Ginny gazed out the compartment window onto the crowded, noisy platform at Hogsmeade Station. Students, parents, Hogwarts staff, Ministry officials, and sundry wizards and witches milled about waiting to board the train or bid goodbye to someone. She could also see at least a dozen Aurors lurking around the edges of the crowd and up the High Street in the village. A group of prefects at the back of the platform were gathered around one of the Aurors. Ginny opened the window and shouted at them, “Hermione!”
Ron and Hermione both turned. Ginny yelled again and Hermione, looking surprised, spotted her. She said something to Ron, then pushed through the crowd. “What are you doing on the train?“ she asked, looking up at Ginny. “I thought they weren’t letting anyone get on yet. We were looking all over for you.”
“Hermione, please,” Ginny said anxiously, ”I need to talk. Can you come on board?”
Hermione looked back at the prefects who were now starting to move toward the train. “Okay, I’ll be right there.” She shoved her way to Ron, spoke with him briefly, and then came back. In a moment she was at the compartment door. “Ginny!” she exclaimed, stopping suddenly. “What on earth? What happened to your feet?”
Ginny was sitting with her legs propped up on her trunk. Her feet were wrapped in bloody bandages, and a strong odor like boiled Brussels sprouts filled the compartment. “It’s nothing,” she answered, a little hysterically. “They got wet while I had my boots on, and I got blisters. We stopped in the village at Dervish and Banges, they have some potions in the back. It really works well. They don’t hurt much at all now. I can almost walk. The bleeding has almost stopped, too. My boots are ruined, but Fred said they can buy me another pair —”
She stopped, leaned back in the seat, and looked miserably at Hermione. “What am I saying?” She put her hands to her head and shook it. “I can’t walk. This stuff is making it worse. And it stinks.”
Hermione sat down next to her. “How did your feet get wet? We saw you talking with Harry...” She trailed off when she saw Ginny’s expression. “What did he say to you?” She put her arm around Ginny’s shoulders and hugged her as tears started running down Ginny’s face.
Ginny shook her head. “He says we can’t be together. I told him I knew he was going to say that, but I still wanted to help him. He said no, it’ll be too dangerous.” She bowed her head, and her body shook slightly. She gave a deep sigh and Hermione squeezed her shoulders.
Students had started boarding the train and were passing the compartment. Hermione pointed her wand at the door. “Colloportus,” she muttered, and the door sealed itself. “That’ll keep people out for a bit.” She turned back to Ginny. “He told us the same thing, but we said no way. He’s not leaving us behind, no matter how stubborn he gets. Sorry,” she added as a sob escaped Ginny’s throat.
“No, you’re right.” Ginny wiped her face and took Hermione’s hand. She looked out the window for several moments, then turned back. “Listen, I’ve got to tell you what happened afterward, it was totally bizarre.” She told Hermione about the mermaid, the conversations with her mother and Rufus Scrimgeour, and the centaurs. Hermione’s mouth fell open and she gaped at Ginny incredulously. “So,” Ginny finished, “I started running, my boots were full of water, and my feet got these huge blisters and started bleeding. My mum and Fleur had to help me into Hogsmeade and onto the train. I can hardly stand up. I’ll fall over if I try to walk.”
“Where’s your mum now?” Hermione asked.
She’s supposed to be getting on the train, but Fleur is staying with Bill.”
“Right. Well, now I know why Scrimgeour left the way he did. Someone said that he came storming into The Three Broomsticks, grabbed Percy, and they both Disapparated.”
“Yeah, my dad couldn’t find him. Boy,” she shook her head, “I haven’t seen Dad like that since he tried to beat up Lucius Malfoy. I hope he doesn’t get fired.”
“They can’t start firing people now,” Hermione declared flatly. “They’re already in too much trouble because of what happened here. Now they’re paranoid about the train going back to London. You wouldn’t believe what’s going on. They’re putting Aurors and parents in the first and last cars, but so many students have already left, I don’t think we’ll be more than half–full.” She glanced out the window. “I have to go. They’ve got all the prefects organized to patrol the cars. I’ll tell Neville and Luna you’re here, and I’ll stop by later.” She squeezed Ginny’s hand again, waved her wand at the door, and disappeared down the corridor.
Students passed the compartment looking for seats. A few glanced in but went on when they saw her feet propped up and got a whiff of the potion. Then someone stopped outside the door, and Ginny glanced up. Pansy Parkinson was looking at her, flanked by Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. Pansy’s nose curled. “Whew,” she grimaced, stepping into the doorway, “what is that smell, Weasel? Is that your perfume on your feet?” The two gorillas sniggered behind her.
Ginny eyed her. “Pansy, why don’t you go register yourself with the office of ugly magical creatures? I heard that Malfoy’s already signed up. And if one of you comes in here you’ll all be going home with bat boogies for faces.” She had her wand out pointing at Crabbe who had started to push his way into the compartment,
Crabbe backed out, but Pansy remained where she was. “You watch it, Weasel,” she snarled. “You saw what they did to Dumbledore. You’re next.”
Ginny extended her arm with the wand. “Maybe, but you won’t be the one to do it. Now get out!” At that moment Neville and Luna appeared. Pansy glared malevolently at Ginny and sneered at Neville and Luna as the Slytherins left.
“What was that all about?” asked Luna, watching them pass through the corridor into the next car. She came into the compartment and said vaguely, “What happened to your feet?”
“I was dancing with Neville.” Ginny grinned.
“Hey, I never caused that much damage,” he smiled back. “What happened? They look terrible.”
“I took a short jog through the lake with my boots on. Apparently that causes blisters.”
“Ginny, come on, seriously,” Neville said, piling his and Luna’s trunks on the overhead as Luna opened the window wide and started fanning the air in the compartment.
Ginny told them about the mermaid and meeting Scrimgeour and the centaurs; she left out everything to do with Harry. “Then we got some potion in Hogsmeade and Mum put the bandages on, but I think they’ve gotten worse. It hurts like hell when I put any weight on them.”
Luna stared at Ginny’s feet, then turned to the window. “I’ve never seen so many Aurors in one place,” she said. “I guess they expect something to happen, but my father says that Voldemort’s gone to Uzbekistan to set up training camps. Of course, he had to stop at Tenerife first to sign up recruits.”
Neville and Ginny avoided looking at each other and managed not to laugh. “Well,” Neville said to Ginny after a moment, “don’t worry, we’ll help if you need to get around. But that’s really strange, what Scrimgeour did. I guess those centaurs were hanging around after the funeral.”
Ginny did not answer; she was very tired and the day had gone on forever. She felt safe with two of her best friends in the compartment, and knowing that other friends were nearby.
People on the platform were calling goodbye to those on the train, and Ginny even thought she heard Hagrid’s booming voice. Soon the whistle blew and the train pulled out. Ginny leaned back, closed her eyes, and dozed off.
She dreamed about water. She was deep under the surface and it was very dark. There was a bright light above, and she swam up to it. Soon she noticed that someone else was swimming nearby who kept glancing at her. She tried to see who it was, but every time she looked he turned his head. As the light came closer he moved farther away, until he was lost in the darkness. Then she burst to the surface, and dozens of mermaids around her were talking noisily. One of them shrieked. Ginny awoke with a start and sat up.
The train was not moving, and Neville and Luna were in the corridor talking to other students. The train’s whistle blew again, and Ginny looked out the window. They were stopped on a high bridge of some kind, fifty or sixty feet above the ground. Neville noticed that she was awake and came inside. “The train just stopped,” he said in answer to Ginny’s look. “People are saying that the track is blocked or torn up or something. I think they want everyone to get off.”
Ginny went pale. “Neville, I can’t get off by myself. Go get Ron.”
“I’ll go get Harry,” Neville responded. “I know where he is. We can carry you off.” He started to leave.
“Harry’s on the train?” Ginny blurted. “No! Not Harry!” Neville stopped in surprise. “Get Ron,” Ginny said. “He – he’ll know where my mum is,” she finished lamely.
“Oh, okay.” Neville turned to the door and swore. The corridor was empty. “Where is Luna? She should stay with you. I don’t see her,” he called to Ginny. “Do you want me to wait here?”
“No. Go get Ron. I’ll be fine.” She took out her wand. “Slytherin repellent,” she grinned. “Don’t worry.”
Neville left, and then there were no other sounds. Ginny took her legs off the trunk, but when she put her feet down she cried out and quickly lifted them up again. The pain was unbearable; the potion was definitely making her wounds worse. She slid over to the window and looked out. Straight down there was nothing but treetops far below. There must be a walkway along the track on the other side of the train, she thought. She slumped in the s