"Stop hovering like a bloody mother hen, Weasley," Tobias growls.
Ginny rolls her eyes, but does take a deliberate step away from him, her hand dropping from his arm. Pissed off has pretty much been his base state the entire summer. Not that she blames him. It's probably far easier than facing what's ahead of them.
Students and their families walk around them as they stand on the train platform. A few of the students smile, others just give them suspicious looks. But that's nothing new. Not really.
It's a bit startling, being here. There was talk of not opening the school again so soon. The hospital visits and funerals and trials feel like they have barely finished. Even the school is apparently not completely repaired.
Yet here they all are, lining up to board the Hogwarts Express.
"Maybe your brother and Potter had the right idea," Tobias says after another person not so subtly looks down at his legs, only to quickly look away again.
Like they've never seen a bloke with a cane and a bloody enchanted leg before, he likes to mutter.
Tobias glares at the witch. "Skiving off abroad is sounding really good right about now."
"They aren't exactly on vacation," Ginny says, tone endlessly patient.
Ron and Harry left with Hermione for Australia a couple weeks before, beginning what seems to be turning into a long, arduous process of tracking down the Grangers. It's not like Hermione ever does things by half-measure, after all. She hid them very, very well.
Too well, if Harry's letters are anything to judge by.
He went along, and she isn't surprised by that. Not really. The three of them are doing it as a unit, as they have done all things for the last seven years. He's promised to write this time at least, and that's better. He even promised to come back. Someday.
She may even believe it.
Tobias sighs. "Are we sure we want to do this?"
Ginny is momentarily distracted by the sight of Astoria crossing the platform, wand steady as she guides her trunk up onto the train. It looks wrong, seeing her without Caroline by her side.
"No," she says. "Not in the slightest."
Tobias huffs. "Well, then, just so we're clear."
She must drift for a moment, losing time and place the way she does sometimes, because Tobias touches her arm.
"Gin," he says, voice soft.
She gives her head a small shake, looking up at him. His fingers squeeze gently, as if reminding her that they're doing this together.
She gives him a bracing smile.
"Come on, Weasley," he says, smacking his trunk with his cane. "Help me on the train, you lazy wanker. I'm a bloody war hero."
She takes his arm. "Come on, war hero," she says, voice wry.
They've faced worse.
After storing their trunks, Ginny and Tobias work their way through the compartments.
One of the first ones they pass by has only a single occupant in it, his face turned defiantly out towards the window as if to deny the scrutiny of any passing students. But despite the meticulous clothing and perfectly slicked-back hair, his fingers are pressing into his thighs, betraying discomfort.
It's strange to see him sitting alone, but Ginny thinks that's the way it will probably be from now on. Now that there is a clear winner and a loser, people find it much easier to toe a line.
"Gin?" Tobias says, noticing she hasn't followed.
"Give me a minute?" she says.
His eyebrows lift, glancing into the compartment. "Suit yourself," he says.
Draco looks up as she pulls the door open, and there's none of the posturing or belligerence she might expect. She isn't sure if that's because he's resigned himself or if they maybe reached a bit of an understanding at last. She thinks it probably doesn't matter.
"Weasley," he says, voice wary.
She doesn't say anything right away, taking some perverse pleasure in letting him squirm.
She's honestly surprised to see him here. She wouldn't have expected him to be daring enough to come back. Maybe this is what Dumbledore and Snape worked so hard to achieve though—one less victim to Voldemort's campaign of fear. Harry probably had a little something to do with it as well, that Draco ended up on this train and not in a cell. Or maybe the Malfoys' disgrace from both sides is thought to be punishment enough. She supposes only time will tell.
"You just planning on staring at me?" he demands, nerves betrayed by the way his hand isn't completely steady as he runs it over his hair.
She deliberately looks down at his arm, the smooth, untouched skin, as if the mark never sat there.
He tucks his arm into his chest, a shadow passing over his face. "It went away when he did."
"Doesn't quite seem right," Ginny says, leaning back against the door.
He turns to look at her with a frown. "What?"
"When I'm stuck with mine."
He winces, chin automatically lifting as if to counteract the telling lapse in control. She knows then that he understood exactly what he was doing all those years ago. But so did she.
"Why me?" she asks, finally wanting to know why he always tormented her of all people, why she always enjoyed his special attention.
Draco doesn't pretend not to know what she means, turning his cool eyes on her. "Because you didn't deserve to be in Slytherin."
She rolls her eyes. "Of course. I'm a Muggle-loving blood traitor."
"No," he says.
She looks at him in surprise.
"Well, yes, you are," he amends, his lips twitching slightly. "But that's not why."
She frowns. "Then why?"
He gives her a look like he thinks she's being thick. "Because it was so obvious you never wanted to be there."
Ginny blinks back at him in surprise. She never considered how apparent that might have been to the others. But maybe the stranger part is that she can't even imagine being anything else.
She crosses over to sit down next to him, Draco leaning back as he does, his hand reaching for what she assumes is his wand. But rather than cursing him, Ginny merely pulls up her own sleeve, holding her arm out to him. It takes him a moment to build up the nerve to actually look, his mouth falling open when he does.
"What did you—?" he says, eyes tracing over the sharp angles and round body of a spider rendered with precise, tension filled lines. Each detail is carefully outlined as it stretches out across her wrist, appearing to writhe and weave itself together out of nothing.
Ginny still thinks it may be the best work Millicent has ever done.
"What do these mean?" Draco asks, finger stopping just short of touching the runes inked in the center where the old green lines are still carefully visible.
Ginny watches him, waiting for him to meet her eyes before speaking. " I define ."
It is what you make of it.
They regard each other for a long moment. Draco is the first to look away.
She gets to her feet.
"See you around, Weasley," he says, eyes staring out the window.
"Yeah," she says, leaving him to his solitude.
In the next car, the door doesn't open into a corridor. There are no compartments, just one giant room with chairs and tables haphazardly spread throughout.
Martin and Demelza are in one corner with their heads close together, Seamus and Dean talking to Terry nearby. Neville and Hannah sit on either side of Tobias, Hannah saying something that seems to be making Tobias equal parts horrified and pleased.
Reiko and Susan watch Luna with varying levels of disbelief as she shows them something in the latest edition of The Quibbler.
"Ginny," Luna says, looking up at her and smiling. "There is a seat here, if you would like."
She takes it, squeezing Reiko's hand as she passes. "So what are you showing us?"
Luna begins a long discussion of the newly discovered Netastrian Imps.
Ginny settles back, the train swaying into motion under her feet, the hum of student voices all around her.
Not houses, just survivors.
In the Great Hall, the clean up is not completely finished. Ginny can see a bit of sky through a crack in the enchanted ceiling as she sits at the head of the Slytherin table. It makes her think of Quidditch and open spaces and an entire world of possibilities.
She listens to the Sorting Hat sing its song, this one operatic and lilting and no doubt years in the making. Brighter days and new purpose, a future some began to doubt would ever be.
Four pillars. Four foundations. Four friends. Hogwarts stands or falls.
It's just a hat, but Ginny feels like maybe it's looking straight at her.
The small group of timid little first-years look impossibly young as they shuffle towards the front of the chamber one by one.
Ginny meets each of the newly sorted Slytherin with a steady gaze and a solemn little nod. You are one of us.
She'll teach them what it really means to be Slytherin—choice and ambition and cunning and all the murky shades of grey. Subtle. Useful. Unexpected.
But just a house.