Chapter 3 : Reckless Endangerment
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“Wait, you mean there are elves here?” The small girl asked after hearing Collin compliment their delicious cooking.
“Loads of them!” He replied.
“Can we meet them?” she asked excitedly, bouncing up and down in her chair. Her feet were swinging wildly beneath her, too short to touch the ground.
“Well…” Collin hesitated, and quickly looked to Ginny for assistance.
“Sure you can!” Ginny said, coming to Collin’s rescue. He had probably never met a single house-elf in his life, except Dobby, and he was a bit much for anyone. “You just have to find them first!”
“Well, where do they sleep?” She asked, undeterred.
“Not really sure. They can go invisible you know, so you’ll have to keep a sharp look out for anything suspicious.”
The tiny girl giggled again, and reached for another serving of pudding. Just as she was opening her mouth to take a bite, a loud hiccup escaped from her mouth. Her eyes went wide and she dropped the spoon she was holding to clamp her hands over her mouth.
Alarmed, Ginny quickly asked, “What’s wrong?” but as another hiccup escaped from Lily’s lips, bubbles started slipping through her fingers.
“Lily?” Neville asked, watching them slowly rise above the table, “Are those… are those from you?”
The poor girl just kept her hands over her mouth, tears slowly making their way down her face. She tried to mumble a response, but they couldn’t understand her.
Ginny shook her head and grinned at Lily “That is so awesome!” she said, a little bit more enthusiastically than she normally would. There was no reason for Lily to feel embarrassed by bubbles at her age, and it definitely was embarrassment turning her face pink. “You know, when I was little, every time my mum would try to wash my face and I didn’t want her to, my freckles would run.”
Three pairs of eyes stared at her, six eyebrows drawn into quizzical expressions. Another bubble escaped through Lillian’s hands.
“They did!” Ginny said, “They’d run away! She said she’d end up chasing them around with the washrag trying to get them to go back into place.” She looked between them. “What? Sometimes magic happens when you don’t want it to. My freckles ran away when I was younger, Lillian hiccups bubbles.” She turned to Collin. “Must’ve been something strange you did when you were little your mum couldn’t explain. Something that makes sense, now you know you’re a wizard.” She stopped for a moment, then added, “Harry told me once that he couldn’t cut his hair. It all grows back overnight.”
“I bounced.” Neville said suddenly. “My uncle was afraid I didn’t have any magic in me,” he turned to the hiccuping girl across from them, “ ‘cause most kids do something odd when they’re young, only I didn’t. So he hung me out of a window one night. Accidently dropped me. I bounced. The family was so happy, someone asked him to it again.”
Lillian had taken her hands away from her face, and was once again adding to the throng of voices with her laughter.
They finished dinner in relative ease, trading stories from their childhoods. Collin and Lillian’s were generally confusing (she had no idea what a micron-waver was, but apparently it was very entertaining to explode things from within it), and Neville’s rather enlightening. He had been an only child, and the situations he found himself in were utterly unfamiliar to her. Most of Ginny’s stories involved her brothers in some form or fashion, and by the time dessert was finished, she was aching to write to Fred and George. They were always the most likely to give her the information she needed. She was always going to be their little sister, but they respected her decision to become involved, especially after Percy.
Just as the noise level was reaching a deafening level, there was a bright flash from the front of the Hall. Snape was standing now, wand held high above his head. Apparently he didn’t have the patience to be acknowledged.
“If you would please give me your attention, I have a few words to say before we retire,” he announced, as though every head in the room was not already turned toward him. He surveyed them all once more a moment, eyes lingering on a few bubbles floating up from the Gryffindor table. As he frowned at them, Ginny found herself in an awful mood once again. She glared as he continued.
“As I’m sure our return students noticed upon their arrival, this school year will be more stringent than it has ever been before. New rules will be implemented and old rules enforced. For example, due to past misuse of the generous curfew given to older students, all students must be in their dormitories by seven o’clock.” A few murmurs of protest broke out, but Snape was not to be interrupted, “Silence!” he barked at them. “You will remain quiet until I am finished.” He paused as though daring someone to defy him.
Reluctantly, Ginny held her tongue. Now is not the time, she told herself, Now is not the time…
“Detentions are no longer to be served on an individual basis, and will now be located in the dungeon,” Ginny’s stomach gave lurch. That couldn’t mean anything good, “and will be supervised by the Carrow Professors.” The two blondes near Hagrid grinned at each other. The woman held up a hand and waved at the students looking at her, a garish grin marring her face. Snape continued, “As always, the Forbidden Forest is dangerous, and therefore out of bounds. Quidditch tryouts are to be held at the leisure and discretion of each house’s captain. No first-years will be allowed on a team. Argus Filch is our caretaker once again this year. Any questions about items forbidden within the corridors should be brought to his attention. That being said,” the hall was silent as he paused as though searching for the right words, his eyes still sweeping over the Great Hall, “it has come to my attention that several students who should be here with us, are for some reason, absent.,” Tension in the room soared. No one dared speak, but several students, especially those in Gryffindor, turned about in their seats, counting out the missing students. There were plenty. Ginny’s hands instinctively balled into fists. She wasn’t sure she would be able to contain herself if he continued on the current subject, “or at least, they appear to be…This is a tragedy.”
Though Ginny never took her eyes off of the new Headmaster, she was positive that her knuckles were white; she had them gripped so tightly against her thighs. She was repeating Now is not the time, now is not the time, over and over again in an effort to keep her rump in the seat, hoping he would just move on.
“They may feel unwelcome, or as though they would be in danger here,” his voice oozed out into the hall. Now is not the time, now is not the time… “But I cannot impress upon you how wrong that assumption is. These walls will always be a haven for those who wish to learn. That being said, there are those who would wish to convince you otherwise.”
Now is NOT the time. Now is NOT the time…Ginny could hear the whistle starting to go off in the back of her head, only now there was no background noise to be sucked out of the world. Snape had already demanded silence, his lies spilling out to reach everyone.
“These miscreants,” her teeth clamped shut at the description, “would have you believe that we, your staff, your teachers, are dangerous. That we would abuse them, mistreat them even. They would have you believe that some of these missing students, are heroes.” Ginny closed her eyes in a last attempted to keep under control. “That is a lie.”
As the words rang out clearly in the silent hall, Ginny’s self control broke. She stood, suddenly, chair toppling backward loudly, adding her own punctuation to his bold declaration.
Once again her voice sounded deceptively calm. Even she had expected to scream the word, launch it across the stone floor like the explosion it should’ve been, but her plans weren’t working out particularly well today. Instead it assaulted him clearly and precisely, more like a knife between the ribs. A collective intake of breath from the entire student body (and most likely a few teachers as well) was proof that everyone had heard, in spite of her lack of volume.
All eyes in the hall were on her, now, something that Snape surely didn’t miss. She took a moment to let them take in the sight of her. Surely, the first thing they would notice was the Weasley red hair. Pick that out and the association with Harry Potter would dawn on them. Those that were cowards would then look away, just as they had in the train. The others, first-years, people unassociated with her, the honestly curious, would take in her appearance with a little more detail. Her nose was still swollen shut, surely turning purple by now. The robes she was given had been hand-me-downs, from several brothers ago, and showed new signs of damage-a tear in the hem, mud down the back.
“You killed Dumbledore,” she stated.
Now the peanut gallery was switching back and forth between her and the headmaster, heads whipping around so fast, surely some of them would be sore in the morning.
She opened her mouth to continue the onslaught, but found that she couldn’t speak. There was a warm sensation crawling throughout her body, lifting her out of her conscious state and into something a little more hazy. There was a whisper at the back of her mind, turn around, it suggested, just walk out. Not worth the effort… you should just walk away… she did feel rather tired. And it would be nice to just remove herself from the situation. Before she really thought about it, her foot was lifting off the floor. The haziness was a little confusing, but she hadn’t really decided to do anything yet, had she? Why am I standing, her own little voice asked. Shouldn’t we be sitting? Everyone else is sitting, aren’t they? And so she decided to sit instead. Problem solved, she thought nicely, enjoying the haziness.
It took a minute to realize…but through the haziness, it still felt as though she was moving forward. Walking away was better… the strange voice said again. No, Ginny insisted, I’m not walking anymore. I’m sitting! And she searched through the haziness to find her legs. She could feel her feet landing solidly one after the other, definitely not at rest. She concentrated on halting their progression, quite sure she would rather sit where she was.
An unyielding wall of stone met with the back of her head. The resounding crack was enough to make the haziness go away, reality painfully unpleasant. Apparently rather than sitting, her legs had just quit, sending her on a crash course with whatever was beneath her. In this case, the cold stone floor. Her head was swimming from the impact, and she kept her eyes closed a few moments, collecting herself.
Once the throbbing eased a bit, she opened her eyes. The difference wasn’t impressive. She was in a dungeon corridor, the nearest torch a few feet away, it’s weak light not making a dent in the darkness. It wasn’t a very welcoming sight, and she hurried to her feet, hoping she wouldn’t run into anyone. Ginny was unfamiliar with the dungeon’s twists and turns. She had never liked the feel of it in her younger years at Hogwarts, and tried to stay out of them as much as possible.
It took her about ten minutes to find a way out of the damp passages and into a more well-lit corridor. Though her heart was still pounding a little faster than normal, she breathed a sigh of relief at being in the light once again.
She paused for a moment, trying to hear if there was anyone coming for her from behind a suit of armor. Nothing seemed to be heading towards her. She left the empty suit behind and quickly made her way down the corridor. The students must’ve been dismissed as she neared the end of the hallway, the sudden commotion ringing all the way through the ground level of the castle. Soon enough, there would be plenty of students to blend in with. Ginny hoped she could at least make it to the common room safely, though how much protection she could expect to get there was questionable, she still had to go somewhere.
Ginny came to the end of the hall and cracked open the door at its end. She could see a good amount of students still making their way from the feast and heading up the stairs. They seemed oddly tense, only talking to one another in whispers hidden behind hands. Ginny took out her wand and conjured a black hat in an attempt to hide her oh-so-noticeable hair. Taking her chance before the teachers showed up, she darted forward into a particularly dense spot of yellow that had managed to avoid most of the Slytherin students starting to come her way. As the Hufflepuffs passed the grand staircase, she diverged from the group to climb the stairs with the remaining stragglers.
She hadn’t made it three steps up the stairs before a hand grabbed her shoulder. For the second time that day, Ginny found herself throwing herself backwards in an attempt to see her assailant, and once again, it was a friendly face looking surprised back at her.
“Cho?” Ginny gasped, completely taken aback at seeing the Ravenclaw.
Cho shook her head quickly, eyes wide, and clamped a hand over Ginny’s mouth, pushing her forward with the throng of other students.
“Shh! Be quiet. They’ll catch you. I’m taller, stay in front of me, I’ll try to take you as far as I can,” she said quickly.
Ginny pulled her head away form Cho’s hand, and ducked down in front of her. Unexpected or not, help was definitely welcome. She really wished the girl hadn’t held her mouth shut though… her face was getting a little sore, along with just about everything else.
It didn’t take nearly as long as Ginny expected, and the trip was surprisingly uneventful. They had only gone up two flights of stairs before the Gryffindor throng of first years blocked the way ahead. Ginny turned and nodded a quick thanks to Cho, who nodded back and quickly disappeared through a door pretending to be a solid wall.
The new prefects took the long way to the common room, stopping to give simple directions at each landing. It took forever. Ginny was suspicious of the portraits on the wall, darting back and forth excitedly, ogling at the students and whispering behind hands. She felt too exposed, and wished that they would hurry up. Every time they rounded a corner, Ginny expected Snape to be looming around waiting for her walk by, wand at the ready. Her muscles were sore and aching by the time the portrait of the fat lady was in sight. As all of the eleven-year olds piled in through the hole in the wall, Ginny waited her turn a good ways back, not wanting to draw any attention. Lillian approached, and reached forward to pull herself through. Her foot slipped, catching on the hem of her robe, and the prefect boy stopped to give her a hand. It made her happy to see that he beamed down at her. Maybe there’s still hope for them, she thought, and the line continued to move forward.
She had caught the password as the two new prefects had announced it to the group, and would wait for everyone, prefects included, to enter before making her way out and going in alone. If someone was waiting for her, it was better she entered alone. It would be awful for anyone else to get caught up in all this trouble with her.
Half an hour later, when the two apparently love-struck prefects were done snogging each other’s brains out, Ginny was able to limp her way to the portrait hole and gingerly climb through, grumbling all the way.
As she made her way into the Common Room, her heart rate bounced about a little more. There was no babble from students idling around, catching up with one another after being seperated for the holiday. It was highly unusual. What if they were waiting for her inside? She edged along the wall, trying to peek out into the circular room before just walking into a trap. To her dismay, there was a lone, dark figure looming about the fireplace, the wash of light in front making it impossible to distinguish who.
She stepped out quietly, wand at the ready, though as she did, the tall figure before her quickly turned, and the light illuminated her tight, high bun.
“Professor McGonagall,” Ginny breathed, “I’m so glad it’s you!” She crossed the room towards the fire and plopped down into her favorite chair beside it, utterly exhausted and now breathing heavily.
Professor McGonagall did not seem nearly as pleased to see Ginny. Her arms were folded tightly across her chest, eyebrows raised, practically disappearing into the brim of her dark green hat. The line of her lips was especially thin, her overall pallor particularly pale in the firelight.
“I can’t say that I am so comforted by our encounter, Ms. Weasley.” McGonagall snapped back at her. “Though I must admit, I prefer finding you here to in the dungeons in the morning.”
“Yes, Professor, I did try very hard to avoid that.”
“How did you try, exactly? From what I saw, you were practically begging them to haul you off and lock you up.”
Forgetting who she was speaking to, Ginny spat back, “I was only telling the truth!” a little louder than necessary.
Professor McGonagall seemed taken aback at being addressed in such a way. After regaining her composure a little, she sat down at the far end of a squishy couch next to Ginny.
“I know, dear. I know very well that what you spoke was the truth, but putting yourself into that amount of danger your first hour here will only make things more difficult for you.” Ginny was surprised. She had never heard the professor sound so tired before. McGonagall was always the unblinking, unmoving boulder of order and composure. Livid, yes, irate, often, but tired? It didn’t seem possible. She looked over and saw that the woman had removed her hat and glasses and was rubbing her eyes, head hanging down.
“I am doing everything I can to keep these students safe, as the Headmaster would’ve wanted me to. But I can’t do that when you recklessly endanger yourself like that.” Abruptly her head snapped back up, staring at Ginny with a sudden ferocity, “I can’t lose one of you here. I would never forgive myself for that. I’m not telling your mother that I’ve lost her only daughter here, not after keeping up with Fred and George for so long! You’ve almost died before, and I will not tell her that again, do you understand?” She stood, shoving her glasses back onto her face, a little color back into her cheeks. It was not very pleasant to have her normal snappish demeanor in place once again. “I expect you to uphold the name of Gryffindor. I expect you to give Professor Snape no reason to categorize you as a ‘miscreant’,” she paused at the door with her hand on the handle and turned back towards Ginny. “Or at least try to be discreet about it.” And with that, she left.
Ginny was left staring after her in confusion. So which is it then? She thought, tearing her tired eyes away from the door and gazing into the fire. Don’t do it, or don’t get caught?
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