughters with her free hand.

“What is that?” Adelaide stammers, grabbing her mother’s trembling hand.

Ginny knows exactly what it is. Tom drew it for her, once, in his diary. She remembers tracing it with her finger, before the ink faded before her very eyes.

“It’s his mark,” she says shakily, although she’s drowned out by the chaos around them as people flee further into the trees and children wail. “It’s Voldemort.”

Chapter Text

Ginny spends the week after the cup exchanging hurried letters with Mavis about what happened, theorizing, really- Death Eaters haven’t been spotted in fourteen years, nor the Dark Mark, and for all of this to happen just before the school year starts back up again, it just seems- Well, suspicious. Of course, there’s absolutely no proof that You-Know-Who is back, but if he was- well, if he somehow was, it’s not as if the Ministry would be keen on telling anyone.

She doesn’t have any more nightmares, but she doesn’t sleep well, either, and she’s irritable and moody during the train ride back to school on the first. She shares a compartment with Tracey Davis, who was at the Cup with her dad, who took a curse to the chest during the riot and ended up spending a few days in St. Mungo’s.

Ginny can’t find Mavis or Sinead until she’s entering the Great Hall, and spots Sinead standing up at the Slytherin table, waving. Ginny quickens her pace, and is surprised when the Irish girl pulls her into a one-armed hug. She hugs Sinead back as the taller girl pulls away, scowling.

“Told you, didn’t I? Told you somethin’ would go down… Bleedin’ wizards.” Sinead sits back down and Ginny joins her, noting Mavis approaching out of the corner of her eye.

“How’d you find out?” she asks curiously. Sinead was cut off from the magical world all summer, aside from Diagon Alley.

“I’ve got a subscription to the Prophet,” Sinead rolls her eyes. “I’m not ignorant, Gin. Don’t let my da read it, though.”

“Why not?” Mavis asks, sitting down across from them and wiping off her wet glasses with a napkin.

“Because you just had a terrorist attack,” Sinead snorts humorlessly. “You kiddin’ me? He’d ship me off to God-knows-where rather than let me be around any more fightin’. Half the reason he let me go off to Scotland in the first place was the riots. He finds out about this? I’m done. That… the civil war you had? He can’t ever know.”

Ginny doesn’t know much about the war; she was born just before it officially ended. Ron doesn’t remember it either, nor the twins, but Bill, Charlie, and Percy do. They don’t really talk about it, or Mum and Dad. All Mum will say was that it was ‘a terrible time to be raising young children’ and that they didn’t travel much.

“They were all drunk,” Mavis says after a moment, as the hall continues to fill with students. “It wasn’t an… official movement or anything. They just wanted to cause a commotion-,”

“Yeah?” Sinead arches a dark eyebrow. “I saw the pictures of that thing they put up in the sky. The skull. UDA- Ulster Defence Association- used to put up murals all over. Red fists. All the while they went around shootin’ up Catholics. The dark mark, or whatever you call it? Don’t think someone just sent that up for a laugh with their mates.”

The Ministry would have them believe otherwise, but Ginny is inclined to agree with Sinead. She doesn’t think it was just some sick prank intended to rile up the Ministry and scare muggleborns away from wizarding events either. It was real, and whoever fired off that spell wanted people to be terrified and panicked. And she’s had about enough of living in blind fear.

The Slytherin table fills up as usual- Malfoy is smirking and muttering to Pansy and Theodore about something, and Daphne is having a hushed argument with a smaller, dark-haired version of her who must be her sister. Ginny vaguely remembers the girl’s sorting last year- her name is something with an A. Aurora?

Then the first years filter in, all looking considerably sodden, and Ginny’s surprised by how small and young they seem; she’s only two years older than them, but the boys and girls lining up for the Hat appear tiny. One boy in particular is wearing Hagrid’s massive coat; Ginny snickers at the sight.

Like the two years before, the Slytherin tables breaks into varying degrees of polite or raucous applause as the new first years join, the Bloody Baron lingering nearby. The third years could care less, aside from Mavis, who is watching with rapt attention as her brother waits his turn. Elliott looks terrified, but at least his expression isn’t that off from the rest of the first years.

Finally McGonagall reaches the end of the alphabet, and Ginny stops discussing electives with Sinead in order to listen in. After “Quirke, Orla!” comes “Ribworth, Lawrence!”, who goes to Hufflepuff, followed by “Sparks, Alexandra!”, to Gryffindor, and “Stroud, Jarrod!” to Ravenclaw. “Tilley, Luke!” is nearly a hatstall, before being sent off to Slytherin, and then there are only two students left; Elliott and a tall, freckled boy.

“Vance, Elliott!”

Ginny can just make out Adelaide at the Ravenclaw table watching intently as her brother quickly steps up to the Hat. Elliott scrambles up onto the stool, and McGonagall places the Hat on his head, which immediately obscures his face. There’s a few moments of silence, which then stretch on to nearly a minute, before the Hat roars, “HUFFLEPUFF!”

The last boy, “Whitby, Kevin!” follows Elliott there.

Sinead turns to Mavis, who looks shocked.

“C’mon,” says Sinead. “It’s Hufflepuff, not the eighth circle of Hell.”

“I know that,” Mavis retorts peevishly. “But- we’re not really a Hufflepuff family, Vances. Nearly everyone’s been in either Slytherin or Ravenclaw.”

Adelaide seems to have the good sense to clap for her brother all the same, as he takes a seat at the table of yellow and black.

“It might be good for him,” Ginny shrugs. “Hufflepuffs are really friendly- maybe it’ll help him makes friends.”

Ginny’s mood improves substantially once the Sorting had ended and the food appears, and she’s starting to look forward to the classes resuming tomorrow, if only because it will take her mind off of fears of the Dark Lord, and her nightmares and anxiety, returning with a vengeance, when Dumbledore announces that there will be no quidditch this year.

She drops her fork, which still has a few pieces of treacle clinging to it. She almost searches the table for Flint, before recalling, a bit guiltily, that he’s finally graduated, and that Adrian Pucey is captain now. Adrian’s serious about quidditch, but altogether a good deal more mellow than Flint- still, he looks infuriated, and Malfoy’s mouth is moving without any words coming out.

Thunder echoes overhead, the hall doors burst open, and Ginny turns so fast she almost gets whiplash to see the grey-haired, menacing man stalking up to the professor’s table, cane and all.

“It’s Mad-Eye Moody,” Marcel Leto whispers self-importantly; his mother is an auror and he never shuts up about it.

Nick Campbell frowns from a few seats down. “Mad-Eye? Why’s he called- oh.” A flash of lightning illuminates the bright blue false eye whirring about in the man’s weathered face.

Dumbledore promptly introduces the man as their new Defence professor.

“Good,” Sinead mutters, “he seems like he’s had to defend himself… often.”

“I heard he took down a dozen Death Eaters personally, during the war,” Katrina Liu is saying to several horrified looking first years. “He’s deadly.”

Ginny hopes so, if what happened at the Cup was a sign of what’s to come. She’ll miss Lupin’s calming presence and good-natured ways, but at least they’re not stuck with another Lockhart.

After a few moments of awkward silence, Dumbledore continues with the announcement he was going to make before, and Ginny’s frantic thoughts return to quidditch. They can’t just cancel it, she was hoping to make first string this year-

“The Triwizard Tournament?” Mavis echoes the headmaster far too loudly, and Pany sneers something under her breath. Ginny frowns, listening to the explanation, along with the news that students from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons would be arriving in a month. Where were they going to stay? Here in the castle?

“A thousand Galleons?” Eamon Sullivan murmurs. “Blimey. I’m putting my name in, then-,”

And then comes the announcement of the age requirement, and half the hall descends into angry muttering. The Gryffindors and Slytherins in particular, glory and ambition respectively, seem especially affronted.

“This is ridiculous,” Graham Montague snaps; he’s only a fifth year. “What’s the point of a tournament if only the seventh years are allowed to compete?”

“Presumably,” Blaise Zabini drawls, “to avoid a lawsuit.”

“Some of the sixth years will be old enough,” Theo Nott points out dryly.

Further down the table, Ginny can make out Cassius Warrington telling his girlfriend that he’ll be going in for it- Cassius is pretentious and conceited, and Ginny is relieved to see that Rosalind Butler, who is one of the current seventh year prefects, seems like she might be considering it, whispering back and forth with a few friends. The last thing they need is Cassius representing the entire school, should he win.

With the feast having wound down and the students still buzzing excitedly, Ginny sets off for the dungeons, idling at the entrance with Sinead and Mavis to let the first years pass. The Hufflepuffs are headed in the same direction, and Mavis keeps pace with Elliott for a few moments, murmuring to him, before letting him go off with the rest.

“What was that about?” Ginny asks, frowning. If her family can get over their youngest being a Slytherin, surely Elliott being a Hufflepuff can’t be that hard to swallow.

“I was telling him not to owl Dad about it. Addy and I will have to break it to him,” Mavis frowns as they troop down the cramped dungeon staircase. “He didn’t even want Ell going here in the first place, thought it was too risky…”

Ginny and Sinead exchange glances.

“He’ll come around,” says Sinead, although she sounds a bit doubtful. Mr. Vance doesn’t sound exactly close with his youngest, which between his busy job and the circumstances- it doesn’t sound like Mavis’ parents live together full-time, if at all- perhaps isn’t that surprising. Mavis did say that they blame one another for what happened.

But her friends’ family drama isn’t quite her business, and now in the predictably cold Slytherin Common room- the password for the year is ‘Hypogeal’, which Mavis says means ‘subterranean’. Jocasta and Katrina are already in their room, and Jocasta is clearly upset about something, from the way she’s slamming through her wardrobe, rattling drawers and flinging clothes onto the bed.

“What’s got you cheesed off?” Sinead asks wryly, as she takes off her robes.

“Your mudblood face!” Jocasta snaps without turning around, immaturely. Katrina rolls her eyes, arms crossed against her chest. “Stop bothering her.”

Maybe it’s the term ‘mudblood’ being used barely a week after Death Eaters tortured muggles in the air, but Ginny is riled. “Suppose daddy dearest was put out that he couldn’t make the big reunion at the Cup,” she says sharply, glaring at the back of Jocasta’s perfect blonde ponytail.

Said ponytail twitches as Jocasta stiffens, and then she whirls around, wand out.

“Hey!” Mavis yelps in outrage, jumping up onto the bed, as Ginny pulls her own wand. Katrina pales and backs away.

“Put it away before this mudblood runs and gets a prefect,” Sinead threatens, a hand on the door.

“Don’t you EVER speak about my father,” Jocasta is furious, cheeks flushed with color and shoulders shaking, “you stupid little slag. You don’t know what you’re talking about-,”

Ginny knows she should back off, there’s no sense in losing her cool this early in the year, but she can’t. “I know you’re a chip off the old block,” she snaps. “Walking around like some little pureblood princess, sneering and scoffing at the rest of us unworthy-,”

Jocasta’s lips move with some hex, but her wand flies out of her hand and into Mavis’. Ginny lowers her own wand.

“Give it back!” Jocasta demands, and Ginny is surprised to see that her eyes look wet, as if she might cry.

“Then act like you’re deserving of it,” Mavis says flatly, but tosses it clumsily to her when Jocasta doesn’t charge her. “Honestly, both of you! The first night back! Merlin’s beard, just don’t look at each other, then!”

Ginny exhales through her nostrils in annoyance, and stalks over to her trunk.

Chapter Text

Ginny finds the arrival of the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students a welcome distraction from the prospect of an entire year without Quidditch. At the very least, there are some interesting new faces around the castle, and the Durmstrang boys and girls are given the run of the dungeons. Of course, all twelve of them are the Hogwarts equivalent of seventh years, and can’t be bothered with third years.

That is, until Harry’s name is pulled out of the Hat, and the Durmstrang students seated at the Slytherin table erupt into darkly muttered outrage as soon as he is ushered away with the other champions. They speak a mixture of languages, but one tall Scandinavian girl is having a particularly loud argument with the boy across from her, until she snaps, “JESPER, hold kjeft!” and his mouth opens and closes, scowling.

The blonde girl, who has golden blonde hair cut short and spiky, and deep-set dark blue eyes, slams her hands down on the table, and the rest of the bickering students fall silent. “I do not think,” she growls, in accented English, “that the... ,” she struggles to phrase it correctly, “gutten som levde- the Potter gutt- why would he put in hans navn? Is he trying to kill himself? Tull! “

“Trebuie să aleagă un altul campion,” a dark-haired girl counters fiercely, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “unul dintre noi-”

“Nu fi prost, Ileana,” the blonde girl sneers, switching to the other girl’s language of choice. “Don’t be stupid. They are done here.”

Ileana purses her lips but says nothing, taking a sip of her butterbeer and wrinkling her nose at the taste.

The other Durmstrang students shoot her wary looks, and a few turn away, murmuring, and glancing worriedly in the direction of the side chamber where Krum, Delacour, and Harry have gone. Ginny is worried too, but unless there are Death Eaters in their midst, she doesn’t see how Voldemort could have a hand in this. Could it just be some freak mistake? It’s not as if any of them know how the goblet works.

The blonde girl is looking at her, tapping her fork against her plate in consternation. Her looks are intimidated, but there’s something honest and straightforward in the way she carries herself. Proud, without being superior. “Is Potter a friend? Of you?” She frowns, and then extends a long-fingered hand. “Eva Lövborg. I… am sorry for mine idiot klassekamerater. They think Dumbledore is… plotting.”

“He’s best friends with my brother, Ron.” Ginny shakes her hand. “Ginny Weasley. This is Sinead and Mavis, we’re third years.”

Sinead nods at Eva distractedly, still looking perplexed by the course of events the evening has taken, and Mavis is still staring at the goblet, along with over half the student body and most of the professors. No one was really surprised when Cedric was chosen- everyone likes him, and he’s a brilliant Quidditch player and a good student, despite what people might snicker about Hufflepuffs not being the brightest.

“I was disappointed to not be chosen,” Eva shrugs. “But at least we will still get to see what happens, ja? Besides… I like your little castle.”

Ginny spends the next month keeping an ear out for whispers about the first challenge, and devotes plenty of time when she’s not in class to listening in on the gossip about the Durmstrang students; cleft-chinned Felix Oldenburg has already slept with half the seventh year Slytherin girls, if the rumors are to be believed, and Cassius Warrington may or may not be cheating on his girlfriend with the prettiest of the Durmstrang girls, a pale Russian named Larisa Nabokova.

On the other hand, most of the boys, regardless of house, are completely bewitched by Fleur Delacour. Ginny doesn’t see the attraction, given Fleur’s perpetual eye rolls and scoffs at the inferiority of Hogwarts compared to Beauxbatons, but part of her almost hopes Fleur wins the first challenge, if only because she’s the only girl in the running, and a diminutive, delicate looking one at that.

Moody is an… interesting professor, to say the least. He doesn’t cover the Unforgivables with the third years like he does the fourth years, but they find themselves swamped with homework concerning the applications of various curses and hexes, and how to defend against them. It’s useful, so Ginny doesn’t mind terribly, although her hands are beginning to be permanently stiff from essay-writing.

The first challenge rapidly approaches, and the amount of POTTER STINKS badges lying around the common room increase as well.

“Look,” says Sinead, as Ginny irritably kicks one aside, “you gotta realize most people think he used some trick to get his name in-,”

“Harry’s not like that.” Ginny ignores the spots of red in her cheeks. She’s just gotten to the point where she can see Harry as her brother’s best friend, and nothing more, but that doesn’t mean she’s not going to defend him. Harry’s not glory hungry, and he hates being the center of attention. Anyone who knows him can tell that much. Of course she feels badly for Cedric, but Malfoy’s badges are a joke.

“Not terribly eloquent, is he?” Mavis remarks, examining one left behind on the black marble mantle of the fireplace. “Potter Stinks… you’d think he’d have better insults, after four years. Potter the Prat? Potter the Pill? Potter-,”

“Mavis,” Ginny groans, just as Eva and her Romanian friend, Ileana, walk by. Ileana plucks up a badge, and, smirking, pins it to her blood red robes. Ginny glares after her, and Eva glances back and offers an apologetic shrug.

Ginny had her suspicions about the first challenge, but none of them included dragons. Sure, the tournament’s supposed to be incredibly difficult, but dragons are among the most dangerous magical creatures- shouldn’t they have saved them for last?

Either way, she and the twins find Charlie in the crowd, and it’s almost worth the stress of seeing Harry go up against a Hungarian Horntail. Summoning his broom is very clever, though, and once he’s in the air she’s not that worried- she’s seen him risk life and limb at loads of matches, after all.

To be honest, the Yule Ball attracts almost more attention than the First Task, at least among the female population of Hogwarts. Ginny is as indignant as everyone else when it’s revealed that the dance will only be open to fourth years and above.

“Right,” Sinead snorts, “I’ll be headin’ home for Christmas, then, not goin’ to hang around here, watch Jocasta’s nervous breakdown-,”

She has a point; most of the third, second, and first year girls are desperate to get dates, but Jocasta Moore is approaching it with the mentality of a hitman. She even asks Draco Malfoy first, and he seems so stunned by her boldness that he simply stares at her, unable to come up with anything snide. Of course, when Pansy Parkinson gets wind of this, all hell breaks loose.

Ginny is very nearly sympathetic when Jocasta winds up with a hex to the face a few days later, but that’s quickly extinguished when she goes on a rant after the only remaining Slytherin fourth year- Blaise- asks Katrina.

One constant of life in the Slytherin girls dorm has always been Jocasta Moore and Katrina Liu’s friendship, and while they’re arguably even worse together than they are individually, it’s still a bit unnerving to see them at each other’s throats. Apparently Katrina’s devotion to Jocasta only goes so far- and turning down a date to a fancy dress ball was the limit.

Jocasta is apoplectic, Katrina refuses to say a word about it, and their dorm room is in a constant state of disarray, until Sinead puts her foot down and tells Katrina that if she ruins another pillow, she’s going to Rosalind Butler about it.

“There’s always Crabbe or Goyle,” Ginny adds gaily, at precisely the wrong time, and is too busy dodging Jocasta’s jinx to laugh at Sinead’s exasperated expression.

Ginny is disappointed to not have a date, but her pride doesn’t let her ask Harry, and even when she has a moment of weakness and considers it, Ron’s going on about how he and Harry are going with the Patil twins. At the very least, they’ll be able to see everyone’s dress robes and watch the older girls get ready, even if they’re not allowed into the event. Sinead leaves on the train home a week before, one of no more than a dozen or so students to do so, but she doesn’t seem particularly bothered.

“Can’t leave Da and Nora alone for Christmas,” she says to Ginny and Mavis as they see her off at the snowy station, hitching her bag up over her shoulder, “it’s just- well, it’s hard for him, to do the decoratin’ and cookin’ by himself. An’ my grandparents will want to drag us to Mass- they already think I’m a bit of a heathen, you know?”

In three years, Sinead has never mentioned a mother, and Ginny and Mavis have never asked- she’s notoriously private and prickly when it comes to her family and home life. As the train pulls out of the station, Ginny glances at Mavis, who always seems to know everything about everyone. Mavis just shakes her head. “I don’t think her mother’s ever been around.”

“Is she dead?” Ginny frowns, a bit disturbed at the idea of not knowing something like that about one of her closest friends.

“No,” says Mavis, frankly. “She’s just… not with them. If she was dead, Sinead would have said so. You know her.”

“Yeah,” says Ginny, frowning. “Yeah, I guess so.” She thinks of Harry, who always seems so taken aback when Mum embraces him like one of her own children, and then thinks of Sinead, seeing Ginny’s happy family clustered around at the beginning and end of every school year. Even Mavis is close with her mother, if not her father.

Slytherin House has nothing if not a reputation for high standards, particularly when it comes to fashion, and the Yule Ball line-up does not disappoint.

Pansy looks remarkably coquettish in pale pink, which contrasts sharply with her dark bob, and Daphne Greengrass has curled her blonde hair into ringlets to compliment her emerald green robes. Even Millicent Bulstrode looks less… imposing than usual in maroon and mascara, and Tracey Davis wears a glittering ribbon among her tight braids, which matches the silvery white shade of her outfit. Katrina fidgets in lavender, constantly adjusting the new necklace around her throat, which must have been a present from her parents.

Watching balefully from the top of the dungeon stairwell, Ginny even catches sight of Eva and Ileana walking into the Great Hall with their respective dates- Eva is with a sixth year Gryffindor named Kirk Barlow, and Ileana is accompanied by a tall Beauxbatons boy. When the last of the older students have filtered into the Great Hall, the enormous doors shut firmly behind them, blocking out the faint sounds of conversation and music.

Ginny sighs, pulling at her heavy sweater and turning to Mavis, but she’s already heading back downstairs. “Where are you going?”

“To get some sleep,” Mavis calls up tartly. “D’you have any idea how much noise they’ll be making when they finally come back at midnight?”

Ginny debates following her, but it seems stupid to be expected to go dutifully off to bed when over half the school is dancing the night away and drinking smuggled in firewhiskey. Besides, nearly all the professors must be inside, enjoying the festivities… And she hasn’t exactly had the time to do much sneaking around this year, even without Quidditch practice.

Looking around quickly, she darts silently across the antechamber and out into the cold of the gardens, her trainers crunching in the snow. She’s barely taken a few steps outside, staring in wonder at the luminous fairies darting this way and that, when she hears a whispered, “Wait up!”

Wondering if Mavis has changed her mind, she turns to find not Mavis but an unfamiliar second year hurrying after her, pulling her coat on. Ginny frowns, trying to place a name to the face- the girl is petite and slender, with wide, blue-grey eyes and a heart-shaped face framed by neatly parted, glossy dark brown hair, and then she realizes- “You’re Daphne’s sister, aren’t you?” They look very similar, aside from the difference in hair color and height.

“Yes,” breathes the Greengrass girl, breath misting in the cold. “Astoria. I was just… well, I’m not tired at all, and I did Daphne’s hair, and I- I think we should be at least allowed to see the gardens,” she declares, with the air of someone who’s only displayed this amount of defiance a few times in her short life.

“Sounds fair to me,” Ginny shrugs, and then grins at the button glinting on Astoria’s fine black coat. “You joined SPEW? Daphne must have loved that.”

“We have house elves at home,” Astoria flushes, following after her quickly as they wander through the hedgerows, “but Mother and Father- well, I never realized how poorly they treat them, and I just feel… I feel awful, you know? It’s not fair, Hermione’s right. They should at least have the option of pay- most of them don’t want it, but some do! I’ve been down to the kitchens and met Dobby, you know, he used to serve the Malfoys…” she scowls. “Draco’s father is an absolute beast.”

Ginny has never met a ‘high-society pureblood Slytherin girl’ quite so passionate about, well, nearly everything, as Astoria Greengrass. “Don’t let Malfoy hear you mention his dad… he’s a bit touchy when it comes to his family, I’ve heard.”

Astoria sniffs, lifting her pale chin. “Oh, let him. I’m not intimidated of that- that ferret.”

It seems like they haven’t spent much time outside at all- there must be some sort of charm on the gardens, because it’s nowhere near as frigid as it ought to be in the Scottish highlands in December- when they hear footsteps approaching. Ginny ducks into the bushes, pulling Astoria with her, and they crouch down just in time to see Ileana and her date come to a halt.

“Let’s go back inside,” Ileana says, sounding peeved. “Joachim, come on… e frig…”

Ginny is not sure if it’s the icy ground or Ileana’s heels, but she seems slightly unsteady on her feet, holding on tightly to her date’s arm. Joachim glances around, but he seems distracted. “Don’t be like that. It’s not that cold- -” he pulls her closer and kisses her roughly, running his hands through her thick, dark hair.

Ileana makes a noise of annoyance and pushes him away, almost stumbling. “Încetează! Stop it! I want to go back in and dance. You’re…,” she throws up her hands, and huffs. “Nu ma atinge.” Shaking her head in irritation, she turns to go.

Je ne parle pas Gitan,” Joachim sneers after her, expression darkening, and grabs her wrist as she walks away.

Ginny stiffens, and glances at Astoria, whose eyes are wide in alarm, as Ileana whirls on him.

Lasa-ma sa plec! Nemernicule!” She swats at his arm, hard- she must not have her wand on her- but Joachim pulls her close anyways, kissing her again, and groping at her arse, ignoring her muffled curses.

Ginny stands up in the bushes- she may not be a match for a seventeen year old wizard, but she does have a wand on her- and Astoria stands up with her, pulling her own wand out.

“Let go of her!”

Joachim stops, looking over at them in confusion, which gives Ileana the chance to stomp down hard on his foot, before kicking him in the shins. He grunts in pain and turns on her, furious, “You... stupid bitch!”, raising his hand-

An arc of violet light hits him square in the palm and he yelps as if burned, clutching his hand to his chest with a whine.

Eva Lövborg strides out of the darkness, a rebellious slit up the side of her jet black dress-robes, wand aloft. “I will say in English, because my French is shit,” she snaps, “Get away from her before I plant you in the ground, LaCombe.”

Joachim stares at her wildly for a few moments, before another well-aimed curse hits the ground near his feet, causing the snow to hiss with steam as it melts. At that, he takes off down the frozen gravel path. Eva glowers after him, before stowing her wand away and marching over to Ileana, who is breathing heavily and looks torn between bellowing and crying.

Eva switches effortlessly into Romanian to comfort her friend, wrapping a protective arm around her shoulders, but after a few moments looks to Ginny and Astoria. “Good on you for standing in her defense, even if you are…,” she bobs her head with a slightly wry smile, “kids.”

“That was incredible,” Astoria says breathlessly, at the same time as Ginny blurts out, “Can you show us what those curses were?”

Ileana makes a burble of laughter, and Eva grins. “Of course.”

Chapter Text

Ginny finds the aftermath of the Yule Ball more entertaining than the ball itself; Katrina and Jocasta reconcile after New Year’s, reunited in hatred of Blaise, who was apparently an awful date, and Ginny enjoys giving Ron trouble over his supposed screaming match with Hermione. The fact that he might actually like Hermione hasn’t yet occurred to him, and Ginny’s not about to spell it out for him, either.

Ron needs to learn to come to his own conclusions, although she does feel badly for Hermione- even more-so in the aftermath of the watery second task, when Skeeter publishes that nonsensical article. “The real joke,” Sinead points out at one point, in between bites of toast, “is describin’ Pansy as ‘pretty and vivacious’.”

Mavis chokes on her tea, and Ginny smirks down at her plate.

“What was that, Rafferty?” Pansy snaps from a few seats down the table.

“Nothin’, your majesty,” Sinead rolls her eyes, licking crumbs off her fingers.

With the knowledge that the third task won’t be until the very end of the year, everyone seems to calm down a bit, and by now the foreign students no longer cause much of a stir. Fortunately, that makes it a good bit easier to meet up with Eva and Ileana, who have agreed to teach Ginny and her friends… well, to be fair, it is technically dark magic, but it’s the useful sort, not the ‘raise the dead, torture the living’ sort.

At first it’s just Ginny, Sinead, Mavis, and Astoria, but then Sinead invites Nick and Eamon, and Mavis mentions it to Tracey, so it ends up being a bit of a crowd. Eva makes them change locations from a secluded courtyard to an abandoned storeroom in the dungeons after that, and Ileana casts her patronus, a type of goat called a chamois, to watch the door. Technically they’re not breaking any rules, but the professors probably wouldn’t agree with seventh years teaching second, third, and fourth years curses and hexes.

“Skeldbrann” is the hex Eva used on Joachim, which mimics the action of scalding water being splashed on someone. “Ved Thor’s makt” is a more powerful curse that simulates an electric shock, capable of stunning the target. Ileana shows them “Furtună cu grindină”, which rains down icy hail to drive opponents away, and “Striga” makes a banshee-like screech which monetarily deafens the target.

They’re by no means easy spells to pick up, and it’s a good two months before Ginny can even cast the scalding hex without any trouble. Eva is passionate about her tutoring, however, and plans to join what is, as far as Ginny can tell, the Norwegian version of the auror force, the Valkyrien.

“Karkaroff is nervous,” she says, running a hand through her short blonde hair, “and when rektor is nervous, you know... trøbbel is not so far away.”

“Did he really used to be a Death Eater?” Mavis asks, and shrugs at the look Tracey shoots her. “What? That’s what everyone’s saying.”

Ileana snorts, swinging her legs from the old desk she is perched on top of. “El este un laș… you know… coward. Happy to serve your Dark Lord when things were good… but now? Acum el va fugi. He does not want another war.”

“But You-Know-Who’s dead,” Nick says immediately, frowning. “I mean- people are just getting nervous because Black broke out last year, and somehow Harry’s name ended up in the goblet. That doesn’t prove anything.”

“We will know soon, på en eller annen måte,” Eva shrugs. “If He is back… he will not hide away for long. Men like that- they want to make an impression on the people. Like Grindelwald. Min bestemor… my grandmother remembers him, klare som dagen, in Oslo, with his men. She was just a little girl.”

“But we’re safe at Hogwarts,” Astoria speaks up hopefully, biting her lower lip. “The Dark Lord’s frightened of Dumbledore, everyone knows that.”

“Yeah,” says Sinead darkly. “We’re safe here. And then in two months, we all go home. Potentially with some power-hungry lunatic and his cult followers out there, plottin’. Just gets better and better every year, huh?”

Ginny has not had a nightmare in some time, and intends to keep it that way, so she puts all thoughts of Voldemort’s return out of her head. There’s no point in working herself up over possibilities and rumors. Besides, the school year is nearly finished, and nothing terrible has happened yet. Of course, that’s what she said last year, too, and then Harry, Ron, and Hermione all ended up in the hospital wing, yet again.

The quidditch pitch is transformed into a foreboding maze, and Ginny watches from the top of the hill with Nick in dismay. “They’d better change it back over the summer,” he mutters. “Merlin… what d’you think they’ve got lurking in there?”

“Hopefully not a basilisk,” Ginny says snidely, and he looks at her in shock before they both snicker.

At the very least, she has quidditch next year to look forward to, no matter what happens. The families of champions flock to the school to see the final task, and Ginny finds herself running across the Great Hall to greet Bill and Mum, who she hasn’t seen since Christmas. She teases Bill about Fleur’s apparent interest in him, and Mum about believing any of what Skeeter wrote about Hermione.

As they make their way out to the stands, Ginny waves at Harry, mouthing nervously ‘good luck’, and ignores the swirl in her stomach when he hesitantly smiles back, nodding. She hopes he wins, of course, but either way, she’s more concerned about him getting eaten or maimed by whatever’s waiting in the maze than who gets the win. It seems likely it will be a Hogwarts student.

She spots Eva with a few other tall, blonde, Viking-esque people, who must be her family members; the older girl spots her and jogs over, followed by a boy who looks nearly identical to her, although he wears his fair hair long, like Bill, and a curious looking man and woman, who keep glancing back at the castle looming in the distance.

“They came to see the last task, even if I am not competing,” Eva explains. “Mamma, Pappa, this is Ginny. Den lille jenta jeg fortalte deg om. And min bror, Isak.”

Isak smirks; he looks about Ron’s age, or a little older, and has a cocky air to him, hands shoved in his jean pockets. Ginny introduces Sinead and Mavis as well, as they climb their seats in the stands, settling down near the top.

“I hope it’s not as boring as the lake task,” Mavis mentions as she sits down. “I don’t fancy just sitting here for hours on end, waiting for something to happen.” She narrows her eyes and then calls, “Elliott!” Her little brother is several rows before them, sitting with some friends from Hufflepuff. Ginny hasn’t seen much of him all year, but he seems to be doing alright.

Elliott glances up at them, and rolls his eyes, turning away to laugh with his new mates about something.

“Unbelievable,” huffs Mavis, as Sinead grins.

“Little birdy’s spread his wings, Mave. Gotta let him fly.”

“And Addy’s gone and made a poster for Cedric- she’s impossible,” Mavis mutters, jerking her head in the direction of her elder sister, who is sitting nearby with a gaggle of besotted friends. “He’s dating Cho!”

“People break up all the time,” Ginny says, although her instinct is to hope they stay together, because everyone knows Harry likes Cho, but he doesn’t stand a chance with her if she’s with noble Cedric. She shouldn’t be thinking that, of course- Harry’s friend should want him to be happy, but she can’t help it. Jealousy, however mild, is a vicious little beast.

Once the champions enter, there is not much to do but sit and wait, and listen to the commentary of the judges on what may or may not be happening in the maze. Ginny talks with Sinead and Mavis and Eva and her brother, while Ron and Hermione mutter back and forth about whether Harry will beat Cedric to the goblet, and Ileana comes over at some point, looking pale.

“What’s wrong?” Eva asks, startled.

“Nothing,” says Ileana, although she does not look convinced. “I… it is nothing. I got a letter from Mamă this morning- she is coming tonight, to get me.”

“What?” Eva sputters. “You’ll miss konfirmasjonen! We’re graduating tomorrow!”

“She says they can send my diploma by owl,” Ileana still seems unnerved, tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear, and glancing down at the quiet maze. “I- I don’t know. I think she’s…”

“Ileana,” Eva says in a hushed voice. “Is it another vision?”

“Your mother’s a seer?” Mavis asks in surprise.

“Un văzător, we call them,” Ileana nods jerkily. “She wants me home in Constanța with her.”

Ginny feels the same squeamish feeling she felt at the end of last year, like something was happening, just of of her line of sight. She looks around the packed stands. There are far less people here than there were at the Cup, but still… They are not within the protection of Hogwarts’ walls, and the sky is growing darker by the second, torches flaring to life.

There’s a faint scream from the maze, and Ginny can feel Sinead stiffen behind her.

“That sounded like Fleur,” Hermione says worriedly, and a few minutes later, the French girl is brought out of the maze by Professor McGonagall, who calls out, “She’s just stunned, she’ll be alright!” Still, McGonagall looks worried as she levitates Fleur over to Madame Pomfrey, who sets about reviving her.

Not long after, a shower of sparks go up, and Krum, also unconscious, is brought out of the maze.

“They were both stunned?” Sinead mutters.

And then nothing. No sound or sight of Harry or Cedric, and the minutes tick by. The night air grows cooler, and Ginny checks Mavis’ watch. It’s just past nine. At 9:13 PM, all hell breaks loose. There’s an undeniable crack, Harry appears outside the maze on his hands and knees, with a limp form beside him, and the professors and Ministry officials descend in a flurry of robes.

Ginny stands up. “Why isn’t he moving?” Ron and Hermione are already trying to push their way into the aisle. Then Fleur screams again, and shouts begin to go up.

“Cedric’s dead!” someone yells, and the stands fall into momentarily stunned silence, before the screech of Mrs. Diggory rings out across the pitch.

“CEDRIC!” Ginny can just make out Mr. Diggory running over to the crowd, face drawn, wand raised.

Much like at the Cup, several people immediately try to apparate out, but can’t, given the ban on apparition within school grounds. Instead the crowd surges down from the stands, not wanting to be sitting ducks. Ginny makes to follow them- her family and Hermione have already reached the ground, but Sinead yanks her back into her seat.

“You want to get stampeded?” she demands tensely. “Just stay here. We’ll be okay- Dumbledore’s out here.”

Eva and her family look horrified, and fat tears are welling in Ileana’s dark eyes. “She saw death,” she says hoarsely, “on this night- but she did not know who’s.”

Mr. and Mrs. Lövborg both have their wands out, and after the stands have cleared out some, carefully escort them down to the ground. Harry and Cedric have both been whisked away, and while Ginny starts to make a run for the hospital wing, Professor McGonagall orders all students back to their common rooms, and she’s forced to join the crowd of Slytherins.

“This is how it starts,” Draco is saying to Crabbe and Goyle, as they file through the castle gates. He sounds jittery, as if he’s either very excited or about to wet himself. “It’s already begun, Father said-,”

Ginny, a few feet behind him, surges forward and shoves him hard, into Blaise Zabini’s back.

“What the hell, Weasley?” Draco snaps, grabbing hold of Goyle’s robes to right himself. “Are you in hysterics? Didn’t know you had a thing for Diggory too-,” He looks decidedly less smug than usual, grey eyes flitting around warily.

“You shut your damn mouth,” Ginny spits, “I mean it, Malfoy. Cedric’s DEAD. I don’t care who your father is-,”

“My father chose the right side,” he retorts. “Unlike yours- they’ll be coming for your folk first, Weasley, don’t think you’ve wormed your way into the Dark Lord’s good graces just because you opened the chamber-,”

“SILENCIO!” His mouth moves without any words coming from it.

Tracey Davis stows away her wand again, and keeps walking without looking back.

In the common room, the Slytherins sit on the sofas and armchairs, and huddle on the cold floor and on the stairs leading to the dorms. Snape is nowhere to be found, so Rosalind Butler steps up in front of the mantle to address them. “Let’s not mince words,” she says coldly. “You-Know-Who has returned. We’re all well aware of that. Our house doesn’t have the luxury of feigning ignorance.”

Mutters break out, but most people seem unsurprised. Ginny wonders exactly how many of them already knew this, warned by family members that this was coming, that it was starting tonight.

“The Ministry,” Rosalind continues, “will say otherwise, of course. They’ll make Potter out to be a deluded, traumatized child, a pawn of Dumbledore’s. It is not in their best interests to inform the public that He’s back, and they were not able to stop his return.”

“But we don’t have to worry,” someone calls out. It sounds suspiciously like Montague. “We’ll be rewarded-,”

“Rewarded for what?” Rosalind says sharply, cutting him off. “For a Sorting? For pure lineage? What do you suppose is going to happen? You’ll have a breezy time in Hogwarts because your uncles or fathers or grandfathers fought in the last war? On the losing side?”

There’s a few angry hisses.

“War is coming. In fact, it’s here. Diggory was just one of the first casualties. And he was as pure as any of us, Hufflepuff or not. You’re all coddled children. You have no concept of what it will be like, with the Dark Lord in power again.” Ginny has never seen calm Rosalind this angry; there are spots of color on her face.

“I was four when Potter defeated him. I remember. Most of you don’t. You don’t want to. He will come for Hogwarts, and not just the Hufflepuffs or the Gryffindors or the Ravenclaws. He will come for all of you as well, and when he finds you wanting, he will kill you, and your families, and everyone you love.”

The common room falls utterly silent. Rosalind glances around at all of them, and shakes her head. “Prepare yourselves, no matter what side you are on. This isn’t a game of house rivalry anymore. We are Slytherins. We are marked by our devotion to one another. In this house, we stand together. We protect our own, and we punish those who would seek to divide us. And you will be divided. So keep that in mind.”

Ginny glances over the faces of her year-mates. Mavis is still and silent, her glasses pitch black. Sinead is staring at the marble floor, expressionless. Jocasta looks close to tears, and Katrina is whispering to her comfortingly. Leander Ayers and Cyril Harper have moved off to a corner, faces pinched in sullen anger. Nicholas and Eamon are arguing in hushes tones with Marcel Leto. One by one, everyone goes off to bed, until it is just Ginny, Sinead, and Mavis, sitting in front of the fire.

“I don’t want to go to sleep,” Ginny says after a moment. “I’ll dream about him. I know I will.”

“Tom’s still gone,” Mavis grabs her hand. “He’s been dead for ages, Ginny.”

“Not to me. Not anymore.”

They sleep on the sofas that night.

Chapter Text

Ginny has barely risen from her seat following Dumbledore’s dismissal when she’s grabbed by the arm. She jerks away to face Sinead, who’s grown even taller, if that’s possible, over the summer, and whose chopped her dark hair to her shoulders.

“And where the hell have you been?” she demands roughly. Mavis is at her elbow, looking similarly displeased; she too has grown a bit over the summer, losing baby fat in her face and growing out her hair for the first time in ages. Her glasses have turned an accusatory scarlet.

Ginny stares at them for a moment; they’re right, she did drop off the face of the earth this summer, but it’s not like she had much of a choice in it. Given a choice, she wouldn’t have chosen to spend two months cooped up in Grimmauld Place with an escaped convict, a hippogryff, Severus Snape, and the Order of the Phoenix. And on top of all that, a furious Harry and a distraught Mum, since Percy’s sided with the Ministry.

She was forbidden from writing anyone, and if Sinead or Mavis owled her, it would have gone to the Burrow instead… “I’ll explain, alright?” Ginny mutters, mindful of the throng of fellow Slytherins pushing past them to get out of the Great Hall. “Once we have some privacy…”

They break apart from the crowd and make for the dungeon stairs. Ginny spots Nick and Eamon a short distance away, and returns Nick’s wave, ignoring Sinead’s eye roll. “What?”

“Nothing,” Sinead sings under her breath, as they descend into the gloom of the dungeons. Then, instead of turning left for the Slytherin common room, they wind right instead, escaping the watchful eye of the prefects. Speaking of prefects, Ginny still has no idea why Dumbledore picked Ron- does he hope to teach him a lesson about actually taking responsibility for himself?

Ginny pauses once they’re a sufficient distance away from any nosy students, and leans against the cold wall, a torch flickering nearby. Her friends are surrounded in shadows, which make them look even older- but maybe she’s just imagining it. Everyone seems to have had to start to grow up in a hurry, what with, well… what happened in June.

“I wasn’t home this summer,” she says flatly. “We had to go somewhere else- and I can’t tell you where, Dumbledore’ll have my head.”

“You were with Dumbledore all summer?” Mavis gapes at her.

“I- well, not all summer, but he was around… look,” Ginny hisses, “there’s… things going on that I’m not allowed to talk about. My family’s involved. The Ministry- well, the Ministry’s not on our side anymore.”

“No shite,” Sinead rolls her eyes. “The whole summer’s been a smear campaign against Potter. Who, by the way, Gin, has gotten proper fit over the summer, I mean-,”

“Sinead!”

“Potter got hot, is all I’m sayin’,” Sinead snickers. “Hot and angry, apparently. You see the look on his face during whatsherface’s little speech?”

“Well, she’s awful,” Mavis acknowledges, “that’s obvious- her whole speech was about how the Ministry is going to worm its way into Hogwarts, because Fudge doesn’t trust Dumbledore anymore-,”

“Fudge can go fu-,”

“Listen!” Ginny snaps fiercely, impatient with them. They don’t get it. This is real. The Order has formed. People are out there risking their lives, right now. They can’t afford to just wait and watch anymore. “What I’m trying to tell you, is that you can’t believe a thing you read in the Prophet anymore. Or whatever Umbridge says- the Ministry doesn’t want the public to know You-Know-Who’s back. But he is. He is, and-”

“Yeah,” Sinead cuts in, “we got that. Remember what Rosalind said? Now I know about half our house wants to see me hangin’ from a lamp-post-,”

Mavis swats her, and she brushes it off. “Shut up, it’s true. See how bouncy Draco’s been tonight? Can’t wait to take his place in lock-step with Death Eaters.” Sinead mimes a German accent. “For the fatherland-,”

Brisk footsteps echo down the corridor towards them, and all three girls abruptly start talking. “Lumos,” Ginny says under her breath, just in time to illuminate Malfoy stalking over to them, smirking, prefect’s badge glinting in the torchlight. She’d been hoping Snape would choose Theo Nott and Daphne Greengrass, rather than Draco and Pansy- at least they’d be slightly less obnoxious and blatantly power-hungry.

“What have we here?” Draco sneers, crossing his arms over his chest. “A little illicit meeting after hours?”

“Curfew doesn’t begin until nine,” Mavis begins pointedly, but he cocks his head at her as if mildly surprised she even dared argue with him.

“I didn’t ask for your opinion, Vance. You three should be in the common room right now. Don’t think you’re going to get away with your usual nonsense this year,” Draco looks as if he can barely contain his satisfaction at the thought of wielding any power at all over them, “it’s going to be a whole new Hogwarts by the end of the year, trust me. The Minister’s had about enough of Dumbledore’s nonsense. Why, your family’s already on thin ice, Weasley.”

Ginny doesn’t give him the pleasure of a retort, and merely looks at him in poorly disguised contempt. Sinead doesn’t bother to be subtle about her eye roll, one hand on her skinny hip.

“I suggest you start walking,” Malfoy says, “unless you want to start off the year by losing us some house points. Or with a detention.”

“Detention with you, Draco? Be still my beatin’ heart,” Sinead says faux-sweetly as she stalks past him, ignoring his curling lip.

“Keep it up, Rafferty,” he snaps, “just keep it up, and you’ll see…”

“Shouldn’t you be escorting us back?” Ginny asks dryly. “We might get lost… the dungeons are very confusing in the dark.”

“That’s why I’ll be patrolling them,” he shoots back after her, “to make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be, Weasley.”

Ginny extinguishes her wand with a flourish above her head, in a vague ‘fuck you’.

“You know why we were really upset though, right?” Sinead asks with mild amusement after they’ve entered the common room and make for the girls dormitory.

“Why?” Ginny groans.

“Because we were worried about you, idiot,” Mavis mutters, stepping in front of them to lead the way, short legs be damned. “No one knew what to think, going home in June, after Dumbledore told the entire school the Dark Lord was back and had just killed Diggory.”

“I’m fine,” Ginny says, although she’s touched. “Really, I am. It’s… I had all summer to get used to the idea of him being back.”

“So no more nightmares?” Sinead challenges.

“None I’d like to summarize,” Ginny rolls her eyes, but smiles anyways, as they walk into their room.

This year they share DADA with the Ravenclaws. Ginny takes a seat near the front beside Luna, with Sinead and Mavis just behind them. DADA has consistently been one of her best subjects, even if they were taught by a Death Eater in disguise last year. Somehow, Professor Umbridge still comes across as more menacing than Barty Crouch pretending to be Moody.

The classroom chatters amongst themselves while she sits primly at her desk, until finally they start to quiet, waiting for her to say something. “Hem hem,” says Umbridge, looking over them almost smugly. She rises to her full, admittedly short height. “Good morning, children.”

“Good morning,” the class choruses back, although most of them look rather annoyed at being referred to as children. Fourth year is smack in the middle of the lower and upper years, and Ginny certainly doesn’t feel like a little kid anymore, not after this summer.

Umbridge’s smile broadens. “What well-behaved students you are. Now, it is very fortunate that I have caught you before your OWLs next year, as I understand that your prior education has been, shall we say… lacking.” The corners of her toad-like mouth twitch as if in amusement.

“Professor Moody was rather good,” Luna says distractedly from beside Ginny, not looking up from her drawing on her piece of parchment, “only, I suppose it was Professor Crouch, really, and he did try to kill Harry…”

“Miss!” Umbridge says pleasantly, but sharply all the same. “Miss…”

“Lovegood,” Luna glances up, although her quill keeps moving, and pushes a few stray locks of blonde hair out of her face. “Luna Lovegood.”

“I see,” Umbridge stiffens; she must recognize the name from the Quibbler. “Well, Miss Lovegood, in this class, we raise our hands and wait to be acknowledged before speaking. And we will not be discussing your former… professors. From now on we will focus on the proper, Ministry-approved, method of learning. Doesn’t that sound much better?”

The Slytherins and Ravenclaws stare back at her, unimpressed.

Umbridge’s smile flickers slightly, and she turns on her heel to the board, waving her wand to write down the course aims. Ginny skims them with a growing sense of dismay. “Oh!” Umbridge chirps, “I nearly forgot, silly me- wands away, children.”

Muttering amongst themselves, everyone packs away their wands.

“We’re just taking notes?” Eamon hisses across the aisle to Mavis, who shrugs.

“I assume you all have your required copies of Defensive Magical Theory?” Umbridge asks brightly when everyone has finished writing. When greeted with silent nods, she holds up a stubby finger. “Now children, when I ask you a question, I expect to be answered with ‘Yes, Professor’ or ‘No, Professor’. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Professor,” the class says. Ginny barely restrains herself from rolling her eyes at Sinead, who looks similarly annoyed.

“Very well,” Umbridge sits down at her desk. “Please turn to page five, and begin to read chapter one. Without talking, please.”

Ginny flips open her book, and glances over at Luna, who is drumming her fingers on the cover, not having opened it. “What?” she whispers after a moment.

“I already read it,” says Luna calmly, and she pushes the book aside and returns to her drawing.

After a few minutes of this, Umbridge seems to notice the scratch of a quill. “Miss Lovegood!”

Luna doesn’t look up.

“Miss Lovegood!” Umbridge snaps, and a few other heads pop up. Ginny tenses beside Luna.

“Hm?” Luna glances up at last, the feather of her quill tickling her mouth.

“We are reading chapter one, ‘Basics for Beginners’, at this time. Not… doodling.” Umbridge looks around, as if expecting to see some chuckles at that, but the class is silent. The Ravenclaws are scowling; they may tease Luna, but apparently she is theirs alone to mock, and no one else’s. Even the Slytherins don’t seem inclined to side with Umbridge.

“I’m not doodling,” Luna says in her typical, slightly bored tone. “I’m drawing a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. And I’ve already read the chapter. It was very boring.”

Behind them, Sinead disguises a laugh with a cough.

“A… what?” Umbridge asks, as if she misheard.

“A Crumple-Horned Snorkack,” Luna says. “They’re quite rare. You’ve probably never heard of them. Daddy writes about them all the time in the Quibbler, though.”

At this, a few snickers do break out. “Yes,” says Umbridge, pursing her lips in a tight, impatient smile. “Yes, I’m well aware of your father’s tall tales and wild accusations directed at the hardworking Ministry. He’s an unusually accomplished liar… much like one Mr. Potter.”

Ginny flips her book shut a bit too loudly at that, but Umbridge is distracted by Luna’s sudden change in temperament, as has always happened when her father is insulted. She puts down her quill and her vaguely disinterested look disappears, replaced by one of cold fury. “My father is not a liar. And neither is Harry.”

“I’m not here to debate the truth with you, Miss Lovegood,” Umbridge looks nastily pleased at having provoked a reaction from her. “I am simply informing the class as to their government’s view on things.”

“The government’s wrong,” Luna says indignantly. “Voldemort’s back. Everyone with half a brain knows that.”

A ripple of shock goes through the classroom, even among the Slytherins.

“Miss Lovegood,” Umbridge says, very softly. “I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that your Minister is lacking half his brain. Or that a certain Dark wizard has returned.”

“Actually, I did.” Ginny hasn’t seen Luna this riled in some time. She stands up, her necklace of butterbeer caps jangling against her robes. “The Quibbler is reporting the truth- unlike the Prophet!”

“The Quibbler is a nonsensical tabloid with a reputation for ludicrous claims and baseless accusations,” Umbridge’s smile has returned in full force. “Sit down, Miss Lovegood, and read the chapter.”

“I told you, I already have,” Luna says tersely.

“I already have, Professor,” Umbridge sing-songs, tutting. “If you are done with your reading, then you may begin the homework, Miss Lovegood. I would like half a foot summarizing the first chapter and its aims. And I think I shall take 10 points from Ravenclaw for your trouble. Sit down, Miss Lovegood.”

Luna sits, glowering. Umbridge approaches, and plucks up Luna’s drawing. After staring at in disdain for a few moments, she murmurs a spell under her breath and the paper crumples itself up in her thick palm. Luna sucks in a breath as if about to say something, but Ginny grabs her arm, as Umbridge levitates the balled up drawing into the bin.

“Don’t,” she whispers. “It’s not worth it.”

Luna says nothing, shoulders heaving up and down as she stares lividly at Umbridge’s pink back.

Chapter Text

Ginny views the start of the Quidditch season as a welcome reprieve from the combined forces of Umbridge, Malfoy, and Pansy. She barely got to practice at all over the summer, to her dismay, so she’s been taking out Bill’s old broom every night before dinner, occasionally with Nick playing keeper for her to score on. She didn’t realize how much she missed flying these past months, how freeing it is to wheel through the air, high above all her worries.

Adrian Pucey is team captain now, and a good deal more laidback than Flint ever was, although he likewise refuses to let Malfoy walk all over him, lecturing him about not missing practice even as he begrudgingly names him starting seeker. And it’s not as if Draco’s a bad player; he’s fast and lithe in the air, and sharp-eyed as well, but he seems to be more interested in Quidditch for the status, rather than any actual love of the sport.

Ginny makes first string chaser, finally, and can’t hide her grin when she gets her number, six, emblazoned on the back of her brand new jersey in gleaming silver.

“The first and last Weasley on the team,” Lucian Bole snorts, but at least she’s not greeted with open hostility and side glances at practices anymore. Even if she has the girls changing room all to herself. It’s certainly nice to be able to shower in peace. They might not all like her, but they do recognize her talent- and the fact that she’s usually the first one there to help Adrian set up.

She’s proud of that, in a way, proud of herself for worming her way into this realm of adolescent male camaraderie and competition. Yeah, she’s still ‘the girl’, but she’s also Weasley, their teammate, with her own number. She’s not just someone’s annoying little sister anymore; this is tangible proof. She’s capable of getting what she wants without the help of Fred or George or Ron.

She’s taking Care of Magical Creatures and Muggle Studies as her electives, same as last year. She enjoys Care of Magical Creatures, not just because she likes Hagrid, who invited her down to his hut for tea once at the very end of her first year, and whose kindness she hasn’t forgotten, but because Luna is in her class as well, and that makes even the slightly more dull lessons very interesting.

Muggle Studies can be a bit repetitive, but Professor Burbage is very pleasant and soft-spoken, and has endless patience for the more idiotic questions she gets, such as people asking very seriously if muggles can shoot sparks at each other with their television remotes, or quoting the Marvin the Muggle comics in their essays.

At the end of September Hermione approaches her during lunch one day; Ginny’s eating by herself, since she gets out of class earlier on Tuesdays than any of her friends. Looking around a bit warily, Hermione slides into the seat next to her, looking unusually free when she’s not weighed down with books or parchment. “Hi, Ginny.”

“Hi,” says Ginny, through a mouthful of sandwich, which she quickly swallows. “What’s going on? You don’t usually come over to the dark side,” she jokes, although the Slytherin table is sparsely populated at the moment. Jocasta and Katrina are at the opposite end, ranting about Professor Trelawney’s latest assignment in Divination, which Ginny is increasingly relieved she didn’t take.

“Well,” says Hermione, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Her eyes momentarily dart to the empty staff table, and Ginny grows interested.

“What sort of measures?”

“Listen,” Hermione turns so her thick hair blocks out what she’s saying to any onlookers. “We’re- well, Ron and I… and Harry, although he’s not too keen on it yet- we’re thinking of starting something.”

“Like what?” Ginny smirks. “A resistance movement against Umbridge?”

“Shh,” Hermione hisses quickly, grabbing Ginny’s arm, and then an almost sly smile creeps onto her face. “Well… something like that. Mostly to practice defensive magic, since no one’s learning anything this year. And Harry…”

“Has got plenty of experience with that,” Ginny says quietly. She’s never directly asked him about what happened in June, when the goblet took him and Cedric to… to Voldemort, but they’re not… they’re friendly, but they’re not friends, not really, and even if they were… She’s seen it in his eyes.

What happened there was different from facing down Quirrell or the basilisk and Tom’s shade or Peter Pettigrew. Someone died, right in front of him. He faced the Dark Lord, in the flesh, not just a piece of him or one of his servants. She thinks the graveyard was for him what the chamber was for her. The place you go in your nightmares, and the place you go in the restless dark at night, when you can’t sleep.

She’s only fourteen, but she stopped being a kid when she was twelve and Tom Riddle was making her write in chicken blood on the walls. He’s only fifteen, but he stopped being a kid when Lord Voldemort killed Cedric Diggory in front of him, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

The difference is that she doesn’t have the weight of knowing that Riddle or Voldemort or whatever you want to call him is coming for her. He does.

“Now, Ron doesn’t think we should involve any Slytherins, since… well, some of your house doesn’t seem to mind Umbridge very much,” Hermione always looks vaguely apologetic when Ginny’s house is mentioned. It’s still a step above Ron, who still grimaces when he references her sorting. Harry… mostly seems puzzled by it, as if he occasionally suddenly remembers that she’s not a Gryffindor like Ron or the rest of her brothers.

“Some,” says Ginny. “Not all.”

“Right.” Hermione tucks a frizzy curl behind her ear. “So… we were- well, I was thinking, that you could be our… You know who’s alright and who’s not. In Slytherin. And I know you were friends with Eva, last year, and I heard from Viktor she was teaching you some things-,”

“Still writing him, are you?” Ginny teases, snickering at her flush, but she nods. “I know some people we can trust.” She’s not advocating that they start handing out flyers in the Slytherin common room, of course, but there’s plenty of Slytherins who trust Umbridge about as far as they could throw her. Although maybe that’s because a trusting nature isn’t exactly a positive in their house.

“Good,” Hermione brightens. “That’s brilliant. I’ll let you know when our first meeting is. It’ll probably be in Hogsmeade, soon.” She moves to stand up. “I’ve got class in ten minutes- Arithmancy.”

“Hey,” Ginny says quickly, before she can run off, “so… we are serious, then? This is a big deal, Hermione. An underground club? If we get found out it could be really bad.”

She doesn’t just mean ‘a few detentions’ really bad. With the power Umbridge has, it could be ‘expulsion’ really bad, no matter what Dumbledore has to say about it. In the end, the Ministry still has the ultimate say. And as much as Ginny’s ready to fight, to take some sort of stand, she’s pragmatic enough to not want to wind up with a broken wand and no OWLs, either.

“It could be,” Hermione gives a tight nod, and then flashes an almost ruthless smile. “But we’re not going to get found out. Don’t worry. I have a plan.” With that she’s rushing off to class, leaving Ginny to return to her sandwich and consider that Hermione Granger really ought to have been a Slytherin, all things considered.

A week or so later, as the grounds welcome October and all traces of summer warmth fade away, Ginny sets off for a Hogsmeade weekend with Sinead, Mavis, and Luna in tow. They walk briskly by a glowering Filch at the gates, chattering amongst themselves, and join the crowd of students making their way down the hillside towards the village. As they enter Hogsmeade, Astoria Greengrass darts out of the crowd to follow at their heels; this is her first trip off the castle grounds.

Nick and Eamon are lurking in the village square, and casually follow the gaggle of girls in the direction of the Hog’s Head. They meet Tracey Davis at the door, smirking, and then Ginny breaks ahead of the group, coming to a halt near the pushed together tables that form the meeting of this ‘club’.

To be honest, she only expected Hermione to round up around a dozen people. Instead, there’s got to be over twenty, all of whom are staring at the Slytherin party. Most of them are Gryffindors, but she spots several Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs as well. None of them quite look as though they know what they’ve gotten themselves into, but most of them look pleased to be there, at any rate.

Ron gets up from his seat, looking as though Ginny just started popping balloons at his birthday party with a pin (she never did, that was all Fred that one time). “I said- Hermione,” he grouses, “a few Slytherins, Gin and her friends, not... “

“You still don’t know our names?” Mavis asks indignantly, her glasses currently tangerine orange. “Ronald, come on now-,”

“I do, you’re… the glasses one, and she’s… the Irish one…”

Sinead whistles sarcastically under her breath.

“Excuse me,” interjects Luna airily, “I’m in Ravenclaw.”

“We know, Luna,” several people mutter in response.

Ginny rolls her eyes. “It’s only seven of us, Ron, not counting Luna. Not exactly an invasion.”

“I’m all for it,” Fred raises his bottle of butterbeer with a crooked grin, and clinking it against George’s. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all. Know any good curses, any of you?”

“Oh, loads,” Sinead mutters.

“The point is,” Ginny pulls out a chair sharply, since no one’s offered any of them a seat yet, “none of us are best mates with Malfoy or Parkinson, are we?”

“This morning I hexed Pansy’s hairbrush to hit her over the head,” Tracey offers up as evidence. “She was hogging the loo.”

“I think we have just as much right to be here as you,” Astoria says passionately, although she has to stand up on her tiptoes to be seen over Eamon’s shoulder. “This is about our education, not our house, isn’t it?”

Hermione shoots her an approving look.

“We’re not goin’ to rat you out,” Sinead cuts in, flagging down the bartender for a butterbeer. “And we’ve got just s’much to lose as you. Isn’t that what the hat was goin’ on about at the feast? Comin’ together for the greater good?”

“I didn’t come all the way down into this… place,” Mavis scuffs at the filthy floor with her shoe, wrinkling her nose, “just to be sent back to the castle like a naughty child, you know.”

“Eamon threw a biscuit at Malfoy’s head once when he wasn’t looking,” Nick vouches. “Got crumbs all in his hair gel, it did.”

Eamon gives a mock bow, and Nick claps him on the back.

Hermione is looking at Harry hopefully. For someone who apparently has the final say here, he looks rather overwhelmed, Ginny notes. She stares at him in turn, almost challengingly, and feels a flash of success when she doesn’t blush or feel the urge to avert her gaze.

Good. It’s about time she just started seeing him as Ron’s best friend, and not some god walking among men. Even if he did grow half a foot over the summer and still has really good hair. That’s completely besides the point. She knows he doesn’t like Slytherins, but he likes her, doesn’t he? He’s always been perfectly polite, at any rate, and they did spend more time together this summer, even if he was usually upset about something.

“Yeah,” he finally says, looking around at all the expectant faces, “yeah, fine. Er… sit down, then, I guess.”

They do so, and the first (trial) meeting of what will later be known as Dumbledore’s Army begins.

Chapter Text

Ginny isn’t sure where she expected the first official meeting of Dumbledore’s Army to take place, but it certainly wasn’t the Room of Requirement. She’d heard about it, of course, through Tracey Davis, who swore she once ducked into a closet that didn’t exist most of the time to hide from Filch. She just assumed it was a place for convenient hide-aways, not… a full-fledged training room, complete with textbooks and tasteful throw cushions.

But she’s surprised they’ve managed to work it out for DA meetings, and by all accounts the first meeting is a rousing success- she disarms Luna no less than six times, although that’s not saying much, with how easily distracted Luna is, and even little Astoria manages to triumph over Tracey at least once, which Alicia Spinnet gives her a round of applause for.

At the end of it, she catches up to Harry while Ron and Hermione are arguing about who disarmed the other more, and says, swiftly, “Thanks.”

Harry looks as uncomfortable as always when faced with praise, and is clearly distracted, but nods anyways. “No problem.”

“No,” Ginny flushes, “I mean, for letting us join. The Slytherins. I know you- well, you’ve got your reasons to not like our house in general. So. You could have shut us out. But you didn’t.”

He looks a bit taken aback by this, and then smiles dryly. “Don’t give me a reason to regret it, then.”

“We’ll try not to,” Ginny snorts, and then glances down the length of the corridor, where Mavis and Sinead are talking in hushed voices about the meeting and Ron and Hermione are still bickering. “We’d better get back to the dungeons before curfew. G’night, Harry.”

“Good night,” he calls after her, and Ginny feels a familiar heady rush, before pushing it aside. Nick and Eamon are waiting up as well by the stairs, and the five of them walk down together, although they hurry it up once they’ve reached the ground floor and are making their way down into the dungeons.

To her surprise, Mavis and Sinead break ahead, and Eamon high-tails it after them, almost rushing away from her and Nick, even though they’re nearly to the common room and are probably safe from getting caught. She glances over at Nick in bemusement, and then frowns at the look on his face. He appears vaguely queasy.

“What’s wrong?”

He comes to a complete halt, scuffing his trainers along the stone floor, looking almost guilty of some unknown crime. “I… I wanted to ask you something.” His voice cracks slightly, and he grimaces.

Ginny stops as well, crossing her arms, suspicious. “What? Did something happen at the meeting?” If Ron or the twins pulled anything with one of her friends just because they’re Slytherins, she’s going to hex them into next week-

“Wouldyouwanttogooutwithmesometime?” Nick asks in one long rush. She’s never seen him this red; it’s in stark contrast to his pale blonde hair.

“I- what?” Ginny blurts out, stunned. She and Nick have been friends since first year, but she never- well, if he had a crush, she never noticed…

Sort of like Harry never noticing her.

“I just- I like you,” he mutters, glancing up at her. “As more than a friend. You’re… clever and determined and you don’t take shite from anyone, and I just… I thought I’d ask. It’s okay. If you’re not… if you don’t want to.”

Ginny looks at him for a long moment, tall, wiry Nick and his angular features, the hard eyes and the almost elfin ears, the tension flooding through him at this moment, as if he’s just been shocked, and says, “Yeah, okay. You want to go to Hogsmeade this weekend?”

He looks as if he’s just been doused with cold water for a moment, and then breaks into a grin. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

Nick is Ginny’s first real boyfriend, and it’s nice. She’s never had a longstanding crush on him, but he’s not at all bad-looking, and he’s funny and confident (when he’s not staring at her) and good company. He doesn’t sulk or get angry over little things, and she likes that he likes her because of her character, not her face or clothes. Dating Nick, after the initial shyness of the first week, is just like being friends with Nick, only they hold hands now and eat together more often.

She’s almost flattered that he was so nervous to ask her- Nicholas Campbell is rarely nervous, rather he seems to glide smoothly through life with a healthy dose of charisma and a good-natured smile that belies more cunning depths. He’s always comfortable, that’s it, assured of his place, not a purist or a blood traitor, always on the even ground, never making any declarations of this or that conviction.

Sinead and Mavis, apparently knew it was coming because Eamon told Mavis, like an idiot, that Nick was debating asking Ginny out, and not sure if she’d say yes or not. Mavis told Eamon to tell Nick that she thought it was ‘about seventy five percent likely’, and here they are. Ginny’s a bit annoyed that apparently this all went on behind her back, but it is sort of sweet, in a way. But she doesn’t want everyone to find out, because then Ron and the twins’ll find out, and there’ll be hell to pay.

DA meetings are never at the same time or day of the week, but they are always in the same place, and Ginny takes a certain perverse smugness in knowing that they’re doing all of this right under Umbridge’s foul nose, even if they can’t outright defy her in class. By now news of Umbridge’s ‘detentions’ have spread even to the Slytherins, and no one’s idiotic enough to outright challenge her in the classroom. Even Luna seems to keep her head down, although her essays often go amusingly off the rails.

And then, of course, comes the game against Gryffindor. Ginny scores twice on Ron, which is both satisfying, thinking back to all the times he wouldn’t let her practice with him, and distinctly uncomfortable, because he looks like he’s about to puke, and the constant chanting of ‘Weasley is our King!’ is even putting her on edge, even if it’s not directed at her. It doesn’t matter- Harry catches the snitch anyways, but the ensuing brawl- although you can’t really call it that when Malfoy doesn’t have the chance to fight back- manages to eclipse even her irritation at losing and the chanting.

After McGonagall has dragged off Harry and the twins, and Montague hauls Draco back onto his feet, Ginny waits until the crowds have begun to disperse and the professors have headed back to the castle, and then hits Draco with a hex that sends him stumbling backwards with a groan, as if rammed in the stomach.

“Are you so pathetically bad at your job that you need a bloody chorus line to back you up?” she sneers. She hasn’t been this furious in a while- not since the last time she and Jocasta almost came to curses with each other. He’s unbelievable. It’s one thing to taunt and jeer at their opposing team in general, another to single out just one member.

“You little bitch,” he says thickly, blood still trickling out his nose and down his mouth, and raises his own wand.

Nick steps immediately in front of her, glaring, “Try it and see what happens-”, but Pucey gets in between them, scowling.

“Enough,” he snaps, using his superior height over most of them- Adrian is nearly six feet- to force both Malfoy and Nick to back off. “Get your fucking heads on straight. Weasley, if you attack another teammate, I’m benching you at practice-,”

“Right, like you’d be sitting there twiddling your thumbs had Malfoy just called your dad a ‘useless loser’,” she snipes back, incredulous. If Slytherins take one thing seriously, it’s jibes directed at their families, so it really shouldn’t be so shocking that she’d be the least bit offended by Malfoy’s songwriting abilities, poor as they might be.

Malfoy opens his mouth to say something, still fingering his wand, but closes it when Pucey stares at him, daring him to challenge his authority as captain.

“I don’t care,” Pucey says through gritted teeth, looking around at the whole team, a few of whom are still smirking, “what the hell they’re singing. I want you looking for the snitch, not conducting the crowd, Malfoy, and Weasley-,” he exhales. “Go cool off.”

She takes a long shower, still rushed with furious adrenaline, wishing she could have really shown Draco how much of a ‘bitch’ she can be, especially now that she knows more jinxes than ever before, due to the DA. He’s really insufferable this year, acting like he’s prince of Slytherin just because he made prefect and has Umbridge’s support. Lucius Malfoy probably paid her off, just like he pays off everyone else to make Malfoy’s life easier.

Afterwards, she finds Nick waiting for her outside the girls locker room. The pitch is completely silent, and oddly eerie with no one on it. “I can handle Malfoy myself,” she tells him shortly, running a hand through her damp hair, which she cut short this year, sick of ponytails and braids. “In fact, I probably punch harder, knowing him.”

“I know that,” he says, frowning, although he looks slightly sheepish. “But you’re my-,”

“And Ron’s MY brother,” she cuts him off, then sighs. She knows she’s being unfair. She would have done the same thing, were someone going after him. She’s just- she doesn’t like feeling as though she needs to be sheltered or protected by anyone. She can take care of herself. She’s faced Tom Riddle, for Circe’s sake. “Sorry. I know you were just trying to help.”

They walk together silently up the hill, and then stop at the top. It’s freezing cold out, but at least the wind has died out, and it’s not raining at the moment, thank Morgana. She still does hate this time of year. Give her a muggy summer day over the numbing cold and fleeting sunlight anytime. Nothing good ever seems to happen in the winter, when everything’s withered and dead.

“I know it’s not easy for you,” Nick says quietly, hands in his pockets. There’s still beads of sweat in his fair hair. She wants to brush them away. “I mean- with your family all being in another house, and being the only girl on the team.”

Ginny shrugs, even if she appreciates the sentiment. “I’m a Weasley. I’m used to being the underdog. Being in Slytherin doesn’t change that. It’s just-,” she bites her lip, “it’s hard not to feel like I’m taking sides, all the time. Even when I don’t want to.”

She’s tired of having to choose between being Ginny Weasley, filthy blood traitor, and Ginny Weasley, Slytherin chaser. Why can’t she just be both? She doesn’t want to have to apologize for her family, who she loves, or her house, where she belongs. But it’s different this year. Slytherin has a leg up over the rest of the school, and she almost preferred it when they were the despised outcasts. It’s pretty hard to enjoy having Umbridge, of all people, on your side.

He nods, and then takes her hand. “I- I’m on your side, though. And so are are the rest of your friends. Slytherin or not.”

Ginny smiles, and then impulsively leans up on her tiptoes to kiss him, since she’s not getting any taller. It’s her first kiss, and it’s not amazing, but it is warm, and kind, and not lacking in enthusiasm, once Nick realizes that she expects him to kiss her back, rather than just standing there like a statue. When they do break apart, they’re both flushed and breathless.

“We should do that more often,” Ginny says after a moment, with a sly little grin, and he laughs.

Chapter Text

Ginny is woken up from a particularly vivid dream about a DA meeting in, for some reason, the Forbidden Forest, fighting the basilisk. Sinead is standing over her bed, frowning, wand lit. For a few moments she thinks she’s overslept and is late for class; Ginny’s never been much of a morning person, but their dorm room is pitch black, the only light being the glow of Sinead’s wand. She sits bolt upright in bed, hissing, “What is it?”

Sinead has always been the most restless sleeper of them all, whereas Mavis can fall asleep anywhere, anytime. Ginny glances over at her bed; true to form, Mavis is lying on her stomach, bangs obscuring her eyes, softly snoring. Jocasta and Katrina both seem to be asleep as well, although Katrina is mumbling in her sleep, as usual.

“It’s Snape,” Sinead whispers. “He came in while I was workin’ on an essay by the fire. Says it’s important, you have to come with him straight away.”

The only reason Ginny can think of Snape having to summon her at this time of night is something to do with the Order. She scrambles up and out of bed, rubbing furiously at her eyes, and crams her feet into her trainers; who knows where she’s going. She grabs a jumper from the base of her bed and pulls it over her thin pyjama top, before tucking away her wand.

Sinead is watching her with dark, narrowed eyes. “What’s this about, then?”

“I don’t know,” Ginny retorts in exasperation, and then glances swiftly in the direction of Jocasta’s bed when she seems to stir. “If I’m not back by morning… I don’t know, I’ll try to send an owl.”

With that, she darts out of the room and down the narrow, silver-wrought staircase into the common room, where Snape looms, expression as closed off and inscrutable as usual. Sinead trails after her, but stops when their head of house says curtly, “To bed, Miss Rafferty. Now.”

Ginny glances back at her friend, and gives a gritted teeth smile before turning to Snape, who simply bids her follow him. They exit the common room and step into the dungeons, which are frigid on a December night. Ginny struggles to keep up with his long, silent strides. “What’s going on, Professor?”

“You’ll be informed in due time,” he says, without looking back at her, and from the tense undercurrent to his voice she takes that to mean ‘can’t risk telling you right now, or right here’. After all, who knows if Filch or Umbridge might be listening in, somehow.

Stomach churning, she follows him up the stairs to the main floor, and then up the grand staircase, all the way to Dumbledore’s office. If Dumbledore himself is involved, it has to be really serious. She tries to keep her breathing calm and even, wanting to put on a show of being calm and composed in front of Snape, even if it’s just a matter of personal pride. She’s not about to fly into hysterics like a little girl, no matter what’s happened… or will happen.

They enter Dumbledore’s office, and Ginny immediately sees Ron, the twins, and Harry, all pale and terrified, sitting in front of the headmaster’s large desk, Professor McGonagall standing nearby. “Gin,” Fred says immediately in alarm, and she goes to her siblings, holding onto the back of Ron’s chair.

“Thank you, Severus,” Professor Dumbledore says gravely, and Snape inclines his head minutely before taking his leave, as Ginny asks, fighting to keep her voice even, “Sir, what’s going on?” Harry is slumped in his seat, looking like he’s about to be ill, and Ron’s hair is a rumpled mess, his hands trembling ever so slightly in his lap. The twins look similarly shaken.

“Your father has been injured in the course of his work for the Order of the Phoenix,” Dumbledore says, looking her straight in the eyes, blue eyes shining in the dark of the room, and Ginny makes a sound like a gasp caught in the back of her throat, and Professor McGonagall’s hand comes to rest comfortingly on her shoulder.

Ginny has never really considered the possibility of losing Dad. She knows it’s dangerous, knows the Order suspects the Ministry’s been compromised already, knows Dad is determined to see this through, to help in any way he can since he couldn’t during the last war, but- he’s her silly dad, Arthur Weasley, not some war hero. She can barely imagine him shouting a spell, nevermind carrying out any official Order business, and-

Suddenly her father is painfully human and vulnerable to her, skin and bone, not some creature of myth, the family patriarch, the man who can make her smile just by winking one of his watery blue eyes at her. Suddenly he is temporary, not a permanent fixture in her life, her dad, who has always prized honesty over success, integrity over ambition. She can’t imagine her family without Dad puttering around in the garage, joking with Fred and George at the dinner table, dancing with Mum in the kitchen to some old song on the radio.

And the thought of losing him is now more terrifying than anything she has ever faced before, more terrifying than Tom Riddle’s ghost or Death Eaters on the march or the Dark Mark shimmering in the sky above. That doesn’t seem real, compared to this. This is different, this is her dad, and if he dies- if he dies, at least for her, the world will end. Their world will end. How will Mum get on without him? How will any of them?

She doesn’t even remember the last thing she said to him before leaving for school this year. She was probably in a mood after being cooped up at Grimmauld Place all summer. Did she hug him? Kiss him goodbye? Or dodge his playful ruffle of her ponytail as she hurried onto the train, too caught up in thoughts of Death Eaters and Slytherins to realize that she might never see him again, might never hear his warm laughter or share one of his crinkle-eyed smiles.

But Dad lives, after the worst night- or early morning- of her life, worse than the night of the riot, worse than the nights when she stayed up and sobbed, clawing at her head to try to get Tom out of her mind, just so it could be quiet enough to sleep, worse than the night after the maze. Ginny doesn’t sleep, only curls up in an armchair in front of the fire and waits for the plummeting sensation to stop, and when it does, she’s so relieved and exhausted that the next few days seem like a heady dream. She’s almost scared to sleep still, for fear that she will wake up to find it was all some twisted dream, that Dad bled out in that hallway, and that the world really has shattered into a million pieces.

Harry’s momentarily blank stare when she points out that she knows exactly what it’s like to be controlled by powerful dark magic ends her haze. She’s almost- she’s not angry with him, not really, but she does feel… betrayed? “I forgot.” Right. He wasn’t the one who fought a losing battle inside their own head for months. The way he sees it, she had one bad day that ended in a successful rescue. The reality is, that was just the worst day of many.

She didn’t just reckon with Tom that one time, the way he did, and she’s not trying to discredit the fact that Harry saved her life, but- he may have won that battle for her, but it was still her war. A war she brought upon herself, but- it’s not all on her for trusting the diary. She never would have had to worry about it had Lucius Malfoy not planted it in her school things. There were forces beyond her control, and she wouldn’t have stood a chance either way, but she still has to deal with the fallout of what happened.

She can barely look at him for the rest of the day, and feels even worse about that, since Harry did just save Dad’s life, albeit not directly. Their family owes him so much, and Ron loves him like a brother. But she’d just thought… she’d thought he would have remembered, would have sought her out, if he felt like he might be going through something similar. How could he forget? She can’t. She doesn’t have that luxury. And that’s not to say that Harry hasn’t gone through far worse, but at least he knows every action, every thought in his head- those have all been his. He’s never been someone else’s puppet. But she spent months as one.

That night, she gives up on trying to sleep, and slips down to the parlor of Grimmauld Place to sit in front of the fire. The Christmas decorations are cheery enough, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she’s surrounded by pureblood wealth, built up on beliefs that she’s been trying to escape for years now. What would the Blacks think, knowing a Weasley, a Slytherin at that, is sitting in their parlor in her dressing gown?

She hears a floorboard creak by the door, and turns quickly to see Harry. His glasses are slightly crooked and his hair is even messier than usual, and although he now towers over her, he looks younger in his ratty pyjamas, dwarfed by the grandiose scale of the room. “Sorry,” he mutters at his intrusion, but Ginny just leans round the back of the armchair she’s sitting in, and shrugs, indicating that she doesn’t mind if he joins her.

“Can’t sleep?” she asks quietly.

“Not tired,” he’s staring intently at the fire. “Besides… Ron snores really loudly.”

Ginny does smile at that, even if part of her is still infuriated with him. “You’re telling me.”

“You told me you still get nightmares,” he says after a moment. “Two years ago. When you… came to see me in the hospital wing, after I fell.”

“Yeah,” Ginny rests her chin on the back of the chair, the gilded edge digging into the skin. “I did. I do. They went away for a while… came back after the riots at the Cup.”

“What do you… dream about?” He glances briefly over at her, face creased in genuine concern, and Ginny stiffens in unwilling surprise. Why can’t he ever just commit to being a prick? Because he’s not, of course, although he certainly has his moments. It’d just make things much easier.

“It depends,” she mutters. “Mostly… that he’s back in my head, and he’s… making me do awful things. Hurt people. My friends. My family. And sometimes… sometimes I even want to do what he says, in my dreams. And that’s the worst. It makes me feel like- like I’m going to do something terrible again, but this time… it’ll be because I wanted to.”

Harry takes an uncertain step towards her. “That’s not going to happen.”

Ginny gives a silent huff of amusement. “I thought you told Tonks you didn’t have any Seer blood in you.”

“You’re a good person,” he says fiercely, and his eyes are dark as the sea in the firelight. “I know you. You’d never… you’d never join His side.”

“You don’t have to be a Death Eater to do horrible things,” she murmurs.

“You’ve never done anything horrible. That was all Him. He just used your body to do it.”

“But I have to remember it,” she says in a choked sort of voice, and blinks hard, because she is not about to start crying in front of Harry bloody Potter. “Not all of it, of course, he took huge chunks of my memory, but- I remember the blood on my hands from Hagrid’s chickens, and the smell down in the Chamber… I still don’t like writing, and reading too long gives me headaches. If I accidentally start to nod off in class or in the common room, I panic and think it’s happening all over again.”

He takes another few steps closer, until only the chair divides them.

“You’re stronger than Him. You never gave up on fighting back. You could have just… gone along with it, but you didn’t.” Harry adjusts his glasses, and his eyes still have that roiling look. “You’re brave, Ginny. You’re one of the bravest people I know, Slytherin or not.”

She stares up at him staring down at her and has the wild thought that she could lean up on her knees and kiss him right now, and no one would ever know, and he would probably let her. He might even like it. But she is dating Nick and he is… in the midst of whatever is going on with Cho, and she’s not stupid enough or bold enough to rock the boat any further. This isn’t normal, them talking alone at night about Voldemort and bravery.

“You’re brave too,” she says after a moment, “I know everyone tells you that already, but- you’re brave to be… the way you are, after everything.”

“The way I am?” he frowns.

“Kind,” she says simply, and then smiles thinly. “One of the kindest people I know…. Gryffindor or not.”

Chapter Text

Ginny has barely been back at Hogwarts a full week when news of the mass breakout at Azkaban hits the front page of the Daily Prophet.

She reads it over Sinead’s shoulder, and stiffens at the sight of Bellatrix Lestrange’s gleeful smile. This is the woman who put Neville Longbottom’s parents in St. Mungo’s permanently. Dad was lucky to have survived a run-in with Voldemort’s snake. He might not be so lucky the next time someone tries to break into the Ministry.

“Shocked they’re not keepin’ this all hush hush,” Sinead says, throwing down the paper in disgust and taking a hasty sip of her tea. “S’ppose ten escapees would be stretchin’ the limits of the propaganda machine-,”

There’s a sudden clatter of silverware further down the table, and Ginny looks up in surprise, just in time to see a familiar blonde ponytail disappear swiftly through the doors of the Great Hall.

“Jo!” Katrina calls after her in dismay, half rising from her seat, but as snickers and murmurs rise up from her fellow Slytherins, she sits back down, face flushed.

“What’s wrong with her?” Ginny asks Mavis, who is studying for a Transfiguration test at the table, bent over in concentration.

“What?” she mutters.

“Jocasta,” Ginny tries to keep from glancing at the paper, “she just ran out.”

Mavis finally looks up, frowning. “Did you read that article, or just skim?”

Ginny scowls and grabs Sinead’s paper. “I don’t-,”

Creon Moore, she reads beneath a photo of a hard-faced, imposing man, his blond hair hanging down to his shoulders in matted waves, convicted of the mass murder of the muggle Emerson family and the torture and murder of his wife, Ismene Moore (nee Vaisey).

“Jesus Christ,” Sinead hisses. “He killed his own wife?”

“Jocasta’s mother,” Ginny says, feeling sick. She might loathe Jocasta, but that doesn’t mean…

She can’t imagine what it feels like to know your father murdered your mother, as well as innocent muggles. Jocasta’s far from the only student at Hogwarts to have a Death Eater relative- nearly all of Slytherin is well aware that Bellatrix Lestrange is Malfoy’s aunt, and Theo Nott comes from a long line of dark wizards. But none of those students lost one parent at the hand of another, did they?

“One of us should go after her, if Katrina’s worried about savin’ face,” Sinead admits after a moment. “Common decency and all that. Not me, though. It’s too early in the mornin’ to get called a mudblood.”

Mavis has returned to her studying, and says matter of factly, without looking up, “We’re all well aware of my lack of social skills.”

Ginny exhales through her nostrils and exasperation, and looks down the length of the table at Katrina, who is now talking rather guiltily to Daphne Greengrass. “She hates me.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got that Weasley charisma,” Sinead reasons. “Just turn up the charm and… I dunno, offer up your condolences? Reckon I’d be in a right state if my murderer dad was on the loose…”

Ginny feels that this is possibly one of the worst ideas ever put forth by Sinead, but she also feels that to brush it off, sit here in silence, and continue her breakfast would be even worse. That would just… confirm what the Prophet’s trying do. Minimize it, ignore it, and it’ll go away. But the world doesn’t work like that. The fact that she loathes Jocasta with a vengeance doesn’t dismiss the fact that her family’s suffered horribly at the hands of a Death Eater, even if it’s her own father.

After a few moments of intense internal debate, she stands up with a huff. “Fine.”

“If you’re not in Transfiguration, we’ll get together a search party,” Sinead calls after her.

Their dorm room is nearly silent when Ginny cautiously pushes open the heavy oaken door. Nearly silent, that is, with the exception of Jocasta’s crying. Jocasta is normally a fairly pretty girl, but now her face is streaked red and her typically perfect ponytail is a rumpled mess. Her mascara is running at the corner of her eyes as she wipes at them. She looks up to see Ginny, and just hunches over the pillow she has hugged to her chest, like a child.

“Get out.”

“I just wanted to-,”

“GET OUT!” Jocasta screeches, and Ginny tenses, in case she pulls her wand, although she doubts she’d be able to cast so much as sparks, in this state. “JUST GET OUT!”

Fortunately, most of the dorm is at breakfast, or Ginny is sure Pansy Parkinson would be nosing in here, ready to deduct points with that smug little smile of hers. Ginny closes the door behind her, taking a deep breath. “I’m not going anywhere, Jocasta.”

“Is that it, then?” Jocasta sneers, but the effect is lost due to how much she’s sniffling, “Decided to see for yourself? Going to have a nice little chuckle about this later, are you, with your stupid friends-,”

“Do you remember first year?” Ginny interrupts her.

Jocasta just looks at her, mouth slightly open in shock. “What?”

“First year,” Ginny says impatiently, “when I opened the Chamber. I was out of it for most of the year. Not sleeping, not eating, and you- you let me be, didn’t you? When it got really bad? We already didn’t like each other, but you didn’t try to make it any worse. You only started in on me when it came out that I was the one who opened it.”

Jocasta’s mouth closes suddenly, and she gives a tight, jerky nod.

“You thought I did it on purpose,” Ginny says slowly. “Didn’t you? Second year? When you were constantly giving me shite about it? Not because you hated me, but because you didn’t want the Chamber open, either. You thought it might be a sign. That he was back? Voldemort?”

“Don’t say it,” Jocasta snaps.

“I’m not-,”

“You’re not scared, are you?” Jocasta rolls her eyes with a slight sob. “Not scared of him? Of what he’ll do? Of what he’s already done?”

“I’m terrified,” Ginny cuts her off. “I am. But I’m not terrified of a name.”

“You should be,” Jocasta says in a watery tone.

“Is that why you were so upset at the start of this year?” Ginny chances a step towards her, trying to keep her tone measured and calm, as if dealing with a wild animal. “Because of the Death Eaters at the World Cup?”

Jocasta is silent for almost a full minute, before she says, “My brother knew. After Diggory died. He knew the Dark Lord was back, and he knew Father,” she swallows, “he knew Father would get out.”

“Are you in danger?” Ginny asks. “Jocasta? Do you think he… wants to hurt you?”

“No,” Jocasta shakes her head. “No. He doesn’t want to hurt us. He wants- he’ll want Haemon to join him. My brother. And if Haemon says no- if he refuses, then the Dark Lord-,” she breaks off into sobs again.

Ginny doesn’t see what else to do besides sit next to her on the bed, and slowly put an arm around her. Jocasta doesn’t push her away, only cries harder, until finally her sobs and sniffs subside and she straightens up, wiping at her face. “This is embarrassing.”

Ginny removes her arm. “I know we’re not friends. And we probably won’t ever be friends. But for what’s it worth… I shouldn’t have said what I said the first night back this year. About… about you and your dad. I- I didn’t know, but it was stupid. You… you’re nothing like him, Jocasta. I mean it.”

Jocasta stares at the floor, and then says, “Thanks.” For once, she doesn’t sound resentful.

Ginny stands to go, not wanting to overstay her (already questionable) welcome, but as she reaches the door, Jocasta says quickly, as if she’s blurting it out before it’s too late, “He killed my mother and those muggles because she was… with the husband. Mr. Emerson. They lived in the same town as us. She was having an affair, right under his nose. And he found out. I was only a baby. I don’t remember her at all.”

Ginny can’t bring herself to turn around, so she says it to the door instead. “I’m sorry, Jocasta. That’s…” She trails off.

“I know,” Jocasta says from behind her, in a small, tired voice. “I know.”

Neither Ginny nor Jocasta ever acknowledge the conversation again, but Ginny does run into Katrina after Care of Magical Creatures a week later, and Katrina doesn’t adopt her usual eye roll of disdain but rather gives her a brief nod. Their dorm is suddenly much quieter, without all the squabbling, and Sinead declares Ginny should be taking courses in psychology, and then struggles to explain what that is, exactly, as Mavis snickers.

St. Valentine’s Day hasn’t been something Ginny was actively thinking about, but she does have a boyfriend, and it seems like it’d be mildly humiliating for them to just do nothing. Besides, she hasn’t been on a proper date with Nick since before Dad was attacked, and they’ve both been busy with homework and Quidditch and DA meetings since the spring term began.

She did explain to him, after the fact, about what happened and why she couldn’t send any letters back to the castle or risk them being intercepted by Umbridge, but she feels like part of him, however small, was upset by the whole thing. Not because he blames or her or anything, but…

She supposes she has been sort of distant, but they’ve only been dating for three months, and it’s a bit awkward, finding the line where friend ends and boyfriend begins. It’s not as if either of them knows what they’re doing.

So they wander through Hogsmeade, holding gloved hands, peering into shop windows and grousing about Quidditch practice. “How was your break, anyways?” Ginny can feel the spots of color rising in her cheeks. “I know I never really got to ask.”

“Boring,” Nick shrugs, adjusting his hat. “Alex and Chris were practically psychotic about their presents, and sleeping on my nan’s pull-out bed isn’t really as fun as it sounds. Sort of loses the Christmas magic past the age of… I don’t know, twelve.”

“At least the holidays are over now.” Ginny ordinarily loves Christmas, loves the corny decorations and the tree they cut down with Dad and Bill and Charlie, but the whole thing seems sort of tainted after this past year. Christmas at Grimmauld Place wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t the same as being at home and sleeping in her own bed.

“Pretty sure this has been our worst year yet,” Nick snorts, as they pause outside Zonko’s, looking at the medley of ‘Valentine pranks’ set up for display; bouquets of flowers that turn into snakes, hexed chocolates, lacy red cards that scream dirty words in the recipient’s face.

“Well, there was first year,” Ginny says dryly. Umbridge is unbearable, the new rules are ridiculous, and the school is more at war with itself than ever, but at least no one’s being petrified. “That’s sort of hard to top.”

“Don’t jinx it- Umbridge’ll grow scales or something,” Nick smirks at her, and she grins back at him.

“I can only hope.”

They’re passing the Hog’s Head when Ginny stops in her tracks to stare at the group exiting; the combination of Harry, Hermione, Luna, and Rita Skeeter, of all people, is not one she ever expected to see. Rita looks distinctly uneasy, quickly breaking away into the crowd, and Harry is scowling down at the slushy ground, his hands in his faded jacket pockets. On the other hand, Hermione looks undoubtedly triumphant, and Luna is smiling faintly.

Ginny waves as they pass by, and Luna calls over her shoulder, “Harry just did the most fascinating interview for the Quibbler!”

“Wait, what?” Nick says after a moment, and Ginny glances up at him, fighting back a smirk of her own.

“Maybe it’s time to get a subscription.”

Chapter Text

Ginny doesn’t remember much of that night at the Ministry. She remembers what came before; she remembers Umbridge’s stuffy, cloyingly pink office and Warrington’s thick arm around her neck. She remembers Hermione’s false tears and the smug thrill she got from ramming her heel into Warrington’s groin and the look on Malfoy’s face when her curse landed and the rush of slipping out of the castle and into the cool night with Neville, Luna, and Mavis. Sinead, of course, had managed to outrun the Inquisitorial Squad.

She remembers the damp tongue of the thestrals lapping blood off her fingers, and the giddy sensation of flying on a beast, not a broom, and seeing the foggy lights of muggle London appear below them. She remembers the wind on her face and the look on Harry’s face, like he didn’t care what happened anymore. It should have scared her, but instead it almost excited her. This was it, after all. What they’d been preparing for. It was better than waiting, dreading. This time, it was going to happen on their terms.

But then there is the dark, claustrophobic fight and flight through the Ministry and she doesn’t know where they’re going and Death Eaters are on their heels and Mavis is gasping for breath, her glasses flickering through every shade imaginable, and Luna’s Reductor is so powerful that Ginny doesn’t get back enough in time and it sends her flying into a shelf and she feels the horrific snap when she crumples onto her right ankle. And then the pain is so bad that all she can do is grit her teeth so she doesn’t scream out, and Luna and Mavis both have one of her arms but Mavis is bleeding, but Ginny can’t tell from where, and Ron has gone all silly….

And then there’s darkness and when she wakes up it’s only a little lighter and the Aurors are there and it feels like the entire building is shaking right down to its foundations and her ankle still hurts like hell, worse than anything she’s ever felt before, and Mavis is sitting up against a doorway, her hand on her side, coming away with more blood every time, growing paler by the moment, and Ginny tries to crawl to her but it’s all she can do not to faint again.

After that it’s all fuzzy until the Hospital Wing. When she wakes up bright sunshine is streaming through the window above her bed, and her ankle feels oddly stiff, but doesn’t hurt. Ginny experimentally wriggles her feet, and then props herself up in bed on her elbows, trying to remember anything at all from the battle. Then the curtains around her bed are ripped back, and she blinks at the sudden sight of Sinead, who looks like she hasn’t slept in days, and whose brown hair is a frizzy mess.

“Congratulations,” Sinead says flatly. “You’re alive.”

Ginny cranes her neck to stare at the bed behind Sinead, where she can just make out a familiar olive-skinned face, gone slack, eyes closed. “Is Mavis…”

“Pomfrey says she needs her rest,” Sinead is pulling up a chair roughly. “She lost a lot of blood. She’ll be alright, but… she could have died.” Her tone isn’t vague when it comes to accusations, and although Ginny bristles instinctively, she knows if the tables were turned she’d be just as angry. The only reason Mavis was even at the Ministry last night was because of her.

“What about Luna?” she asks, ignoring the elephant in the room.

“Concussion and a lot of scrapes and bruises,” Sinead grimaces. “She’s out and about now, though. Telling the wildest tales to anyone askin’ about what happened.”

Ginny smiles faintly, and then thinks of Ron, and Hermione, and Harry, and the smile fades. Sinead might as well have read her mind.

“Your brother’s alright, last I heard. Got some nasty scars, but when I went by his bed he was playin’ chess with Longbottom. Winnin’.”

“And Hermione…”

Sinead wrinkles her nose. “She seemed pretty annoyed about the whole ‘bedbound’ and ‘potions regiment’ thing, but… she’s alive, so…”

Ginny suddenly remembers Sirius, and gives an involuntary gasp, blinking hard so her eyes don’t well up. Sinead seems to soften slightly, seeing her obvious distress. “Hey,” she says awkwardly, patting at Ginny’s shoulder. “Sorry. I’m not tryin’ to be a ragin’ bitch, I just- people got hurt, Gin. Really hurt. Any of you coulda died-,”

“You think I don’t know that?” Ginny snaps, shaking off her hand. “You think I don’t- I feel terrible, Sinead! Mavis-,”

“Mavis made her decision to go,” Sinead interrupts her. “I might be fuckin’ cheesed that you two decided to join a bleedin’ rescue mission without me, but… You did what you thought was necessary.” She inclines her head slightly. “Can’t exactly fault you for that.”

Ginny sags back against her pillow, and then pushes the covers back. “Can I leave?”

Sinead rolls her eyes. “Pomfrey said you should be able to walk fine, but no flyin’ or ‘rough-housing’ for at least a week. And to try to stay off your feet as possible for today and tomorrow.”

Ginny sits at the edge of the bed and carefully puts weight on her ankle, then stands. “Great.”

Mavis wakes up that afternoon, and Ginny eats dinner on trays in the infirmary with her and Sinead, ignoring the fact that she feels sick whenever she looks at Mavis’ pallid face. Later on she visits Ron and Hermione, who are happy to see her and nearly identically downplay their own injuries, and Luna comes by later on, without so much as a word about the fact that they all faced down Death Eaters in combat the night prior. But that’s about par for the course for her, really.

She doesn’t see Nick until she reluctantly returns to the common room late that night. He’s sitting up playing Exploding Snaps with Eamon, who wisely makes himself scarce at the sight of her, muttering, “Glad you’re alright, Gin,” on his way to the boys dormitory. Nick doesn’t look at her, staring at the board.

“I came to see you this morning, but you were still asleep,” he finally says, curtly.

Ginny sighs reflexively. “I didn’t see what else to do.”

“You could have died.”

“You think I don’t know that?” she scowls. It’s a repeating echo in her head, growing louder and louder. She’s expecting a Howler from Mum at any moment.

“No, I don’t think you know that,” he stands up, and she’s never seen him this angry, not really, the firelight casting strange, foreign shadows across his thin, white face. “What the hell were you thinking, running off with Potter and company to play the heroes?”

“Excuse me?” Ginny retorts. “You’ve been sneaking off to DA meetings with ‘Potter and company’ for months, Nicholas-,”

“Learning spells under Umbridge’s nose is ‘taking a risk’, Ginevra,” he cuts her off sharply. “Breaking into the fucking Ministry is suicidal!”

“Well, I’m still here, aren’t I?” she asks, ignoring the shrill tone creeping into her voice, and the heat in her cheeks.

“You didn’t even tell me you were going-,”

“I didn’t exactly have time to leave a goodbye note! Grow up!” She wants to slap him. She’s not used to feeling this high-strung, this emotional, around Nick. The dynamic between them has always been light, easy. Even their snogging was… not dispassionate, but… mellow. They’ve always know where they stood with one another. Now she doesn’t even recognize him.

“Grow up?” Nick scoffs. “You’re the one who needs a reality check! You’re lucky to be alive, you’re lucky to not have been expelled-,”

“Is that all you care about? Our permanent bloody record?”

“I care about- I care about you, and you throw it back in my face every time! I’m your boyfriend, but you’re always running off to… to try to fix things, and it’s like I don’t even matter-,”

“I’m sorry you didn’t feel included,” Ginny sneers, “so next time we go up against Voldemort, I’ll be sure to drop you a line so you can get in on the fun-,”

Nick blanches at the way she casually says his name, and then shakes his head slowly. “You don’t get it. This isn’t… this isn’t just some fun little underground club anymore. Potter led you into… into battle, and you’re acting like it was just some courtyard scuffle-,”

“You don’t know what I’m acting like, because you weren’t there!” she shouts. “You weren’t, Nick! Okay?”

“I wasn’t,” he says, taking a step towards her, towering over her, and she wants to scream in his face, “yeah, you’re right, I wasn’t. And the next time something like this happens, and you get yourself killed because you feel like you need to prove you’re not some Slytherin coward-,”

She shoves him, impulsively, not very hard, but enough to put some space between them, and he breaks off, and then exhales, and half turns away. “Fine. I’m done.”

“You’ve been done for a while,” she snaps, and stalks past him towards the girls dormitory. “Good night, Nick.”

He sinks into a chair, his head in his hands, out of the corner of her eye.

Breaking up with Nick isn’t much of a surprise; the relationship had been petering off since April- they both just liked each other too much to admit that they were through. Ginny liked being with Nick, but it was… well, it was always more like being friends, with the occasional snog in a corner or empty classroom. It didn’t go much further than a few awkward fumbles in the dark of the common room.

She doesn’t regret the breakup itself; it was long past time to call it quits, but she does regret that it ended on such a… volatile note. Being with Nick was always so light and simple, and it seems cruel that their first real fight was their last. But she’s certainly not about to spend the last week of the term begging for his forgiveness, so they settle for avoiding one another. Similarly to how she’s avoiding Mavis.

Draco inadvertently brings them together.

Ginny doesn’t like spending much time inside the castle when the weather is this pleasant, so she’s lounging down by the lake, watching the occasional tentacle surface, and pretending to read, although really she’s close to dozing off. Mavis is a short ways away, skipping stones, and they’re both pretending not to really notice one another, because what is there to say? ‘Sorry I dragged you into this mess?’ ‘Sorry I almost got you killed?’ ‘Sorry, I know you didn’t sign up for this?’. It’s not that Mavis seems angry with her. She’s just… more distant than usual, even for her.

“Hey, Weasley!”

Ginny rouses herself in time to see Draco stalking down the gentle slope, his pale hair gleaming harshly in the sunlight. She furtively pulls her wand- there aren’t exactly any professors around for him to worry about, prefect or not. Mavis stiffens but doesn’t turn.

“Can I help you?” she asks through half lidded eyes, peering up at him in disgust.

“You’ll get yours,” he sneers, breathless with fury. “Just you wait. When my father-,”

“I thought your father was in Azkaban now,” Ginny says lightly, adopting an almost Luna-like tone of surprise. “Or was that another Lucius Malfoy? Does he have a doppelganger running around?”

“Silencio,” Malfoy hisses, and she coughs, then gags, trying to regain her breath and raise her wand at the same time, until Mavis’ first spell restores her speech, and her second spell sends Draco sprawling in the dirt.

“Apple doesn’t far fall from the tree, does it?” Mavis asks archly, staring down the brim of her glasses at them.

Ginny scrambles to her feet. “Apparently not.”

“Did you pencil in my threats yet?” Mavis asks Draco, who is locked into a full body bind, and whose face is gradually growing redder and redder with muffled rage. “Was that going to happen later today? Or on the train?” Then she scoffs, and to Ginny’s shock, prissy Mavis Vance spits at his feet.

“Fuck you,” she says simply. “And fuck your father. I hope he rots. He’s not worthy of a coffin, nevermind a cell.”

Then she starts up the slope, hands in her skirt pockets. Ginny shoots Malfoy a look, and then follows after her.

“Hey!”

Mavis doesn’t turn around. “You can stop treating me like I’m made of glass, you know. I’m perfectly fine.”

“I wasn’t-,”

“You were,” she corrects briskly. “It’s completely natural to feel survivor’s guilt, but since none of us- well, none of us students died- I still feel that it’s a bit misplaced, Ginny. You could have easily come away with far worse injuries than a shattered ankle.”

“But you wouldn’t have been there-,” Ginny stumbles over her words lamely for the first time in years. “I just…”

Finally Mavis turns. “I made my choice. Just like you. Just like Harry. Just like Lucius Malfoy and Sirius Black and Bellatrix Lestrange and everyone else there. Don’t take that away from me now. And honestly, Ginny? Next time Draco Malfoy comes up to you, hex first, and ask questions later.”

Ginny does have to laugh at that.

Chapter Text

Ginny hadn’t necessarily intended to slip off on Mum during their heavily guarded trip to Diagon, but as soon as Mum and Hagrid realize Harry, Ron, and Hermione have vanished off somewhere, the opportunity obviously presents itself. Besides, it’s not as if she goes very far- she’s no sooner stepped out into the bustling, if slightly more anxiety-ridden than usual street, when something or someone collides with her with a startled ‘oof’.

Ginny takes a step back in surprise as the girl, who can’t be much older than ten or eleven, recoils. “Sorry!” She’s got a head of light brown curls and a dimpled face, but there’s something familiar about her eyes and the shape of her small mouth…

“NORA!”

There it is. Ginny breaks into a grin as Sinead shoves her way through the crowd, ignoring the glares and mutters she garners, and bears down on them at full speed, combat boots clicking against the cobblestones. Her hair is cut even shorter than it was the year before; now it’s a spiky pixie cut, which emphasizes how pale and thin her face is, and the striking dark eyes that she happens to share with her younger sister.

“Hey Gin,” she says casually, before rounding on Nora, her accent thickening in anger. “What the ‘ell ‘av I tol’ ya about runnin’ off? Don’t even know where you’re ‘eadin’!”

“I’m not five,” says Nora indignantly, wrinkling her pert nose. “Sides, I’ve been ‘ere loads of times before-”

Sinead swats her round the head, scoffing at Nora’s yelp of protest. “Feckin’ eejit.” She crosses her wiry arms over her chest, giving Ginny a slightly rueful smile. “Those Ministry cars outside the Leaky Cauldron yours?”

“Yeah,” says Ginny, glancing up at the overcast sky; it’s cool and cloudy out, and threatening to start drizzling at any moment. “Mum and Dad have been worried sick all summer that’s something’s going to happen again… Barely let any of us out of the house.” Mavis had invited her to visit, but to Ginny’s annoyance, Mum had forbid it, and Dad had agreed. “Harry showed up a few weeks ago... Dumbledore dropped him off.”

“Geez,” mutters Sinead, “when do I get my invite? I’ve been stuck in a teeny flat with this dumbass an’ crappy telly.”

Nora elbows her sharply, ignoring her older sister’s snickers. “What’s going to happen again? What’re you talkin’ about?”

“Nothing,” Ginny says quickly, smiling at the little girl.

“Mind your own business,” Sinead rolls her eyes. “You’re only wi’ me today because Mrs. Doyle had a doctor’s appointment.”

“I can stay home by myself!” Nora argues. Then her eyes catch sight of the cheery shop front behind Ginny, and widen comically. “What’s that?”

“My brothers run a joke shop,” Ginny says, giving Sinead a meaningful glance. “Want to see inside?”

They usher Nora into the shop, and she immediately darts off among the displays, gaping and ogling at this and that.

“Good thinkin’,” Sinead sighs, leaning against a shelf. “Been tryin’ to get rid of her all mornin’.”

“I can see the family resemblance,” Ginny smirks, before sobering. As happy as she is to see Sinead, after a summer spent at home (and not at Grimmauld Place, thankfully) enduring the combination of a testy Mum, paranoid Dad, and condescending Fleur, they don’t have much time to talk, or much of anything happy to talk about. “You’re still getting the Prophet, right?”

Sinead nods. “One clash at the Ministry and the floodgates open, huh? Is Ollivander really missin’? What the hell are the first years goin’ to do for wands?”

“Get them somewhere else,” Ginny grimaces. “Fortescue’s gone too.”

“Yeah, Nora wanted a poke-,”

“A what?”

“An ice cream,” Sinead waves a hand distractedly. “Told her he must be away on holiday or somethin’. But it’s not just them. Tracey Davis wrote me- her mum got attacked by a couple of Dementors two weeks ago.”

“Is she alright?” Ginny frowns. Tracey was a known halfblood, who, much like Sinead, had never bothered trying to hide her muggle heritage. As of the past few months, that seemed increasingly dangerous for a Slytherin.

“Barely made it out with her soul intact, from the sound of things,” Sinead’s face darkens. “Luckily she was in a magical neighborhood- a few people jumped in to help. Tracey says she’s been real depressed ever since.”

“Why would anyone want to go after Mrs. Davis? Isn’t Tracey’s mum a herbologist?” Ginny asks, scowling.

“Yeah,” Sinead shrugs, “a pureblood herbologist who married a muggle postman an’ had his kids, twenty years ago. Maybe the Death Eaters are settlin’ old scores, now that the Ministry’s decided to acknowledge they finally exist.”

Seeing Ginny’s sideways glance at her, she scowls. “Don’t even start. I’m not about to run for the hills because some fascists got cocky.”

“I’m not saying you should,” Ginny argues in a low tone, “but you should be careful. I’m serious, Sinead. It’s- it’s different now. People are taking sides.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Sinead hisses in response. “Haemon Moore’s missing- that’s Jocasta’s brother. How much d’you wanna bet it has somethin’ to do with his Death Eater daddy?”

“You don’t think Jocasta’s dad murdered her brother,” Ginny sucks in a breath.

“No, I think her brother either got roped into joinin’ the club, or decided to make himself disappear to avoid a reunion with dear old da. Can’t say I blame him.”

Ginny had never thought she’d feel this level of pity for Jocasta, but she does. If last year hadn’t been bad enough, knowing the man who’d murdered her mother had escaped from prison… this had to be that much worse. Her brother was the only family she had left.

“Sin! Can I get this?” Nora bursts out from around a corner, startling both Ginny and Sinead into guilty silence. Nora is clutching a fanged frisbee, grinning widely. “It’ll be brill-,”

Ginny notices a commotion in the back of the store, and peers around a display to see Mum confronting a not-at-all fazed Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who have reappeared from wherever they’d gone. She suspects the Invisibility Cloak was involved, either way.

Mum sees her, and waves her over irritably. “Ginny! Come on, we can’t dawdle-,”

“See you on the train,” Sinead says dryly from behind her, wrestling away the frisbee from Nora, who is whining in protest.

Two weeks later, on the platform, Ginny fiddles with the latch of her trunk, pretending not to be eavesdropping on Harry and Dad. She was nowhere near close enough to hear every detail of the muffled conversation, but she did catch ‘Malfoy’ and ‘Borgin’. So that was it- they’d snuck off in Diagon to follow Draco to Borgin and Burkes. But why would Malfoy be in Borgin and Burkes in the first place?

Mind racing as she straightens up, brushing her hair out of her face- she’s let it grow out again, but she’s considering cutting it before it got down to her waist- she waits until they’re safely on the train to turn to Harry, trying to ignore the curious onlookers peering down the corridor at them. “You think Draco’s up to something,” she states under her breath.

Harry stares at her for a moment, then gives a slow nod.

“Something… Hogwarts level bad, or…”

Harry taps his left forearm, eyes narrowing.

Ginny frowns in confusion for a few seconds, and then it sinks in. He thinks Draco has joined up. It’s less surprising to her than it perhaps should have been- after all, she’s had an up-close-and-personal view of Draco’s opinions on blood purity, his father, and the Ministry in general over the past four years.

She’d always assumed that, after an extent, Malfoy’s bark was worse than his bite- he’d always seemed more interested in the attention- but if Haemon Moore had been pressured into the Death Eaters, she can only imagine how easily it had been to entice Draco Malfoy to join. He had to be eager to ‘avenge’ his father- and to prove himself.

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Ginny says, at the same time as Harry asks suddenly, “Want to get a compartment?”

One of the benefits of this past summer, she’d figures, is that there’s no longer any trace of awkwardness between her and Harry. They’re friends, and she enjoys that. He’s not as touchy as Ron or as rigid as Hermione. And he’s long since ceased treating her like a little kid hanger-on, desperate for attention.

“I can’t,” she says apologetically, at the same time as Harry stiffens and says, “Ginny, you shouldn’t.”

“Shouldn’t what?” she raises an eyebrow at him.

“Just stay clear of Malfoy,” he insists. “He’s- he could be dangerous. You don’t know.”

“Right, stay clear of him, when we’re in the same house and eat our meals at the same table,” she rolls her eyes. “You’re the one who should be keeping your head down- after last year? He’s probably ready to kill you.”

“I can look after myself.”

“And I can’t?”

“That’s not what I meant-,” he argues, but she’s already maneuvered around him- Merlin, he really is tall now- and is walking away.

“I promised some people I’d meet up with them!” she calls over her shoulder. “See you at the feast!”

It doesn’t take long to locate an empty compartment, but what is odd, as the train picks up speed, leaving London, is that no one comes by. Ginny keeps the door half-open, expecting Mavis to promptly march in at any moment, or Sinead to slink in, complaining about the new prefects, but that doesn’t happen. She grows more and more uneasy as the minutes tick by. Has something happened? Surely they’d have come and got her by now.

She’s about to set off down the train corridor herself when she hears footsteps approaching and a petite dark-haired girl with striking blue-grey eyes pokes her head in, brightening when she spots Ginny. “Hello Ginny!”

“Hi Astoria,” Ginny says- she hasn’t seen the younger girl since the end of term feast back in June. “Have a good summer?”

Astoria sighs, sitting down neatly across from Ginny, clasping her hands in her lap. “Not really. Mother and Father found out I was part of ‘some subversive political group’,” she scowls, making quotation marks in the air-, “from Daphne, no doubt, so I was barely allowed to go anywhere! It’s so hypocritical- Daphne’s always hanging around wannabe Death Eaters, but I’m the one who gets in trouble!”

Ginny pays a little closer attention at that. “Like who?”

“What?” Astoria frowns.

“You said… wannabe Death Eaters. Do you- does Daphne know anyone who’s joined?” Ginny asks, trying to keep her tone even and neutral.

Astoria bites her lip. “Well- they’re just stupid boys, all talk, you know-”

“Astoria,” Ginny says quickly. “Is Draco one of them? Daphne’s friends with him, isn’t she?”

At the mention of Draco Astoria pales, which is impressive, given her porcelain-like complexion. “I- Daphne is better friends with Pansy. I don’t know why, because Pansy’s awful to everyone, even her, just because she thinks Daphne’s prettier- which she is-,”

“Astoria,” Ginny snaps.

The dark-haired girl closes her mouth, and then opens it again. “Draco’s been different since… since his father was imprisoned. He was always so arrogant, and rude, and… and smug, but now he’s… I don’t know. My mother invited Mrs. Malfoy over for tea back in July. Daphne and I listened at the door. I don’t think things are… going well for them with Mr. Malfoy gone. She said… she said something about Draco having to be the man of the household now.”

The man of the household. Did that mean he was expected to take his father’s place as a Death Eater, now that Lucius Malfoy was in Azkaban for the foreseeable future?

“I’m worried about him,” Astoria goes on. “Well, for him. Draco’s always been an awful bully, but…,” she trails off, pale gaze flitting down to the floor.

“But there’s a big jump from ‘bully’ to ‘Death Eater’,” Ginny says quietly, finishing the thought for her, as the train sets out into the rain-spattered countryside, clouds blocking out the morning sun.

Chapter Text

Ginny is still reeling from having not only escaped detention but having been invited to join Slughorn’s ‘Slug Club’, all because she got caught cursing Zacharias Smith while Astoria looked on, wide-eyed. She steps onto the platform in Hogsmeade, bracing against the familiar cold night air, and is edging around a group of rambunctious third years when she hears a familiar voice.

“What are you doin’?” Sinead is snapping at a terrified looking first year. “Follow Hagrid! You want to miss the boats?” She gives the boy a slight push in the right direction, and when she turns Ginny takes in the sight of the gleaming prefect’s badge on her chest.

“You made prefect?” Ginny demands in lieu of a proper greeting. That explains Sinead’s absence on the train; she was probably patrolling the corridors and checking the bathrooms with the other new prefects.

“I reckon someone blackmailed Snape into it,” Sinead shrugs by way of answering, running a hand through her short hair. “That or Dumbledore told him he had to pick a muggleborn or halfblood, given the bad rep Slytherin’s been gettin’ lately.”

Ginny snorts. “Come on. I think Snape hates me a lot more than he does you.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t run my mouth in class,” Sinead smirks, then frowns. “Nick’s my co-prefect, by the way. Are you two…”

“We didn’t see each other over the summer,” Ginny shrugs, ignoring the stab of guilt she feels. She doesn’t regret their break-up, and she’s not looking to get back together with him, or anyone else this year, but she does miss having him as a friend. “But… I’m over it, and he probably is too.” At least, she hopes he is, or it’s going to be an incredibly awkward year. The common room isn’t nearly large enough to accommodate multiple grudges.

“Well,” says Sinead quickly, obviously eager to change the subject, “let’s get a carriage, then. Have you seen Mavis?”

“I couldn’t find her on the train,” Ginny frowns. “I’m worried about her- it’s not like her to go off by herself somewhere.”

“Yeah,” Sinead mutters. “Who would she have to intellectually intimidate?”

Together they make their way through the crowded station and towards the carriages waiting at the bottom of the hilly path leading up to the castle. Now that Ginny knows exactly what pulls the carriages it’s hard to view them the same way, but she counts herself lucky that she still can’t see the thestrals herself, at least.

A carriage door is open, and a dirty blonde head pokes out to regard them quizzically. “There you are,” Luna says happily, pushing a stray lock out of her eyes. “We’ve been waiting.”

“We?” Ginny asks, as she steps up into the carriage, and then finds herself face to face with a red-eyed, puffy faced Mavis, who must have been crying.

“What’s wrong?” Sinead demands, scrambling into the carriage behind Ginny. “Shite, Mave, you look like someone died!”

Ginny bites her tongue at that- it’s very possible someone has, given the recent news reports.

“Someone outed Elliott to the board of governors,” Mavis says hoarsely, wiping at her eyes, “and pretty soon the entire school’s bound to find out.”

What?

“Dumbledore won’t let them expel him, right?” Sinead asks, scowling. “Come on- he’s just a kid, he’s not a threat to anyone!”

“He’s a werewolf,” Mavis hisses, “according to the Ministry he’s a threat to everyone!”

“But he’s registered,” Ginny argues, “it’s not as if your family’s been keeping him locked up all these years.”

“Well, he may have been registered, but the files were sealed! You’d have to go looking for it. Now it’s going to be common bloody knowledge! His life is ruined,” Mavis slumps back into her seat, pushing back her bangs. She’s growing her hair out again- it’s the longest Ginny has ever seen it, one long braid over her shoulder.

“Where is he now?” Ginny asks, but Mavis just shakes her head.

Luna speaks up quietly, “Mr. Vance pulled him out of school for the year.”

“He can’t do that,” Sinead says indignantly, “he’s got a right to learn-,”

“Daddy says he’ll tutor him himself if he has to,” Mavis mutters in a low, defeated tone. “He says it’s not worth the risk to keep Elliott at Hogwarts, not if he’s going to be a target- especially not with the Death Eaters on the run. They’d either try to kill him for being a halfbreed, or… I don’t know, use him somehow. They say they recruited Greyback in the last war.”

“Last war implies there’s goin’ to be another one,” Sinead says, blankly, and the carriage is silent as it trundles up the hill towards Hogwarts.

“I’m sorry, Mavis,” Ginny speaks when Hogwarts draws near and the carriage begins to slow to a halt. “That’s… your family doesn’t deserve this. Do they know how the board found out?”

“Lucius Malfoy used to be on it,” Mavis snaps, throwing open the carriage door. “And I’m about 1/15th of the reason why he’s currently rotting in prison. Put two and two together.”

She doesn’t wait up for the rest of them as she disappears into the crowd of students passing through Hogwarts’ imposing gates.

“It’s not your fault, Ginny,” Luna says, before Ginny can say it, because she feels sick, like she just came out of an aerial dive during a game and didn’t quite pull it off.

But it is her fault. The only reason Mavis was at the Ministry that night, facing Death Eaters at age fourteen, was because of Ginny. And in thanks she almost bled to death and her brother’s become a social pariah, permanently. For once, she can’t think of anything to stay, and just stares at the ground until Sinead takes her firmly by the arm.

“Come on, before we get run over.”

Together with Luna they enter the castle, only splitting apart when they reach the Great Hall, and Luna heads to the Ravenclaw Table while they sit down at Slytherin. Ginny is digging her fingernails into her palms as she looks around- Mavis is nowhere to be seen, so she must have gone straight to the dormitory. Ginny can’t blame her.

“I’m technically supposed to deduct points for her skippin’ out on the feast,” Sinead says under her breath, “but in this case I think I’ll make an exception. Jesus.” She jerks her head in the direction of the head table. “Only good thin' about this is that Umbridge’s crawled back to the seventh circle of Hell.”

“Snape’s teaching DADA this year,” Ginny tells her, unable to summon up even a dry smile. “Dumbledore’s got Slughorn to teach Potions- he used to be a professor here.” She gives Sinead a brief summary of the Slug Club.

“You’ve got some luck, Weasley,” Sinead shakes her head, but for once her tone is far from mocking.

The rest of the table fills up around them. Draco, Ginny notes, comes in later than usual, and without Pansy clinging onto him. He looks aggravated as he sits down near the end of the table, by himself. He’s not even wearing his prefect badge.

“Yeah, didn’t see that little shite doin’ his job on the train today,” Sinead all but growls. “Probably too busy going three rounds with Pansy in the feckin’ loo-,” she trails off abruptly as Nick and Eamon sit down across from them.

Eamon smiles at them both, and Nick nods at Sinead, then looks to Ginny, who forces a polite smile, nonetheless. “Hey,” is all Nick says, flushing slightly, and seems like he wants to say more, when Katrina and Jocasta appear, true to form, and sit down a few feet away.

Ginny regards them steadily; she and Jocasta did strike up something like a truce last year, back in January, but who knows how long it will hold after this summer. Katrina turns to her and Sinead, eyes wide with interest. “Is it true?”

“Is what true?” Sinead asks flatly, crossing her arms.

“That Mavis’ brother is a- hey!” She winces when Jocasta pinches her, rounding on her friend with a glare. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Just drop it already,” Jocasta says, and briefly looks past Katrina to Ginny and Sinead. “The Sorting’s about to start, anyways.”

“First year you’ve ever cared to shut up during the Sorting, Jocasta,” Cyril Harper says snidely, and Jocasta and Katrina both turn to feud with him. Meanwhile, Marcel Leto is a bit further down the table, head bowed, pale as snow. Leander Ayers is talking to him in what sounds like an almost comforting tone- a first for him, Ginny thinks.

“What’s up with them?” Sinead asks Eamon.

He grimaces and lowers his voice. “Marcel’s mum’s in St. Mungo’s. She was trying to bring in the Carrows last night- you know how he’s always on about her being an auror? Reckon she took them both on by herself, but they got away- and messed her up real nasty, too.”

McGonagall begins the Sorting, and the Slytherin table falls, for the most part, silent. Ginny looks over to the Gryffindor Table a few times, and while she can make out Hermione’s bushy hair and Ron’s red head even from here, she sees no sign of Harry. The last she saw him was at Slughorn’s little meeting aboard the train, and then he went off somewhere… She should have gone with him, she thinks, darkly.

Still, if Draco’s here… then where is Harry?

Harry still doesn’t appear after the Hat’s song, nor during the actual feast. It’s only when the desserts have appeared that she sees him quickly making his way over to the Gryffindor table, head down, practically rigid with rage, while Snape takes a seat with the other professors, looking more smug than usual.

“Wonder what happened to him,” Sinead muses, after swallowing another mouthful of pudding.

“I think he might have had a run-in with Malfoy on the train,” Ginny says, but she doesn’t feel comfortable telling Sinead that Harry suspects Draco is a Death Eater trainee when there’s so many potential eavesdroppers among them. Honestly, it’d be a mark of a poor Slytherin to not listen in.

Malfoy seems to have returned to his usual attitude by the time the Great Hall lets out, and Ginny, robbed of Sinead’s presence by the first years she and Nick had to escort down to the dungeons earlier, walks back with Eamon, Tracey, and Astoria. Draco is miming a bloody nose, and doesn’t miss the scornful look Ginny tosses his way as they enter the common room.

“What’s wrong, Weasley?” he sneers, sitting up a bit straighter on the sofa, Pansy practically in his lap. “Worried about Potter’s face? Can’t be much worse now than it was before.”

Pansy shrieks with laughter, and Tracey rolls her eyes. “Love the new perfume, Pansy- what is it? Eau du desperation?”

Pansy abruptly stops laughing, and scoffs at Tracey, who looks about as unimpressed as usual. “How’s Mummy, Tracey? Heard a few Dementors tried to give her a little kiss this summer- no idea why they’d want to snog someone who looks like you!”

Tracey stiffens, and Eamon steps slightly in front of her as if to prevent a charge, which, at this point, Ginny wouldn’t blame Tracey in the slightest for.

“You should get better friends, Astoria,” Draco addresses Astoria coldly. “It’s embarrassing, really, seeing a Greengrass like this.”

“I’m sorry,” Astoria says sharply, “I didn’t realize my social circle was the biggest embarrassment to our house at the moment- where’s your invitation to Slughorn’s club, again? Lose it on the train?”

Ginny has never heard Astoria like this, brittle and jagged and brimming with spite, but there’s something extremely satisfactory about seeing the way Draco visibly reels for a moment, to be verbally reamed out by a fourth year half his size.

She steels herself before entering her dorm room, and finds that everyone else is already inside. Mavis is lying in bed, stone-faced, reading her Potions textbook, a coping skill Ginny is very familiar with, and Sinead is reading a letter by the light of the lantern on her bedside table. Jocasta and Katrina are uncharacteristically quiet, and to Ginny’s surprise, even nod at her in greeting when she enters, rather than sneering or snickering amongst themselves.

“Who’s that from?” she asks Sinead she she opens up her trunk.

Sinead looks up, almost in alarm, and frowns. “No one.”

Ginny huffs, then snatches the letter from her a moment later, and glimpses the signature at the bottom before Sinead rips it away, scowling. “Bitch.”

Liar,” Ginny retorts, and then smiles genuinely for the first time all day. “Been writing Isak Lövborg for very long, have you?”

Mavis looks up from her textbook at that, brow furrowed.

Sinead blushes scarlet from head to toe. “I got their address from Eva at the end of third year. It’s not a big deal- takes him ages to write back, usually.”

“Usually,” Ginny echoes teasingly under her breath, and then ducks the jacket Sinead flings in her direction in retaliation.

Chapter Text

Ginny hadn’t been looking forward to classes this year to begin with, given that OWLs are just around the corner, and she’s even less enthused now that she knows DADA will be taught by Snape. She knows he’s likely very capable of teaching DADA just as well as any other professor, and she’d still rather him over Umbridge, but the fact remains that the man is immensely unlikable, Order member or not. She might not provoke his sneers just by existing, the way Harry does, but that doesn’t mean he’s exactly fond of the sole Slytherin Weasley, either.

That said, Mavis has always respected their Head of House, and Ginny is relieved to see her brighten slightly at the prospect of a fresh year of classes. They have Defence with the Ravenclaws, as usual, and Ginny takes a seat besides Luna, who is peering around the room with great interest. “I think the aura is much better since Umbridge left,” she informs Ginny, who struggles to keep a straight face.

The room might be a little less… stuffy since her departure, but it’s also much darker, and the diagrams and pictures on the walls aren’t what she’d call ‘cheery’. The nearest one seems to be depicting some sort of skin-flaying curse, spurts of blood and all. “Yeah? Has her perfume replaced by the smell of hair grease?”

Snape closes the book he’d been studying loudly enough that Ginny wonders if he managed to overhear her mutter, but he merely rises to his feet, surveying the class with his normal stare of distaste, although she supposes the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs probably have it a lot worse with him. Everyone claims Snape favors the Slytherins, but in Ginny’s experience when it comes down to general classwork, he’s about as vicious with everyone.

“Well,” he says, and the room is instantly so quiet you could hear a pin drop. In the seat in front of her, Ginny watches Katrina squirm uncomfortably. “I seem to be your fifth teacher in this particular subject. Given the lack of consistency, I very much doubt all but a select few of you will manage to make it through the OWL and continue with this class.”

Luna’s hand drifts lazily into the air. Ginny realizes with a shred of humor that she has never actually had a class with both Snape and Luna in the same room before.

“Yes, Miss Lovegood?” Snape says tersely, pronouncing Luna’s surname as though it physically pains him to do so, which is likely accurate.

“Will we be studying the Blue-Spotted Dream Leech as part of this year’s curriculum?” Luna asks, quite seriously.

Eamon lets out a quiet snicker, then quails under Snape’s glower.

Snape stares at Luna, as if trying to determine whether or not she’s mocking him, and then says, “We will not. In the future, attempt to quantify your queries into something less than nonsensical before speaking in my classroom.”

Luna sighs as if she’d expected as much, and Ginny bites down on the inside of her cheek to keep from smirking as Snape continues with his lecture. “The idea that any of you could be prepared to counter the Dark Arts is utterly laughable, but nevertheless, the OWL exam will attempt to discern the limits to which- yes, Mr. Campbell?”

Ginny glances back at Nick, who is stone-faced, hand in the air. He’s usually not one to speak up during class, particularly when Snape is teaching, but-

“Three members of this class have countered the Dark Arts, sir,” he says plainly, looking from Ginny, to Luna, to Mavis, who sits rigid beside Sinead, flushed pink. “Wouldn’t you say the OWL should be a breeze, compared to actual Death Eaters?”

“Did you really fight Bellatrix Lestrange?” Will Fawcett turns round in his seat from the front, eyebrows raised. Murmurs break out around the room- Cyril Harper is arguing with Mindy Sweven over whether or not one of his uncles is wanted on conspiracy charges relating to said break-in.

“Enough,” Snape barely raises his voice, but the class falls silent again. He gives Nick a particularly dire look, likely for instigating the outburst of gossiping in the first place, and says, as if through gritted teeth, “That your classmates lived to tell the tale,” he looks at Ginny at this, as if to suggest she’s been skipping down the halls shouting it for all to hear, “speaks not to their talent but to their incredible luck. Any of you, if confronted by a dark witch or wizard, has an infinitesimal chance of survival, or even of avoiding serious injury…”

In the end, he divides them into pairs to practice their shield charms, which Ginny has to admit is a far sight better than copying endless notes. She and Luna are fairly evenly matched, with Ginny mostly breaking through Luna’s shield when she gets distracted and her focus wavers, and Luna occasionally landing a hex on Ginny when she’s not able to get her shield up fast enough.

When class finally lets out, she catches up to Nick’s long strides in the hall. “Thanks,” Ginny says quickly, hoping she’s not flushing. “Snape looked like he wanted to start handing out detentions after what you said, though.”

Nick glances at her, then away, then back again, adjusting his grip on his satchel. “Yeah, well,” he says in a low voice, “you risked a lot more last spring than I just did in there.”

Ginny gives him a small smile at that, and then doubles back to rejoin Mavis and Sinead, who are debating over who had the better shield, although Ginny can safely say (and never admit aloud) that it was Sinead, even if Mavis is the better at offensive magic.

Their last class of the day is Potions, which Ginny, while not awful, has never been particularly good at. She has no idea what Slughorn will be like as a professor; he came across as very easy going during the Slug Club meeting on the train, but who knows what he’s like when he’s not surrounded by students he favors.

At the very least, Ginny can’t really picture him being more severe than Snape, so maybe her marks will improve in time to manage at least an Exceeds Expectations on her OWL this year. She still has no idea what she wants to do after Hogwarts, but Mum has always said Potions is important.

Potions is their last class of the day, and Ginny sits in the back besides Eloise Midgen, who has been her Potions partner for as long as Slytherin and Gryffindor have shared the class. The usually damp room feels warmer and more cheery already, bubbling with pleasant-smelling potions for once, and Slughorn is in high spirits, looking around the room eagerly as they all take their seats. He spots Ginny and smiles fondly at her; she reflexively smiles back, startled. She’s always gotten along with professors like McGonagall and Flitwick, but she’s never had anyone really favor her, either.

“Welcome,” Slughorn says, “to another year of Potions! This will be an especially important year for all of you, as you’ll be preparing for your OWLs in June, and I would very much like to see some familiar faces in my NEWT-level class next year,” he chuckles, before clapping his hands together.

Mavis looks a bit skeptical of someone conducting a Potions lesson with such good humor, but once he begins his lecture on how to brew a Draught of Peace, she begins taking notes at a furious rate, just like everyone else, since there’s a good chance it’ll be on the OWL, and the Potions OWL is supposed to be horrifically difficult, although according to Hermione, of course, it was really rather simplistic.

Ginny’s Draught is nowhere near perfect by the end of class, but she thinks she might have done a bit better than usual purely because she didn’t have Snape breathing down her (and everyone else’s) necks the entire time. Mavis’, is, of course, the perfect hue of pearlescent white, which Slughorn displays for the entire class to see, beaming.

“I don’t get it,” Sinead says to Ginny, brow furrowed, as they make their way back to the common room- Mavis is off to the library- “she’s this Potions prodigy, an’ Sluggy doesn’t want her for his little club?”

Ginny exhales as they turn a dark corner, torches flickering on either side of them. “She’s brilliant, but as of this summer, she’s related to a known werewolf. Slughorn’s image-obsessed- he didn’t invite Nott or Malfoy because they’ve got admitted Death Eater family, and Theo Nott’s a genius when it comes to Transfiguration- Draco’s not dim either, I heard Pansy telling Daphne he got an Outstanding on his Potions OWL.”

Sinead mutters something unflattering about wizarding culture for the umpteenth time, and at this point, Ginny can’t really blame her. Besides, she has bigger things to worry about during their first week of classes, like the upcoming Slytherin tryouts, and the fact that Harry’s apparently taking cues from a potentially sinister textbook.

She tracks him down during lunch one day, although it’s rare for their schedules to line up, since he has a much lighter class load this year. Ginny slides into an open seat across from him, ignoring the few glares sent her way by other Gryffindors, who are probably a bit sick of her constantly sidling over to their table to talk to Harry or Hermione or (if she’s desperate) Ron. That’s the thing about Gryffindors- they’re so touchy. Ravenclaws just roll their eyes and ignore her when she sits at their table to chat with Luna.

“Have you gone mad?” she asks, in lieu of a proper greeting.

Harry looks up at her from his soup. “What?”

“Hermione told me about your new Potions textbook,” Ginny says shortly, tapping her fingers on the table impatiently and pouring herself a cup of pumpkin juice. “You don’t think people might be a bit suspicious as to how you’ve suddenly become an ace at Potions?”

Harry scowls. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”

“You’re taking advice from a bloody book,” Ginny snaps. “A book that just happened to fall into your hands!”

“It’s not-,” he takes an annoyed spoonful of soup, “it’s not like the diary, it’s not talking to me, it’s not enchanted or anything-,”

“Not that you know of,” Ginny snorts. “You don’t think a dark wizard could potentially disguise things better than you?”

“If Voldemort wanted to kill me with a bloody book, I think he would have tried that already,” Harry retorts, glowering at her. Ginny glares back at him. “Besides, it’s just… extra instructions for Potions. And I- I really need the marks, if I’m going to do well on my Potions NEWT next year,” he says more seriously.

“You still want to be an Auror, then?” It’s not that she can’t picture it, it’s just that Ginny doesn’t have the highest opinion of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement after they conveniently failed to notice that the most dangerous wizard alive had returned from the dead for an entire year. For all anyone knows, half of them are being blackmailed or threatened by Death Eaters.

“Can’t see what else I’d be doing,” Harry shrugs. He looks at her. “What about you?”

Ginny waves a hand irritably. “I’m trying not to think too much about it. I don’t want a desk job, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah, can’t really picture you filling out paperwork and delivering memos,” Harry grins slightly, and it’s still endearing enough that she softens, despite her best intentions, and decides to berate him more over the textbook at a later date. They are friends now, after all, even if he’s not holding DA meetings anymore, although, for the record, she thinks relying entirely on Snape’s tutelage in Defence this year might not be the best idea. Then again, they were all lucky not to be expelled or dragged into court last year.

“I’m still keeping an eye on Malfoy,” she adds, finishing off the last of her pumpkin juice. “But he’s hard to keep track of lately- last year, all he did was lounge about in the Common Room snogging Pansy, and now he’s made himself scarce.”

Harry’s grin immediately vanishes, green eyes darkening. “Don’t,” he begins, but Ginny is already pushing herself up from the table.

“I’ve got Care of Magical Creatures, got to run-,”

“Ginny!” he calls after her, but she’s already jogging out of the hall, slinging her bag over her shoulder.