|SIYE Time:18:02 on 21st January 2019|
The Weight of the After
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Category: Post-HBP, Post-DH/AB
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Ron Weasley, Severus Snape
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language, Violence
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.
Hitcount: Story Total: 2398; Chapter Total: 484
Awards: View Trophy Room
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.
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.
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.
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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