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hope is a dangerous thing (for a woman like me to have)

Chapter Text

If Ginny Weasley had known she would have had to defend her childhood home against Death Eaters on the day of her eldest brother’s wedding, she would have worn more sensible shoes.  But, she didn’t have time to think about the what-ifs and should-haves. What was briefly a beautiful reception, full of love and life, had dissolved into chaos after Kingsley’s patronus had let the wedding guests know that the Ministry of Magic had fallen.

They are coming.

Kingsley’s severe words played over and over in Ginny’s head as she ducked out of the way of a flash of red light.  Slightly safer behind one of the overturned tables, Ginny pulled out her wand and started firing every hex she could remember at the hooded figures that seemed to multiply by the minute, disregarding the rules regarding underage magic.  The Ministry had fallen and she seriously doubted Tom would be worrying about little Ginny Weasley performing magic outside of school. She paused after sending a particularly nasty jinx, which caused the victim’s skin to erupt with undetectable paper-cuts, to survey the damage.

Most of her spells hadn’t found targets, but a few of them had hit judging by a couple of crumpled masked figures.  She stole a glance across the tent to the table that Harry (who’d been pretending to be one of her cousins, unfortunately) had been sitting at moments before Kingsley’s patronus had arrived.  He was, as expected, thankfully gone. Ginny knew Hermione had been preparing for something like this - packing and repacking her small beaded bag every hour or so. The three of them were probably miles away from this destruction by now.  Ginny only wished she could have said good-bye, perhaps stolen one more kiss from Harry. She didn’t know when or where, or even if she would see any of them again.

Pulling herself together, she surveyed the rest of the tent.  Though jets of light were still soaring through the air, sometimes hitting a solitary hooded figure, others hitting a formally dressed wedding guest, all the magic that had permeated the atmosphere a mere hour ago had vanished.  She saw Fleur and Bill, backs pressed against each others, dueling two Death Eaters. Fleur’s elaborate hairstyle had fallen and Bill looked more scarred than ever. She saw her mother narrowly miss a flash of purple light and Charlie send a hex straight back.  Her father appeared to be tending to Fred, who was bleeding. Lupin and Tonks were casting shield charms furiously.

“Now, now,” said a cold voice from the entrance to the tent, “is that how you treat your wedding guests?”

Severus Snape stepped further into the tent towards the Weasleys and what remained of the Order.  Three separate stunning spells were sent in his direction, but he lazily blocked them. George and another Order member sent two more stunners, but again, Snape blocked them, though this time his eyes fixed on his attackers.

“There will be no need for that.  No more pureblood needs to be spilt, as long as everyone...cooperates.” 

They’re looking for Harry.

“Where’s Potter?” asked a still hooded Death Eater, Ginny didn’t recognize their voice.

“Not here,” Lupin replied calmly, “We haven’t seen or heard from him since term ended.”

“Then,” continued Snape, “You would let us speak to your youngest son?  I know he and Mr. Potter are quite attached.”

The Weasleys didn’t speak.  Ginny dared not even breath from her hiding place.  She knew that Ron and Hermione had concocted various stories to keep their families safe and unlinked to Harry, but what if they weren’t ready?  What if they weren’t good enough?

“Though,” continued Snape, “I don’t see him here.  Nor do I see your youngest daughter, whom, if I’m not mistaken is Mr. Potter’s girlfriend, isn’t that right Mr. Malfoy?”

Ginny’s blood ran cold.  Draco Malfoy, who’d been lurking at the edge of the tent, removed his hood, fingers shaking.  He looked, if possible, more pale and more sickly than he had all last term. He’d lost whatever swagger he’d had the night he’d let all the Death Eaters into Hogwarts.  Ginny was briefly reminded that he was just a boy, barely of age, in way too over his head. But she banished that thought from her mind when he spoke.

“Yeah,” said Draco, his voice cracking, “They got together last term.  Disgusting, the pair of them.”

Without even thinking, Ginny stood up from her hiding place violently, “Are you daft, Malfoy?  Harry and I broke up ages ago.”

The lie fell easily from her lips, as though she knew this was her job the entire time.  That thought alone made her emit a harsh laugh.

“He didn’t want me after all!  I was just a silly challenge, best mate’s sister and all that,” the lie felt thick in her mouth, but she kept going, “He chucked me.  Didn’t want to be tied down, being the ‘Chosen One’ or something of that sort.”

Ginny refused to look towards her family.  She hoped their fear and determination could mask their shock that she’d dated the boy they thought of as a second child, a second brother.  Of all her siblings, only Ron had known. And he’d promised to keep it a secret. At the time, Ginny had had grand fantasies about asking her mum if her boyfriend could visit the Burrow and telling her father that she wanted to introduce him to her new boyfriend, only to have them discover her boyfriend was actually the friend they’d been expecting to visit Ron.  She couldn’t wait for Fred and George to take the mickey out of him and her. She could almost hear Charlie and Bill trying to scare Harry. But, that was then, before the war was really a war. Before, when weddings were safe and Harry was still her boyfriend.

As soon as they found Dumbledore’s body, some unconscious part of Ginny knew that their relationship would have to end.  She knew Harry, who’d lost so many people, couldn’t bear to put her in danger. She understood his reasoning, in fact, if she were in the same position, she might even do the same.  But, it wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t she go with them and help take down Voldemort. She after all, was the closest link to Tom after Harry, having spent a year entwined with his teenage self.

“And my brother didn’t go with him!”  Ginny continued, “He was pretty peeved with how Harry ended things with me.”

“As heartbreaking as your story is Miss Weasley,” said Snape, who looked anything but moved by Ginny’s story, “I find it hard to believe that your brother would miss your eldest brother’s wedding.”

No one spoke.  No one dared breathe.

“He’s upstairs,” Mrs. Weasley’s voice finally broke the deadly silence, “He’s ill, with Spattergroit.  Has been all summer.”

Snape turned his attention to Ginny’s mum and stared her down, hard.  Ginny expected her mum to look away, but she didn’t. Ginny had seen all her mum’s stares: the ‘I know you’re lying,’ the ‘who broke this dish,’ the ‘what on earth did you do, Fred and George,’ but none of those compared to the look she was giving Snape.  Mrs. Weasley stared down Snape with a cold fury, a look so fierce that men much greater than Snape would have turned into dust. Ginny was equally proud of and terrified for her mum. She wasn’t an idiot. She knew what Snape was doing, digging through her mother’s mind as though it was his own Hogwarts school trunk, like he had done to Harry back in her fourth year.  At least Harry had some rudimentary training in Occlumency, her mum surely wasn’t prepared for Snape’s assault on her memories.

Ginny started to shake.  How long could her mum hold him off?  How long could they both just stare at each other?  She wanted to scream, tell her mum to look away, but that all but admitted they were guilty.

“We’ll be checking that,” Snape said finally, “Amycus, Alecto - check upstairs.  Rabastan, Rodolfus - go with them. Search the house.”

Two of the Death Eaters Ginny recognized from the night Dumbledore died stepped forward and began lumbering towards the house, followed by two Black men Ginny recognized from the wanted posters.  

“Now, the rest of you,” Snape said turning to the remaining wedding guests, “We’ve got some additional questions…”

Ginny’s heart sank.  Her anti-Harry performance hadn’t been good enough.  She looked around at who remained: her mother and father, Bill, Fleur, Charlie, Fred, George, Lupin, Tonks, and a few Order members she didn’t know well.  Plus a few wedding guests who hadn’t managed to escape before the Death Eaters had broken through all the protective enchantments and wards. She watched as the rest of the Death Eaters approached the remaining guests; sometimes disarming them, other times just hitting them with the Cruciatus curse.  It all seemed rather rehearsed, like they knew who would be there and who needed to be questioned.

“Expelliarmus,” Malfoy’s familiar, drawling voice startled Ginny, as her wand flew out of her hand, “You’re with me, Weasley.”

He approached her warily, but grabbed her arm and led her to one of the tables at the edge of the tent.  Ginny tried to squirm out of Malfoy’s grasp, but his hand clung too tightly to her wrist. Ginny knew she should be scared, and she was a little bit.  But, there was a strange familiarity about the situation. It was almost like being back at Hogwarts, back in Umbridge’s office. If she could just get her wand back…

“Sit,” said Malfoy as he threw her into one of the chairs, “I’ve got a few questions for you.”

“Wow,” said Ginny sarcastically, “They’re actually letting you do the questioning?  After you mucked up your last task?”

Malfoy flinched but didn’t say anything and Ginny felt a twinge of disappointment - she’d expected a bigger reaction.

“Where’s Potter?”

“You’ve already asked that.  I don’t know.”

“The truth, Weasley.”

“I haven’t seen him since he dumped me last term.”

“What’s he told you?”

“Nothing.”

Ginny could see Malfoy getting increasingly annoyed with her.  Perhaps he thought that since she was the youngest, she’d be the easiest, perhaps the first to crack.  Well, bully for him. He should have remembered not to underestimate her - particularly after what had happened to him in at the end of his 5th year.

“Where’s he gone?”

“Rephrasing the question will not change my answer, Malfoy.  I don’t know. And I don’t care.”

“Well isn’t that the biggest load of dragon dung.  The girl, who spent her first year, when she wasn’t doing the Dark Lord’s bidding, trailing after stupid Potter, doesn’t care about him?  Don’t make me laugh, Weasley.”

Without thinking, Ginny raised her arm.  But, before she could slap or punch Malfoy, he caught her wrist, glaring at her.  He raised his wand.

“Crucio.”

Ginny was hit with white hot, blinding pain and her mind was wiped blank.  Her world was gone - she had no idea who she was or where she was. All she knew was pain.  She’d never felt anything like it before, worse than any Quidditch injury. It was like her insides were on fire and her skin was frozen solid.  Her body screamed in agony; she screamed in agony. And then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Ginny took gulping breaths of air and was vaguely aware of familiar voices shouting and white blonde hair above her.

“Don’t try that again, Weasley,” Malfoy’s face swam into focus and Ginny tried her best to glare at him.

Ginny realized she’d fallen out of her chair when Malfoy’s curse hit her.  She tried to prop herself into a more dignified sitting position and adjust her dress as discreetly as possible.  Earlier she’d felt a beautiful swooping sensation when Harry had looked in her direction. Now, as Malfoy leered at her in her beautiful, ruined golden dress, she felt dirty.  Malfoy reached for her wrist and pulled her back into her chair.

“So he chucked you?”

“Yeah,” said Ginny, still a little out of breath.

“Not as big of an idiot as he looks.  Never understood why half the school fancied you.”

Ginny wanted to laugh and roll her eyes at Malfoy’s new tactic to get Harry’s location out of her, but settled for glaring back at him, trying to steady her heartbeat.

“We finished searching the house, Snape,” the four Death Eaters had re-appeared at the mouth of the tent.

Ginny held her breath.  Did their ghoul in disguise work?

“And?” Snape asked lazily at the opposite end of the tent with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

“No sign of Potter anywhere,” replied Alecto.

“And what about the youngest son?” asked Snape, almost bored.

“She was telling the truth.  It looks nasty. Didn’t want to get to close, but it’s definitely him,” replied Rabastan.

“Very well,” said Snape, who suddenly gripped his left forearm.

Malfoy mirrored Snape’s movement and looked alarmed.

The Death Eaters began Disapparating one-by-one.  Malfoy chucked Ginny’s wand back at her and muttered something about seeing her at school before he too got out of his chair and turned on the spot.

“And you’ll be sure to let us know if Mr. Potter turns up,” said Snape, “He’s wanted for… questioning.”

“Like hell he is,” George snapped, “Questioning for what?”

Snape turned around, his unnerving smirk lighting up his whole face, “The murder of Albus Dumbledore, of course.”

And with a swish of his robes, Snape Disapperated.  Bill, who was closest to Ginny, rushed over and squeezed her shoulder.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine,” muttered Ginny, “I’m fine, really.”

Ginny wasn’t sure if she was fine, but this is how it was now.  She wanted to help, and if she couldn’t pull herself together after being hit by a Cruciatus curse cast by a just turned seventeen year old, she was of no use to the Order.

“Everyone, in the house.  Now.” Mr. Weasley whispered.

Ginny didn’t dare disobey, and held back her questions.  She followed her father back into the house, where her brothers and Remus and Tonks shuffled around the table, conjuring extra chairs where necessary.  Her mum began conjuring tea and biscuits for everyone. Apart from the occasional muttered ‘thank you’ as a steaming mug of tea appeared, no one spoke. Charlie twiddled his thumbs and Fred and George didn’t even look towards their mother as she held up the biscuit tin.  Lupin was rubbing Tonks’ back, while Tonks looked at her cup of tea as though she wanted to curse it into a thousand pieces. Fleur, in her ripped and singed wedding dress, moved to Mrs. Weasley’s side as she started frying up sausages.

“Let me do zat,” Fleur said, trying to take the spatula from Mrs. Weasley.

“No, no, sit down, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley, avoiding Fleur’s grasping hands.

“Molly, Fleur,” Mr. Weasley finally spoke, “Both of you, please sit.”

Mr. Weasley conjured a comfortable, squashy chair for his wife next to him and only when Mrs. Weasley made to move towards it did Fleur go back to her own chair.

“Dad, what did Snape mean they wanted Harry for the questioning of Dumbledore’s murder?” asked Fred.

Mr. Weasley sighed, “You have to understand, no one really knows what happened up on the Astronomy tower.”

“Yes we do,” said George, “Snape killed Dumbledore.  Harry told us!”

“And we believe Harry, the Ministry however… well, we have our spies and they have theirs.”

“Hang on,” said Charlie after swallowing a gulp of tea, “Were there actually people at the Ministry who didn’t believe Harry’s story?”

“Well it doesn’t matter does it,” Ginny had finally gotten her heart to stop racing, “You heard Kingsley.  The Ministry has fallen.”

“Exactly,” Mr. Weasley continued, “The Death Eaters and the Ministry are one in the same at this point.  We cannot count on the Ministry’s protection any more - obviously,” he looked forlornly out at the destroyed marquee where his eldest son had gotten married mere hours ago.

“But what does this have to do with wanting Harry for questioning?” Fred asked again.

“Well, for the most part, Harry is a respected young man.  You-Know-Who and his followers now have the difficult task of convincing the entire Wizarding World that he’s not.  I suppose they’ve decided to blame the death of Dumbledore on… Harry.”

“How could--” Ginny began, but was quickly cut off by the thunderous roars of her brothers.

“That’s mental,” the twins cried in unison.

“Who in their right mind would believe that load of rubbish?” asked Charlie.

“Surely this is just the Death Eaters taking over the Ministry, right Dad?” said Bill.

“Well, that’s who must have started it - as there was no official word on questioning Harry when Scrimgeour was Minister.  But, there were whispers - whether they were planted by spies or not, well, we cannot say.”

The Weasleys and the rest of the Order fell silent as they let this sink in.  Once again, they were alone in this war. The active fight against Voldemort would once again be drawn back into the shadows.  The Ministry would feign indifference. Ginny couldn’t help but wonder if there was this much hopelessness last time Tom had risen to power.  Perhaps not, Dumbledore had still been alive. Everything seemed so much more hopeful when Dumbledore was running the Order; like living in a fairytale book.  Ginny had just always assumed that good would vanquish evil and they’d all live happily ever after. War wasn’t fun, but it had never felt like war before Dumbledore had died, before a classmate performed an Unforgivable curse on her without blinking.  Sure, she’d felt it in flashes - when Sirius had fallen through the veil, when Bellatrix Lestrange suggested torturing her in the Department of Mysteries, when her father had been attacked by Tom’s snake. But, going to the Ministry to save Sirius, fighting the Death Eaters at Hogwarts - those had been grand adventures.  She had felt useful. Now, she felt just as small as she had waking up in the Chamber.

War was definitely here now.  The smoking wedding marquee and Harry’s disappearance were proof of that.  Would they get out of this? Her family was much too large and too noble and too involved in the Order not to have any casualties.  George’s ear and Bill’s scars were proof of that. Ron still had faint pockmarks on his arm from his run-in with the brains in the Department of Mysteries.  Her father aged 10 years in 2, ever since his encounter with Tom’s massive snake. And now even she, so carefully guarded by her mother and father, her brothers, and the Chosen One himself, was not unaffected by war.  Though she had scars from Tom before the war, her scars that were not visible, often forgotten.

“At least there’s one silver lining,” said George bitterly, “Scrimgeour didn’t tell them Harry was here did he?  Otherwise we’d all be dead.”

“He might have had faults, but he wasn’t a coward.  And he wasn’t about bend to You-Know-Who, no matter what his opinions of Harry were,” said Mr. Weasley.

“Where do you think they went?” Ginny finally asked, “Harry, Ron, and Hermione?”

Remus sighed, but said nothing.  Tonks slipped her hand under the table to find her husband’s.  Remus shifted slightly and brought his hands to his temples. Tonks’ hand changed directions and rubbed his shoulder.

“We don’t know,” said Bill, “Did he ever say anything to you, Gin?”

Ginny shook her head.  She knew why Harry hadn’t told her where (not that she would have bent under pressure, even with the Cruciatus curse), but the fact that she, Harry’s girlfriend - well, ex-girlfriend - was as in the dark as everyone else still hurt.

“We should send them a message, so they know we’re safe,” said Charlie, “You know what Harry’s like, if he thinks anything’s happened…” Charlie trailed off, but held his gaze on Ginny.

“But make sure they don’t reply,” said Remus quickly, “We’re most definitely being watched.”

Mr. Weasley nodded and pulled out his wand.  He muttered something under his breath and seconds later a silver blur shot out of his wand and out into the garden.

“We should go,” said Remus, “We need to check on Tonks’ parents.”

Mr. Weasley nodded and without another word Remus and Tonks headed through the kitchen door, out into the yard, and disapperated immediately.

“Ginny,” said Bill quietly, though everyone was listening.

Ginny waited for her eldest brother’s inevitable questioning.  How long have you and Harry been dating?  When did this happen? How did this happen?  Why did this happen? Why didn’t you tell any of us?

But Bill either didn’t know what exactly he wanted to say or how he wanted to phrase it.  He stood there, jaw tense, his scars prominent, unable to form words to questions the entire family was asking.  Ginny couldn’t decide whether she should take pity on him and answer what she knew to be his questions, or let the room continue to fill with heavy, suffocating thoughts.  She stared at her fingernails, chipping away at the shimmering paint that matched her dress. Eventually, when she too began to choke on the unspoken questions, she decided to put Bill out of his misery.

“I suppose you want to know,” said Ginny, quietly, “When Harry and I got together.”

“Why didn’t you tell us Ginny?” asked her mother, “He’s practically family; we wouldn’t love him any less if he was your boyfriend…”

“It was after we won the Quidditch cup.  I was planning on writing you once exams were over - to see if I could bring my boyfriend home for the summer holidays, but then Dumbledore died.  And we broke up.”

Ginny tried to keep her voice even as she simplified her and Harry’s anything-but-simple story.  She tried to detach herself from the two happy Hogwarts students in her memories; the kids who spent lunches by the lake, who snuck around the castle in lieu of studying for exams well into the night.  But something about relaying their story to her family, made their break-up seem all the more real.  Her heart grew heavier and heavier.  Ginny could feel small pricks beginning to form behind her eyes, but  she was Ginny Weasley -- and Ginny Weasley did not cry over boys, not even Harry Potter.

“I think I’ll go to bed,” she said rising and making her way towards the stairs.

“Wait, Ginny,” he father also rose, “I want to make sure they haven’t left anything sinister.”

Mr. Weasley followed his daughter up to the first floor landing and into her small bedroom.  The Death Eaters had left it an absolute mess. Books were pulled from their shelves and thrown across the room.  Her two posters - one of Gwenog Jones and the other of The Weird Sisters had been ripped off the walls. She could see Gwenog’s eye winking at her next to her foot. Her belongings that had littered the desk had been swept off and onto the floor.  Her bed was mussed and her pillows were slashed. Though she’d left her room a bit of a disaster after she and Hermione had finished getting ready for the wedding, that mess had felt homey and comfortable. This new mess felt cold and empty. Ginny sighed - even her own bedroom was no longer safe from war.

Mr. Weasley began waving his wand - checking for traps left by the Death Eaters.  Ginny raised her wand to assist, but Mr. Weasley shook his head and continued casting spells.  After a few minutes of nothing happening, Mr. Weasley waved his wand once more, only this time, the room began to right itself.  The posters were mended and they re-adhered themselves to the wall. The pillows healed and the bed was remade. The books were sent back onto their shelves and her belongings danced back onto her desk.

“I’m not very good with cleaning charms,” said Mr. Weasley, “You might want to ask your mum to come up tomorrow and help you.  She can get the books to alphabetize themselves, don’t know quite how she does it.”

Ginny nodded, but her father still hadn’t moved to go back downstairs.

“Are you alright Ginny?”

“I’m fine dad.  Malfoy’s not that great at the Cruciatus curse yet.”

“No, I meant - are you alright about things ending with Harry?”

Ginny blinked, unsure what to say.  To be honest, she never really thought about Harry ending things as, well, Harry actually ending things.  No, this was a necessity of war. A sad necessity, but if their kiss on his birthday had been any indication, when all was said and done, they’d get back together.  Everything would go back to the way things were before Dumbledore’s death. When all they had were sunlit days. But, Harry had ended things. And even if they both made it out alive - which with every passing second, Ginny was beginning to believe less and less - who’s to say they could just pick up where they left off?  Ginny suddenly felt foolish.

“I’m not sure,” she finally answered.

Mr. Weasley nodded slowly and pulled his daughter close.  He tried to hug away her sadness, her fears, and everything bad in the world.  And though they weren’t, Ginny felt a little safer, and a little more hope.

Chapter Text

The sun rose bright and early on the second of August to the dismay of Ginny Weasley, who spent most of the night in the world between sleeping and waking.  To add insult to injury, Ginny had forgotten to close her curtains the night before. Wishing she could do magic outside of school, she blearily padded over to her small window that overlooked the orchard to close her blinds and get a few more hours of sleep.  And then, she remembered. Stopping a few inches from her window seat, she stared at the still smoking marquee that looked far less magical than it had a mere twenty-four hours ago.

Ginny shut her eyes, flashes of the previous night coming back to her.  Snape. Malfoy. Harry - who was no longer sleeping upstairs, but rather somewhere only he, Ron, and Hermione knew.  Ginny contemplated reaching for her wand; she’d done plenty of underage magic last night. Would one flick of the curtains really get her expelled?  Well, under this new Ministry, where Harry Potter was wanted for questioning in regards to the murder of Albus Dumbledore, anything was possible.

Ginny sighed and closed her curtains by hand, which dimmed her room slightly, but not enough to coax her body back to sleep.  As she wandered back to her bed, she paused in front of her mirror and grimaced. Dark shadows bloomed under her eyes and her skin, which had been almost glowing yesterday, made her look like a corpse today.  Her hair was matted and her face, arms, and legs were decorated with cuts and bruises. It was hard to believe that yesterday she’d felt beautiful.

Perhaps I should go for a fly.  Clear my head.

Ginny moved towards her small wardrobe and dug around for a pair of shorts and a shirt.  If today was anything like yesterday, she’d be sweating and pink before noon. After finding a shirt that she’d only worn once since the last washing and a pair of shorts that didn’t have any grass stains, Ginny laced up her trainers, grabbed her Cleansweep, and headed down to the kitchen.  Though it was still early, the smell of her mother’s baking filled the house and Ginny’s stomach was rumbling before she’d reached the bottom stair.

As Ginny turned into the kitchen, she wanted to laugh, but couldn’t muster the strength.  The entire kitchen was full of crumpets, dozens and dozens of crumpets. The table was made of crumpets, stacked on plates and then on each other.  Empty mixing bowls were piled high in the sink. It was as though her mother was baking for the long gone wedding guests. Then, she saw her mother, with shadows under her eyes darker than Ginny’s. She was still wearing last night’s dress robes, scraping the mixture into a skillet.  Ginny lost the fleeting bit of amusement that’d briefly bubbled in her belly with the discovery of the crumpets.

“Mum?” Ginny asked tentatively.

“Ginny?  What are you - ?  Oh goodness, it’s nearly breakfast. What would you like dear?  Bacon? Kippers? Eggs?”

“Erm,” Ginny stared at the crumpets wondering how her mother thought she’d have room to cook anything else for breakfast, let alone lunch or dinner, “crumpets are fine.”

“A bit early for crumpets isn’t it?”

Ginny decided it was best not to respond, took her usual seat and picked up the closest crumpet and began picking at it.

“Butter?”

Ginny just shook her head and continued picking.

“Can’t I fry you up anything else?  Need I remind you what happens when you don’t eat breakfast?”

Usually Mrs. Weasley’s story brought a smile to Ginny’s face, but today she could barely turn the corners of her mouth upwards.

“Mum,” Ginny began, “What are all the crumpets for?”

“I suppose I got a bit carried away, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley, looking at the room as though it was the first time she was seeing the dozens of  crumpets.

“Maybe Fred and George can sell them at the shop?”

Mrs. Weasley’s mouth twitched and she continued doling out the mixture into the hot skillet.

“Have you been up all night, mum?”

“Not all night,” she said bustling over the oven.

“Maybe you should go back up to bed?  I’m sure no one else will be up for hours.  I just wanted to go for a quick fly.”

Mrs. Weasley’s head shot up so quickly that Ginny was worried that something was the matter with the stove.  Mrs. Weasley slammed the oven door shut and marched over to Ginny handing her another crumpet.

“Absolutely not, Ginny.  You will stay inside.”

“What?  But, mum - I’m just going out to the orchard.  It’s perfectly safe.”

“Need I remind you what happened last night Ginny?  The orchard is no longer perfectly safe. We are being watched.”

“But what about Quidditch?  How am I supposed to keep my spot on the team if I don’t practice?”

Mrs. Weasley sighed, “I’d hoped to have this conversation when your father was awake.”

“What conversation?” asked Ginny, whose lap was now covered in bits of crumpet.

“I don’t think you should go back to Hogwarts this year.”

“What?” Ginny stood up so suddenly, she knocked an entire plate of crumpets to the ground.

“It’s not safe.”

“Well it can’t be any less safe than it is here, seeing as I can’t even walk outside,” Ginny said bitterly.

“Your father and I can protect you here, who knows what…”

“Protect me?  I don’t need protecting!  I fought against Death Eaters in the Ministry when I was fourteen.  And last year I fought them again at Hogwarts!”

“That was before!” roared Mrs. Weasley grabbing a crumpet.

“Before what, mum?”

“Before you had a target on your back.  Before you were Harry Potter’s girlfriend.”

Oh.

“Ex-girlfriend, mum,” Ginny said quietly, “He dumped me, remember?”

“You may have fooled the Death Eaters last night, but you’re not fooling me, Ginny.”

“Mum, the family’s only just found out we were dating…”

“You seriously don’t think I didn’t notice the two of you making eyes at each other the last couple of weeks?  The way you winked at him during the ceremony?”

Ginny sat back down and glared at her mother.  Mrs. Weasley kept her eyes trained on her daughter as she bustled around the kitchen, checking the crumpets in the pan.  Ginny continued to glare as she heard the faint sounds of one of her brothers coming down the stairs. Charlie or George probably, based on the way they were shuffling down the stairs.

“Morning,” called Charlie a moment later, “What’s for - oh, crumpets.  Bit stodgy for breakfast, don't you think?”

But, he took a seat next to Ginny and reached for the nearest crumpet, spread a liberal amount of butter on top, and started munching on it.  Ginny continued to stare down her mother, clutching her broom. Charlie turned his attention to his sister.

“Going for a fly, Gin?”

“No,” hissed Ginny, “Mum won’t let me leave the house.  She says it’s too dangerous.”

Charlie nodded slowly and turned his attention to his mum.

“What if I went out with her, mum?”

Mrs. Weasley’s mouth formed into a thin line, but before she could retort, Mr. Weasley stumbled into the kitchen, looking like he’d gotten the same amount of sleep as his wife.  Dressed for work, Mr. Weasley didn’t even pause at the herd of crumpets that had taken over the family’s kitchen. He glanced at the clock, that had been begrudgingly hung back up by Mrs. Weasley last spring - everyone’s hands were still pointing at ‘Mortal Peril.’

“Molly,” Mr. Weasley said slowly, “I’m heading into the office to see if I can find out any news.  I’ll be back by seven...I’ll send a message if I’m running late.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded, “Have some breakfast at least before you go, Arthur.  Can’t I fry you up anything?”

“No, no.  I have to run.”

“Dad,” said Ginny, “Mum’s saying I can’t go back to Hogwarts.”

Charlie flicked his eyes towards his mother, “What?”

“It’s far too dangerous,” said Mrs. Weasley, as though that settled the matter, “with Dumbledore there, it was one thing, but now…”

“Dad?” said Ginny again, waiting for her father to comment on her mother’s latest hysteria.

Mr. Weasley stared at the crumpets, not daring to look at his daughter or his wife.  He seemed to be begging the craters for answers. Perhaps he could read the little holes in the crumpets like one could read palms or decipher shapes and meaning from tea leaves.  Charlie also looked expectantly at his father, but didn’t dare say anything. Ginny’s head volleyed between her mother and father, trying to see if her mum was picking up clues from her father’s silence.  But, Mrs. Weasley remained unchanged - her eyes squinting, her mouth pursed.

“You’re mother’s right,” Mr. Weasley finally said, “But, I’m not sure you’re safer here either.”

“See!” exclaimed Ginny.

“But we’ll be here to defend her, Arthur,” said Mrs. Weasley, rounding on her husband, “besides, I think we ought to begin thinking about going into hiding.  Things were never this bad before Arthur. The Minister of Magic is dead.”

“If we go into hiding, they’ll know we have something to hide, mum,” said Charlie, “And we know those who hide don’t always stay hidden.”

Ginny’s thoughts immediately flew to James and Lily Potter, who put faith in the wrong man, who’d been betrayed, who’d been found.  Was that the same fate that awaited them all? Would her mother defend her until the bitter end, like Lily Potter had for her son? And what would happen when Tom turned his wand on her?  Would he know that she was the little girl that poured her heart and soul into his diary all those years ago? Would he even care? No, he wouldn’t. And, it probably wouldn’t be Tom. The Weasleys weren’t that important.  It would probably be Snape or maybe Tom would throw Lucius Malfoy a bone. Would it be quick? Or would they torture her for a bit, try to find out where Harry Potter was? Or perhaps they’d use her as bait again. If they’d told Tom about her and Harry, he’d might think to use her as bait once more.  Ginny hoped that if they did, Harry wouldn’t come. He had a job to do and she didn’t want to be in the way.

Mr. Weasley moved towards the door, “I’ll find out what I can,” he said, “Remember, we’re being watched.”

With a swish of his robes, Mr. Weasley headed out, past the wards that no longer held, and Disapperated.

“So can I, mum?” Ginny asked, “If Charlie comes out with me, can I go for a fly?”

“No, Ginny, just, just go to your room, please,” Mrs. Weasley sighed as she collapsed into a chair.

Charlie stood to comfort his mother, but Ginny, without a backwards glance, moved towards the stairs and headed back up to her room, just as her mother had asked.  She tossed her Cleansweep aside and slammed her door before diving head first back into her bed. The sun mocked her from its cloudless sky. But, Ginny continued to lay there, begging for sleep to take her, though it never did.

At around three in the afternoon Bill knocked on her door.  Ginny knew it was Bill by the patterned knocks he always gave.  After a couple minutes of Bill tapping at her door, he gave up and poked his head in.

“Gin?”

Ginny did not respond.  Bill moved further into the room, but still gave her bed a wide berth.

“I know you’re not really asleep, Ginny.”

Ginny rolled over, but remained laying on her back, staring unblinking

“I just wanted to come say goodbye.”

Ginny sat bolt upright, “What?  Where are you going?”

Bill grinned at her, “I know our wedding was interrupted by Death Eaters, but you can’t tell me you forgot we were headed out on our honeymoon today.”

Ginny relaxed back into her pillows, “You’ll be back though, right?”

Bill moved to sit on Ginny’s bed, “We’ll be back in two weeks.”

“Be careful, yeah?”

Ginny focused on her elder brother’s scars.  Some days it felt like he’d always had them, other times they felt as new and raw as the evening Greyback had torn into him.  Today was the latter. No longer bathed in Fleur’s glow, her eldest brother looked as though he’d aged ten years since he said ‘I do.’

“Always am, Gin,” Bill said reaching for Ginny’s hand.

“Do you think mum was serious?  About me not going back to Hogwarts?”

Bill was quiet.

“I know you know what happened this morning, Bill.  Nothing stays quiet in our house, not really.”

Bill paused, “I don’t know Gin, I mean, I know Dumbledore’s not there, but I can’t believe she doesn’t want you going back.  Not after all the flack she gave Harry, Ron, and Hermione.”

“But that was before.”

“Before?”

“Before her eldest son’s wedding was raided by Death Eaters.  Before Death Eaters took over the Ministry. I mean, how long before they take Hogwarts too?  Or has it already happened?”

“I don’t know, Gin.”

“I don’t even know if I want to go back.  I mean, Snape murdered Dumbledore last year.  Death Eaters broke into Hogwarts.  I don’t know why I’m even putting up a fight.”

“Well,” said Bill sheepishly, “you’ve never been one to let others make decisions for you.”

Ginny paused for a moment, contemplating her next words carefully.

“I don’t want to go back to Hogwarts.  I want to help the Order - ”

“You’re not of age, Ginny,” said Bill quickly.

“Let me finish.  I want to help the Order, but I know I can’t.  I guess, going back to Hogwarts gives me some sort of purpose.  So even though I don’t want to go back, I need to go back - does that make sense?”

Bill nodded slowly, “I’ll talk to mum, see what I can do.”

Ginny reached out and hugged her brother tightly.  She tried to infuse her whole self into that hug. She tried to tell him how much she loved him, to be careful, to come back soon.  Bill squeezed back, echoing Ginny’s sentiments. A light knock sounded at Ginny’s door, even though it was ajar. The two siblings broke apart as Fleur poked her head around.”

“I theenk zat it eez time, Bill,” she said smiling softly to her new husband.

“Be there in a moment,’” Bill replied, and Fleur closed the door.

Ginny heard her light footsteps begin to descend into the kitchen.  Ginny wondering if her mum was still making crumpets, repressed a chortle imagining their entire kitchen swimming in crumpets.  She stared intently at Bill as he reached for her hand again.

“Gin,” Bill began slowly, “I love you.  And I know you’ll do what you want, but please take care of yourself.  Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t go looking for trouble.”

Ginny shifted her eyes to the door behind Bill.  She started counting the ridges in the paint, trying not to squint.  She wanted to be the girl who told her brother that of course she’ll be careful, that she won’t stupid.  She supposed she could just say those empty words and deal with the consequences later, but Bill would know.  It wasn’t that she was going to run headlong into any dangerous situation that might present itself, but she knew that she wouldn’t hesitate, no matter the situation, to save her friends or family.  After all, where would she be now if the dark-haired twelve year old boy hadn’t gone looking for trouble when his best friend’s sister had gone missing? Ginny couldn’t bear the thought of some other Hogwarts’ students being used as Tom’s pawn in his chess match against the Wizarding World.

Bill sighed, pulling Ginny from her thoughts.  She still couldn’t look at him and moved her eyes to the spot on the wall that marked how much she’d grown since she was six.

“Ginny?” Bill prompted.

“I can’t make that promise, Bill,” Ginny finally said, looking at her hands, “We don’t know what’s coming, do we?  And I can’t just stay on the sidelines. I’ll try to be careful, but…”

Bill nodded, but didn’t object.  He wrapped his sister in another tight hug and stood from the bed to leave.  As he opened Ginny’s door, he paused and looked back.

“At least, Gin, can you at least - make sure everyone knows you’re not with Harry anymore, alright?”

Ginny nodded, “Alright.”

Satisfied, Bill closed the door with a click and padded down the stairs to join his wife.

Ginny avoided going downstairs for dinner, though by eight o’clock she was regretting not eating more of the crumpet.  She wasn’t mad at her mum anymore; she didn’t think she really ever was. But, she couldn’t go back into the kitchen. If she went back, she’d have to ask about her dad, whom she knew hadn’t come home yet.  If she went back, she’d have to stare at her mum’s stress crumpets, or whatever other treats she’d started baking this afternoon that were more appropriate for dinner time. If she went back, she’d have to contend with being an only child for the first time since she was ten and everyone had gone off to Hogwarts.

Charlie had left shortly after Bill, stopping by Ginny’s room to give her a hug and a kiss, before heading back to the dragons.  He promised he’d be back for Christmas though. Fred and George had poked their heads in early in the evening and announced they were headed back to the shop.  They promised they’d be round for dinner on Sunday. After the twins left, Ginny found the quiet restless. She needed to do something with her limbs. But, with the ban on leaving the house, and her self imposed ban on leaving her room, the possibilities were quite limited.  She spent a good thirty minutes digging through her room for a quaffle, but after tearing into her room as badly as the Death Eaters had the night before, she remembered it was in the shed outside.

By nine thirty, Ginny was absolutely famished.  She wondered if her mum would be up all night baking again, or if she could afford to sneak downstairs and stockpile some of the crumpets for the rest of the week.  She hadn’t heard her mum come upstairs yet, though she imagined her mother wouldn’t leave the kitchen until her father was home. Ginny herself was beginning to feel a bit squeamish - hadn’t her dad said he’d be home by seven? But, Ginny figured if there was anything wrong, her mum would have burst into her room by now.  Still, she kept peeking out her window every couple of minutes, waiting for her father to Apparate just outside the garden.

“This is so stupid,” said Ginny, as she forced her eyes away from the window as the clock on her bedside table flicked from nine thirty-seven to nine thirty-eight.

Her stomach gurgled uncomfortably, as though begging her to get off her high horse and grab as many crumpets downstairs.

Where’s your Gryffindor spirit? a voice that sounded a lot like Bill said, Life’s too short to be mad at your mum for only looking out for you.

Ginny’s stomach babbled in agreement.  And Ginny finally stood, albeit grudgingly, to her feet and headed down to the kitchen.  As she reached the bottom step, before she rounded the corner, Ginny took a deep breath, summoning the last few ounces of courage floating about the house.

Ginny peered into the kitchen and saw that her mother was no longer frantically baking, but instead was sitting at the kitchen table - knitting needles clacking in front of her.  The abundance of crumpets had long since disappeared; Ginny didn’t even want to begin trying to figure out where her mother had stored them all. The floorboards creaked as Ginny stepped into the kitchen, startling Mrs. Weasley.

“Ginny,” Mrs. Weasley said, moving to envelope her daughter in a big hug, though her knitting needles continued to click in the air on their own.

“I’m sorry, mum.”

Mrs. Weasley sighed, “You don’t know what it was like, Ginny.”

“What,” said Ginny as Mrs. Weasley pulled away and sat back down at the kitchen table.

“Getting a message from Minerva McGonagall that you’d been taken into the Chamber of Secrets.”

Ginny started.

“Of course, letters from Minerva have been the norm since Bill started.  Both good and bad,” said Mrs. Weasley smirking a little, “Usually about dungbombs going off during an exam or singed fingers from a mishap in Care of Magical Creatures.  Oh, and that damn flying car… But, Ginny, nothing in my entire life prepared me for that letter we got saying that you were as good as gone forever.”

Ginny reached for her mother’s hand and squeezed.

“When we got you back,” Mrs. Weasley said, getting a little teary eyed, “I swore that I would do everything in my power to keep you safe.  But with this war going the way it is - I don’t know if I can even do that anymore.”

The knitting needles stopped clicking.  The scarf that Mrs. Weasley had been knitting floated back to the table and rested quietly as tears started flowing down Mrs. Weasley’s cheeks.

“Mum,” said Ginny quietly.

“You are so brave, Ginny,” said Mrs. Weasley interrupting, “All of my children are.  But, you. He tried to destroy you when you were just eleven years old. And you didn’t let him.  He nearly killed you and you still won’t stop fighting.”

“I have to do something, mum.  I should have gone with Harry, Ron, and Hermione…”

Mrs. Weasley shot her daughter a look.

“I know, I know - I’m not of age.  Besides, they wouldn’t have me anyway.  But, they’re doing something!”

Ginny rose to her feet and began to pace.  She hadn’t meant to say it out loud; that she had wanted to go with the trio on their quest for… well, whatever it was that they were doing, but now that she’d said it, a fire had ignited, warming the pit in her stomach.  If she could figure out where they were; she could track them down. And then, well Ginny hadn’t planned that far ahead. Suddenly, the kitchen door banged open revealing a very tired, very frazzled Mr. Weasely.

“Arthur!” Mrs. Weasley rose to her feet, waving her wand igniting the flames under a large pot that Ginny hadn’t noticed resting on the stove.

“Is there any news about - ” 

“We have a guest this evening,” said Mr. Weasley, coldly.

A small cough came from the doorway and goose pimples erupted all over Ginny’s skin, the back of her neck prickled.  She’d heard that cough before. Last time she’d heard it, she’d been trying to stamp on the feet of a Slytherin sixth year.  Harry had been trying to talk to Sirius. Ginny’s eyes narrowed as Dolores Jane Umbridge stepped into their kitchen.

Chapter Text

“Good evening,” Umbridge simpered, glaring around the small kitchen.

Though Ginny Weasley was not the sort of girl who cared what people thought of her and was exactly the type of girl who would kick anyone who said anything rude about her family or her home; she was a little grateful that her mum had at least cleaned up the mounds of crumpets.  She fixed a stoney, unblinking stare back at Umbridge. Ginny hadn’t seen her ex-professor since the end of her fourth year, when Peeves had chased her from the castle with Professor McGonagall’s walking stick and bits of chalk. But Ginny knew Umbridge showing up unannounced at the Burrow could only mean bad news.

“Arthur didn’t tell me, we’d be expecting company,” said Mrs. Weasley coldly.

“Tea?” asked Umbridge, ignoring Mrs. Weasley, “This shouldn’t take too long, but it really is polite to offer a guest tea and refreshments.”

Umbridge moved further inside the house.

“And what exactly isn’t going to take long,” Mrs. Weasley snapped back.

“As you are no doubt aware, Pius Thicknesse was appointed Ministry of Magic after Rufus Scrimgeour’s resignation.”

No, Ginny wasn’t aware of that.  After last night, she just assumed that Tom would appoint himself Minister of Magic and be done with it.  But, Ginny supposed, as she thought it through more carefully, her father probably wouldn’t have gone into work if that’d had been the case.

“And,” continued Umbridge, “in addition to my duties as Senior Undersecretary to the Minister, I’ve also been appointed Head of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission.”

“The what?” asked Mrs. Weasley who’s thin mouth put Professor McGonagall’s to shame.

“The Department of Mysteries recently conducted research which found that magic can only be inherited, meaning that Muggle-borns have been stealing magic.”

Ginny gaped at her.  She wanted to scream and kick.  Muggle-borns stealing magic?  What a completely dimwitted cow.   Mrs. Weasley was holding back her anger just about as well as Ginny was.  Tears were furiously falling from her eyes and her cheeks were darkening by the second.  Mr. Weasley just looked resigned; all the fight gone from his eyes and body.

“Which, naturally, is very distressing.  The Minister has decided that we needed a committee to investigate this, immediately.”

“Hmm,” said Mrs. Weasley, “So then, why are you here, then?”

“Well,” said Umbridge, grinning like a toad, “we’ve got to interview all prospective and returning Hogwarts students and their families.  We don’t want any thievery happening at a place of education, now do we?”

Ginny’s blood was boiling, but she couldn’t find the energy to speak.  How could this have happened? And happened so quickly? But then again, it was the Ministry.  The Ministry who was so quick to turn on Harry, when he dared disrupt the peace by announcing Tom’s return to power.  The Ministry who cared so little about Muggles that her father had to call a broom closet he shared with another man his office.

“Hem-Hem.  Shall we begin?  And, where is your youngest son?  I was under the impression that you still had two children attending Hogwarts this year.”

Umbridge took a seat in Arthur’s chair at their table.

“He’s ill,” said Mr. Weasley, “Spattergroit.  It’s quite nasty, but if you need to interview him, I’ll show you upstairs.”

“Oh, so he’s not traveling with friends?” Umbridge’s voice was turning even more sickly sweet.

“No,” said Mrs. Weasley, “He’s been ill since the beginning of the summer.  Would you like to see him?”

Umbridge seemed to be debating whether or not the Weasleys were bluffing.  Though Tom had infiltrated the Ministry, it seemed that not all employees were privy to the information that had been garnered during the Death Eater’s raid on Bill and Fleur’s wedding the night before.  Ginny continued to glower at Umbridge - daring her to say they were lying. Mrs. Weasley was edging towards the stairs, determined that if Umbridge did demand to see proof of Ron’s illness, she’d be leading the charge.

Yes,” said Umbridge her voice growing sweeter by the second, “Yes, let’s see him then.”

Mrs. Weasley started up the steps taking two at a time.  Umbridge followed as quickly as her short legs would carry her.  Ginny listened and waited for her mother and Umbridge to be safely out of earshot before she turned to her father.

“Dad, why is she really here?  I know we’re not exactly high society, but we are purebloods.  I highly doubt the Malfoys or the Greengrasses have to submit to interviews.”

Mr. Weasley looked nervously up the stairs, “No, they don’t.”

Ginny frowned, “It’s because we’re in the Order, isn’t it?”

Mr. Weasley looked sadly at his daughter, “No.  It’s because we’re blood traitors.”

Ginny thought back to the time she’d first been called a blood traitor.  Ron had been at Hogwarts for two months and hardly ever wrote at all. Ginny couldn't blame him of course - I mean, he was at Hogwarts.  How long had the two of them dreamed about going as Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, and George headed to Hogwarts one by one? Still, she wanted to hear about the adventures he was having, what his classes were like, and of course, Harry Potter.  Mrs. Weasley, in an attempt to cheer Ginny up, took her to Diagon Alley for some early Christmas shopping. Towards the end of their trip, shopping bags full of yarn, Mrs. Weasley and Ginny had stopped at Florean Fortescue's before they flooed home to the Burrow.

Mrs. Weasley ran into some old Hogwarts friends just outside the shop, but Ginny, who was never known for her patience, strode on into the ice-cream parlor and joined the gaggle of young witches and wizards clamoring for ice-cream.  Growing up with six brothers, Ginny never wanted for company, but now that she was the only Weasley left, she was desperate for some companionship other than her mother.

“That’s one of my favorite flavors,” Ginny told the dark haired girl who had just received a large strawberry and peanut-butter cone.

The girl had nodded politely, but was more interested in her ice-cream than Ginny’s attempt at making friends.  But, Ginny’s sense of subtlety had yet to be refined, so she plowed on.

“I’m Ginny Weasley,” she had continued.

“Well, obviously,” the girl had said, “It’s pretty easy to spot a blood traitor like you.”

And with that, the dark-haired girl made her way towards a couple of girls sitting in the corner of the shop, their mothers a few tables away gossiping.

“Daddy,” Ginny had asked later that night, “What’s a blood traitor?”

Mr. Weasley had stiffened at the word and began questioning Ginny where she’d heard that word.  After recounting her story, Mr. Weasley had sighed and looked at his daughter sadly.

“Some wizarding families think they’re better than others, just because they don’t associate with Muggles and Muggle-borns.  But, I want you to know, Ginny, they’re not better. There’s a lot we can learn from Muggles.”

Ginny had heard many more people call her a blood traitor once she got to Hogwarts.  But, she’d never heard anyone say it with a twinge of pride in their voice, like her father just had.  It made her smile, just a little. Umbridge and Mrs. Weasley’s footsteps hadn’t yet returned. Ginny wondered if her mother had jinxed Umbridge or if she was just being more thorough examining the ghoul disguised as Ron.  She hoped for the former.

“What happens if they realize he’s not, Ron?” asked Ginny, looking up at the ceiling.

“We run,” said Mr. Weasley simply, “But there’s no need to worry, Ginny.”

“I’m not,” said Ginny, “But I mean, how long can we keep this up?  He’s not going to Hogwarts and people are bound to keep asking questions…”

“The thing is, Ginny, no one’s really seen any Spattergroit cases in quite some time.  It’s one of those old wizarding ailments. I’m not even sure how long it’s supposed to last.  The only danger for us, really, is if Ron is spotted somewhere with Harry.”

“And what happens then?” asked Ginny quietly, listening for footsteps.

“We run.”

At that moment the soup that Mrs. Weasley had started a fire under earlier began boiling over the edge of the pot - hissing and sizzling ominously. 

“Oh damn,” said Mr. Weasley, pointing his wand towards the large pot and lowering the flame.

“You don’t think she’s murdered Umbridge up there do you?” asked Ginny as Mr. Weasley cleaned up splashes of boiled-over soup, “And she’s trying to hide the body from us?”

Mr. Weasley chuckled, but said nothing, filling a bowl of soup for Ginny and the one for himself.

“Do you know if your mother’s eaten?” he asked before reaching for a third bowl.

“Probably not,” said Ginny, “But we should hide those until the old hag leaves.  I don’t want her joining us for dinner.”

“Mmm, you’re probably right, Ginny,” Mr. Weasley said, reaching for both bowls and dumping the contents back into the pot before turning off the stove completely.

Mr. Weasley made his way back to the table and sat down in his usual chair at the head of the table, pulling off his glasses and rubbing his eyes with his hands.  Ginny sat beside him and waiting for her father to give more details of his day at the Ministry under Tom’s command. Though, Mr. Weasley seemed more content to sigh every few minutes and rub his temples.  Just when Ginny was about to interrupt his private thoughts with more questions, she heard a faint pair of footsteps heading back down the stairs. As the footsteps grew louder, Mr. Weasley looked up and put his glasses back on.  Moments later Mrs. Weasley reappeared in the kitchen, with Umbridge rounding the corner a few moments later, looking out of breath.

“I thought,” said Umbridge in that sickly sweet voice, “That you would have had tea and refreshments ready by now.”

“Well,” said Mr. Weasley, looking straight at Umbridge, “We would have, but we had a few unexpected guests at our son’s wedding last night.  So our supply of tea and biscuits is a bit depleted at the moment.”

Umbridge stared at Mr. Weasley, slack jawed.  Ginny didn’t dare speak. Was this it? Was this the moment that got them all sent to Azkaban, or worse?  Her father not offering Umbridge tea and biscuits?

“I was under the impression you had additional questions,” said Mr. Weasley continued, “With your new title you must be incredibly busy, shall we sit down?”

Ginny saw Umbridge’s left eye twitch slightly, as if Umbridge was battling between the desire to hex Mr. Weasley for his previous comment, and getting out of the Burrow as quickly as possible.  Her eyes darted around the small kitchen, holding warily over anything Ginny supposed Umbridge thought to be beneath Purebloods. As though to move Umbridge along in her thinking, Mrs. Weasley moved to sit down in her usual seat next to her husband.  Ginny fingers twitched towards her wand lest she have to reach for it. Ginny wondered what her mother and father were thinking - did they have an escape plan already in place in case something went wrong? If they had, why hadn’t she been included?  Perhaps, Ginny thought, watching Umbridge’s eyes bulge, their pure blood offered them more privilege than she’d originally though.

“Hem,” said Umbridge, reaching for the chair closest to her, what once was usually Percy’s chair, “Let’s begin then.”

“Now, Miss Weasley, could you present your wand please?” Umbridge simpered as though Ginny were back in one of her useless classes.

“What?”

“Your wand Miss Weasley - may I see it?”

Ginny wanted to answer, ‘no.’  But something told her that wasn't the answer Umbridge was looking for.  In fact, saying ‘no’’ might lead to her being dragged out of her home and possibly tossed in Azkaban.  However, Ginny could practically hear Mad-Eye Moody screaming about proper wand handling in front of a known enemy at her as she toyed with her wand under the table.  If he were alive, he’d be appalled to know Ginny was actually considering handing her wand over. Granted, Moody would have probably cursed Umbridge before she walked through the door, so there was that.

“Is it upstairs dear?  Shall I accompany you to go get it?” asked Umbridge sweetly.

Even though the Death Eaters had ransacked her room only the previous night, Ginny felt even less comfortable leading Umbridge up into her small bedroom.  Wand or bedroom? Ginny frantically looked towards her parents as though they could give her a secret sign, but both of them were glaring at Umbridge, giving nothing away.  Finally, Ginny sighed and stood up, walking her wand over to Umbridge, keeping her hands firmly clenched around it until the last possible moment. If worse came to worst, Ginny knew both her parents had their wands.  And she was confident they could easily overpower Umbridge if push came to shove.

“How did you get this wand?”

“Erm, mum and I bought it at Olivanders when I was 11 years old.”

“Wood?  Core?”

“Yew and unicorn hair.”

“Length?”

“Thirteen and three-quarter inches,” Ginny said watching Umbridge thread her stubby, ring covered fingers around her wand.

“Hmm,” said Umbridge handing Ginny back her wand and reaching for a violently pink handbag and pulling out light pink parchment and a fluffy quill.

Ginny moved back towards her parents as Umbridge began scribbling furiously.

“What house were you sorted into?”

Ginny held back a scoff.  Like Umbridge didn’t know that all Weasleys are in Gryffindor, like she didn’t remember her brief time as Headmistress.

“Gryffindor.”

“And blood status?”

“Pureblood,” said Ginny quickly, loathing herself for even answering the question.

“Mother’s family?”

“Prewett,” answered Mrs. Weasley, “And her paternal grandmother was a Black.”

Umbridge pursed her lips before scribbling on her parchment.  As though it hurt to hear it confirmed that the Weasleys were actually Purebloods.

“Harry Potter has spent a lot of time in this house, hasn’t he.”

Ginny’s heart sank.  She should have known the Death Eaters questions wouldn’t be the end of it.

“Yes,” said Mrs. Weasley, “He’s come round for school holidays.  He’s a good friend of my youngest son.”

“But not this summer?” asked Umbridge sweetly.

“No,” said Mrs. Weasley, “Ron’s been ill, hasn’t he.”

“But have you had any correspondence with him?  Since the term ended?” Umbridge’s voice was leaking sugar.

“I was under the impression,” said Mr. Weasley, “That this was an interview that had to be conducted in order for our youngest to attend Hogwarts.  Not an inquisition about Harry Potter.”

Umbridge’s eyes narrowed, but her toothache inducing voice stayed the same, “Yes.  Miss Weasley,” her eyes swiveled back towards Ginny, “You’re dating Mr. Potter, correct?”

“I fail to see what that has to do with me attending Hogwarts,” snapped Ginny, “And no.  We’re not dating. He dumped me at the end of term.”

Ginny had had enough.  It was one thing for the Death Eaters to get childish gossip from Malfoy in order to get to Harry.  It was quite another for a ministry official to be spouting the same information a day later. Even after Ginny had tried her hardest to make everyone believe that she and Harry were through, that she hated him.  They must believe her in some capacity. If they believed otherwise, she’d have been stolen away already; probably locked up wherever they kept the rest of the witches and wizards who’d already gone missing, assuming they were still alive.

“How terrible,” said Umbridge, though her voice indicated it was anything but, “Boys that age are quite awful.  Have you heard from him since?”

“No,” Ginny said firmly, “Like I said, we broke up.”

“But you know how boys are,” Umbridge simpered.

Ginny resisted rolling her eyes, what did Umbridge know about teenage boys other than torturing them with a nasty quill.  Instead, she stared right back at Umbridge, her brown eyes boring into Umbridge’s beady ones. Finally, Umbridge’s gaze returned to her parchment.

“Very well.  What subjects were you planning on taking this year?”

The mundane nature of the question startled Ginny, though she tried not to show it, “Erm, Charms, Transfiguration, Ancient Runes, Muggle Studies, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Potions.”

Umbridge began scribbling, but didn’t comment on Ginny’s choices. Ginny had received her OWL results a few days before Harry’s birthday, but between Mad-Eye’s death, the wedding, and the impending sense of doom since Dumbledore’s death - there hadn’t been as much fanfare as there had been the year before with Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s OWL results.  She’d done well. Though Ginny had always been a good student, she’d been less than impressed by her study tactics the previous spring. Whenever she thought about her E in Muggle Studies and Charms, her mind often wandered back to those happy afternoons spent by the lake with a certain dark-haired, green-eyed wizard. Finally, with a sharp flourish of her quill, Umbridge reached back into her bag and retrieved a familiar looking envelope that read:

 

Miss Ginevra Molly Weasley

The First Floor Bedroom

The Burrow

Ottery St. Catchpole

Devon

 

“All the necessary information for the start of term is in your letter,” Umbridge said getting to her feet, “Muggle studies is now a mandatory class, which is reflected in your book list.  Though, I suppose that makes no difference for you,” Umbridge’s eyes lingered on Mr. Weasley.

And with a swish of her cloak, Umbridge headed out the kitchen door, through the back garden, and out of sight.  It was as though the house let out a sigh of relief as Mrs. Weasley started filling bowls with hot soup.

“That was a bit pointless,” said Ginny, as her mother placed a steaming bowl of soup in front of her with a  few slices of bread.

“Mmm,” said Mrs. Weasley, “I suppose it depends on what the point was.”

“Well it can’t have been to get any information,” sighed Ginny, ripping off a piece of bread, “The Death Eaters already knew the stuff about Harry.”

“Maybe they thought we’d give up more information to a Ministry official,” said Mrs. Weasley pursing her lips and settling down at the table, “Like we’d ever say anything that cow.”

“Mum!” 

“Like you weren’t thinking the same thing, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said tucking into her soup, “What does your letter say?”

Ginny glanced over at the letter she’d abandoned after Umbridge had left.  She’d been afraid to open it. What if it wasn’t McGonagall writing as Deputy Headmistress?  What kind of horrors did her school letter contain? Ultimately, Ginny’s curiosity won out over her fear as she set aside her soup spoon and tore into her letter.

A quick glance over the familiar green writing gave away no details.  McGonagall was still writing to her as the Deputy Headmistress. Term still started on September 1st and they still left from Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station.  Her book list looked normal - aside from the two notes that the DADA and Muggle Studies books would be provided at Hogwarts. The only thing that made Ginny’s stomach drop a little was the lack of a Quidditch Captain’s badge.  Granted, the badge would still be Harry’s, but McGonagall must know that he wasn’t coming back. That could only mean she passed it along to someone else, probably Dean, which annoyed Ginny to no end, seeing as he only got into Quidditch because of her.

But that thought flew quickly from Ginny’s mind, Dean would probably go on the run, if he wasn’t already running.  A lot of the Muggle-born students had been talking about it on the train back home. With Dumbledore gone, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

“Well,” said Mrs. Weasley, “what does your letter say?

Ginny completely forgot her mum had asked her a question.

“Same as usual,” she said before returning back to her soup.

As her spoon clattered against the bowl, Ginny asked herself, not for the first time, nor the last - would any of them stand a chance?

Chapter Text

The next couple of days passed without incident and Ginny Weasley started to remember how lonely it was being an only child.  The Burrow, usually full of explosions and yells, creaked and whined as though it was rebelling against the lack of people. Ginny found it incredibly difficult to fall asleep what with the pipes clanking and the ghoul dressed in Ron’s pajamas moaning.  Ginny thought Quidditch might have been a good distraction and an excellent way to tire her out before bed, but her mum hadn’t let up on the ‘no going out to the orchard’ rule. Instead, Mrs. Weasley had recruited her to start on the Christmas jumpers.

“What colour would you like this year, dear?” asked Mrs. Weasley, midway through knitting Ron’s usual maroon jumper, “Pink? Marigold? Periwinkle?”

“Whatever,” said Ginny, staring down at Charlie’s barely started bright orange jumper, “Are you going to be make Fleur one this year, mum?”

Mrs. Weasley nodded and gestured to some silvery-blue yarn nestled in with the usual colours, “Of course, she’s family.”

“And what about…” Ginny trailed off, avoiding Harry’s name, just as the whole family had been since Umbridge paid her visit.

Mrs. Weasley’s eyes darted to the skein of emerald green yarn, “I think this green might look nice on you Ginny.”

“Yeah,” she said, “I don’t think I have a jumper in that colour yet.

The two women continued knitting in silence, Mrs. Weasley knitting much faster, a result of her skill and a wee bit of magical assistance.  Ginny wondered if she’d be able to finish even one jumper that summer.

Maybe I’ll take some yarn with me to Hogwarts and help mum out, Ginny thought before snorting.  

Ginny Weasley excelled at a lot of things, but much to her mother’s dismay, she was not a knitter.  Besides, Ginny imagined she’d be awfully busy once she was back at Hogwarts, what with her more challenging classes and Quidditch (assuming she made the team again).  Then again, there were certain distractions from the previous year that wouldn’t be around. Ginny snorted again.

“Have you given any thought to what you’d want to do for your birthday?”

Ginny looked up, startled.  With all the fanfare leading up to the wedding, the wedding itself, and the disastrous aftermath, she’d completely forgotten her birthday.  Not that it really mattered She was only turning sixteen - a perfectly unremarkable age. Besides, the atmosphere that had settled amongst the Weasley family as well as the Wizarding World at large was not conducive for birthdays.

“Is it okay if we just skip it this year?”

Mrs. Weasley’s knitting needles stopped their clacking and drifted lazily back down onto the sofa as she stood up and crossed over to Ginny, seated on the other sofa.  Ginny lowered her needles as well.

“I know what you’re going to say.  That we should still celebrate, even with this war going on,” Ginny took a deep breath, “but, this is different than the wedding.”

“Your birthday is just as important as Bill’s wedding, Ginny.”

Ginny bit back a retort.  Of course her birthday was just as important as the wedding.  Before the wedding, she’d actually been looking forward to her birthday.  After her plan to give Harry his birthday present completely backfired, she decided that her birthday would be the perfect opportunity to try again.  But barely twenty-four hours later, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were gone, as was Ginny’s excitement for her birthday. Ginny knew it was a bit childish, but what was a birthday without all the people you loved?  Sure, she still had her mum and dad, and the twins would probably stop by. But Charlie was back in Romania and Bill was still on his honeymoon. The woes of summer birthdays. Perhaps if she was back at Hogwarts, she might have been more keen on the fanfare.  But, likely not. Not even all the magic at Hogwarts could fill the Harry shaped hole in the pit of her stomach.  

But of course, she could never tell her mum any of this.  Ginny turned her attention back to her knitting and realized she’d dropped a stitch.  She sighed and began pulling the lost stitch up the ladder rungs, a new stitch being recreated at each row.  Satisfied with her repair job, Ginny kept her eyes lowered, focused on the loud orange rather than her mum’s pointed stare.

“Ginny?”

Ginny continued to stare at Charlie’s less than half-formed sweater.  She didn’t want to break, but she knew her mum would never give it up, especially if Ginny didn’t give her a satisfactory why.

“It can be small.  I can invite Remus and Tonks.  Maybe you could write to Luna?”

Ginny found herself nodding, deciding not to prolong the inevitable.

“Yeah, alright.  But, don’t go to too much trouble, mum.  Sixteen’s not really that important.”

Ginny made good on her promise to her mum and wrote to Luna that night, inviting her to a birthday dinner in a week’s time.  She wanted to ask if they’d had any trouble with Deatheaters since the wedding or if Umbridge had also paid them a visit, but knew it was too risky to put anything more mundane than an invitation in her letter.  As she rolled up the parchment, Ginny found herself thinking even that might be too much information. If only her mum would let her take a stroll to Luna’s house so that she could invite her in person. But, if the orchard was out of bounds, clearly the Lovegoods’ was as well.  She tied her letter to Pigwidgeon, who didn’t seem at all concerned about Ron’s whereabouts. Still, Ginny vowed to give him a few extra owl treats when he returned. 

Luna’s response was waiting for Ginny at breakfast.  Ginny smiled at the doodles of magical creatures that decorated the margins of the parchment.

“Luna’s coming, mum,” Ginny said as Mrs. Weasley passed over way too many sausages for Ginny to consume on her own.

“Oh good, so that’s me, your father, the twins, Tonks, and Luna.”

“No Lupin?” asked Ginny, spearing a sausage with her fork, “The moon’s not full until the seventeenth.”

Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips.

“Mum?”

“Now, I don’t want you saying anything, but Remus and Tonks are going to have a baby.”

“Oh!” Ginny’s face broke into a smile that she didn’t know still existed.

“Obviously it’s not an ideal time, but I suppose you and Ron didn’t come at an ideal time either,” Mrs. Weasley said bustling over with some toast.

“Still,” said Ginny reaching for the marmalade, “it’s sort of hopeful isn’t it?  New life and all that. But, what does that have to do with Lupin not coming?”

Mrs. Weasley sighed and sat down in the chair next to Ginny, “Remus is gone.”

“What do you mean?  Like on a…” Ginny lowered her voice, “mission?”

“No.  Can I get you any tea, Ginny?”

“Then what...you can’t mean he’s run off?” Ginny’s surprising smile had turned sour.

“He’s figuring a few things out,” said Mrs. Weasley bustling over to the kettle.

` “What the hell is that supposed to mean? Isn’t anyone looking for him?”

Mrs. Weasley flicked her wrist and a flame ignited under their old kettle, “Sometimes we have to lose our way for a little while to know where we’re supposed to be.”

“Right,” said Ginny glowering at her toast, “Still, someone should still go after him or something.”

Lupin had been her favorite DADA professor.  Lockhart was a joke, so Ginny was told. Her opinions of Lockhart were half formed from murky memories and classmates’ anecdotes.  She supposed she could see the appeal of Moody as a professor (polyjuice potion notwithstanding), but she had always felt he spent more time making the world seem scary than actually helping them prepare.  But, maybe that’s just because she was a third year. Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s stories always made it seem like he was overpreparing them. Umbridge was a joke and a hindrance. And Snape, well, Ginny wasn’t going to pretend he wasn’t a good professor, but he was a complete toerag.  Meanwhile, though Ginny hadn’t known it at the time, Lupin was exactly what she needed after Tom Riddle spent a year cohabitating with her. His classes made Ginny feel capable for the first time in a long time. And though she was only a second year, Lupin made her feel that if she ever met Tom Riddle again, she’d be ready to fight back.

“Please don’t tell Tonks you know about any of this.  And don’t tell your father, he doesn’t need anything more on his plate,” Mrs. Wealsey said as Ginny pushed the remainder of her breakfast away, her appetite suddenly lost.

The days leading up to Ginny’s birthday blended into a custard of yarn, Prophet propaganda, and an abundance of her mother’s cooking.  Since being given the go ahead to plan a small gathering for Ginny’s sixteenth birthday, Mrs. Weasley had been experimenting with various dishes and thrusting them upon Ginny, Mr. Weasley, and the twins whenever they dropped by for dinner.  Ginny, meanwhile, had been combing The Daily Prophet for any mention of Harry, Ron, or Hermione’s whereabouts.  Some days she didn’t know why she bothered looking past the front page; if Harry was captured or even seen, the Prophet would assuredly plaster his face across the front page, along with a cringeworthy pun on his name.  

But still, it was somewhat comforting to see advertisements for dress robes and international Quidditch scores dispersed between articles about The Muggleborn Registration Commission and reports from the office of Minister Thicknesse.  It was a reminder that the world had yet to completely imploded. Each afternoon as she finished the Prophet , Ginny felt a twinge of guilt for being disappointed at the lack of Harry news. For if anything about Harry was reported in the Prophet , it could only mean terrible things.  No news was good news.

During her daily knitting with her mother, Ginny would often find herself cringing at the piss poor birthday present she’d tried to give Harry.  Sure, her original idea had seemed cute and romantic at the time, but now, it just seemed terribly impractical. She could have figured out an indiscreet way for her to communicate with the trio while they were off doing what they could to take down Tom.  She was shocked Hermione hadn’t thought of it, though maybe she had and banished the thought before it could develop into a fully formed thought. If they were going off the grid, Hermione wasn’t one to do anything halfway.

The morning of August 11th brought angry grey clouds bursting to let their rain droplets torrent down.  Ginny supposed her mum had pulled out all the stops for her birthday breakfast, like she did every year, but she couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed.  Instead, she played little games in her head: when that shadow moved, she’d get up; when the stairs creaked, she’d get up; when the rain started to fall, she’d get up.  When her mum knocked on her door at eleven o’clock, Ginny knew she’d lost.

“Happy Birthday, dear!  The twins are closing the shop after lunch, so they’ll be round later this afternoon, and your father’s going to try to get home early from work.”

Mrs. Weasley busied herself opening Ginny’s curtains, though no light entered the room when she did.

“I thought we’d take a break from the Christmas jumpers today; any thoughts on what you’d like to do?”

Ginny sat up and pondered whether it was worth it to ask her mum if she could fly out in the orchard with Fred and George with the weather looking this grim.

“Not really.”

“Well why don’t you come downstairs for some breakfast.  And I believe there’s a few presents waiting for you downstairs,” Mrs. Weasley winked as she exited Ginny’s room.

Ginny knew her mum was trying to make it feel like any other birthday, but the absence of her brother, her friend, and her something more still lingered like an unwelcome colleague.  She wasn’t surprised; she’d been mentally preparing for this hollowness the days leading up. But her birthday was now here and she felt even worse than she had anticipated. Ginny felt bad that she felt this bad.  She was a Pureblood; she didn’t have to go into hiding like Dean or Hermione. She wasn’t being tortured like the Muggles her father was trying so hard to protect. It seemed silly to be upset that her ex-boyfriend wouldn’t be there for her birthday.  And yet, she was, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Knowing if she wasn’t downstairs soon her mum would  her way right back up; Ginny rolled out of bed and wrapped herself in her dressing gown.  She practiced smiling in the mirror, but her eyes couldn’t hide the storm brewing in her head.  Unsatisfied, she headed downstairs and nestled herself in her rickety kitchen chair as her mum laid out enough food to rival a Hogwarts feast.  Ginny absently reached for some eggs as her mum bustled out of the room, only to return moments later with a few packages.

“Arrived this morning,” Mrs. Weasley said beaming, “See, sixteen is special.”

Ginny reached for the first package, a poorly wrapped lump that could only be from Charlie.  Still, the new chaser’s gloves that tumbled out of the brown wrapping were a welcome surprise.  Fleur had obviously picked out and wrapped the gift from her and Bill - an intricately designed silver hairbrush that whistled when brushing out knots.  Demelza Robins, who Ginny had always liked, but had only gotten close to this past year, had sent her a box of chocolate frogs and a letter asking if she’d gotten a captain’s badge with her Hogwarts letter.  She’d obviously inferred from the Prophet ’s continuous requests for information on his warrabouts that Harry probably wasn’t coming back to Hogwarts.  She saved her mum and dad’s present for last: a brand new Harpies jersey with Gwenog Jones’ name and number emblazoned on the back.

“Thanks, mum,” Ginny said, managing a real smile, “This is great.”

“The twins are bringing their gift later and I’m sure Percy’s just delayed in sending his.”

Ginny nodded, but knew she wouldn’t be getting anything from Percy.  She hadn’t the past two birthdays and Christmases. She felt silly though, wishing Ron would have sent her something; even a scrap of parchment telling her everyone was alright.  She began gathering the torn wrappings when Mrs. Weasley suddenly gasped. With speed Ginny didn’t know her mum was capable of, she tore up the steps.

“Mum?” said Ginny alarmed, “Is everything all right?”

But Mrs. Weasley was already too far up the steps to hear her.  So, Ginny stayed put at the breakfast table, attacking her sausages until Mrs. Weasley stumbled back into the kitchen with a pristinely wrapped package.

“I completely forgot about this one,” Mrs. Weasley said, handing the present to Ginny.

“Mum, you didn’t have to get me two gifts.”

“Who said this was from me?” Mrs. Weasley said, before beginning to hum some Celestina Warbeck tune.

Intrigued, Ginny looked for a card, but there was nothing between the pretty sapphire ribbon and sky blue wrappings.  For a brief moment, Ginny wondered if it was safe. But, looking over at her beaming mother, Ginny knew her mum wouldn’t have handed her anything she thought to be dangerous.  Ginny wished she was one of those girls that took the time to preserve beautiful wrappings, but her curiosity and impatience won out over that small desire. She tore through the wrappings and stared down at The Standard Book of Spells Grade 6.  Ginny flipped open to the first page, where she was met with the table of contents, outlining the types of spells she’d be learning that year.  She continued to flip through the pages, everything looking quite ordinary and not giving Ginny any sort of clue as to who had given her a perfectly ordinary textbook.  She looked up at her mum, confused.

“Specialis Revelio,” said Mrs. Weasley, as she waved her wand over the textbook.

Instantly, the cover began to change - morphing from Ginny’s Charms textbook to a book called The Advanced Guide to the Detection, Defense, and Dismantling of the Dark Arts.   It was a foreboding cover, nothing quite like any DADA textbook Ginny had ever had before.  But, it looked familiar. She just couldn’t quite place it.

“What is this?” asked Ginny.

“Open it.”

Ginny hesitantly reached for her recently untransfigured book and flipped once more to the table of contents.  This time, on the blank page next to the table of contents, Hermione Granger’s familiar handwriting smiled back up at her.

Dear Ginny,

If you’re reading this, then we’ve already gone.  Don’t bother asking where we’ve gone, because I’m not telling.  Also, I don’t actually know where we are, seeing as I’m writing to you on July 27th.  But I assure you that we’re safe, so you best stay put.

Anyway, I figured you’d be quite cross with us missing your birthday, so I thought I’d leave you a little something behind.  I’m not quite sure how I’ll be leaving this for you, seeing as your mum is quite keen on pretending Harry, Ron, and I are going back to Hogwarts with you and probably won’t want to help, but I’m sure I’ll manage.

I’m sorry this present isn’t new.  I snuck back into the old DA room before the end of term and grabbed a few books.  I figured this one might be of more use to you than to us. I don’t think any of us really knows what’s coming, not even Harry.  Actually, if I’m being honest, especially not Harry. He’ll kill me for saying this, but I think it’s got to be him at the end. And we have to support him in any way we can.  Yes, even when you’re ‘stuck at Hogwarts’ as you put it yesterday.

Anyway, I’ve bewitched this book to look like your Charms textbook.  To make it look like the Defense book, the incantation is specialis revelio.  To make it look like the Charms textbook, specialis occultatio.  I hope you find good use for this book in the upcoming year.

Love,

Hermione

P.S. Harry and Ron send their love as well.

“I found it in the washing the day after they’d left.  I suppose she thought that would be the last place they’d look,” said Mrs. Weasley, who’d been watching Ginny read.

Ginny nodded, “She’s clever.  Did you read her letter to me?”

Mrs Weasley smiled, “No, she left me my own letter.  Now, what would you like to do today?”

Ginny smirked down at her new book, “I suppose it would be nice to get a headstart on my coursework.”

“Yes,” nodded Mrs. Weasley approvingly as she moved towards the sink to begin the clean-up, “Best get some studying done before the twins arrive.”

Ginny felt rather like Harry with his Potions book last year, reading up in her room.  It was a fascinating textbook, not like anything a teacher had ever assigned. It seemed like something more appropriate for someone starting Auror training with the elaborate spells and incredibly difficult potions used to detect dark magic in the first few chapters.  Still, Ginny began to wonder why they’d never been taught this in school. The first few chapters were infinitely more useful than the embarrassing pamphlets the Ministry had sent last summer. When she heard Fred and George arrive in the back garden, laden with her school things, she wistfully tucked her book in her trunk.  She didn’t expect another Death Eater raid in the next few weeks, so she figured it was safe to forgo the book’s disguise until she returned to school.

The rest of the afternoon passed by in a blur of Gobstones, Exploding Snap, and Wizard’s Chess.  Though Ginny was loathe to admit it, she did miss Ron’s eye for strategy and penchant for winning.  The twins never had the patience for chess the way Ron did, so the games were pitifully short and Ginny often won too easily.  Bucking the trend, her father arrived home from work early, still as worn and tired as he’d been the past couple of weeks, well years really.  Luna arrived shortly thereafter, looking as though she’d wandered in by accident.

“Happy Birthday, Ginny,” she said, handing Ginny an interesting looking plant with little orange fruits growing upside down, “A clipping from our Dirigible bush.”

“Thanks Luna,” Ginny smiled, and moved to take her new plant upstairs, not having the heart to tell her that she’d decided not to continue with Herbology and hadn’t the faintest idea how to take care of the odd little bush.

By the time Ginny came back downstairs, Tonks and her mother, Andromeda, had arrived.

“Sorry for gatecrashing, Molly,” Mrs. Tonks was saying, pulling off her cloak, “But, I didn’t want Nymphadora traveling alone.”

Mrs. Weasley waved her hands as though beating away an annoying gnat, “Noneness, Andromeda.  You’re always welcome here. The more the merrier. Fred, would you mind conjuring up an extra place setting?”

With a flick of his wand, a goblet, a plate, and a new set of cutlery flew towards the already set table in the kitchen and positioned themselves at Charlie’s old seat.  

“But where’s Ted?” asked Mrs. Weasley.

“He’s gone underground,” whispered Mrs. Tonks, “The Muggle-born registration committee finally came knocking on our door this week.  They must be done with all the Hogwarts kids. Luckily Ted wasn’t home, but I packed him a bag and sent him off as soon as he returned.”

Tonks grimaced at her mother.  She was not as radiant as she’d looked at Bill and Fleur’s wedding; her eyes were decorated with dark circles and her smile when she saw Ginny, though genuine, was not as wide as it normally was.  Still, she most definitely had that ‘glow’ that Ginny’s mum went on about pregnant witches having.

“Wotcha, Ginny.  This is my mum, I don’t believe you’ve met?”

“No,” said Ginny, briefly shocked at how similar Andromeda Tonks looked like her sister Bellatrix Lestrange, “It’s lovely to meet you, Mrs. Tonks.  So happy you could come.”

“Happy Birthday, Ginny,” Mrs. Tonks smiled, “This is from both of us.”

Mrs. Tonks handed Ginny a small, daintily wrapped package that she’d absolutely had no help from Tonks wrapping.

“Thank you,” said Ginny.

“Go on, open it up,” said Mrs. Tonks.

Ginny peeled back the wrapping to reveal a delicate pair of gold earrings, shaped like lions.  She gaped up at Mrs. Tonks, wondering if it was difficult for the Slytherin to willingly purchase something so Gryffindor.

“We figured,” said Tonks, “that we could all use a little more courage right now, yeah?”

“Yeah,” said Ginny, staring at the earrings.

“Andromeda, these are much too nice!” Mrs. Weasley said, also looking at the earrings with the same sense of awe.

“I’m gatecrashing, Molly.  It’s the least we could do.  Besides,” Mrs. Tonks said winking at Ginny, “Sixteen is still an age to be celebrated, particularly in these times.”

“Plus, I’ve got a nice little cushion from when I was working and living at my parent’s place,” said Tonks.

“Let me take these upstairs for you, Ginny,” Mrs. Weasley said, reaching for the earrings.

“No,” Ginny yelped as she batted away her mother’s arms.  “I want to wear them,” said Ginny, pulling out her simple, silver studs and replacing them with the gold lions.

Mrs. Weasley had pulled out all the stops for Ginny’s birthday dinner: an incredibly plump roast chicken, mountains of baked potatoes, bowls of buttery green beans, and not to mention the massive Eton mess that Ginny thought could feed a party three times the size.  Spirits were high that evening, and at moments, Ginny forgot they were in the middle of a war. But it was the little things that made her remember the war that was waging on all around her - a habit-formed wink at an absent Harry or a whispered conversation between her father and George.  Her brief bliss would be swallowed up by grief and immense guilt. How dare she be happy. Muggle-borns were fleeing their homes, unable to return to work or to school. Tonks was going to have a baby without a husband or father around. And Harry was out there risking his life. Ginny was just at home,doing...nothing.

After dinner, Tonks and her mother made to depart.

“Thank you for everything Molly,” said Tonks hugging Mrs. Weasley good-bye.

“Are you sure you both wouldn’t like to stay?”

“No,” said Tonks sadly, “I think it’s best that one of us is always home, you know, just in case…” Tonks trailed off as Mrs. Tonk handed her her cloak.

The small party moved to the sitting room once dinner was finished.  Mrs. Weasley fiddled with the wireless for something other than Ministry propaganda, but just ended up shutting it off in the end.

“Perhaps I should get the old gramophone from the attic,” mused Mrs. Weasley, glaring at the silent wireless.

“I’ll go,” said Mr. Weasley already getting to his feet, “If not for now, we’ll want it another night.”

“But how will people get their news?” asked Ginny, “There’s got to be a way to make sure people have some hope that we’re still fighting.”

Fred and George exchanged a quick glance, but before anyone could answer Ginny’s question, there was a sudden banging at the backdoor.  Ginny leapt to her feet and drew her wand, Fred and George mirroring her. Was this how it was going to be? Would there now be bi-weekly Death Eater attacks on their home?  Mrs. Weasley inched towards the kitchen, putting herself between the impending threat and her children, her wand raised high. The intruder banged on the door again, this time harder.  Fred and George exchanged another glance and they too started to move towards the kitchen. The door handle rattled

“Get upstairs,” whispered Mrs. Weasley.

Ginny, knowing full well, that command was for her, ignored it and instead followed Fred and George.  Then, there was a loud click and the door was magically unlocked. Ginny rushed forward, determined to play her part, but Mrs. Weasley stepped directly in front of her blocking her path.  The door creaked open, but Ginny couldn’t see past her mother into the kitchen.

“Hello?” a familiar voice rang out, “Molly?  Arthur?”

Though Ginny couldn’t see who it was, she could see her mother’s body tense.  Ginny tried to peer into the kitchen, to confirm her hunch as to whom had just stepped into their kitchen.  Ginny heard the door shut and footsteps headed towards the sitting room. Neither, Fred, George, nor her mother lowered their wands.  Luna, who hadn’t even stood up from her perch, finally looked up from her issue of The Quibbler at the sound of footsteps getting closer.  Though she made no attempts to reach for her wand, tucked lazily behind one ear.

When the footsteps stopped, Mrs. Weasley marched forward, wand still raised and Ginny finally saw Remus Lupin stepping into the sitting room hands raised in the air, as though in mock surrender.  Ginny gazed towards her mother, open mouthed, but did not lower her wand. 

“What did I say to you during the cake cutting at Bill and Fleur’s wedding?” Mrs. Weasley asked sharply.

“She’s carrying low,” Lupin said, “Where is she?  She and Andromeda weren’t at home, so I came straight here.”

“You just missed her,” snapped Mrs. Weasley.

Lupin made to turn on his heels, but Mrs. Weasley caught his arm.

“How dare you.  She is your wife, Remus.  And you disappeared for close to a fortnight, no note, no explanation.”

“I know,” said Lupin, “Which is why I need to get back to her.”

“Oh no you don’t,” said Mrs. Weasley, surprising Ginny, certainly her mum wanted Lupin and Tonks back together, “It’s late.  Now is not the time for reunions. You’ll stay the night and go back in the morning. And then you’ll beg Tonks to forgive you.  You’ve put her through hell, more than once. She loves you, but at some point, probably soon, she’ll have to draw the line.”

Remus sighed. Mrs. Weasley let go of his arm and bustled into the kitchen.

“Can I heat you up some chicken, Remus?  What about a baked potato?”

Remus nodded blindly and moved over to the sofa next to Ginny, knowing full well that Mrs. Weasley wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Hello, Professor Lupin,” said Luna, completely untroubled by Lupin and Mrs. Weasley’s charged exchange.

“Hi Luna,” said Lupin, “You know, I’m not your professor anymore…”

“Yes, but you’re supposed to be,” said Luna as though that settled the matter.

Ginny held in a chortle, but kept her eyes narrowed and trained on Lupin, expecting him to make a break for it.  She understood her mother’s reasoning, but she also knew what it was like to miss someone you loved.

“Happy Birthday, Ginny,” said Lupin, “Sorry to gatecrash your party.”

“It’s fine,” said Ginny, “It’s nearly over anyway.”

“I have some news,” said Lupin, lowering his voice, “but you mustn’t tell your parents or…” 

Lupins eyes trailed over to Fred and George who’d begun tinkering with the wireless after Mrs. Weasley had accosted Lupin.

“What is it?” asked Ginny, who hadn’t the faintest idea what kind of news Lupin would have for her.

“I saw them.  About a week ago.”

“Who…”

And then it clicked.

“You saw them?” gasped Ginny, “Where?  Are they alright? What were they doing?”

“They’re alright, and I’m not going to tell you.”

“Why not?” asked Ginny indignantly, “I want to see them!  I want to help them.”

Lupin chuckled, “You’ll help them by not knowing anything.”

Ginny knew Lupin was right.  It was best that she didn’t know the specifics of where Harry, Ron, and Hermione were or what they were up to.  She wondered how Lupin had found them? Or, perhaps, they found Lupin while on an adventure of their own. Had Lupin told them about how he’d left Tonks, or had he made up a story that he was on a mission for the Order?  She could only imagine how Harry felt. She couldn’t help but remember Harry’s wistful expression whenever she’d told childhood stories and his sarcastic comments about the Dursleys. Harry couldn’t have been happy if Lupin had told him he’d left his wife and unborn child.

But still, they were alive.  Harry was alive. And that was the best birthday present Ginny could have ever hoped for.

Chapter Text

The rest of August flew by for Ginny Weasley in a frenzy of Daily Prophet articles, hushed whispers, and skeins of yarn.  Every day her father brought news of another Muggle-born friend of the family that had to go into hiding or, even worse, had been summoned for questioning at the Ministry and hadn’t returned since.

“But where are they going?” Mrs. Weasley had whispered to her husband, the night before Ginny was set to return to Hogwarts.

“Azkaban, probably,” Mr. Weasley sighed.

Ginny, whose parents thought she was asleep, but was actually listening from the stairs, shuddered thinking back to the time her father had to go to Azkaban to interrogate a prisoner regarding a bewitched Muggle artifact.  He hadn’t been right for days after.

The morning of September the first dawned brisk and bright.  But, when Ginny’s eyes popped open at five in the morning, the usual excitement she felt before boarding the Hogwarts Express was noticeably absent.  Instead, waves of anxiety and droplets of fear sat on her heart. No matter how many breaths she took, no matter how many times she tried to clear her head, sleep decided not to revisit Ginny.  After a couple of hours tossing and turning, Ginny eventually gave into waking and began to dress for her trip on the Hogwarts Express. For the first time, she’d be getting on the train completely alone.  Only her father was accompanying her to the station on his way to work; Mrs. Weasley would remain home to keep watch.

Breakfast was a subdued affair and for the first time, Mr. Weasley and Ginny began their journey to King’s Cross Station early.  The father-daughter pair marched out to the garden; Ginny dragging her trunk behind her and Arnold the Pygmy Puff riding on her shoulder.  Just outside of the garden gate, Mr. Weasley waved his wand, making Ginny’s trunk feather light and seized Ginny’s free hand. The duo turned on the spot and Disapperated as Mrs. Weasley watched tearfully from the kitchen window.

Ginny and her father appeared moments later in a deserted alleyway five minutes away from the station.  Ginny checked on Arnold, still firmly attached to her shoulder, though a little cross-eyed. After Mr. Weasley checked his watch, he motioned for Ginny to follow and exited the alleyway. 

“I will say,” said Mr. Weasley, as he and Ginny joined the commuters filing into King’s Cross, “It’s much easier doing this with just one of you.”

Mr. Weasley secured a trolley for Ginny’s trunk and the two of them headed towards Platforms 9 and 10.

“Dad?” asked Ginny, staring absently at the commuters, “Do the Muggles know about Tom?”

“Well, Scrimgeour told the Muggle Prime Minister last year he was back,” said Mr. Weasley scratching his head.

“But, do these Muggles know?” Ginny gestured around at the Muggles queuing near Platform 7.

“They’re passing some things off as weather and others as everyday crime.  The way Muggles can come up with explanations that avoid magic…” Mr. Weasley trailed off wistfully.

“But how will they defend themselves?”

“Even if they knew,” said Mr. Weasley sadly, “There’s really nothing they can do.”

Ginny looked back at the Muggles beginning to board the train on Platform 7, wondering what it would be like if she didn’t know who Tom Riddle was or what he was up to.  Was it better to travel through life not knowing the danger lurking around the corner? They could be murdered by Death Eaters, have their houses ripped up by giants, or even worse, be kissed by a Dementor; yet, they boarded the train without a care in the world.

Mr. Weasley and Ginny reached the barrier separating Platforms 9 and 10.  The two exchanged a look, before Mr. Weasley squeezed his daughter’s hand.

“I’ll be right behind you.”

Ginny took off at a run towards the barrier and the Muggle world disappeared in an instant.  Before Ginny could get her bearings, her father appeared right beside her. Platform 9 ¾ looked different.  Though the steaming scarlett engine was right where it should be, the hustle and bustle seemed to have lessened; the magic Ginny associated with returning to Hogwarts, all but gone.  Everyone moved quickly and quietly around the Platform; parents seemed to be either ushering their children onto the train or holding onto them with a vice-like grip.

And then there were the two hulking men standing on either side of a pillar a few feet away, wearing dark cloaks.  Ginny’s fingers gripped tighter around the trolley. Mr. Weasley’s eyes flashed recognition and he nodded towards the two men.

“Weasley.”

“Dawlish.  Williamson.”

The man called Williamson turned towards Ginny, pulling out a scroll of parchment.

“Name?”

“Ginny Weasley.”

Williamson consulted his parchment, “I don’t have a Ginny.  I’ve got a Ginevra.”

“That’s her,” said Mr. Weasley, his hand moving towards Ginny’s shoulder that wasn’t being used as a perch for Arnold.

“Don’t you have another Hogwarts-aged one, Weasley?” asked Dawlish, as Williamson moved towards Ginny with a probity probe.

“Yes,” said Mr. Weasley stiffly, “My son, Ronald, but he’s at home, ill.”

Williamson began running his secrecy sensor over Ginny.

“Has that been confirmed?” asked Dawlish, a little too excited.

“Yes,” said Mr. Weasely, frostily.

Satisfied with Ginny’s lack of dangerous objects on her person, he moved to her trunk.

“I wasn’t talking to you, Weasley.  Williamson - check on Ronald Weasley, on your list there.”

Williamson paused his search of Ginny’s trunk with the probity and consulted his list, “Yes, he’s here - confirmed ill and given a waiver to miss term.”

Dawlish looked annoyed, but Williamson slipped his parchment back into his robes and continued to search Ginny’s trunk.  A moment later, he stood up.

“She’s all set,” said Williamson, “Move along.”

Ginny and Mr. Weasley moved further down the platform and noticed more men and women wearing identical dark robes that matched Dawlish and Williamson’s.  All of them looked surly and scanned the crowd with greedy eyes. A couple of them looked familiar, but most of them were strangers to Ginny. Their uniforms designated them as Aurors, yet Ginny couldn’t imagine why this many Aurors would be needed at Platform 9 ¾.  Besides, some of these Aurors looked identical to many of the faces on the wanted posters that littered The Daily Prophet and various store fronts last year.

“Dad, they’re not all Aurors, are they?” Ginny asked looking at a pair of dark robed individuals a few feet down the platform.

Mr. Weasley sighed.

“But–”

“I know, Ginny.”

Ginny shuddered, the full weight of how far gone the Ministry of Magic really was settling in the pit of her stomach.  Of course she’d known; she could hardly forget Bill and Fleur’s wedding, Kingsley’s Patronus, and Umbridge’s home visit.  Yet, there was no logic between the last few weeks and the scene in front of her. How could Aurors, who’d spent their entire lives fighting against the Dark Arts, stand next to the very men that promoted them?

“Why are they here?”

“They same reason they came to the wedding,” Mr. Weasley said never taking his off the pair of Aurors closest to them.

Harry.

“They don’t expect him to come here, do they?” whispered Ginny.

“I don’t think they know what to expect of him.”

Mr. Weasley began leading Ginny towards the train, “I promised your mother I wouldn’t leave until the train had left, but I’d feel much better if you were on the train rather than the platform.”

Ginny nodded and her father pulled her into a tight hug, his eyes misting over.  She’d only seen her father cry once, at her Uncle Billius’ funeral. Her mum, sure, she’d seen her cry plenty of times, but her dad - he was her rock.  He was the one that always made sense. Though Ginny had been very small when he’d dropped Bill and Charlie off for their first years of Hogwarts, Ginny doubted he’d shed a single tear.  As more of her siblings went off to school for the first time, her dad had been stuck at the Ministry, leaving her mum to sheppard the kids off to school. On the rare occasion he did accompany them, he’d been beaming, not sad.  Yet, here they were, just him and her, and tears were streaming down his face. They’d see each other again, the Christmas holidays were just around the corner. This wasn’t good-bye. At least Ginny hoped it wasn’t. Mr. Weasley released her and Ginny stumbled to wipe her now wet eyes, before anyone saw.

“Have a good term, Ginny,” Mr. Weasley said, “Write, but remember,” and he lowered his voice even more so, “our mail is being watched.  We’re being watched.”

Ginny reached for her father one last time, “Love you, dad.”

But it wasn’t enough.  It would never be enough.  Mr. Weasley tried to smile as Ginny boarded the train, but his tears continued to trickle down his face, with no sign of stopping.  With one last wave, Mr. Weasley disappeared from sight and Ginny went off to look for a compartment. The train was a lot emptier than usual.  Many of the compartments Ginny walked past were completely empty. If there were students in them, they were somber and unusually quiet, even in the self-segregated Slytherin compartments, which also looked a little less full.  Perhaps not everyone in Slytherin was as pure as they pretended.  

No, thought Ginny, they definitely weren’t.

Ginny hated feeling sorry for the Slytherins, but how could she not looking at Astoria Greengrass’ red-rimmed eyes and Henrietta Fawley’s shaking hands.  They were just as confused and scared as she was, perhaps more. She paused for a moment, staring into the 5th year Slytherin girl compartment. How many of their friends had to go on the run?  And how many of their friends had been unwilling tied to Tom? Though Malfoy might have disappointed him, Tom was bound to have already begun recruiting 7th year Slytherins into his ranks.

We’re being watched.

Though Ginny knew Hogwarts would no longer be safe, as she continued down the corridor, she was beginning to realize how much more dangerous this year was going to be.  Towards the back of the train, she came upon Neville Longbottom, Lavender Brown, and the Patil twins, Padma and Parvati whispering. She raised her in greeting, but continued down the train, in search of Luna.  Ginny found her in the back of the train, reading the latest copy of The Quibbler , wand stuck behind her ear, as usual.

“Hi, Luna,” said Ginny, stowing her trunk in the luggage rack.

“Hello, Ginny,” said Luna pleasantly, setting down her magazine.

“Good rest of your holiday?” asked Ginny sitting across from Luna.

“Oh yes,” said Luna, twirling her hair absentmindedly around her wand, “Daddy and I replanted our Gurdyroots.  They should be ready for picking by the winter holidays.”

“That’s great Luna,” said Ginny, “Do you have an extra copy?”

“Oh yes,” said Luna serenely, standing up to reach into her trunk, pulling out another copy and handing it to Ginny.

“Thanks, Luna.”

Though her brothers, especially Ron, often made fun of her for reading The Quibbler, Ginny didn’t care.  In fact, their teasing made her want to read it more.  Sure, half the things in the magazine were utter waffle, but it was fun - like stepping into another world or a warped dream.  Ginny loved learning about the various creatures The Quibbler’ s writers claimed to have seen and taking the various quizzes that revealed absolutely nothing.  But, as Ginny flipped through the magazine, she began to realize this issue was very different. The first article described various spells in which to protect your home from dark magic.  The second article titled, “You-Know-Who’s Rise to Power, Part 1 & Part 2.” The third article was a reprinting of Harry’s interview with Rita Skeeter - the subheadline revealing that the The Daily Prophet didn’t have any rights to print this anymore.

“Not that they would,” muttered Ginny.

The train began to move, but Ginny barely looked up from her transformed magazine.  The next few articles talked about various creatures that the Death-Eaters had under their control; not a mention of the Crumple-Horned Snorkack once.  While a bubble of hope had begun to swell in Ginny’s chest while reading, as she closed the magazine, she realized how dangerous the pieces of paper she held in her hand were.

“Luna,” Ginny whispered, “Give me your magazine.”

“Oh, are there pages missing in your copy?”

Ginny thrust her hand out, fingers grasping for the magazine.  There was no way Tom would allow the Hogwarts Express to be completely unsupervised.  If she and Luna were caught with these magazines. Ginny’s heart began to sink, her skin turning very hot and then very cold and then back again.  Her sinking heart began to pick up speed, soon almost equalling the speed of the train.

We’re being watched.

“How many copies do you have?”

“Well,” said Luna, “I can always get more…”

“No,” said Ginny jumping to her feet and opening Luna’s trunk, “We need to hide these Luna!”

Ginny pulled out a stack of magazines and started trying to stuff them between the seats.  Ginny knew it’d be easier to hide the magazines with magic, but she wasn’t too keen on the Death Eater’s being alerted to a banishing charm or a vanishing charm being performed in her compartment.  Luna looked on with piqued interest as Ginny paced around their small compartment and tried to find new hiding spots. With half a stack of magazines left, Ginny was getting desperate.

“I don’t see why we can’t just keep them in my trunk,” said Luna vaguely.

“They’ll search our trunks!”

“But they won’t read them.”

“What?”

“They’re not going to read the magazines.  They think they’re rubbish.”

Ginny’s mouth formed a large ‘O’ as she stared at her friend.  Luna often gave the impression that she didn’t know what was going on.  Sometimes even Ginny herself thought Luna was out of her mind (though she’d never say it out loud).  Yet, here she was, just as sane as Ginny was, perhaps more so. Ginny handed Luna the rest of the magazines and Luna carefully stowed them in her trunk.

“But Luna,” began Ginny, “What happens when they realize what your dad is printing?”

“Daddy says it’s important that everyone knows what’s really going on,” said Luna sitting down, “regardless of what happens to him.”

Ginny had to admire Xenophilius Lovegood’s bravery.  All summer she’d been saying there ought to be a way for people to know what’s really going on, yet hadn’t acted.  She was supposed to join the Order when she came of age. She wanted to join now. And yet, what had she done? The Burrow being the headquarters for the Order had given Ginny the illusion that she was being helpful.  But, she certainly didn’t feel helpful after hearing about Luna and her father’s actions. And they weren’t even in the Order. When the time came, would Ginny even be helpful to the Order? Ginny leaned her head up against the window, staring out at the rapidly changing scenery.

Late afternoon, Neville knocked on their compartment, “Hullo,” he said slipping into the seat next to Ginny.

“Hi Neville,” Ginny replied, “Good holiday?”

“Not bad,” he said, “And you?”

“Oh it was alright,” Ginny said, falling into the performance that she and her mum had rehearsed all summer, “Ron’s ill at home.  Spattergroit, it’s really nasty. And it’s reached his uvula so he’s a terrible conversationalist.”

Neville’s eyes bugged out, “And what about you Luna?”

And Luna was off, talking about the various plants she and her father had added to their garden.

“Listen,” said Neville, turning his attention back to Ginny a quarter of an hour later, “Where are Ron and Hermione?  And…” he trailed off, not daring to say Harry’s name out loud.

“Yeah, Weasley” said a familiar drawling voice, “Where is the Dark Lord’s favorite trio?”

The compartment door slid closed as Draco Malfoy stepped into their compartment, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle on either side.

Chapter Text

Ginny Weasley glared at Draco Malfoy smirking down at her.  He’d acquired a little more confidence since she’d last seen him at Bill’s wedding and looked a great deal better than he had Ginny’s 5th year.  Still, he was clearly trying to hide his stress, carrying his wand in a calculated, lazy fashion. His practiced sneer looked as cold and relaxed as it had done during his time on the Inquisitorial Squad, however he didn’t quite fool Ginny.  His hands shook slightly and his eyes darted around the compartment as though looking for an escape, though he was the one blocking the door leading into the compartment. What was he nervous about? Was he thinking back to Bill’s wedding? But, if Malfoy was thinking back to the last time he and Ginny had encountered each other, he didn’t show it.  Ginny fingered her wand in her pocket, but made no moves to draw it. 

“So?” prompted Malfoy, “Where are they?”

Ginny paused, but didn’t dare look at Neville or Luna.  She expected this. She knew was supposed to say. Yet, she didn’t want to recite the story she’d practiced a million times over.  She wanted to yell, and kick, and bite. Her heart started to race, her blood rising from a simmer to a boil. She wanted to curse Malfoy into the next compartment.  How dare he pretend that he wasn’t at the wedding. How dare he pretend he didn’t torture her for this exact information one month prior. Was he baiting her? Or perhaps he thought she might have new information.

“If you’re talking about my brother,” Ginny began, finally standing, “He’s home with Spattergroit.”

“And what about the Mudblood Granger?  And Undesirable Number One? Or I guess in your case Weasley, Desirable Number One.”

“How should I know?  They’re my brother’s friends, not mine,” Ginny said ignoring Malfoy’s last comment.

“Oh please, the four of you were inseparable last term.”

“How would you know?  Didn’t you spend most of last term locked in a cabinet?”

“You little,” Malfoy raised his wand, but before he could cast a spell Neville leapt forward, grabbing Malfoy’s wrist.

“Don’t you dare, Malfoy.”

Malfoy started chortling, “What are you going to do Longbottom, throw plants at me?”

Neville drew his wand and pointed it squarely between Malfoy’s eyes.  Crabbe and Goyle, a bit slow on the uptake, moved closer, cracking their knuckles menacingly.  But Malfoy continued to laugh. 

  He really hadn’t been paying attention last year, thought Ginny.

“Do it,” goaded Malfoy, “See what happens when you attempt to jinx the Head Boy.”

Ginny gasped, “You?  They made you Head Boy?”

“Yeah, Weasley, they made me Head Boy.”

“After what you did?” asked Neville, appalled, his wand lowered slightly in shock.

“Dumbledore doesn’t run this school anymore, Longbottom,” said Malfoy deathly calm, though Ginny thought she detected slight stutter as he said Dumbledore’s name.

“What, and you do?” retorted Neville.

Doubtful , thought Ginny, after he wasn’t able to kill Dumbledore.

Over the summer, Ginny had operated with blissful ignorance that as Deputy Headmistress, McGonagall would be taking over as Headmistress.  Though surely she wouldn’t have let Muggleborns be purged from the school if she was Headmistress. And besides, hadn’t Ginny’s Hogwarts Letter declared McGonagall still second in command?  Ginny’s stomach sank and for the first time she really understood her mother’s desire for her to stay at home. Who was running Hogwarts?

“You’ll see, Longbottom,” and without another word, Malfoy turned on his heels and left the compartment, followed slowly by Crabbe and Goyle.

Neville, with a flick of his wrist, locked the compartment door, still muttering the spell under his breath.  Luna, who’d stayed seated the entire time, finally stood, grabbing Ginny’s wrist.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

Ginny could feel her pulse vibrating in Luna’s fingers.  She willed it to slow down. After all, this confrontation could have been much worse.  She’d already been tortured at the hands of Malfoy. Hell, she’d been tortured by Tom Riddle himself when she was just eleven years old.  She shouldn’t be this worked up. She shouldn’t be this afraid. She’d passed the first of what was sure to be many tests at Hogwarts regarding the whereabouts of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  Yet, she felt as though her heart would burst out of her chest. Ginny could only nod in Luna’s direction, afraid that if she spoke, she’d burst into tears. Ginny felt embarrassed; she was supposed to be so much stronger than this.  She was stronger than this.  Ginny took a deep breath through her nose and exhaled.

“I can’t believe they made him a Head Boy,” Neville said, running his fingers through his sandy blond hair.

“Who is ‘they,’ anyway,” mused Luna, sitting down and bringing Ginny with her.

“It can’t be anyone good,” said Neville, “If they’ve gone and made Malfoy Head Boy.  Who’s Head Girl, then? Millicent Bulstrode?”

“No,” said Luna, “I saw her on the Platform and she didn’t have a badge.”

“I suppose they’ve got a puppet Headmaster—” said Neville.

“Or Headmistress,” interjected Luna

“Right,” Neville continued, “Or Headmistress, like they do at the Ministry.  Someone who’s under the Imperius curse.”

Luna nodded sagely.

“Well,” said Ginny, finally speaking, “we’ll find out soon enough.  Should be there in a couple of hours.

The rest of the train ride was pretty uneventful.  A few more of Ginny’s classmates popped their heads in to say hello, but no one dared linger, very much aware of the target on Ginny’s back.  As the sun began to set, Ginny, Neville, and Luna pulled on their robes. The darker the sky became, the more nervous Ginny felt. She wondered what would happen if she refused to get off the train when it pulled into Hogwarts station.  Would there be more Aurors at Hogsmeade station, making sure everyone departed the train? But, Ginny was here for a reason. While, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were out trying to destroy Voldemort (how, Ginny had no idea), she’d be at Hogwarts.  Doing what, she wasn’t sure. For the first time, Hogwarts was uncharted territory.

As Ginny exited the Hogwarts Express, she scanned the station for more Aurors.  Thankfully, the station was mercifully empty, save for Hagrid who was shepherding the much smaller first year class over towards the boats.  She followed Luna towards the carriages, now being drawn but the ominous thestrals. It wasn’t the first time Ginny had seen them. After Dumbledore had died, in the days leading up to the funeral, when Ginny found she did not want to be in others’ company, she spotted a few of them near the edges of the forest.  But, many of the students appeared to be seeing them for the first time; several of them gasping upon spotting the scaly, winged horses.

They’d get used to it, thought Ginny, as the carriages headed up towards the castle.

She certainly had.

The atmosphere in the Great Hall was just as somber as it had been at Platform 9 ¾.    The only sounds from the students were vague whispers and hurried hellos to classmates they hadn’t yet seen.  She noticed a few of the younger students from all houses scanning the Gryffindor table more than a few times, hope draining from their eyes each time their search proved to come up short.  Ginny wished she had that kind of optimism - that Harry Potter and his friends would be there to save the day.  

Ginny’s eyes flicked up to the staff table, none of the teachers were speaking and the table was noticeably less full than normal.  Her Muggle studies professor, Charity Burbage, was missing, as was Snape - though, no surprises there. Yet, there were no teachers that replaced them.  McGonagall was also missing, though Ginny knew she was most likely in the antichamber waiting for the first years, as was Hagrid, who was presumably still helping the first years across the lake.  However, the biggest absence was the Headmaster’s chair. Ginny should have been used to it. After all, last year Dumbledore had been noticeably absent for most of the year. Yet, knowing he wasn’t coming back, that he’d never sit in his chair again, made the emptiness all the more greater.

“Maybe McGonagall is just stepping in for Dumbledore?” said Neville hopefully, sitting down to Ginny’s right, “and Malfoy was just bluffing about being Head Boy?”

“But she still signed our letters ‘Deputy Headmistress,’ didn’t she,” said Ginny.

“But, they should be here.  Dumbledore was always here before us.”

Before Ginny could respond, the doors to the Great Hall creaked open.  The entire room fell silent as Professor McGonagall, who looked much more tired than she had at the end of last term led the small group of timid first years towards the front of the hall, where the sorting hat waited.

“Did we look that nervous?” asked Demelza from across the table.

Ginny didn’t know whether to nod or shake her head, remembering back to her sorting.  She’d been nervous yes, but also excited to begin a grand adventure. None of these first years had that wild gleam or look of wonder that first years past had always carried with their nerves.  Once all the first years had reached the front of the hall, Ginny expected the hat to burst into song, as it did every year - warning of the dark times that had arrived, championing the students to unite as one.  Yet, the hat stayed as still and silent as though the Hogwarts founders had never stuck brains in it. If Professor McGonagall was fazed, she didn’t show it and began calling out the names of the first years to be sorted.  Only when the hat was placed upon the head of Andrews, McKenna, did the hat’s mouth open and yell out, “Hufflepuff!” Whispers broke out around the hall.

“Why didn’t it sing this year?” whispered a third year Gryffindor a few seats down from Ginny.

“What’s going on?”

“Do you think McGonagall asked it not to sing?”

But, as quickly as the sorting had started, it ended; the twenty-seven first years now scattered around the hall.  Professor McGonagall rolled up her scroll and instead of taking her usual seat next to Dumbledore’s empty chair, she strode to the end of the table, next to Professor Slughorn and Professor Flitwick.  No one stood up to announce the feast. The students just looked down at their empty plates and goblets.   Ginny’s stomach began to squirm, anxiety building up in her lower abdomen.  Something wasn’t right. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen the first night at Hogwarts.  But, no one dared to speak. And no one was offering an explanation. The teachers just sat looking grim; avoiding eye contact with the students and each other.

Then, once again the door to the great hall burst open and with black robes billowing, making him more bat-like than ever, Severus Snape strode into the hall.  Whispers erupted like wildfire around the hall. Each one dying with a pointed look from Snape. Ginny looked over at Neville, who was turning greener by the second and then up at the teachers, who all wore similar stoney expressions.

“This is a joke, right?” whispered Seamus Finnegan, leaning across the table, “He can’t actually be…” Seamus trailed off as Snape sat in Dumbledore’s chair.

No.

“No!”

“No.”

“No…”

“No?”

Whispers shifted into shouts as Snape stared lazily out at the sea of students.  Meanwhile, some members of the Slytherin table had burst into applause. Ginny noted that others clad in green and silver, remained silent, choosing not to engage with either side.  She was similarly frozen, while across the table Seamus and Ritchie Coote had gotten to their feet and started screaming profanities at Snape. Ernie Macmillan and Michael Corner had begun to lead Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws in a similar chorus.  Ginny felt Neville getting to his feet beside her to join Seamus and Ritchie in their cries. 

“Silence,” Snape sneered.

More shouts.  More yells.  

“Silence,” Snape said again, “Or there will be consequences.”

That shut everyone up.  Ginny supposed no one else wanted to go the way of Dumbledore.  If Snape could murder possibly the greatest wizard there ever was, he could easily off a few Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws.

“A few announcements before we start the feast,” Snape continued, “As you all know, Muggle Studies is now a mandatory course.  It will be taught by Alecto Carrow.”

The door to the antechamber opened and one of the Death Eaters that had searched The Burrow the night of Bill’s wedding entered the hall and took the vacant seat to the left of Snape’s chair.  Her smile was wide and her eyes were cold. The same few students who’d applauded for Snape clapped for Alecto. Ginny suddenly wished that her brothers were there. True, Alecto Carrow’s face had been plastered throughout the prophet last year as “wanted” but no one here really knew what she was capable.  Maybe Neville and Luna, who’d fought her the night Dumbledore was murdered.

“And taking over my old post, Amycus Carrow.”

Alecto’s twin sauntered through the antechamber door and sat in the vacant seat on the other side of Snape.  Even less people applauded for Amycus, his crimes splashed across the Prophet more heinous than his sister’s.  But, his piggy eyes still scanned the room gleefully.  Ginny shivered as his eyes gazed in her direction.

“As always,” Snape continued lazily, “The Forbidden Forest is out of bounds to all students.  Additionally, curfew for all students is now eight o’clock in the evening. And no one will be allowed out of the dormitories until seven o’clock in the morning.”

“Eight?” Ginny mouthed in Demelza’s direction.

“Seven?” Demelza mouthed back.

Similar murmurs were happening around the hall, but Snape continued, either not hearing the murmurs or choosing to ignore them.

“Quidditch,” Snape paused, smirking down at the students, “is cancelled this year.”

You could hear a pin drop.  Ginny’s head swiveled around the table, struck dumb, making eye contact with the remaining members of the Gryffindor team from last year.  Snape continued to speak, something about disciplinary actions, but Ginny was no longer paying attention. 

No Quidditch.  How am I supposed to… Ginny’s thoughts trailed off.

She’d never told anyone.  Not her father. Not her mum.  Not Harry. Especially not Professor McGonagall when she asked Ginny what career she might like.  It seemed silly to want to be a professional Quidditch player when the world was falling apart, when there were so many more noble professions to have.  Yet, that’s all Ginny had wanted to do since the age of eight when she listened to Gweong Jones’ first game playing for the Holyhead Harpies on the wireless.  She’d rattled off something about going to work for the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Ministry, but Ginny knew she’d rather babysit the Giant Squid than have a desk job.  All the best teams started paying attention during a potential player’s sixth year. Even if Quidditch was brought back next year - Ginny had to stop herself thinking that there might not be a next year - she’d be a year behind.  But did that matter? There was a war going on. There were more important things than Quidditch. Lost her thoughts, Ginny didn’t notice the food appearing on the table.

“Pass the potatoes, Ginny?” asked Neville quietly.

Ginny nodded, passing the heaping bowl of mashed potatoes in front of her.  The whole hall was much quieter than any other start of term feasts Ginny had attended.  Even the teachers didn’t appear to speak to each other, except for the Carrows and Snape.  Ginny reached absently for the chicken in front of her and added a small portion to her plate, but made no movement towards her fork.  Seamus and Neville had started murmuring to each other, barely touching their plates piled high with food. It’s funny, building up a moment in your head; imagining all the horrible things that could be.  Usually, when the moment finally arrives, it’s better. The moment occuring is usually a relief on the senses; it gives you a sense of agency again. Yet, for Ginny, arriving in Scotland was anything but.