After only a few hours of sleep, Ginny roused her brothers and chivvied them down to the common room to see Madam Pomfrey. The matron started with Ginny, making her drink several potions and breathe deeply within the heady steam of another. After a quick scrutiny of Ron and the twins, who were still tousled and dirty from their trip into the forest, she repeated the procedure on them. Madam Pomfrey did not speak except to give instructions, but her lips thinned as she worked. By the time she was finished with all of them, she looked as though she were keeping herself from scolding them only through the sheer strength of her locked jaw.
When she left, slamming the portrait behind her and causing the Fat Lady to wake with a screech, the four siblings exhaled loudly and collapsed onto sofas and chairs.
“Blimey,” Fred said.
George nodded. “I’d almost have kept the coughing. But how’d she know?”
“Professor McGonagall worked out that I was in the forest last night,” Ginny said. “She came and found me after they put out the fire. I didn’t tell her about you lot, but I think she guessed.”
“Bet she loved that,” George mumbled, his eyes closed and his face squashed against the plush arm of a chair.
Ginny shrugged. “As long as you don’t talk about it, I think she’ll let you off.”
“We can manage that,” Fred said. “Right, Ron? No talking about that horde of bloodthirsty spiders?”
George heaved himself to his feet. “We’d best have showers, then. Fred stinks.”
Fred lifted the collar of his shirt towards his nose and then dropped it immediately. “Blech. You’re right, though your vocabulary needs some work. Let’s go.”
Ginny spent nearly an hour washing her hair, hoping that the hot water would wash away some of her regrets about Hermione’s Petrification and her trip into the Forbidden Forest. By the time she returned to the common room, it was full of people and the rich smell of a hot breakfast. Percy was stationed next to a table laden with food, trying to keep the line of students in reasonable order. Ginny spotted her other brothers together again and crossed the room to join them. All three were eating at a ferocious pace, but George paused long enough to point his egg-laden fork at her. “You’re eating.”
Ginny frowned for a moment and began to retort, but then she closed her eyes and sighed. She had struggled just to keep up with Ron and the twins on their way out of the forest. Her own reflection had become a stranger to her, and her clothes did not fit that stranger. Yet Professor McGonagall had told her — told them — that they were the same people they had always been.
It’s up to you, Ginny. We both know… The same things.
She opened her eyes when Fred grabbed her arm. Pulling her down closer to his level, he leaned up and whispered in her ear. “Come on, Ginny. You fought off about a million spiders, and then we spent hours walking out of the Forbidden Forest without seeing so much as an angry squirrel. D’you honestly think that’s normal? If you can do that, you can damn well eat a few measly sausages without raising a sweat.”
“Yeah,” Ginny whispered back. “Yeah, all right.”
Fred produced a clean plate from somewhere and then started nicking food from George and Ron. He added two of his own slices of fried bread and then pushed the plate into Ginny’s hands. “There. Eat that. It’s not that much, and if you finish this none of us will say a word about it until lunch.”
Ginny perched on the edge of the sofa between George and Ron, and George held out a fork. She took it and slowly began to eat.
Most of the Gryffindors had finished breakfast when Professor McGonagall arrived, carrying the morning’s post. She moved about the room handing out envelopes until she reached the Weasleys. “I have a letter addressed to Percy, Fred, George, and Ron Weasley. I believe it’s from your mother. Who would like it first?”
“George,” Fred and Ron said together.
George shrugged and took the letter from McGonagall, who nodded and walked away. He skimmed it, winced, and then passed it to Fred. “More of the same. Ginny’s to eat, whether she likes it or not. If she doesn’t, Mum’s going to take our brooms, our pocket money for a year, and possibly a couple of fingers each. She also mentioned something about confiscating our wands for the summer.”
“That’s not so unusual,” Fred said. “Why’re you… oh. Right.”
“What is it?” Ron asked.
“Dad’s left us a postscript.”
Ginny leaned closer to read it herself, but Fred pulled the letter away from her. “What does it say?”
“Erm… basically that he rather likes having a daughter, and he would like to believe that we like having a sister. If we don’t do our part, he says, we might no longer enjoy those circumstances.”
She flushed. “It’s not as bad as all that.”
“I’m glad at least one person thinks so,” George said. “Still, I think it’s best that we obey our elders.”
“Just this once, of course.”
Let them… Be. They’re just…
They all looked up to find Professor McGonagall standing over them again. “Miss Weasley,” she said, “have you tallied up your Transfiguration marks lately?”
Startled by the question and the sharp expression on McGonagall’s face, Ginny blinked. “No, Professor. Should I?”
“I believe you should. Immediately. And then I think we will discuss them together.” She nodded meaningfully towards the girls’ staircase.
“Oh. Well… okay.”
Ginny led McGonagall up the stairs to her dormitory. Lavender and Parvati were there, but they fled at a glance from the Deputy Headmistress.
“We’re not going to talk about my marks, are we, Professor?” Ginny asked, perching nervously on the side of her bed.
“Not directly, though they are dreadful. I can only hope that your marks will improve along with your health.” The professor drew a sheet of parchment from one of her pockets, and Ginny recognised it immediately.
“Oh,” Ginny said, her shoulders slumping. “You’ve heard from Mum, too.”
“I have. And she makes several excellent points, even though she does not yet know about what happened last night.” McGonagall sighed and sat on the bed next to Ginny. “I have not monitored your condition carefully enough since Harry was attacked, and I apologise for that. It is now clear to me that I need to be more involved in your life here at Hogwarts.”
More involved? That sounds… bad.
Ginny frowned worriedly. “Why?”
“Partly because your mother’s concerns regarding your health are far too accurate for my comfort. From her letter, I understand that your brothers will be taking a more active role in your well-being, and she has asked me to monitor their success. We are all going to cooperate to make sure you eat and sleep. I know that sounds invasive, and I regret having to do it at all, but can you honestly tell me that you think you are in good health?”
I’m not that bad off, am I?
I think… Harry pushed a memory into their minds. Ginny stood in her dormitory with him and Hermione, wearing her brown dress for the first time.
“That’s all you need to look wonderful,” Hermione said.
“Oh, Hermione. Don’t be silly. You’re beautiful.”
From Harry’s perspective, Ginny saw the wide smile on her own face, her cheeks pink with pleasure and her eyes shining with happiness. Her dress fitted her perfectly, to her surprise, and she felt prettier than she ever had in her life.
Ginny looked nothing like that now, and she did not need to find a mirror to see the differences. Her cheekbones stood out sharply in her too-pale face, and her eyelids looked heavier and darker than they had just a few months earlier. The fitted blouse of her Hogwarts uniform hung off her shoulders, its now oversized collar revealing hollows around her neck that had never been there before.
Stop showing me my own reflection, will you?
It’s all… I have.
I know, Harry, and I’m sorry. But I don’t need minders while I eat just because I’ve lost a bit of weight.
I think… Maybe you do.
Come on. Five or six people watching isn’t going to help me. I’m just not very hungry, that’s all.
You know… better than that.
McGonagall spoke again, pulling Ginny out of her reverie. “Unfortunately, your physical well-being is secondary to a much more serious issue. I must be more involved with your life because what you did last night was not simply reckless, Ginny.” She sighed softly. “It was irrational. You did something incredibly dangerous based on only a faint shred of logic, and you carried on even though you had several better alternatives available. I truly believe that one month ago you would have spoken to me about your suspicions and sought my help. The fact that you did not is horrifying.”
“I’m sorry, Professor,” Ginny said, still thinking about the number of people assigned to watch her eat. “I know I should have talked to you, but… but it worked out well enough, didn’t it?”
“For you, yes, and I am very relieved by that. But have you considered the forest? Hundreds of trees were destroyed by the fire, and they were home to thousands of creatures. Many of them may have escaped, but what if they did not? What of the centaurs and unicorns? Can you be certain that none of them were trapped and killed?”
Ginny’s eyes widened as goosebumps erupted on her arms, and all concern for her own dignity evaporated. “Oh, no… I… I didn’t…”
Firenze… It was chillingly easy to picture a centaur or a unicorn trapped in the inferno, unable to escape as flames consumed the forest.
McGonagall patted her knee. “The centaurs have assured me that none of their number were harmed, and they did not believe that any large creatures were in the area. They could not offer any assurances about the smaller animals, though.”
“I’m so sorry.” Ginny wiped her eyes and pulled her knees up to her chest. She had always loved watching dormice scamper amongst the trees near The Burrow at dusk. “I never thought…”
“I know you didn’t. That is the problem. Yet that is still not the worst of it.”
Ginny looked up, horrified. Did I kill something else? Is the whole forest going to die?
No… I can’t think… That’s not possible. Is it?
“Consider this, Ginny. You took a few concrete facts, decided what they meant, and then took action. When you were threatened, you reacted very strongly without truly considering the consequences. What if something like that happened here in the school? What if you decided that you knew who the Heir of Slytherin was and confronted that person in the corridors? Can I be certain that you would not damage the school or its inhabitants in the process?”
“I wouldn’t… I would never want to… to hurt anyone,” Ginny whimpered as her face drained of warmth, leaving her dizzy and weak. “You know that, right?”
“Yes, I do believe that you would not want to hurt anyone. But based on what happened last night, I cannot be certain that you wouldn’t.”
“I… I…” Ginny trailed off. She had no idea what she could say.
She’s right. I could kill anyone. Everyone.
You know she’s right.
You wouldn’t… mean it.
“It is the same issue you have faced since you and Harry first arrived at Hogwarts, but it seems to have been magnified in his absence. You’ve lost what control you had over your own strength, and your judgement has become unreliable.” She shook her head sadly. “I am sorry to say it so bluntly, Ginny, but it is the truth. And you need to hear it.”
Ginny looked up at McGonagall, not bothering to wipe the tears from her face. “What do I do? Should I… should I leave? Is there someplace where I can’t hurt anyone? Should I go to… to Azkaban?”
The professor shook her head gently. “No. You are not a criminal, Ginny, and nothing so drastic is necessary. I believe I have found a temporary solution.”
“What is it?” Ginny asked eagerly.
“You will not like it.”
It has to be better than… Azkaban.
Ginny swallowed slowly and nodded. “Okay. What is it?”
“I would like you to wear the pendant I gave you. I would also like to modify it so that it is always active, whether you want it to be or not.” McGonagall took a long breath. “And I would like to charm it so that you cannot remove it.”
“Oh,” Ginny said, her tears drying and her shoulders tightening.
Harry’s words from months before echoed in their minds. “We meant it, Mr. Weasley. No charms, no ‘sleepovers’, and no roommates. Trust us, trust her, or we’re leaving.”
They can’t… ask you to… do that. It’s not fair!
“You want me to wear shackles again. Just like the pyjamas.”
“Yes and no, Ginny,” McGonagall said. Her voice was very level, and she held Ginny’s gaze without hesitation. “I cannot deny that what I am asking of you is similar to what your parents asked of you. But I want you to consider two important differences.”
She paused until Ginny nodded.
“Firstly, your parents gave you those pyjamas when you had not done anything wrong. They had no real reason to think that you would, but they wanted to restrict your actions anyway. In this case, however, there is clear evidence that you need some sort of monitoring. Do you see the difference?”
You didn’t… do anything… wrong, did you? Just… hasty.
Ginny’s horror at what could have happened — and what might still have happened without anyone’s knowledge — was fresh in her mind. I’m not sure. Something bad did happen this time, didn’t it? That sort of makes it wrong.
Is it… close enough, though?
“I suppose,” Ginny said to McGonagall. “It’s… there’s some reason this time.”
“Indeed. Secondly, I will not force you to do this. I am asking you to do it, and I will respect your choice in the matter. If you do not want to wear the pendant in this way, then I will find some other solution. I trust you to make this decision in this moment.”
Your parents sort of… asked, too. And that didn’t… work out.
We never actually had a choice, though.
No. Harry sighed. I suppose not. Not… one we could… live with.
“I truly believe that this would only be a temporary measure, Ginny,” McGonagall said quietly. “Once Harry is revived and you are well again, it will be your choice whether to wear the pendant at all.”
Ginny took a deep breath and tried to sort out their thoughts. What would we do? If you were here and we were… whole. What would we do?
I’m… not sure. If we were… better… then we might not have to… Choose at all.
They thought for a moment, and then Ginny sighed. That’s the point, then, isn’t it?
She reached over to her bedside table and pulled her jewellery box into her lap. As she opened the lid, the fairy inside appeared and began to spin and leap to her tinkling melody. They watched the dance, remembering the day when they had first seen it and been entranced by its magic.
We were right then. We made good decisions.
After brushing the fairy’s gossamer wings with her fingertip, Ginny pulled out the silver chain attached to McGonagall’s pendant. The contrasting black and white pattern caught her eye in the bright sunlight from the window. She’s done so much for us.
Ginny slid the bracelet onto her wrist and then held out her forearm.
“Are you certain, Alex?”
Ginny nodded, fearing that her courage would falter if she spoke.
McGonagall tapped the bracelet with her wand, making it shrink until it could not possibly fit over Ginny’s hand. A looping wave made the silver glow briefly and take on an unnaturally flat sheen. A final tap to the pendant itself produced a tiny chiming noise which echoed in the silent dormitory.
Running a finger along the cool metal links, Ginny whispered, “Will you always be listening?”
“I will always be able to listen, yes,” McGonagall said. “I have no intention of attending to every word you say. But if you become agitated or are involved in some sort of conflict, I will notice.”
“I can take it off when Harry is back?”
“I believe so, yes.”
Ginny looked up at last. “Is it still two weeks?”
You can do that. It’s not… long.
Ginny nodded. Already the bracelet felt heavy and restrictive on her wrist, but she was determined to ignore it. “Okay. Two weeks.”
McGonagall squeezed her knee gently. “Thank you, Ginny. I sincerely hope that I will never need to act upon what I hear.”
“I… I’ll try to make sure you don’t.”
“I’m sure you will.” The professor rose to her feet and straightened her robes. “As for your adventure last night, I must take twenty points from Gryffindor for disobeying the new rules. I would give you a detention, also, but that is not practicable under the circumstances. If you bypass the security measures or violate the rules again, I will have little choice but to expel you.”
“Ginny,” McGonagall reached out and ran her fingertips along a lock of Ginny’s hair next to her face. “If you have any questions, or if you think of something that might help us, or if you need help yourself, just say something. If you have any further suspicions, please tell me, no matter how far-fetched they may be. I promise that I will have the time to listen and that I will do whatever I possibly can for you.”
“Thanks, Professor.” Ginny bit her lip and then looked up again. “You won’t tell… anyone, will you?”
The professor tilted her head to the side. “I will tell your mother that I am monitoring you closely and personally, but I will not say how. No one else will know at all unless you tell them.”
Best we could… hope for.
“Please think about what we have discussed, Alex. And do try to have a good day, Ginny.” McGonagall smiled slightly. “Practice a bit of Transfiguration, if you find the time.”
Ginny gave her a tiny smile and nodded. When the door had closed behind the professor, she lay back on her bed and stared sightlessly at the canopy above.
Maybe it would be better if I were expelled. Or at least suspended somehow. Then there would be fewer people about for me to hurt.
But you still… want to be… at Hogwarts, right?
Ginny sighed. Yes, I do. I think I’d go crazy with only Mum and Dad for company. And… well, I like knowing that you’re nearby, even if I can’t see you anymore.
Harry pushed forward a memory of a hug, though even as a memory it felt odd to only experience half of it. And anyway, he said, Hermione would be… really sad if… You missed any lessons.
There’s that, I suppose.
With a long sigh, Ginny heaved herself upright and rummaged in her bag for a scrap of parchment and the biro that Hermione had given her. She quickly jotted down a note to show her brothers.
Professor McGonagall is now listening at all times through my pendant. Don’t say anything you don’t want her to hear.
She folded the note and returned to the common room, ignoring the speculative and pitying looks of her housemates. As soon as she sat down with her brothers, Fred said, “What was that about?”
“Erm… my marks are awful. If I don’t improve them, I may fail.” Ginny lowered her voice to a whisper. “I’ll tell you later.” She pushed the note across the table towards Fred.
He read it quickly and mouthed, “All the time?” She nodded. “Sorry.”
Ginny shrugged as George and Ron each read the note. “I probably should work on Transfiguration,” Ginny said, forcing herself to think about something normal rather than to dwell on what could have happened in the forest. “Pass me that spoon, would you?”
Lessons resumed the following morning with Potions right after breakfast. Strangely enough, Potions was the only subject in which Ginny’s marks had not changed at all. She did not need much magic to brew a potion, and she struggled to follow the complex instructions just as she and Harry always had. Working without Hermione for the first time, however, she realised that her Potions scores would soon suffer, as well.
The second-years spent most of their hour attempting to brew a Water Purifying Potion, and no-one fared very well. Near the end of the lesson, Ginny looked up and saw words writing themselves on the blackboard:
Thank you, Heir of Slytherin!
Ginny looked across the room just in time to see Draco Malfoy put his wand in his pocket. Within seconds, the Slytherins around him were sniggering, and muttering nearby told Ginny that the Gryffindors had noticed, as well.
Snape looked up from Parvati Patil’s cauldron and spotted the message. “Be silent,” he drawled. With a lazy flick of his wand, he removed the words. “Though we have all benefited from the coincidence of the monster’s targets, I will not have anyone disrupting my classroom. Get back to work.”
Plonker. If it said… anything else, I bet he would have… taken points from Gryffindor.
At least he didn’t give any to Slytherin.
Not yet, anyway.
A few minutes later, the second-years all lined up so that two Aurors could escort them to the Entrance Hall. There, the Gryffindors would leave the Slytherins and join up with the Hufflepuffs for Herbology. Halfway along the dungeon corridor, Draco Malfoy drew his wand again, half hiding it with his body, and waved it at a blank section of the wall.
No more M-
Ginny started to draw her wand, but she knew that McGonagall would hear her if she cast a spell. She also worried that even a harmless action on her part could become disastrous. She elbowed Ron. “Do something!”
Nodding, Ron drew his own wand and aimed it carefully. “Wingardium Leviosa.”
Just as Ron began the spell, the Auror at the front of the group called down the line. “You there! Slytherin boy! Put your—”
Malfoy rose into the air, spinning head over heels and nearly colliding with the ceiling of the corridor. He shrieked and flailed about until he spotted Ron. “Put me down, you blood-traitor idiot! I’ll have you thrown out! I’ll have you locked up! You can’t—!”
The second Auror spoke from the end of the line. “Put him down, Weasley. Politely.”
“That’s right, Weasel,” Malfoy sneered. “Politely. As befits your station.”
Scowling, Ron turned Malfoy right-side-up and began to lower him to the floor.
Malfoy tossed his fringe out of his eyes and sneered down at Ron. “I’m impressed. I wouldn’t have thought you could do a first-year spell without your Mudblood friend around to help.”
Without warning, Ron twirled his wrist and let the spell end. Malfoy dropped the last few feet, landing unceremoniously and falling to his knees.
“Oops. I guess I can’t do it after all,” Ron said.
Ginny spotted Malfoy’s wand a split-second before he shouted, “Petrificus Totalus!” She whipped out her own wand and whispered, “Farinam!”
A lurid pink dough-ball slightly larger than Ginny’s fist hit Malfoy squarely in the chest, knocking him off-balance and sending his hex into the ceiling.
He should’ve picked… a shorter… spell.
“Enough!” the first Auror shouted. “Get back into line, and put your wands away, all of you.”
Malfoy tried to wipe the sloppy dough off his robes, but he ended up spreading the pink mess all over his arms and front. The Gryffindors began to laugh, and Ginny swore she saw the second Auror grin briefly.
“Stand still, you,” he said to Malfoy. He Vanished the dough and kept his wand at the ready. “Now, back in line, and no more spell-casting. The next wand I see will be leaving this school with its owner. Are we clear?”
“You should stop writing things on walls, Malfoy,” Ginny said, keeping her voice conversational. “Some people might find that suspicious.”
Stupid, doing that… in front of the Aurors.
He probably thinks they won’t dare question him.
In the Entrance Hall, Ginny saw Professor McGonagall watching her closely, but she kept her head down and did not speak. When they reached the greenhouses a few minutes later, both Aurors relayed the events to Professor Sprout, who rolled her eyes impatiently. “Foolishness! Ten points from Slytherin for the graffiti, and ten more for using foul language. Ten points from each house for each hex, whether it worked or not. And if you use any spells in my class, it’ll be twenty and a week with Filch! Inside, now, all of you.”
As it turned out, the Hufflepuffs had seen the fire in the forest through the enchanted windows in their underground dormitories, and the lesson buzzed with speculation about the huge blaze. Ginny and Ron listened carefully, trying to determine whether anyone had somehow seen them, but the Hufflepuffs did not mention anyone from Hogwarts except the professors who had left to fight the fire.
By the time their Defence lesson began that afternoon, the entire castle was discussing the fire, and Professor Lockhart let speculation and gossip fill his entire lesson. “If you ask me,” he proclaimed loudly, drawing the attention of most of the class, “something started that fire deliberately. Something very, very dangerous. Something,” he tilted his head forward meaningfully, “monstrous.”
“What do you mean, Professor?” Padma Patil asked in a frightened voice.
“I’ve seen only two things that could start a fire like that. One is the Gargantuan Fire Crab. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Fire Crabs are tiny, right? They make nice pets. But what you don’t know is that there is a gigantic species of that lovely little tortoise. I’ve seen them the size of mastiffs, boys and girls, and a Fire Crab that size puts out a lot of fire. I tangled with one a few years ago, and fortunately I was able to contain the beast before it trampled and burnt a colony of pygmy goblins. I’m thinking of putting that particular story in my next book, actually.”
He let the students mutter and whisper to each other for a few moments, and then he waved a hand dismissively. “But I don’t think it was a Fire Crab. I think it was a dragon.”
“A dragon?” Dean Thomas asked. “In the forest?”
“Certainly! They breathe fire, don’t they? Of course they do! And if the fire did start out blue, as I’ve heard, then it was probably a Swedish Short-Snout. Now, I once had the good fortune to ride a Short-Snout, but only after I subdued it. I was called to Switzerland, you see, and…”
Ginny tuned out the rest of the story. By the end of the lesson, the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws were all firmly convinced that there was a rogue dragon living in the forest. For once, Ginny was grateful to Lockhart for providing a story that benefited her in some way.
After lessons, Professor McGonagall gathered all of the Gryffindors in the Entrance Hall and led them back up to the Tower. Before she left, she pulled Ginny aside.
“I’m sorry about this morning, Professor,” Ginny said before the older woman could speak. “I know I shouldn’t have hexed him, but he was about to curse Ron, and I used the safest spell I could think of. If the Aurors had just…”
“It’s all right, Ginny,” McGonagall said softly. “As student altercations go, that was quite normal. I’m glad to know that you did not act without thinking first, and I support Professor Sprout’s handling of the matter."
“Oh,” Ginny said. “All right.”
“I came to give you your Dreamless Sleep Potion,” McGonagall said, pressing a small bottle into Ginny’s hand. “Do you still prefer to take only half of it at once?”
“Very well. I will collect the bottle later this week.” McGonagall raised an eyebrow questioningly. “You’ve eaten both breakfast and lunch today, I believe?”
Ginny nodded. “More or less. I mean, I ate enough for my brothers to leave me alone. It just wasn’t as much as they eat.”
“That will do. Madam Pomfrey asked me to ensure that you eat something at every meal. Apparently she has also received correspondence from your mother.”
Ginny sighed internally, knowing that her mother would write to the Minister and Merlin if she thought it might help. One way or another, Ginny needed to eat more, even if that meant asking the twins to hold her down and letting Ron pour soup down her throat.
Wouldn’t it be… easier…
Yes, I suppose so. I bet they’d do it, though.
Rather than continue with that gloomy train of thought, Ginny tried to focus on to something happier. “Did Madam Pomfrey say anything about Harry?”
“He is fine, Ginny, or at least unchanged. Poppy now feels confident that the restorative potion will be ready next weekend.”
Ginny’s eyes widened. “Next Saturday, you mean? He’ll be back next Saturday?”
The professor held up a hand warningly. “It could be as early as Saturday morning, yes, but it could also be as late as Monday morning. We don’t yet know specifically.”
“All right,” Ginny said, sighing. “But you’ll tell me when she knows?”
“Of course. You will know as soon as I do.”
“You’re welcome. Try to enjoy your dinner.”
Based on Madam Pomfrey’s advice — relayed to her through a letter from her mother — Ginny forced herself into a new evening routine, which was intended to help her eat and sleep normally. She had a small meal when dinner was served in the common room, and then she spent two hours with her brothers. She was supposed to revise during that time, but she rarely managed to concentrate for more than a few minutes. Half an hour before curfew, she had a snack, saved from the dinner buffet, and then she got ready for bed with a shower and proper attention to her hair. She had never been able to fall asleep at curfew itself, even when Harry was with her, so she did not try. Instead, she sat in bed staring at her textbooks until about midnight, when both her roommates and the remaining second-year boys were asleep. Then, finally, she took her potion and crept into Harry’s room for the night.
Ginny was not sure that the routine would help her to sleep, but after a few days she was at least proud that she had followed it. Showering, eating, and caring for her hair made her feel that she was doing something useful to prepare for Harry’s return, and that made it easier for her to relax.
It makes… no sense, you know.
I don’t want you to wake up and see me looking like a wreck. Ginny rolled onto her side in Harry’s bed and pulled her towel to her chest.
You know I… don’t care. Besides, I see you… every day.
It’s not the same.
Whatever… makes you happy, Ginevra.
She closed her eyes against the rush of memories that always accompanied their use of her name. She wanted more of those memories, and the best way to get them was to be ready when Harry woke up. She only wished she knew exactly when that would be so that she could focus on a real, fixed goal.
Ginny pressed Professor McGonagall about the restorative potion every day. On some days, hearing that the timing had not changed raised her spirits because she felt truly close to the time when Harry would return. On other days, she was upset by the lack of progress, and she found it more difficult to eat and concentrate.
Her brothers, however, were relentless in goading her into eating and making sure that someone was always with her to keep her occupied. On a particularly bad day, Ginny considered sneaking away to the bathroom to perform a Cheering Charm, but she felt certain that Professor McGonagall would hear the incantation in a quiet room. Ginny could not imagine how she would explain the spell without revealing the truth.
On Saturday, when Ginny received her next Dreamless Sleep Potion, Madam Pomfrey finally declared that Harry would be awakened between noon on Saturday and sunset on Sunday the following weekend. She assured Ginny, through McGonagall, that by the end of lessons on Friday they would know when the potion could be administered to within an hour or so.
Buoyed by the thought that she only had to last for another week, Ginny spent Sunday mostly by herself in the common room, though her brothers were never far away. She and Harry fantasised about the things they would do once he was awake, starting with a hug and ending with a long fly around the paddock at The Burrow, even if they had to Shift there without anyone knowing. By the time Ginny was settled in Harry’s bed, ready to sleep, they had almost a week’s worth of activities planned.
We might have to… go to lessons, though.
Never mind that. We can skive off. What are they going to do, separate us?
A quiet scratching sound drew Ginny’s attention to the foot of the bed, where the duvet was twitching. As she watched, Scabbers the rat climbed onto the top of the bed and stared at her. Then he yawned, stretched, and lay down with his head against Ginny’s covered ankle.
“Scabbers!” she whispered. “Get off! Go back to Ron.”
The rat ignored her and closed his eyes.
He’s not… hurting anything.
I know, but I don’t want him on the bed. I hate waking up to his little claws jabbing me whenever he moves.
“Go on, Scabbers!”
Scabbers shuddered slightly, but he did not get up or respond at all.
Perfect. Ginny fished the Invisibility Cloak back out from under her pillow, threw it over her shoulders, and sat up. When she moved her leg, Scabbers lifted his head and stared at her reproachfully. After watching for a moment to see if he left on his own, Ginny rolled her eyes and scooped up the rat. He went limp in her hands, offering no protest. With a quick look around the dormitory, Ginny carried the rat over to his cage and lowered him inside. He had already gone to sleep again, and she had to slide him off of her hand rather than letting him jump the last inch. Lazy beast.
She closed and latched the cage and then turned back towards Harry’s bed. She was halfway there when she heard a whimper, followed by a muffled shout.
“Ron?” a voice said sleepily. “Wha’s wrong?”
Ginny froze. Off to her right she saw Dean Thomas sitting up in his bed, his hair and pyjamas rumpled from sleep. With a deep sigh, he stood up and crossed the dormitory, passing within a few feet of Ginny. He shook Ron’s shoulder roughly, and the red-haired boy sat bolt upright.
“No! Keep them… keep… what?”
“Nightmare,” Dean said gruffly. “You were shouting.”
“Oh, err… sorry. It was nothing.”
“Yeah. Go on, I’m fine now.”
Dean shrugged, rubbed his eyes, and went back towards his bed. Suddenly he stopped.
“Who opened Harry’s curtains?”
“Oh… err…” Ron yawned theatrically. “I did. I thought he might have had one of my issues of Quidditch Weekly. I’ll close them in the morning.”
“Whatever.” Dean yawned also and went back to his bed.
Ginny waited as quietly as she could until his deep, loud breathing resumed. Ron, however, was not snoring, and a quick glance showed that his eyes were open. She crept over and knelt next to his bed.
“Ron,” she whispered.
He barely blinked in surprise. “Ginny?”
“Yeah. You okay?”
“I’m fine. Just a dream.”
“That’s the third time since the forest, isn’t it?”
Ron huffed softly. “How many nights have there been?”
“I’m sorry, Ron. I wish I hadn’t dragged you out there.”
“Forget it. You got me in, you got me out. We’re square.”
“Is there anything I can do? You can have the other half of my Dreamless Sleep Potion if you’d like.”
“Nah. I’d rather you had it.”
Ginny’s eyes moistened suddenly, and she blinked invisibly in the darkness. “Thanks, Ron. For everything.”
“ ‘S nothing. Get back to bed before Dean hears you. And open the curtains like that when you leave.”
“Okay. Goodnight, Ron.”
Ginny tiptoed back to bed, pulled the curtains closed, and curled up again. We should do something nice for him. He’s been through loads and hasn’t complained a bit.
We can… let him… Fly the Nimbus… a lot this summer. He’d love… that.
The following morning, Ginny made a tiny calendar and began marking off the days of that week. On Thursday, Professor McGonagall told her that the potion would be ready sometime Saturday evening, and Ginny pre-emptively scratched Sunday off of her calendar. She spent the rest of that day telling herself — and her brothers — that she had gained a whole day.
Friday was agonising for Ginny. She felt more energetic and optimistic than she had in months, but she could not concentrate on anything. When she tried to Transfigure a spoon during lunch, it instantly transformed into something fork-like, but it was sized for Hagrid and had seven tines on each end. It also twitched of its own accord, which Ron found hilarious.
After lessons, Ginny flitted from place to place in Gryffindor Tower, trying to find something that could hold her attention. She tried talking with the twins and their friends, but she could not focus on their casual conversation. She tried revising, but she could not read more than a few sentences without becoming distracted. After an hour, she ended up in her dormitory brushing her hair and counting the brushstrokes, hoping she could force herself to be calm.
One hundred fourteen… one hundred fifteen… do you think—
One hundred… sixteen. Just keep… counting. You know I… Don’t know.
This is — one hundred seventeen — infuriating!
Just as Ginny was about to give up on her hair-brushing, given that she was scraping her scalp with every stroke, she heard a tapping at the window. Looking up, she saw a barn owl standing on the ledge outside and pecking methodically at the glass.
What? We’re not supposed to be getting owls directly.
I don’t know.
Shrugging, Ginny put down her brush and scampered across the room. When she opened the window, the owl hopped inside. Its claws were wrapped tightly around the strings of a small parcel bearing her name. Hooting cheerfully, the owl released the strings and launched itself back out through the window.
Who d’you suppose it’s from?
Ginny turned the package around and found a note tucked beneath the strings.
I thought this might help you pass the time. It won’t be long now.
The note was not signed, and she did not immediately recognise the handwriting.
Who would know… you’re waiting? It’s not… Professor McGonagall, is it?
No, her letters are loopier. I don’t think I’ve seen this before.
Who could… Send it?
Not a student, surely. The owlery is miles from the dormitories. Even with the Cloak, I think we’d get caught.
A professor, then. Why not… give it to you… in lessons?
Harry! What if it’s Dumbledore? You know he must be around somewhere if Fawkes was in the forest.
It fits! I’m sure he’d know what’s going on, and I bet he’d have no trouble getting to the owlery. Ginny tore open the package and, to her surprise, found the battered diary she had given to Lavender at the beginning of the year.
How did Dumbledore… get that?
Who knows? Maybe it was confiscated or something. She opened the diary; it was still completely blank, as it had always been when it was not in use. It’s a nice thought, but I’m not sure I can stand listening to lousy jokes right now.
She tossed the diary onto her trunk. Oh well. It passed a bit of time. Do you suppose dinner is here yet?
What? You are… eager for food?
Ginny smiled faintly, picturing the grin Harry would have worn as he said that. At least it’s something to do.
She wound up skipping her revision for the night and playing Exploding Snap with Ron and Dean, which was loud and unpredictable enough to hold her attention. When she woke up the following day, however, her frenetic energy had somehow doubled. Some time that day — that very day — Harry would wake up and speak to her with his own voice and his own words and his own self, and they would be them again. At the back of her mind Ginny felt a strange tickle which she knew was all the excitement Harry could muster.
I want to… Go outside. Fly. Swim in… No. I want to…
Merlin, yes. I want to… Think.
Ginny dressed carefully in her favourite jumper — formerly Harry’s — and took extra time to smooth her hair. She was glad to see that after only a couple of weeks of reluctant but necessary self-care, it had regained a bit of its former lustre. Harry loved her hair, she knew, and she did not want to disappoint him.
Don’t be… Silly. And you… loved it first.
After breakfast, Professor McGonagall arrived to distribute the post. Ginny barely restrained herself from following the professor around the room and babbling until she found out when Harry would wake up. After what seemed like an hour, McGonagall completed her circuit and stopped in front of the Weasleys’ sofa.
“Ten o’clock this evening,” she said, “and no earlier than that.”
McGonagall held up her hand, a faint smile twisting her lips. “I will be here at nine forty-five to escort you to the hospital wing. Your brothers are also welcome.”
“Hear that, Ginny?” George said, rumpling her carefully-arranged hair. “Less than twelve hours to go. Are you going to make a little countdown clock?”
Fred cocked his head to one side. “Let’s see… twelve hours times sixty minutes, that’s…”
“Seven hundred twenty little boxes to mark off, right?”
“Stop it! Twelve hours?” She groaned. “What am I going to do for twelve hours?”
George grinned at her. “Make boxes, sounds like.”
Around mid-afternoon, the twins told Ginny flat-out that they needed a break from her nervous energy. She stuck her tongue out at them and bounded upstairs. If anyone could prattle at her for the afternoon, it was Lavender and Parvati. The girls were not in the dormitory, however.
Bugger. I must have missed them in the common room.
She shoved aside the clutter on top of her trunk and sat down heavily. As she looked around for something to occupy her time, she noticed the neat stack of books and clothes atop Hermione’s trunk.
Oh, I’m awful. She’ll wake up at the same time, of course, and I haven’t even given it a thought. I should bring her a change of clothes, too, don’t you think?
Whatever you… say. You don’t have to… bring mine. Madam Pomfrey can… manage it somehow.
Nonsense. I’m picking out your clothes from nine thirty to nine forty-five. Don’t take that away.
Then I’m sure… she’d appreciate it.
Ginny examined the clothes Hermione had been wearing when she was Petrified. They were nice enough, but Ginny was not sure that Hermione would want to put on the very same clothes again.
Would it be like wearing the same outfit twice in a row? Or… or would it be just like blinking for her, so she’d expect to be wearing the same thing?
She’s not going… to put it on… Until after… she wakes up, though, is she?
That’s true. I’m not sure what else she might want to wear, though. Maybe that pink jumper of hers?
Don’t… Ask me.
Ginny refolded Hermione’s clothes, intent on scouring the other girl’s wardrobe. As she did, however, she noticed the small book that had been in Hermione’s pockets.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Why would she be carrying that around?
Ginny pulled the slim volume into her lap. Poking out of the top was a neat rectangle of folded parchment, which was dense with writing on the inside. Curious, Ginny took out the parchment and flattened it on top of the trunk. Listed neatly down the left side were the names of magical creatures, starting with Acromantula and ending with Yeti.
There are dozens of them. This must be everything listed in the book.
Some of the creatures’ names were marked through with the word “harmless” written next to them. All of the others were followed by other book titles, and some of those titles were marked through, too. The margins and spaces around the words were packed with tiny notes like “too big” and “aquatic only” and “we’d all be crazy by now.” Many of the books were marked “restricted section,” though some of those were crossed out anyway.
She was looking for… the monster.
You’re right! These other books must be references… see how The Monster Book of Monsters is on loads of them? I bet she was checking every other book in the library that mentions anything about these monsters, trying to find out what Slytherin’s monster is. One at a time. Wow.
Yeah. She’s checked dozens of other books already.
Ginny scanned down the alphabetical list to the first creature with sources left to be researched. Augurey. Isn’t that just a bird?
She flipped through the book and read about the so-called Irish Phoenix. I can’t see why she didn’t mark it as harmless.
Maybe she thought… they were wrong… about the… cry.
You mean that it really is deadly? Seems like a long shot.
Yeah. If it were simple, someone would have worked it out long ago.
The next monster on Hermione’s list was a Basilisk. Ginny had never heard of it, so she read that entry, too.
The first recorded Basilisk was bred by Herpo the Foul, a Greek Dark wizard and Parselmouth, who discovered after much experimentation that a chicken egg hatched beneath a toad would produce a gigantic serpent possessed of extraordinarily dangerous powers.
The Basilisk is a brilliant green serpent that may reach up to fifty feet in length. The male has a scarlet plume upon its head. It has exceptionally venomous fangs but its most dangerous means of attack is the gaze of its large yellow eyes. Anyone looking directly into these will suffer instant death.
If the food source is sufficient (the Basilisk will eat all mammals and birds and most reptiles), the serpent may attain a very great age. Herpo the Foul's Basilisk is believed to have lived for close on nine hundred years.
The creation of Basilisks has been illegal since medieval times, although the practice is easily concealed by simply removing the chicken egg from beneath the toad when the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures comes to call. However, since Basilisks are uncontrollable except by Parselmouths, they are as dangerous to most Dark wizards as to anybody else, and there have been no recorded sightings of Basilisks in Britain for at least four hundred years.
Ginny grimaced at the ‘XXXXX’ danger rating from the Ministry. Nasty, that one.
Hang on… Ginny! Parselmouth!
What—? Her racing mind finished their thought. The voice! Maybe… maybe we could hear it and no-one else could because we’re Parselmouths!
McGonagall heard it… when she was… a cat. But she couldn’t… understand.
Right, because it makes noise, but it’s nothing she would recognise.
Great age. Fifty years, maybe?
At least. Who knows?
But it… kills things. No Petrification.
True. Maybe… She checked Hermione’s list. There’s only one book here. Deadly Denizens of Daylight and Darkness. And it’s not restricted.
So how do we… get it if we… can’t… go to the library?
There must be a way. Percy would have gone mad if there weren’t.
Ginny stuffed the note into her pocket and took the stairs to the common room two at a time. Percy was tucked away in a corner working on a very long roll of parchment.
“Ginny?” he said, looking startled.
“Is there a way to get a library book?”
He frowned. “Of course. Haven’t you used it yet? It’s been weeks.”
“Erm… no,” Ginny said. “But I’d like to catch up before our exams.”
His eyebrows rose sceptically, but then he shrugged. “There’s a sheet of parchment over there on the notice board. Write the name of the book you want, and if it’s available it will be delivered to the chair below. If not, you get a note from Madam Pince.”
Without waiting for his questions, she weaved her way across the crowded room to the notice board. As promised, there was a square of parchment pinned there labelled “Library”. Ginny fished around in her pockets for her biro and wrote “Deadly Denizens of Daylight and Darkness, please” on the parchment.
If it’s Pince, she’ll want us to be polite.
After only a few seconds, there was a tiny pop — which had them looking around for Dobby — and a heavy book fell into the chair. It was a very dark green and gave the impression that it had just been retrieved from someplace dark and slimy. When Ginny picked it up, however, the cover was dry and smooth.
She ran back upstairs and began flipping through the old tome. After a few minutes of fruitless searching, she scolded herself and turned to the index. Basilisk! She found the indicated page. Only a paragraph, though.
Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken’s egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it.
That’s it! It’s their mortal enemy! This has to be the right monster.
Roosters, too. But why isn’t… anyone dead?
I’m not sure. She read the paragraph again. “All who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt.
It still seems like… It must be a… that, though.
I’d rather be sure if I can. McGonagall wants us to think, remember?
Why do you suppose it says “beam of its eye”? Why not just say “anything it sees” or something?
I… I told you… about something… once. It was… a Muggle thing, I think. Only I… I can’t… remember it now. It’s… like this.
A Muggle thing you told me about that’s like a “beam of its eye”? It must have been something I’d never heard of before. Something scientific. She concentrated on the vague memory Harry was searching for. Hang on, I remember. You told me about lasers once. Was that it?
Yes! What did…
You showed me something from a television program because it looked a lot like some spells. Like a red stunner.
And it can… miss.
Right! It’s really strong, but it’s really narrow. So if you’re not right in its path it doesn’t really hurt you.
Maybe that’s… the type of… beam… in the book.
You mean that if the Basilisk sees you from the corner of its eye, you’re okay, but if it looks right at you, you die?
Then why are you Petrified? You should either be okay or… or not.
Maybe it could… only see me with one eye?
Ginny forced herself to think of the moment when Harry had vanished from her mind. The corridor was straight, and the big urn was behind you, not in front. Unless it was peeking around the corner, it saw you clearly. And if there had been a giant snake in the corridor, one of us would have noticed.
What about… the others?
They carefully thought about each of the victims. Hang on… is there some sort of pattern here?
Aside from you, everyone who was attacked had a particular sort of thing with them. Colin had his camera, Hermione had the Cloak, and Penelope had Nearly Headless Nick. Don’t those all sort of mess with sight?
It shimmers a bit, doesn’t it? It’s easy to see through, but it’s there.
So the Basilisk may not have actually seen them. That’s it! It didn’t kill them because there was something in the way!
What about… me? And Mrs. Norris?
Erm… well, you weren’t behind anything. There was only that yellow flash down at the end, and the only thing there was…
Ginny leapt to her feet and barely kept herself from rushing out of the room. Instead she began pacing between her bed and the window. I’m going to kill those stupid twins! Their stupid detention was to polish all the bloody armour, and for once they actually did a good job! The Basilisk wasn’t in the corridor at all. It was around the corner, and you saw its reflection in that stupid, shiny suit of armour!
Ahh. And Mrs. Norris… is low to the ground… with water. Same thing.
What are the chances, though? Basilisks are really rare to begin with, and it must be unheard of for someone to see one through something else, or to see a reflection. So how is it possible that none of you died? It’s… it’s preposterous.
Everything else, though.
You’re right. It’s too perfect. This has to be it.
Call… McGonagall. Say something.
“Professor!” Ginny said loudly. “Professor, I need to talk to you! It’s truly an emergency! I mean, I’m not hurt, no-one’s hurt… but I have to talk to you. I know what the monster is, Professor. I’m absolutely sure of it. I have to talk to you. I’m… I’m in my dormitory. Send someone to get me or… or something. If you’d like I can sneak…”
“No. No, I’ll wait.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll have to wait. Please hurry, Professor. Someone could get killed at any moment. It’s a Basilisk, Professor!”
Ginny paced around the room, reviewing the facts over and over again. It all fits! It has to be right.
After only a few minutes, the dormitory door opened and a grey cat bounded into the room at full speed. The cat shimmered briefly, and Professor McGonagall appeared. “A Basilisk, Ginny? Explain.”
“Okay. Look, see this?”
Ginny showed her the passages from both books about the Basilisk, and she explained about the various obstacles and reflections that caused the Petrifications. “And…” Ginny swallowed, suddenly nervous. “And we’re both Parselmouths, Professor. That’s why we could hear the monster and no-one else could. It’s a snake.”
McGonagall’s head snapped up from her contemplations. “What? Are you certain you’re Parselmouths?”
“Positive. We talked to a grass snake in the paddock last summer, and Harry talked to a big boa constrictor at a zoo. I’m sorry we didn’t tell you, but it never seemed important, and…”
“And many people wrongly believe that Parselmouths are evil by nature. Yes, I see.” She exhaled loudly. “That would certainly explain the mysterious voice, and it does point towards a Basilisk.”
Ginny nodded. “The only thing we can’t work out is why no-one has died. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Five people can’t have dodged the beam by coincidence, can they?”
“It seems highly improbable. But given all of the other evidence supporting your theory, I think we must accept it. Perhaps this Basilisk is so old that its gaze has lost its potency. Perhaps it’s injured in some way. There are too many possibilities we cannot understand.” She drummed her fingers on her thigh. “How is it moving about the castle, though?”
“What do you mean, Professor?”
“If this snake is old enough to have been in the castle fifty years ago — and conceivably in the time of Salazar Slytherin — it must be quite large. Why hasn’t anyone seen it? On several occasions, Professor Dumbledore has searched the area very quickly after an attack, and in one case you arrived only moments afterwards. Why didn’t you see it?”
“Oh,” Ginny said, disheartened. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
McGonagall did not appear to be listening. “How could a giant snake move around the castle without being seen? The house-elves can do it, but they have their own sort of magic. Owls have shafts created for them to reach the Great Hall, but that wouldn’t help. There are a few passageways only large enough for cats, but…” Her eyes widened, and then she sagged suddenly. “Oh, my.”
Ginny moved to stand directly in front of Professor McGonagall, hoping to draw her out of her thoughtful haze. “Professor?”
“The plumbing, Ginny. It carries drinking water and waste water, and many of the pipes are quite large because there are hundreds of people in the castle at a time. Hogwarts also uses piped water to warm the flagstones. There are probably miles of pipes in the castle, leading almost anywhere. If the snake found a way to get into one or more of those systems, we would never be able to find it.”
“So… what do we do?” Ginny asked. The thought of a murderous snake that could travel anywhere there were pipes… Ginny shuddered and glanced nervously at the door to the bathroom.
“What we should have done in the first place, Ginny. We get everyone out of this castle, and we keep them out until the Basilisk is found and killed.” She sighed. “I am going to have to close Hogwarts.”
Ginny’s eyes widened at the idea. She had always known it was possible, but it had never seemed entirely real. She swallowed. “Okay. But we can wait until Harry and the others are restored, can’t we? They have to come, too, right?”
“Yes, of course. And we have no choice, really. The only way to get everyone out of the castle with any semblance of order is to use the Hogwarts Express, and the driver will require several hours to prepare it and get it here. And the students need time to gather their things.” She closed her eyes briefly and then nodded. “Yes. We will all leave as soon as the victims are restored. In the meantime… Ginny, I have to go. There is much to do.”
“Right. What do you want me to do?”
“You’ve done your part,” McGonagall said, surging to her feet. “In a few minutes, I will announce to everyone that we are leaving the castle. Please do not say anything to anyone until then. Pack your things — along with Harry’s and Hermione’s — and be ready to go. I will find a way to get you to the hospital wing as I promised.”
“Professor…” It broke Ginny’s heart to say, but she had no choice. “If it matters, I can wait. I can wait here, and as soon as Harry’s awake I can Shift to him. I’ll… I’ll wait if you need me to.”
“That is courageous of you, but I don’t believe it is necessary at this point.”
Ginny nodded, relieved.
“Stay here. Do what your classmates do, and do not tell any of them about the Basilisk.”
“Good. And thank you, Ginny. I do not want to think of how many lives you may have saved without ever leaving this room.”
McGonagall disappeared in another shimmer of the air, and the grey tabby raced out of the room.
I’m glad you… can still be there.
Me, too, Harry. But a Basilisk! There are pipes everywhere!
Ginny trotted down the stairs after her and found her brothers, quickly gathering them at the twins’ table. “Weasleys,” she said, wishing desperately that her father were there, “do not leave this room. Don’t go upstairs, don’t go to the toilet, don’t look out a window. Stay here. Got it?”
The twins exchanged glances, Ron looked puzzled, and Percy blinked at her in surprise. “Why?” he asked.
“You’ll know soon enough. For now, promise me. If you don’t, I’ll hex every one of you to make you stay here.”
“Okay, okay. We promise,” the twins intoned.
“Yeah, me too,” Ron said.
Percy stared at Ginny for a few heartbeats, and then he nodded. “I promise.”
Ginny sagged. “Thank you.”
“How long do we have to wait?” Fred asked.
“It won’t be long.”
“Is that why McGonagall went tearing out of here like someone had stepped on her tail? She was trying to be sneaky, but she didn’t do a very good job of it.”
“Yes, this is why. Just wait.”
The portrait swung open and two Aurors, male and female, sprinted into the room and up the dormitory stairs. Madam Hooch stepped into the room behind them. “Gryffindors!” she shouted. The room slowly quieted. “Be very quiet and listen very carefully. There is about to be an announcement.”
Everyone, including Madam Hooch, waited expectantly. Then Professor McGonagall’s voice boomed throughout the castle. “Residents of Hogwarts. We have identified the monster of Slytherin, but its location is unknown. At this moment, Aurors are working to ensure that you are safe in your houses. You will remain there until later this evening, when we will all board the Hogwarts Express to return to London. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is closing until further notice.
“Please remain calm and pack your things. The train will leave at approximately ten forty-five this evening. Your parents are being notified of your arrival at King’s Cross early tomorrow morning. If your families are unable to meet you there at that time, we will accommodate you as needed. Other information will be provided to you via owl post once you are home.
“I ask everyone to be ready to leave their dormitories, with their things, by nine thirty. Your owls will meet you at Hogsmeade station. If, for some reason, you require assistance to gather your belongings, inform the teacher who will be stationed in your common room.
“I assure you that you will be safe in your houses until it is time to board the train. Goodnight.”
“Bloody hell,” Fred said.
“What is it, Ginny?” George asked. “What’s the monster?”
“I can’t tell you. I promised Professor McGonagall I wouldn’t. But it doesn’t matter, okay? All we have to do is pack and wait.”
The twins and Ron leaned forward. “C’mon, Ginny,” Fred said. “We won’t tell anyone.”
“Not this time,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s too important to her.”
And there are about… fifty people who might… overhear.
“Blimey,” Ron said. “Is it really a dragon after all?”
“No, it’s not a dragon.” The twins’ faces lit immediately. “And no, I’m not going to play twenty questions with you. I’m going to pack, and you should, too. Ron, can you pack Harry’s trunk for us? I need to do Hermione’s, and I don’t want Seamus and Dean asking questions.”
“Oh, right. Sure.”
“And make sure you get some clothes for him to wear on the train. Jeans and his newest jumper, the red one.”
It doesn’t matter.
Yes, it does. “And the fang he got from Bill, and the pendant from McGonagall.”
“And a cloak, Ron. It might get cold if we’re on the train all night.”
“Okay, Ginny. I know how to wear clothes, don’t I?”
“Good. Thanks.” Ginny got up from the table and went back to her room. Lavender and Parvati were already there, looking slightly panicked as they hurled clothes into their trunks. Curious, Ginny peeked into the bathroom and saw that all of the sinks, toilets, and even the showerheads had been encased in thick layers of stone. Instead, there was a large tub on a wooden table and a shabby little shed that looked suspiciously like the old outside toilet that she had once seen at Aunt Muriel’s. That should be… Enough, right?
I hope so.
“Ginny!” Parvati cried. “Can you believe it? After all this time, they’re closing the school just like that!” she said as she snapped her fingers.
“Yeah, it’s… it’s awful, isn’t it?” Ginny said. “But I’m sure it’s the best thing.”
“What sort of monster must it be that we all have to leave in the middle of the night?” Lavender asked. “Something really horrible, I think. I wish Professor Lockhart were in Gryffindor. He’d know what to do about it all.”
Ginny turned her back and rolled her eyes. As the other two girls prattled on, she carefully packed Hermione’s things into the other girl’s trunk, trying to be as orderly as she could. She put aside the clothes that Hermione had worn on the train in the autumn. If nothing else, she could be sure that Hermione would be comfortable travelling in them.
By the time she started packing her own trunk, Lavender and Parvati had dragged their stuffed trunks down to the common room, still babbling meaninglessly to each other. After a surprisingly short period of time, Ginny was ready to go. She scoured the area around her bed to make sure she had not missed anything, and she found the old diary against the wall next to her wardrobe. The silvery date on the front cover caught her eye.
Fifty years ago. I wonder…
Ginny checked Harry’s watch. She had nearly two hours before she needed to be ready to go to the Hospital Wing if she got to go at all. Shrugging, she sat on her bed and pulled out her pen.
‘Hello! Who is this?’
‘Ginny Weasley. We spoke months ago.’
‘Ah, yes. I remember you. You had a friend named Potter, didn’t you?’
I suppose that… If anything’s going to… have a good memory, it’s a… book.
‘Yes, that’s me.’
‘It’s nice to speak to someone again. It’s been a while.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that. Tom, weren’t you at Hogwarts about fifty years ago, in 1944?’
‘Did anything funny happen then? Like students getting hurt?’
‘Oh, yes. It was very sad. Why do you ask?’
‘Well, we’re all getting ready to leave the school. It’s being closed because there’s a monster loose.’
‘A monster? Really? There were rumours of one in my day, but we never found out for sure.’
‘I don’t think anyone’s known what it is until now.’
‘What is it, then?’
Ginny was eager to tell someone what she knew, but she did not want to break her promise to McGonagall. But it’s just a book, right?
But what if… Someone else… winds up with it? Maybe you…
Maybe I shouldn’t tell it anything that no-one else is supposed to know?
She tugged at the ends of her hair for a moment. I’d really like to get this out, though. It’s… it helps to talk.
Well, what if you… keep it with you from now on. Then it… can’t tell anyone else. At least until…
Until they find the Basilisk. Good idea. I brought it here, so it’s only fitting that I take it home.
‘Ginny?’ Tom wrote.
‘Sorry. I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but I think it’s okay to tell you. The monster is a Basilisk.’
Ginny went on to tell the entire story, a few sentences at a time. She told Tom about the attacks, the clues, and everything she had done to determine the identity of the monster. She felt relieved to be able to explain it all in the proper order, knowing at last how the pieces fit together, and Tom responded with all the surprise and concern she could have hoped for.
‘So the people who are Petrified are going to wake up at about ten, and we’re all going to leave at a quarter to eleven.’
‘And your friend Harry is one of those people, right?’
‘You must be eager for that. How long do you have to wait?’
‘It’s quarter of nine now, so a little over an hour.’
‘Oh, good. Not too long. He’s been like that for a while, hasn’t he?’
‘Six weeks.’ Ginny’s head began to throb as she remembered everything that had happened in that short time. It felt more like a year.
‘What was it like for you? You seemed so close to him.’
Harry’s surprise was a faint twinge in her mind. How could he… tell?
I think that much is obvious to anyone.
‘Yes, I was.’ She tried to scratch out the words, but then realised it was pointless. ‘I mean, I am. But it’s almost over.’
‘It was bad, then. I could tell how much you’d suffer without him, even from our brief talk.’
Ginny rubbed her eyes briefly and took a deep breath. ‘It was terrible. The whole time I’ve felt like I couldn’t do anything properly. I couldn’t eat, or sleep, or do spells, or anything. All I could think about was that he wasn’t there.’
‘I hope your other friends were able to comfort you. And didn’t you say you had brothers at school?’
‘Yes, but—’ Ginny knew that everyone around her had only wanted to help, but thinking about their attempts only made her headache worse.
It wasn’t… their fault.
No, but still.
Harry nodded in her memory. I know.
New words appeared on the page as Ginny’s handwriting faded. ‘But what?’
‘They tried, but it didn’t help. They didn’t understand.’
‘Ah. What did they do?’
She hesitated for a moment, but after everything that had happened she desperately wanted to be heard by someone who would listen. Just listen, without trying to make her change anything. ‘All sorts of things, really. They kept trying to get me to talk about normal things.’
‘But nothing was normal, was it?’
‘No! How could I talk about star charts and all that rubbish when he’s not here?’
There was a short pause before a fresh reply appeared on the page. ‘I bet they tried to force you to eat normally, too.’
‘Constantly,’ Ginny said, underlining the word twice as she rubbed her temple. ‘It’s not that I want to starve or anything, but I’m just not interested.’
‘I’m sorry you had to go through all of that. It sounds like they were good friends when you were happy, but they didn’t know what to do when you were sad.’
That’s… part of it, maybe.
‘Well, they did try. They meant well.’
‘But what they meant doesn’t change what they did, does it?’
Ginny did not realise she was crying until a tear fell onto the page. It disappeared into the parchment just like the ink. ‘No.’
‘You just needed them to leave you alone so that you wouldn’t have to talk about everything and make it all worse.’
‘I’m sorry, Ginny, but I don’t think they know you as well as they should. Of all people, your best friends and your family should realise what you need.’
Ginny dropped the quill and pressed her palms into her eyes. He’s right. They try so hard, and they say they want to get to know us and to support us, but they just don’t get it. After all this time, they still don’t understand at all.
But… how could they?
The same way you learn about anyone. But they don’t really try. They just try to make us like everyone else, and we’re not.
And we never… will be.
Tom’s words materialized in a rush, slightly larger and messier than before. ‘Ginny? Are you okay?’
‘Sorry, Tom. I’m here.’
‘It’s all right to cry. If you can’t fix something, sometimes it’s best to just accept that and feel bad about it. Don’t you think so?’
‘Yes. That’s what everyone should have done. Just accept it and be sad with me. Why couldn’t they do that?’
‘I suppose they just didn’t want to. I want to, though. I wish I could help you.’
Ginny smiled weakly and pointlessly at the diary. ‘You have, Tom. Thank you for listening. I wish I’d had you with me this whole time.’
‘I do, too. You must be exhausted by now.’
Ginny let her eyes fall closed. She had devoted all of her energy over the last two weeks to making her life look more normal and preparing for Harry’s return. Beneath that thin veneer of optimism, she was every bit as worn and tired as she had ever been. She wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep, oblivious, until it was all over.
She forced her eyes open and wiped her face on her sleeve. Then she took a deep breath and dipped her quill into the inkpot again. ‘Tell me about what happened when you were here, Tom. Was anyone Petrified?’
‘You have about an hour before he wakes up, right?’
‘Perfect. I’ll tell you the whole story, and I promise you’ll be so distracted that you won’t even notice the time go by. Harry will be there before you know it.’
Good idea, Harry said. Something to… focus on.
‘That would be wonderful, Tom. That’s all I want.’
‘I know. Ready, then?’
‘It all started with messages on the walls, just like it did for you. The first one…’
Ginny read intently as Tom told his story. She did not notice when her eyes slid closed. She was not present when they opened again.
A/N: I'm still alive and still working on this
story. Life has interfered with the posting schedule I'd hoped for,
but at least I'm progressing. I occasionally post status updates on my
website at www.metafic.com.
Many thanks to the beta team, who put in a bit more time on this one than usual.