The distant sounds of urgent voices penetrated the fog in Harry’s brain, dragging him upwards from the depths of what felt like a vast abyss. He was too disorientated to make out what the voices were saying, and he couldn’t bring himself to care. His entire body ached as if he’d gone a few rounds with a Hungarian Horntail, and his skull pounded with a furious intensity. He wondered if Dudley’s gang had caught up with him, but he couldn’t remember why he hadn’t been able to outrun them this time.
Sleep beckoned him again, inviting him to return to its depths. He wanted to descend into the darkness, blissfully unaware. If only the incessant voices would stop their clamouring. They were around him on all sides — demanding, goading, and shouting voices. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon wanted him to make the breakfast and weed the garden, and they didn’t care that he couldn’t do both at the same time. He wished they’d stop shouting.
An irritated groan escaped his lips, and one voice drew closer to his ear. Why wouldn’t they leave him alone?
Ptr. N ere e? Ptr.
Harry couldn’t decipher the words. He felt arms creep underneath him, hoisting him upwards and his world tilted crazily. He was in for it now. He wanted to latch onto something to keep steady, but he couldn’t manage it. He couldn’t get his brain to function properly, and he just wanted to sleep. Suddenly and without warning, his lungs constricted tightly as dizzyingly confusing colours rushed past his closed eyelids. It was too much to take in, and at last he was consumed by the blessed darkness once again.
The next time consciousness seeped over Harry’s senses, he was lying in a soft bed that he had no recollection of climbing into. He groggily opened his eyes and squinted at the unfamiliar surroundings. Soft, green light burned overhead, and low voices could be heard from outside the blurry curtains surrounding him. He automatically reached to his side looking for his glasses, and was surprised when someone handed them to him.
As soon as he put them on, Owen Savage’s tired face came into sharp focus. Ron sat on the other side of the bed, looking exceedingly pale and worn out. Harry looked around. The room reminded him of the hospital wing at Hogwarts, but knew that couldn’t be the case. He furrowed his brow as he tried to place what had happened, and how he’d ended up here.
“Ministry Infirmary,” Owen said, supplying the information Harry sought. Owen, too, appeared rather restrained.
“Right,” Harry replied, his mouth feeling as if it were filled with cotton wool. Memory was coming back to him now. The forest — Dementors.
“Duncan?” he asked, alarmed. He couldn’t see around the curtain surrounding his bed, although he strained for a look of the other beds that he assumed were nearby.
“He’s fine. They brought him over to St. Mungo’s to have his ankle fixed. You did good, kid,” Owen said.
Ron placed a cup of water in Harry’s hands, and Harry was dismayed to realize his hands were shaking as he lifted it to his lips, sloshing some of the water down his front. He sipped it gratefully as it soothed his parched throat.
“What happened?” he asked. “We were swarmed. Did those Dementors get away from the group we were herding?”
Owen shook his head, looking weary. “They didn’t come from our group,” he said, sighing. “Although it was all we could do to get them to their destination. The rest of our team has been sent home to get some rest.”
“Harry, I’m glad to see you’re awake.”
Harry looked up to see Kingsley Shacklebolt moving aside the curtain that surrounded Harry’s bed. He was followed by Harry’s boss, Gawain Robards. They each moved to stand on either side of the bed, beside Ron and Owen. Ron wore a gob-smacked expression as if his mum had caught him doing something he’d been expressly told not to do.
“Minister,” Harry said, struggling to sit up, “Chief Robards.” He almost asked them what they were doing there, but managed to stop himself in time, thinking it would be rather impertinent to question the Minister for Magic.
“It’s all right, remain at ease,” Kingsley said in his deep, booming voice. He rested his hand on Harry’s shoulder in a comforting sort of way. Harry had managed to sit up, but the pressure of Kingsley’s hand forced him back to rest against his pillows.
“We’ve been briefed by the rest of your team, but we wanted to get your statement about what happened on the forest floor,” Robards said in his no-nonsense manner.
“Are you feeling up to that, Harry?” Kingsley asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” Harry said automatically.
“I doubt that very much. Dementors are taking a toll on all of those attempting to control them,” Robards said brusquely.
“I can cast a strong Patronus, sir,” Harry said defensively. He remembered Owen telling him that Harry’s difficulty with Dementors had been discussed by the higher-ups, and it irritated him.
“I’m aware of that, Potter. It’s not the ability to cast a Patronus, but casting them repeatedly that’s been wearing down our Aurors. It takes a good deal of power to cast one, never mind keeping up at the pace that’s been required,” Robards replied curtly.
“I’ve never cast that many before,” Owen said, his face drawn.
“Savage, Weasley, why are you two still here? You’ve been debriefed and cleared to go home,” Robards said as if just noticing the presence of Harry’s two companions.
“Potter is my partner, sir,” Owen replied.
“Yeah, but… it’s Harry,” Ron said at the same time, as if that answered everything.
“It’s all right,” Kingsley said, raising his hand and sidestepping a reprimand. “Once we hear what Harry has to say, all three will return home for a mandatory twelve hours.”
Robards frowned at Ron and Owen, but turned his attention back to Harry. “Auror Savage has divulged to us that he told you to follow Auror Tate as his broom descended, while he paired with Auror Rickman to contain the Dementors in the air. What happened when you and Auror Tate reached the ground?”
Harry scrunched his forehead, dredging up the details. “I sped after Duncan until I was close enough to cast a spell to slow his fall.”
“Oh! So that’s why he wasn’t more injured. We’d wondered,” Ron said, interrupting.
Robards’s glare caused him to close his mouth with a snap.
“Continue, Potter,” Robards said.
“We shared some chocolate, and I immobilized his ankle. I cast a few Protective Charms around us, along with a locator spell. I’m not certain how long we were there before I felt the Dementors approaching,” Harry said, being as concise as possible.
Robards nodded approvingly, and the Minister asked, “Felt them?”
Harry shrugged uncomfortably. “Yeah. I always feel them before I see them. Something was off about this lot, though.”
“Clarify,” Robards barked.
“I dunno. It was odd — as if they were testing my Patronus. They stayed out of reach until it faded every time, then tried another angle. I think… I mean, I’m not certain…” Harry said, faltering.
“What is your gut telling you?” Kingsley asked.
“I think they were learning,” Harry said.
A pregnant pause filled the room as each occupant digested this information. Harry looked around, feeling a little stupid.
“I dunno. I never said I was an expert on Dementors. Where did they come from, anyway? Did they break away from the group we were herding?” he asked.
“No. They were part of the group we already had contained in the forest,” Kingsley replied. “At least, we thought we’d had them contained. We’re still trying to ascertain how these ones went missing without notice.”
“As I’ve said, I don’t think we have enough people patrolling the perimeter, Minister,” Robards said, agitated.
Kingsley nodded, slowly. “I’m open to suggestions, Gawain, but at the moment, we don’t have the people to give you.”
“Sir,” Harry said, pausing.
“You have an idea, Harry?” Kingsley asked.
Harry shook his head. “Not about the staffing, but… When we began our shift, we hadn’t heard from the first shift, and now this. Perhaps we need an alternate way to communicate,” he said, staring meaningfully at the Minister.
“What do you… Oh!” Kingsley said, his dark eyes widening.
“I know it was the Order’s secret form of communication, but… Voldemort is gone, and everyone on the Dementor Task Force can already cast a Patronus,” Harry said.
“Care to enlighten me what you’re talking about?” Robards asked.
“It’s an excellent suggestion, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t think of it. In my defence, there’s been a lot on my plate,” Kingsley said, smiling deprecatingly. He turned to face Robards. “Albus Dumbledore discovered a method to use a Patronus to carry a message. It was how we could always be certain the message was coming directly from the source. Did he show you how to do it, Harry?”
Harry shook his head. “Hermione knew the theory, and we worked on it last year when we were on the run,” Harry replied, glancing at Ron, who looked away. It was after Ron’s departure that he and Hermione had decided they needed a way to talk to each other in case they were separated. It was one of the only things they had accomplished successfully during that dark time.
“Arthur and I will begin showing some of the department heads how to accomplish it at once,” Kingsley replied.
“All right, that solves one problem. If Potter is right and these new juvenile Dementors are evolving, we’re going to have the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures all over us. They’ll insist operations be paused until the affect can be studied,” Robards said.
Kingsley nodded. “It will have to be documented, but not at the expense of public safety. You continue with what you’re doing, and I’ll get someone I trust to look into it. For now, you’ve been cleared to go home with the instructions of bed rest and more chocolate.”
“Sounds good,” Harry said, envisioning his warm bed back at Grimmauld Place.
“No Apparition, take the Floo home. I’ll not have another Splinching today,” Robards said, getting to his feet.
“Splinching?” Harry asked sharply.
“One of the trainees from an earlier shift. I’m putting a new procedure in place that there’s to be no Apparition after excessive exposure to Dementors,” Robards said as he strolled from the room.
“I’m glad you’re all right, Harry,” Kingsley said, again squeezing his shoulder before they moved away from his bed.
After they’d left, Harry pulled himself to his feet, still feeling very weak. He had to hold onto the bed for a moment until the room stopped spinning.
“Let’s go home,” Ron said, tiredly.
“I could eat a Hippogriff, then sleep for a week,” Owen said. He, too, appeared to be dragging his feet.
Harry didn’t think that sounded like a bad idea at all.
Harry walked through the stark white station cautiously. He’d been here before. As it was then, something was making noise from beneath a bench, something that caused his lungs to constrict, and his heart to clench. He was frightened by whatever was under the seat, but he couldn’t stop his legs from walking that way. He crouched down, next to the whimpering thing. It was scarred and hideous — some sort of deformed monster child. As he stared in revulsion, it turned its head and stared directly at him. Its piteous cries stopped, and it studied Harry carefully. A grotesque, forked tongue darted from its mouth as if testing the air.
‘Harry Potter,’ Voldemort’s unmistakable voice echoed throughout the empty station. ‘You will not escape me.’
Harry backed away, shaking his head. ‘I already have.’
‘No. I’m part of you. I’m forever part of you. You’ll never escape from me, Harry Potter,” Voldemort said, dragging out the last syllable in a hiss.
Harry’s heart thudded. The temperature in the room dropped dramatically, and his breath emitted little puffs of steam that evaporated in the chilly air. The creature on the floor raised a scabbed, scaly hand, reaching for Harry. He couldn’t get away. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The scabbed hand grasped his shirt, pulling him down. The mist surrounded him, enveloping him in its icy grip. It settled into his pores, claiming him. He was part of it now, and there was no escape.
‘No,’ he moaned helplessly, knowing it was fruitless. ‘No, please. Please!’
“Harry! Harry! Wake up, you maniac.”
Harry awoke with a start, his head moving from side to side, seeking a threat. He was drenched in sweat, and his hands shook uncontrollably. His breath came in frantic gasps as he registered Ron standing beside him, his arms still resting on Harry’s shoulders as if he’d been shaking him.
“Ron,” he gasped, swallowing hard.
Ron stepped back, looking at Harry warily. “All right? You were shouting,” he said uncomfortably.
Harry ran a shaky hand through his sweaty hair, trying to slow his rapid breathing. Fearing his voice would crack if he attempted to answer, he merely nodded. He pulled himself into a seated position and squinted at Ron.
“Time?” he asked.
“It’s about five in the bloody morning. You were screaming your head off, mate. All right?” Ron said, sitting on the edge of Harry’s bed as if all the strength had been sucked out of his legs.
“Sorry,” Harry said, abashed. He hadn’t had to cast a Silencing Charm when he slept in a long time. The nightmares weren’t completely gone, but there hadn’t been one this vivid in a long time. Absently, he ran his hand along his scar, although it hadn’t pained him in months.
“Don’t be sorry,” Ron said, again shifting awkwardly. “Was it bad?”
Harry didn’t answer, looking down. “I don’t understand. After I talked to Ginny, they were better. I don’t know why this one came back.”
“Harry, mate, I’m glad you talked to Ginny, but… I think talking about what’s troubling you is more than a one off. Those ruddy Dementors are bringing all that shite back. I wasn’t sleeping well, either,” Ron said, not meeting Harry’s eyes.
Agitated, Harry rubbed at the scar, uncertain what to say. “Er… you’re probably right. It’s the Dementors,” he said uneasily.
“Yeah. If you’re all right, I’m going to go back to bed and try and catch a few more hours’ sleep,” Ron said.
“Er, Ron…” Harry said.
Ron stopped inches from the door, his hand already on the knob. “Yeah?”
“Thanks,” Harry said inadequately.
“No problem,” Ron replied, attempting to grin and failing miserably.
Once he left, Harry leaned back in bed, trying to put the dream together in his head. Voldemort had been part of him, but he was gone now. He was dead, and he wasn’t coming back. Still, in the early morning darkness with the remnants of the terrifying dream flitting through his mind, he couldn’t shake that small bit of uncertainty. Pulling at his T-shirt, he glanced down at the scar on his chest. It was still there.
Voldemort was gone.
Breathing heavily, Harry lay back and reached for his wand. “Nox,” he said, causing the lights to dim. He attempted to go back to sleep, knowing it was useless. He was wound too tight. Tossing back and forth several times in an attempt to get comfortable, he finally gave it up as a lost cause. He reached over to his bedside table and opened the drawer.
He knew what he needed.
Pulling out a sliver of glass, he momentarily debated waking her so early. She’d have a full day of classes ahead of her. Still, he justified it by telling himself she’d have been worried when he didn’t contact her the night before.
Holding the mirror to his lips, he said softly, “Ginny.”
His mirror remained unchanged, only his pale, drawn face and red-rimmed eyes staring back at him.
“Ginny,” he repeated, a little louder this time.
As if he’d willed her there in his desperation, the mirror fogged over and Ginny’s sleep-tousled hair appeared. She impatiently swiped it from her face.
“Harry?” she said urgently, the drowsiness rapidly disappearing from her eyes. “Are you all right? Why didn’t you contact me last night? I’ve been worried sick and barely able to sleep a wink.”
Harry was uncomfortably reminded of Mrs. Weasley.
“Err… sorry about that. I’m calling now,” he said meekly.
Ginny’s eyes appraised him coolly for a moment before a frown descended over her pretty features. “What happened?” she asked, and there was no chance of denying anything had happened.
Where to begin?
“It was a rough day with the Dementors,” he said, somehow feeling the uncomfortable knot in his chest lifting merely by speaking with her — even if she was slightly hacked off at him.
“You look like hell,” Ginny said, not unkindly.
Harry snorted. “I’ll never get that big head everyone thinks I have with you around.”
Ginny grinned sheepishly. “Really, though… what happened?”
“Duncan went down. I was sent after him, and we were sort of ambushed,” he said, feeling a slight chill run down his spine as he thought of the cold, scabby hand of a Dementor.
“What do you mean ambushed?” she asked sharply.
“There were more of them than we thought. It’s all okay now. Duncan was taken to St. Mungo’s. He broke his ankle in the crash, and we’ve both had plenty of chocolate,” Harry said, trying to reassure her. Comforting her somehow made him feel better.
She didn’t look fooled. “I wish you didn’t have to be so close to those Dementors. You’ve never had an easy time of it.”
“They have a lot more material to work with these days,” he said darkly.
“See! That’s what I mean. I don’t think this is the best assignment for you, Harry,” she said imploringly.
Harry sighed, shrugging. “Unfortunately, anyone who can cast a Patronus is working on this assignment now. We need to come up with a better plan.”
“Did you just get home now?” she asked, horrified. He saw her glance over at the clock on her bedside table.
“No, no. I’m sorry I didn’t contact you. It was late when we came home, and I sort of fell asleep,” he said quickly, hoping to rush past his error.
“Dementors are no excuse for missing our nightly chat,” she said primly, and Harry could see the trace of mischief — so reminiscent of her bothers — in her eyes.
“I don’t want to talk about Dementors anymore. Let’s talk about something else. Distract me — take my mind off it,” he pleaded
Ginny’s eyes glinted merrily, and a mysterious half-smile formed. “Talk about what? Are you asking me what I’m wearing to bed, Harry?” she asked.
Harry was taken aback. His eyes opened wide. “No! That’s not what… er… what are you wearing to bed?” he asked daringly.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she asked, smirking.
Harry’s mind was already conjuring plenty of images that definitely didn’t include flannel.
“Harry. Focus,” Ginny’s voice said from what sounded like a great distance. He wrenched his mind back to the moment.
“Wha… Sorry. What was that?” he asked, still dazed.
“We had a great Quidditch practice tonight. I think this team is going to be good. Are you still coming to our first match?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t miss that. Who knows — maybe Gwenog Jones will be there. She is friendly with Professor Slughorn, you know, and you’re playing Slytherin.”
Ginny frowned, not nearly as excited by that news as Harry thought she’d be.
“What’s wrong, Ginny?” he asked, having to stop himself from reaching out and trying to push the hair back from her face.
“I’m not sure I’m ready for her to see me play yet,” Ginny said, biting her lip.
Ginny’s self-doubt was unlike her, it took him a moment to wrap his mind around it. As far as he was concerned, Gwenog Jones would be lucky to have her. Certainly, she must see that. If not, he was going to ensure that she did.
“Are you having doubts about trying out?” he asked cautiously.
“No… just… loads of people try out, but only a few actually make it,” she said, and Harry suspected she was revealing something to him that had been wreaking havoc in her mind for quite some time.
“You’ll be one of the ones who make it,” he said confidently.
“You don’t know that,” she said, rolling her eyes. Still, he could tell by the tiny twitch on her left cheek that she was pleased.
Feeling bolstered he was on the right track, he said, “I do actually. You’re brilliant.”
A reluctant smile finally formed on Ginny’s face. “Unfortunately, recommendations from one’s boyfriend aren’t the only qualifier.”
“Well, they should be. I have complete faith in you, Ginny. She’ll be amazed, you wait and see. I am,” he said the last part shyly, feeling colour infuse his cheeks. He was grateful for the darkness of the room because he didn’t think she could tell.
“Thanks, Harry,” she said, beaming.
“No problem,” he replied sleepily. The stress of the previous day was finally catching up to him now that his talk with her had calmed him. He thought he could actually fall back asleep.
“You get some rest, and we’ll talk tomorrow. Don’t go falling off your broom or anything in the meantime,” she said fondly.
This time Harry rolled his eyes. “Ha, ha. You’re funny. Good night, Gin.”
“Night, Harry. Oh, and by the way, the answer to your earlier question is one of your old Quidditch jerseys — and a pair of tiny black knickers.”
She cut the connection before he had a chance to respond. His head was spinning, but no longer with Dementors or dreams about Voldemort. Another part of his body was clamouring for attention, as well. He never did get back to sleep, but for entirely different reasons.
Ginny and Siobhan joined the queue outside of Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. They’d just come from Muggle Studies to meet up with Hermione, who was coming from Arithmancy, and Parvati and Liz who were coming from Divination. They pressed themselves next to the wall of the castle as the rush of students passed. Ginny was still amazed by how many more students there were compared to the previous year.
She caught her breath and straightened her robes, which she’d bunched up while sprinting down the corridor. Judging by the number of students still moving, she wasn’t as late as she’d feared. Professor Radford didn’t tolerate tardiness.
As several first-years passed Ginny, giving her not-so-subtle glances, they yet again burst into giggles, and she heard the familiar chattering about her dating Harry Potter. When this had started at the beginning of term, she’d thought it was funny, but now she had to admit that she was growing weary of it.
“Oh, I have so much homework,” Hermione said, one shoulder sagging with the weight of her book bag. “Professor Vector is concerned we won’t be ready for NEWTs with the disruption last year.”
Hermione was always worrying about one class or another and the upcoming NEWTS. It was only October. Ginny couldn’t imagine what she’d be like by spring term. She turned her head to the side so Hermione wouldn’t catch her amusement and saw Andrew Kirke and Dean Thomas joining the queue. Andrew squeezed into the spot between Ginny and Siobhan.
“Hi, Siobhan,” he said brightly.
He was trying to look cool but failing miserably. Siobhan looked amused.
“All right, Ginny?” Dean asked.
“All right,” she said, nodding. “You?”
“I’m great. I received an owl from Harry this morning. He offered me a job over Christmas break,” he said, beaming.
“Right — Teddy’s room. He said he wanted a magical portrait in there. Can you do it?” she asked. She loved Harry’s idea about turning Sirius’s old room into a room for Teddy with a scene of the Marauders in Animagus form on the wall.
“’Course I can,” Dean said dismissively. “He didn’t say who Teddy was, though.”
“His godson. He’s Professor Lupin’s child,” Ginny replied sadly. She still grieved for Tonks and Professor Lupin. In a more perfect world, they’d be lining up to attend one of Professor Lupin’s lessons. She still thought he was the best Defence teacher they’d ever had.
The classroom door opened, and all the various students began filing into the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. The Gryffindors shared this class with the Slytherins. Before she’d entered the room, however, Ginny was distracted by a scuffle behind her. Several fifth-years who were walking in the opposite direction shoved one of Ginny’s classmates into the wall rather roughly.
“Watch it, Death Eater,” one of the fifth-years snarled.
“Can’t believe you have the balls to even show up here. You oughta be in Azkaban with your dad,” another said.
When the boy who’d been shoved straightened himself, he knocked his shoulder roughly into one of the fifth-years, sneering, and stepped around Ginny to enter the classroom. Ginny recognized him as Tim Travers, one of the Slytherin boys from her year.
Her instinct was to speak up against the unprovoked attack, but she held her tongue, feeling wrong-footed. Tim Travers was usually the one doing the bullying. In fact, during the previous year it had been Tim and his gang of Slytherins who were some of the most adamant on insisting Ginny’s own status as a blood-traitor made her less than human. He was also the lead jeerer in naming her one of Harry’s Slags.
As she finally opened her mouth to speak, Astoria Greengrass grabbed her arm and shook her head. “I’ll deal with it. You stay out of it. Your interference won’t be appreciated. Slytherins take care of their own.
“Twenty points each from Ravenclaw,” she called to the retreating backs of the students involved.
They looked over their shoulders to scowl at her.
“Isn’t your House supposed to signify intelligence? Not very bright to attack another student right in front of the Head Girl, is it boys?” she asked, following Ginny into the classroom.
“I didn’t hex anyone,” the Ravenclaw said.
“No, but as I’m certain you’re aware, Muggle dueling is also not allowed in the corridor,” Astoria answered coolly.
The previous year, there had been periodic wand inspections because the Carrows had been trying to discover the identity of those damaging the Chose One Most Wanted posters. A lot of the students had learned that Muggle methods couldn’t be identified as easily. Physical pushing and shoving had become far more prevalent than ever before.
Ginny took her seat and watched Tim take his next to Evan Bulstrode. The two of them conferred in hushed tones, but Evan didn’t appear surprised by what had happened. Ginny supposed she really shouldn’t be, either. Both Tim and Evan had been favourite students of the Carrows, and they’d never hesitated to volunteer to hand out punishments. It was no wonder some of the students who had suffered through it bore grudges. Still, as far as she knew, Draco Malfoy had been the only actual Death Eater amongst the students.
“What took you so long?” Hermione asked, her book already open across her desk and quill in hand.
Before Ginny had time to explain, Professor Radford entered the room. “Open your books to chapter seven. We’re going to start a unit on Dementors.”
Ginny quickly pulled out her book. Professor Radford was a mature witch with short, tight blonde curls that were just beginning to be threaded with grey. She was no-nonsense, and so far, had marked fairly. She’d taken points from all the Houses and didn’t seem particularly biased toward any of them. Still, Ginny didn’t feel as if she had a really good read on her. She was usually able to spot which House she thought each professor came from with unerring accuracy. She couldn’t place Professor Radford, however. She was hoping once the Quidditch season began she’d give herself away by wearing colours.
“I don’t know how many of you are aware, but the Dementors have been in the news quite a bit recently. The Ministry is seeking anyone who knows how to cast a Patronus Charm,” Professor Radford said, strolling regally to and fro at the front of the class. “For this reason, I’m certain there will be a section on Dementors on your upcoming NEWTs. We’re going to spend today reviewing what you know about Dementors, and the next class will be a practical on the Patronus Charm.
“I’m aware some of you are capable of producing one. Could you raise your hands, please?”
The former members of the DA — those that Harry taught — all raised their hands. The DA hadn’t covered much about Dementors the previous year as there had been so much other Dark magic being used at Hogwarts. None of the Slytherins raised their hands.
“Very good,” Professor Radford said, nodding. “It is very advanced magic, and not all of you will be capable of it, regardless, but even a mist can be beneficial.”
“Why are the Dementors in the news?” Parvati asked.
“As you are all hopefully aware, they left Azkaban and are now scattered amongst Great Britain. The Ministry is attempting to contain the problem,” Professor Radford said briskly.
“I heard they were breeding,” Dean said, scrunching up his face in distaste. “Though that’s a rather repulsive thought.”
Professor Radford nodded again. “Perhaps you’ll be relieved to note that breeding for Dementors doesn’t involve mating.”
There were sniggers and snorts amongst the students, causing the professor to stare at them in a very McGonagall-ish way. She waited until they’d quieted down before continuing.
“If you’re quite through. Dementors are a bit like fungi, multiplying if conditions are right, meaning despair and degradation, much as they did under Voldemort’s reign. You can limit their numbers when the general morale of the populace improves. I’m certain you’ve all noticed the absence of the heavy mist since Voldemort’s fall.”
Ginny noted there were still several students who shuddered when the professor used the name.
“I thought the mist was caused because they were breeding,” Ritchie Coote said.
“As I just explained, Mr. Coote, the mist is part of the conditions in which they thrive. The only way to destroy a Dementor is by starving it, but completely eradicating despair is easier said than done. You can drive them back, however by utilizing a Patronus Charm. Dementors feed off your emotions, but they are perhaps best known for their ultimate weapon — the Dementor’s Kiss. Can anyone tell me what this is?”
Predictably, Hermione’s hand shot straight in the air.
“A Dementor’s Kiss is the act of sucking out a person’s soul, leaving them in a permanent vegetative state. The Ministry occasionally used it as a punishment,” Hermione said, shuddering.
“Precisely. The new Administration has decreed that Dementors will no longer be used in any government role, but that still leaves the problem as to what to do with them. They are classified as non-beings, and are, of course, extremely dangerous. They do not, however, feed on souls, they feed on human emotion.
“Please read the full chapter, and for homework I want two scrolls on the problems facing the Ministry in how to control the Dementor population,” Professor Radford said, taking a seat at her desk.
Ginny began her reading, but her eyes kept seeking out Tim Travers and Evan Bulstrode, who weren’t doing a good job hiding the fact they weren’t doing the reading and were instead having a furious discussion. Ginny was too far away to hear what they were whispering, but she tried, anyway. Astoria discerned what she was doing and frowned.
Ginny purposefully dropped her quill and leaned over to pick it up, putting her head within Astoria’s hearing.
“I told you to stay out of it, Weasley,” Astoria said in a low voice, her eyes resembling cold chips of ice.
“Stay out of what? I’m still not sure what I saw,” Ginny said, keeping her eyes on Professor Radford so they wouldn’t get caught.
“It’s understandable that some people are upset with them, but it’s not okay to act on those feelings,” Astoria said.
“Has that been happening a lot?” she asked.
“It’s nothing compared to what’s going on in the rest of the wizarding world,” Astoria said, mumbling.
“What do you mean?” Ginny asked. Was this happening outside of Hogwarts, too? People taking out their anger on the families of Death Eaters? Perhaps they didn’t feel the punishment of a sentence in Azkaban without the Dementors was enough. Ginny had to admit, she’d felt that way herself.
“It doesn’t matter. They don’t want your pity,” Astoria said, purposely keeping her attention fixed on her reading.
“There’s a difference between pity and sympathy,” Ginny said, snapping. She wasn’t even certain what had angered her. These were the same boys who’d harassed her mercilessly the year before, yet she couldn’t help remembering how it felt to be the one being harassed.
Astoria’s gaze softened slightly. “It’ll take some time. Choices have consequences.”
“Miss Weasley and Miss Greengrass, kindly continue your conversation on your own time. Finish the reading and add another scroll to your homework assignments thanks to your chatty classmates,” Professor Radford said sternly.
Ginny’s face burned, and she hurriedly leaned over her book. Damn. There was Quidditch practice tonight, too.
Dinner that night was a raucous affair. There seemed to be a lot of extra energy amongst the students, and it was being burnt off in loud conversations. Ginny sulked over her beef stew as Hermione continued to berate her.
“I don’t understand what was so important that you felt it had to be discussed during class. As Head Girl, Astoria shouldn’t have engaged with you,” Hermione said for about the fiftieth time. Ginny thought Hermione was getting a perverse pleasure in criticizing Astoria. She still hadn’t fully forgiven her for being named Head Girl.
“Oh, Hermione, give it a rest. What’s done is done,” Siobhan said, surprising Ginny. Siobhan usually stayed out of Hermione’s way.
Hermione also appeared taken aback. “Well,” she said huffily, “I only thought you’d wanted to have Quidditch practice tonight.”
“I am having Quidditch practice tonight,” Ginny said, knowing where this was headed.
“But you have loads of homework,” Hermione said, aghast. “How are you going to get in all done if you’re flying about until dark?”
“We’re not going be flying about, we’re going to be preparing for the match on Saturday,” Ginny said through gritted teeth.
“Well, I don’t think Dean and Ritchie will appreciate you keeping them out there when it’s down to you we have to do an extra scroll on Dementors,” Hermione said loftily.
“Leave me out of it,” Dean said, waving his hand in the air.
“I’m up for Quidditch,” Ritchie said, stuffing more stew into his already full mouth.
“Honestly,” Hermione said, muttering as she returned to her own dinner. She’d just never understood about Quidditch. Ginny hadn’t yet shared with Hermione her desire to join a professional Quidditch team. What did it matter what she scored on her NEWTs if she didn’t have a winning team? She didn’t think Hermione would be at all impressed by her goals.
Ginny also suspected her mum would take Hermione’s view.
Still, she knew Hermione meant well, and she didn’t want to row. “Hermione, have you heard of any vigilante retaliation against the families of Death Eaters?”
She knew that would catch Hermione’s attention.
“What? No… have you? Is that what you were talking about with Astoria? I haven’t seen anything in the Daily Prophet. Ron hasn’t mentioned anything to me, either.”
“Well, to be fair, Ron is probably one of the ones who would be doing it,” Ginny said with a roll of her eyes.
“Ginny! He would not,” Hermione said, scandalized.
Ginny decided to let Hermione have that one.
“I have,” Liz said. She was sitting on Hermione’s other side, and she leaned in so both could hear. “My mum wrote me that my brother got in some trouble with the Ministry for cursing someone. I don’t know the whole story — it’s always difficult to get the full story from my brother — but he calls it retribution rather than cursing. From what I understand, it wasn’t just him. He’s become involved with a group meting out their own punishments.”
“Why hasn’t this been in the Prophet?” Hermione asked.
Liz shrugged. “I don’t know how widespread it is, or if it was more than a one off. It certainly hasn’t helped him in his custody battle.”
“His in-laws still want to take your nephew?” Ginny asked.
“And this counts as a mark against him. Of course, the Ministry is never going to let Muggles take a wizarding child if there’s an option, but his in-laws don’t know that.”
“What do you mean?” Hermione asked.
“Just that it’s in the Muggle courts right now because his in-laws are the ones seeking custody. If he can’t work it out, the Ministry will get involved and settle the matter in his favour,” Liz said, brushing her hair behind her ear.
“Is that what’s best for your nephew?” Hermione asked, outraged.
“I’m not going to take a stand against my brother, Hermione,” Liz said, not quite meeting Hermione’s eyes.
“Well, he sounds a bit of a hothead,” Hermione said delicately. “Perhaps your nephew would be better off growing up in the Muggle world until he’s ready for Hogwarts.”
“Like Harry was?” Ginny asked bitterly.
“That’s different, and you know it,” Hermione said, gasping. “I just don’t think it’s fair that the Ministry would automatically side with him just because he’s a wizard.”
“But he’s the parent. Even Muggle courts side with parents over grandparents unless there is something seriously wrong,” Siobhan said.
Hermione nodded, conceding. “I suppose. It doesn’t seem like there is any way to make everyone happy. What made you ask about retaliations anyway, Ginny?”
“I saw a couple Ravenclaws giving Tim Travers a hard time, and Astoria said something about it being nothing compared to what was going on outside Hogwarts,” Ginny said.
“His father was definitely a Death Eater,” Hermione said, her eyes slightly glazed so that Ginny suspected she was envisioning something none of the rest could see. “I saw his name on the lists of trials over the summer. He was sent to Azkaban.”
“And I really don’t care if the Ravenclaws or anyone else give Tim Travers a hard time,” Siobhan said resentfully. “And don’t you dare give me anything about school unity, Hermione. You weren’t here to see how gleefully he used the Cruciatus against the rest of us — with the Carrows’s encouragement.”
Hermione, who looked as if she was going to reprimand Siobhan, snapped her mouth shut. She frowned, staring back at Ginny.
“Did the Hogwarts students who used these curses receive any punishment?” she asked quietly.
“Dunno. The Carrows are in Azkaban, and everything was done under their orders, with Snape’s apparent approval at the time,” Ginny said, shrugging.
“After Umbridge left, I know Malfoy lost his Prefect status, though, and the Inquisitorial Squad was under her rule,” Hermione said.
“If anything was done, we weren’t told about it,” Ginny replied.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Astoria’s wispy blonde hair trailing behind her as she strode toward the doors. She cornered Simon Teevens, the Head Boy and the two of them left the Great Hall. Simon was from Ravenclaw, and Ginny suspected they were conferring about the incident outside of Defence Against the Dark Arts class. She wished she was close enough to hear it — or at least had a pair of Extendable Ears.
“Ginny, are we practicing?” Demelza called from further down the table.
Ginny nodded, standing up. Dean and Ritchie quickly followed suit.
As they all began to file out of the Great Hall, Ginny noticed Hermione’s troubled expression.
“All right, Hermione?” she asked.
“I don’t know if I could do it,” she said quietly, her eyes brimming.
“Do what?” Ginny asked, alarmed.
“Calmly sit it class next to someone who had tortured me,” Hermione said.
Ginny nodded, biting her lip. What could you say to that?
A/N: Did you like that I added an Infirmary to the Ministry? I figured with the amount of times I do Harry harm, I could at least give him a spot for a quick fix. ;)