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HP stories following Canon after HBP >> The Hardest Choice by Picadilly

Simple Text - To view MORE chapters use the chapter jump box to the right.
Chapter One: To Every Witch a Part to Play


Ginny Weasley looked out the kitchen window, staring absently at the leaves sailing across the Burrow garden. September the first was usually such a happy occasion. The thought of returning to Hogwarts had always been cause for celebration.

But instead of being happy, Ginny was miserable, alone in a world she no longer recognized. Her family was engrossed with the struggling Order of the Phoenix, there’d been no word from Harry, Ron and Hermione since they’d left abruptly over six weeks ago, and Hogwarts was under the control of Death Eaters.

Dumbledore’s death had plunged them into chaos, and it only seemed to worsen with each passing day. She wondered what her former headmaster would say if he could see them all now, and what had become of his beloved school.

Her father entered the room, looking as weary and worn-down as his tattered robes. She wished dearly that they didn’t have to say goodbye under such uncertain circumstances. She’d already been forced to say goodbye more times than she cared for.

Arthur pulled a chair from the kitchen table and motioned for her to sit on his knee. It was obvious something was weighing on his mind.

‘Dad, what’s wrong?’ she asked quietly.

She hadn’t sat on her father’s knee in many years, and it made her feel unexpectedly like a child again. He had only ever talked to her this way when the subject was serious, and demanded her undivided attention.

‘Ginny, Hogwarts is under the control of Death Eaters now, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that things will not be the same, especially for Muggle-borns. No matter what happens at school, Ginny, I want you to stay away from trouble. I know your first instinct is to help people, but you cannot compromise your safety for anything, or anyone.’

She stared at him, realizing what he was asking her to do. To abandon everything that she believed in.

‘You taught me to do what’s right,’ she said adamantly, standing. ‘You can’t honestly expect me to turn my back on that now, not when it’s more important than ever.’

Her father sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose wearily. She recognized the resignation in his face – she’d seen it there many times before after discussions with her mother. There was no accounting for the stubbornness of Weasley women, a fact Arthur knew well.

‘No, Ginny, I can’t,’ he said finally. ‘But you have to understand that any kind of rebellious behaviour will make you an immediate target. This is not going to be Hogwarts as you’ve known it.’

‘Dad-’

‘Ginny, I’m serious.’ His tone silenced her instantly. It was not often her father spoke with this kind of urgency, and she knew better than to argue with him. ‘You are going to be in danger, and your mother and I cannot protect you from it any longer. Snape and the Death Eaters are well aware of our connection with the Order, and of your involvement with Harry. They would be more than happy to have an excuse to-’

He stopped himself, apparently unwilling to finish the thought. When he looked at her again she wondered if he might be sick, his face was so pale.

He put his arms on her shoulders, forcing her to meet his eye. ‘I need you to promise me, Ginny, that you won’t go looking for trouble. No matter how unjust it seems, promise me you’ll control yourself.’

‘I…’

‘Promise me, Ginny,’ he pleaded.

She shut her eyes. How could she not? How could she stand to see her father like this, sick with misery and worry?

But turning her back on her friends, she thought, turning her back on Harry. She wasn’t sure it was a promise she could make.

‘I promise,’ she said finally, her voice resigned. But it was a lie, and she knew it. There was no way she could do nothing while people suffered around her. She knew her father would always think of her as a girl, but she had her own part to play in this war like everyone else. Her own battle to fight, she thought.

And like it or not, she was no longer a little girl. Voldemort had seen to that.


*


The journey to King’s Cross with her parents was tense, but uneventful. She said goodbye to them hurriedly before stepping on the train, anxious to get away from her mother’s glistening eyes. She walked the length of the train before she found Neville and Luna in an otherwise empty compartment.

For the first time in weeks Ginny felt herself smiling. She’d missed her friends dearly, she realized, as she sat next to Luna, who was reading the latest issue of the Quibbler.

‘Hi, Ginny,’ they both said. Luna looked up from her magazine.

‘Hi,’ she answered, watching them carefully. Like her they seemed anxious, only too aware of what was waiting for them at Hogwarts.

In moments the train was speeding down the tracks, the countryside passing in a swirling blur of colour and steam. After a moment Neville stood, looking up and down the empty corridor, and locked the compartment door. He performed the Muffliato charm before facing them.

‘We have to do something,’ he said. Ginny was surprised by the resolve in his voice, and knew instantly this was not the quiet, reserved Neville she was accustomed to. Both she and Luna listened eagerly.

‘We all know what Hogwarts is going to be like now Snape’s headmaster,’ he continued. ‘The Death Eaters will be able to do whatever they please, and Muggle-borns and Mudbloods will be first on the list.’

‘The younger students won’t be able to defend themselves,’ Luna chimed, her usually dreamy voice sounding hard. ‘They’ll be as good as sport for the likes of the Carrows.’

Neville nodded grimly. ‘We’ve got to do whatever we can to stand up to them. Do you both still have the Galleons that Hermione charmed during fifth year?’

They nodded. Ginny’s hand went to her robe pocket, where her DA coin remained as a reminder of their short, albeit successful rebellion against Umbridge. The stakes were so much higher now, she thought bitterly.

‘We’ve got to put Dumbledore’s Army back together, find anyone we can who wants to fight the Death Eaters,’ she said.

‘I knew I could count on the two of you,’ Neville answered, grinning slightly. ‘But we’ve got to be careful. Snape knows we were members of the DA, he’ll be expecting something. He’d love an excuse to let Death Eaters get their hands on a couple of blood traitors.’ He glanced at Ginny, his expression grave. ‘Especially you, Ginny. They’ll know about you and Harry.’

Ginny felt a chill creep along her spine. ‘I know. My Dad said the same thing.’

Neville sat next to her, sensing her unease. ‘Ginny, you don’t have to-’

‘No,’ she said, a familiar defiance in her voice. ‘I won’t sit by and do nothing while Snape destroys everything Dumbledore stood for. And besides, the Death Eaters would kill us all too at first chance.’

Ginny saw the same fierce resolve in Neville’s face, and knew her friends had no more intention of backing down than she did. Considering the danger they were walking into, it was a small comfort.

‘We’re going to need help,’ Luna said. ‘Someone at Hogwarts we can trust.’

‘McGonagall,’ Ginny answered quickly. ‘She won’t be able to stand the thought of Death Eaters running Hogwarts any more than we can. But Snape knows she’s in the Order. Involving her could make things more difficult for her than they already are.’

‘We have to try.’ Neville leaned back in his seat, his wand held tightly in his hand. ‘If we don’t there may not be a Hogwarts left for Harry, Ron and Hermione to come back too.’

If they come back.

Ginny cringed, unable to keep the traitorous thought from her mind. It was the same, desperate worry that had clawed at her since they’d left, a fear she could not keep at bay.

If they come back.


*


The journey to Hogsmeade Station was the fastest Ginny could remember taking on the Hogwarts Express, and it did nothing to alleviate her worry. It felt vaguely as if they were speeding towards some implacable doom, and all too likely their own. She hated Voldemort for making her fear returning to Hogwarts. The weathered castle was like a second home to her.

The three friends spent the remaining voyage discussing their plans to re-form the DA, and most importantly, which members of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff houses they could trust to stand up in the fight against the Death Eaters.

When the train stopped, all of the students disembarked quickly. It seemed that no one was eager to linger under the cold glares of Alecto and Amycus Carrow, who were herding people into the waiting carriages.

Ginny headed with Neville and Luna to the last carriage, keeping her hood drawn. She wanted to escape the Death Eater’s scrutiny for as long as possible, knowing she wouldn’t be able to remain anonymous once they reached the castle. Her flaming red hair as good as branded the name ‘Weasley’ across her forehead.

Neville and Luna stepped into the empty carriage and she followed out of blind habit. She looked back quickly at the Carrows, already loathing the sight of them, and was about to step into the carriage when she stopped, gasping loudly.

For the first time, Ginny noticed what was pulling the carriages.

Great, scaly beasts with wings like mottled leather, their red eyes flaming against the dark backdrop of the autumn night. They were like demon horses, steaming and thrashing, and her mind flashed to the stories that Fred and George had liked to tease her with as a girl, the kind that had filled her childish heart with terror.

‘Ginny?’

She started. Neville was peering around the carriage door at her, worry on his face. He followed her eyes to the where the Thestrals were bridled, realization dawning suddenly.

‘Ginny, it’s all right. They’re just Thestrals. Remember, we took them to the Ministry of Magic?’

She relaxed a little, though the memory of flying across London on an invisible horse was not a fond one.

‘Yeah,’ she said, ‘I didn’t-’

‘What is the meaning of this hold-up!’

It was Amycus Carrow, his voice pitiless, striding towards their carriage with his wand outstretched. He looked as if he would enjoy the thought of getting to discipline a student away from the watchful eyes of the Hogwarts staff.

Carrow grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her towards him, throwing back her dark hood. In an instant Neville was on his feet, his wand pointed at Carrow’s heart.

‘Let her go,’ he said dangerously.

‘I don’t think so, boy,’ said a new voice, and Carrow’s sister Alecto stepped from behind the carriage, her wand on Neville. ‘Put away your wand before I show you the true meaning of sorry.’ Her eyes were full of malice, reminding Ginny unpleasantly of Bellatrix LeStrange.

‘It’s all right, sister,’ Amycus spat. ‘I caught this one causing trouble, holding up the carriages.’

Alecto glanced at Ginny for the first time, and a malicious smile spread slowly across her face.

‘Why, Amycus, I believe you’ve happened across a carriage of blood-traitors,’ she said, laughing gleefully. ‘This is the Weasley girl.’

A chilling look of pleasure spread across his face, making the two Death Eater’s look more like brother and sister than they had before. ‘Weasley? You mean Potter’s-’

‘Yes, Potter’s little ragamuffin,’ Alecto gloated, her eyes scaling over Ginny. She looked into the carriage at Neville and Luna. ‘And you must be Longbottom. Yes, Bellatrix told me to give you a special welcome just from her.’

Ginny could feel Neville’s fury. He still hadn’t lowered his wand.

‘And what’s your name, girl?’ she spat, pointing her wand at Luna. Luna, to her credit, didn’t flinch.

‘Luna Lovegood.’

‘Lovegood? I don’t recognize the name, but I’m sure you’re as much of a traitor as these two if you’re keeping such disgusting company.’

Amycus was beginning to fidget anxiously. Some of the older students were starting to poke out from the other carriages, wondering why they were not moving.

‘What should we do with them?’

‘Nothing,’ Alecto answered, lowering her wand. ‘For now. We can inform Headmaster Snape of this little mishap, and deal with them at the castle.’

Amycus smiled in anticipation, his furtive glances making Ginny feel ill. He let go of her robe, pushing her towards the carriage, and she felt herself strike the open door. Neville reached down and caught her quickly, pulling her into the carriage. The door swung shut and immediately the carriage was moving forward, the last in a dark, bleak line.

Neville touched her forehead gingerly, withdrawing his fingers to reveal a smear of blood. ‘Are you all right?’

Ginny wiped her forehead with the sleeve of her robe, breathing deeply. She wouldn’t admit it, but the Carrows had shaken her. She hadn’t expected things to be so bad so quickly.

‘It’s all right, I’m fine,’ she lied, brushing it off. ‘Thank you, Neville, for standing up for me.’

Neville looked at her thoughtfully, brushing his hair from his eyes. ‘I know it must be strange for you, not having any of your brothers here…or Harry.’

She smiled sadly. ‘Yeah,’ she answered, not trusting herself to speak.

‘I promise you, I won’t let anything happen to either of you,’ he said, looking from her to Luna. ‘The Carrows will regret crossing any of us.’

‘Dumbledore’s Army,’ Luna said firmly, pointing her wand between them.

‘Dumbledore’s Army,’ Ginny and Neville echoed, crossing their wands with Luna’s. Though trivial, the act stood as a silent bond between them.

For a long while the three friends sat in silence, their sense of foreboding growing with every minute they drew nearer to the castle.

Eventually, Luna turned to her, speaking softly. ‘You’ve never seen the Thestrals before now, have you?’

Ginny shook her head.

Luna looked regretful, almost as if she wanted to tell Ginny that she was sorry.

Ginny knew as well as Luna did what it meant. In order to see the Thestrals, she had to have seen someone die. And not just anyone - she had watched Dumbledore die.

She had stood, rooted to the ground in horror, as Dumbledore tumbled like a broken doll on the impossibly long fall from the Astronomy Tower. Had heard the sickening thud his body made as it hit the ground, and known as soon as she heard it that there was no hope. He was gone. Dumbledore was dead.

The carriage lurched suddenly, shaking Ginny from her dark thoughts. They had reached their destination. The castle loomed outside on the hillside, looking more sinister than ever before.

Steeling herself, Ginny stepped from the carriage with Neville and Luna, trying to prepare for what was to come.

But try as she might, Ginny couldn’t banish the sight of Dumbledore’s broken body falling through the starless night, or the final, deathly green light that had followed him.









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