They knew winter had arrived when a giant quilt of snow covered the small outside recreation area. Ginny put her fingers to the frosty pane of a window and watched as her breath made little warm spots, then froze again. Warm, cold, warm, cold, warm, cold…
She jerked back her fingertips and swiftly turned when she heard footsteps behind her. It was a Death Eater- with a box of Christmas decorations. Her eyes widened and she couldn't help the laugh that bubbled from her throat. Feeling brave, Ginny snickered, "Well, if it isn't Father Christmas, come to give us more curses and hexes than we'd know what to do with."
"That would be Mother Christmas, I'm afraid, and unless this tinsel is charmed to strangle people, I think you're safe."
Ginny breathed heavily in relief. "Oh, it's you, Mona."
"Yes," Mona replied. "You should be more careful. If it hadn't been me, you may have actually gotten that hex."
"I can't help it," Ginny replied heavily. "I mean, cooped up in here all the time… it's hard to keep sane. I'd strangle some of your masked buddies if I had the chance. I'm not sure I much care if I'll get cursed, as long as I say something."
"I advise against that. Scream into your pillow if you have to, but some of the Death Eaters, well, they don't want to be here any more than you do. They won't hesitate to hurt people who irritate them just slightly. In fact, just yesterday-" she stopped abruptly. "Just be careful what you say, Ginny."
Ginny looked where she assumed Mona's eyes would be. Suspiciously she asked, "Why do you care enough to warn me? Do you say the same things to everyone?"
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," Mona snapped. Ginny took a step back. "I don't have to talk to you at all. I could be as cruel as Malfoy or that idiot de Danann, but I'm not. That should be good enough."
"I- I'm sorry," Ginny stammered. "I just meant- I mean, it's- you're the only Death Eater who is even polite and it's confusing and god damn it, I just want to go home!" She slid to the floor and rested her chin on her knees. "It isn't fair."
"Only time can decide if the end justifies the means," Mona replied sagely. "Help me with these decorations?"
"Sure," Ginny sighed, standing. "I don't know how much help I'll be. I'm too short to reach some of the stuff you already put up."
"You can do wandless magic, right?"
"Yeah…" Ginny responded, curious.
"Well, Conjure yourself a stool or something."
"I don't know if I can do something that complicated. I mean, Summoning and Disarming are easy enough, but Conjuring…" She paused. It couldn't hurt to do it, to keep her mind trained despite her imprisonment. She closed her eyes and focused on the image of a wooden stool in her mind. "Sella Scalarum*!" she shouted. To her amazement, a little step ladder sat before her. "Whoa," she breathed.
"Now," Mona said. Ginny thought she could hear a smile in the voice. "Let's get this wreath on the wall. A little higher… more to the left… perfect!"
Ginny didn't realize how long she'd been helping Mona until her stomach began to loudly rumble. She grinned sheepishly. "How close is it to dinner?" she asked. How close is it to Christmas?
"Half hour or so, I think. Can't be sure."
Ginny gave a pregnant pause. "Can I ask you a question?" Can I ask you a million questions? She didn't wait for a response. "Why are we decorating what basically amounts to an internment camp?" Why can't I be decorating The Burrow with what's left of my family?
"The Dark Lord suggested it."
"Tom?" Ginny asked incredulously, eyebrows raised.
"He's been in a good mood lately. We're gaining ground much faster than anticipated."
"But Tom hates Christmas."
"Does he?" Mona asked, curiosity piqued.
"Never mind," Ginny quickly said. She recalled what he had told her via the diary when she was eleven. He had never gotten any gifts for Christmas. The orphanage didn't really celebrate much; they got a special pudding, but that was about it. He was so happy when he found out that he could stay at Hogwarts for the holidays. He still didn't get any gifts, but at least the food was good and plentiful. Then a thought struck Ginny: what if Tom had been lying? She wouldn't put it past him, and he had good reason to make up such a story. Her sympathy for his plight would have made their connection stronger, made it easier for him to take her mind, body, and soul. He had gotten angry at Christmas time, if Ginny recalled correctly. He was more bitter and wrote less. She remembered what he had written to her as she scribbled away about her presents. "Good for you, Gin. Some of us weren't so lucky." It was just another mystery about her former confidante.
Mysteries currently surrounded him, Ginny mused. He was acting bi-polar. One moment he was kissing her on the head and the next he was ripping the hair out of her scalp. His eyes were full of mirth, then immediately they would darken. Something wasn't right. Or has he always been like this and I've only just noticed?
"You can tell me," Mona pushed. Her voice was soft. Ginny steeled herself. This woman had been kind to her, but she couldn't betray Tom. She would be punished severely if she spoke about his past. Then it struck Ginny- even if she could gossip about Tom, she wouldn't. It just wouldn't be right. As much as she disliked him, was confused by him, she would never tell his secrets. As far as she knew, the only secret of hers that he had ever blabbed was her crush on Harry, and that wasn't exactly a clandestine issue. No, she wouldn't say anything about Tom, not to Mona, not to Luna, not even to dear Neville.
"No, I can't," Ginny said firmly. "And I won't. Please don't ask me to."
"Okay," Mona conceded from behind her mask. "I won't push. Here now, help me hang this mistletoe."
"Mistletoe?" Ginny snorted. She eyes the plant warily. "What, are we expected to kiss our favorite Death Eaters if we have the misfortune of crossing paths?" She imagined Malfoy coming at her, lips puckered and making smooching sounds. She shivered. For him to act as haughtily as he did, he must be compensating for something, Ginny thought. It was probably poor physical abilities, above and below the belt. She snickered. Or- she gagged at the idea- what if that disgusting de Dannan character removed his mask and preyed on some poor girl? His frizzy brown hair wouldn't be his only unattractive feature. He probably had a lazy eye and long nasal hair. Plus his breath is probably rancid.
"Maybe some people will have to worry, but probably not you."
"How do you mean?" Ginny inquired. Without even knowing the means of her safety, she relaxed slightly.
"You must have noticed that the Dark Lord is oddly possessive of you," Mona explained. "I wonder why that is."
Ginny smirked. "Sorry, Mona, but I'm not taking the bait."
"No harm in a little fishing."
"Unless… He finds out about it."
"Will he find out?" Mona asked archly. Her hands stilled. Ginny didn't know if this was because of nerves or if she has finished putting a Sticking Charm on the mistletoe.
"I don't think so." Ginny bit her lip. "I won't volunteer anything, but if he asks- well, that's a different matter entirely. I can't lie to him. He always knows, no matter how good you are at Occlumency. Except for Snape, but that was a huge exception, I think."
"Yes, Severus had a lot of people fooled," Mona sighed wistfully. "We always thought he couldn't produce a Patronus because he didn't have any happy memories, but it was because of a woman he loved as a child. Sentimental drivel."
"I think it's sweet," Ginny responded, coming down from her step ladder. "To still love your childhood sweetheart after so many years is very romantic. Huh. I never thought that I'd ever have put Snape and romance in the same sentence."
Mona snorted. "No kidding."
A shrill shriek snapped them out of their somewhat strained conversation.
"Ginny! Watch out for nargles!" Luna was running as fast as her legs could carry her. She grasped Ginny's arm and pulled her so roughly that Ginny wouldn't have been surprised if a bruise appeared. "Oh, thank goodness. We wouldn't want your hair covered in them just before the holidays." Luna looked at Mona discerningly, seemingly oblivious of her mask and title. "Your decorations are lovely. You really should keep creatures like nargles out of the halls; they can be hazardous."
"I'll keep that in mind for next year," Mona replied wryly.
"Next year?" Ginny asked nervously. "Do you really think we'll be here that long? I've been here since the thirty-first of August, four months, and I'm going mad. I can't take another year of this place!"
"Ginny, why don't you and Miss Lovegood go to dinner?" Mona tersely suggested. "I'm almost done here."
Ginny just nodded. Luna linked their arms and began to walk towards the plain dining room. "She seems nice," Luna observed airily.
"Sometimes," Ginny replied quietly.
Christmas Eve came as a surprise. The only way the captives knew it was the twenty-forth was because the dinner food was more lavish and de Dannan muttered a harsh 'happy Christmas' to each person as they entered and exited. The chatter in the room was more loud than usual. Still, over the din Ginny heard de Dannan's harsh voice.
"Longbottom, for the last time, shut up. I'll report you- or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just take care of you on my own…"
"No, you shut up! We already know that there's no hope, that people have died. You don't have to rub our noses in it, or try to scare us by saying our relatives are dead, or how you tortured our friends into madness-"
"Neville," Ginny said calmly, placing a hand on his arm, "leave it. He's just trying to get to you, to all of us. We can't believe anything he says. It's no use arguing with this idiot."
He took a deep shuddering breath and balled his fists. "You're right, I know you are, but I can't stand this! Why don't they just kill us and get it over with? That's what's going to happen in the end!"
The sound of a slap resonated off the walls. "Don't you dare say such things, Neville Longbottom! You of all people- you're a hero! You used Gryffindor's sword and killed that disgusting snake! You destroyed a Horcrux. There's always hope, and don't you dare contradict me."
Neville brought his hand to the red palm-shaped spot on his cheek. "Ginny…"
"I'm sorry, Neville," Ginny said, looking at her shoes. "I shouldn't have hit you."
"No- it's okay. You done eating?" Ginny nodded. "Then how about you, me, and Luna walk down the hall together."
The three walked, Neville in the middle, until they reached the stretch of hallway Ginny and Mona had decorated a few days earlier.
"Mistletoe," Neville whispered.
"Nargles," Luna warned.
"Kisses!" Ginny exclaimed. She kissed Neville twice on the cheek she had hit. He flushed.
"Oh, what the hell," he said, kissing Luna and then Ginny on their foreheads. Luna responded with a kiss of her own. The girls air-kissed one another, something that reminded Ginny of Fleur and set her to laughing. "Goodnight, ladies," Neville said, still blushing, and they all settled into their beds, hoping and wishing that their families were safe.
Ginny woke with a start. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she noticed something odd, something extra, sitting on her side table. A box. She pulled her long red hair back as she approached the gift curiously. Is this a trick? She decided to splash cold water on her face before going any closer, just in case she was hallucinating.
Her damp hand hovered over the box for a moment. There wasn't a card. It was wrapped plainly. What the hell is going on here? Breathing in, she slowly sliced the wrapping paper with a fingernail. Her eyes opened inquisitively as she saw something so very ordinary that it wasn't ordinary at all.
The box contained an eagle feather quill and a bottle of black ink.
What? No parchment? Who… What the…
She then saw a scrap of paper beneath the ink. Bring it into the hall. She knew that handwriting. She loathed that handwriting. She didn't want to go near the one to whom the handwriting belonged. She had to. She had no choice. Even if there was a choice, she would still need to say thank you. At that moment, she hated that she had been brought up with manners.
Pulling on her dressing gown, Ginny stepped out of her room. No one else was awake yet. "Tom?" she called softly.
"Down here, little one," came the reply. She walked towards the voice and rounded the corner. "Happy Christmas."
"And to you," Ginny replied, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Her brow furrowed. "Tom, what-"
"For your loyalty," he explained.
"Huh?" Apparently he had not explained very clearly.
"You have had ample opportunity to reveal secrets about me, but you didn't. I have rewarded you for your loyalty."
"I couldn't say anything about you, Tom. You would have had me drawn and quartered."
"That's so disgustingly… Muggle. Well, the fact remains that you didn't say anything, not even to your confidante." He smiled at her as he saw her mouth fall open a bit. "And if I'm correct- and I usually am- you said that even if you could speak of me, you wouldn't."
"So you planted Mona," Ginny accused, lips twitching.
"Ah, little one," Tom sighed, "Legilimency is a wonderful thing." It did not go unnoticed that Tom hadn't answered her question.
Ginny shuffled uncomfortably. "Tom, thanks for the quill and ink, but…"
"What are you going to do without any parchment?" he smirked. "That is your real gift, little Ginny. I happen to have some spare parchment, and I happen to have an owl with a wonderful sense of direction. I also know that you want to contact your family. It's only natural."
"I get to write a letter to my family?" Ginny asked, eyes bright. A shadow quickly fell over her face. "You'll just have someone follow the owl and bring my family here. I can't do that."
Tom chuckled. "Haven't I told you before that I have no interest in your family so long as they don't break my laws?"
"And you don't believe me," he frowned.
"No, I don't."
"Good girl. I knew you were smarter than that. Now, you distrust me, which is wonderful, but mine is a genuine offer. How can I convince you of this?"
"I don't know that you can," Ginny replied, stone-faced.
He smiled. "You're much more clever than you were when you were eleven."
"I should hope so."
"Ah, how's this?" Tom began. "You can send your letter by- God, I can't believe I'm suggesting this- Muggle post."
"You'd have to know where they're living," Ginny pointed out dryly.
"I already do."
Ginny gulped and blanched visibly. "You know where they are? Or are you trying to frighten me?"
"Truly, I know where they are. They haven't been harmed, I promise."
"Your promises are empty."
"Some of them," he conceded with a lopsided grin. He leaned back against the wall. "But think of it this way- if I already know where they are, what's the harm in your writing them? If I didn't know where they are, there isn't any reason to be frightened for them." He held out a piece of parchment. "Do you want it?"
Ginny nodded. As she reached for the parchment, he pulled it just slightly out of her reach. She glared angrily at him. He laughed, eyes sparkling, and handed her the coveted item.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"Little Ginny, I have a question." She looked at him, perplexed. "Are you afraid of nargles?"
"Wh-" but before she could complete the thought, Tom pressed his cold lips against hers. It wasn't a deep kiss, nor was it anything more than surprising to Ginny, but it was a kiss nonetheless.
"Nargles live in mistletoe, right?" Tom laughed heartily as Ginny turned a deep red, turned on her heel, and practically ran back to her room.
Yay? Boo hiss? I mean, it is listed as a romance, even if the romance is twisted and doesn't make sense yet [it does eventually, I promise. All this Nice!Tom is sort of foreshadowing].
*This was another spell I invented. It literally translates as "chair of steps". If there's a Latin word for 'ladder', I've forgotten it. Eh.
So! I can't believe how many people want Harry to live! I took everybody's comments into consideration and decided which way Harry's tale will go. I'm not going to give any hints, though *winky face* I did warn you about character death, right? That was a sad attempt at misdirection or something.
'Kay, this is the part where I say REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW a lot.
Next Time on "This Is A Story About Soup": "There's not much more to say. I love you all and hope you are safe. Love, your Ginny."...That's when the earthquake started.