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The Wrackspurt Infestation

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It was morning, and Ginny knew it.

She could feel the sunlight streaming through the windows of the hospital wing, and she could hear her parents and Madam Pomfrey whispering. They didn’t seem to be trying very hard to stay quiet.

“Do you think she’ll wake soon, Poppy? I’d like to say goodbye before heading to the ministry.”

“There’s really no telling, Arthur. Some patients sleep for a full twenty-four hours before waking up.”

Actually, Ginny had been awake for some time. She had slowly awoken to her mother’s familiar touch, her hand gently stroking Ginny’s hair. Ginny had kept her eyes closed.

“I want to take her home, so she can rest and recover in her own bed,” whispered her mother. “Albus said exams were canceled, didn’t he?”

“She shouldn’t be moved just yet, Molly. She needs to wake up naturally. You and Arthur go on home—you need rest too, you know. Don’t think I don’t know neither one of you slept a wink last night. You should go on home and take a Sleeping Draught yourself, you know. I know you think you have to work today, Arthur, but you need to take care of yourself, too. Ginny will be in good hands here.”

Ginny could hear her mother begin to protest, but Arthur cut in. “She’s in the best of hands, Poppy; we know that. Just… just send an owl the moment she wakes, day or night.”

“Of course, of course.”

Ginny felt her mother pull the covers up to her chin and tuck he blankets tightly around her where they’d come loose in the night. She felt the soft pressure of one kiss on her forehead, then another. There was a long, writhing Something wrapped around her heart, and as the sound of her parents’ footsteps receded, it somehow both loosened and clenched tighter. She laid very still, trying not to disturb the Something, trying to ignore the tears dripping down the end of her nose, thankful they had waited until her parents had gone to fall.

After ushering out the Weasleys, Madam Pomfrey stopped near the foot of her bed.

“I’m going down to lunch, dear, can I bring you anything back up?” she said.

Was Madam Pomfrey talking to her? Could she see through Ginny’s charade?

“Maybe just a sandwich,” said a soft, musical voice a few beds away. “Grilled veg, if you don’t mind.”

And with that, Ginny could hear Madam Pomfrey’s footsteps receding once again. They echoed around the high ceilings of the hospital wing, just like her steps had echoed in….

“You can open your eyes now,” said the girl with the lilting voice.

Ginny started, but did not, as the speaker had suggested, open her eyes. Her heart was pounding. Her palms were sweaty underneath the blankets, but she didn’t move them. In fact, she wished she had more blankets so she could bury herself in a hot pile of darkness from which she could never leave. She didn’t deserve cool air, light, a friendly voice.

The voice spoke again. “Madam Pomfrey usually takes about an hour for lunch.”

Ginny didn’t know how the girl knew she was awake, and she didn’t care. She rolled over and thought about pretending to snore.

She’d pretended to snore many a night that past year in the dorms, while the other girls in her year chatted happily about the wonders of Hogwarts, about wands and lessons and cute boys and girls, before falling asleep. She had pretended to snore until her classmates had fallen silent, and then she had continued to pretend to snore, hoping it would help her eventually fall asleep.

It never did.

“I can keep a lookout, if you want, for Madam Pomfrey. In case you have to go to the bathroom or something. I won’t tell her you’re awake.” The girl paused. “We don’t have to talk if you don’t want. It’s just a bit empty in here now that all of the Petrified students have been revived.”

Ginny’s eyes flew open. Hermione. Forgetting her charade, she sat up and looked around.

The wing was empty, save for herself and a small girl with wide, blue eyes and long blonde hair and…horns peeking out from just above her ears. They looked a bit like the antlers she used to see on deer grazing around the edges of the backyard at the Burrow. They never stayed long once she had liberated out one or other of her brothers’ brooms from the backyard shed and taken flight, but she’d always found their early morning company pleasant.

The girl attached to the antlers smiled at Ginny over a magazine she’d been reading, but by then Ginny had taken in the rest of the hospital wing. Empty beds all around, save herself and the antlered girl two beds over.

When she’d been brought to the hospital wing, several of the beds had been full. They’d made her walk all the way to the bed furthest from the ward door, past the beds of the petrified students, past her own terrible handiwork. Hermione, of course, but also Colin, who’d sat by her in Charms class. That second-year Hufflepuff, Justin. She didn’t really know him, but he had helped her find her way to the Potions dungeon once, smiling at her in that way Hufflepuffs did, like they’d all just swallowed a Cheering Concoction right before talking to you. Nearly Headless Nick had floated above one of the beds, his head hanging limply from that awful neck. They’d even lain Mrs. Norris in a hospital bed, Mrs. Norris, who Ron had insisted probably deserved to be petrified, but who was just a cat, no matter how terrible her human companion was.

None of them had said anything, as she walked past, of course, but it had felt like every pair of petrified eyes had followed her as she was ushered into the wing. Dumbledore had said they’d all been given the restoration draft, but no one had been moving just yet. She had downed her potion as quickly as possible and lain on her side with her back to their still-unmoving bodies and counted backward from fifty until she fell asleep.

But now, their beds were empty. Only herself and the antlered girl remained, though Ginny didn’t remember seeing her the night before. She was sure she’d seen the girl about the castle, only without the antlers. She had always worn long earrings made from dirigible plums, which had prompted some of the other girls in Ginny’s year to call the girl—what was it again? Looney. Looney Lovegood.

“What happened to you?” Ginny blurted out, before she could remember she shouldn’t really be talking to anyone.

The girl just laughed and put down her magazine—a brightly colored issue of The Quibbler with an illustration of Hogwarts Castle on the front. A blood red headline proclaimed, “Horror at Hogwarts? The Top Ten Monsters that may be at the Heart of the School’s Rumored Closing.”

Ginny shrank away from the magazine and pulled the blanket around her shoulders, in case things started to go dark. But the girl’s voice brought her back to the present.

“Do you like them?” she asked, patting both antlers with her hands. “I conjured them myself.”

“You… conjured them?” asked Ginny. “Aren’t you a first year?”

“I suppose,” said the girl people called Looney.

“But that’s a really advanced hex.”

“Is it?” asked the girl. “That’s what Professor McGonagall called it, too—a hex. She said people don’t normally cast it on themselves and took me up here for observation. I missed almost the whole feast, but I don’t mind.”

Oh, yeah, Ginny remembered. There had been a feast. She was glad she had missed it. She didn’t know how she was going to manage going back to her dormitory, much less how she might face the entire great hall. How long would Madam Pomfrey let her stay here in the hospital wing? Maybe if she could find the potions cabinet and sneak herself some extra sleeping draughts, she could sleep away the rest of the term and not have to see anyone else until it was time to go home.

Going home, though. Did she want to go home? She didn’t want to go back to the dorm, she didn’t want to go to the Great Hall, but maybe she didn’t want to go home, either. She loved her mother, but she knew she would make such a fuss. Maybe she should steal an extra sleeping draught or two to take back to the burrow with her, too.

She climbed out of bed and looked around. Just her luck (for once), the potions cabinet was only a few steps away, beside the door to Madam Pomfrey’s office. The cabinet’s door was made of glass, and she could see bottles in many shapes and sizes—vials of green and brown and purple, some even tinted an opaque black. On the very top shelf sat several green bottles clearly labeled “Sleeping Draught.”

A simple alohamora unlocked the cabinet, but Ginny was too short to reach the top shelf.

“Do you need some help?” asked a voice right behind her left ear.

She jumped and turned, and an antler scraped across her cheek.

“I’m terribly sorry,” said the antlered girl. “My sense of space isn’t been quite the same with these. Did I hurt you? Let me see.” The girl moved to touch Ginny’s face, but Ginny ducked out of her way.

“It’s fine,” said Ginny, though it did hurt a little.

“We can probably find some tonic for it.”

“No, really, it’s fine,” Ginny snapped. It hurt, but that was what was fine about it.

“Well, what are you trying to find? Maybe I can help.”

“I want some more sleeping draught,” said Ginny. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, but if this girl was going to insist on helping her, she didn’t see a reason to turn her away. “I want to go back to sleep.”

“Oh, that’s easy then. Wingardium leviosa.” The girl twirled a wand Ginny hadn’t seen her produce, and a green bottle floated down to her from the top shelf. “How many do you need?’

All of them, Ginny wanted to say, but she thought Madam Pomfrey would notice. “Five, for now, I guess.” The matron probably wouldn’t notice five.

The girl repeated the spell four more times, and Ginny grabbed the bottles from the air. Then the girl said the spell again, moving bottles from the middle of the shelf up to the front. “That way, Madam Pomfrey won’t know they’re missing,” she explained.

Ginny eyed the girl with interest. She hadn’t ever struck Ginny as the Fred-and-George type, but then, she didn’t really know this Looney girl at all.  She didn’t even know her real name—surely it wasn’t Looney.

“What’s your name?” she asked as they walked back to Ginny’s bed. Ginny shoved her contraband beneath her pillow and climbed back under the covers.

“I’m Luna,” said the girl. She must have taken the question as an invitation to chat, because she onto the end of Ginny’s bed and sat cross-legged atop the covers. “What’s your name?”

“Ginny.”

“Ginny, like Ginny Pescanoe, the first witch to ever photograph the elusive crumple-horned snorkack?”

 “What?” said Ginny. “No, I think it’s a family name. What’s a crumple-horned snorkack?”

“You’ve never heard of it?” asked Luna. She jumped off of Ginny’s bed and rushed over to hers, grabbed the magazine with that horrid front cover, and tossed it onto Ginny’s bed before jumping back on herself. She flipped through the pages rapidly, until she came to a double-page spread featuring two photos: one, sepia-toned, featuring a dour-faced woman pacing back and forth in the wilderness, occasionally fiddling with a very old-looking camera, and a second photo, black and white and extremely difficult to make out, of some kind of animal that looked like it might have a large horn somewhere on its body. The accompanying headline read: “100 Years of Snorkacks: Celebrating the Anniversary of Genevra Pescanoe’s First Photo of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack.”

“No one’s managed to get a photo since Ginny Pescanoe. She was the first and the last. She made sketches, too, because she knew the photo wasn’t very good. Look,” she said, and flipped to another page in the article. There were several sketches of a large, horned animal. It looked sort of like a cross between a hippo, a unicorn, a hippogriff, and a crocodile.

“Neat,” Ginny said, because Luna was looking up at her expectantly.

“Daddy’s going to take me on an expedition to find one someday. It’ll be very dangerous, though, so he says I have to study hard, but I would study hard even if we weren’t planning an expedition. Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” she recited, as if that explained everything perfectly.

After a few moments of studying the sketches in the magazine, she looked back up at Ginny. “Do you think they need flowers?”

“What?” said Ginny. “The… the snorkacks, or whatever?”

“No, my antlers,” said Luna, patting them once more. “I think they need flowers. Orchideous!” And a burst of pale pink flowers erupted from her wand tip. She laid the bouquet on the bed, gingerly lifted a single blossom from the rest, and wound the stem around one of the horns. “What do you think?” she asked Ginny.

Ginny thought it looked completely outlandish, but she didn’t want to be rude. “Very festive,” was all she said.

“Exactly!” chirped Luna. She flicked her wand and again said, “Orchideous!” This time, the flowers were a deep yellow with black centers. Once again, she wove a flower into an antler.

“How did you do that?” Ginny asked.

“Hmm?” asked Luna. Her eyes were dreamy as she picked another pink flower and tied it to the same stem as the yellow daisy.

“How did you conjure different flowers with the same spell?” asked Ginny. “I’ve never seen that before.”

“Oh, it’s easy,” said Luna. “It’s all in the intent—what kind of flower you bring to mind. I’ve tried making up new flowers, but I haven’t managed to conjure any yet. Orchideous!” she said again, but this time, her wand just shot a mixture of pink and yellow flower petals, as if in protest. Ginny laughed, Luna just shrugged.

“Want to give it a try?” Luna asked.

Ginny began to reach for her wand, which lay on the bedside table next to her, but then thought better of it. “Maybe not.”

“Oh, go on, then,” said Luna.

Ginny closed her eyes and tried to picture the same pink flowers that Luna had conjured the first time. They grew in the garden at the burrow; what were they? Carnations? Zinnias? She was sure her mother had told her their name, but she couldn’t remember. She couldn’t seem to bring them to mind, either, though a bouquet of them sat barely a meter away from her on the hospital bed. Instead, when she closed her eyes, she saw a damp, cavernous hall with serpent heads carved into the pillars. She shuddered and cast the spell before Luna could notice. “Orchideous!”

Flowers burst from the tip of her wand, but they were wilted and colorless, almost dead.

“Oh,” was all Luna said. “That’s all right. It’s not an easy spell when you’ve got other things on your mind. Here, have some of these,” she said, and she began showing Ginny how to weave the stems together into a flowery circlet.

They stayed that way for the rest of the hour, until Luna suddenly jumped and warned Ginny of Madam Pomfrey’s approach. Luna gathered the flowers and her magazine and scrambled back over to her bed, and Ginny placed her new flower crown gently onto her bedside table next to her wand. She burrowed down into the covers and closed her eyes tightly and began to feign a snore just as Madam Pomfrey’s heels clicked into the hall.

The sleeping draughts lay undisturbed under her pillow, forgotten.

Chapter Text

Luna left the hospital wing later that afternoon once her horns disappeared. Ginny didn’t see them go, which was disappointing; she was still pretending to be asleep.

By this time, Madam Pomfrey was checking on her every half hour or so, placing her hand on Ginny’s shoulder and shaking gently. Sometimes Ginny stirred, sometimes she didn’t, but always she continued feigning sleep. Once, her stomach rumbled so loudly just as Madam Pomfrey was leaving that she was sure the nurse had heard it. Her heart leapt in fear. She was hungry, yes, but the thought of going to the Great Hall made her feel nauseous every time she considered “waking up.” Maybe if she cornered Fred and George, they would nick her something from the kitchens.

They had come by in the evening, all of them—Fred and George and Percy and Ron and Hermione and even—her stomach flipped as she remembered—Harry. They hadn’t stayed long, as she had been still been feigning sleep, and Madam Pomfrey had chased them out when they started making too much noise, but Ginny had been grateful for it. Now that they were gone, and Luna was gone, the hospital wing was too quiet.

Gryffindor Tower would certainly be noisier than the hospital wing, she supposed, but the thought of climbing through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room, of facing questioning eyes and looks of concern and maybe even smiling faces, made that Something holding tight to her heart squeeze even tighter.

Ginny was still wondering what to do when she heard someone enter the hospital wing and approach her bed. The side of the bed sank down as someone sat, and Ginny heard a few soft thuds as something was placed on her bedside table. Then a soft, musical voice whispered to her quietly.

“I’ve brought you up some dinner,” said Luna. “If you want, I can distract Madam Pomfrey so you can eat. I might try to turn myself blue or something.”

Ginny couldn’t help it. She laughed and opened her eyes. “Can you do that?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” said Luna. “But I think it’d be fun to try.”

Ginny laughed again. She eyed the small parcel of food Luna had brought and then glanced back toward Madam Pomfrey’s office. She would likely be coming round to check on her again soon.

“That’s all right,” Ginny said. “What did you bring?”

 

After her dinner with Luna, Ginny was dismissed from the hospital wing by Madam Pomfrey. The matron gave her a stern once-over and made Ginny promise to come back if she needed anything, and to eat plenty of chocolate.

“Don’t worry,” Luna had said, pulling a few boxes of Chocolate Frogs out of her bag. “I brought dessert.”

Ginny had nodded, as if chocolate could erase the memories of wet, damp caverns, of fangs, chicken feathers, and blood. Madam Pomfrey had nodded and smiled at Luna, but her eyes were still on Ginny. Ginny had looked away.

Once they finished the dinner, they headed out of the hospital wing toward the Grand Staircase.

“I suppose you’ll want to head back to your common room and see your friends, now that you’re out of the hospital wing,” Luna said. There was no malice in her voice; she spoke matter-of-factly.

“Oh,” said Ginny, who had decided to Gryffindor Tower only once she thought most people would be clear of the common room, even if she had to hide in a broom cupboard to avoid being caught out of bounds. “I suppose. What about you?”

“Oh, I don’t have any friends,” said Luna, her voice light and serene.

“Oh,” Ginny said. What on earth could she say to that? “Why don’t we go down to the lake for a while?”

By the time they reached the lake, the sun had almost reached the horizon and the light across the water was bright and golden. They sat at the water’s edge and took off their shoes, letting the water lap at their toes.

“I heard there were merpeople in here,” said Luna dreamily.

“Are you sure?” Ginny asked, and Luna nodded. “Fred and George said so, my brothers, but I thought they were taking the mickey.”

“I’d like to meet them, but I don’t speak Mermish.” Luna sat up suddenly. “Do you know Mermish?”

Ginny sat up, too. “No.”

Luna shrugged, then reached into her bag and pulled out a small, black leather book. Ginny recoiled before she remembered the diary now had a large hole in its front. This book, too, was much more modern looking than it had been.

If Luna had seen Ginny flinch, she didn’t say anything. She simply dug into the bag again, withdrew another small, leather book, and offered it to Ginny.

“Would you like to sketch?” she asked.

“Er,” said Ginny. “Sure. Thanks.” She accepted the book and pencil Luna offered, but didn’t open it. Rather, she watched as Luna opened her book and began flipping through its pages. As she turned the pages, Ginny could make out drawings—dozens of them, from what she could see, some in color but most in pencil, mostly of magical beasts of varying shapes and sizes.

The page Luna had stopped on contained a half-finished sketch of a merperson. Opposite the sketch was a torn sheaf of parchment that Luna had shut into the notebook—a detailed illustration of a merperson, likely from some book or other. Ginny snickered quietly for a moment, glad Hermione wasn’t there to see, but then the mirth was rapidly replaced by guilt.

The feeling dissipated, though, as Ginny watched Luna work. She was careful and deliberate in her pencil strokes, frequently looking back and forth between the reference and her own work.

But Luna had made no attempt to be faithful to the reference illustration. The merperson depicted stood tall and fierce, clutching a trident and frowning, brows furrowed. Luna’s merperson, however, was waving and held no trident, and their face was soft and smiling.

They stayed that way for a while, Luna sketching and Ginny watching her sketch, until it became too dark to see and the stars began winking into the night sky. If Luna minded Ginny watching, she didn’t say, or even notice that Ginny wasn’t sketching herself. Once Luna closed her book, they lay back on the ground for a while, watching the stars come out and listening to the gentle hum of the waves.

When Luna finally suggested they return to the castle, Ginny didn’t reply, but stood up regretfully and dusted herself off, and they began to head back.

As they reached the entrance hall, Luna said, “That was fun. Want to sketch together again tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Ginny said, and she meant it. The Something in her chest that was wrapped around her heart seemed to have loosened as she listened to the lapping lake water.

They agreed to meet in the courtyard after breakfast, and Luna skipped up the staircase toward Ravenclaw tower. Ginny watched her go and began her own slow climb to Gryffindor Tower, the Something in her chest drawing tighter with every step.  

Chapter Text

“Ginny!”

She had done it. She had climbed the stairs to Gryffindor Tower.

She had contemplated trying to find a broom cupboard in which to wait out the several hours after curfew that it would take for the common room to empty. But the prospect of wandering the dark corridors in search of such a hideout threatened to bring back… not memories so much as anti-memories—dark, blank spaces bookended by feelings of guilt, shame, and fear.

So, she had stood before the portrait of the Fat Lady, all but whispered mimsy borogove, and climbed through the portrait hole. She had hovered near the entrance to the common room, hoping she wouldn’t be spotted.

And yet. She should have known.

Ron sprang from the overstuffed chair where he had been sitting and practically leapt over to her, wrapping her in probably the biggest hug he’d given her in his life, ever. Fred and George followed shortly, and even Percy, though in a more dignified manner than his younger brothers, joined the embrace and patted her head. Ginny’s eyes, throat, and chest burned.

“Ginny!” Ron said again, pulling back. “You’re all right!”

Ginny drew in a deep breath and put on a smile. “Course I am,” she said, but it came out croaky. She cleared her throat, shrugged her shoulder. “Dunno what you were worried for.”

“That’s our girl,” said Fred, and he ruffled Ginny’s hair.

“We looked for you in the hospital wing after dinner,” said Percy, “but Madam Pomfrey said you’d gone. Where’ve you been?”

Ginny shrugged again. “Went down by the lake for a bit.” She thought of Luna sketching merpeople and the bright golden rays of the sunset on the water. “But I’m here now.”

“Come have a game of Exploding Snap.” Fred motioned over to the chairs where he, George, and Ron had been sitting. Already there was a card tower of some height balancing precariously on the table.

“Er,” Ginny said, glancing over. Harry and Hermione were sitting there, Hermione with her nose mostly in a book, but her eyes peering out over the top, watching Ginny closely. Harry, looking over and smiling. He caught her eyes and waved. Ginny’s stomach lurched. “Er.”

But Fred would brook no protest. He and the others shuffled her over to their corner of the common room. They passed Colin Creevey on the way, and the Something around Ginny’s heart gave a tight squeeze. He looked up as they passed and waved. “Hiya, Ginny!”

Her voice caught in her throat as she tried to reply, so she just grimaced at him and waved.

In some ways, it was nice, being back in the common room. Fred and George made jokes and cast hexes on each other to make her laugh and were generally as loud as possible. Everyone laughed—even Percy—when the tower of cards exploded and Ron’s eyebrows almost caught fire.

The noisy chatter of the students surrounding her seemed mostly pleasant, but she wondered what they were talking about. As she glanced around, she caught a few people’s curious glances in her direction. Were they whispering about her? Did they know? What had Dumbledore told everyone at the feast? Ginny’s skin was starting to tingle. She could feel more and more eyes on her from across the room. She folded her hands tight in her lap and looked purposefully, intently, at Fred, whose eyebrows were growing rapidly and currently looked a bit like a handlebar moustache.

Suddenly, Hermione yawned loudly and closed her book with a loud thump. “I think I’m going to go to bed. You lot should get to bed soon, too,” she said, and glanced casually around at them, her eyes finally landing on Ginny.

“What in the blazes for?” demanded Ron.

“I’ll go to bed when I please, thanks, Mum,” George said, raising his own rapidly growing brows. He twirled the end of one for dramatic effect.

Hermione shrugged, unperturbed. “Suit yourselves. I’m going up. Ginny? You coming?”

Ginny was torn. She wasn’t really tired, but the common room was growing warm and uncomfortable and maybe a bit too loud. Her dormitory would at least be cool and quiet and dark. On the other hand, Hermione had that look like She Had Something to Say. Ginny wasn’t looking forward to a telling-off, but she supposed she had it coming. Might as well get it over with and then go to bed.

Just then, the card tower exploded again with a tremendous SNAP, and Ginny jumped. She collected herself and nodded up at Hermione, who was standing and waiting patiently, as if she already knew Ginny would come.

“Goodnight, everyone,” she said.

There came a chorus of goodnights from her brothers and Harry—gulp—and she followed Hermione up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.

Once they had reached the second-floor landing and the noise below began to fade, Hermione turned to Ginny. Here we go. Ginny bowed her head and tried to steel herself.

“Ron and Harry told me what happened, the whole story,” began Hermione. Ginny nodded, and shut her eyes tight against the wetness beginning to form there. “And I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Ginny looked up, incredulous. “What?”

Hermione nodded. “I should have figured it out sooner. I’d worked it out about the basilisk—”

Ginny flinched.

“Sorry,” Hermione said and put a hand on Ginny’s shoulder. “I’d worked it out about the…monster and the chamber and the pipes. But I hadn’t quite worked out who was doing it.”

Ginny shut her eyes again and bit her lip. Here it came.

“If only I’d thought of You-Know-Who—sorry—” Ginny had flinched again. “If only I’d thought of him sooner, he might not have… you know… taken you. I’m so sorry this happened to you. If you ever want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.”

By now, Ginny was silently sobbing. She could tell Hermione was trying to help, but she—that is, Hermione—didn’t really understand. She couldn’t. Hermione, who made perfect scores on every exam, who did extra reams of parchment on essays, who somehow managed to keep her brother mostly out of trouble, who had probably never lost a single house point for Gryffindor. How could Hermione understand what it was like to be responsible for the near deaths of her friends and schoolmates? How could Ginny possibly explain? Her father had been right. She should have thrown that diary into the fire the moment she’d discovered it among her schoolbooks at the Leaky Cauldron.

“Here,” Hermione said gently, and pulled Ginny into the first years’ dorm. It was quieter and cooler and gloriously empty. Hermione wrapped Ginny in a hug, and Ginny’s silent sobs turned into just sobs. When her eyes finally dried out, she pulled back and wiped her eyes and nose.

“Sorry about your shirt,” said Ginny.

Hermione laughed. “It’s perfectly all right,” she said. “Do you want to talk?”

Ginny thought about it. Maybe Hermione, out of everyone, deserved an explanation. She tried to consider it, but as her thoughts started to flit toward that deepest and darkest corner in her mind, her mouth clamped shut and her heart felt like it stopped. She couldn’t do it. Not now. Maybe not ever. So much for being a Gryffindor.

Finally, she spoke. “I think I just want to go to bed. Thank you for… thanks.”

Hermione smiled and hugged her again. “Just let me know,” she said, and Ginny nodded, though doubtfully, and then Hermione left.

Ginny dressed for bed and then laid in her four poster with the hangings pulled tight, but she couldn’t bring herself to close her eyes, lest her mind wander to that same place she couldn’t talk about with Hermione. She cursed herself for forgetting the sleeping draughts under her pillow in the hospital wing. What she wouldn’t give now for some twelve-odd hours of dreamless sleep.

Her dormmates entered the room soon after, chattering loudly at first, but then quietly as they noticed Ginny’s pulled hangings. She heard them drop off to sleep, one by one, and then she heard only the hooting of the occasional owl as it flew by Gryffindor Tower in the night.

Once she was sure the others were asleep, she crept back into the common room and curled up in an armchair by the dwindling fire. She stared into its golden depths and listened to it crack until she finally fell asleep.

At some point, she halfway woke to the sensation of being carried up the stairs. She opened her eyes just a crack to see Professor McGonagall’s stern mouth pulled into a frown. Was she going to be in trouble for being out of bed? She quickly shut her eyes again.

But the deputy headmistress just eased open the door to Ginny’s dorm, laid her in her bed, and pulled the covers to Ginny’s chin. She pulled the hangings shut, and then Ginny could hear the soft click of the dormitory door being closed. Ginny lit her wand with a soft lumos, laid it next to her, and then tried once again to drop off to sleep.

Her dreams were full of empty snakeskins and dead roosters and massive stone chambers dripping with venom that hissed as it hit the floor. She woke up more than once crying out in fear, and once or twice she heard the uncertain whispers of the other girls in her dorm.

“Ginny?” they called, but she did not reply.

When she awoke after one such dream to the pale blue light of early morning, she simply crawled out of bed, dressed, and crept out of Gryffindor Tower. If she went to the Great Hall now, she could probably sneak some breakfast in before anyone else was awake.

And then she was going to the hospital wing to steal those sleeping draughts.

Chapter Text

The sleeping draughts were no longer in the cabinet.

“Bollocks,” Ginny whispered to herself. She had come straight up to the hospital wing after grabbing a scone and some pumpkin juice, though the scone remained in her bag, wrapped in a napkin, uneaten. Her stomach felt twisted today, as if the Something holding her heart in its jaws had wrapped its tail around her stomach as well.

She had checked the hospital bed first, reached under the pillow she’d slept on only two nights ago, but as the bed had been freshly made since she’d last lain in it, she hadn’t really expected the potions to still be there. She had hoped they’d been replaced in the potions cabinet, but she didn’t even have to unlock it to realize they’d been moved. She could see the empty top shelf as she approached it.

“Ah, there you are, Miss Weasley,” said a voice to her left.

She turned, and her stomach twisted even further, if that was even possible. Was she going to be sick? Well, she was in the hospital wing. Maybe if she vomited all over the floor, Madam Pomfrey would forget she had tried to steal the sleeping draughts.

But the pumpkin juice stayed in her stomach. Madam Pomfrey stood in the doorway to her office, looking at Ginny.

“Why don’t you step into my office?”

Ginny swallowed, but did as she was asked.

Ginny had expected the office to look much like the rest of the hospital wing—cold, sterile, and generic. But while the office was certainly tidy—it had a sort of regimented air about it, like Madam Pomfrey herself—it was also, well, cozy.

Just inside the door was a large wooden desk, behind which sat a mustard-yellow velvet armchair, and before which sat two chairs of black leather. Beyond the desk was a small sitting area in front of a fireplace, with two gray suede chaise loungers facing each other on either side of an oval wooden coffee table. A few shelves lined the walls, containing books, silver devices that looked either medical or magical, as well as a few small models of human body systems. There was another glass potions cabinet as well, presumably locked, and a large portrait of a woman Ginny didn’t recognize. Finally, behind Madam Pomfrey’s desk, Ginny noticed a hat stand with a black and yellow scarf and—a poster of the Holyhead Harpies, Ginny’s favorite Quidditch team, aside from Gryffindor, of course.

Madam Pomfrey sat on one of the gray chaise lounges, in front of a small tea service, complete with scones, jams, and cream. Ginny followed her example and sat across from her, eyeing the poster.

“You support the Harpies?” she asked tentatively, as Madam Pomfrey began pouring two cups of tea.

“Only my whole life,” said the matron with a smile. “You too?”

Ginny nodded, and accepted the tea Madam Pomfrey offered her. “My brother Ron likes the Cannons, but I think the Harpies are more consistent. The Cannons will fly perfectly one year and then flop the next. The Harpies, though, are always solid. Some years they’re excellent, but they’re always solid.”

It was the most she’d spoken in over forty-eight hours, but then, it was Quidditch.

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” said Madam Pomfrey. “Hungry?”

Ginny considered. Was she hungry? Her stomach still felt a little twisted, but she was no longer certain she was about to be in trouble. “Maybe a little.”

“Try one of these,” said the matron. “They’re chocolate chip.”

Ginny spread a little cream onto the scone and took a small bite. She chewed slowly, savoring the sweet chocolate pieces as they melted onto her tongue.

As they ate, they chatted about their favorite Harpies, and Ginny found herself relaxing a little. The matron didn’t know quite as much about Quidditch as Ginny did, but she was clearly a longtime fan. They even discussed a few international teams, though the World Cup was still a whole year away.

“Ireland’s team has done well lately,” said Madam Pomfrey as she began clearing the tea things. “If they can keep it up, they might make it all the way.”

Ginny didn’t disagree. “I don’t think Britain will make it very far, though.”

Madam Pomfrey laughed. “We’ll see. Maybe, but I do think Ireland’s got the stronger team.”

She reached into her apron pocket and drew out five small green vials of potion. Ginny’s heart dropped as she read the script on all five labels: Sleeping Draught.

“Before you say anything, Miss Weasley, I want you to know you’re not in trouble.”

Ginny looked up, confused.

“Normally, when students pilfer my potions, there is a bit of punishment, of course, but in these circumstances, I’ve decided to make an exception, as long as you’ll honestly answer me one question.”

Ginny nodded.

“Why did you take them?”

Under the matron’s scrutinizing gaze, Ginny looked down at her fingernails. They were dirty. She suddenly remembered that she hadn’t taken showered since…. Well, not since two days ago, at least.

“Miss Weasley?” prodded Madam Pomfrey.

“I just wanted to sleep,” she said quietly. “I didn’t want to leave the hospital wing. I didn’t want to go back to Gryffindor Tower, or back home, like my mom said.”

Madam Pomfrey raised her eyebrows but said nothing, so Ginny continued.

“I just wanted to stay here and sleep. But then I started talking to Luna, and I forgot about them. I wish I’d had one last night,” she said, and looked up defiantly.

Madam Pomfrey studied her for a moment, then nodded grimly. “I imagine so. Sometimes after we experience something… difficult, our bodies find it hard to return to their normal functions. It can be hard to eat, hard to sleep, hard to talk to people, hard to move about and do things as we normally do.” She looked at Ginny expectantly, and Ginny nodded.

“And that’s what things like sleeping draughts are for,” said the matron. “To help us find those routines again when they become hard. But sleeping draughts are extremely powerful and must be administered with care. Too much sleeping draught and it might not work properly. You might sleep for too long, which might not seem like a problem, but it is if sleeping keeps you from eating or drinking. Or you might even fall asleep too deeply and stop breathing.”

Ginny’s eyes grew wide, and Madam Pomfrey nodded gravely.

“There are only a few days left before you leave Hogwarts,” she continued. “If you would like, you may come by before curfew each night, and I will give you a sleeping draft for that night. But no more of this breaking-into-the-potions-cabinet business, all right?”

Ginny blushed but nodded.

“I can also write to your mother and suggest she have some brewed for when you arrive home, and possibly a calming draught as well, just in case. It’s a difficult one, but I know Molly will be up to the task.”

“A calming draught?” Ginny asked.

“Again, after we experience something difficult, sometimes it takes a while for our bodies to remember we’re safe, even in places where we normally feel the safest. Especially when something bad happens in an otherwise remarkably safe place.” She raised one eyebrow and smiled. “Though I suppose safe is a relative term, given how often I have to mend you students up even in an uneventful year. I promise not all of them are like this.” Her smile turned from wry to warm and kind.

“Well, I made it through this one,” Ginny said, sounding braver than she felt. “I suppose it couldn’t get any worse.”

“That’s the spirit, dear,” Madam Pomfrey said, and she chuckled. “Now, off with you, and I’ll write that letter to your mum.”

Ginny thanked her and left, feeling a little better than when she’d arrived. She hadn’t exactly gotten what she’d come for, but she hadn’t not gotten it either, and she supposed that had to count for something.

Chapter Text

By the time Luna found her, Ginny was on her seventh solo game of Gobstones of the morning. Playing by herself meant that she got hit by the stones’ foul-smelling liquid twice as often as she would have playing with someone else, but she didn’t care. It seemed to be keeping the other students at bay, at least, which suited Ginny just fine. And anyway, after playing so many times in a row, she was hardly getting hit at all by the time Luna arrived.

Today, in addition to her dirigible plums, Luna was wearing a pair of glittery pink glasses with one pink and one blue lens each.

“I knew it,” she said, by way of greeting. “You have a wrackspurt problem.”

“A what?” Ginny asked.

“Wrackspurts,” replied Luna. “They fly into your ears and make your brain go all fuzzy. I thought you might have some because you were so quiet yesterday. I’ve seen you with your friends before classes, you’re normally much more talkative. At least, you were before.”

Ginny blinked. Was she? She supposed it could be true—at home at the Burrow, there were often so many people talking, you almost had to shout to be heard, especially with Fred and George around. At Hogwarts, at first, she had learned to fill the void where their voices had been with her own. But as the months had passed, she’d grown quieter and quieter, too tired to pretend she was happy and not always just a little bit afraid. And since… well, aside from her conversation with Luna in the hospital wing and her morning tea with Madam Pomfrey, she had been relatively quiet over the past few days.

Luna pushed the glittery pink glasses onto the top of her head. “I’ve seen worse infestations, don’t worry.”

Ginny raised her eyebrows in alarm. “Infestations?”

“They tend to breed quickly if you don’t drive them out. But don’t worry,” she said, at the look on Ginny’s face. “We can take care of them today.” She held out a hand and pulled Ginny up off of the cobblestones.

“What do we have to do?” Ginny said, brushing the dirt off her pants.

“I’ll show you,” said Luna, “but we should go somewhere else to do it. Somewhere where there’s not quite so much noise.” She turned on her heels and headed out of the courtyard, and Ginny saw no choice but to follow.

Luna headed away from the castle, in the direction of the Forbidden Forest. As they walked past Hagrid’s hut, the groundskeeper himself walked out of his front door and waved.

“Hullo, Luna, Ginny,” he called out. “Nice ter see ya.”

“Hello, Hagrid,” said Luna brightly. “Glad you’re back!”

Ginny just pulled her mouth into a smile and waved, trying to ignore the Something clawing at her heart and stomach. She tried not to look at the empty rooster pens as they passed the back of Hagrid’s hut, but her eyes would not obey her brain.

Luna stopped about mid-way between Hagrid’s hut and the Whomping Willow, close but not too close to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. She dropped her bag on the grass and then flopped onto the ground beside it, crossing her legs. Ginny quickly followed suit.

“Okay,” said Luna. “Wrackspurts fly into our heads and feed on our thoughts, which can make us confused and distractable. To clear them out, you just have to clear your mind of all thoughts. Then the wrackspurts have nothing to eat, so they leave.” She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath, and fell silent.

Ginny blinked at her, nonplussed, though Luna didn’t see.

“Er,” Ginny began. “Luna?”

Luna opened her eyes. “Yes?”

“How exactly do you do that?”

“Do what?”

Ginny rolled her eyes, exasperated. “How do you clear your mind of all thoughts? Do you mean just go to sleep? Though I still have thoughts when I’m asleep; I’ve been having nightmares for months—” She stopped suddenly, turning red.

“Oh,” said Luna. “That’s horrible.”

Ginny shrugged one shoulder, but said quietly, “Yeah, it is.”

“Maybe clearing out the wrackspurts will help. It helped get rid of my nightmares, once.”

“Really?” asked Ginny doubtfully, but Luna nodded so earnestly she wanted to believe her. “So,” Ginny continued, “how do you get rid of all your thoughts?

“I’m sorry,” said Luna. “I thought everyone knew.”

Ginny shook her head. “I’ve never even heard of such a thing.”

Luna considered this. “Well, one way to do about it is to picture your thoughts like a river, but you’re sitting on the bank just watching them go by. Does that make sense?”

Ginny wasn’t sure, but she nodded and closed her eyes anyway.

Clear your mind, clear your mind, she thought. Sitting on a riverbank, watching the thoughts go by. But what were her thoughts? The moment she considered the question, it was like the river became polluted with a slimy black ooze and things she didn’t really want to see began floating by. Snakeskins, and Hagrid’s empty rooster pens, and long, sharp fangs, and black ink disappearing into parchment.

She gasped and opened her eyes. Her heart was pounding. “I’m sorry, Luna,” she said. “I can’t do it.”

Luna opened her eyes and studied Ginny thoughtfully for a moment. “That’s all right. It can be really hard to do sometimes,” she acknowledged, nodding. “We can try again some other time, if you want.”

Ginny just shrugged. She didn’t want to be rude, but she also didn’t think she’d ever want to try anything like that ever again. She wanted to distract herself from her thoughts, not watch them move past like some kind of grotesque parade. She shook her head, trying to dislodge the black ooze from her mind.

If Luna thought Ginny was rude, she didn’t let on. She was already digging into her bag, pulling out the two notebooks she’d had at the lake the previous night. “Want to sketch instead?”

“Sure,” said Ginny, accepting a notebook and pencil. Luna opened hers to a fresh page and stared at it for a few moments before placing pencil to page. Ginny hadn’t even opened her notebook the night before, but she did so now. She had intended to follow Luna’s lead and begin sketching, but before she reached an empty page, she again became distracted by Luna’s previous work. Last night by the lake, she had seen glimpses of a few of Luna’s sketches, and they’d all seemed to be beasts, both magical and mundane. This book, however, seemed to be mostly landscapes—a rocky seascape, a dense forest. There was a sketch that looked remarkably like the mountains surrounding Hogwarts castle, set as they were behind a still, glittering lake.

She turned the page and stared. This double-page sketch showed a small town, but it was no Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. This was a Muggle town. Ginny knew this town.

“Luna?” she asked. Luna didn’t look up. “Luna?” she said again.

“Mmm?” came the vacant reply.

“Is this Ottery St. Catchpole?”

“What?” asked Luna, looking up at last from her work. She leaned over to look at the sketch Ginny proffered. “Oh, yes. Ottery St. Catchpole. It’s a Muggle village near where Daddy and I live.”

“You live near Ottery St. Catchpole?”

But Luna was already back at work. Ginny thought back to her early morning broomstick rides. For years, she’d flown close to the forests surrounding the Burrow, afraid of being caught by either Muggles or her mother. But last summer, as her first year at Hogwarts drew closer, she’d allowed herself to fly higher and higher over the surrounding countryside, reasoning that it was still dark enough that any Muggles who might see her would most likely mistake her for a large crow—or an early morning hangover.

“Luna?”

“Yes?”

“Do you live in that giant rook?”

The first time she’d seen it, she’d almost fallen off her broom. It had looked like the old towers she’d seen in the Muggle storybooks her dad had snuck her underneath her mum’s nose, the ones where the pictures didn’t even move. The novelty of the tower had delighted her—she had known Hogwarts was a castle, of course, but she hadn’t yet been allowed to go. Once, when she’d been out before the sun had even considered rising, she’d dared herself to land on its roof. She’d allowed herself to touch down, dismount, and hold her broom over her head in triumph, and then she had taken off again straightaway.

“Luna?” Ginny said again.

“Hmm?” Luna had become distracted again during Ginny’s silence.

“The giant tower outside Ottery St. Catchpole. Do you live in it?”

“What?” Luna looked up. “Oh, yes. That’s me and dad. How did you know?”

“I’ve—er—I’ve seen it. I live near Ottery St. Catchpole, too. I’ve always liked that tower.”

“Well, you’ll have to come round this summer,” said Luna. “I’ll give you the tour.” She brushed off the page she was working on and showed it to Ginny. The vague outline of a human head was filled with a small line of tiny floating insects that seemed to be coming in from the ears. “See? Wrackspurts.”

“Oh,” said Ginny. “That’s what’s in my head?” she asked, swatting at her ears.

“Well, sort of. They’re quite tiny—the drawing is just to show you. And they’re invisible unless you have these,” she said, tapping the side of the glittery frames she was still wearing on the top of her head. “Want to try?”

“Sure,” said Ginny. She took the specs from Luna and put them on. Luna looked much the same, except maybe a little purple thanks to the tint of the lenses. Ginny thought she might see something small and shiny floating near Luna’s head, but she wasn’t sure.

“I might not have any today. I often manage to clear them off when I draw,” said Luna as she put the glasses back on and pushed them up her nose. “Looks like some of yours are gone, too.”

Chapter Text

The last few days before the trip home seemed to fly by, much to Ginny’s surprise. She spent most of her time around the Hogwarts grounds, sketching with Luna, or, well, doodling while Luna sketched. She even spent a whole morning in the Gryffindor Common Room, playing a few games of Exploding Snap with her brothers and a round of Gobstones with Demelza Robbins, another first-year Griffyndor girl. Each night before turning in, she stopped by Madam Pomfrey’s office for a cup of hot chocolate and a sleeping draught, and she found herself better able to face her fellow Gryffindors after a full night’s nightmare-free rest.

She even wrote a letter to her mum and dad, telling them she was all right and that she’d like to have Luna round to visit over the summer if that was all right. She supposed she could have waited until they picked her up at Platform Nine and Three Quarters to ask, but she wanted to create a buffer, somehow, between the Ginny her parents had last seen feigning sleep in a hospital bed and the Ginny they would encounter at the station. She hoped the letter would serve as a small shield against too much public mollycoddling on the crowded platform. At the same time, as she loaded her trunk into a horseless carriage with Luna and Demelza, she found herself looking forward to her mother’s warm embrace. She watched the castle recede as they made their way to Hogsmeade station and thought how different it looked than when she’d first arrived and how much like home it had ended up not feeling.

On the Hogwarts Express, she was shuffled into a compartment by Fred and George with barely a chance to yell a wistful goodbye to Luna from under their gangly arms. She didn’t mind—did she? Well, yes, but only a little. She and Luna had already made plans to explore the forests outside Ottery St. Catchpole together, so she knew she would see her odd new friend again soon. It was more that, with Luna, she didn’t feel the need to plaster a smile on her face and pretend as if she hadn’t done a truly terrible thing that year. She knew Fred and George were trying to help by being loud and boisterous and funny, and she supposed she ought to feel grateful to them, but mostly she just found it exhausting. With Luna, she only smiled when she felt like it.

To her great disappointment and relief, her mum only hugged her a little bit longer than she’d hugged her brothers.

“How’s my girl?” asked Mum. “We got your last letter, and of course you can have your friend over to stay. I’m just so glad to have you home.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mum,” was all Ginny could manage to say. She took a deep breath and blinked furiously. She would not cry before they even made it back to the Burrow.

 

And she didn’t. But once back at home, once Dad had deposited her trunk into her bedroom, ruffled her hair, and run back down the stairs to help Ron with his; once she could hear her mother chopping vegetables and moving pots and pans around with a flick of her wand; once the old ghoul in the attic gave a loud clang against the pipes; once she could hear familiar cracks of noise coming from the twins’ room; once she looked out her bedroom window across the apple orchards turning golden in the setting sunlight—she turned around, closed her bedroom door, fell face-first onto her bed, and sobbed.

 

That night, as Ginny was getting ready for bed, her mum knocked softly on her bedroom door and then came in with a tray of hot chocolate and ginger newts.

“Ginny, dear, I’ve had a letter from Poppy—Madam Pomfrey, you know,” she said, and set the tray down on Ginny’s desk. “She mentioned you’ve been having some trouble sleeping after—well, she suggested I prepare some sleeping draughts in case you need them. Do you want to take one tonight? I’ve left it in the kitchen, but I can pop down and right back up again, no trouble.”

Ginny looked at the tray her mum had brought. She could tell the ginger newts were fresh—she could smell them from where she sat brushing her hair on her bed—and the hot chocolate was topped with a dollop of freshly-whipped cream. She tried to will her eyes not to water, but it didn’t work.

Just then, Ron clambered past her door on his way down the stairs, then doubled back and stuck his head in the doorway. Ginny wiped her eyes hastily as her mum turned toward the door.

“Oi! Are those ginger newts? And hot chocolate?” he asked. “How come Ginny gets ginger newts?”

“Oh, pish,” said Mum. “There’s a tray full in the kitchen if you want some, go and help yourself.” Ron took off again. To Ginny, she said, “What do you think, Ginny dear? Shall I run and fetch the sleeping draught?”

Ginny shook her head and scooted across the bed toward the tray on her desk. She reached out and grabbed a newt. “No thanks, mum. I’ll be all right.” She shoved a biscuit in her mouth and smiled at her mum. “These are wonderful. Thanks, Mum.”

“Well, all right then,” said her mother, eyeing her doubtfully. “If you decide you’d like it, you wake me up, all right? No matter the time.”

Ginny nodded and stuck another cookie in her mouth. She allowed herself to be hugged, and then closed the door behind her mother.

 

The next morning, she was awake at dawn, so she snuck down to the broom shed, and grabbed Fred’s—no, George’s—broom, and scurried into the cover of the apple orchard to take flight, eager to fly higher, further, faster, more than she had dared to fly under Madam Hooch’s watchful and suspicious eyes.

She’d hoped that being back at the Burrow and eating ginger newts and drinking hot chocolate would mean she’d drift off to a peaceful sleep quickly and easily, but she had been wrong. She had lain awake for hours, heart racing, watching the moonlight’s shadows slowly wend their way across her walls. When she finally did manage to fall asleep, she had dreamed of enormous stone snakes that sprang to life and chased her down the hallways of Hogwarts and of a smart-looking, dark-haired older boy who bared his long, snake-like fangs as he sneered at her, leaned in, and prepared to bite.

She awoke after each dream with a start, gasping for breath and sweating and tangled in her bedsheets. After the first time, she got up, lit the lantern, and retrieved a glass of water from the kitchen, certain she would not be able to fall asleep again. Yet, somehow, she did.

Thankfully, the second time she woke, it was morning, though just barely, so she decided she might as well make the most of it. Up in the air, just above the tree line of the orchard, she felt herself relax like she hadn’t been able to relax in days—weeks, maybe. The Something with its claws in her heart loosened its grip almost entirely, which was a strange new feeling after weeks of constant tightness in her chest.

She rose higher and higher until the Burrow was just a tiny black square in the dark lavender of the dusky countryside. She flew over orchards, forests, and rolling hills, past the few twinkling lights of Ottery St. Catchpole, and scoured the horizon for the tall, gray rook she knew lay somewhere in the fields below.

There. She dove a bit closer to the ground to get a better look and wondered if it was too early to call on Luna. Probably, she decided. Luna would probably be asleep for another few hours, and maybe her father too, and most likely, neither would take too kindly to a knock on their door at this early hour.

Her own mother, on the other hand, was likely to be up any minute now, what with the first clear rays of sunshine that were starting to spill over the horizon. Ginny tried to look straight at them for a moment until her eyes burned and she had to look away. She had to blink several times before she could see the landscape below and properly gauge the correct direction that would lead her back to the Burrow.

 

Ginny managed to sneak back into her bedroom without notice by her still-groggy mum, who was indeed up and about and in the garden, aguamenti-ing the vegetables with one hand and tossing the occasional gnome over the hedge with the other.

She passed most of the day alone in her room, alternately lying on her bed, staring blankly at the ceiling, building half-hearted towers of Exploding Snap cards, and trying to write a letter to Luna. She wanted to invite Luna round for dinner one night that week, but nothing much had happened since they’d last seen each other on the Hogwarts Express, so her letter ended up being rather short but filled with absentminded doodles of broomsticks, crescent moons, and rook-like towers.

She struggled to read through even a single paragraph of Melopmene MacFadyen, Muggle Investigator, about a muggle detective who had become convinced of the existence of magic. Ginny’s secondhand copy had already been slightly worn when she’d received it one Christmas, but by now the cover was almost entirely detached from the spine and loose pages threatened to become lost pages if Ginny wasn’t careful when she read. It usually took Ginny only a day or so to re-read it, but today she could barely manage a few sentences before she found herself staring out the window, watching Ron, Fred, and George play quidditch. As per usual, they hadn’t asked her to join, but today, Ginny found she didn’t care.

She made herself go downstairs for dinner. She knew from the smells wafting up to her first-floor bedroom that it must be her favorite, pot roast, which they usually only had at Christmastime thanks to her father’s Christmas bonus.

Sure enough, as she walked down the stairs to the kitchen, she could hear Percy ask, “The roast smells delicious, Mum—what’s the occasion?”

“Oh, just happy to have you all back home for the summer,” came the reply, but Ginny caught her mother’s quick glance up the stairs. She slowed her descent so no one would see her reddened face.

Dinner was a noisy affair, as was often the case at the Burrow. Ron and Percy, who were sitting next to each other, argued about elbow room while the twins between telling each other the worst jokes they could think of and then simultaneously jeering and laughing.

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Wand.”

“Wand who?”

“Wand, who, three, four.”

“Oh, come on mate, that’s awful—"

Even her mum and dad’s voices contributed to the chaos. Some kind of new law had been introduced in the Wizengamot that would affect her dad’s work with muggle artifacts, and her mum was trying to convince her dad to take a meeting with the Minister of Magic to explain why the law might be harmful to Muggles.

“I can’t just take a meeting with the minister, Molly—you’ve got to schedule those weeks in advance, and they want to vote on the measure next week. Plus, you know how he is—even when I do manage to book a meeting, he always forgets or cancels last-minute.”

“Well, I think that’s absolute rubbish. You’re head of the office, after all.”

“I certainly agree, but that’s not going to change what Cornelius does….”

Ginny put down her fork and rubbed her temples. The meal was certainly delicious, but it was difficult to enjoy it with the throbbing pain in her head. It had been building slowly throughout the day, but since she’d come down to dinner it had burst into a pain that was almost blinding. Maybe she should—

“He says, ‘Yeah, well, I toad you so,’” said George, and Fred burst into uproarious laughter.

Before she knew what she was doing, Ginny had pushed back up her chair and stood up.

“Can you all please be a little quieter!” she shouted.

The entire table fell silent and turned their attention to her.

Ginny clinched her fists and stared at the lot of them, silently daring them to protest or scold her, but no one did. She should sit back down, she should say she was sorry, she should finish her dinner, if only she could get her head and her heart to stop pounding

She turned from the table, fled up the stairs, and flew into her room, slamming her bedroom door. A few minutes later, she could hear soft voices floating up from the kitchen and the sound of forks and knives scraping plates. She almost wished they would get loud again so she could scream into her pillow like she wanted, but they stayed quiet.

After a few minutes, there was a gentle knock on her door.

“Ginny, dear, I’ve wrapped your plate for you and put it away for later if you want it,” came her mother’s soft voice. Ginny did not reply, and a few moments later, she heard her mother retreat downstairs.

 

That night, when her mother again brought up a tray of hot chocolate and ginger newts, she closed the door to Ginny’s room before setting the tray down on her desk. Ginny watched from where she sat cross-legged on the bed as her mum pulled a small brown bottle out of her apron and set it next to the mug of hot chocolate.

“I brought this up, just in case you wanted it,” said her mum. “The sleeping draught.”

Ginny nodded, but didn’t say anything. She wanted to say she was sorry for before but was afraid to open her mouth. She worried her mum would leave before she could find the words, but instead, she pulled out Ginny’s desk chair and sat down.

“The week I lost your uncles,” she said softly, “I could hardly speak for shouting at somebody.”

Ginny had seen portraits of her uncles Fabian and Gideon Prewett, who she knew had been killed by Death Eaters during the Wizarding War, but she had hardly heard her mother speak of them until now.

“Your father got most of it, thank goodness—he understood,” she said, dabbing at her eyes with the corners of her apron. “He just let me go at it and then held me once I started to cry. You were just born, and Ron was barely walking, but the rest of the boys—I’ve never been brave enough to ask what they remember.”

Ginny stared up at her mother. She’d never spoken to Ginny like this before, and Ginny hardly knew what to say.

Her mother cleared her throat. “I don’t say all this to burden you, or to—to compare it to what happened to you.” Ginny looked away, but her mum continued. “I just wanted to tell you I understand. Maybe not everything, maybe not completely, but some things, I understand.” She took in a deep breath and sighed it back out. “And I wanted to say it’s okay, and I love you. We all do.  No matter what.”

Ginny crawled across her bed and reached out to hug her mother. They stayed that way for a while, and when they broke apart, Ginny grabbed a ginger newt and offered it to her mother.

“Oh! Don’t mind if I do.”

They each wiped their eyes and took a bite of biscuit.

Ginny’s sleep that night was deep and dreamless.

Chapter Text

Ginny continued to take a sleeping draught each night the following week. She slept ten or more hours each night, falling asleep with ease and not waking until the sun was already halfway to its zenith above the Devon countryside. If she had any dreams, she never remembered them.

But though it felt like she slept more than she had almost the entire previous year, she awoke each morning still feeling groggy and a bit tired. Not sleepy, exactly, but just tired enough to lay awake in bed for at least an hour before finally plodding downstairs just in time for lunch. After lunch, she would return to her room and lay back on her bed, feeling both listless and restless at the same time, trying to decide what she felt like doing until her mother brought in what was now a nightly tray of hot chocolate, ginger newts, and a sleeping draught.

One such afternoon, she was staring at the ceiling, wondering if there were any wrackspurts flying around up there, when there was a gentle knock on her door.

“Come in,” she called. Her voice cracked from lack of use.

Ron popped his head into her door. “Hey,” he said. He didn’t come any further into the room. “I, er—sorry, are you asleep?”

Ginny raised her eyebrows at him. “Yes.”

Ron’s ears turned pink. “You know what I meant. Were you asleep? I didn’t mean—”

“I wasn’t asleep,” she interrupted. Why was he just standing there, halfway in, halfway out of her room? It wasn’t like she had dragonpox or anything.

“Oh,” he said. “I just—I made you some tea if you want it,” he mumbled, looking at the floor.

“Tea? Do you even know how to make tea?” It was a mean thing to say, and Ginny knew it. Had it slipped out, or had she actually wanted to say something hurtful?

Ron scowled at her. “‘Course I know how to make tea. Look, do you want it or not?”

“All right then,” Ginny said, and Ron stomped into her room and dropped a small tray onto her desk with a loud clatter. Then he turned on his heels and stomped back out of the room. His ears were full-on red now. He slammed the door on his way out.

“Sorry,” Ginny muttered to the closed door. She climbed out of bed and went to examine the tea tray.

He’d already poured her a cup, and a bit of tea had spilled over the edge into the saucer. There was a small plate of custard creams as well. The tea was just cool enough to drink, and she took a sip.

Ginny guessed Ron did know how to make tea after all.

 

Ron didn’t reprise his tea service, and Ginny never found the courage to apologize. Ron mostly avoided her until one morning a few days later, when he really did wake her up by knocking at her door. Ginny rubbed her eyes and sat up in bed as her Ron once again poked his head into her room.

“Sorry,” he said. “You’ve had a letter.” He tossed it onto her bed and was gone.

A letter. Oh, pixie farts. She blinked some sleep out of her eyes and looked over at her desk, where her own letter to Luna still lay half-finished on her desk. She waved her mum in, took the letter, and opened it. It was very short and to the point.

Dear Ginny, Want to come stay the night? Yours, Luna

Luna’s handwriting was a bit uneven on the unlined parchment, and the letters looked a bit like they were bobbing up and down in their slightly slanted rows. Her script took up only three small lines at the very top of the parchment, while the rest of page was covered in a large, colorful sketch of a flitterby. The sketch didn’t move, but Luna had captured the glow of its bright orange wings so well that Ginny thought it might well fly off the page.

Slowly, she pulled herself out of bed and slid into her slippers shaped like pink puffskeins. Before heading downstairs, she flattened out the crease lines in Luna’s letter and pinned the parchment to a cork board above her desk.

As she came down the stairs, her mother glanced up at her from the kitchen counter, where she was shaping a pile of dough into a perfectly round ball. “Morning!” she called up to Ginny. “We saved you a bit of breakfast, but if you want to wait, lunch is in an hour. Just need to get this bread in the oven.”

“I’ll wait,” said Ginny. “I’m not too hungry, yet.” She pulled out a chair at the kitchen table and sat.

Her mother turned to face her. “Do you need something, dear?”

She frowned. “No, I’m all right. It’s just—” She ran her index finger along the small gap between the two large planks of wood that made up the kitchen table. “My friend Luna asked me to come stay the night.”

“Oh, you mean Xenophilius’s girl?” asked her mum, turning back toward her ball of dough and scoring it deeply with a rather large kitchen knife. “Luna Lovegood? That’s wonderful dear. Of course you can go.”

“It’s just—” Ginny said again as her mother dusted the dough with flour. Her mother slid the dough into the oven, and then turned to face Ginny, dusting her hands off on her apron.

“Do you want to go?” she asked.

Ginny shrugged. “The way I feel, I don’t know. Part of me wants to go, but another part…” she pulled her hair back from her face, twisted it into a bun on top of her head, and then let it fall back to her shoulders. “Another part of me doesn’t want to do anything except lay in bed. But when I’m laying in bed, it feels like I want to get up and do something, I just don’t know what. And then when I get up, I want to lay back down. I just… I want to want to go to Luna’s, but I also don’t want to do anything, and I don’t like the way it feels.” 

Her mother walked over to where she sat and drew Ginny into a hug. “Is this why you’ve shut yourself up in your room all week?” she asked, without judgement.

Ginny nodded, and it was mostly the truth. She’d also been ashamed to face her father and her brothers after shouting them during dinner. Since then, most of the Weasleys had been giving her a wide berth, and mealtimes had been more subdued than normal. She still took most meals with them, but she ate as rapidly as possible and retreated to her room as soon as she was finished.

Her mom pulled away and walked over to the pantry. From the very top shelf, she pulled out two small glass vials topped with droppers, and then she sat in front of Ginny at the kitchen table.

“When Poppy—Madam Pomfrey—wrote about the sleeping draughts, she also made a few other suggestions that she thought might be helpful. This one,” said her mum, picking up the vial full of a deep blue liquid, “is a calming draught, and this one,” she lifted the vial containing a thick, dandelion yellow mixture, “is a cheering concoction. I’ve had them on standby in case you needed them, but I didn’t think to let you know I had them. I should have mentioned them to you sooner; I’m so sorry, dear.”

 Ginny blushed. “Maybe I should have had a calming draught after dinner that night,” she mumbled.

Her mum bobbed her head in a sort of half-yes, half-no gesture. “I suppose it may have helped, but I don’t want you to think I’m offering these to you so that you’ll never yell at us again. The yelling’s not the problem. But if you yelled because you felt shaky and nervous, like your nerves were completely frayed and you might explode, like I suspect, then yes, I should certainly have offered it to you sooner.” She looked at Ginny questioningly, and Ginny nodded. “I thought about bringing it up to you after, but I also thought you might prefer to be alone.”

Ginny shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Here’s what I think,” said her mother. “I think you should give the cheering concoction a try today and see how you feel. Just a few drops on the tongue each morning. We’ll start with one drop and see how you do with that, and if we need to, we can try two tomorrow. Write to Luna and see if it’s okay to come tomorrow night instead. If you feel better, then off you go. You can keep the calming draught with you just in case you need it. It’s to be used for moments of real panic, mind you, not mild irritation or anger. And you can’t take it with the sleeping draught, do you understand?”

Ginny nodded. “Madam Pomfrey told me to be careful with the sleeping draughts, too.”

“Yes,” said her mother, raising an eyebrow. “She told me she had that little chat with you.”

Ginny bowed her head and blushed again, but her mother reached across the table and lifted her chin gently. Her eyes were soft and understanding.

“I’m just glad you all have someone as excellent as Poppy Pomfrey to hand while you’re at school. It breaks my heart every year to put you on that train, but I can’t exactly keep you around here forever.” She stood, walked around the table, and kissed Ginny on the forehead.

Mum,” Ginny said in half-hearted protest.

Her mum ignored her and screwed open the bottle of Cheering Concoction. She drew some of the potion into the dropper, and then held it out toward Ginny. “Open up,” she said, like she used to do with Pepperup Potion whenever Ginny got a cold in the winter. Ginny rolled her eyes but did as she was asked.

 

Luna was happy to postpone the sleepover for a day, and so the next evening, Ginny found herself stepping with her father into the emerald green flames of their fireplace. When they came to a stop and stepped out of the Lovegoods’ fireplace into their brightly colored kitchen, Luna and her father were there to greet them.

The inside of the rook was just what she’d hoped it would be when she’d seen it from the outside. The kitchen was completely circular and took up the entire floor. The walls were bright blue, while the cabinets were a bright green. A few cabinets had been painted with miniature portraits of magical creatures—Ginny could see a phoenix on one cabinet and what she thought might be a group of wrackspurts surrounding the handle of another. Ginny wondered if the portraits were Luna’s handiwork.

After everyone exchanged a few pleasantries and Ginny said goodbye to her father, Luna showed her up the wrought-iron staircase to her bedroom. Luna’s sketches and drawings were plastered all over the walls here, and her ceiling was decorated in the same manner as the kitchen cabinets—though some of the creatures, Ginny didn’t recognize.

“Who’s this?” she said, setting down her bag and motioning to a large photograph that hung on the wall beside Luna’s bed. Two people, one of whom was most certainly Luna, stood side-by-side, waving at the camera. The woman standing next to Luna was much older than she was but had the same long blond hair and pointed chin.

“Oh, that’s my mum,” said Luna, coming to stand beside Ginny.

“Oh,” said Ginny. “Where is she? Will I get to meet her, too?”

“Not today,” said Luna, matter-of-factly. “She’s dead.”

“Oh,” said Ginny. “I’m so sorry—I didn’t know.”

“Of course, you didn’t,” said Luna, and she sat on the edge of her bed and looked up at Ginny. “How could you?”

“I just meant—“ began Ginny, but she didn’t finish. She didn’t know what to say. But by then, Luna was already crossing her room to the wardrobe.

“I thought we could go hunt for nargles and bowtruckles in the woods out back,” said Luna, retrieving a large net from the wardrobe, followed by a bucket hat patterned all over with green, brown, and gray splotches, which she placed on her own head. “How does that sound?”

“Sounds great,” said Ginny. She was looking forward to doing pretty much anything with Luna, now that the cheering concoction had taken full effect and she felt a bit more like her old self. “What’s a nargle?”

“They live in the mistletoe that lives in the tops of trees,” said Luna, as she reached once more into the wardrobe. “We may have to climb to get to them, if you don’t mind.” She pulled out a hat just like the one she was wearing and offered it to Ginny. “I found it in a Muggle shop in town,” she said. “It helps you blend into the trees.”

Ginny thought its very functional purpose would explain how un-Luna-like the hat seemed, who seemed to otherwise favor bright colors but today was dressed very dully indeed.

“I don’t mind climbing,” Ginny said. “It’s a bit like flying, except slower, and harder, and once you get to where you’re going, you stay in one place.”

“So, not like flying at all, really,” said Luna brightly, and Ginny laughed. Actually laughed.

Chapter Text

The woods behind Lunas house seemed to be disappointingly free of both bowtruckles and nargles. They did, however, find rather a large number of frogs alongside the small stream running through the woods behind Luna’s home. They also, to Ginny’s horror, all but stepped on a snake.

“Oh!” Luna said brightly. She reached down into the grass by the stream and pulled up a long, gray snake, its head poking out of one hand and its tail in her other hand.

Ginny recoiled instantly, taking several huge steps back and accidentally running into a tree. “Ow!” she cried, momentarily distracted from the panic that was overtaking her.

“Don’t worry,” said Luna, who was making eyes at the snake. “It’s just a grass snake. He’s harmless,” she said, turning back to Ginny, who was rubbing her head and pressing her back into the tree, as if she was trying to disappear into it.

“Oh,” said Luna. “I’m terribly sorry.” She turned back to the snake, said, “Goodbye, little one,” and set it back on the ground to watch it slither away. Then she turned back to Ginny. “Are you all right?’

But Ginny could barely move, barely breathe, let alone speak. Her heart was pounding, and her vision was starting to swim. All she could see was a great, green snake the size of a dragon—maybe longer—dead on the damp stone floor, all she could hear was the sound of her own sobbing and gasping for breath at the horrible realization of what she’d unleashed on her own friends and classmates.

“Ginny? Ginny, I’m so sorry,” Luna’s voice sounded like it was coming from the other end of a long tunnel.

But Ginny couldn’t respond. She could barely even see Luna, turning toward the stream for a moment, then approaching Ginny with her hands outstretched, holding them above Ginny’s head, and then—splash!

Suddenly Ginny’s hair and face were soaked and dripping with cold water. The shock of it brought her sight and hearing back into focus, and she looked up at Luna, who was wiping her hands off on her jumper and looking at her in concern.

“Ginny?” she asked. “Are you okay?”

Ginny nodded and wiped her face with the back of her shirt sleeve.

“I’m so sorry, I couldn’t think what else to do. I don’t have any calming draught one me or else I’d have given you some, plus I think all our stock’s expired.”

“Oh,” said Ginny, reaching into her jeans pocket. “I have some, but I don’t think I can open it.” Her hands were shaking as she handed the small glass bottle to Luna.

Luna unscrewed the top with ease and held the dropper out to Ginny. “One drop or two?” she asked.

“Let’s start with one,” she said, and opened her mouth. It tasted like a cool breeze in her hair and the soft tones of a harp. Immediately, her heart slowed, and her hands stopped shaking. She took in a big, deep breath, and heaved it out in a long, noisy raspberry.

Luna grinned. “Better?”

Ginny nodded, and pulled her hair back from her face and began squeezing the water out. “Sorry I freaked out.”

Luna waved her apology away. “Sorry I tossed water on you—sorry I picked up a snake! I didn’t know you were afraid of them.”

“I didn’t used to be,” Ginny muttered dejectedly. “I think the water helped, though, so thanks for that, actually.”

“Something cold always helps me whenever I feel in a panic,” she said serenely.

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “You, in a panic?”

Luna laughed. “It does happen on occasion.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it, though,” Ginny said, “I hope I never see it.” She looked up into the tree she had backed herself into. “I think I see some mistletoe up there. Shall we try this one for nargles?”

 

There were no nargles to be found in that tree or the next, but they did manage to catch a few flitterbies once the sun had begun to go down. Ginny worried that catching them wasn’t very sporting, as the flitterbies began following them of their own accord, attracted to the bright orange glow of the lantern Ginny was holding.

“Oh, we’ll release them before we turn in for the night,” Luna assured her as she screwed a lid tightly to a jar containing a few small flitterbies. The lid had several small holes punched into it, so the flitterbies wouldn’t run out of air, Luna explained.

And they did release them later that night, high atop the roof of the rook. They’d decided to sleep on the roof, underneath a clear night sky that was positively littered with stars. They leaned against the edge of the tower’s battlements and watched the glowing orange moths float away toward the forest. Then they crawled into their sleeping bags and gazed up at the stars, searching for the planets and constellations they’d learned about in that year’s astronomy classes, and occasionally falling into contented silence, until one of them made another finding.

They searched the stars for so long that they both began to drift off to sleep. Ginny had been so content and focused on finding constellations that she had completely forgotten to take the dose of sleeping draught her mother had sent with her for the night. She had only just begun dreaming of a sea of bright green snakes, hissing at her and staring at her with their burning, yellow eyes, when she was shaken awake.

“Ginny?”

“Huh?” she asked, sitting up, and immediately regretting it. Her forehead connected with something moderately hard, and she fell back onto her sleeping bag and put her hand to her head.

Luna was still leaning over her, peering down at her. “Are you all right?” she asked. “You were shouting in your sleep.”

Ginny sat up again, more slowly this time. “I’m all right,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” said Luna, rubbing her own forehead. “My fault for startling you like that, really.”

“No, I meant—well, that too,” said Ginny. “But I meant, sorry for waking you up.”

Luna shrugged. “It’s all right. Was it another nightmare?”

Ginny nodded. She’d forgotten that she’d told Luna about them before. “Did—you said you used to have them a lot?”

Luna nodded. “All the time, right after my mother died. She was working on an experimental charm, and –well, it backfired on her. It sort of exploded. I saw it happen, you know, and then I saw it again and again in my dreams.”

Ginny gaped at her. “That’s horrid.”

“Yes, it was,” agreed Luna. “I think that’s why it kept coming back to me. Did something horrible happen to you?”

“I—” Ginny began. “I did something horrible,” she admitted softly. “I made something horrible happen to other people.”

Ginny waited for her to protest, to say that she had seemed so nice, and to argue that surely whatever Ginny had done couldn’t possibly have been that bad. Ginny wanted to prove her wrong, to show her just how terrible she really was. Luna had been so kind to her, the way that Hufflepuff, Justin, had been, directing her to the Potions dungeons; the way Hermione had been, making a point to say hello to her every day, even when her own brothers seemed to forget her; even the way Colin had been, happily pairing with her in Charms class even on her surliest days. They had been kind and look what she’d done to them. Luna should know what she was before she got hurt, too.

But Luna did not protest; she just looked at Ginny curiously. “What did you do?”

“I opened the Chamber of Secrets,” she said. It came out so quietly, it was barely even a whisper.

She expected for Luna to gasp, to shout, to recoil, to insist she leave straightaway. Instead, she cocked her head even further to the side and asked, “All by yourself?”

“What?” Ginny asked. “What do you mean?

“Did you open it all by yourself?” Luna said again. “Or did you have help?”

“I…” Ginny blinked. “Well, when you say it like that—I guess I had help. I…I was being possessed by You-Know-Who.”

She clasped her hands to her mouth. It was the first time she had said it out loud, and it had just… slipped out.

If this declaration fazed Luna, though, she didn’t show it. “That makes sense,” she said. “I didn’t know you had been possessed, but I assumed you couldn’t have done it yourself.”

“I couldn’t have done it myself?” Ginny heard herself speak and was surprised to hear she sounded almost affronted.

“Well, no,” said Luna. “I always thought the Chamber would have some kind of secret entrance that would have to be opened using Pareseltongue, and when I found that snake, you didn’t really seem like you knew Parseltongue.”

Ginny snorted. “No, I don’t know it. He must, though.”

“You-Know-Who?” asked Luna, and Ginny flinched, but then nodded. They were quiet for a moment, then Luna said, “Did you really do it, though?”

Ginny huffed. “Yes, I really did it. I did the writing on the walls, and I killed Hagrid’s roosters, too.”

Luna shook her head. “No, I meant, did you really do it? If you were being possessed?”

“It was my body, wasn’t it? I opened the chamber, I let a great bloody snake run loose around Hogwarts and people got hurt.”

“How?”

“What do you mean, how?”

“Well, how did you open it? What did you do?”

Ginny opened her mouth to retort, but nothing came out. She remembered coming to that first time, outside the castle, her robes covered in feathers and her hands covered in small scraps and wounds. Where had she been coming from? What had she just been doing? What was the last thing she remembered? When she closed her eyes and tried to remember, all she could come up with was a blank wall of blackness. Then it had happened again; she’d come to in her dormitory on the night of the Halloween feast, covered in red paint and cat hair. And again, and again, all throughout that year, each time, asking herself the question she already halfway knew the answer to. What had she done?

“I can’t remember,” she told Luna. “I can’t remember any of it. I know the entrance was in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, because I kept sort of… waking up there, and anyway, that’s where we came out after… after Harry Potter and my brother Ron found me. When we were all out, Harry sort of hissed at the tap and it closed back up, so I think you were right—I think he must have said something in Parseltongue.”

“You can’t remember any of it.” It was a statement, not a question, so Ginny did not reply.

Luna picked at the zipper on her sleeping bag. “I did a lot of reading on possession after my mother died. It had happened so suddenly, and I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. I thought if she possessed me, I’d, you know, get my chance. So, I read a ton of books and tried to work out how to get possessed. The books weren’t very helpful; they were all about ending possessions, not beginning them. But reading them, I did find out that, even if my mum did possess me, we wouldn’t be able to talk. That’s just not the way possession works. I’d have no memory of her possessing me, and I wouldn’t have any control over myself, so I wouldn’t be able to make my mouth say what I wanted to say. Do you see what I mean?”

Ginny thought she did, so she nodded. She still didn’t feel absolved of all responsibility; after all, she’d listened to Tom, she’d trusted Tom, and like her father had said, she should have known better. But still, the horrible Something that had been wrapping and unwrapping around her heart over the past two weeks loosened its grip once again.

They sat quietly for a moment, Luna still fiddling with her bag’s zipper. Then Ginny muttered a soft, “Thanks.”

Luna just smiled serenely at her.

“You know some of the other first years call you Looney?” Ginny asked.

“Do they?” Luna smiled.

Ginny nodded. “Looney Lovegood. But I don’t think you’re looney. I think you could give Hermione Granger a run for her money.”

“I don’t know who that is,” said Luna, “but I think you were giving me a compliment, so I’ll take it.”

Ginny chuckled. “I was, and you should.”

“I kind of like it, though. Looney Lovegood. Has a bit of a ring to it.”

“I suppose,” Ginny said, chuckling. “Looney Lovegood.”

 

Chapter Text

Ginny came home the next day to find the Burrow in a state of celebration. Her dad was seated in an armchair by himself, with Mum standing behind him and peering over his shoulder at a piece of parchment he was holding. Ron and Percy were seated at opposite ends of the sofa, but both were on the edge of their seats as if prepared to hop up excitedly at any moment. Fred and George had beat them to it, however, and were prancing around the tiny room, whooping and generally making as much noise as possible.

“Every one of you needs new robes,” her mum was saying as Ginny stepped from the emerald green flames of the fireplace and into the room. “I swear, you’ve each grown about a foot over the last year. If we play our cards right, maybe we can all have a new set—Arthur, yours are starting to look a bit shabby as well. Oh, and Ronald needs a new wand, too—”

“Maybe we should save it,” said Percy, interrupting his mother with a worried look on his face.

“Ugh, you’re so boring, Perce,” wailed George.

“Save what?” asked Ginny, who had entered the room all but unnoticed.

“Dad won the Daily Prophet Draw—seven hundred galleons!” said Fred.

“Merlin’s beard!” said Ginny. “That’s fantastic!”

“George and I want new brooms,” continued Fred. “We heard there’s a new model coming out later this summer—the Firebolt.” He continued hopping around the living room, gripping the air in front of him like an imaginary broomstick. He accidentally bumped the coffee table, spilling Ron’s pumpkin juice.

“Frederick—be careful!” said Mum, at the same time Ron jumped up in protest and shouted, “Fred!”

“Boys, do sit down,” said Dad. “And anyway, it’ll take more than seven hundred galleons to buy a Firebolt from what I’ve heard.”

“Maybe we should visit Charlie or Bill,” said Mum from the kitchen, where she was bent over and digging around in a drawer. Having located a dish towel, she popped up and flung it across the room at Fred. “It would be so nice to see how they’re doing.” She walked back into the living room to stand behind her husband. “Maybe that would be too expensive, though.”

“Maybe not,” said Dad. “We could at least have a look.”

“But if we can only visit one of them—I just don’t want to play favorites,” she said, her brow furrowed.

Ginny thought she caught Ron’s eyes dart toward her for a moment, but then she thought she might have imagined it.

“Oh, they won’t think we’re playing favorites,” Dad said. “And we’ll talk with them first, anyway. They may both be too busy for a visit, who knows.”

 

In the end, they decided to visit Bill in Egypt, and Charlie would take some time off from work and join them. While Ginny was quite excited to get to see her oldest brothers, she was a little sad to be leaving her new friend behind in Devon for a whole month. Luna, however, seemed almost more excited than Ginny, and made her promise to keep an eye out for fwoopers and wild phoenixes.

“Better keep a pair of earplugs on you at all times, you know,” Luna told her as they sat atop the rook’s battlements one afternoon drinking something Luna had called “an infusion of Gurdyroots.” It was deeply purplish-red and was extremely bitter tasting, but Ginny found it growing on her after a few sips.

“Why?” said Ginny.

“Hearing the fwooper’s song can make you do funny things,” Luna replied. It was a bit of an odd statement, Ginny thought, coming from a girl who had dirigible plums hanging from her ears and who was currently screwing a tiny metal eyelet into a butterbeer cork.

“Like what?” she asked.

“Like showing up starkers for an important presentation in front of the Wizard’s Council,” Luna replied seriously, “like Ulric the Uncoventional.”

“I dunno if I’d call that funny,” Ginny snorted. “Wait, do you mean Ulric the Oddball?”

Luna shrugged. “I like ‘Unconventional’ better.”

 

This attitude of Luna’s was one of the things Ginny missed most about her friend once they were in Egypt. The trip so far had been wonderful; Bill had shown them all around the Muggle streets of Cairo, where he lived, and they had taken a wizarding dinner cruise up the River Nile. They had gone to the beach in Sharm el-Sheikh and taken a dive tour to a famous Muggle shipwreck. Ginny kept her eyes peeled for merpeople, but if she was being honest, it was a bit difficult to see through the bubble-head charm the tour guide had placed on her before beginning the tour. The bubble’s gently undulating surface kept slightly changing the shapes of the things she was looking at, making them all seem like they were alive and pulsating. It made Ginny a bit dizzy.

But the part of the trip she was looking forward to the least came in the second to last week of their trip. Bill had gotten permission from his boss to take the family on a tour of the pyramids and tombs of Saqqara, where he worked breaking curses. It wasn’t that Ginny didn’t want to see where Bill worked, or that she was afraid of curses—she just didn’t particularly fancy the idea of going inside a subterranean stone chamber—let alone several. It wasn’t even so much that she didn’t think she would be safe there, or that she didn’t trust Bill or the other Gringotts curse-breakers or her parents to protect her from anything untoward. Rather, she didn’t trust herself.

What if she thought she saw a snake and freaked out like she had at Luna’s? What if it was too dark inside the pyramids, or worse, if a wind blew through and doused all their torches, leaving them in total darkness? What if something happened and she screamed like a child in front of them all? Worse, what if Fred and George played a prank on her and she totally fell for it? What if, what if, what if….

The morning of the tour, she tried to channel Luna’s serene bravery, but she was already feeling shaky. She tucked a small vial of calming draught into her jeans pocket just in case and wondered briefly why Luna hadn’t been sorted into Gryffindor. Ginny supposed she hadn’t known Luna long, but absolutely nothing seemed to rattle her, and Ginny longed to know how she did it.

Ginny new she was doomed shortly after they arrived in front of the first pyramid and Bill began their tour with a warning.

“Protective spells and enchantments were a huge part of ancient Egyptian burial practices,” he said, leading them into the stone tunnel at the pyramid’s entrance. He indicated the walls, which were covered from floor to ceiling in pictorial markings. “The hieroglyphs covering the walls of these tombs are mostly spells—charms to protect the dead as they entered the afterlife. But some of them,” here he paused for dramatic effect. Ginny’s stomach lurched in anticipation. “Some of them are curses to keep out those who didn’t belong.” He turned and brandished his torch at them as he said it, and Ginny could feel her heart speed up a bit.

Then Bill he shrugged. “Mostly, though, they were to keep the Muggles out of the treasure buried with them. The curses were most effective back in ancient times, when Muggles had proper respect for curses, and when at least some Muggles could read the glyphs containing the curses. If they broke into the tombs, they knew what they were getting into. But thousands of years later,” he said as they rounded a corner, “Muggles who broke in to rob the tombs had absolutely no idea.”

In the torchlight ahead, Ginny could see what looked like a skeleton sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall of the tunnel. She could hear Fred and George’s whispers of cool and wicked as they passed, and as she brought up the rear of the group, she could see what had entertained them.

The skeleton had two heads.

It was a bit jarring to see—the spine splitting into two necks and two skulls leaning against the tunnel wall. But what disturbed Ginny were the skull’s gaping, open jaws, and the bones of the Muggle’s hands pressed backward against the wall, as if they had died with their mouths open, scrambling back from something in abject terror.

Her heart again began to speed up. She wondered if she hung back far enough, she could sneak a drop or two of calming draught. But just then she felt a hand on the small of her back, and she almost jumped.

“Don’t dally, dear,” said her mother, and she rubbed her hand along Ginny’s back before gently pushing her forward with the group.

The next several hours passed in much this same way, with an increasingly anxious Ginny trying to surreptitiously fall behind so she could sneak a drop of calming draught in peace. Each time, however, she was thwarted, usually by her parents trying to keep everyone together, but once by Fred and George trying to shut Percy into a secret passage.

It finally happened, in the fourth tomb they visited, the Mastaba of Ptahotep. Not the drop of calming draught she so desperately needed, but the same blinding, deafening panic she had experienced in the woods at Luna’s place. The feeling had been bubbling under the surface for the entire morning while they walked along the halls of the dead, and then by chance, the torchlight caught a portion of the mural relief and she thought the cobra depicted there moved. One part of Ginny knew that it hadn’t, she knew it was ridiculous, but the other part of her, the part of her whose heart had been pounding and whose palms had been sweaty all morning, the part of her that felt a little bit like she’d just eaten a bit of Shock-o-Chock—that part believed it had.

She stopped short and bent over, placing her hands on her knees. She tried to breathe, but it was difficult—the air in the tomb was hot and dry, like all the air in Egypt, but just then it felt especially oppressive and difficult to draw into her lungs. She felt a small bump from behind as someone ran into her.

“Ginny dear?” came her mother’s voice. Oh, please, please, leave me alone, Ginny thought, guiltily. Don’t make a fuss; don’t make it worse.

But her mother just came around to stand in front of her and placed her hands on Ginny’s shoulders. She looked briefly back over her shoulders and mouthed something Ginny couldn’t see to whoever was now at the back of the group.

“Do you have it on you?” her mum whispered. Ginny nodded, and pulled out the vial of blue liquid. Her mother opened it and dropped a few drops onto her tongue. It was like a plug being pulled in the tub—the buzz of anxious energy she’d been carrying around all morning flowed down through her feet and into the ground. Relief washed over her, and then embarrassment, and then anger. Tears sprang to her eyes, and her mother pulled her into a tight hug.

“It’s all right, dear,” she said. “What’s wrong—don’t you feel better?”

Ginny nodded and pulled back. She could barely hear the group’s footsteps anymore, that’s how far ahead they were, so she chanced raising her voice to just above a whisper. “I do, but—it’s just not fair,” she said. “Why can’t I just enjoy the stupid tour like the rest of you? We’re supposed to be having fun on vacation, seeing where Bill works and all the cool things he does, and I just can’t enjoy it because—because—” She let out a small sob before she could finish the sentence.

“Oh, sweetheart,” said her mother, and pulled her back into a quick hug. “I’m so sorry—we should have known it would be hard for you after what you’ve been through. This is all my fault.”

“It’s all my fault!” Ginny caught herself before her voice rose to a wail. “It’s my own fault for writing in that stupid diary in the first place! And now I can’t sleep at night, I can’t hunt nargles with Luna, I can’t see where Bill works—I can’t do any of it without having to take a stupid potion!”

Just then, Dad appeared behind Mum and asked, “Is everything all right? The boys are all in looking at the sarcophagus in the last chamber; Bill should be able to entertain them for a while.”

When Ginny didn’t answer, her mum said, “Ginny had a bit of a panic, but that’s taken care of now. What I’m more worried about is this idea that she seems to have that what happened to her—and everything she’s experiencing now because of it—is all her fault.”

Her dad furrowed his brows. “How could it be all your fault, Ginny? Dumbledore said you were—you were being possessed.”

A fresh wave of tears fell from Ginny’s eyes. “But you said I should have known better,” she whispered. “I should have known the book was Dark Magic. If I had just stopped writing, then he couldn’t have—then I couldn’t have—”

But her father interrupted her. “Oh, Ginny, I’m so, so sorry. What I said—I was just so worried, and Harry had just waltzed into Dumbledore’s office, covered in blood, and your mother and I, we had feared the worst. Of course it’s not your fault. How could you have known? You’d only been at Hogwarts a year, after all. And didn’t you say you found the book in your school things? For all you knew we had given you the diary, so why wouldn’t you have trusted it? I’m so sorry for what I said. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault,” he repeated, and it was his turn to pull his daughter into a hug.

“And what’s this nonsense about potions being stupid,” asked her mother, gently stroking her hair while her father continued to hug her.

Ginny tried to shrug, and her father pulled back from their embrace. “Potions are a completely normal part of wizarding life; they’re nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “You’re lucky, you know. Muggles have to rely on something called pharmo-snooticals. Or was it farrow-sooticals? I can never remember.”

Ginny chuckled and wiped her eyes. Once they were dry, her mother asked her, “Do you want to keep going with the tour, or do you want to go do something else for a bit while the boys finish up? There’s that souvenir shop right by our inn—you could pick something out if you promise not to tell the boys.”

Ginny pursed her lips. “I’d like that, I just—I don’t want—” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “What if they laugh at me for not being able to finish? I have to—I have to show them I deserve to be in Gryffindor, too.” She’d thought they were all gone, but another tear escaped down her cheek.

“Oh, my dear—” Mum began, wiping the tear away with her thumb, but Dad interrupted.

“Did they say you don’t belong in Gryffindor?” he asked, looking quite cross.

Ginny shook her head. “I just feel so afraid almost all the time. Even before I—the whole year, I felt it, never knowing when I might black out and wake up somewhere having obviously done something horrible. The calming draught helps when things get bad, but I just…. I’m afraid all the time and it’s so exhausting. I feel like I don’t belong there.”

Mum pursed her lips. “I sometimes think they put a little too much stock in the House competitions at Hogwarts. Oh, I know, it’s a grand tradition, and you all love your quidditch and all,” she said when Ginny’s eyes grew wide, “and I’m sure Dumbledore knows what he’s doing, but….” She paused, taking in and exhaling a deep breath, as if she was restraining herself from marching into the headmaster’s office and telling him what for. Ginny tried not to smile, but it didn’t work.

Dad looked back over his shoulder briefly, then turned back to Ginny. “I don’t want to break any confidences, and don’t you go holding this over anyone’s head, mind you,” he said, looking sternly at his daughter. “But I’ll just say that most, if not all of your brothers have had the exact same worries at some point during their time at Hogwarts. Don’t let their… machismo fool you.”

“But—but—” Ginny spluttered. “But Bill’s a curse-breaker! Charlie trains dragons!”

“And you were possessed by one of the most powerful dark wizards of all time, emotionally manipulated by him unless I’m very much mistaken, kidnapped by him, almost killed by him—” His voice had been rising, but here he cut himself off, put his hand over his mouth, and turned his head, blinking. Mum put her hand on his shoulder. Once he collected himself, he turned back to Ginny. “And yet, here you are, of your own accord, in an underground chamber with snakes on the walls,” he said, motioning to the very painted cobra that had set off Ginny’s panic. His voice softened a bit. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not brave.” He leaned down and kissed Ginny on the forehead.

“But,” began her mother, who was dabbing at the corners of her eyes with her sleeve. “If you’re still worried about the boys, well,” she took a deep breath and grinned at Ginny. “I have an idea.”

 

By the time they were done talking, the rest of the Weasleys had finished viewing the mastaba and were gathered outside, waiting to head to the last sight on their tour, the Mastaba of Ti. Dad and Mum exited first, and Ginny followed behind, arms crossed and feet stomping loudly. She started toward the rest of the group, but her mum put her arm around her shoulders and forcibly steered her away from them.

“Oh, no, you don’t, young lady,” Mum said angrily. “You heard me before. We’re going back to the inn straightaway.”

“But Mum!” Ginny shouted, digging her heels into the sand. “It’s not fair! Everyone else gets to go!”

“You’re too young for all this,” her mother snapped. “I’ll be having words with William later,” she said, looking back toward the rest of the group briefly. “Now, let’s go,” she said, and with a loud crack, she apparated herself and Ginny back to their room at the inn.

Once the dizziness cleared, Ginny reached out and engulfed her mother in a bear hug. “Thanks, mum,” she whispered into her mother’s hair.

Mum pulled away and winked at her. “Now, how about some souvenir shopping?”

 

The shop was so full of beautiful things Ginny wasn’t sure how she would choose. There were small scrolls of papyrus, wooden boxes decorated with geometric patterns made from bone and mother-of-pearl, glass bottles filled with pictures made from sand, tiny silver pyramids, and hand-painted blue scarab beetle figurines. Her mother selected a glass bottle of fresh cinnamon sticks; when she unscrewed the lid for Ginny to smell, the scent was so powerful she could almost taste it on the air.  

In the end, Ginny chose a small green amulet in the shape of a rearing cobra. The shopkeeper, who had seen her looking at the amulets and had come over to assist, called it a uraeus, and told her that in ancient Egypt, it had been a symbol of royalty or divinity, and that it often represented the goddess Wadjet, who had been a protector of the Nile region.  

They also bought two pieces of baklava to have with tea back in their rooms at the inn. The baklava was sticky and sweet, and Ginny and her mum both agreed that it was absolutely superb. Once she had licked her fingers clean, she unwrapped the amulet and added it to the cord she was already wearing around her neck.

If the snake looked odd hanging next to a butterbeer cork, she thought nothing of it, except that she didn’t mind looking a bit unconventional.

Chapter Text

The rest of the vacation flew by without incident, and they were back at the Burro before Ginny knew it. One night soon after they returned, there was a knock at Ginny’s door as she was getting ready for bed.

“Come in,” she called, leaning over her desk to pin a sheaf of parchment onto her corkboard. Ginny and Luna had exchanged several letters while Ginny had been in Egypt, but Luna’s letters had been mostly sketches rather than text—a bowtruckle she’d found in a tree in the backyard, Freshwater Plimpies swimming in the stream, even a sphinx she must have copied out of a book, after Ginny told her about seeing the gigantic statue outside of Cairo.

Ginny finished pinning a short letter with a sketch of a fwooper onto her board, and then turned to see both her mother and father sitting on the edge of her bed. They had closed her door on their way in.

She made a faux-frightened face, widening her eyes and raising her eyebrows. “Am I in trouble?”

Her parents chuckled. “Not unless you’ve something to confess,” said her mum. “But I’m all ears if you do.”

She grinned and shook her head. It felt nice, joking around with them.

“No, you’re not in trouble,” agreed her dad. “But we wanted to… propose something to you, to see if you’re interested. You don’t have to decide right away; you can take some time to think on it, but we just wanted to float an idea by you.”

“Okay,” she said, uncertain. They’d said she wasn’t in trouble, but Mum and Dad were acting quite serious.

“We know you’ve had a bit of a hard go of it since you’ve come home from school,” said Mum. “Or, well, from the sounds of it, you had a bit of a rough time at school as well.”

Ginny’s heart sank. Were they going to pull her out of school? But they’d seemed so understanding when she’d opened up to them in the tomb. She nodded at them to continue, heart pounding.

“You went through something truly terrible,” said Dad, “and it’s hurt you in more ways than maybe we can really understand.” He turned to look briefly at Mum. “We want to help, but beyond what little we’ve already done, we’re not really sure how.”

“You’ve helped,” protested Ginny. “I’m sleeping through the night, and I’ve hardly had to take any calming draught since we got back from Egypt—”

“We know, sweetheart, you’ve been doing so well, and we’re so proud of how you’ve handled everything. What your father means is that there are other people who can help you even more, and we’d like to take you to them if you’re interested.”

Take her to them? “You mean like a different school?” she asked.

“Oh, no, nothing like that,” said her father. “It’s more like, do you remember when Great-Aunt Muriel contracted vanishing sickness and we visited her in St. Mungo’s?”

Ginny nodded.

“It’s like that, sort of. I think,” he said. “Sorry, I’m not explaining it very well. The Muggles call it therapy. You visit a doctor and talk with them, and they can help you work through things after something really bad happens, like what happened to you.”

“But I’m not sick,” Ginny said.

“Well, it’s not really that kind of a doctor,” said Dad. “Perkins’s wife, she’s a Muggle-born, you know, went to one after her sister died when they were only kids. Younger than you, even.”

“Oh, how awful,” Ginny said. Unbidden, the thought of losing one of her brothers bounced around in her mind and threatened to wake up the recently dormant Something that still sometimes curled its way around her heart.

“Truly,” said Mum. Ginny remembered the conversation they’d had that night Ginny had shouted at everyone at dinner. She walked over to sit next to her mum on the bed and put her hand atop her mother’s.

Dad nodded. “Perkins said she had a really rough time of it, but Muggle therapy helped her through it. It didn’t change what happened,” he said, “but it helped her adjust to how things were after.”

Ginny picked at a piece of lint on the fraying quilt on her bed. “How does it work?”

“Therapy?” asked her dad. “Well, I’m not really sure. Perkins said it’s different for different people, but you just go to the doctor’s office and talk to them for about an hour, and that’s it.”

“You just talk to them?” she asked. “That’s all?”

“According to Perkins, that’s all,” said Dad.

“Just talk to them,” she repeated. That’s all. Sounded simple enough, until she thought about what she would have to talk about. “I have to tell them what happened to me?”

“I imagine so,” said Dad. “But honestly, Ginny, I don’t know.”

Ginny rolled the little ball of lint she’d gathered between her thumb and forefinger. “So I just go in, tell them what happened to me, and they can,” she took a breath. Could help her what, exactly? “They can help me feel better just by talking to them for an hour?” Maybe Muggles had magic after all.

“Well, you go more than just the one time. You can go once a week, or more, or less. You don’t have to go forever,” he said, “but if you decide you want to go, and you decide you like it, we think we can arrange it so that you can keep going even after you return to school.”

Ginny wondered how they would make such a thing happen. Would Dumbledore allow a Muggle doctor to visit her on the grounds at Hogwarts? How would they get there? Would their memories have to be modified every time they left? And at that, how could she possibly explain what had happened to her to someone who knew nothing about the world she lived in?

“But,” Ginny said, “if I’m going to a Muggle doctor, I can’t really talk to them about being possessed by… by a dark wizard, can I?”

Her parents laughed darkly, and her mother said, “Certainly not. Arthur meant to say, it’s a Muggle remedy, but there’s a doctor at St. Mungo’s who does it. You’ll be going to them, if you want.”

“Oh,” said Ginny. Still, she wondered if she’d be able to put into words the series of events that had led to her parents sitting here on her bed, asking if she wanted to try therapy.

“And if you like it, and want to continue, we can arrange Madam Pomfrey or Professor McGonagall to take you into Hogsmeade to catch a fireplace to St. Mungo’s for your appointments while you’re at school.”

“Oh,” said Ginny, raising her eyebrows. Usually, second years weren’t allowed into Hogsmeade village, but then, she supposed these wouldn’t be typical Hogsmeade visits. Probably she wouldn’t be allowed to stop at Zonko’s on the way.

Repeated visits, though. She’d have to talk about what happened again and again and again? Why so many times? Or would it just take that long to talk through everything that had happened, since that day almost a whole year ago when she had discovered that diary inside her secondhand copy of A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration. Merlin’s beard, was that really almost a whole year ago?

“Again, there’s no rush,” said Mum. “We want you to have plenty of time to—"

“I want to try it,” Ginny said. Despite her fears, there was absolutely no question.

 

And so, the next week, she found herself emerging from the emerald flames of a fireplace at St. Mungo’s with her father. She followed him as he strode confidently past what the reception area. Ginny glanced in as they passed by, and she could see someone whose skin had turned a bright, vivid blue, almost as blue as a Cornish pixie. She giggled and thought of Luna and her antlers.

They took the stairs to the fourth floor, the entrance of which boasted a sign that read “Spell Damage.”

“Spell damage?” she asked Dad. Was she damaged?

“This is where Healer Eze’s office is. Since they’re the only one who offers this remedy, St. Mungo’s doesn’t really know where to put them. From what Perkins said, it sounds like they’re in a repurposed broom cupboard,” he said.

“Well, I suppose you and Mr. Perkins would know a little bit about that,” Ginny said. She had been to work with her father a fair few times before, and if the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office wasn’t literally a repurposed broom cupboard, she would eat doxy eggs.

Dad smiled wryly. “I suppose,” he said. “Ah, here we are,” he said, as they arrived at an open door beside which a nameplate read “Healer Eze.”

Ginny’s stomach jumped a bit. She wasn’t afraid or worried, exactly, but she wasn’t quite calm either.

Her dad peered inside and knocked on the door frame. “Hello?”

“Oh!” came a voice from behind them. “You must be my eleven o’clock.”

They turned and saw a Healer with dark brown skin in lime green robes jogging down the hall toward them. They were short and a little plump, with close-cropped hair and a brilliant smile. 

“Healer Eze?” Dad asked.

“One and the same,” the Healer replied. “You must be Ginny and Arthur.” They stuck out their hand for Ginny to shake, and then shook hands with her father.

“Hello,” said Ginny.

Healer Eze motioned them into the office. “Come in,” they said cheerfully. “Have a seat!”

The office reminded Ginny a little bit of Madam Pomfrey’s office at Hogwarts, except it was much, much smaller, consisting of only a few shelves with books and potions scattered about, a tiny desk that was so covered with loose pieces of parchment that Ginny could barely see the wooden surface of the desk underneath, and a single chair behind the desk. On second thought, maybe not much like Madam Pomfrey’s office at all.

“Oh!” said Healer Eze, scrambling past them and shuffling through the parchment on the desk. From underneath a small stack, they withdrew a wand and conjured two more chairs on the other side of the desk. “My apologies.”

Ginny and her father sat in the freshly conjured chairs. They were plush and velvety, and though she felt she might not ought to, Ginny curled her feet up underneath her in the chair. Healer Eze caught her eye and flashed her a smile. Ginny let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“Since this is St. Mungo’s,” began Healer Eze as they gathered the loose pieces of parchment into a small pile, then pulled open a desk drawer and shoved them unceremoniously in. “And since so many Wizarding folks don’t really have experience with Muggle therapy, I always like to begin the very first session by letting you ask any questions that you might have before we get started. Once you feel comfortable, Ginny, we’ll send your father off to the tearoom and begin the session proper. How does that sound?”

Ginny didn’t say anything. Her heart skipped a beat, but she nodded.

“All right, hit me with your questions.” Healer Eze folded their hands atop their desk and grinned at Ginny and her father.

Dad looked at Ginny, who just shrugged. She had questions, yes, but not ones she was sure she was ready to give voice to just yet.

“I do have one question,” her dad said, and Healer Eze nodded at him to go ahead. “Forgive me if it sounds rude, but—I know Healers take further schooling after Hogwarts in order to qualify as a Healer. There’s training and qualifications and such—do Muggle healers do the same? What I mean is, you’re offering a Muggle remedy but are you certified to offer it?”

“That is a perfectly reasonable question; not rude at all,” said Healer Eze. “Of course you want to make sure I’m qualified. In the Muggle world, there are several levels of certification in counselling. I have Muggles call a master’s degree in counselling and psychotherapy, which is the second highest level of certification provided in the field, in addition to my Wizarding qualifications and my training here at St. Mungo’s, of course. I sort of split my time between the Muggle world and the Wizarding world for a while, once I decided I wanted to bring therapy to St. Mungo’s.”

“Did you really?” said her father excitedly. “Can you tell me—no, no, sorry,” he interrupted himself. “That can wait. This is Ginny’s time. Ginny, do you have any questions before I go get myself some tea? I’m more than satisfied you’re in good hands.”

Ginny was grinning, trying to suppress a laugh. “No, I’m okay. I’m ready to get started,” she said, even though she wasn’t sure that she was ready.

Once her father had left the room and closed the door, Healer Eze turned their gaze toward Ginny. “Now that your father’s gone, are you sure you don’t have any questions for me?”

She had just decided not to ask the question that had been haunting her since her parents had suggested therapy. She had decided that asking it would be too childish, too silly, too embarrassing. But somehow, it slipped out anyway. “Do you really think you can fix me?”

“Fix you?” Healer Eze cocked their head a bit and lifted an eyebrow. “Are you broken?”

Ginny blinked at them. “Yes?” It came out as a question. “I don’t—that’s why we came here, I thought. So you could fix me.”

The Healer nodded slowly. “I see. This may seem like an odd question, Ginny, but humor me a minute?”

“Okay.”

“Have you ever broken a bone?”

“Yeah. I broke my arm once—I was, er… climbing a tree, and I fell.” She hadn’t fallen out of a tree. She had fallen from one of her brothers’ brooms, but that wasn’t what she’d told her mom. She’d even had to sneak the broom back into the broom shed before she could run back into the house to ask her mom to heal it. It had been the most excruciating ten minutes of her life. At least, it had been before.

If Healer Eze suspected she was fibbing, they didn’t say anything; they just asked, “And what happened after you broke it?”

“My mum healed it.”

“Oh, that’s wondeful! Your mum must be good with healing magics.”

Ginny nodded.

“When you asked her for help, what did you say?” asked Healer Eze.

“Er,” Ginny said. “It was a couple of years ago…. I probably said, ‘Mum, I think I broke my arm, can you heal it?’”

“Exactly,” said Healer Eze. “You broke your arm; you didn’t break you. You weren’t broken. That’s not to say it didn’t hurt, because it probably hurt a lot, right?”

“Oh yeah,” said Ginny, nodding vigorously. She grabbed at her right arm absentmindedly.

“But, even if it feels like it sometimes, you are not something that can be broken,” Healer Eze said softly. “So, therapy isn’t for fixing people. I like to think of it as giving people different tools to deal with different things that may have happened or may be happening in their lives. And that’s where I want to start. What’s happened, or what’s happening, that has made you want to try therapy?”

The Something that still lived inside Ginny gave a great squeeze around her heart. She had known this moment would come, and she had dreaded it. Her eyes welled up with tears, and as she tried to speak, her voice caught in her throat. How was she going to manage to get the words out?

Healer Eze nudged a box of tissues on their desk a bit closer to Ginny, and she took a couple.

Then she took a deep breath and began.

 

Chapter Text

Ginny had hoped her second and third sessions would be much easier than the first, but they weren’t. They weren’t so hard that she wanted to quit, but they certainly weren’t easy, either. Each week, her dad collected her from Healer Eze’s office with red eyes and a little sniffle and a pocket full of tissues.

Rather than taking a fireplace straight from St. Mungo’s to the Burrow, Dad offered to take her to the Leaky Cauldron for a butterbeer, “…as long as you don’t tell the boys.” Each time, he would say it was because he was feeling a bit parched, even though he had just come from the St. Mungo’s tearoom. But by the time she had finished her butterbeer, her sniffle was gone and her eyes were no longer red and she could say hello to her mum and brothers without her voice cracking, so she never called him on his bluff.

Ginny expressed her impatience to Healer Eze on her third visit. She’d arrived at St. Mungo’s that day already a little irritated. She’d tried sleeping without taking a sleeping draught the night before, and it had not gone well. She’d given up and taken one at about three in the morning, and then she’d overslept and they’d almost been late to her appointment.

She had just told Healer Eze about her first conversation with the entity in the diary that she would come to know as Tom Riddle. She had been remembering the excitement she’d felt on finding what felt like a friend.

“I have six brothers, you know,” she said to Healer Eze. Most people, when she told them that, balked. But Healer Eze just nodded for her to continue. “They’re all older than me, but some not that much older. But we’re not really that close. Ron, he’s just a year older than me—he mostly thinks I’m a pest, I think. Fred and George—they’re the twins—they don’t always have time for anyone else. And then Percy, Charlie, and Bill—they’re the oldest—they’re all right, I suppose. Well, Charlie and Bill are all right. Percy can be…. Well. I don’t know. But they treat me like I’m a kid.”

She was playing with the two charms she now wore daily on a cord around her neck—the uraeus charm she’d gotten in Egypt and the butterbeer cork Luna had given her.

“And did Tom treat you like a kid?”

That’s when her throat clamped up and her eyes started to burn. She’d only made it five minutes into the session this time. She’d been keeping track. Instead of answering Healer Eze’s question, she slammed her fist down onto the arm of the chair.

“Why is it still so hard to talk about?” she asked, her voice breaking. “I thought—” she grabbed her first tissue of the session and used it to dab at the corners of her eyes. She cleared her throat, but her voice continued to crack. “I thought it would get easier.”

Healer Eze studied her face impassively. “It may,” they replied after a moment. “Most likely, it will. But it will take some time. Therapy isn’t magic, Ginny, and even magic takes time sometimes.”

Ginny crossed her arms and huffed. Another tear escaped from the corner of her eye, but she ignored it. Or, tried to.

“And honestly, it may always be a little difficult to talk about it. You may continue to have nightmares about this experience for the rest of your life.”

Ginny looked up at them, horrified.

They put up a placating palm and said, “I just mean, you may have them once in a while. Snakes may always be frightening for you, too.”

She had told them about the snake Luna had found during their last session, and how she’d felt like her heart was going to burst out of her chest. Healer Eze had said it sounded like a panic attack. It was a horrid name for what had happened, but knowing that it had a name was comforting, somehow.

“Hopefully, snakes won’t always give you panic attacks,” continued the healer, “but if one surprises you and you do have a panic attack, you’ll know how to handle it.”

Ginny tugged on her necklace and heaved out a sigh. “Sorry,” she said, feeling ashamed for her outburst.

Healer Eze waved off her apology. “I completely understand,” they said. “I’ve been through therapy myself, have I told you that yet?”

Surprised, Ginny shook her head.

“I lost some very close friends during the wizarding war, so I sought out a therapist to help me work through my fear and grief. It was a little difficult to explain what had happened to a Muggle, as you might imagine.” They smiled at Ginny, and she felt she had permission to chuckle, so she did. “That’s when I decided I wanted to bring therapy to St. Mungo’s, if I could.”

They were quiet for a few moments, and then Ginny said, “I’m glad you did. Not—I’m not glad you lost friends,” she corrected herself hastily. “I’m—”

But Healer Eze was already smiling. “I know what you mean. And thanks. Me, too.”

 

Before she knew it, it was time to pack up for school and head to Diagon Alley to purchase their school things. The Burrow was in even more of an uproar than it normally was at the end of August, owing to the news of Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban Prison. Almost every time she passed her parents in her many trips around the house collecting her school things, her mum was peppering her dad with questions about security in Diagon Alley.

“I promise, Molly,” her dad was saying as Ginny stepped into the living room to retrieve her copy of Melopmene MacFadyen, Muggle Investigator from where she’d left it on the window seat. “There won’t be a street in Diagon Alley without at least one Auror patrolling it. I only got out of patrol duty myself because of—”

“Did you need something, Ginny dear?” her mother interrupted pointedly, having caught Ginny dawdling by the window seat, trying to remain unseen.

“Nope, got it,” Ginny said cheerfully, and held up her book to show her mum. She retreated upstairs, disappointed and more than a little curious.

Opportunities for eavesdropping were few and far between, though. Her dad’s reassurances seemed to have placated her mum’s doubts about Diagon Alley, and soon enough they were all packed and stepping through emerald green flames into the lobby of the Leaky Cauldron.

“All right,” said Mr. Weasley once he’d checked them all in. “Fred and George, you’re together,” he said, and handed them a small silver room key. “Percy and Ron, so are you,” Ron groaned, and Percy accepted another key. “And Ginny, you’re with mum and me.”

Ginny was just arranging her things around the rollaway bed that Tom the innkeeper had somehow managed to fit into her parent’s room when she heard a familiar voice at the door.

“Hi, Ginny.” It was Hermione. She was leaning against the doorframe, looking glad to see Ginny, but a little apprehensive.

“Hermione!” Ginny said brightly. She stood up, squeezed past her parents’ bed, and greeted Hermione with a quick hug. It felt a little awkward, but Ginny was determined to do what she could to repair their friendship. She’d had a whole summer to decide she wasn’t satisfied with how she’d left things at the end of the previous year. “Come in, if you can manage it.” Hermione laughed, and followed her into the room.

They both sat cross-legged on Ginny’s rollaway bed and chatted a bit about their respective summer travels. They traded notes on Egyptian and French beaches, and Ginny told Hermione about seeing hieroglyphs on the walls of the pyramids in Egypt. She didn’t tell Hermione everything about her trip through the pyramids, but she found was able to talk about the hieroglyphs with little trouble. If Ron had told Hermione about Ginny “not being allowed” in the last pyramid, she didn’t mention it.

Hermione was just telling about the use of lavender in certain love potions that originated in Provence when Ron poked his head through the door. “Oi! Are you ready for ice cream yet, Hermione?”

“Sorry!” Hermione said, jumping up. “I forgot!” She turned to Ginny. “Want to come along?”

Ginny stole a quick look at Ron, and then shook her head no. “But, could you hang on a minute? I—er,” she said, looking back at Ron again. She’d never told him she was sorry for being a prat earlier in the summer, but things had slowly gotten mostly back to normal between them. That is, they mostly ignored each other but were generally pretty polite. Still, she didn’t want to say what she had to say to Hermione in front of him.

Hermione spoke up. “Just give us a few more minutes, okay?” Ron groaned, but turned to leave. “And close the door behind you, please!” she called after him.

Once the door was closed, Hermione sat back down on the rollaway bed.

“I told him to check on you over the summer,” she said, “but he never said if he did.”

“Oh, that was your doing?” Ginny asked, flushing. “He brought me tea, and I was rude to him.”

“Tea?” said Hermione, sounding impressed. “I didn’t know he could make tea.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said, but ruder,” said Ginny. “I should apologize. And speaking of apologies,” she continued, before she could lose her nerve, “I wanted to say I’m sorry about last year.”

Hermione furrowed her brow. “But I thought—”

“Not about the, the, you know,” she took a deep breath, and said it. “Not about the chamber or the basilisk. I mean, you were trying to tell me last year that it wasn’t my fault, and I didn’t believe you. I, er, I think I was mad at you?” It came out like a question, as if her uncertainty would make her feel less guilty.

“Oh,” said Hermione, looking confused. “I’m sorry—”

“No, no, no,” said Ginny. “It wasn’t you. You were trying to help, and I got mad at you for it because I thought you were wrong. I thought it was my fault, and I should be blamed for what happened, and I thought that you were only trying to tell me it wasn’t my fault because…because you, er, couldn’t understand what it was like to, er, do something wrong.” As she finished, her voice was barely above a whisper, and her eyes were cast downward. She cleared her throat and forced herself to look Hermione in the eyes. “But, I realize now that that was unfair, and I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Hermione smiled at her. “It’s still okay, of course. But thank you.” She reached out for Ginny’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “For what it’s worth,” she continued slyly, “I brewed a forbidden Polyjuice Potion last year in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.”

Ginny gaped at her. “You what?”

Hermione nodded, looking extremely self-satisfied. “To try and sneak into the Slytherin common room so we could try and see if Malfoy was the Heir of—” she cut herself off, looking apprehensively at Ginny.

“Malfoy? The Heir of Slytherin?” Ginny scoffed, and she was pleased to hear no tremor in her own voice. “He wishes.”

Hermione grimaced darkly. “According to Ron and Harry, he did. I didn’t manage to go with them. I accidentally turned myself into half a cat.” She grinned sheepishly. “The potion is meant for human transfiguration, see, and I accidentally used a cat hair instead of a human hair.”

Ginny laughed. It sounded like something Luna would do, but on purpose. “You be careful, Hermione, or you’ll give Fred and George a run for their money.”

Hermione laughed. “I highly doubt that.”

“Friends?” asked Ginny. She hadn’t really thought Hermione would want to quit being her friend, but she found she wanted to hear her say it out loud.

“Of courses we’re friends,” Hermione said, and hugged Ginny again.

After Hermione left to go have ice cream with Ron, Ginny went with her mum, Fred, George, and Percy to buy schoolbooks from Flourish and Blotts. When it came time to pay, she added one last selection to her pile of books.

It was a small, black diary. Bigger than the other had been, but she suspected she might need a bit more room since the ink wouldn’t be disappearing into this one. She had checked.

 

Chapter Text

The next morning, Ginny woke up to the sounds of her parents’ whispers as they readied themselves for the trip to King’s Cross. Once they were all dressed, they headed down to breakfast, where they found a yawning Hermione already sitting with a cup of tea and reading the Daily Prophet. She laid it down as they approached and waved them over to join her.

“Morning,” she said. “Tom said breakfasts are almost ready.”

Sure enough, shortly after they sat down, Tom the innkeeper came round with more mugs for tea, and shortly after that, four heaping plates of full English breakfast.

“Do you mind if I borrow that?” asked Dad, pointing his toast in the direction of Hermione’s paper.

“Of course not,” she said, and handed it over.

Hermione, Ginny, and Mum chatted for a bit about the upcoming schoolyear.

“I’m excited for all of my classes, of course, but I think I’m excited about getting to go to Hogsmeade. The only all-Wizarding village remaining in Britain. There must be so much history there!” She slathered a scone with strawberry jam and cream. “I’m sorry you won’t get to go, Ginny. Next year, though.”

“Actually,” said Ginny, casting a sideways glance at her mum, who nodded. “I’ll sort of get to go. Madam Pomfrey is going to walk me into the village once a month to take a fireplace to St. Mungo’s. I’m, er….” She stabbed at her sausage with her fork, then took a bite. “I’m doing therapy there.”

“Really?” said Hermione approvingly. “I didn’t know they offered it at St. Mungo’s. That’s wonderful, Ginny.”

Ginny nodded. “It’s been good. I think it’s only the one Healer who does it. I’m glad Dad found them.”

“I’ve often thought about suggesting it to Harry, but I didn’t really think his aunt and uncle would take him, and I’ve never heard of anyone at St. Mungo’s offering it.”

“If anyone needs therapy, Harry does,” agreed Mum. Ginny was grateful that neither she nor Hermione were paying any attention to her bright red face. “That boy has been through quite enough, and he can’t seem to keep out of trouble, either. None of you do.”

Now Hermione’s face was red, too. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Weasley. I try to—”

“Oh, don’t you worry about it, love. I know you do. You’re good girls, the both of you,” she said, smiling across the table at them. “I’m quite proud of you both.”

Neither Ginny nor Hermione quite knew what to say to that, so they returned their attentions to their breakfasts.

“Hogsmeade does bring back fond memories, though,” continued Mum. “You know, your father and I had our first date there.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I know, mum.”

But Hermione brightened. “Did you really? I mean, I guess you must’ve met in school, but did you really start dating while you were still students at Hogwarts? My parents met in dental school, but that was years after they went to secondary school.”

“Oh, yes, our first date was to Cassiopeia’s Clarion Cafe. I don’t think it’s still around, which is a pity. It was a lovely place. Anyway—your father finally asked me out on a Hogsmeade weekend in our sixth year. Took him ages. I’d been wildly in love with him almost since I laid eyes on him at the Sorting. By sixth year, I was about ready to put a love potion in his pumpkin juice at breakfast. I’d already brewed it and everything—”

“You hadn’t!” Ginny exclaimed. Hermione put her hands over her mouth to cover her giggles.

“I most certainly had. I’d brought it down to breakfast and everything when he tapped me on the shoulder and said would I like to walk into Hogsmeade with him that day.”

By now, both Hermione and Ginny had dissolved into a fit of giggles, and Mum was even chuckling herself.

“I can’t believe you actually brewed a love potion—and were going to use it!” Ginny exclaimed in a whisper. By now they were causing a bit of a ruckus, and people were starting to turn and look toward them.

“To tell you the truth,” said Mum, “neither can I. He told me later that he’d been trying to work up the courage to ask me for ages. There was no need to brew the bloody thing after all—I could have just asked him to Hogsmeade myself.” Ginny’s eyes were wide. Had she ever heard her mother swear before? If she had, she couldn’t remember it, and that seemed like the kind of thing she’d remember. “The moral of the story, girls," Mum continued, "is you don’t always have to wait for the things you want. Sometimes you just have to ask.” She glanced up at the stairs leading down from the inn’s rooms, and then back at the girls, eyeing them slyly. Ginny looked up as well and spotted her brothers and Harry coming down the stairs.

If they had thought they’d been red before, it was nothing to the color on their cheeks now.

 

Once on the Hogwarts Express, Ginny was actually a little relieved when Ron insisted she search for a compartment on her own. She was determined to try and become better friends with Hermione, and she wanted desperately to become more comfortable around Harry, but she was already so nervous that she didn’t know if she could handle being shut up in a compartment with him for the entire five hour ride.

She found Luna sitting by herself in a compartment some ways down the train, and she slid open the door and carried her trunk inside. Luna looked up and smiled as Ginny came in.

“Hi!” said Luna, putting down her issue of the Quibbler. The front cover featured a cartoonish portrait of wanted criminal Sirius Black’s head on top of a wolfish body; the headline read, “Sirius Black—Escaped Convict, Escaped Werewolf?!” Ginny thought that might be a bit far fetched, but rather than mention it, she just greeted her friend with a hug. After all, what did she know about Sirius Black? He’d somehow managed to escape Azkaban Prison, which had never been done before. Maybe he was a werewolf.

“Sorry I missed you on the platform,” said Ginny. “We ran a bit late this morning.”

“That’s all right,” said Luna dreamily. “I suspect wrackspurts are to blame. Most everyone has a bit of an infestation coming back from summer break, so we're all moving a bit more slowly.” She mimed walking in slow motion, and Ginny laughed.

Most of the ride into Scotland passed uneventfully. Luna bought them some pumpkin pasties and cauldron cakes to accompany the corned beef sandwich Ginny’s mum had packed for lunch, and which Ginny happily split with Luna. Ginny showed Luna her brand new diary, and Luna christened it with a sketch of a broomstick under Ginny’s name on the inside front cover.

It wasn’t until they were almost to Hogsmeade that anything unusual happened. Ginny had left the compartment to use the toilet, and on her way back she felt the train begin to slow. Then, suddenly, it jerked to a stop, and all of the lights went out all at once. The sudden darkness and movement made her jump, and her heart began to beat more quickly.

“Pixie farts,” she whispered under her breath, remembering the vial of calming draught that she’d left on the seat in the compartment with Luna. She’d taken it out of her jeans pocket because it’d become uncomfortable after the many hours on the train.

She took in a deep breath and reminded herself that even if she did have a panic attack, Healer Eze had taught her how to handle it. She’d done it before; she could do it again.

She heard someone in the hallway ahead stumble from one compartment into another. The voices in the compartment sounded rather familiar.

“Harry? Is that you? What’s happening?” came Neville’s voice.

“No idea—sit down—” Then there came a loud hiss and a yelp.

It sounded a bit chaotic, but Ginny thought she’d much rather take her chances inside what she now suspected to be Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s compartment than try to make her way all the back to her and Luna’s. Her racing heart and sweaty palms urged her to find the nearest safe place rather than continue to stumble along in the dark. She felt a little guilty about leaving Luna alone in the dark, but she reasoned that if anyone could take care of themselves, it was Luna.

She was just about to open the door to the compartment when she heard Hermione say, “I’m going to go and ask the driver what’s going on.” The door slid open and someone walked straight into Ginny.

“Ouch! Who’s that?” came Hermione’s voice. But Ginny didn’t answer. She had just noticed someone she didn’t recognize—it looked like a grown man—sleeping in the corner of the compartment.

“Who’s that?” asked Ginny.

“Ginny?”

“Hermione?”

“What are you doing?”

Definitely not running away from the dark. Nope, not that. “I was looking for Ron—“ she bluffed.

“Come in and sit down—”

“Not here!” said Harry hurriedly. “I’m here!”

“Ouch!” said Neville, as Ginny stepped on his toes on her way into the compartment.

“Quiet!” said a hoarse voice Ginny didn’t recognize. It was coming from a man who’d been sleeping in the corner. He stood and lit a small handful of blue flames with his wand. Now that Ginny could see his face, she could see that he looked very tired, but though he had just apparently awoken from a deep nap, his eyes were alert and vigilant. “Stay where you are,” said the man.

However, when he tried to move past Hermione toward the compartment door, someone else opened it and blocked his way.

Well, at first Ginny thought it was someone, but after a closer look, she thought a more accurate description might be something. The something was quite tall, and it was wearing a hooded cloak. Its face was hidden, but hand that had slid open the door was gray and slimy-looking, like whatever it was attached to might be dead. She heard the something draw in a deep, rattling breath.

Suddenly, Ginny felt cold, like she’d just jumped into the Great Lake in the dead of winter. The voices and movements around her started to diminish, and she was back in the hospital wing after Harry and Ron had found her in the Chamber of Secrets. She was walking past the people she’d put into the hospital wing—Colin and the Hufflepuff Justin and Mrs. Norris and Hermione, Hermione who most likely still hated her and was only pretending to be friends for Ron’s sake. She was back on the Hogwarts grounds, her robes covered in feathers and not knowing where she’d come from; she was curled up on her four-poster in her dormitory, writing in a little black book, and she was crying as she read what appeared on the page.

While the hooded figure was at the door, she was in all these places, but she was also aware that she was still here, on the train to Hogwarts, and that her heart was beating faster than it had in some time, maybe faster than it had ever beat. One part of her knew she wasn’t having a heart attack, yet another part of her was absolutely certain she was. She could feel her body begin to shake.

With no small effort, she reached up to the necklace that hung around her neck and clasped the two charms that hung there—the MATERIAL uraeus and the butterbeer cork. She could feel the smooth surface of the uraeus, feel the scratchy surface of the butterbeer cork. She tried to remember what Healer Eze had told her—what had they said she should do? It felt like she was forgetting to do something….

Breath! She was forgetting to breathe. She had been holding her breath without realizing it. She closed her eyes, opened her mouth, and let her breath out slowly, counting as she did so. Healer Eze had told her to count—to what? She couldn’t remember, so she just focused on breathing in and out as slowly as she could, filling her lungs up til it felt like they would burst, and then blowing the air out slowly, steadily, until she could blow no more.

“Harry! Harry!” Someone was saying something. Were they talking to her? “Are you all right?”

She opened her eyes to see Ron and Hermione kneeling on the floor of the compartment in front of a disheveled Harry. He was blinking up at them, and he looked just as disoriented as Ginny felt.

She looked up at the compartment door, where the horrible something had been, but it was now gone. She still felt shaky, and her heart was still pounding, but the awful things she’d remembered, they were now starting to fade into the back of her mind. She looked around the compartment, trying to see if anyone had seen her panic attack, and accidentally caught Harry’s eye.

“But I heard screaming—“ he was saying, looking confused and distraught.

As she looked around, Ginny noticed that, frankly, none of them looked very well. Harry looked the worst of all, but Neville looked quite pale as well. Ron and Hermione looked shaken, but their distress was cut by clear concern for their best friend. Even the man who’d lit blue flames into his hands looked deeply troubled, though he was preoccupied with a large slab of chocolate, which he was breaking into smaller pieces. He handed one to Ginny, and she ate it straightaway. She remembered how soothing the hot chocolate had been that awful night in the hospital wing, and how the many mugs her mum had brewed her over the last few months. They hadn’t been as effective as a calming draught or a cheering concoction, but she had to give them some credit—they hadn’t done nothing, either.

As the others began discussing what had just happened, Ginny lost herself in her own thoughts again. This time, though, rather than the abject despair and guilt and fear she had just felt, she could feel something else starting to bloom in her chest—was it pride?

She’d just endured her first major panic attack since starting therapy. She’d had a few minor ones since beginning sessions with Healer Eze, but nothing like this. After a few of these minor panic attacks, she’d felt disappointed in herself for “allowing” them to happen, though Healer Eze tended to discourage that way of thinking. “Panic attacks just happen,” they’d said. “Sometimes the techniques I’m teaching you can help you avoid them altogether, but mostly they’re here to help us move through them.”

And now, here she was, on the other side of one of the worst panic attacks she’d had all summer, and while she still felt shaky, she also felt proud of herself. Healer Eze was right—she really could do this.

 

When she finally excused herself from Ron, Hermione, Harry, and Neville, she headed down the train as quickly as she could on still-shaky legs. Had that hooded thing visited Luna’s compartment as well, while she remained in the compartment all alone? Since she’d known her, Luna had always seem so steadfast and stalwart against fear and guilt and grief, but Ginny knew she had dark memories of her own. An image flashed in her mind of Luna bent over double in the compartment by herself, elbows on her knees and head in her hands, curtains of long blonde hair hiding her face, shoulders shaking with sobs.

But, when she finally reached their compartment and all but slammed the door open, Luna was leaning against the train window with her legs stretched out on the seat in front of her, reading her Quibbler upside down for some reason, and wearing those ludicrous glittery pink glasses with pink and blue lenses.

“Oh!” she said as Ginny entered. “There you are! Did you feel the train stop? Wonder what that was all about?”

“You—you didn’t—” Ginny stammered. “Did you see a, a—” she still didn’t know what to call it. “Did it go all dark down on this end of the train, too?”

Luna nodded. “Oh, yes. It went very dark. I suspect nargles are behind it.”

Ginny snorted and sat down. “I don’t know what it was, but I don’t think it was nargles.” She told Luna about the creature that had opened the door to Ron’s compartment.

“Oh, that must be a Dementor,” she said. “They’re absolutely dreadful; are you all right? Do you need your calming draught?” She scanned the compartment, then reached down to the floor to pick it up. “I think it fell when the train stopped.

Ginny smiled. “No, I’m actually okay. Not great, but I’ll be fine soon.”

Luna nodded, and then leaned back against the window of the train. She kicked her feat up onto the bench once more.

“Your wrackspurts are looking better,” said Luna.

“My what? Oh,” she said, before Luna could answer. She remembered the first ever sketch Luna had drawn for her—a faint sketch of a human head with tiny little creatures flitting about between the ears. “Are they really?”

“Yes,” said Luna. “There’s still quite a few, don’t get me wrong.” Ginny giggled at that, but Luna continued, composedly, “But you’ve cleared out quite a few as well.”

Ginny picked up her copy of Melopmene MacFadyen, Muggle Investigator from where it had fallen onto the floor, opened it up, and leaned against the wall of the compartment. She kicked her feet up onto the bench, too, facing Luna.

“I reckon they’ll still be around for a while,” she told Luna as she flipped through the well-loved pages of her book, trying to find where she’d last left off, “but I think I’m learning to live with them.”

Luna nodded serenely, and they read in happy silence until the train pulled into Hogsmeade Station.

 

THE END