Hell is Empty (and All the Devils are Here)

For the space of a breath, Ginny forgot. The thick red hangings around her four-poster warmed the morning light and the vaulted ceiling brought a familiar comfort. She’d long since memorized every crack and fissure in the stones. Morning meant silly, half-sleeping banter with her dorm-mates, frantic last-minute homework, and the promise of a lovely breakfast.

But there came no gentle pattering of Demelza’s early shower, no creaking of floorboards as Victoria prayed, no humming through parted lips as Barbara brushed on mascara.

And then Ginny remembered.

Taking a deep breath she tried to focus on uncoiling the knots in her stomach and willed the cold fingers around her heart to release their grip. One question crashed around her skull, interrupting itself with ever more urgent protests: What do I do? What do I do? What am I supposed to do now?

Well. Get up.

Ginny would rise as she’d done every day of her life. Then she’d shower, attend lessons, try not to feel anything, and go back to sleep again. But she couldn’t shake the idea that doing so would mean giving in. As though there was something else she ought to be doing.

I don’t have a choice, Ginny reminded herself. There were Death Eaters stationed around the Burrow, ready to pounce at any moment. She couldn’t even warn her parents about them now that her owl privileges had been cut off. Her only option, at this point, was to recede into herself and hope that her body would function automatically, carrying her through the routine.

Step two: shower.

She’d fallen asleep in her robes and felt sore where they’d bunched up under her arms. Unlatching her trunk she found the tangled mass of clothes and school supplies. The memory of Augustus Rookwood digging through her knickers flashed across her eyes and she felt sick. With a swish and flick of her wand she levitated the knot of clothing into the laundry chute, resolving to hand-wash and wand-dry what she had on for the coming day. Defiance flickered as she considered just going down for lessons stinky and unwashed, but it went out at once. Snape had sent at least a dozen owls over the holidays outlining specific hygiene rules.

Bloody hypocrite. Ginny was almost entirely sure that Snape hadn’t washed his hair in at least a decade. For a whimsical moment she mused that that had been why the Death Eaters had made such a fuss about her shampoo. Maybe they’d never seen such a thing before?

With a smirk she seized her narrowly-rescued bottles and padded to the washroom. Habit compelled her to lock the door behind her as she stripped off her robes and stepped into the claw-footed tub. Twisting the knob she felt the water burn hotter, hotter, until her skin flushed red and angry. She closed her eyes against the sting, as though it could boil away every wretched feeling inside her, and let her mind float away with the steam.

Coming out of her daze she heard chatter rising from the Common Room. The water had gone cold. Realizing she didn’t have much time left, she made quick work lathering her scalp. Then—something was wrong. Her hair caught, tangled up in a sticky glob. Ripping her fingers free she found them red and dripping. Blood. No, something else. Something that repelled water. Something that wouldn’t come off.

Ginny screamed.

Footsteps pounded up the stairs followed by a fist on the washroom door. “Hey, what’s going on?”

It sounded like Lavender.

“I don’t know!” Ginny shouted, panicking as she scrubbed her hands.

“Are you hurt?!” Parvati called.

“I don’t know!”

“We’re coming in!”

The door blasted open, but Ginny didn’t even care that she was stark naked and sobbing in the shower. The red material had hardened and dried despite the deluge from the shower, gluing her hair to her cheek and her fingers together.

“What is that stuff?” Lavender seized Ginny’s arm to inspect while Parvati threw a towel around her.

“It was definitely shampoo earlier,” Ginny whimpered. “It set off the alarm but it was just the undetectable extension charm and it was shampoo then.

“It set off their alarm?” Lavender and Parvati shared a meaningful look. “Everyone’s shampoos and things have undetectable extension charms and no one else got searched. And also… Well, they’re undetectable.

“I know what it is!” Parvati cried. “It’s Permanent Paint! It’s a Wizard Wheezes thing. Your brothers must have snuck it in and used a time-released transfiguration charm to turn it into shampoo for a while. Maybe until it actually got wet!”

Permanent paint?” Ginny knew all about permanent paint. The main selling point being that it was permanent. Impossible to remove, except with the Wizard Wheezes patented removing formula—only available to approved customers.

“It’s a pretty shite prank,” Lavender agreed. “But they must have included something to take it off with.”

“Ooh!” Parvati clapped. “Try the conditioner!”

Desperate, Ginny squeezed a dollop of perfectly normal conditioner into her red-crusted palm. Sure enough, it became sparkling and translucent as soon as it hit water, dissolving the hard shell over her fingers.

Ginny’s shoulders quaked with tears of relief.

“Oh honey,” Parvati cooed.

Even though Ginny was dripping wet wearing only a towel, the other two girls pulled her into a hug. She could do little more than cry into their shoulders.

“Just don’t you dare get my hair wet,” Lavender purred.

“Ok,” Ginny sniffled. “And do you think I could borrow some normal shampoo and stuff. And… maybe some knickers too? It’s just—Death Eaters touched mine.”

Ginny’s robes still felt damp as she rushed down the stairs from Gryffindor Tower but she couldn’t afford more time drying them lest she miss breakfast entirely. At least Parvati had given her an unopened package of cotton underpants to wear until hers were laundered.

It had always been the twins’ style to lighten the mood via pranking, but this time, Ginny couldn’t get behind their antics. Worse than the shock of it was the knowledge that she’d have to borrow shampoo from the other Gryffindor girls for the rest of term. She could hardly tell any of the faculty that hers had turned into a banned Wizard Wheezes product.

Descending the last steps to the Great Hall, she heard only the clatter of cutlery. Students sat in a daze as professors and prefects paced the walkways between tables. At least the massive fleet of Death Eaters hadn’t become a permanent fixture. Only Avery, Nott, and Macnair had stayed behind to glower from the edges of the Great Hall. Ginny figured that the others had better things to do, like kidnap and torture.

Sliding onto the bench beside Neville, she was surprised that he didn’t meet her eye.

“Bollocks!” she groaned. “Nev, I’m so sorry, I completely forgot!”

The previous night still felt like a dream, and she only just remembered tepidly agreeing to meet him at five that morning. It was nearly eight.

Neville only shrugged and poured himself more coffee. He alone seemed to be eating while the other Gryffindors just gazed blankly at the plates before them. Seamus looked to have forgotten what he was doing entirely, one bite of fried egg raised halfway to his mouth as he stared into the half distance. Ginny just scratched butter onto a piece of toast, hypnotized by the way it melted into the craggy surface.

When the bell finally rang for classes, her toast had grown cold.

“Midnight,” Neville whispered, rising from his seat. “Same place.”

Footsteps echoed in the corridors as the sixth years marched to Transfiguration. Flora and Sabine giggled at the doorway to McGonagall’s classroom—socializing with abandon—and Ginny couldn’t help but feel impressed by how relaxed they both appeared. Sabine’s uniform was ironed and pressed and she’d swapped out the original sleeve buttons for glittering onyx. Ginny’s uniform was rumpled and frayed and had lost all its buttons well before it came into her possession.

“I heard you were the last one off the train last night.” One penciled brow disappeared under Flora’s elaborately curled fringe.

“Yeah, I got to meet your dad,” Ginny snapped back. “Hadn’t seen him since we ran into each other in the Department of Mysteries.”

“Twenty points from Gryffindor,” Sabine said in a bored voice.

Stupid. She should have known better than to antagonize the children of Death Eaters. This wasn’t the old Hogwarts.

“You might want to watch yourself, Weasley,” Flora snarled. “Everyone in this class is a prefect except for your lot.”

Ginny just rolled her eyes and turned into the classroom.

“Another five points for cheek!” Sabine called after her.

Sabine hadn’t been so bad before. A little snooty and fond of name-dropping to be sure, but far from evil. Then again, people of Sabine’s ilk tended to gravitate towards power. Yesterday’s Slug Club had become today’s Death Eaters.

McGonagall hushed the class, ordering them to settle, but it sounded more like a suggestion than a real command. As if McGonagall knew she only had a minimal amount of control over her own students. The following lecture sounded more forced and stilted than any Ginny had seen the professor give and she kept finding herself distracted by the power dynamics in the classroom. The Slytherins seemed to be pushing the professor, trying to gauge how far they could go before she would push back. Or maybe they were just punishing her. Watching her dither and try to toe the line for fun.

McGonagall, the former Deputy Headmistress, once so strict and unshakable, now walking on eggshells. An ant under a magnifying glass.

Ginny didn’t retain one word about Gamp’s Law or its exceptions.

“Hey,” Andy Kirke whispered as Ginny fastened her rucksack at the end of the lesson. “Do you also have this on your timetable?”

Ginny squinted at the spot on the parchment. Muggle Studies / Carrow, A.

“Yeah,” she muttered back, trying not to move her lips. “Will it be… like before, do you think?”

She couldn’t imagine why Death Eaters would want to educate the students on Muggle ways.

“I mean.” Andy considered his words. “How could it?”

“And this.” Ginny furrowed her brows and pointed toward their new ‘Arcane Arts’ class. “A. Carrow. Same teacher?”

His face blanched. “You didn’t see their introduction?”

“I was late coming in, why—”

Andy waved a quieting hand and Ginny realized Flora Rookwood had been watching them through narrow eyes.

“Off to your next class, please,” McGonagall said in too high a voice.

Ginny had never been to the Muggle Studies classroom and it seemed like not many of her fellow students had either. Standing at attention against the wall of the corridor she watched as a line of Ravenclaws queued up across. Then, a blonde head. Ginny felt a thrill of joy to see Luna Lovegood.

Guilt soon followed. Ginny hadn’t even thought of her, hadn’t sought her out during the feast. Luna might not have noticed. What with the new rules, Ginny had a reasonable excuse. But then Luna was Luna after all. That Ginny had never bothered turning around, might have missed it when Luna tried to catch her eye coming in…

Luna just offered a mild sort of smile. Somehow, that made it worse. Ginny tried to smile back, but it came out as more of a grimace. Thinking about it, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d smiled.

The classroom door swung open, sending a shudder down the waiting students.

Gryffindor with Slytherin for Transfiguration, she thought. That’s to keep an eye on McGonagall while she’s with her own House…

So if Gryffindor was paired with Ravenclaw for this new compulsory course, that left Hufflepuff with Slytherin. Ginny had to assume that the motivation was sheer cruelty. Whatever was going to happen inside the classroom couldn’t possibly be good.

The bell shrieked and the sixth years started before filing through the doors. At the back of the room, a stocky witch stood watching as Filch fiddled with a strange device. A white sheet hung over the blackboard.

“It can’t be that hard if a mudblood could do it!” Her heavy brow twisted with loathing and impatience.

The other students slouched into their chairs and Ginny followed, staying focused on the back of the class. Nervous fidgeting thickened the silence as people traded confused glances and peered around shoulders. The professor seemed to notice.

“You!” she barked when Jack Sloper coughed. “Detention!”

Filch whimpered apologies and ‘A. Carrow’ started pacing like some caged animal. None of the students spoke and the air started to feel solid.

“Excuse me.” Luna raised her hand and Ginny closed her eyes, wishing she would shut up.

“Silence, Lovegood!” the professor spat.

“It’s just that you haven’t lit the lamp,” Luna said.

Fury flashed across the teacher's face as her eyes swiveled between Luna and the dark bulb at the back of the contraption. Tapping it with her wand, a square of dim light burst to merry life on the sheet at the front of the class.

Carrow’s heavy features seemed to quiver with fury. “It’s not bright enough.”

“Well.” Luna lolled her head to one side. “If you lower the torches—”

The professor raised her wand until the sconces barely flickered. With the lights down, the square at the front of the room did indeed burn brighter. She almost seemed more angry of being deprived another reason to lash out.

“Hurry, squib!” the professor spat. “On with it!”

Filch tugged out a box and removed the lid with shaking fingers. The yellowing label read 'C. Burbage' and Ginny felt anger bubble in her chest. Everyone knew Professor Burbage had been murdered early in the year. Ginny's father in particular had grieved her death. While Mr. Weasley hadn't known the ethnologist personally, he'd been a fan of her work. Ginny had heard all about Burbage's travels through the muggle world, documenting their culture and practices. And how precious little of her findings ever got any attention. Why, Ginny wondered, had the Death Eaters kept her data? And why were they using it now?

As Filch snapped a slide into place a grainy, black and white image blinked onto the screen.

"Can anyone tell me what this is?" Carrow said.

The class remained frozen, not daring to speak. The professor's eyes flashed with a murderous gleam as she surveyed the students, but the image shining behind her was impossible to make out. Thousands of white smudges writhed in a cluster, almost like maggots or some other kind of larvae.

"Next slide.”

The image changed with a click, a close up of the same scene, and Ginny flinched. The white smudges were pigs. More pigs than she could imagine, all crammed together in a teeming warehouse. Closer up, she could see their diseased eyes and rotting skin. A few students gasped as several more averted their gaze.

Another click and Ginny felt her guts tighten. One gloved hand picked up a tiny, fluffy chick and pressed its beak into some kind of machine. Ginny recoiled when she realized it was like a small guillotine. The blade sliced down and the chick's wings fluttered against the sheathed fingers.

Click. A line of baby calves locked into too-small crates. Click. A masked Muggle snatching live chickens by the feet and hurling them into the back of a truck. Click. A caged goose with a rod shoved down its throat.

"What?" Carrow smirked. "Never seen a Muggle farm before?"

Image after gruesome image flashed on the screen and Ginny felt her eyes begin to sting. To her left, light glinted off the silent tears streaming down Luna’s cheeks.

"And it isn't just farms," the Professor went on, nodding for the next slide.

A baby elephant, bound at the legs and trunk, struggled while two sets of men tugged the leads and stretched. Then, an adult elephant with his tusks sawed off. Then, a live monkey with bolts screwed into its skull.

Professor Carrow paced as she lectured, emphasizing each point with increasingly brutal slides. Pale, wide eyed faces just stared up at her, some of the students recoiling at the grislier images.

“Have your parents told you that Muggles are ‘just like us?’” she said with childish, mocking tone. “That they aren’t a threat, or that they should have our understanding?”

Ginny’s fingernails dug into her palm while she tried to control her face.

“Your parents are lying!” Carrow roared. Flicking her wand a crate of books came tumbling off of a shelf. When the bell rang, the students were left to retrieve copies of their new textbooks that had strewn across the flagstone.

Triumph of the Wand, Ginny read off the glossy cover as she marched back down to the Great Hall for lunch. Scanning down the table of contents she felt herself grow dizzy with rage. The text was a collection of cherry-picked facts about Muggles, all compiled to make them appear more savage and dangerous than they really were.

It was a persuasive argument for genocide and enslavement.

“Did you know all that?” a sandy-haired Ravenclaw whispered up ahead.

“It all seems… Unnecessary…” his friend murmured back. “Torturing the animals like that.”

The first boy lowered his voice further before replying. “I mean, I’m against You-Know-Who and all, but maybe people went a bit too far with the pro-Muggle stuff before.”

“You know it’s all bullshit, right?” Ginny snapped and the two Ravenclaws jumped. “Even if you get groceries from a wizarding shop, most of it’s sourced from muggle farms anyway.”

She remembered her dad and Percy having impassioned conversations at the dinner table about everything Percy had learned in his Muggle Studies course. There were a handful of old wizarding farms in Britain and Europe staffed by Field Elves, but over the last century, most mundane raw materials were coming from muggle labour. And that included everything from wood pulp for parchment to wool for cloaks.

The students had all stopped walking, sharing scared looks with one another as Ginny rounded on the Ravenclaws.

“It’s called propaganda, you idiots,” she seethed, drawing herself up to her full height. “And here I thought Ravenclaws were meant to be clever.”

“Miss Weasley!” a shrill voice sounded and she saw Professor McGonagall’s robes billow as she strode up the corridor. “There is to be no socializing between classes.”

The Transfiguration professor seemed more scared than angry as she docked Ginny five points and sent her on her way.

Ginny spent the rest of the day dreading her last evening class. The new ‘Arcane Arts’ course was set to meet in the Great Hall, which Ginny found strange. It seemed too large a room for the much depleted sixth year to hold lessons. She tried not to imagine what they would be using the space for. As the professor was another Carrow, she knew it couldn’t be anything good.

After Charms, the little knot of Gryffindors stepped through the arches of the Entrance Hall and Ginny was surprised to see a group of Slytherin’s rising from the Dungeons. Across the way, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs trickled in, and it wasn’t just sixth years.

The Head Table was pushed back on the platform and the four house tables had been replaced by dozens of desks. Ginny counted nearly fifty. Every student from every house, both sixth years and seventh, would be taking the class together.

Somehow, she knew that this fact wouldn’t bode well. They would be assembled like an audience before a stage. And where there’s a stage and an audience, there’s a performance.

“At attention!” a sharp voice commanded and the students snapped their backs straight.

Ginny recognized the other Carrow at once. He had the same thick features and heavy shoulders as his sister. In fact, the main factor that distinguished them was hair length.

“To your desks!” he barked.

The students marched single file across the Great Hall while the professor paced on the platform. The three Death Eaters hung like shadows in the corners.

“Welcome to Arcane Arts.” Carrow leered.

The professor rambled as he lectured, ungraceful and angry, about how Hogwarts students had been deprived education in these ‘important magicks.’ Glancing down at the syllabus Ginny felt her stomach tighten. Every dark spell she’d ever heard of had been listed, as well as dozens of other terrible sounding curses.

Blood Boiling, Acid Fog, Theory of Inferi… Worst of all was a section set before the Holidays: Practicum in Imperius, Cruciatus, Avada Kedavra.

Ginny Weasley and her fellow ‘students’ weren’t just glorified hostages then. They were recruits. Hogwarts had become a Death Eater training camp.

“So which professor can I practice Avada Kedavra on?” Neville’s voice pulled Ginny back to their lesson. “Got my heart set on Snape, but I’ll settle for you or your sister.” He was standing, eyes blazing with defiance as he stared down the professor.

Carrow’s face just twisted into a hideous grin. Fast as a whip his wand lashed through the air. The force of the spell sent Neville flying, crashing into a Hufflepuff’s desk several metres behind. The girl shrieked as she and Neville fell into a heap on the floor.

“Detention for him,” Carrow sneered, and the three Death Eaters swept from their stations to drag Neville away.

Silence fell heavy on the class after that and no one, not even the Slytherins, dared to breathe. Ginny pressed her thumb against the face of her watch, focusing on tiny beat of the second hand under the glass, and counted each tick until the lesson would come to an end.

“The lot of you have been pampered,” Carrow growled as his lecture came to a close. “You’ll need to learn responsibility. Discipline. Sacrifice. Obedience.”

The professor waved one hand and Ginny saw Filch slouch in, dragging several heavy crates behind.

“You’ll each take one.” Carrow nodded to the crates. “And it’ll be your responsibility.”

The students just sat, confused, as Filch pried off the lids.

“Hurry up! Go pick one for yourself!”

Nearly fifty chairs scraped back across the floor as the students scrambled from their desks, hurrying to the caretaker and the mysterious crates. Gasps rippled from those closest to the center.

Shouldering her way through the crowd Ginny heard excited whispers, and then… Mewling. A cluster of Slytherin seventh years huddled like a barrier in front of her so she stood on tiptoes to see what the fuss was about.

To her left, she heard Lavender squeal with… delight?

The crates were full of kittens. Dozens upon dozens of live kittens blinking up at them and taking wobbly steps. Draco Malfoy knelt to scoop up a bright white one and pulled it to his chest.

Ginny had no idea what the Death Eaters were playing at.

“These animals will be your companions,” Carrow went on. “Feeding them, training them—that’s all on you.”

One by one the students chose their pets, grinning as they scratched chins or cooed at the little things. Ginny just stood, baffled.

“You too, Weasley!” the professor barked and she couldn’t help but suppress a laugh. She’d never imagined that someone could offer a kitten so aggressively.

One tiny runt huddled in the corner of the far crate, smaller than the rest, with a patchy coat and a sizable chunk missing from his ear. She could feel his sharp rib cage against her fingers as she lifted him up into her arms.

The students hadn’t been given any supplies with which to care for their new cats, so Ginny spent much of the evening improvising a habitat for it in her dormitory. Shredding the expensive, heavyweight parchment the twins had bought her she set up a litter box. A cup and saucer nicked from supper acted as food and water dishes. While she worked, the cat wound around her ankles.

Ginny promised herself that she wouldn’t get attached. It was obviously some sort of trick or distraction. Maybe a bribe. But a crate full of kittens couldn’t possible be enough to excuse kidnap, torture, murder.

Slumping down onto her bed she traced the familiar cracks in the stone wall above. Tiny paws soon pressed down onto her abdomen and two yellow eyes peered down at her.

“Oh, kitty,” she whispered, scratching the top of his head. “I know it’s not your fault.”

Ginny woke up with a start. The kitten slept curled and purring in the crook of her neck. Checking her watch, she saw that it was after two in the morning.

Shit. She was supposed to meet Neville two hours ago. Again.

Bare feet landed heavy on the spiral steps as she sped down from the dormitories. The Common Room was dark and empty, the fire long since burnt out, so there was no one to protest as she padded up the stairs to the boys dorms.

“Nev.” She rapped her knuckles on the oak door. “Neville… Damn… I’m sorry I passed out earlier. I didn’t mean to.”

The door creaked open. Neville was still in his uniform robes, sat up at a table across an empty chair. Two cups of tea waited, untouched.

“Neville, I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.” His voice sounded stiffer than normal.

“Is Seamus here?” she whispered, glancing at the four-posters. The sight of Harry and Ron’s empty beds sent a sharp pain.

“Nah,” Neville said. The normal volume of his tone sounded loud after her whispering. “I told him we’d be having a meeting so he kipped out in Colin Creevy’s empty bed.”

“Oh.” Guilt erupted in Ginny’s chest. She hastened to take a seat and sipped her tea. Setting it back down again, she tried not to pull a face. It was cold as ice.

Neville just gave it a stir with his wand until steam rose once more.

“So, you wanted to talk about…”

“I wanted to talk about our plans.” He nodded. Excitement gleamed in his eyes and any rudeness on Ginny’s part seemed forgotten. “So we know McGonagall’s in the Order, and she’s a good person to be on our side. Granted, we have to be careful because we can’t jeopardize her position, but a strong ally. I reckon Sprout will be on board, and Flitwick as well. Really, most of the old teachers should be sympathetic if we’re careful enough. Slughorn might be an issue, I haven’t really sussed him yet, but he likes you well enough right?”

Ginny felt her tea cooling again in her hands. “What is it that you’re hoping to do here?”

“Well, fight back,” Neville said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. “A good lot of the D.A. are still here this year, and we might even get new members now, so I’m thinking—”

The lump in Ginny’s throat refused to get swallowed away and she couldn’t focus her eyes.

Neville’s face fell. “Don’t tell me you aren’t going to fight?”

“I…” she started, but the room swam as her eyes flooded. “Neville I’m…”

“Please.” He nearly spilt his tea, gripping the side of the table. “Please don’t tell me you’re ‘sorry.’ Don’t tell me you’re giving up.”

“I’m sorry.” The words came out small and strangled, with a momentum of their own. Her cheeks had grown wet with tears.

“After everything you heard today?” Neville threw up his arms. “The Carrows, and what they’re trying to do at this school?” This time, the tea did fall. A narrow stream snaked down the edge of the table, pattering rhythmically as it landed on the flagstone.

“It’s just… What about our families? I promised not to cause trouble and—” Her parents’ faces burned behind her eyelids. Every night they’d spent sat up at the kitchen table, lecturing. Begging. The promises she’d given to keep her head down.

The threat of Death Eaters, in the woods, waiting.

“Well.” His chair scraped back as he stood. “I promised my Gran I would fight. And when she saw me off at King’s Cross, we knew it might be the last time we ever saw each other. Without you, I’ll probably lose. But I’m going to try, with or without you.”

Neville had never seemed particularly tall before, but Ginny was sitting and his jaw was set. It seemed like he was leaving his own bedroom, but she didn’t know why.

“Neville, I’m—” The door snapped shut behind him. “...Sorry.”

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