The Weight of the After by Paperyink
Summary: As the trials against those complicit in Voldemort's regime begin, Ginny Weasley must come to terms with the worst year of her life- on record. But not every war story should be told.
Categories: Post-HBP, Post-DH/AB
The Weight of the After by Paperyink
Chapter 1: Is a Reluctant Request Really a Request?Author's Notes:
Chapter 1: Is A Reluctant Request Really a Request?
“No, I'm not the same. I'm dead. They put nylon stockings on me, dyed my hair, polished my fingernails. God help me. But I'm dead.”
– Enemies: A Love Story (1989)
August 12, 1998
For the first time in his life, Kingsley Shacklebolt is successfully running late.
It’s quite an accomplishment for someone who would arrive five minutes early to his own execution. On any other day, even entertaining the thought of tardiness would send him into cold sweats, and yet today he has triumphantly managed to drag his feet and twiddle his thumbs and push what he has nicknamed “Operation Dread” all the way down his to-do list. Of course, he understands the gravity of what he has been saddled with. He’s been told more than once that such painful things are necessary for the sake of creating a better world with a better government, even though the kind of government he dreams of would prohibit the favor he has been sent to ask. But what Kingsley Shacklebolt has inherited is not a good government. Not yet.
Inherited? No– far too optimistic. “Been damned with…,” however, hits the nail on the bloody head.
Eventually, after three coffee breaks, a two-hour lunch, and a conversation he purposefully initiates with “Gabbing Gabby” Delmonico from the Department of Magical Games and Sports, he can no longer kid himself. Kingsley Shacklebolt has always been loyal to law and order, and despite his reluctance to drag the battle-weary back into the fray, he knows that a good government will not arise without help from the citizens that nearly gave their lives for it. And it is for this reason, and this reason alone, that he finally raises his fist and knocks a practiced code (short, short, long, short, long, short, long) on the chipped wooden door of a familiar, mismatched old house.
The code is a safety measure– a double safety measure; the wards around the property won’t let just anyone pass– but it does little to quell the fears of those on the other side of the door, judging by the way it flies open, creaking on its hinges with the force, and by the fact that within seconds, Kingsley is on the other end of five wands.
War is an untrustworthy business.
The wand pointed at his forehead trembles in Molly Weasley’s right hand, her left occupied with urging the owners of the four other wands back behind her. Her eyes scan her surroundings at an impressively frantic speed until they screech to a halt on his face, lighting up with recognition.
“Oh, it’s Kingsley,” she sighs with relief, as she pulls him into one of her trademark hugs. “It’s only Kingsley,” she says, and Kingsley wonders who she’s talking to.
“Afternoon Molly,” he says as he bends to return her embrace. “Terribly sorry to have startled you, I should have sent word.” He pats her back apologetically.
Over Molly’s cloud of ginger hair, Kingsley exchanges nods with the wound-tight forms of Bill, Percy, Harry and Ron as they return to their seats at the kitchen table. The house takes a collective calming breath, and the atmosphere returns to the resting state it has been in for months–quiet, consuming grief.
"It is so lovely to see you! So lovely,” Molly gasps, relinquishing her tight grip on him to smooth the creases in his purple robes, then cupping her hands to her pallid cheeks. “I'm just knocking up some dinner right now, but I'm sure we have enough for one more…” She flits over to the large bubbling pot on the stove and surveys the stock of ingredients laid out on the counter.
“Oh, I couldn’t–“
“I hope you’re in the mood for beef stew. Although, I don’t..." She trails off as she jabs her wand through the open window facing the garden. Two potatoes float through it to join the chopped ones on the counter and promptly begin peeling themselves. Her brow furrows with barely-contained nervous energy. "Arthur didn't tell me you were coming ‘round. Are you here for him? Or– or for Harry?"
As three carrots zoom over from the pantry, Kingsley holds his hand out in polite refusal. “Please, don’t go through the trouble. I had… quite a big lunch. But no, actually, I'm here to speak with Ginny."
Molly freezes. The potatoes collide with a muffled thump; the carrots roll onto the floor. "Ginny?" she repeats, puzzled. "Why would you–,” she draws back warily, “why?" Over at the table, the boys trade equally confused glances.
Surprise flashes across Kingsley’s face before he can stop it, but he quickly replaces it with his most reassuring– and most deflecting– smile. He responds, gently, "Nothing to worry about– I have a few quick questions for her, that’s all.” He shakes back his sleeve and makes a show of checking his watch. “And I have to get back to the Ministry very soon, so they won’t take too long. Where can I find her?"
Molly eyes him hesitantly for a beat, then another, then says, "She’s out flying in the paddock,"
Kingsley manages to uncoil some of the tension in her shoulders with a well-timed wink and sweeps off towards the Burrow's massive backyard. The door creaks closed behind him, but not before he hears Ron whisper to his brothers and Harry, "what d’you reckon that's about?" to which Percy quickly responds, “regardless of the intentions of his business, we shouldn’t intrude– no, don’t intrude, Ron,” over the sounds of two chairs scraping on tiles.
Shaking his head, Kingsley treks through the tangled weeds on the edge of the field towards Ginny. She soars overhead, at least a hundred metres in the air, pulling rapid loops and dives. When she catches sight of Kingsley, she halts mid-trick, her plait swaying with displaced force.
Kingsley does not wave; he has been repeatedly reminded of the delicacy and formality of this situation, and according to several stiff mustaches, waving is firmly filed under informal, comma, fun. He does, however, draw his fingers to his palm once, beckoning her to come down.
"I knew I should’ve gone on the lam yesterday," she says in greeting as she lands (hard, and by the look of it, deliberately carelessly), brushing windswept hair from her face. “This is what I get for procrastinating.”
"You’re not surprised to see me here,” he surmises.
She leans against her broom and gestures to him from head to toe, still catching her breath. “If I were the kind of person that couldn’t figure out why you were here, you wouldn’t be here in the first place.” She gives him a dim, knowing smile. “I mean, if I’m wrong and the world is suddenly a very different place than I remember, I’ll take my birthday present now, before my unicorn-themed surprise party.”
She decorates her humor in protective spikes, nudging the conversation into the safety zone of parody before it even begins. Kingsley allows it for the moment, plays along and takes his turn: a standard chuckle, with three ha’s and corresponding shoulder shakes. But any pretending ebbs away in the heavy silence that works its way in afterward, yawning wide between them. Finally, Kingsley says, quietly and gently, "we need you to come in, Ginny."
Her eyes dart away as if she’s processing what he said, but no one has ever mistaken Ginny Weasley as slow on the uptake and Kingsley won’t start now. Abruptly, she cocks her head to the side. "Hang on, wait– wait,” she says sternly. “Don't say anything else." She draws her wand from her robes and quietly mutters "muffliato," towards the shrubbery where Ron and Harry are undoubtedly attempting to eavesdrop. One of them mutters, “ah shite,” and Kingsley chuckles for real this time. Ginny stows her wand, apparently satisfied with her spells, and motions for him to continue.
"I know you've been expecting this. Everyone we've talked to so far has named you as the leader– has said you and Neville Longbottom were at the front of the action the whole time and took… the brunt of the punishment."
Ginny nods. "Well, that's because it's mostly true," she says vaguely, scuffing her shoes against the ground. “Am I going to be brought in for questioning?”
Concern washes over Kingsley. “This isn’t the regime forcing you to talk upon penalty of death. You’re not the one being put on trial.” He sighs and drags his hand down his face; bureaucracy is exhausting. “There are proper channels, official protocols for situations like this, and I want you to know that we would be following them if we had the time– or the infrastructure. The last thing I’d ever want to be is here on official orders.”
She shrugs, but there’s a curious look of resignation on her face that Kingsley has no frame of reference for. He goes on cautiously. “...All we want is a clear picture. We’ve pieced some things together, but the line that connects all the stories is ‘talk to Ginny; if you want to get the truth right, talk to Ginny.’”
She snorts. “There’s no such thing as the right truth.” Before Kingsley can pick that apart, she heaves a loud, frustrated grunt. "I know I have to, I know. It's just…" she shrugs, "it's not the sort of thing you want to talk about. Ever."
“You haven’t told them?” he guesses, not bothering to define who “them” is. Ginny gnaws on her bottom lip, still avoiding his gaze, and shakes her head. Kingsley reaches a comforting hand towards her, hesitates, and then places it on her shoulder. "This is far from an ideal situation, I understand. But talking about it could make the difference between a 20-year sentence and a life sentence."
Ginny's eyes flash, finally meeting his. "They're considering 20 years? Only 20 bloody years for what they've done?" she exclaims.
"That's why we need you to testify. You can give us more than anyone else. You can make sure they go down."
Ginny juts out her jaw, a typical stubborn Weasley look. "Of course I'll testify. I was going to anyway."
Kingsley smiles and lets out a relieved sigh. "Brilliant. The hearing's on the eighteenth."
The grin she responds with, the slow, brilliant kind, is gone as quick as it came, replaced with a sense of urgency. "I appreciate it, you asking for my help now, instead of...," she trails off. "But let's do this as quiet as possible, and keep Mum away from the courtrooms as well, yeah? There's no way to stop those gits," she gestures towards the Burrow, "and it's bound to come out eventually anyway, but for now, please, Kingsley," she asks beseechingly, "after everything, she doesn't need this."
Kingsley nods, but sighs. "The hearing won't be a full court, but it'll be open to the public, including the press. There's nothing I'd like more than to ban anyone nonessential from attending, but we can't inhibit freedom of the press when we've just got it back."
Ginny grunts again. "Shame. I didn't want to deal with,” she waves her hand dismissively, “any of this until, I dunno, two years from now, under the influence of firewhiskey and mincemeat pies."
He frowns at her curiously. "How have you kept it hidden from everyone? Surely–”
Ginny cuts him off. "Makeup these days is bloody brilliant, don’t you know?” Her mouth twitches briefly, but then she shakes her head. “Mum's too out of her mind with grief to see anything anyway. Everyone’s preoccupied, and I've ..." she pauses, and for the first time, Kingsley notices the heavy tilt of her eyelids and the lines running across her forehead, too deep to belong to anyone her age. "I've been in the air more than I've been on the ground lately."
Molly won’t let him leave without taking a doggy bag, and even when he relents, it takes three more polite refusals to get a foot out the door. Finally, he hastens down the weathered path away from the Burrow, eager to report his mission accomplished and end this wretched day. So eager, in fact, that he doesn’t see Ginny perched on her bedroom windowsill, watching him. As he reaches the edge of the wards and disapparates, he also doesn’t see Ginny pull out her wand and give it a decisive flick, or the silver horse that emerges from its tip, triumphantly trotting around until it stops mid-air, gazing at her expectantly.
And as he apparates into the offices of the Department of Magical Law enforcement to deliver his good news, he certainly doesn’t see Ginny lean towards the patronus and say in a clear, low voice, “It happened. We need to do it now,” before sending it galloping into the distance.
August 18, 1998, 6:30 AM
Ginny huffs and punches her pillow, trying for the fifth time to go back to sleep since she laid down seven hours earlier, when her mother practically pushed her into bed, insisting that she’d need sleep to get through the “war records interview” the next day (it’s only a little lie, she keeps telling herself. Enough misdirection to prevent her mother’s fears about her from being realised). But her brain is her worst enemy on nights like these.
Her ears pick up every sound, her eyes catch every minute movement in her dark room, and so there's no point even trying to fall back into subconsciousness. The trial is in less than four hours, and apparently, she’ll add to the full effect by showing up in her wartime state: overtired and hyper-alert.
Giving up, she rolls onto her back and stares at her ceiling. She’s apprehensive, strung so tight she’s bound to snap, an easy thing to admit to when the only one around to judge her is the grinning, post-match-euphoric Gwenog Jones pasted above her bed (and she would never). Kingsley may have done his best to convince her that she’s not the one on trial, but time still ticks away at a violent pace; a murderous countdown to whatever this day may bring.
Apprehensive, she can name. She’ll even name the synonyms; nervous, anxious, agitated, tense… The real conundrum is what she can’t name, what she can’t feel, which is anything else. But that’s hardly a new issue after a year of emotions being classified as luxuries, and the numbness she’s swathed in is an old, reliable friend that she’d have trouble parting with.
Her fingers come up to swipe the purple skin under her dry eyes. Maybe there’s something wrong with her. She snorts; there’s something wrong with her.
She groans, thumping her fists on her bedspread. She wishes she could talk to someone. She wishes she would talk to someone. It has always been easy to talk to Hermione, forced companionship in her second year making them sisters before they ever became friends. But even if she could settle the dispute between her wants and her refuse-to-dos, no one deserves the beast that clings to her back, not her family, not Hermione, not Luna, not Harry… not Harry…
(“Ginny?” Harry calls through a tin can, as she tears out weed after weed in the garden. But she doesn’t have time to respond. She needs to get them all out now.)
(“Hey, Ginny,” Harry mouths, interrupting her count of the cracks in the kitchen table. She sighs. Now she has to start all over.)
(“Ginny. Ginny. Ginny.” Her head snaps up, and Harry frowns at her from his perch in Hagrid’s arms, his legs swinging limply with every wracking sob from the half-giant’s body, her brother’s agonizing yells deafening her left ear–
“I–, um,” he stutters, as he draws back his outstretched hand, “we saved you a slice of treacle tart– if you want it.”)
She pinches the bridge of her nose, hard, to the point of discomfort. Harry is complicated. She laughs out loud at her own understatement. Everything is complicated.
The thing is, when the war ended, the living sunk their teeth into each other; they clawed at each other’s arms in desperate attempts to hold onto something. But Ginny’s never had a strong bite; her nails always break a millimeter past her fingertips.
She lays there for another half hour before giving in to the onset of hunger pangs. When she pads downstairs, it’s her luck to find her mother, father and– she closes her eyes; of course– Harry, all seated at the kitchen table. As soon as her mother glares at her with her eyes narrowed, Daily Prophet in hand, Ginny’s stomach sinks. She’s caught. She curses under her breath; she was relying on her mother's nearly three years of dedicated avoidance of that blasted paper to help keep her secret, but of course she's back to reading it now.
"Ah good, you're up for your big interview!" she says, putting on the falsely cheerful voice she adopts when sniffing out lies. "Funny, I didn't see any mention of it in the paper. But there is a hearing against the Carrows today. Do you know anything about that?" She enunciates her last word by slapping the Prophet on the table.
Ginny bites her lip, searching for a way out, but the lightbulb in her brain specifically used for mum-related trickery pitifully sputters on and off with every aborted idea that flies through her mind. She doesn’t have a plan, but then again, lying has never been easier for her. She starts by edging a cautionary hand towards her mother, subconsciously using the rules for approaching a hippogriff.
"Fine, yes I’m testifying. But listen, before you go bonkers–”
“Before I go– I can’t believe you! Who put you up to this? Was it Kingsley?”
“What was going through your head when you agreed?”
“Why didn't you tell me? Why?” There must be more to the rapid-fire interrogation than anger, but Ginny doesn’t have time to investigate before her mother’s hands land on her hips in a familiar, dangerous position. She better work fast; if only she could get a word in edgewise.
“Because, because– mum, listen to me!” she insists, as her mother continues to mutter angrily. She halts mid-word and glares at Ginny, waiting for an explanation.
“Because,” she begins again, “this isn’t about me. I’m just a witness, barely even a– a bystander to…” War is war and hell is hell. It’s a goddamn mantra.
Ginny shakes her head irritably. She’s a better actress than this. She closes her eyes, lets herself go blank; slips into character.
She hunches over with a small-medium injection of Standard Grief™ and heaves an overwhelmed sigh. “What they’re asking me to do is easy– confirming dates, giving context to the things that happened to other people… I can do that because I was there; I saw everything. And the people that should be going up there, the ones that actually did something, are gone.” She brings up a hand to rub at her eyes, then grasps her opposite shoulder. “They can’t tell their stories. But I can. The fact that I’m still here means that I have a duty to make things right, for them.”
Her mother isn’t convinced. Her frozen facade hasn’t even melted a degree. "You actually expect me to believe that this has nothing to do with you? That there isn't anything you're not telling me?"
“How could there be?” Ginny snaps, squaring her stance. Every lie has a morsel of truth, and here’s hers. “I did nothing but watch my friends charge forward and fight and die for what they believed in. You made quite sure of that.”
The last part comes out in an intoxicating and triumphant bite like it’s part of an old, well-worn argument, the kind you bring up on Christmases and birthday dinners for an adrenaline fix. But any satisfaction quickly disappears as her mum’s face falls, her breath hitching in the quiet way that it does whenever her children truly hurt her. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see her father’s disapproving gaze.
She measures out a slow, calming breath. "I’m not trying to start a fight,” she says. “But I’ve told you a thousand times, I am a pureblood. They weren't the least bit interested in hurting me beyond reprimands." She throws in a bitter laugh, casting her gaze over her shoulder, and adds, “As if I did anything useful enough to get reprimanded.”
“Ginny…” her father chides softly, perturbed.
She shakes her head. “This isn’t about me,” she repeats. “This has never been about me. This is about the chance to get justice for the people that deserve it the most. That’s all. There’s nothing to worry about."
“Nothing to worry about?" her mother repeats incredulously. "Well, I might go to this hearing and see–”
“You can, if you really want to,” Ginny interrupts, shrugging casually, even as a jolt of panic claws through her insides. “But if I had a choice, I wouldn’t decide to sit through hours of testimonies about a war I just stopped fighting, especially in a place as sterilized of empathy as a courtroom.”
Disdain floods her mother’s face. Ding ding ding. Give her a damn BAFTA already.
"Mum," Ginny puts her hand on her shoulder, placating, closing in. “The only thing that could hurt me is seeing you there, putting yourself through other people’s pain. Please don’t make me go through that– isn’t there enough of it to go around?” She lets that hang in the air for a moment, then pulls on her ‘bright side’ grin. “Anyway, Mrs. Tonks is supposed to come over with Teddy later, right? No sense in missing that little midget and his party tricks."
Ginny knows that her mother has one more protest in her, but when she opens her mouth to say it, her father interjects.
"Molly," he says firmly, "Ginny knows what she's doing, and if she says not to worry, we shouldn't worry."
Her mother gives her one more look of mingled concern and consideration. "Okay, fine,” she says finally, then adds, pointedly, “I trust you."
Oh shite. And she had been doing so well.
I trust you, the parent’s most lethal weapon. I trust you, a phrase made of a labyrinth in a hall of mirrors. I trust you, a scheme designed to make shame eat children from the inside out. Ginny navigates the maze by heart now, but it doesn’t lessen the sting.
She swallows thickly and musters up a strained smile in response, darting her gaze away from her parents as quickly as possible without raising more suspicion. Deciding a piece of toast would be a good contender to throttle the guilt dancing in her stomach, she goes to sit across from Harry. He stayed surprisingly silent throughout her conversation with her mother, but he’s looking at her with an expression that she doesn’t like. You like all of his expressions, she thinks before she can stop herself, and, dammit, are all inner voices as treacherous as hers?
Twenty minutes of sleepy silence later, her father refolds his newspaper. "Well, I'm off everyone, see you later tonight."
"When will you be back?" her mother asks casually, or at least tries to; the line of her spine is noticeably tense, and she’s struggling not to glance up from the pan of bacon she’s frying. Concealing emotions has never been any Weasley’s strongest suit. Her father smiles fondly at the back of her mother’s head.
"Not until late,” he replies. “We're still bringing in hundreds of cursed objects every day, and it doesn't look like it'll be stopping soon, with all the Death Eaters we haven't rounded up waging bloody guerrilla warfare.” He kisses his wife, bids Harry and Ginny goodbye, and disapparates.
"Harry, shouldn't you be heading off as well?" her mum asks, waving a spatula in his direction.
"Yeah Mrs. Weasley, I’ll be off soon." He casts a glance at the ceiling, "I'm just waiting for Ron to greet the land of the living so we can go in together."
Her mum rolls her eyes. "Oh that boy,” she complains, slapping the spatula down and marching towards the stairs. “He'd sleep for eternity if I wasn't there to wallop him out of bed.” Each step her mother takes comes with a corresponding stair creak, and the minute she reaches the one that means she’s fully out of earshot (second story, fifth step up), Harry rounds on Ginny. She idly spreads jam on another piece of toast, jerks her head towards the stairs and says, "Subtle."
He ignores her. "You’re lying, aren’t you,” he says knowingly, and then, a little less sure, “Are you lying?"
Ginny extends her time to answer by cramming the entire piece of toast in her mouth. She chews slowly and takes a long, slow sip of tea, but the thing nobody thinks about is how much effort charades take, and how long a person can keep one up is entirely dependent on how much patience said person has.
“Why would I lie?” she asks, in monotone for perversity’s sake.
”I don’t know, you tell me.”
Ginny squints at him. “You know, your interrogation tactics could use some work.”
Ginny sighs and rubs her temples tiredly. "This is too dramatic for seven in the morning. Do you realise it’s seven in the morning?” He shrugs dismissively, and so she points her finger at him, glaring. "Okay, here’s the thing. Mum is delicate, and these trials feel like… like a– I don’t know, like a bath in acid, or like your shoes are made of sandpaper or something. I know you agree with me.” He nodded; at least they were on the same page about something.
“Right. So it doesn’t matter what the trial’s about, or what I’m doing there. If I can spare her the details, I will,” she says, and if there’s a warning in there, neither of them mention it.
"But what are you doing?” he demands, urgent worry crossing his features. “What are you testifying about?"
Ginny rolls her eyes so hard she probably looks possessed. "I already told you. And it’s not as sensational as it sounds. The only reason anyone besides me should be going to this trial is if seeing democracy in action helps them get a good wank," she says sarcastically.
"Ginny–” he repeats, sidestepping her joke.
“Why do you keep saying my name?” she grumbles, accidentally saying it out loud. Mortification seizes through her, but then she realises that he stopped in his tracks, cheeks growing red.
"I– what? I don’t– what? No, Gi– look,” he says, shaking his head irritably, like a wet dog. Ginny almost bites her lip to keep from laughing, but then he says, “what I’m saying is, you can tell me. You can tell me what’s going on with you.”
If he actually believes that she’ll grab onto that offer like a helping hand, he has another think coming. She raises her eyebrows in exasperation and purses her lips in a tight, thin line. At this, naturally, he becomes even more determined than before.
He leans forward, too close, his palms flat against the table. “Something is wrong.” It's a statement, not a question.
She shakes her head, denying, but something unpleasant begins to curl around her spine. “There’s nothi–”
“Something is still wrong," he drills over her. “I can feel it.” It barely scratches the surface, but it’s enough that the walls start to close in around her, enough that her breathing rhythm goes from waltz to foxtrot, enough that she has to squeeze her eyes shut. Her heartbeat thumping in her ears stifles everything else but when he continues, his voice is unnaturally loud and clear. “What happened? What happened to y–”
"Don't," she grits out, eyes flying open. "Just… don't."
They glare at each other in the silence that follows, locked in a battle of wills. History tells her that neither will blink first. But to her shock, just when she begins to think this will go on until they’re two piles of dust and bone, he falls back in his chair. “Okay,” he says, and he lets out a resigned sigh. “I won’t.”
“Good,” is all she says.
It’s a rare defeat. But he’s still looking at her.
At first, it’s with infuriating earnestness, but without warning… it changes. His gaze goes soft, and then something flickers between them– something from before. It zings through her, crackling, and she sees it happen to him too. Suddenly, it’s as if they are once again sitting under their favorite willow tree on the edge of the lake, pressed close against the early summer wind, battling it out over who can tell the worst joke–
“Ginny…” he murmurs, tipping forward and inching his hand towards hers. But before he can reach her she jolts her hand away.
Because no, no, they’re not. They are here, on the other side of the end of the world, and a jar of blackcurrant preserves is the only thing cushioning the suffocating space between them.
“Look,” she clears her throat, “I don’t know what you think you know, but there’s nothing to tell. Everything is fine,” she tells him. “I’m fine,” she throws in at the last second, and with it goes any hope of convincing him to back off.
He gives her a disbelieving look. "Oh, well now that you say you’re fine, I can forget all about it, right?" he deadpans, a match point against her earlier sarcasm. She glares at him, then heaves a heavy sigh at her own lack of foresight; after this spectacular display, he’s probably more likely to go than before. He might even make a grand entrance just to prove a point. How he keeps up his nobility act, she’ll never understand, because it sure as hell seems exhausting from her end.
Harry works his jaw in what looks to be an almost painful way, then tries and fails to say something twice. He grunts in frustration and finally says, "I… are you all right?"
An astonished snort punches out of Ginny before she can stop it, and then she’s shaking through giggles, clutching her chest to catch her breath. It isn’t the reaction Harry expected, given the increasingly concerned look on his face. Once she manages to contain herself, she chokes down one more laugh and smiles at him, ruefully. "Don’t ask a question if you don’t really want the answer."
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