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Chapter 2 : Neville's Visitor
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Late the next morning, Ginny and the others set off for St. Mungo’s, carrying a box of just-baked gingersnaps for Neville and a small package of uncertain contents for George. The hospital was crowded with fighters wounded during the war and victims of Death Eater attacks, not to mention others suffering from magical mishaps and illnesses. Neville was on the fourth floor.
Harry told the attendant who they were looking for. She looked at them sharply. “He’s on our no visitors list. Family only.”
“Please,” said Harry. It was more of an order than a request. The nurse looked right at him, clearly about to tell him off, then noticed his scar. She paused for a minute, staring. “I suppose there are certain exceptions... You’re lucky, though. He just woke up.” She led them to the room.
Neville was sitting up in bed, eating a bowl of oatmeal. Surrounding him were flowers, cards, chocolate frogs, and various other gifts from his admirers. A large toy snake hung carelessly over the back of a chair. His face and chest were heavily bandaged and he had several tubes coming out of him in various places.
Their friend looked up when they entered and smiled when he saw who it was. “Harry! Hi, Ron! Hermione, how are you?” He paused before adding, “Ginny.”
As she had known it would, their last encounter hung heavily in her mind. She remembered the moment perfectly. It had been the previous spring, only a few days before the Easter holidays. In theory it was a DA meeting, but everyone else was either in hiding or currently in detention, so it was just the two of them. Neville had overheard Snape telling someone about a meeting, and something about “don’t tell Minerva,” which clearly meant Death Eater business. They were discussing a way to spy on the meeting when the disagreement began. Ginny wanted to go on her own – she knew a solid hiding spot near Snape’s office – but Neville wouldn’t hear of it. “Don’t be stupid, Neville,” she’d argued. “I’ll tell you exactly what they said after, and at least if I get caught it will only be one of us getting cruciated.”
“No. I’ll do it,” he’d argued back.
“Neville, you got it the last two times!”
“No, last time we both did.”
“They made me stay. Did you know that? They made me watch while they tortured you…” His voice faded out. Suddenly she saw it, saw a fear in his eyes that she knew wasn’t for himself, and a desperate glimmer of hope. How had she never noticed?
“It’s okay. You and Harry are still… I get it. And who wouldn’t choose him over me,” he added bitterly. She’d never heard bitterness in him before, and for some reason it made her feel like she was porcelain, about to shatter.
“No, Neville, that’s not it at all. Anyone would be lucky… but Harry, well, I don’t know why, but he’s the one. It’s always been that way for me. I’m sorry.” She really was.
Neville turned away then and stood to leave. Over his shoulder he said, “Alright then. If you really want to be the one, fine. But please, please don’t get caught.” And then he left.
She had been caught, and the Carrows did make him watch. He hadn’t even been spying; it was pure cruelty. Almost as bad, it meant that even they had seen what Ginny had not. The glances and hesitant touches – subtle things, a hand on her shoulder, nothing more – that betrayed his feelings.
All this ran through Ginny’s mind in an instant. When she shook herself free from the memory, she was relieved to see the others hadn’t noticed. Neville was chatting naturally and showing them the stuffed snake, a gift from Hannah Abbott.
“By the way,” he was saying, “how did you get in? They have me on the no visitors list.”
They all looked at Harry, who shrugged embarrassedly. “Now that you mention it, why the high security? Do they think you’re still being targeted?”
“Hard to say. Might have just been a rogue attack, but it might have been organized.”
Ron nodded his agreement. “Mulciber, Goyle, Nott… a number of the scumbags are still in hiding.”
“Exactly right, Ron,” came a voice from the door. Kingsley Shacklebolt glanced around the room, taking in his company. “How convenient to find you all together. I am here to talk with Neville for the same reason I had hoped to speak with you next week, Harry.” Ron and Hermione looked at Harry in surprise. After the shock of learning Neville was in the hospital, he must have forgotten to tell them about the invitation.
“Why is that, Minister?” Neville asked. He looked thoroughly confused. Ginny supposed that, not having as strong a connection with the Order of the Phoenix, he didn’t know Kingsley as well as the others. The visit must have seemed completely out of the blue to him.
“All five of you contributed greatly to our victory at the Battle of Hogwarts. You might have realized, Neville, that your actions didn’t go unnoticed.” Kingsley gestured at the large pile of gifts. “McGonagall tells me you were a real leader for the students last year.” Neville’s face was nearly purple with embarrassment. Ginny thought he could probably count on one hand the number of times he’d received such a compliment.
“Ron, Hermione,” the Minister continued, turning to the couple. “You also showed great courage and loyalty. And Harry, well, nothing really needs to be said about you, does it?”
The whole group of them was clearly feeling awkward about the praise. Ron’s face was almost as red as his hair. Ginny tried her best not to feel slighted. You did everything you could. You fought. You survived. Anyway, Kingsley was still talking. “You might be aware that the Auror Department at the Ministry took a hard hit during the war. We need recruits. Badly. Now, I know none of you sat your N.E.W.T.s. I know you’re not fully qualified. That being said, considering the circumstances, and considering what you’ve each already accomplished, I would like to offer all four of you positions as Aurors in the department. Remember, if you accept you will have to train hard, but I’m confident you will succeed. Please let me know as soon as you can. As the attack on Neville shows us, there is much to be done.”
He moved for the door, but halted for a moment, adding, “Oh, and Ginny… the Ministry has a policy against recruiting students before their seventh year. A year from now, you will be most welcome.” And with that he left, ignoring the stunned expressions stamped on their faces.
For a while, it seemed as if they had all gone brain dead. After some time, Ron broke the silence. “Blimey! Didn’t see that coming. Do you think you’ll accept?” This was directed at Hermione, who shook her head no.
“Well, I’m doing it, no question,” said Harry. Of course he would rush to play hero. If Ginny were a helpless sort of girl, keen to play the role of damsel in distress, he’d probably be begging her to take him back. Too bad for both of them, she had an independent streak a mile wide.
“I’m signing up, too,” Neville agreed.
“Definitely,” said Ron.
“It’s totally unfair, Ginny complained, turning on Harry, Ron and Hermione. “You lot didn’t have a seventh year, either. I don’t see what difference it makes.” She knew she was acting jealous, but she couldn’t help herself.
“Oh, come off it,” Ron said. “You can join up a year from now, anyway. You heard what he said.”
“Besides,” Harry grinned, “I’d bet my whole Gringott’s vault you’ll be Quidditch Captain this year. Wouldn’t want to miss out on that, would you?”
She smiled back, feeling better. There’d been no Quidditch during her sixth year, and she missed flying like mad. “Good point,” she agreed. “But you lot better turn up for at least one game, or I’ll sneak U-No-Poo into the Christmas pudding.”
Harry and Ron laughed, while Neville looked confused. “What’s”—
“Trust me, Neville,” Hermione interrupted him, “you don’t want to know.”
They spent another hour or so visiting with Neville, reliving old DA memories and wondering about Auror training. Ginny couldn’t have said exactly how it happened, but whatever the cause, Neville seemed to have dealt well with her turning him down. He wasn’t especially friendly to her, but he wasn’t giving her the cold shoulder either, and that was a good sign. Ginny was strangely disappointed. She knew this was selfish, considering she didn’t return his feelings. It was good to see he’d moved on. Of course it was. He was her friend. She drilled this into her mind, trying to ignore the thoughts just beneath her surface. Because the truth was, it scared her to see how easily she could be forgotten. If Neville could do it, surely Harry could, too.
After a while they could tell Neville was getting tired, so they excused themselves and headed for Diagon Alley. Ginny wasn’t really looking forward to their visit with George. Ever since Fred died, he’d been quiet and sulky and nothing like the enthusiastic person she knew. Although, thinking about it now, she realized he’d always been the tamer of the twins, the more reserved one. Not actually reserved, mind you, only more so than Fred.
The ravages of the war were still evident in Diagon Alley, but it was nevertheless livelier than Ginny had seen it for some time. A few new shops had opened, and the street was crowded with customers, none of them afraid for their lives. Although, she reminded herself, that was foolish. Neville had been attacked in this very spot only days ago, and posters for missing people – both Death Eaters and innocents – adorned the walls and lampposts at frequent intervals.
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes looked kept up, but Ginny noticed that the signs in the windows advertising Anti-Gravity Hats and Reusable Hangman were the same ones that had been there a month ago. Inside, a 20-something witch was helping customers at the register. Ron approached the clerk and said, “We’re looking for George. You know where he is?”
“Aye,” she answered in a slight brogue. “Who’s askin’?”
She looked more attentively at him and nodded. “Maister Weasley is in th’ back.” She gestured to a curtained doorway behind the counter. “Go oan back if ye like.”
“Thanks,” he answered, and they all skirted around the register and behind the curtains.
George was standing over a crowded desk, fiddling with a pair of what looked like Quidditch goggles. He was muttering and scowling, and as they approached, he threw the goggles over his shoulder.
“Hey, watch it,” Ron said, and walked forward to greet his brother.
George hopped in surprise. “You lot snuck up on me. Una is supposed to give me a warning when someone’s coming. That’s the third time this week.”
“Yeah? Who else has been visiting?” Ginny asked. She wasn’t expecting an interesting answer, and was surprised when George blushed and hurriedly changed the subject.
“What are you carrying?” George gestured at the bundle in Harry’s arms.
“I don’t know,” Harry answered, setting the package down. “It came to the Burrow for you a few days ago.”
“Well, let’s open it, why don’t we?” He ripped off the paper, revealing a wad of padding.
From this, he pulled out a wand and a letter.
The letter read, in Hagrid’s messy scrawl:
All the professors have been working night and day to clean up Hogwarts and get things right for the new term. Found this the other day, under a suit of armor. I’m sure you recognize it – it belonged to your brother.
Come and visit sometime. Fang and I would love to see you.
A dead weight settled in Ginny’s stomach, but she did her best to ignore it, focusing instead on George. He held Fred’s wand up and studied it for a brief moment before the tears came, heavy and silent. Without thinking, Ginny pulled him into a hug. Ron’s hand came to his shoulder only a moment later.
Hermione took Harry by the wrist and yanked him back toward the shop, mumbling, “We’ll just browse for a while…” and leaving the three siblings alone. They stayed as they were for a time, until their eyes were more or less dry, and then George pulled out of his sister’s embrace and collapsed into his desk chair.
“I don’t think I can do it without him. I’ve been trying all week to make those stupid X-Ray goggles work, but I can’t. Fred always had the better ideas, he was the one who made it all happen. Without him… I can’t do it. I just can’t.” This was pure fiction. Whatever he might have claimed, Ginny knew for a fact that George had initiated several of the store’s most profitable products, particularly in the defensive line.
“George, you know that’s not true. You’ve invented a ton of stuff,” Ron pointed out, clearly thinking the same as Ginny.
Apparently in a doomsday sort of mood, George ignored this. “I’m a failure. Mum was right, we never should’ve done it.” He tried to wipe the tears away, but they were insistent.
Ginny sat down in a chair identical to George’s – the one that had belonged to Fred – and looked at her brother. “Lighten up, will you?”
“Sis”—Ron tried to warn her off, and George looked a bit shirty, but she kept on.
“Look, you’re being too hard on yourself. If it was switched, if it was Fred here trying to do it alone, he would feel just as lost as you.”
“Oh, yeah, right,” George said dismissively.
“No, it’s true,” Ron argued. “Don’t you remember when you got dragon pox? You were sick for a week, and Fred went crazy with boredom.”
“That’s right.” Ginny added. “He spent the whole week sulking. When you were recovering he wanted to give you a laugh. Ruddy git tried to jinx our brooms so they could only make left turns. Lucky for us he didn’t know the spell. Said it was ‘one of yours.’”
They chuckled at the memory. Miraculously, George seemed to be feeling somewhat better. “Thanks. And thanks for bringing the wand.”
With George’s mood comparatively cheery, the three of them found Harry and Hermione and headed off for lunch. The others were chatting about Neville and Kingsley, but Ginny couldn’t stop thinking about Fred. One of the worst things to realize was how much he would never be able to do. Fred would never hold his wand again. He would never again jinx Ron, or disarm someone, or make Percy meow like a cat. He would never laugh, and he would never crack a joke. It was so much to give up. Even though the others were smiling as they entered the Leaky Cauldron, Ginny was filled with a deep feeling of sadness that she couldn’t shake. Harry noticed her silence, and fell back to walk alongside her.
“You doing alright, Ginny?”
“I’m fine!” Why did he always baby her? She wanted to be indignant, but when he raised his eyebrows at her sudden temper, she caved immediately. “I can’t stop thinking about Fred.”
She hoped he would take her hand, but he merely nodded as they took their seats. “It’s awful, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, it is.” Neither of them said anything else, but Ginny felt surprisingly better. People so often tried to deny her grief, to usher it away into hidden corners, but Harry didn’t do that. He acknowledged it, put it center stage, and she would have thought that would hurt more, but it didn’t. She was reminded of the sometimes bitter cold of a Hogwarts winter. She had found that the best way to cope with a particularly chilly day, especially on the Quidditch pitch, was to say, yes, it’s bloody freezing out here, to feel the cold, accept it, and simply move on. Maybe grief was like that, a thing to recognize and accept, but not to dwell on. That seemed to be Harry’s strategy, and if anyone knew about loss, he did. Still, it would have been nice if he’d held her hand, she thought, smiling in spite of herself.
Even without that attention, she felt considerably better, and refocused on the others just in time to hear Hermione say, “I’ve written to Professor McGonagall, and she’s all for it.”
“All for what?” Ginny asked.
“Oh, returning to Hogwarts. I’m going back to earn my N.E.W.T.s.”
“True bookworm, that one,” Ron laughed.
George nodded gravely, “Right mad, I’d say.”
“I think it’s fantastic,” Ginny said. N.E.W.T.s aside, Hermione was one of her best friends and it would be nice having her around. And probably even in the same dorm, come to think of it.
“That’s why you’re turning down Kinglesy, then?” Harry asked.
“Yes and no,” Hermione answered. “I don’t really fancy being an auror any way, but I guess I might have considered it if I wasn’t going back. Not permanently, though. Defense was never my strong suit.”
“Everything is your strong suit,” Ron said, rolling his eyes and taking a large bite of pie, oblivious to the affectionate look Hermione gave him.
“Does mum know about this plan? She’ll probably be on you and Harry to do the same thing when she hears.” Ginny pointed out.
“Merlin, you’re right,” said Ron. “Hermione, don’t breathe a word.”
“She already knows. She was in the kitchen when the owl came yesterday.”
“But she didn’t even mention it, did she?” Harry asked.
“I told her… well, I told her I would try to persuade you.” Hermione admitted, and Harry and Ron immediately started to protest. (George, on the bright side, looked thoroughly entertained.) “BUT,” she said, interrupting their squabbles, “you hadn’t found out about Auror training yet. I’m sure she’ll see reason and let you off.”
Hermione continued eating unconcernedly, but the others exchanged doubtful glances, with Ron muttering under his breath, “You’d think she’d never met the woman…”
Author's Note: Thanks so much for reading! I love reviews, if you've got the time :) Also, a quick word about Quidditch - it's not mentioned at all during Ginny's 6th year in the books, so I decided that it was cancelled. It might not be strictly canon, but it works better for the story. Last thing: I know this isn't the most exciting story so far. There will be more action in chapter 3, promise ;)
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