“Ginny?” Seamus, Parvati, Neville, and Lavender all stood before her. They were clearly preparing to leave Gryffindor Tower for the Room of Requirement.
“Where did you come from?” Neville laughed shakily, hurrying forward to hug her tightly. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Ginny assured him. “Call off the meeting before somebody gets caught.”
“Oh, right,” he said, still in the same shaky voice. He pulled out his enchanted Galleon and sent a message. Ginny winced. She had forgotten that she had hidden her own Galleon in her sock, and now it was burning her at the bottom of her shoe.
“How did you get away?” Parvati asked, bringing her to sit by the fire. “We’ve been worried sick—Padma told us about her Dark Arts class this morning, but then you never came back—”
“Did you really punch Malfoy?” Seamus asked, looking fit to burst with pride.
“Didn’t get the chance,” said Ginny, removing her Galleon from her sock and tucking it in her pocket. “I got Parkinson, though.”
“Oh, I’ve wanted to do that for years,” said Lavender exultantly.
“We were coming to rescue you,” Neville said, sitting down beside Ginny on the sofa.
“It’s a good thing you didn’t…” And she hurriedly explained all that had happened with Snape and Professor McGonagall.
“That snake,” Neville muttered. “He wasn’t letting you go anywhere, he just knew McGonagall wouldn’t let him keep you any longer.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Ginny said impatiently. “What about the whole reason I was caught?” They stared blankly at her. “Evelyn, where’s Evelyn?” she asked. “Is she all right?”
“Oh!” Parvati said. “Yeah, it was weird, no one came after us once we got her.”
“That’ll be because they really wanted me,” Ginny said, looking pointedly at Neville. “They thought I was you, at first. I’m glad you didn’t go.”
“Me?” Neville repeated, looking stunned. “How could they think you were me?”
“They’re stupider than a sack of flobberworms,” Seamus said reasonably.
“The point is, they’re after you,” Ginny said. She lifted her bandaged wrists. “I have a feeling you’d be a lot worse off than I am, and they wouldn’t have let you go, even if McGonagall had intervened.” There were a few beats of silence, as Neville considered this unsettling prospect.
“You look exhausted,” Parvati said gently, touching Ginny’s arm. “You should get some sleep.”
“No,” she said, still watching Neville. “I want to talk about what happens after the holidays next week.” He looked up, startled, and she smiled. “Oh, come on. You’re not afraid of them, are you?”
Neville grinned. “We’ll take these last two nights off,” he said. “They’ll have the whole of next week to try and get ready for us, and then we need to start launching nightly attacks again.”
Seamus made a triumphant gesture, leaping out of his seat. “That’s what I love to hear!”
They all looked around to the spiral staircases to see Evelyn Alistair, Josephine O’Brien, and a contingent of nine or so first and second years peering curiously into the common room. Seamus lowered his fist quickly and sat down again, but Josephine marched straight up to him.
“Are you in Dumbledore’s Army, Seamus Finnigan?” she demanded, planting her hands on her hips and glaring fiercely in Seamus’s face.
“Because I think that’s bloody brilliant,” Josephine continued, in the same pugnacious tone. Seamus, Neville, and Lavender burst out laughing.
“No, really!” Evelyn said, hurrying over. Several of her companions followed. She placed a hand in Ginny’s and squeezed. “You are the ones who have been protecting us this whole time! I knew it! Thank you so much,” she said earnestly, throwing her arms around Ginny’s neck.
“Yeah, thanks, really,” said a boy Ginny remembered was called Carmichael.
“Thank you,” the others chorused, and one boy clapped Neville on the back. Several girls smothered Ginny, Parvati and Lavender in hugs, and Josephine was soundly berating an amused Seamus for not telling her sooner.
As Ginny hugged one particularly short second year girl, she caught Neville’s eye and grinned.
“Anybody want me to get anything else from my brothers?” Ginny asked, poking her head in the train compartment across from her own. Arnold sat tucked in her hair, squeaking amicably. Ernie, Hannah, and Susan shook their heads.
“We’re running a bit low on Instant Darkness Powder,” Padma said. “And I need some more first aid supplies, mainly potions and ingredients if they have anything like that.”
“I can get those from my dad,” said Terry.
“You’re just going to ask him, are you?” asked Michael. “‘Dad, listen, my friends and I need your medicine chest so that we can give each other untrained treatment while we duel our teachers. Help us out?’”
“Shut up,” Terry retorted, aiming a kick at him.
“So just to be clear,” Ginny called to Padma and Susan, who were seated by the compartment window, “I’ll get more powder, and that’s it?”
“Sounds good, Ginny,” Susan answered over the din of Terry and Michael wrestling.
Ginny snorted and left their compartment, returning to her own, where she sat with the other Gryffindors and a snoring, motion-sick Anthony Goldstein. Seamus and Neville were tied in a tense game of Gobstones, and Lavender and Parvati were practicing wand movements.
“Whatever our teachers are like, we’ve still got N.E.W.T.s at the end of all this,” Parvati said when Ginny looked at her inquisitively. She cleared her throat meaningfully at the boys. “That’s you two, as well.”
Neville opened his mouth to speak at precisely the wrong moment—one of Seamus’s Gobstones shot him with Stink Serum, and he choked. Seamus shrugged, unconcerned as Ginny pounded Neville on the back. “I love Hogwarts and all, but I’d rather do something that doesn’t need O.W.L.s and all that.”
Ginny raised her eyebrows, disentangling Arnold from a strand of hair. “Good luck. Even my brother Charlie had to get his N.E.W.T.s, and his job has almost nothing to do with anything you learn in school.”
“Well, I could do something like what he does,” Seamus said earnestly. “Care of Magical Creatures is great. I could do—I dunno—kelpie protection, or something. I like the lochs.”
“Speaking of Care of Magical Creatures,” Neville said hoarsely, for he had finally finished choking on the Stink Serum, “Why was Hagrid so down this morning?”
Ginny sighed heavily as Arnold scampered happily around her neck. She had said goodbye to a very gloomy Hagrid before boarding the Hogwarts Express. “I think he reckons the Carrows are really after him. They’ve been horrible to everybody since they haven’t caught us, and he’s been getting a lot of trouble just for being—well, you know. A ‘half-breed,’” she said distastefully, drawing quotation marks in midair with her fingertips. “And it’s harder with Grawp.” She lowered her voice. “I mean, we know about him, sure, but I’ll bet Hagrid’s been working very hard this year to keep him a secret. And you can imagine how Grawp is, he would kill anyone that threatened Hagrid, without even thinking about it.”
“I like that giant,” Seamus said decidedly.
“We’re slowing down,” Lavender said. “We’re here.”
Neville looked out onto Platform 9¾. “Well, doesn’t look like the Carrows’ friends are here for any of us, this time,” he said in a feeble attempt at a joke. Ginny looked around at them all. The next week seemed like an eternity, somehow even longer than the Christmas holidays. Were they all going to be safe away from Hogwarts, now that the Carrows had an idea of who they were looking for? As though her thoughts were echoed in the other compartment full of D.A. members, the compartment door slid open, and Ernie stepped inside.
“Everyone checks in every day?” he asked Neville, who nodded.
“Use the coins,” he said. “And be careful.”
Ginny was seized by a sudden, mad desire to simply stay put on the train. Going out onto the platform meant exposing Dumbledore’s Army to outside forces, the world beyond Hogwarts.
“Look, Ginny, isn’t that your brother?” Neville said. Sure enough, almost directly outside the window, there stood Bill with Fleur. Bill was looking up and down the platform, his hand closed tightly around something in his jacket pocket.
“You never said he married Fleur Delacour,” said Seamus, his voice slipping into the dreamy tone that Ginny associated with Fleur’s most annoying quality.
“Sure I did,” she grumbled, helping Anthony pull his trunk down from the luggage rack. “Ouch.”
Ginny rubbed her shoulder. “Madam Pomfrey mended the cut, but it’s weird—still hurts.”
“I don’t think the Carrows were particularly bothered about healing you properly,” said Lavender as they all pushed their way out of the compartment. Ginny stopped at the train door, looking back at the eleven people crowded behind her. “Everybody stay safe, all right?” There were nods and smiles. “See you in a week, then,” she promised, and she stepped off the train.
“Bill!” she called, hurrying over to him, Arnold squeaking and swaying on her shoulder. He caught her up in a warm hug. “I missed you!”
“Ah, we missed you too,” he said, grinning. Up close, he looked tired and pale. So did Fleur, to Ginny’s surprise; normally, she was immaculate.
“How are you, Fleur?” Ginny asked, embracing her as well.
“Just fine,” she promised. “We are glad you are ‘ome.”
“Where are Mum and Dad?” she asked Bill.
“They’re at the Burrow. I volunteered to come and see you home,” he said. “I’m told they’re not teaching Apparition anymore, or I’d let you practice.”
Ginny blinked. Somehow, in the last three months, she had forgotten entirely that she was meant to be learning to Apparate. She would, after all, be seventeen at the end of the summer. Now the absence of lessons seemed incredibly odd. “N-no,” she said quietly.
“Zey are saying zat eet is too dangerous to lift ze enchantments on ze castle for you to practice,” Fleur said. “Eet was in ze Daily Prophet. Of course, eet is obvious wat zey want—”
“If only a few students have their license, then they can keep a tighter hold on you,” Bill finished. “You seem surprised.”
“Er,” Ginny said, “No. No, I, uh…I remember hearing that, now…about the enchantments, I mean. I haven’t thought about it.”
“Well, you ‘ave been busy, I imagine,” Fleur said, and Ginny’s heart pounded erratically for a moment as she looked wildly at Fleur.
“B-busy?” she asked. Had Fred and George told her secret?
“Wiz your classes,” Fleur said, staring at her in mild concern. “Of course.”
“Oh—oh, yes,” said Ginny, nodding. “Classes. Yes. Very busy.” She tried to ignore Bill’s searching gaze. She had so long ached to return home, she had forgotten yet again that it meant hiding from her parents and brothers what exactly she was up to at Hogwarts. “Shall we go?”
Bill allowed Fleur to take hold of Ginny’s trunk, and Ginny clutched Arnold’s empty cage (the Pygmy Puff was still nestled against her neck) to her chest as Bill turned on the spot and yanked them into crushing darkness. Moments later, they stood before the Burrow. It was cold and windy, but there was no more snow on the ground, and Ginny could just see patches of the sunset through the thick gray clouds in the sky.
With a pop, Fleur appeared, carrying Ginny’s trunk, which Bill took. Arnold squeaked in discomfort at the cold wind and tried to scramble down Ginny’s shirtsleeve as they walked to the front door. She caught him and tucked him safely into his cage.
Just as she placed her hand on the knob, the door swung open.
“Remus?” said Bill in shock. “Are you all right?”
“I—I’ve got to go,” Lupin said distractedly, pushing past Ginny and Fleur as though he had not seen them. “Sorry—got to leave—”
And he dashed away, Disapparating at a point beyond the fence. Ginny had a horrible, sinking feeling in her heart. “Mum?” she shouted, hurrying into the house and putting Arnold down on a chair. “Dad?”
They appeared at once in the kitchen doorway, Mum with tears streaming down her face. She enveloped Ginny in a bone-cracking hug.
“Mum,” Ginny wheezed. “What is it?”
“Dad, what’s happened?” Bill demanded. Fleur stood beside him, looking terrified.
“Eez Tonks all right?” she asked.
Dad sighed heavily. “It seems that Tonks’s father, Ted—” he drew a deep, shaky breath. “He was found, dead.”
“Dead?” Bill repeated.
Ginny felt her heart break for Tonks and Andromeda. She held onto her mother a little tighter—Mum seemed unwilling to release her.
“Along with my friend, Dirk Cresswell,” Dad said miserably.
Bill rubbed his face hard, and Fleur burst into tears. He put a comforting arm around her shoulders. “He worked in our office quite a bit,” he explained.
“There was also a goblin,” Mum said, sniffling and pulling free from Ginny at last. Her eyes were red and watery. “And—” she looked at Ginny, her chin trembling. “There were more with them, who got away, it looks like—but the Order have got no idea where they are…”
“Who?” Ginny asked in a hollow voice.
“Another goblin, and your friend,” Dad said. “Dean Thomas.”
Ginny was suddenly overcome with a terrible lightheadedness, and sat down abruptly on the arm of the sofa. “Dean?”
“He got away, dear, he got away,” Mum insisted.
“But you…you’ve just said they—the Order—they don’t know where…he is…”
“Oh, thank Merlin.”
Ginny opened her eyes. She was lying in her own bed, staring up at the chipped and cracked pale violet ceiling. She blinked hazily, and Mum’s face swam into view. She placed something cool and damp on Ginny’s forehead. For a brief moment, she wondered if she had imagined the whole thing—but no, the gnawing misery in the pit of her stomach was enough to tell her that this was not the case.
“Are you all right, sweetheart?” Mum asked gently, smoothing her hair.
Ginny closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m fine,” she lied. “Just—surprised. I’m really tired from the train, I guess.”
“You don’t look well at all,” Mum answered, still stroking her hair tenderly.
“Just tired,” Ginny murmured, raising her hands to rub her eyes. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” But she was not quick enough to disguise her wince when her injured shoulder ached suddenly.
“What on earth—? Oh, Ginny,” Mum gasped. Ginny almost rolled her eyes—it was so like her mother, who was so very acutely aware of every tiny detail about her children, to gasp in horror at the sight of a very faint, flat white scar barely visible under Ginny’s collar.
“Mum,” she said embarrassedly, sitting up and pulling off the cold cloth on her forehead. “I’m fine. I just got a scrape in Care of Magical Creatures. Look, the mark’s almost gone.” Mum looked skeptical, but said nothing for a moment, instead glancing away. “Mummy,” Ginny said gently, after a minute or two, “I’m—I’m all right. I just—I didn’t think it was worth writing home about—”
“Oh, Ginny, please don’t think that I’m oblivious,” she answered in a low voice. It was the injury and hurt in her tone that made Ginny fall immediately silent. Mum gave a heavy sniff and wiped her eyes, still looking away from her. “I don’t want this for you. Any of this. You know that, but—but I wish you would know that I will listen to everything you have to say to me, even if you think I won’t.”
“I—I do know that, Mum,” Ginny implored, touching her shoulder. “It’s just—the truth is—it’s complicated, it’s difficult to explain—I don’t want to worry you and Dad—”
Mum gave a tiny, mirthless laugh and looked at Ginny directly in the eyes. “Darling, we couldn’t be more worried about you if we tried.” She wiped her eyes one last time. “Lie down, sweetheart. I’ll bring you a tray in a bit.”
“I’m all right, I’ll come down and help,” Ginny began, but Mum pressed her back on to the pillows.
“Do not get out of this bed,” she said firmly, and Ginny nodded once. Mum brushed a kiss on the top of her head. “Good girl.”
But once the door was closed, Ginny buried her face in her hands and burst into tears.
“Your move, Dad,” Ginny said, nodding at the chessboard. Dad seemed startled, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and peered down at the game.
“How’d you do that?” he asked with interest, pointing to her queen, which had just beheaded one of his knights.
“You left him unprotected, poor fellow,” she answered, shaking her head sympathetically as she watched the knight get dragged off the board and dumped unceremoniously onto Dad’s growing pile of sacrificed chessmen.
“Sorry, there,” he said, and the little knight answered something only half-understandable, but quite rude.
“What time is it?”
Ginny looked around; her mother was coming down the stairs, tying her dressing gown. “Half-past ten,” she said helpfully. Things had been tense in the Burrow this week, and the tension had not been alleviated by visits from anyone. Charlie was in Romania, Bill and the twins were all too busy to come home, and Remus and Tonks were understandably occupied. For the last two days, Ginny had been maintaining a friendly awkwardness with her mother, who shockingly had not tried further to get information out of Ginny, but was constantly surveying her with a kind of disappointed sadness. It wasn’t even as though Mum were trying purposefully to make her feel guilty; she truly was disappointed and sad, and nothing on earth could have made Ginny feel any worse.
“Arthur, Potterwatch,” she said urgently, dashing over to the wireless.
“No, it’s not till eleven,” Dad insisted, leaping up as well. “I remember—”
“…Suits him, of course.” Kingsley’s slow, deep voice came crackling suddenly from the wireless, and Mum gave Dad an amused, exasperated look as he carried the radio to sit on the table before the sofa. Ginny hurried to join her parents, eager to hear the broadcast.
Kingsley was still speaking. “The air of mystery is creating more terror than actually showing himself.”
“Agreed,” said a voice, and Mum gasped.
“No, I think it’s George,” Dad said.
“It’s Fred, all right, and when I get my hands on that boy—”
“Molly, they’ve been helping Lee for months,” he reminded her.
“I said they could help, I didn’t say they could put themselves on the program!” Mum answered.
“Wait, shh,” Ginny said, grinning and turning the volume up.
“…For instance, this new idea that You-Know-Who can kill with a single glance from his eyes. That’s a basilisk, listeners. One simple test: Check whether the thing that’s glaring at you has got legs. If it has, it’s safe to look into its eyes, although if it really is You-Know-Who, that’s still likely to be the last thing you ever do.”
Ginny burst into laughter, but sobered at once when she caught sight of her mother’s horrified expression. She had to bite her lip very hard to avoid giggling again.
“And the rumors that he’s been sighted abroad?” came Lee’s voice.
“Well, who wouldn’t want a nice little holiday after all the hard work he’s been putting in?” Ginny snorted. Fred continued, “Point is, people, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking he’s out of the country. Maybe he is, Maybe he isn’t, but the fact remains he can move faster than Severus Snape confronted with shampoo when he wants to, so don’t count on him being a long way away if you’re planning on taking any risks. I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but safety first!”
“Good boy,” Dad said softly, and Ginny beamed. Even Mum was smiling tentatively.
“Thank you very much for those wise words, Rapier,” said Lee.
“Rapier?” Ginny laughed.
“Listeners, that brings us to the end of another Potterwatch. We don’t know when it will be possible to broadcast again, but you can be sure we shall be back. Keep twiddling those dials: The next password will be ‘Mad-Eye.’ Keep each other safe. Keep faith. Good night.”
“Ah, well,” Dad said. “Sorry, Molly dear.”
“At least they’re safe,” Mum sighed, picking up the radio and returning it to its spot on the shelf. “I’m going to bed, you two. Don’t stay up too late, Ginny.”
“Night, Mum,” she answered, and Mum waved as she disappeared back up the spiral stairs. Ginny sighed, leaning back on the couch beside Dad.
“All right, sweet pea?” he asked, putting an arm around her shoulders.
“I don’t know what I can say to her,” she answered, throwing a hand up in frustration. “I can’t make her happy.”
“You’re right,” Dad answered, kissing the top of her head. “You can’t. Give her time.” Ginny sighed heavily again. “We both love you, and we want you to be safe. That’s all.”
“I know,” Ginny grumbled.
Dad stretched widely and gave Ginny a one-armed squeeze. “I’m going up, too, I think. Night, sweetheart.”
“Night,” she murmured. She heard him go upstairs and settled further into the couch, folding her arms. She hated lying to her parents—though it was no longer a lie, really, not if they had figured out at least part of what she was up to. Groaning, she collapsed sideways onto the cushions, covering her face with her hands. She heard the clock strike eleven…her eyes were getting very heavy…but she didn’t feel like going up to bed yet…