Radiocarbon Dating

Ginny heard her name called out in the list of first years assigned to NazariyNatova’s army. She wasn’t upset that she hadn’t been selected to be a general;in fact she had chosen not to apply this year, both because she felt a need tobetter settle into Hogwarts before assuming more responsibilities, and becauseshe had hopes of building a reputation and being selected on a moremeritorious basis next year. Still, she wondered if she would have beenselected, had she applied. Ginny didn’t know either of the other first yeargenerals.

Harry, of course, was not selected either; he had been a general in his firstyear and therefore could not be one again until his third year. Rather moredistressing was the fact that Ron was a second year general, and Ginny justknew she wouldn’t hear the end of it from him. The other two second yeargenerals were Blaise Zabini and Neville Longbottom, one a Slytherin Ginny wasclose to, and the other a known associate of Harry Potter. Here came Ron now,as full of himself as Ginny had ever seen him (though it was still nothingcompared to Percy at literally any second of his life).

“Hey, Ginny!” said Ron. “Sorry you didn’t get picked. But better luck nextyear, right?”

“Actually, I didn’t apply this year,” said Ginny.

“Sure,” said Ron.

But congratulationss,” said Ginny.

“What was that?” said Ron. “Speak up.”

Congratulationss,” said Ginny.

“Oh,” said Ron. “Thanks.” Hmm. So mum was at least wrong about Ron; shesupposed that her mother had no real way to know which of her sons wereParselmouths, seeing as she wasn’t one herself and it wasn’t as if they wereall tested for such a thing. Still, Ron didn’t seem to be a full Parselmouth;he hadn’t understood Ginny until she spoke very slowly. It was as if she wasspeaking in English to a very slow person. Ginny wondered when, if ever, wouldbe an appropriate time to tell Ron about this gift they shared (but that shehad gotten the better end of).

“Ginny!” said Professor Lockhart, who had been watching the proceedings andswooped in to comment. “I’m surprised you didn’t apply for the position ofgeneral.”

“Yeah, I just didn’t think it was for me this year,” said Ginny. “But how didyou know?”

“Because you would have been chosen,” said Professor Lockhart. He gave her amysterious look, and then left. Draco was approaching Ginny very quickly, andshe felt very popular.

“Ginny, hi,” said Draco. “I was wondering if you’d be up for lunch tomorrow. Ihave a private room in the Slytherin dormitories.” He looked very embarrassed,as if that wasn’t how he intended his words to come out at all.

“Um, sure,” said Ginny.

“That’s great,” said Draco, and he hurried away. What on Earth had justhappened? Did Draco Malfoy just ask her out on a date? And had she justaccepted? Well, given the situation, her choice was probably the rational one.She might never get a chance with Harry Potter, and if Draco was just going towalk into her like this… Well, he was wealthy, and attractive, and kind, andwithin her age range… and friends with Harry Potter… kind of… He was quite acatch, and just imagining the look on her mother’s face was worth the price ofadmission.

“Ginny!” said Luna, approaching and making Ginny feel marginally less popular.“I’m so glad we’re in the same army.” Ginny hadn’t even noticed. “I’m not sureif I would have been able to cast attack spells at you.”

“Thanks,” said Ginny, and smiled. “I’m looking for some advice as a friend.”

“Oh, I’m always willing to give friendly advice!” said Luna.

“What would you do if Draco Malfoy asked you out on a date?” said Ginny.

“Oh, first Harry Potter and now this?” said Luna. “You’re crazy. What’s sogreat about Draco Malfoy?”

“Wealthy, attractive, kind, within my age range, and friends with HarryPotter, kind of,” said Ginny. “Also from my House, and emotionally needy, andI’m just thinking of more and more pros the longer I think.”

“But he’s a boy,” said Luna.

“I guess you’re not old enough to understand,” said Ginny.

“How’s the religious soul-searching going?” asked Luna.

“Thank you for reminding me,” said Ginny. “I’ve been distracted.” The truthwas that she had deliberately avoided thinking about it, to simplify her life.

“Let me know how it goes,” said Luna. “The best case scenario is you come outof it as a more sane and functional human being, but I’d be fascinated if youturned out as something interesting like a Latter-Day Satanist or a TripleJew. Toodles.” And with that, Luna skipped off.

Ginny was sitting on a stone bench within the Slytherin Common Room, lookingat the entrance, when Dobby appeared before her.

“Master Malfoy will be with you very shortly,” said Dobby.

“Thank you,” said Ginny, but Dobby had already vanished again. Ginny decidedto let her mind wander in the last few moments before her date. This recentincident with Luna and, indirectly, Harry, was far from the first time Ginny’sfaith had been challenged. Several years ago, while exploring the area aroundOttery St. Catchpole, Ginny had met Pansy Parkinson, who had informed her thatWeasleys were stupid because they believed that the world was only sixthousand years old. Ginny had informed her that the world really was onlysix thousand years old, and you could determine this from the ages andlineages of the figures in Genesis, right back to the week-long creation ofthe universe by God.

But when Ginny got home, and began to do research so that she would have amore detailed retort the next time she encountered Pansy, she discovered thather position was well and truly discredited. The Well of Time in theDepartment of Mysteries was at least a million years deep, and theUnspeakables had barely scratched its surface with no end in sight. Muggleshad found the same result from many different sources of evidence, and hadeven put an approximate objective date on the creation of the universe –fourteen billion years ago, not six thousand. Ginny asked around her familyand discovered that even most of them were not Biblical literalists, and hadmade way for progress and reality.

So Ginny reminded herself that the Bible was not the word of God, but a set ofhistorical documents written independently by different people in differentplaces and different times about God, and that there was no reason to believean old Jewish creation myth as opposed to objective truth, particularly whenit had never been fundamental to her belief in the first place. The evidencecould not have been planted as a test of faith; an omnibenevolent God wouldnot resemble an abusive husband asking his wife if she believed him or her ownlying eyes. The only way the world could look how it did with a literally trueGenesis was if the evidence had been faked by a vast Satanic conspiracy topromote atheism, and believing that was conspiracy theory, the path to thenuttery of survivalist bunkerers or the Quibbler. So Ginny studied evolution,the mechanism the Muggles had determined really brought life on Earth about,and when she came to a true understanding of how it functioned, she realizedthat it was as beautiful and elegant as the night sky, and she became certainthat it was the tool God had used to shape the multitudes of forms of life.You cannot have true faith in something you know to be false – which broughtGinny to her real dilemma.

The world around Ginny looked exactly like a godless world would, so how couldshe go on holding her theist position? But what did that mean? In what way,exactly, did the world resemble a godless one? All of the things Ginny took assigns of God were there, in the world – but that’s just it, they were thingsGinny took as signs, and the godless explanation was simpler. Wizardsexisted, just as Ginny would expect in a world where some were descendants ofJesus Christ – but this could just as easily be seen as a retroactiveexplanation for where Atlantis came from; it was possible that Christ was adescendant of Atlantis, as all wizards were, and this was reinterpreted laterby Wizard Christians with the opposite causality. The Bible existed, as Ginnyexpected it would in a world where God had intervened in ancient events – butit could just as easily and, in fact, more easily be a collection of myths andlies, none any more true than the opening of Genesis. Ginny was aware of theconcept of memeplexes, and the process through which cults developed intoreligions – she had used it to dismiss many competing religions. She hadsimply decided that it didn’t apply to hers, that hers was true and trulyoriginated from a source meaningful to the inner workings of the universe. Butwhat if that wasn’t true? Was there any particular reason to believe that itwas? God didn’t regularly come down and talk to people and make His existenceas clear as that of the sun or the moon. Any sane theist knew that prayer wasjust a fancy mode of talking to yourself. You weren’t interacting with God;you were interacting with your mind’s simulation of God. God’s existence wasdebatable, and that itself was an indescribably large blow to the theistposition, because it fit precisely with the atheist interpretation of religionand required excuses from the theist position.

And yet, in spite of these simple realizations, Ginny was not particularlyless theist than she had been before. She still expected to meet God in Heavenupon her death. She still expected that, if she were to look back at distantlypassed times, the history would match up with the basic narrative she hadacquired from the Bible. And she still expected that if she pulled out ofreality and saw everything in a truly objective way, then above it all, insome higher plane, there would be God, watching everything just like her, andsmiling, because it was all going according to His plan. Her expectations fortests’ results matched up with a narrative diametrically opposed to the oneshe now identified as rational, so what did that mean? Was Ginny rationallybroken, such that her mind could never climb to the heights Harry’s could? Allof the tests she expected theist results on were tests she could not perform;did that mean that she only believed in her belief in God? Ginny would haveliked to think she knew what she believed in, but at the moment, she honestlyhad no idea what she believed. What a mess.

“Ginny?” said Draco, standing just in front of her. She had been so distractedshe hadn’t even seen him approach. She stood up.

“Oh! Draco!” said Ginny. “Hello. You were going to show me to your room? Um –to – your – private dormitory?”

“Yes,” said Draco. “It’s right down this hall; follow me.”

“I wish I could afford a private dormitory,” said Ginny, walking.

“It was difficult even for us,” said Draco. “It was the result of a sizabledonation that my father deliberated for quite some time before making. Iwouldn’t be surprised if you were able to afford it someday, for yourchildren, but that kind of money takes some doing.” He stopped at the woodendoor that had the word “MALFOY” in golden lettering, and knocked on it in apattern; it opened itself.

“Wow,” said Ginny, upon seeing the interior, and there wasn’t much else tosay. The bed was nicer than Ginny’s bed at home or at school. The table wasvisibly more expensive than Ginny’s house. The room as a whole was the singlemost intense pocket of luxury Ginny had seen in her eleven years of life. Shewanted it.

“So,” said Draco, sitting down and gesturing for Ginny’s chair to move forher. “How have your first few weeks at Hogwarts been?”

“Enlightening,” said Ginny. “Best month of my life so far.”

“Are you happy here in Slytherin?” said Draco. Dobby had appeared, seeminglyfrom nowhere, and was setting the table for a casual meal.

“I would have been happy anywhere that wasn’t Gryffindor,” said Ginny.“Although I’ll admit Hufflepuff would have disappointed me. But yes, I think Iwas Sorted correctly.”

“Anywhere but Gryffindor,” said Draco. “So I take it you’re not a big fan ofyour older brothers?”

“You have no idea,” said Ginny. “You think they’re annoying from a distance,try growing up in a tiny house with them.”

“I can’t even imagine,” said Draco. A wave of his hand, and each glass on thetable filled with lemonade, seemingly from nowhere.

“What’s your second year been like?” said Ginny.

“Lonely,” said Draco. Ginny frowned.

“I’m sorry,” said Ginny. Angsty. -5 points? +5 points? Gosh, I don’t know.

“I mean, ever since, you know, I’ve felt like I have a lot less friends here,”said Draco. “The other Slytherins who went through the same thing, I feel likethey think I’m to blame somehow, and the people who aren’t, they avoid me likeI’m going to snap at them and blame them, or maybe just like they couldn’tpossibly understand what I’ve gone through, which maybe they can’t, but…”

“You must feel so betrayed,” said Ginny. “By the world and by You-Know-Who.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Draco. “We should talk about something more pleasant.”

“Hmm…” said Ginny. “Oh! Did you know that if you talk to Luna Lovegood for toolong, you’re liable to wind up in a Quibbler?” She fumbled around in her bagand pulled out a magazine, with her face on it: “GINEVRA WEASLEY SECRETLYBETROTHED TO LUNA LOVEGOOD” - and, in smaller print: “(NOT DRACO MALFOY,SOURCES SAY)”.

“I made the mistake of meeting her about a year ago,” said Draco. “The nextweek I discovered that I was pregnant with Harry Potter’s baby.” Ginny triedto restrain her laughter to an appropriate level.

“Luna’s a nice girl,” said Ginny. “Just… odd.” Come to think of it, Dracolooked rather like a male version of her; but then many of the purebloodfamilies looked similar.

“That reminds me,” said Draco. “Potter was particularly interested to meet herlast year. You should introduce them.”

“I’m afraid they’ve gotten off on the wrong foot,” said Ginny.

“Oh, they’ve already met?” said Draco. “I didn’t hear; what happened?”

“Well, not exactly met,” said Ginny. “It’s complicated.”

“I’d love to hear the story,” said Draco. At that point, food arrived, and itdefied description.

“Well,” said Draco, who had just finished his plate. “Do you want my opinion?”

“Of course,” said Ginny, and she smiled.

“She could have expressed it in a more sensitive way,” said Draco, “but Iagree with her on Potter. I knew Potter and was quite close to him for sometime, and his qualities that ultimately made me avoid him were the samequalities that I think make him a likely future Dark Lord. He’s brilliant,very charismatic, intense about his ideology, is rapidly learning how peoplework and how to control them - very Slytherin, actually, you know he wasalmost sorted here and it was probably some trickery from Dumbledore thatchanged it at the last minute - and he’s just drawn to the Dark Lord archetypeby nature, really. That ‘game’ you said he played with everyone didn’t soundvery much like a game to me; it sounded more like a different self that hesnapped out of, or he decided he was moving too quickly or too obviously. Hebecame the president of his own fanclub and commandeered it for his ownpurposes, and you just accepted it because you bowed to the qualities of hisyou admired – his intellect, and so on. None of it’s very subtle, and I’msurprised Luna Lovegood of all people is the one to pick up on it.”

“That sounds like quite a leap,” said Ginny. “Are you sure there isn’t somebad blood between you and Harry that’s causing you to interpret the situationincorrectly?”

“I’m not aware of any if there is,” said Draco. “Potter and I drifted apartquite amicably. I’d like to give you a further warning, though.” Ginnyfrowned, because she thought she was beginning to understand Draco’s concerns,though she didn’t want to.

“What?” said Ginny.

“I don’t believe in God,” said Draco, “as I’m sure you know most wizardsdon’t. But Potter is an atheist, and not an atheist like myself, or most ofthe professors here, or even the Lovegoods. He’s a capital-A Atheist, and hebelieves in Atheism just as strongly as you believe in God. Perhaps evenmoreso.”

“Perhaps even moreso,” repeated Ginny, and it was increasingly striking herthat the only way Harry could _believe something even more strongly than shebelieved in God would be if he _knew _it because it was a _fact.

“There will come a time when Potter tries to convert you, to make you a littlemore like him,” said Draco. “Because really, that’s what he wants in life. Tomake the entire rest of the world a little more like him. He’ll ask you tosacrifice a belief central to your worldview that differs from his own. Hewill try to trick you into making that sacrifice. Don’t let him. Those beliefsare your source of power.”

“That which can be destroyed by the truth should be,” quoted Ginny. “That’sthe first Method of Rationality.”

“There’s an ancient art that I’ve studied called rhetoric,” said Draco. “Itwas invented by the Dark wizard Gorgias, and it’s a very Slytherin school ofcunning. Rhetoric is the targeted application of what appears to be purereason to convince someone of something – anything, whether it actually istrue or not. Potter is by far the best rhetorician I’ve ever encountered;before I met him I was inclined to dismiss the entire practice as Muggle mindgames.”

“That’s troubling,” said Ginny. Someone was lying to her here, to use her –but was it Harry, or Draco?

“Indeed,” said Draco.

“What do you think of religion,” said Ginny, “really?”

“There might be some truth there,” said Draco. “I’ve never found it, but I’venever really looked; my father never brought the subject up for me, as is thenorm. Of course some religions must be lies, though I don’t know which ones.The end goal of any cult of personality is to become a religion, and somesucceed. The position of a capital-A-Atheist like Harry is that all religionsstart that way, but often they prove themselves hypocrites when they foundtheir own cults like the Less Sane Squad. I’m sorry, the More Sane-”

“I still think you’re jumping to conclusions, there,” said Ginny. “I don’tagree with Harry about everything, but I think the Squad is a good idea. Itsgoals are noble.”

“Its stated goals, perhaps,” said Draco. Ginny’s mind was blown by thisdichotomy she had not considered. She stopped to consider where to take theconversation.

“Would you be interested in exploring religion with me?” said Ginny. “Maybeit’d fill that void in your life you’ve been describing.”

“I think I would,” said Draco.

“We can start whenever you have free time,” said Ginny. “Just Bible readings,with me explaining everything – I’d be your annotations.”

“That sounds lovely,” said Draco, “and – oh! – it reminds me.” Draco reachedinto unknown space and summoned an ornate box. “This is a gift from me toyou.”

“Oh – Draco!” said Ginny. “I don’t know what to say!” You don’t give awaypowerful Dark artifacts on the first date!

“In this box is a Learning Journal,” said Draco. “It has a mind of its own,and when you own it, it’s your best friend. It doesn’t look like it, but youcould think of it as a sort of a pet. But it’s very bright – it might remindyou of Harry Potter, in that regard. It provides great advice – just in thepast few months it’s given me tips that have made the world around me ameasurably better place. The box was a gift to me from my father; he said toopen it when all seemed lost, and it would help me. I did, and it has.”

“Draco,” said Ginny, “I can’t possibly take this from you. It’s yours.”

“It’s been a lifesaver for me for months, but I don’t need it anymore,” saidDraco. “I think it’s time for it to touch someone else’s life, and I thinkthat person is you.”

“Draco,” said Ginny, but he slid the box into her hands, and she took it fromhim.

“Technically, it’s against school rules,” said Draco. “So you can’t go aroundtelling people about it. But from one Slytherin to another, I trust you.”

“Thank you,” said Ginny. “I should take this back to my room, but it’s beenwonderful talking to you.” She squeezed his hand.

“And you as well,” said Draco. “We can meet again some time next Sunday?”

“Certainly!” said Ginny. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye!” said Draco. Had Luna Lovegood seen the box Draco had given Ginny,she might have said that it looked exactly like a box her mother had onceowned_._

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