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.
Rating: R starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-HBP, Post-DH/AB
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2018.03.05
Updated: 2018.03.06


Chapter 1: Is a Reluctant Request Really a Request?
Chapter 2: If the Nightmare is as Bad as the Reality, is Your Imagination Just Dull?
Chapter 3: There Ain’t No Rest for the Witches
Chapter 4: The Tempestuous Balance Between Prosecution and Defense is a Little Disgusting
Chapter 5: It Isn't the Train That's Off the Rails

Chapter 1: Is a Reluctant Request Really a Request?

Author's Notes: It's been three million years, but I'm finally reposting the story that is taking me my whole life to write. A lot has been rewritten, so start from the top. Thanks for reading! If you like, please consider reviewing and/or reblogging on tumblr. xx Now with new updates!

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

Kingsley Shacklebolt raises his fist, hesitates, then fails to do his job– again.

His arm falls at his side, limp and defeated, and he resumes pacing with a sort of frustrated violence, the resulting scuff marks on his new brogues the least he deserves for his indecisiveness. He glances around, searching for a viable distraction. He’s already three hours behind schedule; he might as well make it three hours and five minutes.

It’s unusual– unheard of– for Kingsley to be running late, odder still for him to want to be running late. “You’d arrive early to your own execution,” Sirius used to laugh, mirth reviving the last sliver of youth in his haggard features, whenever he rounded the corner into the kitchen of Grimmauld Place and found Kingsley, sitting at the burnt wooden table in front of fresh parchment and a full bottle of ink, at least fifteen minutes before the start of every Order meeting. It became a running joke, though most of the people who ran with it are now too dead to appreciate this 180.

Even entertaining the thought of tardiness tends to send him into cold sweats, but today Kingsley’s made a point of dragging his feet, twiddling his thumbs– just enough to push what he has nicknamed “Operation Dread” all the way down his to-do list. He’s done well with it, too: three coffee breaks, a two-hour lunch, and a conversation he purposefully initiated with “Gabbing Gabby” Delmonico from the Department of Magical Games and Sports.

It’s not that he doesn’t understand the gravity of what he’s been saddled with. He does. He’s also been told more than once that such painful things are necessary for the sake of creating a better world with a better government, even if the kind of government he dreams of would prohibit the favor he has been sent to ask. But that’s the problem; what Kingsley Shacklebolt has inherited is not a good government. Not yet.

He could turn around right now, find another way to stall, but he won’t. Because Kingsley has always been loyal to law and order, and despite the urgent voice whispering “Retreat! Retreat!” in the back of his mind, 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 lets his fist connect with the chipped wooden door of the familiar, mismatched house.

He knocks a practiced code as 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. 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.

“Afternoon, Molly.”

“Oh, it’s Kingsley,” she sighs with relief, as she pulls him into one of her trademark hugs. “It’s only Kingsley.”

“Obviously it’s only Kingsley,” Ron says, rolling his eyes, as he, Bill, Percy and Harry return to their seats at the kitchen table. “We’ve been watching him pace around outside for the past five minutes.”

There is a flush across Molly’s cheeks when she steps back, stark against her skin’s uncharacteristic pallor, and she gives him a sheepish look. He smiles and shakes his head to show he understands. War is an untrustworthy business.

“Terribly sorry to have startled you, I should have sent word.” He places an apologetic hand on Molly’s shoulder and exchanges nods with her boys. Around them, the house takes a collective calming breath, and the atmosphere returns to the resting state it was in when he last visited two months before–quiet, consuming grief.

"It is so lovely to see you! So lovely,” Molly gasps, smoothing the creases in his purple robes distractedly, then cupping her hands to her face. “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?" At the sound of his name, Harry tenses, his expression caught in a peculiar combination of dread and resignation.

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?" 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– expression. He responds, gently, "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?"

“Hold on, Kingsley,” Bill interjects, eyeing him carefully. “If something’s going on that involves Ginny, we’ll find out about it eventually. Why don’t you save all of us the time and tell us now?”

Kingsley expected some pushback, and he expected it from Bill. He pastes on a bland smile, a well-used look in a life spent playing chicken with criminals and pretending not to be part of a secret organization whilst under a paranoid regime. “I’m sorry,” he says, meaning it, to Bill and the kitchen in general. “I can’t do that. You understand.”

Bill gives a short nod, but his dissatisfaction at Kingsley’s response rolls off of him in waves. Molly’s eyes flick between the two of them for a beat, then she says, "She’s out flying in the paddock."

“Thank you.” 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, who is soaring 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; if she can’t even rely on her mother's nearly three years of dedicated avoidance of that blasted paper to help keep her secret, what does she have?

"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?”

“No! He–”

“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, fixing her with a probing look that she’s seen him give to other people, but never her. “Something is wrong.” It's a statement, not a question.

She shakes her head, denying, but an unpleasant chill begins to curl around her spine. “There’s nothi–”

“Something is still wrong," he drills over her. “I can feel it.” He nods to her. “I can see it in the way you’ve been acting since the end of the war.” 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 they’ll go on with this 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.”

Still surprised, all she says is “Good.”

It’s a rare defeat. But he’s still looking at her.

At first, it’s with infuriating stubbornness, 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, trying to ignore the hurt that flashes across his face as he drags his hand back towards him, “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 at all 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 just… 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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Chapter 2: If the Nightmare is as Bad as the Reality, is Your Imagination Just Dull?

Author's Notes: Thanks for reading! Please review and reblog. xx

Chapter 2: If the Nightmare is as Bad as the Reality, is Your Imagination Just Dull?

August 18th, 1998

Ginny hurries through the guest entrance into the Ministry of Magic, cursing herself for letting the time get away from her. She left the Burrow plenty early, but she still managed to find herself running late. She doesn’t know how it happened.

(Lie. It happened because she spent much of the previous hour crammed in the red velvet corner of a small muggle cafe near the Ministry, a steaming cup of coffee slowly diminishing into cold bean water as she let her imagination off the leash, conjuring up images of an unfriendly, thin barrister with an intimidating mustache who probed at her most brutal memories. When she managed to shut the door on her reverie, it was lucky ((lucky?)) that the wall she was zoning out on was the one with the clock, because she only had seventeen minutes until the trial began.)

She taps her foot impatiently as the Watchwizard weighs her wand, letting her eyes wander about the atrium ahead of her. Why isn’t there a quicker system by now? Why does she still have to relinquish her most valuable thing to someone else’s clutches? Why are her hands shaking so uncontrollably?, her mind screams, as she stands in line next to her anxiety-ridden father, waiting to prove that she is a true, safe, good pureblood, and she gapes in horror at the remodelled atrium, the sickening realisation that the grotesque marble carvings below the giant witch and wizard are supposed to be muggles coming up her throat like bile–

“Miss. Miss, yer wand.”

Her focus snaps back to the Watchwizard, and she snatches her wand from his burly hands, smiling distractedly. She breathes heavily through her nose, trying to rein herself in, digging out her tried and true coping mechanism. Facts and figures, a voice whispers in her head, the voice of the wizened old mystic woman that her parents made her see when she was twelve and fading fast. Facts and figures. The elevator is on the other end of the atrium, maybe 90 tiles; fifty steps? She walks briskly through the cavernous hall– now a different scene, completely razed and gutted– counting each click-clack of her shoes that echoes in the wide open space.

Eleven, twelve, thirteen. To her right, a commissioned team of artists pore over blueprints of the planned statue to memorialise those lost in the war. Dean Thomas is among them, but she turns away, not wanting to be recognised or spoken to by anyone.

Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight. To her left, the walls are littered with missing person posters, tacked up haphazardly, so many of them that they’re overlapping each other. They are heinous, they can’t not be, with “HAVE YOU SEEN ME?” crudely splashed across the top of each one, accompanied by pictures and descriptions of the long disappeared, the long dead. And there, there’s little Danny Keller and his big cheeks, and Diana Lowry, who always borrowed her purple lipstick, and dark braided hair framing a dimpled face with a stubborn smile….

Ginny fixes her gaze on her boots the rest of the way. Click, clack, click. Forty-four, forty-five, forty-six.

When the cool female voice announces her arrival on the trial floor, the doors slide open to reveal a long corridor, not unlike the one she and the others travelled down on their doomed mission to rescue Sirius. Was that only two years ago? Too many things have happened since then to be squashed into twenty-six measly months of her life.

A familiar face comes into her vision, and she has to double check that her mind isn’t slipping into another vivid memory. But no, Neville Longbottom is actually striding towards her, happiness clear on his face. His smile is contagious, and it allows something suspiciously like joy to bloom in her chest. She’s spent so much time in the last few months wishing there was someone she could talk to, and she could kick herself now. Neville served as her rock, her confidante, and her brother-in-arms throughout one of the worst years of her life. Why hasn't she seen him or talked to him in almost two months?

She speeds up to meet him, and when she throws her arms around his shoulders, he makes a surprised oof sound, as if he’s shocked that she’s that excited to see his face. It’s so typical of him; she squeezes him tighter.

"Missed you," he mumbles into her shoulder.

"Me too," she replies. They pull back and grin at each other.

"Sorry I've not been in touch, but–” he says guiltily, scratching the back of his head in a familiar, nervous way, "but with everything going on with your family, and my Gran's not in fit form..." he trails off.

"No, I know," she says. And she does.

"So. How is everyone?" he says after a beat, and the real concern in his voice tugs at her heart.

"They’re…" her mouth twists, searching for the right words, "as to be expected." For others curious about her family, she had been stopping there. But Neville would never be satisfied with that, and she surprises herself by wanting to tell him.

"Mum and dad…” she starts, but she can’t explain, doesn’t have the right to.

“Bill's alright, but he's always alright. He and Fleur are throwing themselves into married life now that there's not a snake-buggering git out there destroying the world. And Charlie's back in Romania already." At Neville's raised eyebrows, she explains, "on top of everything, he took Tonks, you know... dying pretty hard. They were best mates in school and were near in love with each other at one point, I think. So, he had to get out." He nods soberly, but she moves on quickly before the image of Tonk’s bubblegum pink hair and infectious smile starts bleeding through her blockades. She shakes it off. "Percy's doing everything he can to get back in our good books, which he deserves. Well no," she backtracks and shakes her head, "he doesn't, but it's... nice to see him really trying."

She steels herself for the second half of the list, her usual stepladder of brothers stunted by a gaping hole that her subconscious still has trouble remembering. "George is– George is–” she takes a deep breath, finding the words, "George is a bloody shadow. He's been gutted from the inside out, without– without Fred. We all have." It’s hard most days to even say his name, but she pushes herself through and shakes it off. Fred would expect better from her than to shy away with grief, and anyway, what right does she have to let it consume her? "Ron and Hermione are leaning on each other, which is both brilliant and bloody disgusting at the same time if you ask me."

Neville gives a loud, fond laugh. "Merlin, I'm glad those two finally got their heads out of their arses. I always thought she was either going to kiss him or kill him, and I was nervous for either outcome. Come to think of it, I'm still nervous." They both know the next name that will come out of Neville's mouth. "And Harry?"

She shrugs, her new standard emotional response. "I dunno. Fine, I guess. Beating himself up about everything and being bloody noble, so the usual."

"Have you two sorted things out?"

Ginny snorts and rolls her eyes, "that's like asking a man with no arms if his nose itches. I've got bigger problems. Besides, sexual tension is always hilarious. Now that Ron and Hermione have resolved theirs," she shudders, "we've got to pick up the slack."

Despite himself, Neville wrinkles up his nose in pretend disgust, which makes her giggle. But then his eyes narrow, scrutinising her. "What about you," he says, "how are you?"

"I'm fine, Neville," she tells him firmly, not liking where the conversation is going.

"Hmm," he responds.

She rolls her eyes again. "Well, my brother and a bloody profound number of my friends are dead and terrible things have happened, so I'm obviously not fine, but I'm… fine," she finishes, rather less eloquently than she intended on. He raises an eyebrow.

“Hmm,” he says again.

"What?" she snaps, suddenly annoyed.

"Nothing.” He holds both of his hands up in defense. “I had been wondering how you were processing your grief, but I can see now that you're doing it by not grieving at all," he says bluntly.

"That doesn't make any sense," she hisses at him, eyes blazing. "And I have grieved. I've just moved it along, because I've got bigger problems." That’s the second time she’s said that in the space of thirty seconds; she just hopes he hasn't noticed.

Seeing that he isn't going to get any further with this conversation, Neville backs down and switches gears. A wise choice. "Well anyway, thank Merlin you're here. When I got picked for this trial, I thought you might be here too, but I was a bit nervous it was just gonna be me. I– I mean, don't get me wrong, i– it's not like I want you to be reliving this shite, but–”

"Neville," she cuts him off, her annoyance at him forgotten the moment he started his typical stammering, "I'm glad you're here too. At least we don't have to do this bloody trial alone."

"And it's not just you and me," he says, grimly. "They've roped in some of the others to speak as well."

"Really?" she says, surprised for a moment and then not at all. "Are they who I think they are?"

"Probably,” he shrugs.

A horrific thought passes through her mind. “I hope they didn’t bother someone like Parvati or anyone else before they narrowed down their targets.”

Neville flinches. “Not targets, Ginny. Witnesses. And from what I hear, everyone told them to come to us first.”

He checks his watch– eleven minutes to ten o'clock. "Come on then," he says, motioning towards the intimidating double-doors at the end of the corridor, their brass handles oozing austerity. She follows him through into a courtroom the size and style that she expected. Like most, it’s circular, lined with rows of benches, with one area sectioned off for the overseeing Wizengamot officials, one for the prosecution team, and one for the defense team. The section of benches behind the prosecution is where she assumes she'll be sitting until she takes the stand as a witness. At the very center are two chairs, the chains attached to each arm rattling threateningly. The room is, unfortunately, quite full of people already.

She scans the room for familiar faces. Kingsley Shacklebolt smiles at her from the officials' benches, and the new head of Department of Magical Law Enforcement, a tall muggle-born woman with black curly hair named Violet Almasi– who Kingsley dug out of hiding and hand-picked in the rush to find new department heads after the collapse of Voldemort's regime– stands next to him, frowning impressively at her surroundings. She recognises several other Ministry officials that she has met through her father or through the Order of the Phoenix, including Hestia Jones who– Ginny jerks in surprise– is scrutinising papers in the prosecution box. A vaguely familiar man with neat, dark hair, an upturned nose and a permanent sneer is setting up shop in the defense box; not quite her vision of an austere mustached man, but not any better either.

She continues to scan the room, and a stab of anger rages through her gut.

"Oh bloody buggering hell," she growls through gritted teeth, because her eyes have landed on none other than Rita Skeeter, hair immaculately coiffed, quick-quotes-quill and notepad already poised to destroy lives.

"What? Oh," Neville says, catching sight of Rita as well.

"She shouldn't be here. I swear, Neville, if she twists anything I am going to go off.” Oh, the things she would do, wants to do; out her as a beetle, dust off the old bat-bogey, chuck a can of lead paint in her face–


She jumps and turns to see Hannah Abbott, Anthony Goldstein and Seamus Finnigan heading over to her and Neville. Her rage fades as quickly as it came, and she rushes forward to her friends, tackling each of them in a tight hug. She even takes the time to give Seamus a sassy pat on the cheek.

"Blimey," he winks in response. "Flirting with me already Miss Weasley? That's a good sign."

She rolls her eyes. "It really is good to see you all," she says honestly. Circumstances be damned.

"Yeah well," Anthony smirks, rocking back on his heels with his hands in his pockets, "it wouldn't be a proper gathering for us if we weren't serving justice and fighting the good fight, would it?"

Ginny matches his smirk, "Oh I’ve missed you."

He mimes vomiting. “I’d say the same, but I’m afraid I’d choke to death on the sentiment.”

Hannah scoffs and elbows past Anthony, pushing her blonde fringe out of her eyes and grinning at Ginny. "You look awful," she says brightly as she grabs Ginny into a hug.

"Mhm. I can always count on you for that extra boost in confidence," Ginny retaliates, tugging on Hannah’s long wavy tresses, but ruins it by clutching her back just as hard. Sweet, kind, tough Hannah, who tried her best to patch the gaping wound that was left in Ginny after so many losses. She hadn't known that rebelling against a repressive and violent regime would bring her closer to people like Seamus and Anthony either, but total abject misery really does love company.

She gently disentangles herself from Hannah, the reason they’re in the courtroom re-inserting itself into her mind. "So, do any of you know what's in store for us today?" Ginny asks them once they settle down.

"Er– no," says Neville. "I've never understood how this… law stuff works, if I’m being honest," he confesses.

"They sent 'round the info right before you got here, look," Seamus says, thrusting a piece of parchment into her hands. Spiky, official writing is accompanied by a seal she has never seen before: a rotating image of the earth in black and white, with two crossed wands underneath, shooting sparks in opposite directions.

International Wizarding Court of Justice, Special Court Tribunal for the Second English Wizarding War (SCTEW)

Hearing 7: War Crimes Committed Against Wizards and Witches of All Blood Status at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, During the Second English Wizarding War, 1996-1998.

Hearing Date: Eighteenth of August, 1998

Magistrates: W.E. Ruxanda Ivanova, W.E. Shira D. Klein, W.E. Kingsley L. Shacklebolt, W.E. Dominic Esnaider

Accused: Amycus Obsidius Carrow, Alecto Morgana Carrow

Chief Prosecution: Hestia Clarice Jones

Chief Defense: Dorian Julius Parkinson

Witnesses: Seamus Colin Finnigan, Anthony Isaac Goldstein, Neville Francis Longbottom, Ginevra Molly Weasley

Her full name always looks strange on paper, in its proper ye-olde-magick way, but it’s especially peculiar alongside such fancy language.

"I don't know who half of these people are on here, do you?" she asks the group at large.

"Nope," Seamus says.

"Don't look at me, I'm only here for moral support," Hannah says, hands up. Neville shakes his head. Even Anthony shrugs his shoulders, running a hand through his thick light brown hair in frustration.

"I do," says a very familiar voice.

Ginny whips around, knowing all too well who she will find, glee and (more) guilt crashing in her haphazardly, like asymmetric cymbals. Hermione is standing before her, arms crossed, eyes narrowed. It’s a surprisingly intimidating display for an eighteen-year-old girl who is too thin and still a bit peaky after nearly a year on the run.

"Hi," Ginny says, as tentatively as she ever gets.

"Hi," Hermione responds, face unchanging.

"Hi Hermione," Seamus interjects, waving his hand in front of her face. Neville gives a tentative wave from behind him.

"Hi," she says again, not taking her eyes off Ginny.

"Always nice to be appreciated," Seamus grumbles. Hannah smacks the back of his head.

"How do you always manage to make everything about you?" she asks him, shaking her head in amazement.

"Why didn't you tell me you were going to be here today?" Hermione's stern voice cuts through the squabble.

"Oh okay, so we're skipping the pleasantries and going right in, got it," Ginny replies, her guilt dissipating out of pure spite.


"I forgot!" she lies, badly.

Hermione ignores her. "Imagine how you might feel if you came into the department that you're helping rebuild from scratch this morning to find that one of the items on the agenda is a hearing on torture, in which your friend was testifying, and you had no idea?" Her voice steadily rises in pitch throughout her tirade, reaching a shrill level by the time she finishes speaking.

"Alright, I'm sorry!" Ginny exclaims. Hermione raises her eyebrows at Ginny, clearly expecting more, but that’s all she has to say. It’s all she ever has to say; she might as well get the words ‘I’m sorry’ tattooed on her forehead, and point to it whenever anyone spoke to her.

"I'm sorry," she says again. She should see if there are any appointments available today at the Diagon Alley tattoo parlour.

"What are you testifying about?" Hermione demands, dread washing over her face.

"It’s– look," she flaps her hands in Hermione’s direction, "we can talk more about this later, but will you fill us in on the details? Please?" Ginny asks, hoping to distract her. Ginny knows Hermione doesn't want to give up the conversation so soon, but her overwhelming urge to inform takes over.

"The International Confederation of Wizards has taken jurisdiction, and they've created an international court tribunal, seeing as our court system has been completely dismantled. It's a lot like the system muggles use after their wars or violent conflict. They have generously allowed us control over prosecution and defense," her jaw clenches at the word ‘defense’, "and Kingsley has been allowed to be an observing magistrate because he's shown incredible impartiality throughout the hearings. He is not, however, allowed to contribute to the ruling.”

“The other magistrates are employed by the ICW. Ruxanda Ivanova from Russia and Shira Klein from the US were both celebrated human rights barristers before they became magistrates. They’re renown professionals, and have worked together before; they were on the team that successfully took down the Tunisian Wizard Criminal Syndicate case in 1992. Dominic Esnaider comes from a line of ICW magistrates from Argentina– his father was instrumental in drafting the Berne treaty between the Romanian and Bulgarian vampire clans in 1977." She rattles it off so quickly that Hannah, who hasn't seen Hermione's lecture style in a while, is practically gaping at her, brow furrowed in confusion. Anthony, consummate Ravenclaw that he is, nods in complete understanding.

"And what of the prosecution and defense?" he asks Hermione, the two of them looking ready to get into an intellectual tete a tete.

"Prosecution is led by Hestia Jones, member of the Order of the Phoenix," she turns her eyes on Ginny, clearly on the same wavelength, "Yes, I didn't know either, but I suppose it was a bit foolish of us to assume her only job was working for the Order." Ginny shrugs and nods in agreement.

"Then defense is led by Dorian Parkinson–”

"Oh, I wonder whose father he is," Ginny deadpans.

Hermione smiles sarcastically. "Indeed. The Parkinson's have managed to get away scot-free, even with Pansy trying to sell Harry out to Voldemort," she clenches her teeth. "But Dorian Parkinson was never a Death Eater, despite his ties, and he's got a squeaky clean record. They can't hold him to anything but old established prejudices, so here he is, representing them. Plus, the Carrows won't speak to any barrister but him, so we're stuck." There’s clear hatred in Hermione's voice; there is nothing she hates more than bigotry disguised as bureaucracy.

"Anyway," she continues, brushing it off, "I expect they'll be interviewing you all at once instead of one by one. That's what they did for Ron, Harry and me, and for the hearings I've sat in with multiple witnesses."

"Oh good, that’s good," says Hannah, relieved. "I hoped you all wouldn't be interrogated on your own." She glances at Ginny briefly, but no, not now, not now, not ever. Ginny shakes her head very slightly, not making eye contact.

"Well, hopefully it won't turn into an interrogation. But I suppose that'll depend on how far they let Dorian Parkinson off the leash," Anthony idly scratches his beard, eyeing the pompous man with an air of dislike.

"We won't let him go that far," Ginny says confidently, and suddenly, she’s warm with adrenaline like it’s minutes before a Quidditch match. If this is a game, then she’s about to plunge headfirst into it. Her mouth quirks dangerously, "this is gonna be fun."

Seamus shakes his head. "You know, Weasley, you scare me sometimes."

The second he finishes speaking, the doors on the other side of the courtroom open with a stupendous clang. Ron and Harry stride in, scanning the room as if they’re already trained Aurors and not recent recruits. Anxiety floods through her as Harry's eyes find hers, and his defiant expression plainly says, what are you gonna do about it? Ginny glares back and turns to the others.

"I take it back," she says flatly, "this is going to be shite."

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Chapter 3: There Ain’t No Rest for the Witches

Chapter 3: There Ain’t No Rest for the Witches

Hermione wrestles her way through the steadily growing crowd in the courtroom, towards the bench where Harry and Ron have saved her a seat. She almost gets caught in the swarm of journalists and schoolmates that buzz around her, but Ron’s arm reaches in and yanks her through, swinging her onto the bench.

“Who is ‘the general?’” she asks when she lands in front of him.

Ron gives her a perplexed look. “Did I pull you too hard? Did you bang your head when I wasn’t looking?”

No,” she draws out, lips twitching with amusement. “I keep hearing people say, ‘the general has it under control,’ ‘the general will tell us what to do,’ the general, the general. Who are they talking about?”

“If you don’t know then I don’t know,” Ron shrugs.

Hermione heaves a sigh, then switches tracks. “Well, anyway, Ginny isn’t happy that we're here," she says reproachfully as she squeezes between him and Harry, her wild curls getting into both of their faces.

"Oh really," Harry snaps sarcastically, breaking out of his tension-filled daze and batting her hair out from under his nose, "I couldn't tell." He jerks his head towards Ginny, who, after their now-customary staring contest, had what looked like a difficult conversation with Hermione accompanied by intense hand gestures, before sending Hermione over to them. Now, she’s angled away from them and whispering quickly with Neville, periodically shooting Harry, Ron and Hermione heavy glances.

"That is the understatement of the year," Ron agrees, eyes now focused on the consuming task of untwisting the tie on a bag of sweets. "She's got that expression on that makes her look like mum. I hate when she does that."

"What did she say?" asks Harry, a little desperately.

Hermione heaves a long-suffering sigh. "She said that there are more important things to do than sit here for hours listening to her talk, and then gave me an excessive list of examples.”

“At least she talked to you,” Harry grumbles, dragging his hand down his face. “That sounds like a longer conversation than I’ve had with her in months.” He hunches over, sinking back into his brooding swamp, but then he abruptly sits up ramrod-straight.

“You see it says ‘war crimes committed’?” He asks in an urgent, low voice. “You don’t think they asked her here because she was” he stops and doesn’t finish the sentence.

“I don’t know what to think,” Hermione mutters, glancing at Ron out of the corner of her eye, who is valiantly attempting to ignore the conversation. “She has been different, I suppose; more distracted, or– well, you've seen her. But she isn’t that different. After all, the war impacted everyone in a variety of ways, and I figured if there was anything out of place it was because of F–”

“Can we not talk about this?” Ron interrupts, looking up from the twist tie to glare at both of them. “I– what did we expect? That she and the others were having picnics by the lake and eating pumpkin pasties while we were out in the woods?” They all avoid eye contact at this assertion, a touch too close to the truth. “But no, this,” he gestures to the whole courtroom, “is proof. And I don’t want to talk about it. Not– not before I have to sit through it.”

“I only just–,” Hermione persists, but then she bites her lip hesitantly. “I don't understand why she didn’t tell us anything," she finishes despairingly.

"What’s hard to understand?" Ron asks despite himself, stuffing a handful of freed Pepper Imps in his mouth, leaving his ears steaming lightly. The effect would be comical if not for the cold dark circles that have been present under his eyes since the light left his brother's. "She's proving to us that she can handle whatever's going on with her by herself. And," he adds in an afterthought, "she's protecting us."

"From what?" Harry and Hermione say in unison.

Ron doesn't answer immediately. He studies his little sister. Her jaw is tensed as she takes in the courtroom, and even though she nods authoritatively as Neville talks in her ear, it’s obvious even from fifty feet away that her hands are trembling slightly. Ron sets down his bag of sweets.

"After the Chamber, she cried for a few days, but just a few days. She was... with everything that happened... she was only eleven you know?" His mouth pulls down with remnants of grief. Hermione takes his hand, and he squeezes hers gratefully. "But after that, she put on a brave face, went back to talking our ears off, and forced everyone to start treating her normally again. Because she saw what it was doing to mum, to all of us. I don't think I've seen her cry since then, not even…” He trails off, swallowing thickly. "Look, I don’t know everything, but I know enough about Ginny. She put our well-being over hers then, and she's doing the same thing now."

Harry and Hermione don't need to respond; they both know he’s right. The mood between the three of them has settled into a familiar sense of foreboding they thought they were finished with.

The midday sun breaks through the clouds and shines through the high stained glass windows of the courtroom. A stream of light strikes through the red panes and lands on Ginny, bathing her in a fiery glow. She turns her face away from the offending light to their direction, and an old, settled behemoth of pain behind her gaze is now suddenly obvious to each of them. Indeed, it’s like discovering a still portrait they've walked past every day is alive, and moving, and talking, and understanding.

"I think," Hermione says, "I think this is going to be bad."

"They won't stop staring at me," Ginny mutters out of the corner of her mouth. Neville tears his eyes away from where Hannah and Anthony are talking and follows Ginny's line of sight. Harry, Ron and Hermione are all gazing towards them, identical troubled looks on their faces.

"Well, of course they won't. They're worried about you," he says simply.

"I wish they'd just shove off," she says forcefully, "but if they're going to hear about it this way, so be it. Fine by me," she lies and blows a strand of hair out of her face.

"Hang on a minute, what? " She turns towards Neville, who has a strange mixture of outrage, confusion and concern on his face.


"You– you haven't told them? Any of them?"

"Of course not!"

"Bu– wh– but why?"

"Oh yes, Neville, right" she mocks, "let me just tell my family that instead of gossiping with friends and... falling asleep in Arithmancy this year, or whatever, I led the resistance against Voldemort and was terribly tortured. What was I supposed to say?" She narrows her eyes at him. "When should I have told them, after Fred's funeral or after Lupin and Tonks'? Or maybe I should have done it last month when my mother still wasn't getting out of bed?" This is the argument she’s been waiting for, and she’s doing a bang-up job of getting her point across, but Neville doesn’t seem to agree. He shakes his head.

"This is not the way they should find out," his honest eyes blaze into hers. Annoyingly, a stab of guilt goes through her again. She rubs the fabric covering her left forearm distractedly, and Neville's eyes flicker to the spot.

"Don't you think I know that?" she forces out. "Don’t you think– this is not how I wanted– I didn't expect this to be..." she falters, searching for the right words, and true to the pattern her life has taken lately, cannot find any. If she were being honest with herself and the world, she would admit to him that this path of revelation is the easiest one she has come across.

The clouds shift overhead, and sunlight tinged with red suddenly burns into her eyes. Her body's involuntary reaction forces her to shy away, and she inadvertently meets the eyes of the three people that are causing her such consternation. Hysterically, her frustration flares because of how serious they are in their business robes, compared to her dark green dress, Charlie's old dragon skin jacket, and frayed boots.

She turns away quickly and shakes her long hair back behind her. "This is the way it's happening. End of." Neville’s gaze burrows into the side of her head, but then he sighs, relenting, and takes both a physical and proverbial step back.

They turn towards the rest of their little group, and Neville beckons them to lean in. Silence falls among them as they wait for Ginny to speak. She wrinkles her nose; they’re more prim and polished than her as well. Even Seamus looks austere. She hates it.

She clears her throat. Focus, focus. "Alright. We're here to implicate the Carrows, and so we'll tell them everything that we've already told Kingsley, and anything else that will help," she leans in further and lowers her voice. "But tread carefully."

"That's never gone well for me," Seamus says.

Neville nods in agreement. Seamus looks insulted.

Ginny rolls her eyes. "Let me rephrase: tread carefully, or my foot will be stomping on yours every other word you say."

Seamus gives a sideways salute, "Aye aye–”

“Nope.” Ginny jabs her finger at him before he can go on, eyes narrowed. “Stop right there. No more.”

"What happens when they ask a direct question that you can't answer?" Hannah mutters nervously.

"We’ll answer the best we can," Anthony cuts in. "They can't expect–” he pauses as if to collect himself, then lifts his hand up as if to give a lecture, and says almost angrily, "this was a war; things fall through the cracks. Even the best of men have things to hide in the worst of times." His solemn words clash intriguingly with his London accent.

Ginny nods, smirking. "The sage speaketh the truth."

“Oh piss off,” he grunts, but he’s grinning.

"But anyway, listen,” she says, switching to serious and holding each of their gazes in turn, making sure to catch their eyes, “we say what we need to say, and we hold the line there. Agreed?" Seamus, Anthony and Neville nod, and then Anthony surreptitiously points to something behind her. Hestia Jones is making her way over to them.

"Right mates, let's jump headfirst into this cesspool, shall we?" he says, and he, Neville and Seamus head over to meet her. Ginny makes to turn around, but Hannah grabs her arm and pulls her off to the side.

"Ginny," she begins quietly, "I did what you said to– just the bare bones. But if it comes to it, I can..." She trails off, her mouth set in a determined line. Ginny catches her hand and squeezes it.

"I know," she smiles humorlessly. "But maybe things will work in my favour for once in my life, who knows?"

Hannah grips her arm tighter, her sweet face marked in concern, and Ginny is just so damn tired of constantly facing that expression on her friends and family. "You know, they'll understand. They'll understand why."

Ginny looks at Hannah. She looks at Hannah for a long time.

"Okay," Hannah says, resigned. "Just– just know I'm here for whatever you need." And with that, she makes her way towards the benches, but not before catching up with Neville to wish him luck, and kissing him on the cheek. Ginny grins as Neville’s face turns a radiant red punctuated with a bashful smile, his eyes trailing Hannah's form all the way until she takes her seat among a few other D.A. members who have come for support, including a pale Dennis Creevey, a stern Terry Boot and a very serious Susan Bones. A jolt goes through her, and her smile fades; the courtroom has become so full, it’s bursting at the seams. A second jolt runs through her; both Percy and Bill are now sitting next to Ron, her brothers' heads together in deep conversation.

She takes a moment to shut her eyes against the panic that’s beginning to enclose on her brain, then turns to join the others and nearly crashes into something immediately behind her. She swears and jumps back before realising it’s Luna, smiling at her vaguely, wearing what could only be described as a white tunic with an overcoat thrown over it that’s patterned with daisies and husks of corn. Unprecedented warmth floods through Ginny, and she grabs Luna into a tight hug. Like with Neville, her desire to see her friend had been buried until that very moment.

"You could have said hello instead of standing right behind me and freaking me out," she says into Luna's shoulder.

Luna shrugs, "you seemed quite busy up here." She pats Ginny's head lightly, and Ginny chokes out a laugh.

"I didn't know you were coming."

"Neither did I," Luna says, eyes wide, "but Daddy's off to Puerto Rico– there was a reported sighting of a Purple-Striped Monos Voladores, and you know how rare those are.”

“I do,” Ginny agrees.

“So I'm here for the Quibbler.”

"Good," Ginny says firmly. "At least ethical journalism will be represented here by one honest person." She glares in the direction of Rita Skeeter. She’s now trying and failing to interrogate Padma Patil, who is literally batting her off like a fly.

"Oh yes," Luna says in her dreamy tones, "although, I was hoping you would write the piece."

"Wha– me?" Ginny asks incredulously, utterly nonplussed. Luna tends to have that effect on most people, but it rarely happens to Ginny anymore, and when it does it’s usually a lot funnier than whatever the hell is happening here.

"Yes, you," Luna responds, eyebrows raised as if it were obvious. "You're the best writer in our year, maybe even in Hogwarts, and this is your story to tell." She says this matter-of-factly as if she’s explaining how to make tea. “So I'll take the notes, and you'll write it. Yes?"

Ginny gapes at her, and Luna smiles back cheerily. "I knew you'd say yes!" she exclaims. "Okay, good luck! Don't lose your temper too badly," she calls out bluntly as she flounces away.

"But, Luna! I didn't–” she croaks out, but Luna is already halfway across the large room, being hugged tightly by Hermione. Ginny groans and pulls the sleeves of her jacket around her fists, to cover her eyes; there are now too many people in the courtroom that she knows. Her plan to make the trial as impersonal as possible is quickly unraveling. She was foolish to believe it wouldn't happen.

She makes her way over towards where Hestia is briefing Neville, Seamus and Anthony. Hestia smiles and winks at her, pink cheeks dimpling. For a moment, Ginny’s afraid she will be accosted by concerned, here-to-help looks from yet another adult in her life, but Hestia squares her shoulders in a most business-like manner and clears her throat to get their attention, her glossy black hair glinting in the refracted sunlight.

"As you all know by now, I will be head of the prosecution for this case. I've read the statements you gave to Magical Law Enforcement, and it should be enough to put the Carrows behind bars for a long time. I was a Chief Prosecutor before the war, so not to worry, I won't muck it up," she winks again at them all. Seamus, of course, winks back. "But," she adds sternly, eyeing each of them in the intense manner only barristers and mothers know how to adopt, "if there is anything else you can think of at all that would help the case, please do not hesitate to say it."

Neville shifts uncomfortably beside her, and she almost groans out loud. How is it that someone who kept secrets under fear of torture is such shit at it under the stern gaze of a bloody solicitor?

When no one responds to her inquiry, Hestia nods. "Right," she says briskly, gathering up an alarmingly large stack of parchment. "Just answer the questions clearly, don't lose your heads, and these wankers will be out of your lives for good."

"Pinky promise?" Anthony deadpans. Hestia's lips twitch before she turns around, leading them to the witness benches. They walk together in a tight group, purposefully avoiding all contact with the gathering spectators, but that doesn't stop Rita Skeeter from diving between Anthony and Neville and landing haphazardly in front of Ginny.

"Ah, Miss Weasley!" she exclaims, breathless excitement clear in her brittle voice. "The youngest warrior of the family. There is no doubt that we owe a great deal to you and your compatriots, but what really went on at Hogwarts this year? Terrible, terrible times no doubt, but surely the stories are a tad... hysterical? Surely some of these ‘missing persons’ are just taking a much-needed holiday?” She laughs, a tinkling, unnerving sound, before abruptly changing her demeanor and leaning forward, eyes narrowed. “How does it feel to be here, surrounded by your schoolmates, on the other side of the law, possibly about to send two people to their deaths?" Her tone becomes strangely hushed at the word "death" as if she’s attempting to evoke sympathy for the Carrows. Anger flares through Ginny.

"Why are you here?" she snaps at Rita, who draws back, clearly bemused by the question.

"I am here on behalf of the Daily–”

"No," Ginny interrupts, "I don't mean here," she gestures around the courtroom, "I mean here. On this earth. Still. I thought all forms of evil were supposed to evaporate once Voldemort did, but clearly I was wrong." Neville, Seamus and Anthony snigger openly, and she hears a booming laugh to her right that unmistakably belongs to Ron. It is immensely gratifying.

Rita flinches at the mention of Voldemort, but then curls her lips in a menacing smile. "It's so wonderful to see that the youth's sense of humor has not been taken away by war," she says loftily. "Tell me, Miss Weasley, will your jokes help you keep the interest of your precious crush, Harry Potter? Now, without a price on his head, he can find someone a little more… civilised, if you catch my drift."

Ginny’s eyes widen in shock, and she almost involuntarily shifts her arm back, with clear intent to strike.

"Oi, why don't you bugger off, you manky shrew," Seamus sneers, as Neville catches her arm and prevents her from moving any further. Rita gives a hair-raising tinkling laugh, pivots on a teetering heel, and sidles away. If she moves quick enough, she’s certain she can hex Rita right between the shoulder blades.

"That twat," Anthony growls, hooking arms with Ginny and pulling her towards the witness benches as if he guessed her train of thought. "As full of lies as she is with vodka. She doesn't know what she’s talking about Ginny, she's just baiting you." He wrinkles his nose in disgust.

Neville looks at her nervously. "Were you really going to hit her?"

"What do you think?" she snaps.

She drops down heavily on the benches, Neville and Anthony flanking either side of her as if they’re her security detail.

"Don't let her get under your skin, Ginny," Seamus advises from the other side of Anthony. Ginny rolls her eyes; that’s a fat load of tosh coming from him.

"I'll behave as long as she does," she grumbles, arms crossed.

Neville sighs wearily and opens his mouth to respond, but before he can, the giant double doors open with another great clang. A hoard of witches and wizards of a variety of nationalities come bustling through, murmuring seriously to each other as they make their way to the seats designated for members of the International Confederation of Wizards. Ginny can't believe her eyes; there aren't just wizards and witches from all over Europe, but from all over the world. She overhears snippets of conversations in French, Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, and other languages, some that she's never heard before. The English throughout is spoken with the usual English, Scottish and Irish accents, but there are also American and Australian dialects scattered through the crowd.

She never imagined her little trial would attract or require so many officials from around the world, and judging by the awe on Anthony, Neville and Seamus' faces, they didn't either. She glares towards Kingsley. Not full court my arse, she thinks angrily.

"Jesus Christ," Anthony mutters. "Wh– what do they have so many people here for? This is fucking ridiculous." But even as he says this, he runs one hand self-consciously through his curly hair and straightens his tie with the other. Neville gulps loudly next to her.

A woman emerges from the pack in a waltz, unfurling a sure and practiced path towards Kingsley. She is middle-aged, petite and thin, with a sheet of honey-blonde hair, pale skin and icy grey eyes, her perfect nose the only cute feature on an otherwise intimidating face. She glides more than she walks, her deep blue velvet robes artfully trailing behind her. When she arrives at Kingsley, she offers up her left cheek for a sterile kiss.

“That’s Ruxanda Ivanova,” Anthony informs them, brushing hair out of his eyes in a tick-like manner. "She's been in the justice game since before the Soviet Union collapsed. Her takedowns are fucking legendary.”

When Ginny looks back up, a man who must be Dominic Esnaider has joined them on the bench from seemingly out of nowhere. He is quite older than Ivanova and Kingsley, and just as much more stylish. The silver scarf adorning his navy robes is made of fine silk, and his blonde hair has flecks of gray that look more like a choice than the result of aging. He grasps Kingsley’s hand in an enthusiastic handshake, then pulls Ivanova in for what is clearly a much friendlier greeting that she’s prepared for, kissing her enthusiastically on both cheeks.

Anthony continues with his commentary. “That’s Esnaider, obviously. His family’s old style, all about vamps– you know, the classic shite. But I’ve heard that he fancies himself as an ‘anti-corruption superhero,’ whatever the hell that means.”

The last person to join the three magistrates arrives there in the sort of politician-power-stride that Ginny has only ever seen done by men. She is shockingly young and tall and willowy, with a dark, curly business bob and striking features, her black pencil skirt and maroon blouse decidedly more muggle-like than anything her colleagues are wearing. She wrings both Kingsley’s and Ivanova’s hands enthusiastically, but looks as if she suffers through Esnaider’s greeting of choice more than Ivanova did.

"Then that’s Shira Klein," Anthony adds unnecessarily. “Her record for winning human rights cases is astounding for someone so young. She’s ruthless.”

Once they’re seated, the magistrates busy themselves with individual tasks. Esnaider pulls Kingsley into a rapid conversation. Klein puts on a fashionable pair of spectacles and begins neatly stacking court files in front of her. But Ivanova is simply surveying her surroundings in a similar way to Ginny, though her gaze holds detached intrigue instead of Ginny’s own special cocktail of annoyance and sheer anxiety.

Anthony cockily leans back on the bench. "Shira's well fit, and a nice Jewish girl to boot. I'll ask her out after the trial, just wait. Mum'll be proud." Seamus and Neville both snort, but Neville at least coughs to try to cover it up. Ginny rolls her eyes.

"Oh please. Both of those women could cut you blokes down with a single glance," Ginny whispers reverently. "And I would just stand there, basking in it."

"Pfft, come off it. Just wait until you're on the other side of their glares," Seamus grumbles.

She doesn't have to wait very long. Ivanova leans forward to speak to Kingsley, who mutters something in response. All of a sudden, her and Klein’s equally piercing gazes land on Ginny. Esnaiders follow their lead. The boys shift uncomfortably in their seats.

"Why are they looking at me?" she asks, confused. "The Chosen One is over there." She jerks her thumb in the general direction of Harry, but even as she says this, unwanted sympathy rises in her. This must be how he feels every day. She shakes her head impatiently.

"I reckon you're the star of this story, Ginny," she hears Seamus say. Several members of the Confederation are taking heed from Klein and Ivanova and eye Ginny curiously. She scoffs. The star of what?

"What a shit story. I want a rewrite."

"Order, order!" Kingsley's booming voice rings through the echoing chamber. The room immediately falls silent, and rows of people turn to face the center of the room, where the chain-decorated chairs await their occupants. Kingsley draws the parchment in his hands closer to his face, and when he clears his throat, a quill beside the judges’ stand rises to attention. As he begins to read, it jumps into a frenzied skate across the roll of parchment beneath it.

"Today, the eighteenth of August, nineteen-ninety-eight, begins the seventh hearing in the Special Court Tribunal for the Second English Wizarding War. This trial will concern the alleged war crimes committed against wizards and witches of all blood statuses at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry during the time period of the Second English Wizarding War, between the years nineteen-ninety-seven to nineteen-ninety-eight." He draws breath, and then begins to read the rest of the document quite quickly.

"These alleged war crimes are herein direct violation of Sections II and VI of the Wizarding Code of Justice and Human Rights, ratified in 1945, and the Wizarding Section of the Fourth Treaty of the Geneva Conventions, ratified in 1949, regarding rights of both magic and non-magic persons in times of war under international wizarding law. These crimes include membership of a criminal organisation, withholding of defensive weapons, discrimination, cruelties, atrocities, torture and other inhumane acts, as set forth in Counts 1, 2 and 3 of this indictment." A shocked silence falls over the already-quiet crowd at the mention of torture. Ginny wonders, not for the first time, just what these people were expecting when they walked in (uninvited, in her opinion) to the trial. Kingsley goes on.

"The wizard and witch accused of these crimes and accordingly named as defendants are Amycus and Alecto Carrow, confirmed Death Eaters and respective Professors of Defense Against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry during the school year nineteen-ninety-seven to nineteen-ninety-eight. Magistrates Ruxanda Ivanova, Shira Klein, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Dominic Esnaider will be overseeing this hearing of the accused. Head of prosecution Hestia Jones and head of defense Dorian Parkinson will prove or dismiss guilt using given evidence and that provided by witnesses Seamus Finnigan, Anthony Goldstein, Neville Longbottom and Ginny Weasley. The accused may be brought in."

Ginny's blood runs cold. Her ears begin to thrum with the distinctive movements of hunched, heavy bodies that she detects from the corridor outside the courtroom. The crowd inside chatters on, blissfully unaware of the impending arrival, but Ginny would recognise the sounds anywhere. They’re unmistakable, even with chains jangling on their wrists and ankles– the terrible rumble of them barging through a door to drag her by the hair to Merlin knows where for Merlin knows what; the rustle of robes that always preceded an agonising hex; the heavy swoosh of a stubby hand drawing back before striking across her face. She’d be astonished if those sensory memories ever left her, or left her alone.

The doors open with a long, slow groan this time around. The Carrows shuffle through the doors, shackled arms held by two Security Wizards. Amycus’ ratty black hair is matted with dirt; his face glistens with oil from the lack of hygiene that accompanies a prison sentence. His striped uniform is grayed and unwashed, but even as he limps into the courtroom with difficulty, he doesn’t have the usual aura associated with time in Azkaban. No doubt the lack of Dementors guarding the prison has drastically improved the lives of prisoners. It’s a change that Ginny has wholeheartedly supported– until today.

She assumes Alecto looks much the same. Ginny just hasn’t managed to look at her yet.

Amycus’ murky brown eyes scan the courtroom and land on their little witness section. His leer deepens and, as if part of some obtuse plan, he casually rolls the sleeves of his uniform up to his elbows, revealing his coveted Dark Mark, the cleanest skin on him by far.

The others draw in sharp breaths, but Ginny’s eyes accidentally slip sideways.

Alecto’s cold, sadistic gaze is waiting for her there, and by her triumphant expression, Ginny knows that it’s been trained on her since the moment she walked in, always the patient fucking predator. Tiny, needling pinpricks of pain rush up her skin; how did this go so wrong already? She’d prepared for this moment, coached herself on how not to get backed into a corner, and here she is basically voluntarily walking backwards, and Ginny can’t help it; she reaches out to grasp both Neville's and Anthony's hands tightly, but she knows it’s a fatal error the moment she does it. Alecto's gaze flickers to their joined hands, and she begins to laugh, terribly; Amycus joins in soon after. Vomit threatens to ascend through Ginny's esophagus, but she doesn't let go.

"Settle down, settle down," Kingsley says, and although Amycus and Alecto are the only ones making any noise, his gaze is fixed on Ginny and the others. "If you'll take your seats, Mr. Carrow, Ms. Carrow, this trial can commence."

Amycus gives a mocking salute to Kingsley, and despite the guards shoving them along, they saunter over to the chained chairs as if they are thrones. The chains immediately wrap tightly around them, but they both eye their new confines with indifference. Ginny wants to wipe the smirks off of their faces.

Kingsley clears his throat. "This trial will begin with–”

"Now, now," Amycus interrupts in his acidic voice, a twisted smile forming from his smirk. "We don' wanna start this trial wivout reacquainting wiv our old friends, now do we?" He looks straight at Ginny and bares his crooked teeth. "How's about you give us a proper greeting, huh She-Weasel?" Alecto barks another laugh.

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Chapter 4: The Tempestuous Balance Between Prosecution and Defense is a Little Disgusting

Author's Notes: Thank you for reading! Please review and reblog I subsist on feedback xx

Chapter 4: The Tempestuous Balance Between Prosecution and Defense is a Little Disgusting

There is a solace in magic, a preciousness that Ginny didn’t recognise or care about- not at first. Magic bloomed in her early, even for her family, and the moment she first felt the vibrant strands of power reverberating through her, she acted like it had always been there, like turning grass blue and making bubbles pop out of her ears was something she’d always had the power to do. From the beginning, magic was no more than a feature of her body, no different from the freckles on her face and the stubborn cracking sound her ankle always made.

It’s funny how perspective changes when Tom Riddle decimates your soul.

But then, as the old saying goes, perspective really changes when Tom Riddle decimates your soul.

She’d fought so hard, for months and months, only for the single droplet of life that remained in her to slowly drain away as she lay in that chamber, the brutally handsome boy looming over her becoming more and more solid with each passing moment. And then there was nothing at all, and then Harry Potter was grabbing her arm and calling her name, swathed in the brilliant golden light that she used to imagine when she pictured him. But he was real, he was really there, and the diary was nothing more than a clot of dirty wet parchment with vile black ink bleeding from its wounds. Her magic surged back into her in a transcendent rush, and she had never been taught how to be religious but it had been like a benediction, more holy than she’d thought possible, and nothing like the way it was before.

It was an impossible fight, crawling back to the natural way she’d had with her magic before, but she would never, could never, take it for granted in the way she had so foolishly done. She resolved to protect it at all costs, wrapping herself in layer after layer of every powerful spell she could find, until it was a cocoon; until it was a fortress. She had somehow, by the grace of something, been allowed to keep the gleaming brilliance that was magic, and the endless ways she could use it astounded her, warming her soul even in the most wretched of times.

Now, tied to a wooden chair by a circling Amycus Carrow, wand unreachable, right eye swelling and lip bleeding sluggishly, she can't help but, for the first time in her life, resent magic, and the endless ways it could be used against her.

"My my," Amycus sneers in his oily voice, stopping his vulture-like path and facing her, leaning so close they are almost nose to nose. "You been a careful one, ‘aven't you? Slippin' through our fingers for months. But we got you now, hmm? Red-handed." He knots his fingers in her hair when he says "red," and laughs to himself.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Ginny says, gritting her teeth in equal parts anger and pain.

"Oh no?" Amycus mocks, cocking his head to the side. "Caught out after hours, dilly-dallyin' outside the kitchen?"

"I was hungry." Ginny shrugs, not caring if he believes her. He laughs, and the hair on the back of her neck prickles in disgust.

"No, I don't think so," he growls. "What were you doin’ down there? Sneakin' some food to the mudbloods you're keeping hidden away?"

"Mudbloods?" Ginny asks, angrily, adding an ounce of despair for performance flair. "There’s not a single drop of muggle-born blood left. And the ones you didn’t hand over are the ones you already killed. Isn't that what you told them? Or is that another pathetic lie? I know your master doesn’t like it when you lie." Amycus' smug expression falters, if only for a moment, and she goes in with the advantage. "I've even heard that you're keeping one, for fun. Such a shame, Carrow, for that poor Muggle-born to be at the mercy of someone as embarrassing as you." He snarls with outrage and backhands her, hard, across the face.

She spits out the resulting blood, coughing slightly. "I don't know if any of them are alive," she tells him, "but I know for damn sure I'll find them before you do."

"So no mudbloods then," Amycus straightens back up, veering away from the subject quickly. Ten points for her. "Tryin' to turn the filthy little house elves against us? Poison our food?"

Ginny actually laughs at that, which earns her another heavy blow. "No," she says, and she shakes her head once she regains her bearings. "I told you, I was hungry." His dim interrogation tactics are already failing; it’s only a matter of time before he throws one more cruciatus at her then lets her go. She’s already planning her mission report to the D.A. in her head when Amycus' mouth drags up, slowly, into a malicious leer. Her stomach drops–


Ginny jerks in surprise at the sound of Neville's voice. She turns to him as he moves his elbow away from her ribs, where he clearly intended to jab her. She raises her eyebrows; he shrugs.

"You were miles away. I called your name about five times," he explains, squinting at her in concern. "They're about to do opening statements."

"Oh– I– oh," she says numbly, shaking herself out of her daze. Damn it. Four double doors, sixteen chandeliers, two hundred seats….

"Bloody vile, the way Carrow talks to you," Seamus whispers across Anthony to her. "I almost forgot." And Ginny will have none of that, forgetting.

"Lucky you," she replies.

Across the courtroom, Hestia stands in a sweep of black robes, and makes her way towards the center. With every stride she takes, the prickling presence of raw adrenaline grows higher and higher in Ginny, that fight-or-flight instinct that has kept her alive thus far, the one that she both fears and fears she craves. Neville's hand grows sweaty in hers, but she only squeezes it tighter.

Hestia carefully tucks a strand of silky black hair behind her ear, and clears her throat.

"Esteemed witches and wizards,” she begins, rich voice steady and commanding,“I stand before you with the grave task of opening this historic trial.” She stands at what would be soldier's attention, if not for the one pointy-toed high heel jutted forward, at an angle; cynically, Ginny wonders if Hestia has ever felt more important in her life.

"Today, we as a unified confederation of people, as proponents of the rights of man, must condemn beyond redemption the actions of the witch and wizard seated before you. Actions so malignant, so destructive, that neither our world nor the world at large can survive them being repeated. Actions based on beliefs invalidated by progress and truth, carried out to shame and destroy those that are identical to us down to their very bones. Actions that are a shameful representation of humankind, and make a mockery of human kindness."

Hestia pauses. Her words simmer, bouncing like the beam of a curse through the charged atmosphere. Did she rehearse this speech, as if it were lines in a particularly grim political play? Ginny pictures it quite well; Hestia, standing in front of an ornate floor length mirror with those pointy heels on, practicing which facial expression will work best for which child's death she’ll be exploiting. At this wild thought, Ginny pulls all the stops and mentally berates herself. Hestia is on their side; even the nastiest voice in her head agrees with that. There’s no use in further alienating the people who are supporting her.

"Amycus and Alecto Carrow, Death Eaters and followers of Voldemort," she pauses again, but this time it’s probably in order to let the ridiculous, arbitrary gasps and shudders at the name dwindle off, "have loyally served a twisted ideal that has infected wizarding society for far too long, and through their hysteria are responsible for the discrimination, torture, disappearances and presumed deaths of muggle-borns and so called 'blood traitors' alike, many of whom have suffered irreparable damage to their bodies and minds, some of whom are gone forever."

Gone forever. Mental images of everyone she’s lost flit behind her eyes like a roll of film, before grinding to a halt, naturally, on Colin Creevey. The memory is as bright and blinding as the flashes from the coveted camera she found lying next to his body. She shakes her head violently, trying to beat away the remnants of the all-consuming dread that rocketed through her when she knelt down and looked into the familiar sight of his unseeing eyes, and her first thought was that she had once again become the monster of their childhood. A thought that, in the midst of a battle, was followed by instant, intoxicating relief when she realised that she wasn't to blame, not that time.

Death is everywhere; death, she’s had to handle in spades. But she doesn't want to remember that upon discovering the remains of the bright, happy boy she grew up with slumped on the floor, like a marionette with its strings cut, the only thought she could string together was that, at least, it wasn't because of her.

"Ginny, stop," Anthony murmurs. He presses his fingers to her wrist in a brief, comforting gesture, and she nods to show him that she’s fine. She is fine. Twenty stained glass windows. Five different colours in the glass; purple, yellow, blue, red and green.

“This trial today is not for you to make a decision of their guilt, for they are guilty, as much as they are breathing. No, what this trial will determine is how light the crosses that we all bear will be going forward.” Hestia clasps her hands close to her heart. "We have arrived, tired and trembling, to the other side of a steep and unforgiving mountain. And as we bury our dead and hold tight to our loved ones, it serves as a comfort to see our tormentors held responsible. But make no mistake, we can never go back. There is no righting this wrong. There can never be reconciliation. And while these wretched souls are unquestionably responsible, the blame is on us all." As she rounds out her last syllable, the courtroom erupts with murmurs and the sounds of people shifting uncomfortably in their seats.

"Yes, the blame is on us all," she repeats, raising her voice over the clatter, her face impassive.

"The old story goes that humans never learn, that we are cursed to revolve in a loop of hatred and pain, in one endless war disguising itself in different names; part one, part two, the great, the terrible... But just as we have made this world, we can also change it. We can break this tired cycle. And the only chance we have to make amends, to set ourselves on a proper path, is justice."

The murmurs, louder now, continue as Hestia makes her way back to the prosecution bench.

"Jesus," Anthony whispers. "Where are we?" The others hum in agreement, and it’s warranted; that was a speech for the ages. But– blame it on a year and a half of first-hand experience with some of the shittiest parts of humanity– she sees the cracks in the china already forming. She glances over towards the Confederation; heads adorned with ceremonial caps are bent in quiet conversations, while billowing sleeves of robes fall back to reveal hands cupped over ears as if these people are notorious town gossips and not celebrated leaders of the world.

She leans over to Neville. "That was a risk, incriminating everyone like that. It isn't going to win us any sympathy."

He looks at her incredulously. "Win us sympathy?" he repeats in a low voice, "Ginny, these people are on our side!"

"We can't be sure of that," she insists, shaking her head. Neville’s eyebrows knit together in confusion.

"But– the war is over. We don't need to be looking around every corner anymore. This is... this is it, isn't it? Our chance to get everything right. I know it's been a hell of a year, and nearly everyone tried to kill us," he adds, and shrugs when she rolls her eyes at that huge, ridiculous understatement, "but we're alive and it's over and, well, we've ... we've won." He’s more and more uncertain about what he’s saying as he goes on. He gives her a look of a decidedly different kind of confusion. "Haven't we?" he asks.

"I don't know," she answers quietly. “I… I don’t know.” That’s it– that’s the thing. She’d marched through the war like a dutiful tin soldier, convinced that Voldemort’s death would be the bell toll of victory, that the moment his corpse hit the floor would bring chirping birds and angelic choirs, foolish as it sounds. But is this what winning really is? Certainly, victory is not supposed to feel like this, and it isn’t supposed to look like the faces and physical descriptions of hundreds of missing muggle-borns, spending months on the front pages of all the newspapers, many her fellow students, some of them she’s already buried like treasure, deep in her subconscious.

"That’s not what war is. There are no winners," Anthony says. "Just those who’ve lost, and those who’ve lost more."

"Merlin, that cheers me right up," Seamus grumbles.

Anthony doesn’t respond. His eyes track Dorian Parkinson as he rises from his place to deliver his statement. Ginny swears that they’re rimmed with red.

Guilt slams into her like a brick; she’s been so selfish, too busy cooped up in her own mind that she didn’t even think to ask... but by the look of Anthony’s face, maybe she shouldn’t even try.

She leans over to Neville and says, as quietly as she can, “Has he heard any word about–”

“I haven’t,” Anthony interrupts bluntly, catching her out like he always does. “So as far as I know, dead. Just like everyone else.”

“We can't know that ye–,” she starts to say, but stops when she hears a hesitant noise from her other side. She turns to Neville, waiting to be filled in.

“It was in last week’s Prophet” he tells her, with a weary frown, and she appreciates that he doesn’t question why she hasn’t been keeping up with the news. “The ministry’s put a hold on all open missing person cases. They’ve– they’ve moved the muggle-borns that haven’t been located yet from missing to presumed dead until proven otherwise.”

At this discovery, she expects despair, and it does come eventually, trickling in, fuzzy and desensitised. But there’s something else lurking behind it that she can’t quite identify, some sort of stubborn rejection of Neville’s words, entrenched in a certainty that has no basis she can find.

“No,” she mutters slowly, and her right hand comes up, almost subconsciously, to press at her temple. “That isn’t right.”

“Bloody awful, is what it is. All those people...” Seamus trails off, his eyes drifting towards the bench of D.A. members, where Dean has just taken a seat between Susan and Padma.

“No,” Ginny repeats, and she looks at Neville, hoping he’ll help her hash out the mental soup that’s sloshing about in her brains. “That isn’t right.

“Yeah, well. Forget that right now,” Anthony says, clearly wanting nothing more to do with the subject. “Parkinson’s about to speak.”

Parkinson makes a show of straightening his lapel and taps his oxford-clad foot in a staccato rhythm against the floor, clearly waiting for the noise to die down. It makes a flat, unpleasant sound, like the tearing of cellophane or a moth repeatedly hitting a light.

Like Hestia, he clears his throat before he begins, but it resembles the hem hem she loathes to recall but loves to mock from the dreaded Umbridge days. Ginny does a quick run-through of every terrible person she's ever met, mulling over something; are they all alike? Do they have a secret meeting every other week in which they discuss what sort of mannerisms they should perfect in order to terrorise people in just the right way?

"My dear fellow witches and wizards," Parkinson cuts through her train of thought, in a voice that sounds like Mrs. Skower’s cleaning solution personified. "I am honoured to be in the presence of people of such profound excellence and eminence, who have done us Britons such a service to come here today, from far across the reaches of the world, to put this deeply troubling matter to rest, once and for all."

"Blimey, laying it on thick for these bastards," Seamus mutters.

“These are politicians; this is how they expect to be addressed,” Anthony sneers, ever a poor man’s revolutionary. But he’s right; an elderly wizard and witch in the back row have both adjusted their comically large ear trumpets more firmly into place, clearly interested in what such a flattering, proper gentleman like Parkinson could have to say.

"Wizarding Britain has suffered through unconscionable toil in these past three years, devastating its proud people, and its hard-earned global reputation. And as the dust settles, as we as a community try to piece our lives back together again, the tide of hatred has not ebbed, but rather has risen,” he lifts his arms wide as if giving a sermon, “against the noble houses of ancient wizardry in this great nation. There is no denying my clients’ involvement in some relatively compromising misdeeds, just as there is no denying that the Dark Lord created this ... difficult atmosphere. But his worst casualties are the meek followers that he has left behind, to take responsibility for his transgressions. Amycus and Alecto Carrow are but victims of his creed.”

"Oh Merlin," Neville groans, wearing the same look of disdain that appears on at least a third of the faces in the crowd, a look that is no doubt mirrored on her face. And though there are audible gasps and whispers, there’s far less racket than during Hestia’s accusation. Interesting. Parkinson seems to think so too; his lips twitches briefly, before returning to his dramatic, solemn demeanor. He reaches one thin hand towards the Carrows, a sympathetic frown pasted on his face as if they are the last two children at a closing orphanage.

“Inherently simple in nature, they have been indoctrinated from birth to follow the Dark Lord's teachings, to adhere to the customs and norms that surrounded them, caught in a current that their feeble minds couldn’t escape even if they tried.” At such an utterly condescending remark, she can’t stop from glancing at the Carrows, but what’s there leaves her unsettled: carefully blank faces, without an inkling of the defensive snarls that she was expecting. Amycus is hardly a mastermind, but Alecto… Alecto is righteous, wrathful rage, spitefully punishing to all that dare to look down on her. Ginny’s brain is screaming in resistance (though the first look was much harder), but she keeps focus on Alecto, searching. And then Ginny sees it, in the slightly angled position of Alecto’s head, in the careful looseness of her hands in her lap.

“And now, the war has been fought, their values have been demonised, and their stories will be immortalised by the victors. But, who are we to cast them as evil? Who are we to say that they were not blank rolls of parchment, corrupted by a force they could not avoid? It serves logic to suggest that these ‘crimes’ we are examining today were simply orders that they were compelled to follow upon the threat of exile, or even death. When the evidence is laid out, it is clear that Amycus and Alecto Carrow bear as much responsibility as those who acted under the Imperius curse, or indeed, any who have found themselves unwillingly possessed by the Dark Lord’s power. Why, even amongst those proclaimed as the heroes of our world, it is a much more common affliction than we are led to believe.”

Gasps of disbelief and indignation rise through the courtroom, scattered, piling on top of each other. But Ginny barely hears them over the furious throb of blood that surges through her body, a pulsing tattoo on her eardrums. Her teeth grind so hard against each other it’s almost painful, and it takes all of her strength, all of the involuntary practice controlling her powers she had for months and months, not to accidentally set something on fire or smash the windows. A few people in the room have swivelled in their seats to ogle at Harry, but there’s no doubt in her mind that Parkinson’s cattle prod is all for her, no doubt that it’s an attempt to hit her where it hurts. And it does, like a charm. Among the fiery mess inside her head, the only structured thought she cobbles together is god, Pansy Parkinson’s got a big fucking mouth.

“These poor, wayward souls do not deserve to be locked up for the rest of their lives for being swept under someone else's misdeeds, like leaves carried away in the wind. No, what they truly deserve is rehabilitation, re-education and reconciliation.” Parkinson turns and faces the courtroom, and makes a point to slowly scan everyone present from left to right, his accusatory expression aimed at one and all. “And let us remember, as we make our judgements, that in this bright new, tolerant world of ours, we must have perspective. And we must consider the question: under the same circumstances, would any of you have done any different?"

He bows his head in the tight, practiced way Ginny has seen every Slytherin pureblood work to master since the age of eleven, and makes his way back to his seat, ignoring the glares and– to her horror– deep looks of consideration that follow him along the way. Disappointment hooks into her spine; one of these days she’ll learn not to be constantly let down by human beings.

"Never mind," Anthony says, clearly going through the same range of emotions as her but making a more successful attempt at looking simply annoyed. "Still in bloody Kansas."

"What is a Kansas?" Neville asks, absentmindedly, as he glares towards Parkinson.

"Well. That wasn’t surprising at all." Ginny says, her voice strangely calm to her own ears. "Alecto’s still running the whole game."

Anthony growls. “It’s a classic defense, is what it is. They were just following– they’re too simple to know be– I mean, Christ .” He’s rambling, more to himself than anyone, as rattled as a bird in an upturned cage. “It’s just ‘the banality of evil.'  A page right out of the bloody book. Though,” he lets out a hysterical half-laugh, and shakes his head, “fifty quid says he didn’t read until the end.”

Ginny, Neville and Seamus all stare at Anthony.

“Well, I dunno what the bloody hell you’re on about because all I heard was straight shite,” Seamus grouses, shuffling down in his seat with pure disgust on his face. “I mean, ‘deeply troubling matter,’ ‘difficult atmosphere’... barely pretending like we don’t already know that he’s a snake shagger. But his hard-on for himself really did me in. D’you reckon he recited that while wanking off last night?”

Neville wrinkles his nose at Seamus. “You’ve always had such a way with words.”

In another life, this is where Ginny would join in, pull an outrageous face and deepen her voice to imitate Seamus. Instead, a cold shiver trickles down her back, accompanied by the same churning in her stomach that she used to get when she didn't study for History of Magic exams. Only that was in the Before, where everything was only a little bleak and fraught with terror, and this is the After, where she wakes up in the middle of the night to the echoes of young voices screaming. None of them really know what they’re about to do. None of them are even in the right state of mind to handle this. That’s clearer than ever, with her tolerance window for looking in the direction of the Carrows teetering at fifteen seconds.

"I– I don't think we know what we're in for,” she says quietly. “We haven’t thought this through."

Seamus snorts. “Glad you’ve finally arrived in what I like to call ‘the panic zone.’ I’ve been here the entire time. Wait five minutes and I’ll forget why I’m even in this fucking room.”

She looks to Neville. His jaw is set, already prepared for battle, but he shrugs. “You make the calls, Ginny. If you say go, we’ll go.” Anthony and Seamus nod in agreement. “But we didn’t know what we were in for during the war either, so I don’t think we can walk away now. We have to do this.” And Ginny doesn't care what anyone says; Neville Longbottom is the bravest man she’s ever known.

“The prosecution summons Seamus Finnigan, Anthony Goldstein, Neville Longbottom and Ginny Weasley to the stand.”

The vantage point from the witness stand leaves nothing to the imagination. Now, facing the entire courtroom, she has no choice but to notice everything; every pitying look, every raised eyebrow doubting her story, every sneer, every look of contempt. She longs for the wooden bench that gave her some semblance of ignorance. What’s worse, she won’t be able to avoid eye contact with someone she cares about if she tries; not any member of the D.A., not Hermione, not her brothers, and certainly not Harry.

“Mr. Finnigan, Goldstein and Longbottom, Miss Weasley,” Hestia nods to each of them, “let me first say on behalf of the Ministry that we thank you for being here today, and cooperating with the Confederation–”

“We’re not here for you.”

To some, it might be surprising to hear Neville, the once timid boy who trembled in fear under much lesser scrutiny, interrupt Hestia like that, in a room splitting at the seams with authority figures. But those people are idiots, and must not know anything about him, not really, not like Ginny does.

Neville’s cheeks colour at the frozen silence and the sea of eyes trained on him, but he simply shrugs. “We’re– we’re not here for the Ministry or the Confederation.” He points towards the people they fought back-to-back with, who they lied and compromised for, and says, simply, “We’re here for them. And for the people we left behind.”

“Hear, hear,” Seamus says, clapping Neville on the back. Neville rolls his eyes.

Hestia clears her throat awkwardly, and replies, “Yes, well… we thank you. Now, if you would please–”

“Wait,” Ginny interrupts, and it comes out in the lower timbre that she adopted over the past year, a tone she dissolves into as comfortably as if she’s climbing into a well-worn jumper. Obediently, all attention shifts to her. That, on the other hand, isn’t something she’ll ever get used to.

“I would like to make something clear.” She pauses, preparing for the first real, unadulterated truth to come out of her mouth in ages. And to the masses, no less. “It is important that the world knows what happened to us, but this won't be easy for anyone that is trying to believe that last year at Hogwarts was like any other year,” and she can’t help herself, so she doesn’t; she stares directly at Harry, meeting his stubborn gaze, “or who will take the chaos we climbed out of to mean that they should feel guilty for not being there. What happened was violent. What happened was violence. If you are not prepared for that, then take the opportunity I am giving you. Leave.”

She doesn’t know what she’s expecting, but the whole room holds its breath, until one, two, three, four, five, six people take the lifeline she’s thrown them and hurry towards the door, shoulders bent in a useless effort to blend in. Predictably, and unfortunately, all of the people she expects to remain do so. She’s never seen so many sets of shoulders squared in determination at once.

“Alright, let us begin,” Hestia says, and she clears her throat again, valiantly trying to regain control of the room. She casts one arm towards the four of them in a jab-like movement, her ornamental robes making an audible swoosh sound. Both she and Neville flinch at the movement, and once she recovers she glances around nervously, hoping no one else noticed.

“Anthony Goldstein, Neville Longbottom and Seamus Finnigan were just in their fourth year at Hogwarts, Ginny Weasley only in her third, when Harry Potter suddenly appeared on the stadium grounds during the third task of the Triwizard Tournament in a traumatising scene, clutching the body of fellow student Cedric Diggory, and announcing to the world that Voldemort had returned,” The entire courtroom moves as one body to gape at Harry, who shrunk low in his seat the moment his name was mentioned.

“They were between the ages of fifteen and seventeen when Albus Dumbledore, arguably the last obstacle standing in the way between relative peace and all-out war, was killed. Sitting here today, all still under the age of nineteen, they have experienced more hardship than many people will in their lifetimes.” Anthony and Ginny glance at each other out of the corner of their eyes: is it that simple? Could all that they experienced really be compressed into three short sentences?

“These four heroes,” Hestia says– Seamus barely contains a snort– “and many of their schoolmates, valiantly took up the resistance against Voldemort, fighting for Hogwarts and our world at large. Today, they will tell you their stories; the trials, tribulations and terrors they’ve faced at the hands of the Carrows and others, starting from the very beginning of the Death Eater occupation of Hogwarts.”

There’s another beat of suffocating silence. Then, Anthony clears his throat and raises his hand pointedly. “Sorry, but– you know, with all due respect– terror has surrounded us all for a stupidly long amount of time,” he says, gesturing to the whole courtroom. “And the occupation didn’t start at Hogwarts. It began before we even got there.”

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Chapter 5: It Isn't the Train That's Off the Rails

Author's Notes: Thanks for reading! Please leave a review and/or reblog and/or feed my ego. You know, whatever you wanna do. xx

Chapter 5: It Isn't the Train That’s Off the Rails

September 1st, 1997

If Platform 9 ¾ is a hostile, barren wasteland, where even the steam billowing around the station is clotted with fear, inside the Hogwarts Express looks almost the opposite. Oh, the fear’s still there, as it is everywhere; it permeates the walls and the curtains, floating around like an invisible plague. But even so, the halls are more crowded than Ginny has ever seen them; students are zig-zagging in and out of compartments in a frenzy, and the fifty-something voices whispering at once remind her of ghosts, in a way. In two ways; their haunting echo, and their overwhelming sense of foreboding.

While she once could have submitted a request to the popularity gods to be qualified as a Compartment Hopper (and by once, she means during the three-year span in which she replaced excessive self-loathing for excessive forced-turned-natural-confidence), she hoped to fly under the radar today, or at least avoid the gossips (especially one in particular, whose name rhymes with Schmomilda Schmane) and the questions she’s sure to be asked. Questions about Harry, with his stupid wiry frame and his ridiculous glasses and his annoying sense of humor and his horrible smile….


She tried to arrive early enough (with just her mother to say goodbye to, as her brothers and father are at work, keeping up appearances) to duck into the train, grab an empty compartment at the back and shut herself in it until someone she trusted appeared. But she was running late this morning as usual, and the only person to blame for landing in this situation is herself. If the busy corridors aren’t enough, the haunted whispers rise to a crescendo the moment she steps through the door, her peers scrambling to discuss the arrival of such a spectacle:

“Oh shite, look, it's Ginny.”

“Is Potter with her? What about Granger and Weasley?”

“Is she by herself? I don't think I've ever actually seen her without another ginger. Blimey, I guess they really aren't coming back.”

“Good riddance. We don’t need any more of their trouble here.”

“What d’you reckon happened between her and him? I saw them looking upset at the funeral. You think they broke up?”

“...They were at a funeral. D’you think maybe that’s the reason they looked upset?”

“–probably ran into some relationship problems. You know, seeing as he’s a fugitive.”

“Think I've got a chance in hell?”

“Shut up, you arsehole.”

“Bet she's got some inside information, you know, about the resistance. Her family’s got to be deep in it.”

“You think Ron and Hermione are with him? Or did they just finally sod off and get hitched?”

She forgot how long the Hogwarts Express is.

But she’s used to being the spectacle; she’s been a spectacle since the age of 12, for reasons that span the entire spectrum of good and bad. She’s heard most of it before. (Though, as any spectacle knows, acclimation does not equal indifference.) What’s worse is what else she hears:

“–can’t believe Snape is Headmaster, for fuck’s sake. There goes my plan to call McGonagall Headmeowstress.”

“Well thank Merlin for Snape then, because that’s terrible.”

“What’re the odds that Potter shows his face?”

“Dunno, but I hope he does. If they capture him, this’ll all be over”

“You read who they put in as minister after Scrimgeour resigned?”

“Yeah, Pius Thicknesse. Me dad used to work with him. Says he makes Fudge look like a well-adjusted, natural born leader.”

“And you know that Umbitch has got to be running the show from behind the curtain. She and You-Know-Who.”

“The whole establishment is going down with them. Dad says they’ve already rolled back amendments that require muggle-borns and werewolves be provided with legal counsel.”

“...Everything’s falling to shite.”

“Did you hear about Ollie Rivers? They rounded up his whole family last week.”


“Morag MacDougal told me she got a scribbled letter from him that said he was being taken into custody by Aurors and when she wrote back, he never responded.”

“But...why’d they go after him?”

“Dunno. I know that his mum’s a muggle-born that got high up in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and his dad’s a muggle. Maybe that’s why they did it. Political rivals and the like.”

“Or it could be because they’re going after all the Muggle-borns, idiots.”

“Well, then why did Ned Jenkins walk down the corridor just a minute ago?”

“But... they’re not actually going after all muggle-borns, just political opponents like Potter. Right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, definitely. The ones that are against him. The other ones should be fine. Yeah.”

“My brother says that he hasn’t seen either of the Singhs yet. D’you reckon they’ve been taken?”

“Taken?! You’re so dramatic, Des.”

“I heard Priya talking to Ian Fleming at the funeral about what was gonna go down. And neither of them are here. My bet is that they’re on the run.”

“Merlin, ‘on the run’. It’s like a bad pulp fiction novel.”

“But everything’s going to be okay, right? It’ll be okay?”

The more she hears, the more it’s clear that crowded is not the right description. It may be hectic and rowdy, but the gaps in circles of friends are nearly as emotionally evident as they are physically. At each compartment window, she tallies all the empty seats, all the spaces on the luggage shelves left open. Hogwarts is big, but it isn’t that big. She knows exactly which person is missing from each place.

She’s so busy glaring at the gaping holes in the Hogwarts canvas and mulling over everything she just heard (why Ollie Rivers? He’s nice, like really nice. His nose is crooked from when he broke it during a particularly competitive game of chess in his third year, and even though it actually made him even cuter, he never passes up the opportunity to joke about the “obvious” resemblance between him and Snape. He’s the kind of person that says “Opa!” whenever anyone dropped anything…) that she almost doesn’t notice the head of bright blonde hair and the unmistakable sounds of a toad croaking in the compartment she’s passing.

Ginny skids to a stop so aggressively she nearly trips over her bags, and launches herself through the door, grabbing Luna and an unsuspecting Neville into a haphazard group hug.

“Woah, h– hey,” Neville says in a jumble, smiling with tight lips, face flushed. One of his arms awkwardly hovers over her shoulder as the other desperately tries to squirm away from any of her and Luna’s controversial body parts. She swallows down a laugh.

“I honestly don’t know if I’m happy or scared to see you both here,” Ginny says gleefully, pulling back and beaming at each of them.

“Why wouldn’t we be here?” Luna asks, pale eyes bearing into hers under scrunched translucent eyebrows. She gives Ginny an odd pat on the ear. “It’s not us they’re after. Not yet.”

“Ooh, love that optimism,” Ginny says brightly. Neville scratches his chin nervously.

“So,” he says quietly, leaning forward, and Ginny is ready for this question, has a carefully crafted face for it in her back pocket. But she wouldn’t do that to Neville. Instead, she gives him another kind of Look.

“Isn’t it awful that Ron can’t be here for his last year, coming down with such a nasty case of Spattergroit so fast?” she says steadily, not once breaking eye contact with Neville. “Such a shame.”

A current of understanding flickers between them. “...Yeah. Yeah, I heard,” he replies, mouth pulled down into a heavy frown. “Such a shame."

“That is a shame,” Luna says absentmindedly, picking some dirt from beneath her fingernail. “There are some simple remedies to Spattergroit that I could have shown him. Any gallbladder would do, assuming he’s still a virgin. Although he probably would never take any advice from me.”

Thank Merlin for Luna. Ginny grins at her friend, and she’s trying to come up with something even weirder to say so she can play her favorite game– who can make Neville more bewildered (Luna is the reigning champion, and she isn’t even aware the game is being played)– when the compartment door slides open, and Vicky Frobisher, one of Ginny’s dorm mates, flits in.

“Vicky! Alright?” Ginny asks, cataloguing Vicky’s cheeky blonde bob and wide, pink lip-glossed grin under half-bloods-that-will-probably-be-okay in her new internal filing system.

“Yes, hello,” Vicky responds nonchalantly, but the way she purses her lips and raises her eyebrows means she’s got something to spill. “It’s good to see that you’re all still alive! I can’t wait to hear all about your summers,” she gestures at all of them, but she’s only looking at Ginny. Ginny has to clamp down on the urge to roll her eyes; in her excitement at seeing another unmarred familiar face, she momentarily forgot how bloody nosy Vicky could be. Not destructive nosy like Romilda, but still… nosy.

“Anyway,” Vicky continues briskly. She reaches back through the sliding door and catches hold of someone’s arm, “I wanted to let you know who’s here, despite the lecture you gave her last term, which I thought was very effective.”

She pulls the arm through the door, and Vicky was right to have that expression on her face, because with the arm comes a person attached, and that person, unfortunately for Ginny, is Mel, stumbling, grumbling and blowing stray dark strands of hair out of her face with all the grace of a person being dragged against their will.

Mel yanks her arm from Vicky’s grip, glaring. “Jesus, Vicky.” She turns to the compartment with a guilty smile. “Hiya,” she says, then shifts her attention solely to Ginny. “Hey Ginx. Looks like you’re not exactly chuffed to see me either.”

“Oh bloody hell, Mel,” Ginny groans, and even as her stomach plummets, she automatically rolls her eyes at the ridiculously punny nickname (of a nickname!) that her friend has adamantly called her since the time she accidentally jinxed her toes together in second year.

(Second year when, two months in, Mel plopped down next to a perpetually sulking Ginny in their dormitory and said, in the child version of her thick Mancunian accent, “everyone thinks you’re scary now, but you can’t be that much of a fright. You’re the size of a baby deer at best, and I saw you spill porridge on your lap at breakfast. Scary people don’t spill things. Anyway, want to listen to some Whitney Houston? Do you not know who she is? Oh, she’ll make you feel things you never thought you could.”)

Ginny tries her best to remain calm. “What are you doing here?”

Mel glares at her and huffs out a deep, dramatic sigh. “Do we have to do this now?” She rubs her temples dramatically. “I am not in the right headspace for this– or anything, for that matter. The world’s a dumpster fire, and I’m so cut up about Princess Di...”

“Why, did you know her?” Vicky asks eagerly, ignoring all the logic in the world for a juicy scoop.

Mel scrunches her face at Vicky in disbelief. “What? No, Vicky– what? No! It’s just really bloody sad! And it just… makes you think, you know? I mean– back to your original question,” she points at Ginny, her eyes growing wide, “what are any of us doing here, really? People live their whole lives not knowing the answer to that question. But in the end, aren’t we all just itty bitty little ants, walking along a fragile piece of string? I think I read that somewhere–”

“Nope,” Ginny interrupts angrily. “I didn’t get a ticket for this show. Answer the bloody question.”

“But I really am upse–”


“Fine! What does it bloody look like? I’m going to school,” Mel says, still stalling, gesturing to the train around her, barely attempting to keep a straight face. Ginny and Vicky exchange exasperated looks.

“I don’t think that’s what she means, Mel,” Luna pitches in from her seat by the window. “Ginny wants to know why you’re on the way to Hogwarts. Because you are a muggle-born. And since You-Know-Who took over the Ministry– which I still think was only made possible from dirty dealings with the Eastern European vampire clans– it is likely that things will be much more difficult than usual for muggle-borns this year.”

Mel bites back a smile. “Thanks, Luna. Finally, someone tells me what’s really going on,” she says wryly.
“Happy to help,” Luna smiles.

“Right,” Vicky clicks her tongue decisively. “So now that you’re all on the same page, I’m off to find Owen. I hope you sort things out!” She finishes, with an almost-irreverence that is extraordinarily inappropriate for the circumstances but incredibly her. She wiggles her fingers at them and traipses off down the corridor.

Mel rolls her eyes at the air Vicky occupied and goes to trade another eye roll with Ginny, but she doesn’t find the shared sentiment that she’s searching for, just a stone-cold impression of Ginny’s mother’s best disappointed stare. It’s marginally successful, in that it puts Mel off enough that she switches tactics.

“Look,” she says defensively, “I know what we talked about, but I can’t just drop out of school! Also,” she gives Ginny an expectant look and shrugs, “I think there’s a chance you’re overreacting.”

Overreacting?” Ginny repeats in disbelief, and swings around to face Neville. “Overreacting, she says to me!”

Neville doesn’t have any response besides a flustered shrug, so she grunts and turns back to Mel. “I know you know that Scrimgeour didn’t ‘resign’. I know you know that Professor Burbage didn’t leave to ‘spend more time in the country’. I know you know these things!”

“Of course I know, Ginny, I’m not delusional,” Mel says, stung at the implication, dropping the nickname like she always does when rubbed the wrong way. “But my parents don’t understand what’s happening in the magical world, and even if they did they would never let me leave school, not when I only have two years left. I can't sacrifice my education just because something might happen.”


“Actually, since you seem to have all the answers, tell me,” she raises her eyebrows at Ginny, turning her hands up in askance, “what’s going to happen?” She snorts sarcastically, “What, will Priscilla Rosier glare extra hard at me now? Are Malfoy and his little skinhead groupies gonna shout ‘mudblood’ louder than usual or, god forbid, get creative with their insults? Lord knows Snape’s already scraping the barrel of intolerance, but maybe he can sink even lower, who knows? Really, what do you think is going to happen?” She wields her wit like a friendly dagger, razor-sharp but pulling its jabs, demanding an answer that neither Ginny nor anyone else is equipped to give.

Ginny sighs heavily, accepting her role in this part of the conversation. “I don’t know,” she says.

Mel gives Ginny an old, fond smile. “I know you don’t. Nobody knows which way is the wrong way to run,” she says, and then she shrugs, going for indifference. “Look, I’m not new to this game– in fact, I am fucking ancient to it. I know all the tricks. I haven’t let them get to me before and I’m not gonna let them now just because they have… Darth Vader on their side.”

What the–? Ginny looks at Neville quizzically, and mouths, Darth Vader? He shrugs.

Mel snorts and shakes her head. “Never mind,” she says, then goes straight back to the subject at hand. “Besides, with the letter I–”

“What are you talking about?” Neville interrupts. “What letter?” He turns towards Ginny. “I didn’t get a letter, did you get a letter?”

That’s a lot of questions to throw at a single person all at once. She draws back, gives him a look, and says, “No, Neville, but if you wait a second, I think we’re about to find out the answers to all of those questions.”

Neville flushes. “Right, yeah– sorry. Right.”

Mel reaches into her jacket pocket and struggles to free an over-folded wad of parchment from the tight jean material. Ginny raises her eyebrows at her, and Mel rolls her eyes.

No, I haven’t been carrying it around with me everywhere; I just know how to prepare for a fight with… you– dammit! Why do they make these pockets so tight? Who can put anything in here? Ugh– finally, here,” she says, wrenching it out and handing it over to Neville.

“Do we have a copy of this letter?” Klein interrupts, the first of the judges to speak. Her voice is throaty and rich, with a broad accent that Ginny knows is from New York, even though she has only heard it before through Anthony’s imitation of his father.

“The prosecution enters into evidence one of the letters received by all Muggle-born students in the week prior to the start of the school year,” Hestia announces, as she passes up a creased, worn piece of parchment to the stand.

Ivanova gives their little witness box a lingering gaze as she passes the letter to Kingsley. “And to whom did this letter belong?” she asks, her deep, dark tone drawn tight by the friction of her accent. “Your friend…” she leads, waiting for them to fill in the gap, but there’s no use putting bait on a hook if the lake is frozen over.

“Like I said,” Ginny gives each word room to spare, “my friend handed Neville the letter.”

Ivanova pushes the two stray strands of her honey hair behind her ear as if it'll help her get a better look at Ginny. But then Kingsley clears his throat and smooths out the brittle parchment, preparing to read it aloud, and Ginny doesn’t even try to uphold staring contest customs. She doesn’t need to hear the letter again; it burned a blotchy scar into her memory the moment she saw it that day in the compartment, her and Luna reading over Neville’s shoulder.

Muggle Born Registry

By order of the Ministry of Magic
Muggle-Born Registration Commission

To whom it may concern,

The Ministry of Magic has mandated that all muggle-borns register with the newly founded Muggle-Born Registration Commission immediately upon notice. This registration process will be done as a preventative measure to keep the British magical community safe from harmful infiltrators and is to ensure that every wielder of magic possesses it by true birthright, rather than by obtaining it through malicious and criminal acts. The Ministry of Magic will investigate all who originate from muggle families, but Muggle-borns are encouraged to present evidence of innocence by proving blood linkages to magical relatives.

However, this mandate does not apply to muggle-borns aged 17 or younger, and therefore will not require Hogwarts-aged muggle-borns to attend registration at the Ministry of Magic. The commission has ruled that the education of all magical persons in the arts of witchcraft and wizardry is of greater importance to the longevity of the British magical community and its core values than investigating blood statuses, insofar as those under suspicion prove their loyalty. As attendance at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will be mandatory for students of all blood statuses this year to reinforce the value of a proper magical education, we kindly require all Muggle-born students to arrive to Platform 9 ¾ on the first of September as usual, to board the Hogwarts Express before its departure at 11 o’clock. The Ministry of Magic is counting on young muggle-borns like you to represent a generation that will serve as a valuable contribution to our society.


Jacinda Edgecombe
Executive Assistant
Office of the Muggle-Born Registration Commission
Ministry of Magic

Neville looks back up at Mel like she’s crazy.

“You actually believe this?” he asks incredulously.

"No. I don’t know,” she backtracks, but then she leans forward, her eyes glimmering like they do whenever she thinks she’s found a diamond in a coal mine. “But it doesn't matter if I believe what’s written. What matters is what’s written.”

“I'm sorry,” Ginny says, squeezing her eyes shut, “did we read the same letter?”

“Listen,” Mel says, and for the first time since she walked through the compartment door, Ginny hears the desperation in her voice, “this is a legal document. Regardless of what these Death Eaters are going to do– take our wands away, or segregate us from everyone else, or whatever– what’s written here matters. If they violate what it says, I can use this against them, bring it to international attention!”

A minute ago, Ginny was alight with outrage and fear, but now… She gnaws at her lip anxiously.

“Oh man,” Mel pops in to fill the silence, “the thinking face.” She leans towards Neville and cups her hand over her mouth, pretending to divulge a secret. “I hate the thinking face; it never bodes well for me. Also, it makes her look like the plucky young detective in a bad BBC crime show that gets canceled after one series.”

Laughter bubbles up in her chest, nearly reaching the surface. But it’s like the energy takes a wrong turn, and instead diverts to the crushing uncertainty weighing on her shoulders. Ginny shakes her head.

“Mel, I don’t think…”

“What do you mean, ‘you don’t think…’?” Mel snaps, suddenly irritated. “This can work!"

Ginny looks from Neville to Luna. “Is there any way this letter could be real?”

Neville rubs his hand over his mouth. “I mean… I don’t– we can’t trust them, but why would they send it? What’s the point?”

“I dunno.” Ginny‘s eyes go mad in their sockets, sorting through the possibilities in her mind. “Maybe– could they be serious? Merlin knows they’re arrogant enough to think everyone will just cut their losses and follow the bloody leader.”

“Yeah, but... this is almost like mercy.” Neville shakes his head, and a history of rage-washed despair lines the creases between his furrowed brows. “They don’t do mercy.”

Luna takes the parchment from Neville’s hands and squints as she skims the letter, running her pointer finger along the inky words. “There are too many conditionals. Fake promises between each line. Anything with this many lies shouldn’t be trusted.”

“Okay,” Ginny says briskly. “Okay… if we can’t trust it, can we use it like she says?”

Luna taps her chin pensively. “It’s like a goblin deal, when you think about it, because there’s barely a chance for an upper hand. Well, I suppose the difference is that goblins probably have more humanity than Death Eaters,” she amends bluntly.

“But if she’s already here, and there are more muggle-borns than they anticipated...”

“Do you really think they’ll hold to it, even if there’s some sort of... international interference?” Neville asks sceptically. “I– I’m not even sure what that would look like, and even if she gets people on her side–”

“How about you all stop talking about me like I’m not here?”

Mel’s defiant voice cuts a bloody gash in their conversation. The three of them turn their heads in unison to find her standing with one hand on the door handle, the other on her hip, her gold hoop earrings glinting in the sunlight that streams through the compartment window. But no matter how stubborn she appears or how cool she looks (she always looks so cool, Ginny has long lamented, comparing her second-hand everything to Mel’s ever-changing hairstyle and her careful compilation of ‘70s florals, jean, and black velvet), her masks have never been as good as Ginny’s. The one she has on now betrays what’s really going on underneath: fear, unlike anything she’s ever experienced.

“Mel–” Ginny starts, but Mel cuts her off.

“Look, I've seen enough of this…,” she waves her finger between the three of them, searching for the right word, “strategic planning between you three firsthand to know that you really want to save me. But I shouldn't need ‘saving’ in the first place! I am not a criminal. I– I am not a thief. This isn't like– Eastern Europe or Iran or some– whatever! This, all of this, is so fucked!” She emphasizes her last word by banging her fist on the door. Her voice has steadily grown throatier throughout her tirade, and now tears are starting to well in the corners of her eyes. Mel has always been quick to cry. “But I have as much a right to be here as anyone else, and I'm gonna bloody well go down with it if I have to.”

And with that, she turns the handle and walks out of the compartment, leaving a distressed Ginny in her wake.

Neville is looking at her out of the corner of his eye, but she will not give in and meet his gaze. Not right now. They would love it if she did, would love to catch two friends colliding their misery signals. But she's never been in the business of giving people what they want, so instead, she plays for indifference. Something good... something her mother would certainly chastise her for… suddenly, the chipped black polish on her nails looks ready to be picked off.

“Every muggle-born you spoke to had received this letter? And believed it to be true?” Esnaider is all charming rolled r’s and slanted vowels, but it’s the polite disbelief in his voice that gets her to look back up from her nails. Hindsight’s 20/20, arsehole, she thinks angrily.

“Yes, everyone had the letter” Ginny reluctantly answers for them all, when no one else speaks up. “But no one knew what to believe. It's not like any of us are well trained in sniffing out government lies, even with the excessive previous exposure.” The last part comes out both viciously and by accident, and the impact it has on the crowd can be summed up by the fact that she hears Percy suck in a scandalised breath from all the way in the back.

“It’s a complicated thing, trying to convince people that they’re in danger,” Anthony jumps in to fill the thorny silence. “Some people thought it was bollocks, some thought it was true, and some were desperate to believe anything that would protect them. A lot of us were having conversations like these with our own friends and… other… members of society,” he finishes awkwardly, and ridiculously. Ginny turns her entire upper body towards him and raises her eyebrows in disbelief.

“Walk us through what happened next,” Hestia says, moving past Anthony’s syntax malfunction swiftly and methodically.

“Nothing happened, not for a while,” Seamus says. “But then the Death Eaters stopped the train.”

“And why did they stopped the train? To look for Harry Potter?”

“To look for Harry, yeah.” Seamus flips his hand over in a gesture that very clearly means ‘obviously’. “But that wasn’t the only reason.”

September 1st, 1997, 3:11 PM

The train started down the tracks again with a screeching jolt; the Death Eaters have disappeared in a rolling storm of black smoke. Ginny helps Neville collapse back onto his seat, her fingers locked so tightly in his that her knuckles are stark white. His other hand clutches at his left eye, where a purple bruise is beginning to blossom.

“Why,” Ginny says in the steady voice she’s been known to adopt when trying to keep herself from going to spare. Neville notices it, and he lets go of her hand to flap his at her as if to wave her down.

“Why,” she repeats, looming over him, “did you have to provoke them like that?” He doesn’t answer immediately, instead opting to be even more of an idiot and poke at his eye twice, as if to check if he’s actually hurt. Luna makes a disapproving click sound and conjures up a cold compress, yanking his arm away from his face and placing the bag carefully on the swelling skin. Ginny growls and sweeps towards the compartment door, pulling aside the drape and glaring out the window at the corridor for any sign of activity.

“Oh come off it, Ginny,” Neville says, sounding as exasperated as he ever does, “like you weren’t about to say the same thing to them before I beat you to the punch. And don’t even argue,” he adds, when she swings around and opens her mouth to protest.

She brings her jaw back up slowly, taking a moment to climb down from the searing temper that rose like a tsunami the moment those Death Eaters– some of whom she definitely recognised from school events, or the Quidditch World Cup, or somewhere more nefarious– barged into their compartment. She shouldn’t be directing it at Neville anyway; he’s the one who they attacked.

“Maybe I was,” she admits finally, moving closer and aiming a light kick at his shin. “But we both know I’m better at bobbing and weaving than you.”

“Can’t argue with that.” He laughs, but it’s pierced with a rattling pain.

“After what we just saw, I think we all might have to get better at– what did you say, bobbing and weaving?– this year.” Luna doesn’t look up from searching for split ends in her hair and holding the cold compress to deliver this ominous prediction. Neville and Ginny glance at Luna, then turn back to one another.

“D’you reckon they just came for Harry?” Neville asks.

“I dunno.” Ginny turns back towards the compartment door window. “It’s a new feeling.” A few students are popping their heads out of their compartments now. Someone runs past with a pack of bandages in hand. “If they did, they’re even stupider than I thought. I mean, labeling him with a catchy little title like ‘undesirable number one’,” she pauses to roll her eyes, “was probably not the greatest strategy if they were going to trap him here, while he was catching up with his friends about their summers. They had to have known Harry wouldn’t be here, Hermione neither. Their faces are on posters everywhere you look.”

“And Ron’s got Spattergroit,” Luna reminds her firmly.

“Yes, so of course he’s not here.” Ginny lowers her voice, and mutters, “honestly, can you imagine if they actually did show up? It would be suicide. Even in Hermione’s punchiest ‘I love learning’ mood, she wouldn’t risk it.”

“No,” Neville agrees-winces. He sits up higher in his seat, taking the compress from Luna. “I hate to be the one asking the obvious questions, but then what else were they here for?”

Ginny sighs. “We should probably go see what’s going on.” After the disastrous conversation with Mel, she’d been enjoying the hours of seclusion and delusion, but those bastard Death Eaters just had to ruin it for her. Still, her curiosity outweighs her urge to barricade the doors, and isn’t that always the case?

She rolls her eyes, opens the door, and instantly comes into contact with an opposing force who, once she gathers herself, turns out to be Seamus Finnigan.

“Blimey, what are you in such a hurry for?” he asks her with a bemused grin, but it slides off his face at the sight of Neville’s eye. “Merlin, mate, how have you already found a way to look like a baboon’s arse?”

“Hi Seamus, nice to see you too,” Neville grumbles, pushing himself off of his seat. “Where’ve you been?”

“Oh, you know, drowning in self-pity,” he says with superficial swagger, and he tries for a laugh, but it sputters and dies like a scratched record on a tarnished turntable. Ginny doesn’t have to ask him what he’s talking about. She gives his shoulder a brief, sympathetic squeeze.

“You know what's happening?” Ginny asks, neatly folding that conversation into a box for later.

“Do I ever? Don’t answer that,” he adds sternly, as she opens her mouth to deliver an admittedly cheeky response. “But,” he adds, raising his eyebrows, “I came to find you lot to present my single piece of valuable input: something is happening down that way.” He points to the front of the train, where– now that Ginny concentrates– she hears muffled, raised voices.

“Right, well, lead the way then,” she says to Seamus, ushering him further down the corridor so Neville and Luna can edge past her.

“Bossy,” Seamus grouses, but he does what she says. They shuffle down the corridor in a single-file line, Ginny bringing up the back, their muffled footsteps on the emerald green carpet and the shouting ahead the only sounds in a sea of thick, tense silence. Heads are no longer popping out of doors, but eyes peek between the pinstriped curtains on compartment windows. As soon as she looks through each one, their curtains are swiftly drawn together.

“Everyone seems rather scared,” Luna notes. “The Death Eaters’ strategy is quite effective so far.”

“Alright, Luna, it’s not honesty hour. Jesus,” Seamus grumbles, shaking his head.

They’re coming closer to the shouting– just two doors down now– and though they’re close enough to know that the racket is actually just one impressively loud voice, Ginny still can’t place who it is.

Luna apparently can. “Oh, yes, alright,” she says plainly, nodding. “He‘s very predictable.”

“Who?” Neville asks. But then the compartment door that is valiantly muffling the racket inside is slammed open, and Sue Li, a Ravenclaw seventh year, hops out. She firmly shuts the door and leans against it, eyes closed, blowing out a tired breath and okay, now Ginny knows what’s going on.

Sue opens one eye to look at the four of them, who are unabashedly staring at her.

“Fair warning, if you’re going in there– I left in the middle of his rant,” she says in her quick posh cadence, without preamble, opening her other eye and tilting her head against the glass of the door window. “But since it was primarily about me, I reckon I made the right choice.” She pushes off the door and readjusts the placement of the white headband in her sleek black hair. “Come find me when he can see reason again, okay? I’ll be wherever Padma is, please and thanks.”

“Sue,” Neville says quickly before she can take off, “he is seeing reason. He’s right.”

“Oh come on, now” she replies smoothly, lips turned up in a vague half-smile as her eyes scan from Neville to Ginny and the others to the hallway behind them and back to Neville– so fast that it gives Ginny the spins, “you know better than to think that I don’t have everything in order.” Ginny doesn’t know Sue very well, but she has only ever seen her like this; a particularly Ravenclaw brand of confident, and inexplicably busy. She shrugs, almost apologetically, and says, “Sorry Neville, but I won’t accept any distractions. I have too much to do.” And with that, she pivots on her heels and heads in the opposite direction.

Once she’s far enough down the corridor, the four of them trade looks. “Blimey,” Seamus huffs, shaking his head.

Neville scratches the back of his head, forehead crinkling. “Ginny, maybe Mel’s right.”

“Mel is never righ–“

“I’m just saying, maybe we shouldn’t be telling people to get to safety when we don’t know where safety is, or even if Hogwarts is the worse option.”

She looks to Luna, who shrugs. Ginny– ugh– Ginny just doesn’t know. She hopes that isn’t becoming a pattern. She heaves a rough sigh and pulls open the compartment door.

She must be a budding seer because what they find inside is exactly what she was expecting, a picture taken right out of her head: an enraged Anthony Goldstein, madly pacing in what little room the compartment has, as Terry Boot watches him cautiously. At the sound of the door sliding open, Anthony whips around.

“Oh, so you d– oh,” he starts, then falters, as he sees who is there, and who’s not.

“Huh,” Ginny muses after a full beat of awkward silence, her dry tone only emphasized by Seamus roughly shutting the door behind them in his usual casual aggression. “I can honestly say that wasn’t the worst way a man has ever greeted me. But it’s definitely up there.”

“Oh,” Anthony says again breathlessly, his shoulders slumping. “Hey.” He jerkily goes to sit next to Terry, miscalculates his trajectory, and has to grab the wall on his way down.

“Wow,” Luna comments as she takes the seat on Terry’s other side. “He is not taking things very well at all.”

“I’m about to bring out my spare vomit bag,” Terry confirms, clapping Anthony on the shoulder consolingly.

“Well spotted, all of you,” Anthony grumbles, though his sarcasm is muffled by the hands covering his face. “Real astute observation, that.”

Ginny rolls her eyes. The last time she had a full conversation with Anthony was before she and Michael split up (even though she likes him, really likes him, enough that she had planned to propose a joint custody agreement to Michael in the divvying up of assets, before she got too busy to fill out the proverbial paperwork). But even from the focal point of a year-and-a-half ago and two seats down the library table, she knows what he looks like before he goes into a full, dystopian, history-crossing monologue. If Anthony weren’t so bloody smart, she’d bet all the galleons in the world that he’d be one of those end-of-days people with the sandwich boards on street corners.

“Anthony, since we’re short on time, do you mind if we skip to the informational section of your thesis?” she asks lightly, as she takes the seat across from his. “That’ll do away with the first fifty pages, right?”

“That’s funny. You’re funny,” he grumbles, picking his head up from his hands to glare at her. “Please forgive me for not being able to laugh when a quarter of the people on here are about to die.”

“Die?” Neville laughs incredulously, nervously scratching his ear. “C– come on. Don’t you think that’s a bit…” he stops, searching for the right word. Anthony doesn’t let him find it.

“However you’re going to finish that sentence, the answer is no. No. No, no, no,” Anthony groans, shaking his head emphatically. “Goddammit. Every time, every time. We all forget what a reckoning looks like until we’re standing in front of a firing squad.” He’s full on monologue-ing now, his sandwich board firmly set upon his shoulders. It’s really starting to freak Ginny out. Terry gives her a sideways glance; I told you so.

“Alright,” she says at an oddly high pitch, offering a calming hand. “We all saw the letter. But honestly, we won’t know what to expect until we get to Hogwarts. We can figure it out then.”

Anthony sits up in his seat, glaring at her in confusion. “What are you talking about? There’s no waiting! If we wait until Hogwarts, it’ll be too late! Why are you so ca–” he falters, and the bewilderment etched on his face is slapped away by a sudden understanding.

“You saw the letter, but– didn’t you wonder why they were here? Didn’t you see what they handed out before they left?” When his question is met by silence, he says “They stopped at every compartment, I don’t understa– how did you miss this?” He throws that right at Ginny.

“Well sorry, Anthony, they must have forgotten to check us off their mailing list while they were slugging Neville in the eye,” Ginny grunts, jerking her thumb at Neville’s swollen face.

Anthony winces at Neville. “Cheers mate,” he says, sounding much more like himself. But then his expression darkens. He stands, draws his wand and points it at a pile of shredded bits of parchment next to his left foot, which then begin to meld together. “I got carried away,” he explains unnecessarily, and Terry rolls his eyes. Once the parchment is mended, he picks it up and thrusts it at Ginny. She yanks it from his grip with a mock glare.

It’s a half-sheet, much shorter than the letter Mel had shown them, but with the same garish insignia adorning the top. She skims it impatiently, jumping past the absurdly polite introduction to where “for muggle-borns only” is printed in neat lettering, with three separate blocks of sentences laid out below, each marked with the fanciest bullet point she’s ever seen.

Three instructions.

She wordlessly hands the parchment to Neville. Merlin– knowledge, knowing, is heavier than it has any right to be– and then another chipped piece jams itself into the picture, because Ollie Rivers’ muggle-born mother wasn’t in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, she was in the International Confederation of Wizards. His father was the diplomatic envoy from the British government for wizard-muggle relations. Not just political rivals.

“I state for the record that the bodies of Stacey, Mark and Oliver Rivers were found in Swansea on September 24th, 1997,” Hestia throws over her shoulder, a low-lobbed ball that rolls back and forth where it lands, never slowing. The scratching of the quill is a white noise, a hum in the frozen air.

She flicks her eyes back up at Anthony, dread meeting dread. He raises his eyebrows, the way McGonagall does when she’s waiting for students to get to the answer spelled out right in front of them, and for a moment, Ginny lets herself be irritated with him. It’s not as if she hasn’t arrived at this conclusion every time there’s been a lull in conversation or a quiet moment in the past month– there’s a reason she’s so frightened about Mel– it’s just… there’s no middle ground here, no safe way to navigate something like this; you’re paranoid if you do and in denial if you don’t.

“This isn’t that bad,” the brashness of Seamus’s voice cuts through her and Anthony’s silent conversation. He has the parchment now, and he squints as he scrutinizes the neat black lettering. “A wand inspection and an interview proving their abilities and ties to the magical community? It’s basically what they asked all of us to do– we all went to the Ministry to do it! If you ask me, I’d rather have it done at Hogwarts.”

“Yeah, but that’s the problem, Seamus.” Anthony has fully come down from his hysteria, but the grim foreboding that has replaced it is no better. “We got called to the Ministry because they knew we would come running, us purebloods and half-bloods. But Hogwarts is home, for all of us. Much harder to resist.”

Seamus starts to protest. “But–"

“Tell me what you think this is,” Ginny demands. She needs to hear him say it; she needs to hear someone say it. Anthony nods, his jaw working with the weight of his next words.

“It was a trap,” Anthony says.

“It’s a trap,” Anthony says. “They’re going to capture all of them when they have them in one place. At Hogwarts.”

He swings his entire body towards the window with the daintiness of a drunk, staring blankly at the Northern English countryside as it zooms past. He huffs out a humorless laugh. “And we’re even on a train… You can’t make this shite up. It’s almost poetic.”

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