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The Changeling

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This year is going to be different.

Or so Ginny tells herself over and over again on the train.

She’s proven right, in a way, when dark-garbed demons climb on mid-way to Hogwarts. That’s different in a whole new way (horrifying), but one that only manages to suck out any optimism she may have been clinging to. She can’t quite explain it, the way every tiny bit of warmth is leeched from her body as they pass, gliding silently just a few inches above the floor. They pause, the empty places where a face should be turning towards her compartment. Ice frosts the glass and a buzzing builds in Ginny ears.

Aberration.

She’s transfixed, trapped, until the demons move on, departing as quietly as they appeared.

Ginny shivers and pulls her worn robes more closely around her body. The entire train seems subdued for the rest of the ride, timid whispers about the guards of Azkaban and an escaped prisoner tripping down the halls.

Dementors. They were something she grew up hearing about in her brothers’ twisted idea of a bedtime story, but had never seen. She never wants to see one ever again.

Luckily, the floating horrors don’t follow them inside Hogwarts, staying outside the school gates, but she still thinks she can feel them hovering. Or maybe it’s just that after a summer bundled up in the boisterous chaos of her family, Hogwarts feels cold. She doesn’t remember it being so still, so quiet despite the press of students. It could just be Slytherin’s hushed spaces under the lake that are dreadful. Too much like the Chamber, hard stones under her bones…

She avoids the common room as much as she can, sneaking up onto the grounds. Not towards the gates and those things, but always away.

The grass around the lake is tall and soft, too long left untrod during the summer holiday. Her trainers wear a path day after day as she walks. She lingers in a spot within sight of Hagrid’s hut and the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Sometimes she wonders about the things hiding in there.

Mostly, she just stands on the edge of that hill and stares.

Sometimes she lets gravity win just to see what it feels like—wind and adrenaline and heat in her muscles. Her feet trip down the steep hill towards the trees, momentum keeping her right on the edge of losing her footing once and for all. Then she hits the flat, legs buckling, and she falls hard to her knees, feeling her flesh bruise and split. Twisting onto her back, she gasps great breaths, her chest burning, face flushed with exertion as she stares up at the clear summer sky.

She gets up, climbs the hill, and does it all over again.

*  *  *

The notice appears on the bulletin board the third week of school, hard crisp edges around angular black writing:

Trials for House Quidditch Team will be held Saturday at 9.

Someone jostles Ginny from behind, people shouting to each other across the room. She lets herself get elbowed to the back of the pack. She can’t forget the words anyway, not now that she’s seen them.

She knows what she wants. Wants more than anything.

She’s only a second year, but she doesn’t think on that. She just remembers the breathless press of wind and gravity working against her as she tumbled down Hagrid’s hill. She doesn’t consider that maybe she just wants to be a part of something, once and for all.

(Over the summer her father told her, “You have to make of this what you can, Ginny.” Her mother had simply said, “You can always come home.”

Ginny has no intention of running home.)

The day of tryouts dawns crisp and clear, the first taste of autumn in the air. There was a time she might have taken that as a good sign.

“Hey,” someone calls as she walks out on the pitch with her pathetic borrowed school broom. “I think you’re in the wrong place, girlie.”

The speaker is Terence Higgs, returning chaser. He’s got at least a foot and half on Ginny, but she thinks with silent derision that ‘girlie’ is probably the best insult he is capable of. That kind of undoes a lot of the intimidation. A chaser is about more than height.

She’s prepared for them to give her a rough time, to try to tell her she can’t try out, but there aren’t any rules against second years having brooms, or trying out, and more importantly, she knows she can do this, size and age and experience not withstanding.

In the knowing is the power, she tells herself.

Only then the captain, a troll of a boy called Marcus Flint, looks over at her, his face hardening. Before he can tell her to get lost, Ginny hops on the broom and streaks up towards the stands as smoothly as the wobbling hand-me-down can manage.

The sound of voices and harsh laughter follow her, riding along on the wind, but it’s the crack of a bat that she’s really listening for, the telltale whiz and whine that follows it. She holds her trajectory until the last possible second before shifting her weight, letting the broom drop away under her in a daredevil move that would have given her Mum heart palpitations if she were here to witness it. For a full beat of her heart she’s falling, completely weightless.

Ginny’s left thigh burns with exertion, but digs in hard against the broom, swinging her body completely around just in time to see the Bludger streak by less than half a foot above her head. She does not flinch away, even as her hair flutters in the breeze of the close call. She does not yell, just hovers, meeting the stares of the boys still on the ground. She ignores the boy with the bat in his hand and instead watches Flint, daring him.

She feels the impatient vibration of the broom under her hands, but knows that to budge now is to surrender. (Fred and George and Charlie and Ron…they taught her this one minuscule skirmish at a time.) All she’s asking for is a chance.

Eventually Flint looks away, waving his arm. “Okay, you lazy wankers. Get your arses up on your brooms.”

With surprising efficiency and authority (though peppered more often than not with obscenities), Flint runs them through a vigorous series of drills. All except Malfoy, that is. He seems content to float above all of them, drifting aimlessly on his shiny, top of the line broom.

His contribution: his father’s bountiful wealth.

Ginny sighs with disgust. Distracted by her thoughts, she doesn’t notice the Quaffle coming until it’s slamming into her solar plexus. She manages to snatch it up against her chest and refuses to let it stun her, just takes great swallowing breaths while she weaves and dodges for the goals in the distance. She nearly loses her head to a vicious Bludger from behind, but manages to swivel hard around and fling the Quaffle into the lower right ring.

She focuses relentlessly after that.

What she lacks in size she makes up for with speed and agility and a reckless sort of nerve that serves her well as chaser. Flint makes her run drills longer and harder than anyone else, but if he hopes to break her with harsh conditions, he’s chosen the wrong tactic. She feels a fire burning in her stomach, something familiar but almost forgotten, like for the first time she feels a little like she did before Tom. Before Slytherin.

Up in the air, it feels like anything is possible.

She’s still nearly trembling with fatigue when Flint finally lets her get her feet on the ground. He gives her a long hard stare, maybe checking one last time if she’ll just give up. She doesn’t.

As he passes her by, he smacks her hard on the back, nearly planting her exhausted body face first in the dirt. “Just don’t mess this up, Weasel.”

She leans heavily on her Cleansweep and hopes he doesn’t notice. “Excuse me?”

He doesn’t stop walking, talking back at her over his shoulder. “Practice on Mondays and Thursdays at 4.” He points to a shiny, only slightly used Nimbus 2001 leaning against a wall. “Don’t be late. Or I’ll change my mind.”

She watches him walk away, waiting for the punch line, the vicious ending to what must be a joke. The pitch is dead silent though, and she’s all alone. It’s the arrival of the Ravenclaw team that finally pushes her to exchange the Cleansweep for the smooth handle of the Nimbus. It seems to hum against her skin in recognition.

She’s on the team.

She gives herself one long moment to revel in it—she will have all night to scrutinize every last inch of the broom in her hands. For now she simply imagines the looks on her brothers’ faces. Then she takes a measured breath, props the broom up on her shoulder, and reminds herself that she still has a lot to prove.

She smiles, just a little, as she walks back up to the castle. Her hand rubs across her stomach. She’s not sinking quietly into the stones this time.

Never again.

*  *  *

Word travels fast through the ranks—little Ginny Weasley stealing her way on to the Quidditch team. Her housemates size her up in the common room. She hears half swallowed whispers of ‘heir of Slytherin’ from time to time, nestled in right next to ‘chaser’.

It’s not what she ever thought her life would be, but maybe that’s okay.

Even Malfoy deigns to speak to her, most of the younger students following suit. (The older ones ignore her like they ignore all the young ones, too involved with OWLs and NEWTs and sneaking out onto the grounds to snog.)

“Ginny,” Malfoy will say, drawling her name out long, arm thrown over her shoulder.

She knows what she wants to say (your father gave me that diary), but that is never what she can say. Because for a bit, belonging is so much nicer. This is her house, her life, and she needs to make of it what she can. And Slytherin can’t be so bad as they say, not if she ended up here, right?

She practices with the same abandon she shows her lessons. Given something to focus on, she refuses to do anything less. She will not give Flint a single moment to regret his decision.

He just ends every practice with a slap to her back and a warning not to screw up. She grows to appreciate the predictability of it.

She watches the first match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff with anticipation tingling in her fingers, cataloging each and every move used by the chasers—the good to emulate, the bad to avoid. Her absorption is so complete that she doesn’t notice the Dementors have wandered out of bounds until the chill shudders across her skin, a hated voice ghosting in her ears.

People scream and push to their feet, fingers pointing at a black blur plummeting towards the ground.

Not so special after all, Tom mocks.

Harry Potter is falling out of the sky.

Ginny’s heart drags up into her throat, her hand pulling out her wand before she realizes she has no idea how to save him, no way to return the favor.

The boy who went splat.

“No,” Ginny says. (Screams? She doesn’t know. Tom is still just laughing.)

Then Dumbledore is there, face pale and furious and energy crackling from his entire body like a silver explosion that forces the Dementors back. Harry hits the ground a fraction of a moment later with barely a sound, as if the entire world’s been turned into soft downy pillows.

Ginny’s knees buckle, dumping her back on her seat.

If she were more fanciful, she might have taken that as a sign of things to come. But she’s not. Her heart gradually settles back where it is meant to be, her pulse calm. Three days later she’s able to climb on to her broom with no more trepidation than before.

She forces herself to forget all over again that sometimes gravity wins.

*   *   *

They win their first match.

Sure, Ravenclaw is nothing to worry about really, but Ginny scores seven goals, even after getting her shoulder grazed by a Bludger two minutes into the game. If she gave herself a moment to think about it, she might wonder at the accuracy of that Bludger coming from the wrong end of the field, only she doesn’t, because her team is smiling at her and reliving their greatest moments from the match as they stream back up to the castle in one huge group. It feels like maybe she’s actually a part of something for the first time since she came here. She thinks they may finally accept her, now that’s she’s proven what she can do.

She’s never felt quite so alive as she did on that broom, screaming crowds on all sides.

The common room is loud and boisterous and somehow warmer that night. The heat of bodies and ringing sound of raised voices clear the chill from the space, and when they pass around a bottle of something not quite named, she sips it along with everyone else despite the taste.

She doesn’t notice when the others stop, when they begin to slap her on the back and urge just one more swallow, Malfoy’s voice close to her ear.

Things get fuzzy really fast after that.

Later she will have vague memories of saying yes to the tattoo, to feeling no pain at all as they grouped around her and called her one of their own. She will not allow herself to remember that she alone has a jagged little green line of a snake twisting across the inside of her wrist.

She does this because this is belonging. And it’s good.

She still wakes up the next morning feeling like death hovering on the edge of a bridge. She pulls back her curtains with a groan. The lamplight sears into her eyes and for once she’s actually thankful that their dormitory is underground. Sunlight just might kill her.

“You look terrible.”

Ginny squints up to find her roommate Smita standing next to her bed, holding a smoking goblet.

Ginny frowns. “Gee. Thanks.”

Smita doesn’t seem to take her chilly tone as a hint to leave her the hell alone, instead holding out the goblet.

Ginny eyes it warily. For all she knows, Smita has decided to poison her for lack of anything else to do this weekend, but she’s too miserable to worry out motivations. Reaching for the goblet, she takes a hesitant sip. It burns down her throat, bringing tears to her eyes, but before she can yell in protest, it settles in her stomach like a warm golden glow pulsing through her body. It softens all the edges, and Ginny doesn’t hesitate to swallow the rest down.

By the time she empties the cup, she almost feels human again.

“Thank you,” Ginny says in a rush, peering up at her roommate a little more closely. Is it just her aching head or does Smita look slightly less mean today? Ginny tentatively smiles at her.

Smita does not smile back. She simply nods her head once and turns on her heel and leaves.

So much for that theory.

Ginny lowers her head carefully back to the bed.

“Someone wake me up when it’s Monday,” she mumbles to the empty room.

*  *  *

Ginny arrives at the Great Hall a few minutes late for breakfast. Her brothers step up on either side of her before she even gets a foot in the hall.

“Where did you learn to fly like that?” George demands.

Fred scoffs loudly. “Clearly from watching us all these years, George.”

Ginny rolls her eyes and decides not to spill her secrets. All they ever did was turn her into a thief. They didn’t teach her Quidditch. They taught her perseverance. Daring.

She thinks in some ways those are way more important anyway.

Shaking her brothers off at the Gryffindor table, she crosses the room to her own table.

“Morning, Six,” Bletchley says, nodding to her. “How’s the head?”

Ginny gives him a wry smile, feeling her cheeks flush. “Still attached. Barely.”

They all laugh, Flint tossing her a piece of toast.

Ginny smiles wider and reaches for the pumpkin juice.

After breakfast, Malfoy walks out of the hall with her, Pansy and Goyle and Crabbe silent sentinels on either side.

Malfoy is still single-mindedly reliving their victory. “Did you see the way I grabbed that snitch from under his nose?” he says, arm reaching out as if to reenact the play.

That’s not exactly the way it happened, but Ginny smiles nonetheless, tucking her books into her chest and nodding along.

She’s one of them now. Really and truly. And being one of them means having people to walk with in the halls, and sit with at meals. And after classes every day, she has a shiny, expensive amazing broom to ride, one she knows her brothers are jealous of down to the bone. It’s more than she ever could have hoped.

Still, when she passes a poster of Sirius Black in the halls one day, she finds herself staring at him screaming out silently from a tattered page. She wonders what it was, that final straw that made him break, that made him kill. A year ago she would have looked away, unable to face it. Now she’s mesmerized and doesn’t know why.

But none of that really matters, because she has Quidditch. It emboldens her, the cold fingers of air in her hair, gravity pulling and fighting for control of her flesh. She is its master. She doesn’t believe in the fall, only the climb.

She and Smita even talk sometimes now, about more than simple potion ingredient requests. It’s…nice.

Nice is enough. She’s tired of being alone.

Laughing along with Malfoy and his friends as they walk in the halls, Ginny keeps her eyes straight ahead when she passes a poster of Sirius Black.

She knows what she’s doing.

*  *  *

She’s climbing down into the common room after a potions lesson when she hears familiar voices floating up the stairs.

“What’s going on with you and the Weasley girl, Draco?” Pansy asks, voice shrill with disapproval.

Ginny comes to an abrupt stop, her school books bumping against her hip.

“You’ve got her trailing around after you like a house elf.”

Ginny waits, stupidly, for Malfoy to defend her. To point out that she’s on the House Quidditch team. That’s she’s valuable. That she’s one of them.

Instead, he drawls, “I know. Isn’t it pathetic? You spend five seconds being nice to her and she falls all over herself to be your best friend.”

Ginny feels her stomach plummet into her toes as the harsh laughter echoes into the stairwell.

“Did you see the tattoo?” Pansy asks. “I can’t believe she let you do that. She must be desperate.”

They all laugh again, Malfoy’s sniveling sound right in the middle of it.

“Let me guess, Draco,” a high, nasally voice Ginny identifies as Blaise Zabini says. “You have plans for her.” She can’t see his lecherous smile, but it’s all there in his voice.

“Can you imagine?” Malfoy responds with a scoff. “Snogging Weasel’s tiny baby sister? It would destroy him.”

There’s more laughter ringing throughout the space, and Ginny abruptly turns, wanting to slap her hands to her ears. She feels like sliding down the wall, collapsing onto the steps, but knows that if she does that, she may never get back up again.

She supposes this is what gravity winning really feels like.

Smita touches her arm, and Ginny jerks under the touch. She doesn’t need the reminder that her humiliation has an audience. The hand only grows more insistent though, so Ginny forces herself to look up.

Smita looks straight at her. No pity, no amusement. “I’m hungry,” she says like this is just another boring History of Magic class. “You?”

Ginny stares back at her in utter numbness.

Smita’s hand tugs at her arm, and Ginny lets herself get pulled away.

They eat in silence.

*  *  *

Quidditch isn’t fun anymore, and that’s the biggest insult of all.

Malfoy still drawls her name in the halls, winking at her on the Quidditch pitch, and she’s ashamed to admit she doesn’t do anything about it. She doesn’t stop to talk like she would have before or anything, but neither does she tell him off.

She doesn’t let herself think too hard about why.

Instead she puts on a brave face during the day and carries on like nothing has changed. At night, she learns to swallow her tears like another weakness. Learns to swallow them and not choke. She finds herself reaching for her trunk sometimes, for pages that aren’t there and only ends up hating herself even more for the impulse.

She never wanted to feel like a ghost again, no matter how much easier it might be.

“You know,” Smita says one day while she’s pounding a tentaculus pod to paste with a steady thud, thud, thud. Her voice is as close to sharp as Ginny has ever heard it. “Lucius Malfoy was sacked from the Board of Governors over the summer.”

Ginny’s eyes swivel to her, her fuzzy brain trying to figure out just what that is supposed to mean. What does she care about Lucius Malfoy?

Smita shrugs. “I’m just saying.”

At dinner, Ginny sits a few spaces down from Malfoy, close enough to watch, but not close enough to talk. She watches his normal calm assurance, his inherent aura of superiority, but she thinks there’s something right underneath. Something that makes her think of those screaming posters of Sirius Black again.

She watches him laze his way through practices, but hears the way he constantly brings up the brooms, his father. Brings them up far too often.

She notices a lot of things now that she’s bothering to look.

In potions, Ginny turns to Smita, pulling up her sleeve to bare the green stain on her wrist. “Do you think you could help me get rid of this?”

Smita gives her a long assessing look. Eventually she nods. “Yeah. I can try that.”

Ginny considers that maybe she’s had an ally she never noticed before.

Despite everything they come up with though, they can’t remove the tattoo. It remains stubbornly inked in place. Like a reminder, Ginny thinks.

But Smita does help her learn to magic the alcohol from her cup before drinking it without saying a single word. (“NEWTs level magic,” Smita says with a hard gleam in her eye that Ginny is beginning to find intensely comforting.) The team simply begins to compliment her on her ability to handle her drink.

She smiles and tugs her sleeve down lower over her wrist.

*  *  *

Most days Ginny can’t decide if she’s more angry with Malfoy or with herself. How stupid has she been?

At practice, she imagines flinging his father’s precious broom to his feet as if it is nothing to her, a mere trifle. She would raise an eyebrow, hand on one hip like an old friend returning to roost. “There aren’t enough brooms in the world, Malfoy,” she imagines saying, the rest of the team looking on.

She is too good to dismiss, she reminds herself. She is too important to victory, and this is another sort of power. She is a much better chaser than Malfoy is a seeker. And it’s with that realization that she begins to understand that Malfoy’s sudden acceptance of her had as much to do with her Chamber of Secrets fame as his father’s loss of position. Malfoy needs her, not the other way around.

He wouldn’t be able to do anything about her rejection, his face burning scarlet as they walked out onto the pitch.

She closes her eyes and imagines it with triumphant clarity.

Only she doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, when the time comes for their next match, she waits until the rest of the team has shuffled outside and carefully places her Nimbus 2001 back in the equipment trunks. There is a sharp little pain in her chest as she lets the shiny, smooth handle go, but she forgets it quickly as she plucks up an old familiar Cleansweep, the wood rough under her palm.

This weightlessness she feels has nothing to do with broom-make.

Ginny scores twelve goals and watches with grim satisfaction as the Hufflepuff seeker flies circles around Malfoy. Fancy brooms are not all they are stacked up to be, it seems.

She tosses a startled Cedric Diggory a brilliant smile as she steaks past and laughs loudly into the wind. This is better than belonging. It might even be better than winning. Ginny swerves towards the goal posts, determined to do her best to keep them ahead.

In the end though, it’s Diggory who grabs the snitch while Malfoy is dawdling on the wrong end of the pitch.

Ginny touches down as the stands empty out. Hufflepuff celebrates loudly in the middle of the field.

“Great flying, Ginny,” Harry says as he passes by with a gaggle of Gryffindors.

She’s got mud in her teeth and sweaty hair plastered to her neck, but she doesn’t much care. She’s not a little girl with a butter dish on her elbow anymore. “Thanks,” is all she says.

He doesn’t linger. The next match is between the two of them for the championship, after all. And Ginny has no intention of losing that too.

Fred and George stop by as well, but mostly just to ask her if she’s lost her bloody mind, willingly giving up a Nimbus 2001 for an old school-owned Cleansweep. She just smiles and lets them think what they want. She doesn’t expect them to understand. How could they? Their lives have always been exactly what they expected them to be.

She supposes that makes them lucky.

Malfoy is smart enough to notice something has shifted, that his gift has been thrown back in his face, even if only metaphorically. But as she suspected, he can’t do anything about it. Not when he’d failed to catch the snitch and she’d nearly single-handedly made up the difference.

Still, he and his cronies start sneering at her across the breakfast table. At least it’s honest, she thinks.

She smiles back at them like this is nothing and helps herself to a second plate of eggs. Flint flops down next to Ginny and starts arguing with Bletchley over what new drills they are going to have to integrate into practice if they are going to beat Gryffindor. Double practices all next week, he declares.

“What do you think, Six?” he asks her.

They don’t seem to care what broom Ginny flies, as long as she keeps scoring. She lifts her chin. “I’m up for it,” she says.

Still, nothing feels quite the same anymore. She can see the cracks now, hear the hollow ring of people only saying what they think people want to hear.

She convinces herself this is a lesson well learned.

*  *  *

They don’t win the match against Gryffindor.

It’s strange to look across the pitch and see two brothers and an old childhood crush on the other side. She thinks, before her first few goals, her brothers may have been going easy on her. That didn’t last after the first time she unerringly slammed a Quaffle home past Wood.

Still, in the end it comes down to the simple fact that Gryffindor outplays them. And Harry Potter once against claims the snitch while Malfoy plays the fool.

The Gryffindor are in a triumphant dogpile in the middle of the pitch, Harry lost somewhere under the tangle. Malfoy is glaring at them a few feet away, brushing his hair back from his face with jerky motions. Defeat doesn’t look good on him.

He catches her watching him, his expression hardening and she raises one eyebrow at him, her eyes deliberately straying to his broom. The insult is clear. His face flushes, and Ginny turns away, falling in step with a cursing Flint.

Losing sucks. Ginny can’t deny it. But she thinks as Smita meets her at the edge of the pitch, that at least she’s beginning to see things for what they really are. That has to be worth it. Right? (But, oh, does it have to hurt this much?)

“Sorry you lost,” Smita says in that particular way of hers (not cold, Ginny is realizing, just steady).

Ginny shrugs. “There’s always next year.”

Smita nods and mentions a rune she thinks Ginny might be able to carve into the handle of her broom for better rapid deceleration.

Ginny smiles. This time, she thinks she may actually mean it.

*  *  *

The rest of the term passes in a flurry of exams and farewells and a mass murderer breaking out of the castle (on a hippogriff, of all things, if school rumor is to be at all believed). Ginny wonders sometimes just how close she’d come to finding herself face to face with Sirius Black in a dark corridor, what she might have done in that situation.

She gets a sick little thrill in her stomach at the thought. She’s still pretty sure she has questions, just no idea why she thinks he may have the answers.

Ron is back out of the infirmary before she even gets a chance to go visit him. When she does manage to track him down in the halls between classes the last day, he, Harry, and Hermione are even more tight-lipped and inscrutable than usual.

She’s risking making them all late for class by flagging them down, but it’s not like Ginny can just pop on down to the Gryffindor common room to make sure Ron is okay.

“What?” Ron complains, impatience clear in his voice. Annoyance at his stupid kid sister.

She holds back her flinch, hand compulsively pulling her sleeve down lower over her wrist. (Oh, Merlin, one of these days she is going to have to wear a short sleeve and then life is going to get really loud if Molly Weasley has anything to do with it.)

“I’m just glad you’re okay, Ron,” she mumbles in a rush, tucking her books into her chest and turning back down the way she came.

She hears the solid smack of hand against flesh and a disgruntled “Ow!” from Ron, but doesn’t turn back to look.

Ginny spends the train ride to London sitting next to Smita. A few first year Slytherin girls sit across from them, their eyes nervous as they goad each other with silent communication. Clearly they are here on a dare of some sort. The bold one of the group finally manages to speak about an hour into the trip, and Ginny braces herself for inquiries about Malfoy, about the Chamber, about her stupid Gryffindor brothers.

“You’re the first girl on the Slytherin Quidditch team in over a decade,” the girl says in a rush.

Ginny frowns. “Really?” She hadn’t actually even noticed. If she had, she wonders if she still would have had the nerve to try out.

The three girls nod in unison, staring at her, not like a freak or an outsider or even a girl, but like she’s a…hero.

“Well,” Ginny says, swallowing against the discomfort rising in her throat. “It’s probably about time that changed then.”

“Yes,” the bold one says with a glimmer in her eye that Ginny recognizes all too well.

Next to her, Smita’s shoulder casually bumps against hers. “Hey,” she says, nodding towards the passing trolley, the tiniest hint of something that only on Smita would be considered a smile. “I’m hungry. You?”

Ginny bites the inside of her lip. “Yeah,” she agrees. “Me too.”

The rest of the trip does not pass in silence.

Maybe, Ginny thinks, this is what belonging is really supposed to feel like.

*  *  *

Back at the Burrow, Ginny kneels on the edge of her mother’s garden. The sun is warm on the back of her neck, her hands cool in the dark soil.

A shadow falls over her, and she looks up to see Ron standing over her. She lifts an eyebrow, surprised to see him. Of all her family, it’s always been with him that she feels the greatest tension, the greatest distance, like he can’t quite bring himself to forgive her for the treasonous act of being sorted a Slytherin.

But now, in the summer sun, he kneels next to her in the dirt and says, “How are you, Gin?” in a soft, confused voice that makes her ache in unexpected places. He may not be the most emotionally enlightened boy in the world, but he’s the sort to always rectify things when he finally figures it out, not matter how much it costs.

“I’m good,” she says, partly because she believes it will be true someday and partly because she knows this is what he needs to hear.

Ron nods, yanking up a marigold in his distraction. The tension hasn’t quite left his shoulders yet. He hasn’t talked much about what happened that day he broke his leg, the day Sirius Black escaped from Hogwarts, no matter how much Fred and George harass him for details. She has some ideas though, what that might have been like.

“I’m sorry about Scabbers,” she says.

Ron’s face blanches, but it’s not grief, rather something a bit like disgust. He recovers after a moment, clearing his throat. “Yeah, well, he was old.”

She’s long since learned to see through his bluster to the affection hidden underneath—a little sister’s prerogative—but this is something different than indifference towards a careworn hand me down.

She stops him from mangling another of their Mum’s beloved marigolds. “Ron?”

He looks at her, blinking slightly as if surprised to still see her there. He grimaces, shaking his head. “It’s just… It’s strange the way things aren’t always what they seem, innit?”

It’s really the last thing she expects to hear from him, but so close to her own thoughts these days that she can’t help the feeling of kinship.

“Except Malfoy,” she says, a peace offering of sorts. One thing they can agree on.

He doesn’t react right away, as if expecting a trap, but then a smile slowly spreads over his face. “Yeah,” he says. “He’s pretty much exactly the git he seems.”

They laugh together, and for a moment it’s like that last year when it was just the two of them left at the Burrow. His shoulder bumps hers, and she kicks her feet out, leaning back on her arm next to him. They sit like that for a while, just enjoying the sun, chore momentarily forgotten.

Ginny glances up at the white ball of fluff that is never far from Ron’s side these days, much to his seeming annoyance. He still hasn’t explained how the bird managed to just randomly adopt him. “Have you named your owl yet?”

Ron glances up, automatically scowling at the owl. “No.”

She peers at the owl for a moment, pretending to think hard. “Pigwidgeon.”

“What?” he asks, frowning at her.

“Pigwidgeon,” she repeats. “It’s perfect.”

The owl chirps and loops above Ron’s head in approval.

“Pigwidgeon?” he repeats in horror. He glances up at the owl nearly vibrating with pleasure above them. “Bloody hell, Gin!”

Ginny laughs, pushing to her feet and tripping down the slope of the garden, the newly christened owl hooting in her wake.

She doesn’t stumble.