A Twisted Sort of Way
Submission came to feel like freedom. Like some morbid version of peace.
Those sixth and seventh years that had succeeded in training and controlling their kittens were allowed to bring them to lessons, stroking their coats with unfocused eyes while Alecto Carrow ranted about Muggles making the planet hotter until everyone would burn.
“The ozone layer.”
Terms traded between Percy and her father at family dinners took on form and context, however distorted. Ginny’s quill grew practiced at scratching each letter without thinking.
The cats’ heads grew more pointed and their bodies stretched sleeker. The days got shorter and the nights stretched longer. Autumn was fully arrived and every green thing shriveled and fell. A chill settled into the air.
For the first few weeks, there had been rustling whispers. Pamphlets had appeared overnight in the Common Rooms contradicting their curriculum. A protean charm, probably, replicated the same handwritten text. The penmanship appeared inconsistent—some W’s rounded and others pointed—as though the author had intentionally disguised their hand. Ginny remembered that Neville had been a Muggle Studies student back when it had been a legitimate course. The grammatical accuracy suggested that Luna had been helping.
Alecto Carrow countered by doubling down on outrage and fear.
“Rising sea levels.”
“Bee extinction and crop failure.”
Extrapolations that the age-old practice of witch-hunting had only become more subtle. The muggles were engaging in a genocide of their own, shielded within bubbles of environment-shattering technology.
Anyone found in possession of a pamphlet faced the threat of brutal punishment. Immunity was offered to any student directing the disciplinarians to their authors.
The pamphlets stopped coming.
A blanket of dry leaves crunched under Ginny’s boots as she marched to the greenhouses beside the Ravenclaws. Herbology had fast become her favourite class, now that Sprout had ‘randomly’ paired her with Luna. Luna didn’t bother trying to recruit her to The Cause anymore. Neville didn’t speak to her at all. In a painful sort of way, this suited Ginny just fine.
The atmosphere relaxed as the students settled into the humid classroom and set about their work. Handling Venomous Tentaculas provided excellent cover for hushed conversations and Ginny suspected that Sprout had drawn out the unit as a sort of gift to her students.
A gift that involved painful, oozing wounds and feverish nights in the Hospital Wing. Rumour had it Hannah Abbot had gotten herself stung on purpose just for a vacation.
Low-level chaos eased the tension they all had become accustomed to carrying and, for a while, it felt like the Old Hogwarts again.
“Neville’s been given another detention,” Luna said, as nonchalant as if they’d been discussing the weather.
Ginny just grunted at the news and held down a wriggling tendril with her fist—it was hardly news at all anymore. He’d been getting detentions at least once a week, after which he’d spend a few hours ranting in the Common Room while Lavender Brown sighed and dabbed Essence of Dittany onto his wounds.
For a spiteful moment, Ginny wondered who he was even trying to impress. Before, it had been obvious how much he’d wanted Harry’s approval—bouncing to join the D.A. and rushing alongside to the Department of Mysteries. And everyone, save Harry and Ron, had noticed Neville’s desperate crush on Hermione Granger. Especially Hermione Granger, who treated him with a patronizing sort of kindness because of it.
With all of them gone, Ginny couldn’t guess what he might be playing at. His talk-back in ‘Arcane Arts’ didn’t change anything. It just gave Carrow an excuse to scare the other students and make them more docile for fear of the punishments Neville received.
All of them gone.
Ginny shook her head and tugged her eyes from the sweating walls of the greenhouse.
“How’s the Quibbler going?” she murmured, more interested in the actual war going on outside the Hogwarts walls. While Luna’s owls were monitored, she at least had some access to communication with her father. Luckily, the pair of them spoke so obscurely that they could say a great deal while staying beneath Death Eater perception.
“Well, I think.” Luna smiled. “Daddy got news that they were spotted at the Ministry.”
“Wait, what?” Ginny started and nearly got the stinger end of her Tentacula. “He’s sure? People saw them at the Ministry?”
“Oh yes.” Luna nodded. “There were loads of witnesses. They rescued about a dozen Muggle-Borns and escaped.”
“How long ago?”
“Beginning of September, I think.”
Sod ‘no news is good news.’ Good News is Good News.
Joy and hope flared in Ginny’s chest. Harry, Ron and Hermione had been spotted just a month ago. And saving Muggle Borns, no less!
The hope flickered out just as quick as it had come. That a whole month during which anything might have happened, and no news since. If they’d been seen at the Ministry, then the Death Eaters might have caught up with them.
Ginny felt angry that Harry would bother with a handful of Muggle Borns when he should be more focused on the big picture and killing the Dark Fucking Lord. But that was Harry all over—wanting to save everyone. He’d always been quick to risk everything for one irrelevant damsel, greater good be damned.
Luna’s hand reached for Ginny’s and she flinched. How long had it been since she’d felt another person’s touch? Blinking away the sting in her eyes she returned to corking her soil samples.
“Well done, everyone!” Sprout announced in a too-cheery voice as the bell rang. “Excellent work today. We’ll continue with data collection next lesson.”
The students clapped gritty hands on robes and returned shears to cabinets before queuing up beside the door.
“Thank you, professor.” Ginny gave a meaningful nod as she passed, and could’ve sworn that Sprout returned it. Thank you for having us work on such a distracting project for the foreseeable future.
A bone-deep cold set in as they marched out on the grounds. Ginny pulled her cloak tighter over her chest.
“Don’t worry about that,” Luna said.
“Them. We’d have heard something if they were caught.”
“Yeah,” Ginny gave a wry chuckle. “Snape would probably throw a bloody feast.” She stopped short of joking about heads on sticks, if only because the image threatened nightmares.
“That’s not what you were thinking about, was it?”
“Yeah it was,” Ginny lied. She had been, before. Luna wasn’t wrong. But now…
Harry the savior. Harry, who would risk his life to save someone—a stranger—a little girl that he barely even knew.
Ginny never had a fucking chance. Lovely, famous Harry Potter showing up at her house in the middle of the night via flying car. So gentle and so kind, even when her brothers tried to embarrass her. Harry, climbing down into the Chamber of Secrets to drag her back from the edge of death.
Fate had hand-delivered her an Object of Affection before she’d even been old enough to love. Of course she’d fallen for him. And somehow, eventually, impossibly, he’d loved her back. Even after everything she’d done…
She could remember the feel rooster necks beneath her fingers, cracking. Mrs Norris’ stiff body as she wound her tail around a torchpost. The thickness of blood on her fingers, scrawling a message on the wall.
Enemies of the Heir Beware.
“Oh,” Luna said, her staring eyes wide. For a wild moment Ginny thought she might be psychic. Blonde hair blazed in the sunset, bright against the inky silhouette of the forest behind. “Oh,” Luna said again. “Do you feel it too?”
“What—” Ginny started to say. And then she saw them.
The swarm rose from the jagged line of treetops; a teeming mass of shadows. Gooseflesh erupted down Ginny’s arms, the back of her neck.
The world froze to ice as they bloomed like black blood in water. A scratching sound rose from… somewhere. Everywhere. A familiar scratching. A dull quill end against parchment.
You’re so nice to me, Tom. I don’t know anybody who’s so nice to me. Not even mum! She’s always telling me I can’t do things because I’m too young.
Your mother is foolish, Ginevra. I believe you will do things that astonish people, and very soon…
“Hey!” Eyes like moons shone and Ginny took a rattling breath. “They’re gone now.”
Ginny was bent double but hadn’t fainted. The cold ebbed as the memory faded, leaving only the normal chill of Autumn in its wake. And the normal devastating depression of being forced to attend a Death Eater training camp while everyone you love risked their lives on the outside and you might not even know it if they’d died.
“Are you alright?” Luna’s voice sounded soft but the grip on her arm was comfortingly firm.
“Yes… No.” Ginny took a steadying breath. “Well, you know.”
“Enough histrionics!” A sharp voice shouted. “Off to supper now!”
Ginny span around to see Nott limping toward them, the scar running down his face shone silver in the twilight. A few students still wobbled on the spot and Hector Chambers had passed out.
“I think he needs the Hospital Wing!” Miranda Fawcett cried, kneeling down to feel Hector’s dewy forehead. Even with the cloud of Dementors passed, his teeth continued to chatter and his eyes swiveled beneath his eyelids.
“Very well,” Nott sighed, flicking his wand to levitate the fallen Ravenclaw. “Off with the rest of you before it’s detention.”
Moonlight fractured in Ginny’s paned window as she sat up at her dormitory desk that night. White fingers gripped her ‘Muggle Studies’ book so hard it hurt.
Almost every sentence made her want to cry out in protest at how misleading and inaccurate the information was, and the text had been so hastily composed that it went through portions of only vague coherence.
And if your thinking muggle ideas for getting around magic are clever, well I’ve been their and Nucular Power Plants produce huge explosions and sludge killing everything around and even wizards too…
Most of all, Ginny hated the book for how convincing it was. Fact after fear-mongering fact leapt off the page, followed by wild speculation. While flawed, the prose was urgent, inspiring enough emotion and anxiety to cloud even rational minds.
So yes, Ginny thought. Nuclear power and bombs are a shite idea. But NO, that doesn’t mean ‘kill all the Muggles now.’
Eyeing a map of nuclear missile arsenals - enough to blow up the planet several times over - she was struck to see it had been copied from actual Muggle sciences. The Death Eaters were hardly a group to go trawling through non-magic academia. Ginny couldn’t help but wonder where they had gotten the information in the first place.
Then, a terrible thought. Muggle Borns. Captured and imprisoned in Azkaban. She knew that all across the country, men and women were being dragged from their homes and sentenced to the fortress in the North Sea. She imagined the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange torturing them if they didn’t offer a slew of nasty facts and slippery-slope arguments.
Triumph of the Wand crashed against the far wall and her arm twinged from the force of hurling it. The burn of satisfaction extinguished within seconds.
Three untouched four-posters loomed. Empty and skeletal in the broken moonlight like monuments to the absent. Ginny tried not to think of gravestones.
Barbara Stimpson, sixteen years old, Muggle Born. Barbara, who hated it when people called her ‘Barbie’ but had a hard time explaining about some sort of Muggle doll thing. Barbara, whose thin wrists jingled with bracelets, and who always said ‘mmm’ before she said ‘bye’ so it sounded like she was giving a hug.
Barbara, who had been compelled to report to the Ministry’s Muggle Born Registration Bullshit, and who hadn’t been heard from since.
“Merlin’s bollocks, Ginny, what’s going on?” Parvati’s face appeared in the doorway.
Ginny looked up from where she was sat, curled up amongst the wreckage. Her cat’s eyes shone like lamps from the shadow of the dresser where he cowered.
“Oh, sorry…” She replied blandly, gaze out of focus as she scanned the room. Feathers from torn pillows still fluttered in the air, landing delicately on open textbooks and smashed bottles of ink.
“You were shouting,” Parvati hissed. “The first years are terrified!”
“I’m sorry,” Ginny gulped, gazing down at her knees.
“Listen,” Parvati started to say, edging into the room. There came a yelp from around the doorway.
“Oi!” Lavender cried. Parvati trailed her friend behind by a handful of braids; she seemed to have been halfway through plaiting Lavender’s hair and hadn’t dropped her work.
“Sorry Lav.” She waved her free hand at her fellow seventh year, still bent double at her side. “Anyway, why don’t you come to our dorm for a little while?”
It hadn’t been a suggestion. Lavender and Parvati scooped Ginny up from the floor without waiting for an answer and led her to the seventh year room. Out the corner of her eye she saw the hangings drawn around Hermione’s old bed.
Parvati indicated that Ginny take a seat on her own four-poster, made distinctive by an assortment of embroidered pillows and throw blankets, before settling down cross-legged beside Lavender.
“Do you have any shea butter?” she asked, nimble fingers resuming her work on the braids.
“No,” Lavender groaned. “They confiscated that too. ‘No more than three hair-care potions per student.’”
“So you’re doing braids now?” Ginny piped up, feeling awkwardly like an audience to the other two hanging out.
“I have to,” Lavender shrugged. “They confiscated my relaxing potion because it had some sort of reagents in it that were banned or something. I’m going for a kind of ‘Angelina Johnson’ look now.”
As Parvati wove artificial hair into a long, narrow plait, Lavender took up the end and produced a flame from the tip of her wand. The new hair melted and she squished it into place with a few taps of her finger. Ginny watched in silence, hypnotized by the way they worked in unison.
“Gryffindors!” a voice boomed, as if from the very walls themselves. “Gryffindors to the Common Rooms, now!”
It sounded like Professor McGonagall. Ginny traded confused glances with the other girls. It was almost midnight.
Murmurs and footsteps sounded from the corridor beyond so the three of them stood and made for the door, Parvati still holding a handful of Lavender’s hair. From behind, Ginny heard the rustle of hanging’s opening and whipped around. A mousy girl she didn’t recognize was climbing out of Hermione’s bed.
“Wha—who are you?” Ginny stammered.
“Oh.” Parvati shrugged. “That’s Sally-Ann.”
“What?” Ginny balked.
Looking at her properly, the girl’s face wasn’t totally unfamiliar, but Ginny couldn’t ever remember seeing her. What’s more, she’d been at Hogwarts for five years and had never even known there to be another Gryffindor witch in seventh year.
“Sally was Sorted with us but left a few years ago,” Lavender explained, as though Sally were some sort of potted plant that couldn’t hear them or speak for itself. “She’s only just returned.”
“Compulsory attendance.” Ginny nodded, trying to catch Sally’s gaze.
The girl didn’t make eye contact. She seemed frail and timid, tense shoulders raised almost to her ears. Clamoring down the spiral steps to the Common Room Ginny felt guilty for not noticing her all term. Not even at meals.
“So what have you been doing?” Ginny tried for a kind voice. “Homeschooling?”
“Hospital,” Sally replied, thin fingers twisted over her mouth.
Down in the Common Room, sleepy Gryffindors milled about in various states of pyjama-fication. At least a few seemed to have just awoken; Seamus’ face looked bleary and rumpled.
“I’m sorry to disturb you all so late.” McGonagall wrung her hands. “But your presence is required in the Great Hall.”
Anxious whispers erupted among the students and the professor didn’t speak up to calm them. To Ginny’s left, Sally had already begun to quietly cry.
“Miss Perks,” McGonagall drew near, offering a terse smile. “You have been excused to return to your dormitory. Get some rest.”
“Thank you,” Sally squeaked before padding back up the stairs.
It felt strange for Ginny to march down the gloomy, torch-lit corridors wearing only her nightie and dressing robe. While she’d been out of bed after hours more times than she could count, she’d never before been joined by the whole of her House and led by a professor.
The Gryffindors arrived in the Great Hall about the same time as the Ravenclaws and the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs already stood waiting. Ginny felt immense satisfaction to see that Crabbe and Goyle slept in nightshirts very much resembling her own and that Pansy Parkinson hadn’t been permitted to remove her curlers first.
Snape swept into the Hall, robes spilling down the steps as he ascended the platform, and the flurry of curiosity among the assembled students soon turned to dread. A full compliment of masked Death Eaters gathered to loom behind the headmaster.
Silence fell heavy.
“I was under the impression,” Snape’s low voice echoed. “That I had made myself clear. That your government had made itself clear.”
Just ahead, Neville chewed his cheek.
“I was under the impression that you all recognized what would happen to those who defied progress.” Cold vengeance hardened his face. “Do you all need to be reminded?”
No one spoke. No one moved, and no one breathed. Hate like Ginny had never felt smoldered in her chest.
“There is a student here,” he went on. “Whose family refuses to recognize the value of what the new administration is trying to accomplish. They are trapped in the murk and mud of lunatics who wish to see Wizarding Ways withered to ash. While they’ve toed every line in public, they continue to defy the authority behind closed doors.”
A missed heartbeat. Breath frozen in Ginny’s lungs.
“Over the years, we’ve made every attempt to… correct their behavior, but time after time, they have resisted. And that simply won’t do.”
Thunderous bootfalls erupted as the Death Eaters advanced. A shudder passed through the crowd as students, professors, Slytherins, recoiled.
“There is only one option that remains to us.” Snape’s voice rang over the persistent beat of the Death Eaters’ march. “And we hope very much that they do indeed love their daughter.”
Ginny staggered back on instinct, crashing backwards into Professor McGonagall. Cold, paralyzing fear enveloped her as the professor gripped both of her shoulders. Stopping her. Keeping her from getting away.
And then, a shriek. A shriek cleaving the thick air, from the other side of the Hall.
Two Death Eaters seized Susan Bones while another tore a black bag over her head. No one could hear the Hufflepuff screaming is they dragged her out into the night, but Ginny knew from experience that she was.
Ginny climbed through the portrait hole, pushing aside smaller Gryffindors, and cut a course up the boys’ stairwell. A few people gaped from the Common Room and Jack Sloper blanched as she shoved past him, but no one stopped her.
“Was she working with you?” Ginny pounded her fist on Neville’s door. “Tell me if she was working with you!”
“No.” The door swung open and Ginny stumbled forward. “She wasn’t.”
“Did she meet with you? Did she work on those sodding pamphlets?”
“No.” Neville’s stony face was set, eyes burning with sincerity. An old bruise ringed one eye, sickly green and yellow, and the split upper lip from his last detention hadn’t finished healing.
“What about Luna? Had she talked to Luna?”
“Well,” Ginny said, collapsing down on Ron’s empty bed. “Well that settles it then.”
“They’re going to get me, one way or another. And if Susan kept her head down, and this…” Ginny bit her lip. “I don’t really have a choice.”
Neville stayed rooted to the spot, intensity billowing between them.
“You have a choice.” His voice came quiet.
“No I don’t.” She shook her head. “Because the war isn’t just happening out there. At least not anymore, if it ever was.” She twisted her hands in her lap thinking about how wrong she had been. Her family hadn’t wanted her to just sit down and not fight back; at least not all of them. “And I think I have an idea.”
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