At first, Ginny was completely content – bursting with pride, even – to keepher Patronus a secret. The Unspeakables had told her it was a powerful asset –there were whispers about Nundus – and that she shouldn’t tell anyone, noteven her parents, not even her best friends. They even lied to the DefenseProfessor’s face, and said that she had made a good attempt, but ultimatelycould not cast a Patronus and knew it. Ginny loved the feeling that she wasimportant and special, that she had a secret worth keeping from absolutelyeveryone until the time was just right.
But now it was draining Ginny’s patience, to sit quiet in Harry’s presence. Itwas absolute torture to remain a gradually less-and-less-heard voice in theMore Sane Squad – a group she had originally organized, before the secondmeeting, where Harry stepped in – knowing all the while that she had somethingimportant to say, a complex series of thoughts that might reestablish herworthiness of Harry Potter’s company, that she had to keep to herself for thegreater good. Every time Harry made some snide reference to theism or religionand glanced at Ginny, she wanted to snap “say, have you seen this neat spell Iinvented in the Department of Mysteries?”, but of course she didn’t. Shewasn’t _that _bad at keeping secrets. She only practiced it when she was veryalone, and she didn’t tell anyone about it, not even Tim, and she usually toldTim everything. The worst of it was the time Harry had made everyone sitthrough a Pensieve memory of a dreadfully-written-and-performed play depictingthe possible origins of Christianity in a scam designed to cover up anillegitimate pregnancy. She had been quite tempted to cast her Patronus thattime, and to explain at length how it functioned. But she just took a deepbreath, swore to herself to do something constructive later, and smiled, asshe had been trained to long ago.
On this particular day, the More Sane Squad was holding a quiet individualstudy session, as their group discussion had covered all the main points andended substantially early. Ginny had cast a Quietus around herself and waspracticing out of “70,007 Tongue-And-Wrist-Twisters For Optimizing Wizards AndAmbitious Witches”, an enormous set of practice exercises intended to improvespellcasting ability, to aid in rapid-fire Charming. She had convincedProfessor Flitwick to get it out of the Restricted Section for her bydescribing, in vague terms, her calculator; he had obliged but suggested thatif she wanted to learn about division, she should ask Professor Vector.
Harry set down his own book – and Ginny noticed that she recognized the cover;it was a fantasy novel called “Mathematically Precise Daemons and theirBehavior”, penned by one Arcturus Pullman. When she had been much younger, shehad spotted Fred and George reading it, and she asked her mother if she couldtoo. Mrs. Weasley, of course, threw a fit and confiscated the novel, anddirected Ginny to read something called “Cubs, Devils, and Artifacts” instead.Back in the present, Harry approached Ginny, as she’d wanted him to severalmonths ago, but somehow it didn’t seem as satisfying now as it would havethen.
“Ginny?” asked Harry. “Could we talk about something for a moment?”
“Sure,” said Ginny. “What is it?” He didn’t sound like he was on the attack…
“It’s about Colin,” said Harry. “Do you still talk to him?”
“Oh, sure,” said Ginny. “We’ve drifted apart a little… But we still talk.”
“Great,” said Harry. “Is he coming back to our meetings?”
“Um, no,” said Ginny. “He said he’d decided the whole thing seemed cultish. Heseemed quite emotional about it.” Harry frowned.
“He did realize that was just a joke, right?” said Harry.
“Yes,” said Ginny. “But that was still the conclusion he came to.”
“And he didn’t even issue a letter of resignation?” said Harry. “Howinconsiderate. I don’t suppose you’d like to be the new Secretary of State?”
“As a matter of fact…” said Ginny.
“I’ll consider your application,” said Harry, and Ginny’s heart melted. “Oh,and your other friend… Luna, is it?”
“One of my other friends, yes,” said Ginny.
“She wouldn’t happen to be interested in joining, would she?” said Harry.“People say she’s batty but I’m not one to put too much stock in reputations.”
“She actually did sit in on one meeting,” said Ginny. “It really wasn’t herthing; it never was. Shame, too. She’s sweet. A bit Dark, though. She gave mesome fortune-telling cookies the other day, and I opened mine and it had alittle strip of paper in it that said ‘you will regret reading this’, and shesaid that it must have been overcooked. What do you suppose that’s supposed tomean?”
“I have no idea,” said Harry. “Fascinating.” He nodded and left, and Ginny hada feeling that that meant that she’d said something rather boring, and shetried to get back to her exercises, but couldn’t, with her focus uprooted. Soshe got up and found another group of students who didn’t seem to be working,either, a group of students led by Cho Chang, who had returned to Hogwarts forthe new term after her two-month hiatus-of-grief.
“Hello, Cho,” said Ginny. “It really is nice to see you.”
“Ginny!” said Cho, and she immediately invited Ginny into an awkward, thoughunderstandable, hug. “You came in late, so let me get you caught up reallyfast. So, I get back from home with no idea what I’m going to do, andProfessor Lockhart invites me on a quest! A quest! To avenge Cedric’s killer,no less, so of course I had to go on it. We went out into the ForbiddenForest, where the Acromantula that was framed for Myrtle’s death in the 40s iskept, because, you see, magical spiders and magical snakes absolutely hateeach other, so we thought maybe we could recruit it to fight Slytherin’sMonster, since it must doubly hate it because of its history. But theAcromantula – it was named Aragog – refused to help us, because it didn’t seeitself as having a dog in the fight, and as it saw it it could only sufferfrom getting itself involved. And then – get this – it turns out that thereason Acromantulas are considered barely sapient is because they have anuncontrollable bloodlust, so we barely got out alive! Gilderoy had to stun andeven kill some of Aragog’s spawn! So of course we can’t go back _there_again.”
“Sounds exciting,” said Ginny, and she smiled to show that she meant it.
“I think he might be my Wise Old Wizard, Ginny!” said Cho. “And I thinkavenging Cedric might be my true calling that gives me my heroic strength.”
“Do you want to know what I think?” said Ginny.
“Of course I do!” said Cho. “Otherwise why would I be telling all of you?”
“I think the Defense Professor is rather suspicious,” said Ginny, and Chonodded, but her spirit seemed to sink a bit. “Of course, it’s just a vaguefeeling, and vague feelings can go either way. Everyone thought last year’sDefense Professor was suspicious, too, and just look at how that turned out!He was all good. So, I guess what I’m saying is, have fun and do good!”
“Thank you, Ginny,” said Cho. “I heard you all went to the Department ofMysteries a while ago for Patronus lessons; how did that go?”
“Well, it’s very confidential,” said Ginny. “You know what they say, whathappens in the Department of Mysteries stays in the Department of Mysteries.”
“She couldn’t cast one,” whispered Sheila Carrow, and Parvati shushed her.
“Slytherins aren’t safe” were the words most commonly repeated after Colin wasfound petrified, in a small deserted side-dungeon in the Slytherin dorms. “OhGod, what did they do to him,” however, were the first, and this was almostcertainly because only his upper half was petrified – the cutoff was somewherebeneath his armpits – and the rest of him was simply gone. What remained instone was soaking in a pool of blood, which had been used to paint a message:“REANIMATE THIS”.
Ginny was the first person to come across the scene, and her screaming quicklyalerted the entire House to the horror and attracted the attention of theHeadmistress, who was similarly disturbed, but quickly and calmly pointed outthat all nonfatal injuries could be healed with the Philosopher’s Stone, and,however severe, Mr. Creevey’s injury must not have been fatal, seeing as hewas petrified. His goggles were attached, as they were supposed to be, andwere fogged up in the manner typical of glass usable in reversingPetrification.
“Whoever did this did not properly account for the Philosopher’s Stone,” saidthe Headmistress. “We may at least count our blessings that our enemy is notsmart. Scourgify.” The message written with Colin’s fluids washed up andaway.
“Or just not up to date,” whispered Tracey. Draco huddled in close to Ginny;both were appalled but Draco of course understood that it meant even more toGinny, who knew Colin more closely.
“To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Creevey will be perfectly fine,” said theHeadmistress, and she distinctly looked as if she were trying too hard toproject an image that no one was at any serious risk. “Because of the currentstate of the Potions of Reanimation, he will miss a few weeks of class, but nomore. Please evacuate the room immediately; Rubeus Hagrid will be here posthaste to move Colin to a secure location.” Nobody seemed quite satisfied withthis, but they obeyed.
“Slytherins aren’t safe,” said Ginny, and, on an unspoken agreement, followedhim towards his room.
“No,” said Draco. “But we are. I will protect you, Ginevra. I will get into afist-fight with a Basilisk if that’s what it takes to keep you around.”
“Draco,” said Ginny, “you’re acting completely ridiculous. You’re perfectlyfulfilling the role of the guy who’s going to get a noble, but stupid, deathat the hands of the monster – or petrification, if this is a children’s story.Also, it’s pedantic, but Basilisks don’t even have any fists.”
“Real life doesn’t work like a play, Ginny,” said Draco. “Narrative patternsdon’t reflect reality, they reflect narrative patterns. What do they eventeach you in the More Sane Squad?” Ginny tilted her head and thought aboutthis.
“Alright, fair point,” said Ginny. Draco was suddenly very creepy for noparticular reason, but it was quite romantic. The opposite of Lesath. “I don’tsee why you’re so confident, though. Until they actually figure out what’sgoing on and stop whoever’s doing it, no one’s really safe. How can youprotect against something when you have that little knowledge of how itoperates? It’s like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands.”
“I can just feel, I feel very certain,” said Draco, “that I can protect you. Idon’t know why. But I do know this. If I found a scroll that told me I couldbring Father back to life, and all I had to do was stand passive while theBasilisk ate you, I’d burn the scroll, save you, and spit on his grave.”
“What a terrible thing to say,” said Ginny, with an ironic intonation. Shefelt her arms snaking towards his, and she felt like a third or fourth year.“You’re nuts, you’re crazier than Luna.”
“Maybe I am,” said Draco. “Our love is God. Let’s go get a Butterbeer.”
“Hello, Tim. How have you been? Another student was attacked today, and it’ssomeone I care about.”
“It was Malfoy, then? That’s terrible. Only petrified, right?”
“No, Creevey. And yes, only petrified. It’s still awful. Really morbid; theHeir petrified him after cutting half of him off. He’ll be okay, though,because of the Philosopher’s Stone.”
“Awful. The Heir must be a very sick man.”
“Draco’s quite well. I think I’m”
“As for how I’ve been, I’ve been how I always am. A mutilated human soultrapped in a diary.”
“No, I’m sorry. It was very rude of me to interrupt you. Go on about Draco?”
“I think I’m going to marry him. Sometimes it seems like he’s the only thingin the world that isn’t wrong and broken.”
“I’d object WHAT ABOUT ME but I’m as wrong and broken as they come.”
“It’s not your fault, Tim. Voldemort hurt you; he’s the reason you’resuffering. And I’m sure he’s doing this somehow.”
“No, not Voldemort. He could be cunning, but this isn’t like him at all. Hewas an awful Occlumens; he simply was not one to wear many faces on manyoccasions.”
“Maybe solving the mystery of the Chamber attacks will put you at peace.”
“Maybe. Tell me more about Draco.”
“He’s much nicer to be around than Harry. He’s dark and brooding like an anti-hero, and in a cute way. I clearly mean so much to him, which is nice since hemeans so much to me, and those two facts feed each other. It’s a virtuouscycle.”
“Romance is so stupid and yet so life-defining. I miss it. I miss being human,being in a human body. Take the gloves off, Ginny.”
“Every time I’ve possessed you, it’s been so exhilarating – to escape fromthis prison. To breathe and feel.”
“Tim, I couldn’t possibly understand your perspective, but it makes sense thatthis would be so important to you. But you have to understand – every timeyou’ve possessed me, I’ve been taking a massive risk. If you’re somehow hidingsomething from me, you could just kill me, or use me to do something horrible.At first that hadn’t hit me fully, but it has now, and I’m not comfortablejust giving myself over to you like that.”
“Why? When have I ever hurt you? Through these decades of pain, I’ve retainedenough of my decency to act altruistically, rather than maliciously, towardsyou. After those decades alone, it was such a relief to meet you, but it wasan even greater relief to possess you. I felt alive, Ginny, for the first timesince I was originally abducted. And now, I don’t mean to put any pressure onyou, and I feel so manipulative and even evil saying this, but it’s true: Ifeel like I’ll shrivel up and die if I wind up alone again. I physically needto inhabit your body, Ginny. Please.”
“…alright, Tim. Get ready.”
The rustling sound of handgear being removed and Ginny taking a trust fall.
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