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The Changeling

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After a period of horror and shock, the Carrows’s decision to introduce the Cruciatus into the classroom backfires. Rather than being cowed, students now seem even more determined to push back at every turn.

Posters constantly appear all over the castle. Snape and the Carrows can barely open their mouths these days before a poster appears dispelling their lies.

In response, the Enforcement Squad doubles their bullying in the halls. Ginny can’t imagine it will be that much longer until they are at full-on war.

It all just means she needs to redouble her efforts. Everything she has goes into mastering Legilimency, into collecting information, into getting ahead of the Carrows any way she can.

She listens in the classrooms, watches in the halls. Most of the hours she doesn’t spend in lessons with Snape or in class, she spends in the common room or Great Hall or library, listening for any tiny comment that may betray a larger scheme.

She listens and watches and tries to see ten steps ahead. She has to.

“Hey.”

Ginny looks up as Tilly sits next to her. “Oh, hi,” she says, a little surprised to see Tilly up in the common room.

She seems to have channeled her anger at Nicola’s disappearance into a sort of furious energy she uses to attack alchemic projects. She’s far more tight-lipped about the projects than she’s ever been before. Or so it seems from what little time Ginny has spent in The Parlor the last couple weeks.

Ginny slides her a look, because clearly Tilly is working her way up to say something.

Before she manages it, Reiko walks in, Bassenthwaite right on her heels, clearly laughing at something she’s just said.

Coming back from a DA meeting, Ginny realizes, glancing up at the clock. She didn’t realize quite that much time had passed. Tomorrow, she thinks. Tomorrow she’ll make it.  

Tilly is staring over at Reiko and Bassenthwaite, glaring as if scandalized by the noise.

Bassenthwaite catches Tilly looking, nodding his head at her. She grimly nods back before returning her gaze to the fire.

“How is that going?” Ginny asks. She may be listening for a particular kind of information these days, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t hear her fair share of gossip. Including the swarm of drama surrounding Tilly’s winter-break betrothal.

It certainly helps explain her mood this term.

“How is what going?” Tilly says, clearly happy to play dumb.

Ginny slides her a glance to remind her just who she is talking to.

Tilly sighs. “Ugh, fine,” she complains. “We’re still firmly humoring our parents. Bassenthwaite says there’s plenty of time to find a way out of it.”

“He’s a good sort,” Ginny says, knowing it could have been much worse.

“I’m sure he is,” Tilly says. “But I’m eighteen, and that is not what my life is going to be.”

“Yeah,” Ginny agrees.

“It’s not like he wants to marry me either,” she points out. “I told him I thought he’d be happy to have an excuse to get out of here early, he hates books and lessons so much. But he just gave me this strange look and said there were things here he needed to take care of.”

Ginny looks down at her hands. Bassenthwaite has taken his role in the DA very seriously. He probably spends more time there these days than she does. Never been much good at spellwork, he told her once. But teaching the young’uns makes a mite more sense.

“Fine,” Tilly says. “Keep your secrets.”

If only she knew.

“So who do you have your eye on?”

“What?” Ginny asks.

“You’re spending so much time up here. When you’re not in detention, that is,” Tilly says. She pauses, as if waiting for Ginny to fill the quiet with information. She sighs. “You must be watching someone, right?”

Ginny just forces herself to smile, and Tilly doesn’t push, seeing what she wants.

“Well, figure it out, because we miss you down there,” she says.

It’s not like she’s avoiding them. She’s just keeping an eye on things.

“You mean that without Nicola, you need another guinea pig.”

Tilly shrugs. “Yeah. But also…”

“Also?” Ginny asks.

“It’s getting pretty empty down there.”

Ginny winces. There were eleven girls the last year Antonia was mistress. With Nicola gone, they are down to seven. People graduate, move on. But Ginny hasn’t looked for a single new girl to fill the ranks. Hasn’t had time.

She looks around the room. All she sees are hostages. Potential threats. Potential losses.

Tilly touches her arm. “Figure it out soon.”

Ginny nods.

*     *     *

“This skill is practiced best of all when no one suspects you have it,” Snape says, as if Ginny needs any reminder at all of the power of secrets in the middle of a war.

Ginny has read enough about Legilimency and its uses to know that her training is not strictly legal. This is the sort of skill that requires registration with the Ministry, official public oversight. She doesn’t have room for inflexible laws that couldn’t possibly have been meant to apply to a situation like this.

“While eye contact certainly makes this skill easier, it also makes it more dangerous. More obvious. We will continue to use the hypnotic mist to soften the minds of those you will practice on, though on a lower dose. You must begin to learn the feel of entering a mind in less controlled settings.”

“Meaning?” Ginny asks.

The corner of his mouth lifts. “Meaning it is time to take our lessons into a more…real-world situation.”

He leads her down the hall to the potions room. Right before they enter, he hits her with the familiar charm.

Inside, there is already a student scrubbing away at a cauldron, one of the more harmless, if not annoying punishments floating around the castle these days.

As the door closes, the student turns around.

It’s Hannah.

Ginny very nearly takes a step back, her heart pounding away in her chest.

“I take it you know Miss Abbott?” Snape asks.

Ginny doesn’t let anything show on her face. “We have classes together, sir.” Her head tilts to the side. “Well, at least since she was held back a year.”

Snape lets out a small derisive sound, Hannah’s face flushing red.

Ginny just focuses on breathing because she’s finally realizing what this will mean. Using this skill on someone she knows. Someone who trusts her.

Snape is watching her, almost as if he expects her to balk, to refuse to do it, but how could he possibly know?

“You and Miss Abbott will scrub all of these cauldrons by hand.”

“Yes, sir,” she says, picking up a bristle brush and kneeling in front of a cauldron.

“I will be back to check on your progress.”

She nods.

The door closes behind him.

“Ginny,” Hannah says.

“Not here,” Ginny hisses.

“Shut it,” says a voice from behind them. It’s only then that Ginny realizes they are not alone. Urquhart lounges against the door, watching them. Here as part of his Enforcement Squad duties, no doubt.

Wanker.

He meets her gaze, something snidely superior about his expression, no doubt in response to their apparent swap in status. She may have booted him off her squad, but now she’s the one seemingly in detention.

“Something you want to say, Weasley?” he snaps, swiping absently at the sweat beading on his forehead. There’s something about his eyes…

She glances at the cauldron bubbling in the corner. Affecting everyone in the room equally.

Snape’s slipped up, or just doesn’t care, but either way she will take advantage.

Moving to another cauldron across the room from Hannah, Ginny begins to scrub, her other hand reaching into her pocket for her wand. She whispers the incantation, reaching out with her mind.

It’s a strange sensation. She isn’t sitting in front of someone, looking straight into their eyes, so when she casts the spell, she feels a wave of warring sensations that she belatedly realizes is a combination of all of the people nearby. There is fear, confliction, anticipation, and the tang of adrenaline.

“Oi,” a voice shouts. “Keep working.”

Ginny jerks back to her surroundings.

She’s stopped scrubbing. Silently chastising herself for being so careless, she works quietly, finishing the first and moving on to a second before trying again.

It takes her a long time to figure out how to untangle the two minds. It would be easier to just jump in, but she refuses to push into Hannah’s mind.

Snape would call this a weakness.

She doesn’t care.

It takes a long, long time. Much longer than using eye contact. Only once she is completely sure she has isolated Urquhart’s mind does she gently press in.

It’s a swarm of emotions and half-formed thoughts and urges and memories. Ginny concentrates on creating boundaries and pockets of space, fighting for enough distance to observe and not take part.

Can’t wait to try these new spells out on those Gryffindor cunts.

Ginny straightens at the stray thought, chasing after it.

His thoughts are scattered, a giant mess of memories and half-remembered lessons, but Ginny ruthlessly shoves them aside, having no interest in anything but the stray thought. It’s like trying to climb a mountain with gusts of wind and slippery ice and everything , including the mountain itself, trying to shake you off.

She grits her teeth, digs in her toes, and presses on.

Amycus smiles. “Mayhap it’s time for a little spot inspection on the dorms.”

Alecto sighs, leaning back in her chair and staring up at the ceiling. “Boooring.”

“Well, any tiny infraction must be dealt with, don’t it? The squad is getting restless. We should give them something to play with.”

Crabbe and Goyle shoot him unsubtle looks of anticipation, nudging Ginny in the ribs.

Alecto snorts, her chair slapping back to the ground with a thump. “Sure. We could show ‘em a few new tricks.”

“Miss Weasley.”

Ginny pulls back, looking up into Snape’s face.

She has to take a moment, closing her eyes and breathing in deep a few times.

“No one told you to stop, Miss Abbott,” Snape says, voice sharp.

Ginny sits back on her heels, glancing over to find Hannah watching her with a frown.

“Get up,” Snape says.

Ginny dutifully gets to her feet, following him back out into the hall, Urquhart letting out a derisive snort as she passes by.

It’s on the tip of her tongue, to snap that she knows he isn’t quite so fearless as he appears. That she knows what lurks in his deepest yearnings.

“Miss Weasley,” Snape says, voice impatient.

It’s only then she realizes she’s stopped in front of Urquhart, staring him down. More than anything, she wants to cut him down to size, to give him a dismissive glance like he’s a bug. But Hannah is still quietly working, and she will be the only target he has left.

So instead, she drops her eyes like it means anything, like she’s acknowledging the hit.

She still wants to curse the pleased expression off his bloody smug face.

Back inside the small room with Snape, he sits across the table from her.

“What challenges did the lack of eye contact provide?” he asks.

They spend the next twenty minutes picking apart strategies and pitfalls. She asks questions, and he answers as best he can, but most often with questions of his own.

Only this time as she leaves, he asks one final question.

“And what did you learn from Miss Abbott?” Snape asks, voice casual, eyes still on the table. “Anything that might be of…interest?”

They always talk extensively about her experiences. But never, ever has he asked about what she’s seen.

Ginny jerks open the door, and Hannah is walking past, rubbing at her shoulder. They both freeze, looking at each other. Hannah glances back into the room, past Ginny towards Snape.

Keep going, Hannah, Ginny thinks. Just keep walking.

After a moment, Hannah does, disappearing down the hall.

Ginny turns back to Snape, and the question hanging still unanswered between them. “If you want to know, try taking it from me.”

His eyebrows fly up at her tone, no doubt.

“Yeah,” Ginny says. “I didn’t think so.”

She pulls the door shut after her with a thump.

*     *     *

It’s late when she makes her way to the Room of Requirement, but there are still a lot of students there. She’s thankful Hannah isn’t there for reasons she doesn’t really want to think about at the moment.

She nods at Nicola, moving over to where Neville is talking to Seamus.

“Hey, stranger,” Demelza says. “Where have you been?”

Ginny shrugs off the question. “Come on,” she says. “You’ll want to hear this too.”

Neville and Seamus look up as they approach. “Hey.”

Ginny gives him a distracted greeting. “Look. There’s going to be an inspection of the Gryffindor dorms. The Carrows are going to let the Enforcement Squad do it.”

Neville and Seamus share a look. “When?” Neville asks.

She shakes her head. “I’m not sure. But soon. And they aren’t going to be nice about it.”

Seamus frowns. “How did you find this out?”

Ginny presses her lips together.

“I swear,” Neville says. “Some days I wonder if she has a spy network or something.”

Ginny carefully keeps her face frozen.

Demelza snorts. “Let me guess, ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.”

“Pretty much,” Ginny says. She reaches out and touches Neville and Demelza’s arms. “Be careful.”

“You know us,” Seamus says, giving her a wide grin.  

*     *     *

In the Room of Requirement that weekend, the Gryffindor are nearly rolling with laughter as they reenact the doomed inspection of their dorms.

Only now is Ginny realizing she should have been much more specific in her instructions of how to handle the inspections. Because the stupid gits decided the best thing to do was empty everyone’s trunk in the entire bloody dorm.

It’s like they’ve never even heard of the word subtlety.

Ginny shakes her head, glancing over at Terry. He gives her a disinterested shrug that seems to say, Bloody Gryffindors, what can you do?

It’s an obvious thumbing of their noses at the Carrows, but also a clarion call that someone is spying on them. As unpredictable as the Carrows can be, there is no way to know how they will strike back, only that they will.

“This should be interesting,” Terry says.

“Okay,” Neville calls out. “Let’s get started.”

Everyone starts to pair up for defense training.

A third-year Hufflepuff glances around, shyly making eye contact with Ginny when there is no one else to pair up with. Ginny’s face freezes halfway to a smile, because he doesn’t know. Doesn’t remember sitting in a dungeon room with her. Doesn’t remember her pilfering through his thoughts.

She takes a half step back, shaking her head, and the kid’s expression shifts to wary, and really, that’s better, isn’t it?

Ginny turns for the door.

“You’re leaving?” Hannah asks.

“Uh, yeah,” Ginny says, forcing her breathing steady. Even. “Sorry. There’s something I need to take care of.”

Ginny pushes out into the hall, taking a moment to orient herself to the Room of Requirement’s latest exit point. She turns right, because that direction is as good as any at the moment.

It takes her far longer than it should to realize that Hannah is following her. Ginny tries ignoring her for a while, walking faster, but Hannah just stubbornly keeps up.

“What?” Ginny demands, turning around to look at her.

“We’re talking about this,” Hannah says, arms crossed and feet set like it will take a Horntail to dislodge her. “I don’t really care where we do it, but we are doing it.”

She glances around at the students in the halls, as if daring Ginny to make a scene.

Ginny sighs. “Fine.”

She sets out down the hallway, not particularly caring if Hannah follows or keeps up. Her feet take her outside and down towards the Forbidden Forest. Part of Ginny is hoping Hannah will lose her nerve, but her stubbornness has always been a formidable enemy.

It was always inevitable, she supposes, having to deal with Hannah. With what Hannah thinks she saw, what she thinks she knows.

Just inside the trees, Ginny turns, crossing her arms over her chest.

Hannah gives the forest a wary glance.

“You said you didn’t care where we did it,” Ginny reminds her, feeling strangely perverse.

Hannah’s lips press together. After a moment she shakes her head, letting out a long breath. “Are you okay?” she asks, her expression painfully earnest.

“What?” Ginny asks. “I’m fine.”

“Ginny,” she says, voice chastising.

“What?”

“What’s going on?”

Ginny shakes her head. “Nothing.”

“You haven’t been the same since we got back.”

“I’m fine,” Ginny insists.

Hannah throws her hands up in exasperation. “You’re not. You’re…distant. Like you can’t stand to be around us anymore. And it’s only getting worse.”

Something hard seems to have lodged itself in Ginny’s chest. “You’re imagining things.”

“I’m not,” she says, chin lifting. “Is this because of whatever it is you’re doing with Snape?”

“Hannah,” she says in warning, knowing they would get here eventually.

Hannah tilts her head to the side, her voice softening. “Or is it because of Luna?”

Ginny straightens. “What?”  

Hannah steps closer. “What happened to her wasn’t your fault.”

Ginny just stares back at her, her breath heaving in her chest.

She touches her arm, fingers soft and comforting. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Bollocks,” Ginny snaps, feeling like everything is trying to rise up and choke her all at once. “You’re the one who said it’s my job to keep us safe!”

“Ginny, no,” Hannah says, looking stricken. “There’s no way we could have known that was going to happen.”

“Yes!” Ginny says, shrugging off her hand. “There was. There was a way for me to know and I didn’t do it. I’m not making that mistake again.”

“I don’t understand.”

Ginny lets out a thick laugh. “Of course you don’t.”

But rather than being put off, Hannah merely presses closer. “Explain it to me than.”

In that moment, it is completely beyond Ginny to hold the words back any longer. “You want to know what’s going on? That’s what’s going on. I’m keeping us safe any bloody way I can. Even if it means doing our dirty work, things you probably couldn’t live with. Because that’s why I’m really here right?”

Hannah blanches, and Ginny can’t stop herself from pushing in on the weakness. “That’s what I thought. So maybe you should be thankful I’m keeping my distance.”

She pushes past Hannah.

“Let me help you.”

Ginny spins back on her heel. “And what are you going to do for me, Hannah?”

Hannah regards her for a moment, and then she is striding forward and pulling Ginny into a hug.

Ginny freezes, feeling like someone just punched her in the chest. She’s horrified to feel the press of tears.

She can’t even remember the last time someone touched her.

Snape wants to be her to cruel. McGonagall wants her to be careful. Nymue wants her to be powerful. And Hannah, what? Wants her to be soft ?

“I know you’re doing what’s necessary,” Hannah says. “I know you’re keeping us safe. And maybe you’re right that I don’t want to know. But you can’t….” Her arms tighten around her. “How can you keep us safe if you shut us out? If you don’t let yourself care about us?”

Caring is a weakness!

“And when it’s you they take?” Ginny says, deliberately cruel.

Hannah pulls back to look at her, not looking hurt or shocked.

Ginny braces herself for her to say, You won’t let that happen .

But Hannah simply says, “You replace me with someone new and let them help you carry on. You don’t do this alone.”

She doesn’t know what she’s asking.

Hannah lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “I think maybe it’s the only way any of this is ever going to work.”

Ginny can’t form words, just looks back at Hannah’s face.

You’ll keep us kind.

Hannah squeezes Ginny’s arms before letting go. “Just…think about it. Will you?”

She nods.

*      *     *

Ginny tries. She really does. But transitioning from her lessons with Snape to trying to come back and be with people like she’s normal, like she doesn’t need this separation to keep herself sane... It’s a struggle.

She visits Nicola, forces herself down into The Parlor, comes to training sessions at the DA. Some days she can survive it better than others. But she’s trying , dammit.

When she fails, when she gives in to the need to be anywhere else, Hannah is always there watching.

Hannah watches, but doesn’t say anything.

She doesn’t need to. The look on her face is more than enough.

Today the Room of Requirement is nearly empty, and it’s easier when it’s like this.

Ginny sits on a chair near Nicola’s workbench, watching her futz with tiny little metal pieces that Ginny has no idea what they are, let alone what they do. It’s somehow calming though, watching her pull all the pieces together, form them into something intricate and with perfectly orchestrated pieces moving together.

Ginny picks up a small metal trinket, turning it in her fingers. She thinks about the feel of it in her fingers, trying to quiet her mind. It lets off a small spark, Ginny yelping as it singes her finger.

“A diode,” Nicola explains, taking it from her fingers.

“Sorry,” Ginny says, wincing and rubbing her fingers together.

Nicola shrugs. “They aren’t usually that delicate. Except around volatile magics.”

“Are you calling me volatile?” she tries to joke.

“If you are,” Nicola says, eyes travelling across her face, “the diode is the only one to have picked up on it.”

“Yes, well,” Ginny says, forcing her face prim. “We all have hidden depths.”

Nicola goes back to tinkering. “What you’re doing…” she says, voice hesitant. “Not just The Parlor, but this…” She waves vaguely around the room.

“Yes,” Ginny says. Nicola is the first real crossover between those two spaces, and it’s strange, any one person having access to both these parts of her. It leaves her feeling vaguely…exposed.

“It’s a lot,” Nicola says.

Ginny stops herself from picking up another metal bit to fiddle with. “It can be,” she admits.

Nicola nods.

They are quiet for a while, and Ginny thinks maybe that’s the end of it, but then Nicola clears her throat.

“I just wanted to say… I mean,” she breaks off. “If there is ever anything I can do to help…” She shoots her a look like she knows she’s being presumptuous, this idea that Ginny might ever need her help.

Ginny hesitates, but after a moment, stretches her hand out to touch Nicola’s. “That means a lot. Thank you.”

Nicola smiles at her, her cheeks a little pink. “You just… You aren’t alone.”

“No,” Ginny says. “I suppose I’m not.”   

*     *     *

It doesn’t take long for the retaliation for the botched Gryffindor inspection to make itself known. The Carrows start chaining up first-years in the dungeons. It’s something Filch threatened for years, but the harmless joke is anything but. The smallest infraction and eleven-year-olds get to spend the night hanging from a dank wall in the dark.

Ginny is actually vaguely impressed by the cold, ruthless logic behind the move. The Quaffle is firmly in the DA’s end of the field now. Their move.

What are they going to do about it?

Before they can even begin to formulate a response, it all comes to a head in a way Ginny wasn’t prepared for, but really should have been, because Michael Corner’s youngest brother gets chained up on that wall. Bad enough on its own, but Michael gets caught trying to release him.

Yet another student made into a very public example.

Ginny sits next to Hannah in the Room of Requirement, Neville pacing in front of them, his face grim. Hannah gnaws at her nails, and the wait is unbearable.

“I just wish he’d come to us first,” Ginny says, not for the first time.

Hannah shakes her head. “It was his brother. Any of us would have done the same.”

“He’s back,” Ginny says as the door to the Room of Requirement opens.

Hannah pushes to her feet, looking expectantly at Terry. “How is he?”

Terry’s jaw is set, a clear indication he did not enjoy his visit to the infirmary. “Pretty much how you’d expect. You know, if someone insulted a Hippogriff.”

Neville curses.

“It’s bad,” Terry continues, his voice shaking slightly. “Worse than I’ve ever seen.”

“Does he need anything?” Hannah asks.

Terry shakes his head. “Pomfrey’s got him pretty sedated. He’s going to be there for a while.” He drops down on the couch, his head falling back against the cushions, rubbing at his eyes.

Neville takes a seat too, but he’s perched right on the edge, his body tense, and Ginny knows far too well the look of a Gryffindor about to blissfully fling themselves off a cliff.

“What are we going to do?” he asks.

Ginny can see it, the way he wants solutions, instant actions. Revenge. Fortunately this is an inevitability she has been preparing for all year.

“As far as I can see, we have three options,” Ginny says.

Terry opens his eyes, squinting up at her. “Yeah?”

She holds up her thumb. “We can keep on as we’ve been doing, knowing that the cost of reprisal has gone way up. That it will keep going up.”

Hannah shakes her head. “But Michael… We can’t--”

Ginny nods. “There will be more Michaels.” She pauses. “Or worse.” It’s really only a matter of time until they kill someone, accidentally or otherwise.

“Yeah, okay,” Neville says. “And the second option?”

Ginny lifts her index finger. “We stop antagonizing them. They did this to make us stop. So we stop. We don’t give them any more reasons to escalate.”

Neville frowns, looking less than pleased. “And just sit on our hands and hope the war goes our way?”

Ginny shrugs, not particularly liking the idea of waiting around either, but understanding the necessity of it.

“They’re torturing students,” Terry says, voice quiet.

“Yeah,” Ginny says. “They are.”

“You said there were three options,” Hannah says.

“You’ll like it even less than the other two,” Ginny warns.

“Tell us,” Neville insists.

Ginny looks at Terry, sharing a grim look, and she knows he has already considered this too.

“We escalate,” he says.

Hannah frowns. “Meaning?”

Terry seems to have a ready answer. “Take the fight to the Carrows. Jinx them, beat them up, lock them away somewhere, run them off.”

Neville looks like that idea has appeal. “Shove them in a Vanishing Closet?”

“Lock them in the Chamber of Secrets.” Terry darts Ginny a look that isn’t subtle.

She rolls her eyes. Next to her, Hannah sighs.

“Feed them to the Giant Squid!” Neville says.

Ginny listens as they brainstorm various ideas. She lets them go until they run out of steam, the ideas becoming more and more elaborate and ridiculous as they go along. But none of them dare say what really needs to be said.

“You’ve been quiet,” Hannah remarks, nudging Ginny’s arm.

She shrugs. “We escalate, they escalate. That’s just more damage on all sides. If we seriously want to do something about the Carrows, there is really only one answer.”

They look expectantly at her.

“We eliminate them.”

“Eliminate them?” Hannah asks, more confused than appalled, and Ginny knows that’s because she doesn’t really understand what she means. It’s not a natural place for her mind to go.

Ginny stares steadily back at her.

Hannah blanches. “You mean…kill them?”

Ginny lifts her chin.

Could you kill? If you had to?

“They haven’t killed any students,” Ginny says. “Yet. But it is undeniable that there is blood on their hands. The blood of Muggles. The blood of anyone Tom asked them to kill. They aren’t innocent.”

“But we are,” Hannah says. “And my mother didn’t die so I could become a murderer.”

Ginny doesn’t point out that there may come a time when the choice is between being innocent and being alive .

“Hannah’s right,” Neville says.

Terry sits back. “As much as it pains me, Michael wouldn’t want us to do that either.”

They all turn to look at her as if expecting resistance, but she’s just here to point out the implications. “We also can’t forget who sent them here. Killing them, disabling them, sending them away in any format, that will bring his eye on the school. It would be an open declaration of war.”

Terry lets out a low whistle. “Certainly makes option number two seem more appealing.”  

Ginny nods, knowing this was likely the way it was going to go before they even started talking about it.

Neville sits back on the couch, deflated. “So we stop. We do nothing.”

For a Gryffindor, she can imagine that’s pretty much a worst outcome.

“No,” Hannah says. “We don’t do nothing. We just put our energies elsewhere.”

Neville frowns at her. “Meaning what?”

Hannah glances around the room. “This place can be anything we need it to be, right?”

Neville nods. “Sure.”

“Then we make what students don’t have out there. We make it safe. And fun.”

Ginny frowns at her. “Are you suggesting we have a…party?”

Hannah beams. “Yeah. I think I am.”

“Can’t say that’s one of the options I considered,” Ginny says.

Hannah nudges her arm. “That’s because Slytherins have deplorable imaginations.”

They all laugh. After a moment, Ginny joins them.

*     *     *

While Hannah turns her focus to planning social activities, Ginny continues her lessons with Snape. As the risk of reprisal goes up, and the avenues of resistance begin to narrow and narrow, some days the practicing of this skill is the only thing that makes it feel like the walls aren’t closing in.

She has been gradually building her ability to use Legilimens without direct eye contact, with peeling apart minds one by one. And most importantly, casting it wordlessly. It’s incredibly challenging, but it’s nice to lose herself in something, to focus on one thing so completely.

This evening when she arrives in the potions classroom, Rosier is there guarding the door.

His eyes widen a bit as she enters.

She nods at him in acknowledgment and he nods back. He looks vaguely embarrassed, like he does nearly every time she sees him these days. Like he isn’t really sure how he ended up where he was, but doesn’t know how to get out of it either.

She imagines that describes a lot of them these days.

The only other student here is someone she doesn’t know very well. She thinks he may be one of Nadira’s cousins. Hassan, maybe? She wonders what he did to get stuck in here.

Snape enters after Ginny, crossing over to check on Hassan’s work. “Messy,” he says, swiping half of the pile into a bin. “Have more care or you will have to start again.”

Hassan doesn’t say anything, his face carefully blank.

“Miss Weasley,” Snape says, pulling out a stool and jabbing his finger at it.

She dutifully sits, her lip curling slightly in distaste at the smell emanating from the vat of flobberworms waiting to be carefully cleaned.

“Begin.” With that, he crosses over to the wall as if inspecting Slughorn’s stock organization system. To judge from his expression, he isn’t at all impressed.

Ginny ignores him, focusing down on the slimy flobberworms. After a while, she slips her hand down into her lap, fingers wrapping around her wand.

She’s gotten used to the feeling of many pressing minds, much more capable of separating them. Despite the fact that he is still in the room, Snape’s mind is more like an absence than a presence. But what’s more surprising is that Rosier’s mind is closed off as well. Only, more like surrounded. It’s a very unsubtle block.

She pulls back, glancing over at Snape, and he’s already watching her, one corner of his mouth curled in arrogant satisfaction. That’s when she realizes that he is deliberately shielding Rosier from her. Apparently he is more aware of what she’s been doing than she thought.

“Is there a problem, Miss Weasley?”

“No, sir.”

She turns back to the mindless task of eviscerating flobberworms. Next to her, Hassan works in silence, his cuts efficient.

“I will return in one hour to check on your work,” Snape says.

Ginny waits a few minutes before stretching out her mind again. Hassan’s is easy enough to find since it is the only one available, but she still proceeds cautiously, practicing a rippleless infiltration. Snape has been lowering the dose of mist over time, both from the necessity of the students having faculties enough to serve detention, and to test Ginny.

From a distance, Ginny observes Hassan’s mind, the flicker of various memories and thoughts, the hum of voices in a language she doesn’t understand. Out of the corner of her eye something flickers.

She follows the memory, even as it slides through her fingers. Her feet quicken as it moves further and further away. She slips between a tight passageway and another, tall stone walls pressing high on either side. When she steps out into an open courtyard, for a moment the sunlight is nearly blinding.

A single person stands in the center, near a small trickle of water. Ginny stays where she is, watching carefully.

He turns towards her. “Get out.”

Ginny pauses, looking behind her. There is no one there. When she turns back, he is nearly upon her.

“Get. Out,” he bites out.

His hand closes around her arm, real and solid and painful.

Ginny chokes back a scream, because she is ripping apart. She can feel it, his mind ruthlessly rifling through her thoughts, her past, her feelings. Not like a search, but like an assault. It takes an endless agonizing moment—minute? Hour? Lifetime? She can’t tell—to finally wrench her defenses in place.

Her chair scrapes against the dungeon floor as she pulls back into the physical plane.

They stare at each other a long moment, minds hard and closed, almost grinding against each other.

Then he shoves up and out of his chair, rushing towards her, and Ginny scrambles up as well, but his hand is hard on her chest as he slams her back into the wall, knocking her wand from her fingers.

“Oi,” Rosier shouts somewhere in the distance.

Hassan’s hand closes around her throat, brow sweaty and half-confused as if he is still struggling under the effects of the mist. Between his mind and reality.

There is shouting, other people in the space, but all Ginny sees is the panicked rage in his eyes, the feel of her empty, helpless fingers.

Things begin to dim around the edges.

Is that all you’ve got, little girl?

No.

With what small amount of control she has left, she grabs his wrist, gathering a swell of magic in her hand. Careful, she can hear Nymue advise, not too much, never give too much of yourself .

Hassan’s fingers tighten, and Ginny pushes the energy out.

He sucks in a startled breath, and then his eyes are rolling back in his head. He falls at her feet, unconscious.

Ginny nearly falls with him, leaning back against the wall on shaking legs, coughing and gasping for air.

When she can, she lifts her head, looking around the room. Rosier is watching her with wide eyes, mouth hanging agape. Snape is the one who is halfway across the room, as if he just rushed in. He looks between her and Hassan.

With measured movements, he leans down and picks up her wand from where it landed on the floor, and she knows in that moment that he saw exactly what she did.

Unceremoniously, Snape flicks his wand at Rosier, and he slumps to the ground unconscious as well.

Ginny’s breath is still heaving in her chest, her head dizzy from the invasion, from the loss of magic. “He knows,” she says, voice shaking. “He knows.”

“I will take care of it,” Snape says, still somehow sounding completely calm.

Ginny stumbles towards the table, her hand gripping the back of her chair before lowering herself into it.

Snape places her wand on the table in front of her with a deliberate click. He waits, as if expecting her to explain how she defended herself with no wand. She keeps her lips pressed tightly shut. After a moment, Snape moves away towards Hassan, pushing his robes out of the way as he squats.

“Fortunately,” he says, his fingers pressed to Hassan’s neck, “he lives.”

Ginny looks up at him in alarm. She hadn’t considered the magic to be so powerful it could kill. Surely Nymue would have said something. Wouldn’t she?

“I apologize,” Snape says, still looking down at Hassan. “I did not realize his training was quite so advanced.”

She looks up at him. “But you knew he was trained?”

He regards her, completely unapologetic. “You needed to know.”

She doesn’t know if he means what it feels like to have someone fight back, or just not to let herself get complacent. A warning to always be cautious. To be ready to defend.

She rubs at her throat, wondering if bruises are already rising. “Well now I do,” she says. “Mission accomplished.”

He graciously ignores her sarcasm, turning back to the unconscious students.

She sits in silence as she watches him Obliviate both of them.

Hassan never once stirs.

*     *     *

Ginny feels a little fuzzy the next three days. Both from the attack and from the wandless defense. Such magics always have a high price, she’s been told. But only now does she really understand it.

She allowed herself to forget an important fundamental thing about Nymue. Not even she is to be completely trusted. She’s never lived, after all, and can’t die, so how can she be expected to truly understand the costs the living might pay?

A foolish mistake Ginny won’t make again.

She’s so lost in her thoughts and the fatigue of her body, that she nearly drops all her books as she collides with someone in the hall.

A younger student looks up at her in alarm, mumbling an apology.

She shakes her head, knowing she needs to pay better attention. There’s a shout down the next corridor, no doubt the Enforcement Squad once again happily at work. They’ve been emboldened by the long silence of the DA, the complete absence of any and all pushback.

Ginny sighs, thankful at least that the Carrows seem to have taken it as victory enough. Far less students are being tortured in class, and nothing like Michael has happened again.

It will have to be enough.

“Ginny.”

She looks up to find Bassenthwaite striding down the hall towards her, people stepping out of his way not just out of respect for his bulk, but the thunderous expression on his face, she imagines.

“What is it?” she says when he gets to her side.

His jaw flexes. “It’s Reiko.”

Ginny feels something cold and heavy lodge in her stomach. “Where is she?”

He just kind of lifts his brow, his head jerking to the side, and there is only one place he wouldn’t be willing or able to openly talk about. “I thought it would be…safest.”

Abandoning all thoughts of Potions, Ginny turns on her heel and heads for the Room of Requirement, vaguely noting that people melt out of her way almost as quickly.

As it’s the middle of the day, there are few people inside, so it doesn’t take Ginny long to locate Reiko sitting on a bench next to Nicola.

Nicola looks up as they enter, looking relieved. “They’re back,” she says to Reiko.

Ginny comes to a stop in front of them, sucking in a startled breath when Reiko looks up at her.

“It’s nothing,” she insists, swiping impatiently at the tears on her face, only managing to mix them with the blood. “I’m fine.”

Ginny ignores her, instead quietly cataloging each cut and bruise on her ravaged face. She turns to Bassenthwaite. “Find Hannah.”

He nods, giving Reiko’s shoulder a squeeze before striding out the door.

Ginny turns back the Reiko, not crossing the space between them. “Who?”

Reiko shakes her head, and part of that, Ginny can’t help but see, is fear.

Ginny’s hands tighten into fists. “The Carrows?”

“No.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It wasn’t the Carrows,” she bursts out.

“Then who?” Ginny demands.

Reiko sighs a little bit. “Crabbe and Goyle.”

“Okay,” Ginny says, feeling a frightening sort of steadiness settle over her.

“It was stupid of me,” Reiko says. “I went down to the pitch on my own and they… Stupid .”

“Reiko,” Ginny snaps. “There is no universe in existence where this is your fault.”

Something in the girl’s expression falters, her lip trembling, and Ginny considers that Reiko’s bluster is all she has holding her together.

Luckily Hannah bustles in then, Neville and Bassenthwaite right on her heels. Hannah sucks in a breath, eyes filling with tears of horror.

Reiko straightens, her chin lifting.

Hannah seems to pull herself together, sitting carefully down next to Reiko. She rubs gently at her shoulder. “Is it just your face?”

“And my back,” Reiko says.

Hannah hedges, looking up at Ginny. “I don’t really have the right supplies…”  

“I’m not going to Pomfrey,” Reiko says. Ginny is happy to see the old familiar spark of defiance in her eye. “I won’t give the gits the satisfaction.”

Hannah shakes her head. “I really think it would be best…”

“No.”

Hannah looks at Ginny, for support, no doubt.

Ginny considers Reiko. “She stays.”

“Ginny,” Hannah protests.

“She stays.”

“Okay, fine,” Hannah says, relenting. “I’ll do what I can.”

Hannah efficiently organizes all of them, setting Neville to collecting supplies and Nicola brewing a pain potion.

“Sit there,” she says to Bassenthwaite, gesturing at the open space next to Reiko.

When everything is ready, Hannah carefully cleans and dresses Reiko’s face when the cuts prove to be curse-induced.

Ginny watches the way Reiko slowly quiets under Hannah’s careful, solicitous care, her head eventually coming to rest on Bassenthwaite’s shoulder.

Once the bruises on her back are also dealt with, they help her over to Nicola’s cot, the potion beginning to settle in.

Through it all, Ginny has stood and watched, pushing back her horror and rage and the urge to run out and punch someone.

“Reiko,” Ginny says once she can trust her voice to be steady.

She opens her eyes.  

“I will take care of this.” It’s a promise.

Reiko nods, her expression grim.

Ginny turns to leave, Bassenthwaite following her to the door.

Neville falls into step with them. “What are we going to do?”

“We?” Ginny asks, voice calm as if there isn’t lava roiling in her stomach. “ We are going to do nothing. We already decided the DA can’t take any more risks.”

Neville touches her arm, pulling her to a stop. “Ginny.”

“They’re Slytherins,” she says. “And we take care of our own.”

She glances at Bassenthwaite. He nods grimly back at her, ceding this matter to her.

She walks out.

*     *     *

Ginny’s first Unforgiveable Curse falls from her lips with greater ease than she thought it possibly could. It’s not just easy, it’s…pleasant. Alluring.  

She forced herself to sit on her intentions for two solid days. Long enough for the rumors to circulate and start to fade. Long enough for perpetrators to feel comfortable.

It the end, it will only make the fall so much more effective.

“Draco,” she says.

In the hall, he turns to her, his eyes just the slightest bit glassy. “Yes?” he asks.

“Come with me.”

He nods, falling in step next to her. They walk in silence through the halls and down the staircase, people watching their passage with interest.

“Through here,” she says, gesturing at a door.

Inside Myrtle’s bathroom, two Ravenclaw second-years are sitting at the base of the taps, ignorant of what history lurks beneath them.

“Out,” Ginny says.

They scramble away.

Once they are gone, Ginny holds her hand out. “Give me your wand, Draco.”

He dutifully digs it out of his robes and hands it to her.

“Stand against the wall.”

He steps up against it, looking up at her, his expression completely unconcerned as he waits for her next command.

He hasn’t resisted at all, and it occurs to her that she could make him do anything. Say anything. The power of the spell…

She could own him.  

She flicks her wrist, the spell lifting.

Draco sags forward, breath heaving. He looks up at her, glaring, his face florid. “What the hell--”

“Spare me your empty threats, Draco,” she says, pointing her wand at him. “You aren’t really in a position to complain.”

His chin lifts, but she can see the fear in his eyes.

She lets out a humorless scoff. “Doesn’t feel good, does it?” she asks, thinking back to the things he did to her when they were younger. “To be completely at someone’s mercy?”

He seems to pull himself together, a sneer on his face. “Oh, is that what this is? Petty revenge in the girls’ loo?”

“You’re the one who’s a fan of girls’ loos,” she shoots back.

He flushes, but this is a little too close to using something against him she swore she never would. She forces herself to take a breath. “I’m just here to have a little conversation about your goons.”

“My goons?” Draco asks, brow furrowed.

“Crabbe and Goyle. You need to get them under control,” she says.

Draco huffs. “Is that a threat?”

“Do it. Or I’ll do it for you. And I’m not sure you’ll like my methods.”

He seems to consider her, his lips curling with distaste. “Wonder what they’d think, seeing you now? Your precious big brothers. The heroic Potter.”

She feels the dig of that, but refuses to let it show. “They aren’t here, are they? So I don’t think it really matters.”

She steps towards him, liking the way he recoils. But rather than cursing him, she merely puts his wand down on the edge of the sink. “We’re all masters of our own fate. This is your only warning.”

She turns to walk away.

“He killed her himself,” he says, voice vicious.

She stops, feeling something hard and cold lodge itself in her chest. She turns back to look at him. “What?”

“Burbage,” Draco says, spitting her name like something disgusting. “She begged, right up to the end.”

Ginny’s hand tightens on her wand, her vision seeming to sharpen.

“But it didn’t matter,” he says, voice wavering. “He killed her. Fed her body to his snake. Right there in front of all of us.” He swallows, looking nauseous.

Ginny paces back to him, shoving him up against the wall, her wand across his throat. For a moment the rage is so powerful that she feels nearly overwhelmed by it. By what she could do with it.

“If you told me that to scare me,” she says, “you’ve seriously miscalculated.”

He glares at her. “I’m just trying to talk some sense into you! You and your bloody holy crusade.”

She leans into him. “I’ll show you a holy crusade, Draco. You and your mates are going to see it up close, firsthand. I promise you that.”

“You’re wasting your breath,” he snarls. He lifts his arm, his hand twisting into a fist above the black stain on his arm. “There’s nothing worse you can do to me than he can.”

She rips her eyes away from the repulsive tattoo. “I think you’ll find that’s where you’re wrong.”

His eyes drop away. “It doesn’t matter. They won’t listen to me,” he admits, as if it pains him to do so, but his own self-preservation requires it of him.

She isn’t blind. She sees the way people treat Draco now, like he’s got some disease they could all get just by brushing against him. The way people talk about the Malfoys in hushed whispers as if their fate is a horror story.

In that moment she finds she believes him, that he doesn’t have any control over Crabbe and Goyle anymore. His pet monsters have finally broken away from him.

She pushes away from him. “You’ve dug yourself a really deep hole there, haven’t you, Draco?”

He lifts his head, looking back at her with eyes bright with tears of helpless rage, but also somehow terribly knowing. “We’re all in pretty deep these days, wouldn’t you say?”

They regard each other for a long moment.

“Yeah,” she says. “I guess we are.”

She turns and walks away from him, speaking back over her shoulder as she goes. “Let them know I’m coming or don’t. In the end, it won’t matter.”

She knows what she has to do.

*     *     *

Ginny sits in the Parlor, her fingers tapping on the arm of her chair.

The girls keep giving her very unsubtle looks, and she considers part of that is how little time she has spent down here lately.

“Something is going to have to be done about Crabbe and Goyle,” she says.  

By now, everyone has seen Reiko’s face. They don’t need an explanation.

Astoria and Caroline put down their magazines, Tilly coming over to sit on the couch.   

“They’re bullies,” Astoria says.

“Yes,” Ginny agrees.

“What makes someone that way?” Flora wonders.

“Cruelty,” Ginny says. “Viciousness.”

“So, what?” Millicent asks, voice cutting. “You’re going to defeat them with kindness?”

For the first time in a long while, Ginny finds herself thinking of Theodora, of that night of the Yule Ball so many years before. At the time it seemed like simple revenge, punishment for a crime. But Ginny sees it now, the public nature of that punishment, remembers the way everyone looked at Slytherin girls after that. It was reciprocity, yes, but it was also deterrence. It was a reminder to everyone what happens when you try to make a victim of a Slytherin girl.

“No,” Ginny says, pushing to her feet. “I’ll speak to them in a language they understand.”

“And what is that?” Hestia asks, looking wary.

“Fear,” Ginny says.

She walks into Nymue’s library.

*     *     *

They stake Crabbe and Goyle out in the courtyard in nothing but their pants. The moon retreats behind quickly moving clouds, the pale light failing to fully illuminate the shadows.

Ginny’s sisters stand witness in a half-circle behind her along with a few of Crabbe and Goyle’s victims, their faces carefully hidden in case this doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Ginny stands between them, her face clearly visible. She needs them to know who to fear, just who is watching.

“Wake them.”

Tilly steps forward, flicking her wand at each of the boys.

They rouse slowly, glancing around in confusion that blossoms quickly into panic. Crabbe balks when he sees Ginny, his face paling. It’s nice to see he hasn’t forgotten all of his fear of her. Goyle just looks incensed.

He tugs at his restraints. “Oh, you’ve gone and done it now, Weasley.”

Ginny walks forward between them, the stones cold under her bare feet, the hem of her long white robe trailing behind her. “You think you are in control? You think the Carrows can protect you?” She leans in, her hair falling forward around her shoulders. “There are far greater things to fear here than the Dark Lord.”

Their eyes widen, but they have no ready comeback.

Ginny pulls a knife from the sash at her waist, Goyle’s eyes widening. Crabbe starts to whimper.

Ginny gestures with the knife, one of her sisters lifting a shallow golden bowl and pushing it forward until it hovers between the boys.

Kneeling between them, Ginny knicks first Goyle’s arm and then Crabbe’s, a short stream of their blood siphoning up into the bowl in a smooth arc of droplets. She plucks one strand of hair from her own head, dropping it into the bowl. Pulling a pouch from her waist, she sprinkles the blood with powdered bracken and dusky camas. With the tip of the knife, she stirs the mixture, three times in each direction.

Her movements are calm and sure as she lets blood drip from the blade, catching a few dark drops on a snowy piece of linen. In the middle of the dark stain, she places a thorny bramble, wrapping it up carefully. Squeezing her hand around the bundle, she fights back a hiss as the thorns pierce her palm.

Taking a deep breath, Ginny lifts her arms and pulls the ancient words up and out into the world as if they are blooming from the ageless earth. “Adixoui cuamenai.”

She sways slightly under the flood of energy, not through her wand or from the magical ether, but from deep inside of herself. Crabbe and Goyle let out hoarse yelps as the surge of her magic burns out and through their blood.

Ginny’s own blood hums with the binding, her head swimming.

Taking the bundle, she places it in a small leather pouch, drawing the string tight around the opening. She lifts it over her head, letting the pouch settle between her breasts, resting against her heart.

Picking up a quill, she dips it in the blood, carefully writing a string of runes on each of their foreheads, even as her hands shake. When she’s finished, she vanishes the bowl and quill, tucking the knife carefully back in her sash.

She steps back, another sister stepping forward to hand Ginny her wand. Wrapping her hand around the familiar wood, she carefully enunciates another complex incantation. She feels winded, weak like she hasn’t eaten in days, but manages to properly execute the spell. She has to.

A golden aura builds around Crabbe and Goyle as she speaks the words, bright and sharp and casting everything in the courtyard in black and white. With a sharp slash of her wand, the aura collapses, tightening around the boys’ throats. For long moments they seem to struggle for breath, their bodies writhing, eyes wide.

She lets them struggle.

As she watches them, for a moment it isn’t their faces, but another in front of her.

I’ll take out your whole blood traitor family. And I’ll enjoy it.

“Ginny,” one of the girls whispers, voice urgent and afraid.

Tacento ,” Ginny barks, her wand dropping.

Crabbe and Goyle gasp, coughing and sucking in air.

“What, what did you do?” Goyle asks, voice barely a rasp.

Ginny holds her hands in front of her, palms out. “Know that whatever harm you visit on a student of this school shall be revisited on you tenfold.”

“So it will be,” the girls echo. They retreat into the shadows, disappearing with barely a whisper.

Ginny spears the boys with a hard glance, the moon sliding out from behind a cloud, falling across her in cold, hard light. “I will be watching.”

She steps back into the darkness, leaving them to the cold.

*     *     *

Crabbe and Goyle are bundled to the infirmary the next morning, their lips blue from exposure, but not before nearly every student in the castle has witnessed their humiliation first hand. Rumor has it that no matter how much they are questioned, they can’t seem to tell anyone what happened. In fact, any time they try, their tongues curl back in their mouths, their throats swelling closed.

After a full day of tests and potions, they get released back to their rooms, walking back through the common room with their faces red with rage and embarrassment.

“Shut your fucking mouth,” Crabbe snaps at a second-year, shoving the boy out of his way.

Ginny watches, but doesn’t say anything. Patience is all that this will require.

It’s just after midnight when the first screams begin to echo through the Slytherin dorms. Two boys, shrieking in terror, locked in nightmares. It lasts for nearly an hour.

Ginny lies in the dark and listens, the bramble charm lying heavy against her heart.

Fear is a particularly useful tool.

She closes her eyes.

Her own dreams are as dark and still as death.

*     *     *

“They were screaming all night,” Martin says, yawning. “That’s three bloody nights now. Even with Dreamless Sleep Potion.”

Demelza rubs his shoulder. “Well, you do look slightly more awful than usual.”

“I’m too tired to be angry about that,” he says, looking up at her through slitted eyes.

“Pity,” Demelza shoots back. “Your face is almost passable when you’re angry.”

He snorts.

Neville claps his hands, giving Ginny a long-suffering glance, like he has no idea how he is supposed to run a defense class when there’s gossip to be had. “Come on, I want to see those Revulsion Jinxes.”

“They wouldn’t do it,” Euan reports.

“What?” Demelza asks, looking over at the younger boy.

“In our Dark Arts class today. Goyle was supposed to curse one of the first-years. He just stood there, his wand shaking, but couldn’t bring himself to do it.”

“You’re kidding,” Demelza says, eyes wide.

Neville gives Ginny a long look, but doesn’t ask.

A lot of people in the castle are giving Ginny long looks these days.

Crabbe and Goyle haven’t been able to tell. Still it’s enough that every student in the castle suspects.

So be it.

*     *     *

“Weasley,” Amycus says as they are all filing out of their midday Dark Arts class. “You will stay behind.”

The other students shoot each other curious looks, many of them lingering in hopes of seeing something to report.

“Of course, sir,” Ginny says, as if this is no big deal.

It was really only a matter of time, she knows. They already suspect her for the disappearance of Nicola. And now, Crabbe and Goyle. It’s an affront to their illusion of power, having their favorite pets neutered so effectively.

Amycus gestures for her to follow him into his office.

“What do you know about what happened to Crabbe and Goyle?”

“Nothing,” Ginny says, sitting in the chair indicated by Amycus. “All I’ve heard is rumor.” She leans in, as if excited to have a chance to get some first hand gossip to pass on herself. “Have Crabbe and Goyle really not been able to tell you?”

“You know very well they haven’t.”

Ginny turns to see Alecto standing in the doorway behind her. “Me?” she asks, making her face fall into lines of confusion.

Alecto snorts. “You forget. I was in Slytherin too. You think I don’t know a Parlor girl stunt when I see one?”

Ginny stares back at her with impassive eyes. Her membership in The Parlor is far too common knowledge for her play dumb. “Why would The Parlor concern itself with Crabbe and Goyle?” she asks as if they are nothing more than buzzing gnats well beneath her notice.

“Parlor Mistress,” Alecto spits. “Yeah, we hear how they talk about you. You always were a bunch of jumped-up bints. Thinking you’re so much better than everyone else.”

Ginny supposes that answers the question of whether or not Alecto ever received an invitation.

“What? Nothing to say?” Alecto says, clearly annoyed that she hasn’t made Ginny lose her temper. As if a few nasty words could ever push Ginny to rashness.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything,” Ginny says.

Amycus steps forward, a feral smile on his face that sends a shiver of fear down Ginny’s spine. “Then I reckon we’ll have to find a way to loosen your tongue.”

With a flick of his wrist, ropes bind Ginny to the chair, a feeling of helplessness crawling up her throat. She pushes the terror ruthlessly back. Fear is a tool. It does not control you.

Amycus lifts his wand.

She knows she screams. No control in the world is strong enough to withstand the pain of Cruciatus, particularly by wizards as skilled in its use as the Carrows. What she can’t tell is how many times they curse her, how long it lasts. It seems to go on and on and on, but could easily have only been moments.

When it finally lifts, she hangs forward against the ropes, feeling sweat dripping down her face. Her muscles continue to twitch with residual magical energy.

“Please,” she pants when she has enough breath to. “I don’t know anything”

Alecto growls, striding towards her and grabbing her chin. “You think we don’t know what you are?” she hisses.

I am stone, she thinks. I am stone and you are water, flowing past. You aren’t anything but a wisp of wind.

“You and your blood traitor family?” Alecto says, breath hot on her cheek.

Amycus laughs. “Maybe she thinks her pretty face will protect her.”

Alecto considers Ginny, finger trailing down her cheek. “What if she weren’t so pretty anymore?”

Ginny stares back at her, concentrating on controlling her breathing and not how far into her space she is.

Alecto slashes her wand. Ginny’s head slams back into the chair as if someone punched her across the face. Stars swim in her vision, blood blooming on her tongue.

“What is going on in here?” a mild voice asks.

Ginny doesn’t look up, still fighting the pain in her face, the woolliness of her brain, but easily recognizes Snape’s voice.

“Just asking Weasley a few questions about what happened to Crabbe and Goyle,” Amycus says.

“And what have you learned?” Snape asks, sounding almost bored.

“Nothing yet,” Amycus says. “But we’ve really only just begun.”

Ginny hears footsteps, seeing Snape’s feet edge into her line of sight.

“Perhaps there is a flaw in your approach,” he says, something snide and superior in his tone.

“You can keep your fancy potions and minds tricks,” Alecto says. “Pain rarely fails to get results, given long enough.”

Ginny tries not to quail at the thought.

Without warning, Alecto hits her with another round of Cruciatus, briefer this time. Ginny ends up leaning back against the chair, face tipped up.

“I don’t know anything,” she repeats, swallowing against the bitter tang of bile in her throat. “I swear. I would tell you, I would.”

Alecto lifts her wand.

Ginny shrinks back with a whimper.

“Enough,” Snape says.

“Oh, no,” Amycus counters. “I think we’ve barely begun.”

Snape gives him a look like he’s a particularly annoying bug. “If there is information to be found, I will get it from her.”

“Look here, Snape,” Alecto snarls. “I know you have a soft spot for this one, but--.”

Snape silences her with a single glance. “Leave.”

The siblings share an uneasy glance, finally exiting with little grace. Alecto looks at Ginny one last time with an expression that seems to promise retaliation at some future point.

The door closes, leaving Ginny alone with Snape. She doesn’t particularly find that a relief.

Snape doesn’t say anything, just stands watching her.

Ginny licks her lips, tasting the metallic tang of blood. “I don’t know anything,” she repeats, words almost like a mantra at this point.

Snape regards her for a long moment. “Would it matter if you did?”

She stares back at him, her shoulders lowering. “No,” she says, voice evening out. “I don’t suppose it would.” He’s trained her far too well.

She feels herself list slightly forward against the ropes.

If Snape notices, he doesn’t let on. “I find this entire situation with Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Goyle quite…perplexing.”

Ginny makes a vague sound of interest, trying her best to ignore the painful throbbing in her face.

Snape sits in the chair across from her, leaning back as if they are having a casual philosophical lesson. “What I find particularly interesting is that while the tongue-twisting charm used on Crabbe and Goyle is quite advanced and nearly impossible to break, it would in no way require a blood price nor runic inscription to be effective.”

Ginny focuses on breathing, on keeping her face vaguely curious.

“While it is possible this encompasses some arcane magic I am not familiar with, as far as I could tell the runes only spelled out some particularly creative insults.”

She swallows carefully. “That is interesting. Maybe the person who did it had no idea what they were doing.”

Snape’s eyes narrow. “Or knew exactly what they were doing.”

She takes a careful breath. “I suppose it would be foolish to assume one understands all there is to know about the limitless kinds of magics in the world.”

“I suppose it would.”

With a flick of his wand, the ropes holding Ginny disappear, nearly dumping her on her face.

Snape grabs her shoulder to keep her upright. “Do you need to go to the infirmary?” he asks, more matter-of-fact than particularly caring.

She starts to shake her head, only to think better of it. “No, sir.”

He opens his mouth to say something else, only to stop, his eye caught by something. He frowns, brushing her hair back from her shoulder. His finger pulls at the cord hanging around her neck, and she feels the pouch shift against her chest.

Before Ginny can think of anything to say, anything to deflect his attention from the one place she can least afford to have it, Snape’s hands drops away from her like he’s been burned.

He leans back, his fingers rubbing against each other as if trying to rid itself of an irritating texture. “You may return to your dorm.”

“Yes, sir,” she says. She stands, fighting a wave of dizziness.

Snape simply watches her, face impassive.

Finding her equilibrium, she walks across the room. She just reaches the door when Snape says, “This was foolish.”

“No,” she says, not turning back to look at him. “Necessary.” Otherwise she never would have risked it.

She walks out of the chamber.

*     *     *

The common room is very full when she returns, more full than it has any right to be considering the time of day.

Then again, she supposes word of mouth is a powerful thing, and everyone wants to see what happened to the supposedly invulnerable Ginny Weasley.

Crabbe and Goyle look up at her as she enters, the two of them nudging each other. She turns and stares at them, and only once she’s absolutely certain she has their full attention, she smiles. It’s a giant, stretching thing, baring her probably bloody teeth, completely uncowed and unafraid.

You think this makes a difference? her smile asks. I’m still here. I’m still watching.

They both seem to pale. Sitting next to them is Draco, looking worn and wary, but as always quiet. He could have told what she threatened, what she did to him, but he hasn’t. She isn’t sure that actually means anything other than Draco has decided being as small and quiet and forgotten as possible is his best possible chance for survival.

They aren’t the only ones watching her, eyes all over the common room appraising the situation. Ginny lifts her chin.

She catches Tobias watching her.

She meets his gaze unapologetically.

He belatedly looks away.

Without another word, Ginny turns and walks calmly to The Parlor. They are all waiting downstairs for her.

There is a long moment as they all take in her face.

Tilly is the one to break the silence. “I’ve got something for that,” she says.

“Okay,” Ginny says, crossing over the couch, sinking into it with a sigh.

“The Carrows did that to your face,” Caroline says.

Next to her, Hestia flinches.

“Yes,” Ginny says, massaging her leg. Her muscles are still twitching.

“Because of Crabbe and Goyle,” Caroline presses.

“Yes.”

“How did they know?” Astoria wonders.

“Someone must have told them,” Millicent says, looking around with narrowed eyes.  

“Not one of us. It must have been one of the others!” Caroline says.

Flora stands up. “What, you think Reiko would tell? They beat her up!”

Millicent crosses her arms over her chest with a huff. “Yeah, well, there’s worse ways to buy protection.”

Ginny smacks her hand down on the table, the thump ringing through the room. The girls fall silent.

“You think this happened because someone tattled on me?” Ginny says, voice hard and even.

The girls all give each other wary looks.

“This happened because they have no idea what happened. Because they were reminded that they don’t run this school. This,” she says, gesturing at her face, “is a sign of their weakness, not ours.”

The girls seem to consider that.

“Because even after all this, they still don’t know anything,” Ginny says.

“And you’re still here,” Tilly says, holding out an ice pack.  

“Yeah,” she says, taking it. “I am.”

“You’ve never asked us,” Flora says, words pouring out almost in a rush.

Ginny looks up at the twins, ice pack still pressed to her face. It feels in many ways like she’s been waiting to have this conversation all year. “Asked you what?”

Hestia gives her an impatient look. “If we’re related to them. If they are our family.”

Ginny very carefully sets her ice pack down on the table, aware that every ear in the room is tuned to this conversation. The chances of two sets of twins with the surname Carrow not being related are slim, but that is far from the point. “Does it matter?”

“Look what they did to you!” Hestia bursts out.

Ginny touches her face, her fingers coming away stained red. “Blood…,” she says, rubbing her fingers together, feeling the slickness between them. “It matters. It’s important. But you don’t choose it.” She glances around at the room, everyone having put their work aside, their attention fully on Ginny. “This place. That is a choice.”

“So you blindly trust all of us?” Astoria says.

“Blindly?” Ginny asks, smiling. “No. I hope I never do anything blindly.”

They aren’t Gryffindors. They aren’t Hufflepuffs. There is nothing blind or absolute about what they do. Trust is perhaps the trickiest thing of all. They all know that when it comes down to it, betrayal is always possible. There will always be something they would be willing to damn everything else to protect.

“I know each of you are loyal to this place, and thus to each other, to the best of your abilities. I trust in that.” She looks at Hestia and Flora. “So, no. I’ve never asked you. And I never will.” She puts the ice on her face and leans back into the couch.

“How about a drink?” Tilly asks, hand touching her shoulder.

“Merlin, yes,” Ginny says. “A big one.”

Tilly laughs.

The couch dips as Millicent lowers herself on the couch next to Ginny.

Ginny eyes her. “I take it you disagree?”

Millicent shrugs as if it’s immaterial. She holds up a slim bound book. “I have some designs here you might like to look over.”

Ginny sits forward with interest. “For a tattoo?”

Millicent flips through some images. “I started with snakes, but then I thought…”

“Yeah,” Ginny says, not particularly keen to tattoo herself with a symbol that has been so thoroughly corrupted.

“Keep it,” Millicent says. “Look them over.”

“Okay,” Ginny says, tucking the journal into her chest. “Thank you.”

Millicent nods. She shifts as if to get up, only seeming to think better of it. “You know, I actually asked Antonia once, why they brought you in.”

Ginny calmly looks back at Millicent, knowing that whatever she may say, it no longer matters. “Did you?”

“She said because you ask questions. The sort most people never bother to think, let alone ask.” Millicent shakes her head. “Personally, I think that makes you mental.”

Ginny laughs, wincing at the pain in her jaw.

Millicent shrugs. “Mental like Antonia and Theodora were, I suppose.”

“Maybe,” Ginny says. She holds up the book. “Thank you for this.”

Millicent nods and disappears back into her corner.

*      *     *

The next day, Ginny returns to the DA. Part of her wants to avoid it, but she forces herself. She walks in, and sure enough, everyone seems to stop what they are doing, looking her over.

The bruise on her face has settled into a deep purple that no charm will ever be able to lift. She just has to wait for it to fade on its own. Proving yet again that for all Alecto is quick to act, she is still perfectly aware of the impact of her actions.

Ginny’s face will be a reminder of what happens to students even suspected of wrongdoing for weeks to come.

A few people give her grim nods, but keep their distance.

“Oh, Ginny,” is all Hannah says, pulling her into a hug.

Ginny pats her on the back, lingering a moment before pulling back. “It couldn’t be helped,” she says.

A cost is a cost, after all.

Terry just frowns, crossing his arms over his chest. “It’s disturbing,” he declares.

“Thanks,” Ginny says.

He shakes his head. “I think we all just assumed you were untouchable.”

“No one is untouchable,” Ginny says.

“Exactly,” he says. “That’s disturbing.”

Someone touches her shoulder. She turns to find Reiko standing there, her face still a mass of bruising as well.

Reiko looks at her face. “Thank you,” she says.

Ginny shakes her head. “I should have done something sooner.”

“How could you have known?” Reiko says. “I was so convinced I could deal with it by myself.” She shakes her head. “Stupid.”

“Yeah,” Ginny agrees. “Stupid.”

Reiko pulls a face.

Ginny pats her on the shoulder. “Take comfort in knowing it’s going around.”

“That isn’t at all comforting.”

Ginny laughs, wincing as the skin on her face pulls.

Martin walks up, holding out a broom to Reiko. “Enough chatter. Lets see how rusty you are.”

Reiko scowls, snatching it from him. “If you’re the one with the bat, I could be unconscious and still get to the snitch.”

Martin laughs. “Well, your mouth certainly isn’t rusty.”

Martin gives Ginny a small nod, his expression sobering for a brief moment, then he’s dashing off to catch up with Reiko.

They continue to bicker as they walk over to join other students holding brooms. Ginny glances up, seeing that today the ceiling stretches impossibly high, the room seeming to sweep on forever.

“Is there much pain?” Hannah asks.

Ginny shakes her head. “It looks worse that it feels.” Which is mostly true.

Hannah doesn’t look like she believes that for a moment.

Ginny crosses her arms over her chest. “I know you’re probably disappointed in me.”

We aren’t monsters.

Hannah touches her arm. “Go play Quidditch.”

“What?”

“Go,” she says, giving her a small push. “It’s important.”

Taking a breath, Ginny forces herself to walk over to Bassenthwaite. He’s watching the tangle of students with his arms crossed over his chest. She knows he probably put this together for Reiko’s benefit.

She’s right in the middle, cussing out Roper as they pull for teams, her face bright in a way Ginny hasn’t seen in a while.

“It’s nice to see a smile on her face.”

He takes a moment to look her over. “You could use a smile on your face too,” he points out.

“Didn’t take you for a mother hen.”

“Sod off,” he says, giving her a broad smile.

“Come on then,” Ginny says, grabbing a broom. “Stop boasting and start kicking my arse.”

For two hours she’s weightless, with wind in her hair and the burn of exertion in her muscles.

Seven full days after Ginny cursed Crabbe and Goyle, she takes the charm from around her neck and places it in a small box. She is so glad to have the prickly weight of it gone.

Later that evening, Millicent gives her a new tattoo. It takes hours. Hours of tiny pricks into her skin as the image comes into being. Unlike her last tattoo, this she remembers every moment of.

It hurts.

She’s glad.