Ginny took her Christmas quill, dipped it into what remained of her ink, and made a scratch mark on the wall above the toilet. Sixteen.
She had been locked in her room for sixteen days.
It all started innocently enough. One day, Ginny woke to find breakfast in her room. She shrugged it off, thinking that perhaps renovations were occurring or that Tom was in an especially foul mood. That's how she'd last seen him, after all; melancholy, phlegmatic Tom- Tom, the man whom she had kissed with some ardor not twelve hours earlier. So she took her breakfast alone. No big deal.
Then came lunch time. Food was again on the small desk in her bedroom. She heard the shuffling of footsteps outside her door. Angry voices demanded silence, threatened punishments. Why on earth was she being treated differently? The other captives were trudging along the bleak corridors towards their bland dining room. With a wry sort of smile, Ginny turned the knob on her door and joined the throng.
At least that's what she tried to do.
Perhaps the knob was simply stuck. She decided to try a simple wandless spell, one she had learned in her first year at Hogwarts. "Alohamora," she said confidently. She turned the knob again. It was still stuck. Ginny became antsy. She shouted "Bombarda!" at the door. It was another low-level spell. It was another spell that didn't work. Becoming frantic, she shouted the Reductor Curse. Well, her addled mind attempted to rationalize, she was a bit flustered. With wandless magic, severe focus and concentration were required.
Oh, to hell with it!
Sometimes problems could be solved the Muggle way, or so Bill had always told her. She backed away a few paces and ran full force at the door, ramming it with her shoulder. "Merlin's beard," she cried, "that hurt!" No magic, no muscle… there was one other option: screaming.
She pounded her fists against the heavy door. "Hey, I'm stuck in here! My door won't open!" She heard confused murmurs from the hallway, then a reprimanding bark. "Come on, somebody let me out of here! I know you can hear me; I've got a damn strong pair of lungs!" Sniggering was the next vocal noise she heard. "Stop laughing at me and let me out!" It was all in vain. No one came to the door, no one answered her calls.
I'm being punished, she realized. But for what? Kissing Tom? Well, he'd started it! That was hardly her fault. Maybe it was a means of keeping her quiet, a way of making sure she didn't reveal his secrets. This didn't make sense to Ginny; he'd only explained the method with which he regained his youth, not his plans for immortality. Regardless of the reason, she knew that she wouldn't be let out until Tom cooled down, and there was no telling how long that would be. Maybe a day or two, three tops.
By day three, Ginny didn't know what to think. She'd had no human contact. Her heart raced most of the time from anxiety. She thought of Neville, poor Neville, laying on the floor of that opulent room covered by a filthy tarp. Where was his body now? Had he been given a proper burial? Were… were insects eating him already? And that Death Eater, the one who had murdered Neville, the one she herself sent to his demise, he haunted her thoughts as well. The memory of that frizzy hair sticking out from behind his grotesque mask made her dizzy, filled her with guilt, and made her want to vomit.
Day four: she stopped brushing her hair. What was the point? No one was going to see her. Still warm meals appeared in her room three times a day, but she only picked at them. Her lack of sleep made her nauseated. Her gorge rose with every bite. She didn't like to look in the mirror; not only was her hair disheveled, but the bags under her eyes made her look years older, perhaps even like a ghost. She licked her chapped lips. It didn't do any good.
On day six she began talking to herself. At first she spoke to her reflection. "Ginny, you really must take care of yourself. What will the others say when you finally leave this room?" "I'm never leaving this room and I don't know why. I'll be here forever, all alone." "I'll be your company." She slapped herself sharply. I will not go mad. As she tried to drift into a restless sleep, she heard herself speaking again. "Fred, my robes are too short. My birthday's coming up, do you think Mum will let me get something from the Magical Menagerie? When is the book list arriving?"
By day seven she didn't recognize herself. Her hair was matted to her scalp with oil, a rather nasty bout of acne peppered her face, and her once lustrous brown eyes were glazed over. That didn't matter anymore: Fred had come back to her. She didn't know how, but if Tom could cheat death, certainly someone else could have done it. If only Dad would come back, too… "Ugh, Fred, look at that girl. Doesn't she even care how she looks? It's like she hasn't showered in months. No one will ask her to Hogsmeade if she doesn't take better care of herself." She scratched another mark on the wall, washed her hands, and went to bed.
On day nine, she began wondering how Fred got in and out of her room. He wasn't always there. Come to think of it, why was Tom letting him visit her at all? Maybe it was because they were siblings and he wasn't worried. The real question was how- how was Fred getting in and out when she couldn't? It seemed unlikely that he would have a wand in this prison. How did he open the door? "So I said, 'Michael, stop being such a baby. So we beat you in Quidditch- our team was better. Don't make a fuss about it. Let's just go to Zonko's, grab some sweets from Honeydukes, and forget how childish you're being.' Do you remember that, Fred? We broke up because of it." "Oh, do you remember when Umbridge and her idiot Inquisitorial Squad caught us leaving the Room of Requirement? That nasty Pansy Parkinson wouldn't get her filthy Slytherin hands off of me." "Riding Thestrals to London, how frightening that had been, and how exhilarating! Fred, you would have adored it. In the Ministry, there was this Veil, the one Sirius fell into… The Veil… who was back there? I heard them, and I wasn't the only one. I remember Tonks falling, and I yelled so much. 'Oh Tonks, get up! You're an Auror! You can do it! All I've got is a broken ankle, and you're much stronger than me!' and she got up. You would have loved being there, and you'd have been a great deal of help. Oh, and Dumbledore was brilliant, I'd never seen anything like it before. He was ferocious, like an animal with a wounded cub." She washed her hands and went to bed. He wasn't there when she woke.
Day ten: "He didn't put his name in the Goblet, I knew he didn't. He's brave and wonderful, but he's not that foolish. Besides, if you and George couldn't do it, well, no student could have tricked it. Professor Moody- er, Crouch- was right after all; someone was trying to do him in. I never suspected it would be a professor. God, that dragon was scary! It could have killed Harry! If he'd died, Ron would've felt so bad for how he'd acted. Cedric Diggory died. You-Know-Who murdered him, right in front of Harry. I saw the body. It was… I can't even describe it. He was sleeping with his eyes open, so calm. You saw him, too. I thought I was going to be sick…"
Talking to Fred was wonderful. At this point she'd stopped caring why or how he was with her, she was simply glad. With Neville gone and Luna locked in the outside world, company was appreciated. It was more wonderful still because it was Fred, family, someone dead going on a year now. "Presumed dead," she reminded herself as she washed her hands. They were beginning to chafe.
She reminisced about when she was eleven years old on day fourteen. She was closer now to Fred than she'd ever been before. She could tell him all of her secrets now. He was all she had. "I was ridiculously naïve. 'Dear Tom, I'm so glad you're here. I've never had a talking diary before. You're a friend wherever I go. You're there when Ronald teases me. Dear Tom, Harry Potter looked at me today and smiled! I think he looked at me, anyway. Maybe it was another girl. He'll never notice somebody like me. Dear Tom, I think my Valentine was a bad idea. Everyone laughed at me, and at Harry too. Everybody already picks on him because they think he's Slytherin's heir but he's not. Dear Tom, I'm very confused. Yesterday other people were attacked and I can't remember where I was! What if it's me?' I trusted him so much, Fred. I… I'm ashamed to say that I trust him again. Not blindly, mind; I know what he's capable of now. But he treats me better than the others and he's given you back to me. How did that happen, anyway? How are you not still, well, dead?"
Fred didn't answer. He never did. That was okay with Ginny, though, so long as someone was there to listen. She washed her hands and hummed happily. When she turned around, Fred was gone. "I wish he wouldn't do that," she huffed.
And now it was day sixteen.
She was again scrubbing her hands when the bedroom door creaked open. "Fred?" she called. "Is that you? I'll be there in a moment; my hands just won't stop bleeding." Rubbing the terrycloth towel over her skin only served to irritate it further. She hustled out of the toilet and sighed, "Fred, I wish you would knock. I can never tell- You're not Fred."
"No kidding," came a distantly familiar female voice from behind a mask. "It's been a while since we've spoken, but I never thought you'd mistake me for a man."
Ginny wracked her brain. "Oh! Mona," she said with a small smile. "What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting anyone but Fred. No one else has been here for such a long time."
"Fred?" Mona asked incredulously. "You've had a boy in here? How?"
"Oh, Fred isn't a boy, or not the type you're thinking of. He's my older brother. I don't know how he gets in and out. He's been keeping me company. I was alone, you see, and then he showed up and just listened. He never talks, just listens. It's irritating sometimes."
"Ginny," the Death Eater slowly began, "isn't your brother dead?"
The ginger laughed. "I thought he was, and I cried so much. He was gone, then Dad… but Fred's been here with me for- well, I don't know how long exactly- so he obviously isn't dead. I asked him what happened, but he wouldn't answer. He never answers." Her eyes clouded over and her gaze drifted to a corner. "I wish he'd say something, anything, even an insult."
A heavy quietude lingered thickly in the air before Mona spoke again. "Ginny, I think you're sick," she said delicately.
"I feel fine," Ginny countered. "Never better."
"Okay, maybe confused is a better word. I think you're very confused. Your brother is dead. He died last Spring. Remember?"
"You're trying to trick me," Ginny accused. She tossed her hair and pointed her finger angrily at Mona's face. "You're lying. He comes and talks to me. Well, he comes. He doesn't talk. I said that already. It's probably a side effect of whatever brought him back to life."
"There's no bringing back the dead, Ginny," Mona gently pressed. "You know that. Even the Dark Lord can't do it, so far as I know."
"That's the thing, isn't it?" Ginny tartly replied. "You don't know what he's fully capable of. Maybe Tom brought Fred back to me. He wouldn't share his secrets about such things with just anybody. He isn't an idiot."
"No, he certainly isn't," Mona agreed. She angrily crossed her arms over her chest. "The same can't be said of many of his followers." Ginny looked at her questioningly. "Get in the bath," the Death Eater commanded.
"But what if Fred-"
"Get in on your own or I'll force you in."
"I'll scream," Ginny said defiantly, raising her chin.
"I can always have some of the men come in to make sure you're presentable. The Dark Lord requires your presence shortly."
"What does he want?"
"I'm not sure, but you don't want to make him angry, do you?"
"No," Ginny whispered. She only hoped that Fred wouldn't visit until she was back from chatting with Tom.
The shampoo felt thick and disgusting in Ginny's hair. Her fingers scratched at her scalp in an attempt to lather, but the damage of nearly a fortnight without proper care was not easily undone. She parted her hair into sections and scrubbed that way. Still, every time she thought a part was clean, more gunk mucked up her hands. It seemed hours passed before her entire body was unpolluted. Being seen filthy before Fred was one thing- he was family; being filthy before the Dark Lord was another matter entirely. Wiping the condensation from her mirror, she looked at herself discerningly. Was she ill? She looked it.
Finally she emerged to find Mona dozing quietly. Ginny coughed loudly and announced, "I'm ready to see him now." Sighing, Mona used her wand to dry Ginny more completely and to straighten her robes. As she took Ginny's hand, the younger woman asked, "Did Fred stop by?"
Mona's brow furrowed. "No," she said slowly. "Your brother wasn't here."
"He'll stop by later," Ginny affirmed. She followed Mona out of her room, curious as to what Tom wanted. "Are we going to the room where Neville… where Neville was?"
"No reason," Ginny lied. Her throat became dry and itchy. "Just, it was a really pretty room. Do my hands look dirty?"
Mona spun on the spot and stared at Ginny. Though she couldn't see her face, Ginny suspected that Mona was looking at her with a queer expression. "Ginny, what's happened to you?" she asked softly.
"Huh? Nothing. Why?"
There was a brief pause. "Just how long were you in there alone?"
Ginny stopped walking and stared into space, thinking. "I'm not really sure. Fred might know. A few days? We'll ask Fred ."
"Ginny, Fred won't-" she stopped herself short.
"Fred won't what?"
"Never mind. I'll have to speak with the Dark Lord before I take you to him. Stay here and don't move. I'll need to know where to find you after I've spoken with Him. If anyone walks by, make sure you talk to them, even if they're Death Eaters. If they tell you to be quiet or threaten you, tell them that you have Level Two Permissions. Got it?"
"Level Two Permissions," Ginny repeated. Mona took fistfuls of her billowing robes and swiftly made her way to the throne room. "That was strange. Oh, hello. I'm supposed to talk to you even though you're a Death Eater," Ginny said to a stray figure. The masked face turned to her.
"I didn't give you permission to speak to me," a familiar voice snarled. "Why are you out of your room? You're on punishment."
"I have Level Two Permissions," she lilted. "I don't know what that means, but I have them, and I was told to speak to anyone I saw, even you. And to answer your question, I'm visiting Tom. Apparently he wants to talk to me."
The figure sighed angrily. "Weaselette, what's the matter with you?"
"Malfoy?" Ginny gasped. He removed his mask and shook the hair from his face. "There's nothing wrong with me, thank you very much. Mona asked me the same thing. Did I sprout another limb I don't know about or something?"
"You look relatively okay," Draco sneered, "but you're acting like Loony Lovegood. And who is this 'Tom'? You've mentioned him before. I've been at this complex for a long time and I can tell you that there's not a Death Eater or trainee here named Tom. I don't think any of the women have named their babies Tom."
Ginny scoffed. "You talk as if being like Luna is a bad thing." Do I really sound crazy? That wasn't a friendly thing to think, Gin. "And I know that Tom isn't one of your… compatriots. He's more important than you could ever hope to be. He's even more important than Harry." Oh god. I can't believe I said that. That's horrid. Maybe something in my brain has gone fuzzy.
"So it's someone you love? Merlin, I know you were given special treatment at the start, but I didn't think the dark Lord would let you visit someone."
"I don't love Tom," she protested. "He's just important. That's all." Ginny felt like she was shrinking into a little ball. Before, she would never have let Malfoy irk her so. Looking up angrily with a scathing remark on her dry lips, she spotted a friendlier face. "Oh, Fred," she said. "How did you know where to find me?"
Draco looked around nervously. "Weasley, what are you playing at? Did you hit your head or something?"
Before Ginny could respond, Mona emerged from the throne room. "Malfoy, out of my way," she ordered stiffly. "He'll see you now, Gin- and he'll probably want to see you soon as well," she added sharply, glaring at Draco. Instead of looking for Draco's response, Ginny just murmured for Fred to tag along and followed Mona into the room made of oceanic marble.
Again, thanks to Mariemaia614 and Mithost for their expertise. I had no idea how to go about this; the initial number of days I kept Ginny locked up would have apparently caused a severe psychotic break. I chopped the number in half (more than, actually) so that the results would be simple but disturbing: compulsive behaviors and imaginary friends.
Thanks to the (many!) of you who reviewed. I try to respond to reviews individually, but I didn't get to do most of them this time around. I'll try for the next chapter, which is called "Truth" if I remember correctly. See you at T time!
(Get it? It was a pun.)