1st September 1992
"Stupid Gits," Ginny muttered under her breath as she stomped out of the compartment. Couldn't her brothers leave her alone for once?
Now that she was finally on her way to Hogwarts, Ginny had been feeling cheerful today. Sitting amicably with some other girls who were also set to join in with her, she had tried to make some friends early.
That plan went downhill when her irritating brothers decided to drop in. Fred and George had taken advantage of this lovely opportunity to tease her about her crush on Harry Potter. The other girls started giggling at that, but Ginny kept quiet. It was only when they were about to bring up a certain incident with the butter dish that she snapped and got out.
Ginny's legs carried her forward as she tried to cool herself. The moment she saw an empty compartment, she absently opened the door and stepped inside and slammed the door behind her. Relieved that the irritating idiots wouldn't find her here, she plopped herself onto the seat and closed her eyes.
As her breathing heaved to normal, she felt a set of eyes on her. Opening them she saw that her previous assessment was incorrect; the compartment had not been empty. Sitting on the opposite side near the window was a familiar looking boy. She remembered seeing him in Diagon Alley that day. He was one of Ron's dormmates - Mark.
He was observing her with an intense expression. It felt as if he was examining some fascinating specimen - the specimen being her.
"What?!" she snapped, her tone a tad sharper than she intended. Her anger at her brothers had not dissipated yet, and she remembered that Mark was a good friend of theirs.
The boy in front of her smiled softly, then gave a slight smirk.
"You seem to be having a splendid day."
It was as if a dam broke. All her frustration that had pent-up over the last month surfaced itself.
"No, I'm not. My day is far from being splendid. First, Ron comes and decides to tell me to stay away from Harry, because he is 'his friend'," she drew quote marks in the air. "Then, mum starts harping on about signing the permission slip for the flying classes, then in the morning Percy decides to take me aside and advise me about my conduct at school and how I should not be an embarrassment to him," she rambled on, "now, Fred and George decide to pay me a visit and embarrass me in front of the other girls by telling abo-" Ginny's eyes went to Mark's face and she caught herself.
"You were being sarcastic." Her anger deflated at this realisation.
"Excellent observation, Miss Weasley," Mark spoke in a high-pitched tone, which Ginny recognised to be a poor imitation of Professor McGonagall's.
Ginny snorted at the effort, trying hard to contain her laughter. She failed, resulting in a peculiar sounding giggle. Mark must have found it amusing, for he too began to chuckle. Within moments, they were laughing loudly, the joke already forgotten.
Finally, they settled back down, the initial ice between them broken.
"So, what were Fred and George teasing you about?" Mark asked. Ginny immediately went on guard. She narrowed her eyes at him, a hint of a smile still on her lips
"I'm not telling you that mister. I know you're in deep with them"
Mark opened his mouth to retort but closed it back again.
"You know what, that's a fair point." He raised his arms slightly in mock surrender. "I won't ask further"
This took Ginny by surprise. As the youngest in the family, no one had ever stepped back in a conversation with her; certainly not when there was an obvious opportunity to tease her. Unsure of what to say, she thought it best to change the topic.
"If you don't mind me asking, why are you sitting alone here?"
"Oh." Mark took a moment before answering. "Well, this was the same compartment I sat in last year with Neville, Fred and George. Turns out Fred and George are sitting up ahead with Lee, and Neville has the flu, so he isn't on the Express today."
"Won't he get in trouble? For missing the Express? I always thought that if you missed the train you weren't allowed at Hogwarts." Ginny was speaking more to herself now. "I guess that doesn't really make sense when I say it out loud. They surely wouldn't stop a student from attending just because of a missed train."
"Do you always do that- hold halfway conversations with yourself?"
Ginny narrowed her eyes at him, trying to look as menacing as possible while she thought of an equally witty comeback.
"It's called thinking, mister. Maybe you should give it a try in that thick brain of yours."
Yes! That had been a good one.
"Ah, thinking. I'm not so sure about that. Wouldn't want Hermione to be angrier at me than usual. She's already pulling her hair at the fact that I exist. She'll probably kill me if I now decide to think"
"Hermione Granger? Wasn't she the first in her class?" Ginny had also met the girl at Diagon Alley. Ron had boasted about how he was friends with the smartest girl in school all summer.
In response, Mark cocked one eyebrow in challenge. Ginny remembered Fred telling her about Mark being good at magic.
Deciding not to give in that easily, she retorted in the most sickly-sweet tone possible.
"You may be smart, but you don't pull off that look."
"That hurts Red," Mark replied, rubbing his chest in a dramatic manner. "You didn't have to break my heart like that."
"Don't call me that!"
"What? Red? Hmm. Okay, what do you prefer then - Gin, Gin-Gin, or Ginevra?"
Mark drew the last word as long as possible before Ginny launched herself at him and began punching him repeatedly.
"Ow," Mark said after she finished. He nursed his now sore ribs. "You punch pretty well, for-"
"A girl?" Ginny asked angrily
"-for someone as small as you," he finished. "It was a compliment. You have solid - punching skills."
Ginny felt sufficiently placated at this. She even felt a bit better after being able to take her anger out, although she would have preferred a different target.
"Feel better?" Mark asked.
'How did he know?' Ginny wondered before she realised. He had riled her up so that she would rid herself of her anger. She nodded silently in reply.
"Good. Next time, however, remind me to get you an actual punching bag"
"What's a punching bag?"
Mark looked at her with a disappointed expression. It took a moment for her to realise the stupidity of her question.
"Sorry, stupid question," she answered sheepishly.
"Do you play quidditch?" He had obviously changed the topic to save her the embarrassment.
Ginny blinked at this. No one had ever asked her this question. Not even Tom. They always assumed that since she was a girl, she wouldn't know how to play.
Shaking her thoughts, she decided to answer Mark, who was now looking confused at her silence.
"Uh- I haven't really played yet. I would like to play Chaser," she said the last part a bit wistfully.
"Really? That's great," said Mark. He then frowned in confusion. "But why haven't you played yet? Your brothers mentioned that they have pick-up games at your place all the time?"
"Ha! Those gits let a girl play with them? They don't even know I can fly circles around them."
"That's stupid of them, especially with all the starting chasers of Gryffindor being girls." He then turned to her, having remembered something important.
"Earlier - you said something about a permission slip for flying classes. What's that? Is that something new this year?"
Ginny deflated again. Obviously, he wouldn't know anything about it.
"It's required for all the female students who want to take flying classes. Girls need similar slips signed to join the quidditch teams"
"What?!" Mark exclaimed, clearly upset by this revelation. "What century are they living in?" Taking a pause, he added, "Your mother refused to sign yours? Why?"
Ginny was a little nervous to speak about her mother to an almost strange boy. But then, he had been the friendliest person she had encountered yet. After Tom, that was.
"She doesn't think that it encourages proper behaviour in a girl. Dad had to intervene and she finally agreed," she answered hesitantly. After a pause, she added "Not that I strictly need to learn how to fly. I've known how to do that since I was six"
Mark looked at her, the unasked question evident on his face. She decided to tell him about it.
"I taught myself to fly by borrowing the brooms from the broom shed early in the morning. I haven't ever told anyone about it," she lied. She had told Tom only a few days ago.
"That's really impressive Ginny," said Mark, his face showing his sincerity. He gave her a definite nod, which signalled his acknowledgement of her secret.
"Thanks. Ron mentioned you're on the quidditch team?"
"Just on the reserve," Mark replied. "Oliver isn't keen on fielding reserves unless absolutely necessary, so I haven't actually played out of practice." After a pause, he added, "You should try out for the reserves too. I heard Dean isn't too keen on continuing this year, and if you're good, I don't think Oliver will mind taking you in."
"I may not be in Gryffindor," Ginny said in a worried tone.
"Right, I forgot that you haven't been sorted in yet."
"Is it hard?" Ginny asked hesitantly.
"The sorting test. Is it difficult?"
"Not really. You just have to wrestle a hat from a troll and put it on."
Ginny blanched at that. On seeing the smirk on Mark's face, she realised he was having her on. She huffed and crossed her arms.
"You don't have to talk to me if that's what you're going to do."
"Alright, I was kidding. But not about the hat though- That's what you have to do. Put on a hat, and then Elijah sorts you."
"Who's Elijah?" Ginny asked, confused.
"Oh, that's the sorting hat's name. It's a talking hat, you see. It looks into your mind and judges you accordingly," Mark explained.
Ginny thought about that for a few moments, nervousness building inside her. Hesitantly she asked,
"So it decides where to put you? Against your wishes?"
"I don't think so." Mark's face was deep in thought. "I think it does take your choice into account, from what I can make of my experience."
Looking at the building panic on her face, he tried reassuring her
"Don't be nervous, it'll be fine."
"What if I get sorted in some other house? I won't have anyone to talk to," she said dejectedly.
"You'll make new friends. Look, you've already made one in me."
"And what if I'm sorted in Slytherin? What then?"
Mark looked directly into her eyes, and he seemed to be weighing his answer before replying.
"Then I'll be happy to have a friend dressed in green and silver."
Ginny swallowed the lump in her throat as she considered his words. Her family's attitude towards Slytherin was well known to her, as was the intense hatred between the house of lions and the house of snakes.
"You'll still want to be friends with me?" she asked, a slight tremor in her voice.
Mark just looked at her and put his right hand forward. His fist was curled, with the exception of the littlest finger that was extended at her.
Ginny laughed and returned the gesture to her new friend. Perhaps she would make more friends at Hogwarts.
And if she didn't, she still had Tom with her.
Standing near the window in his office, Albus took a deep breath as he looked out at the depths of the forbidden forest, his eyes lost in beyond the horizon. The half-moon spectacles resting on the bridge of his nose were far heavier than usual. He was tired.
The events of the past few months had been utterly exhausting. And that was the least of his problems.
He was still alive.
Albus had seen him, seen the proof with his own eyes of his continued existence. What had until now been conjecture was now the truth. Tom had survived that night. Somehow.
Albus had not expected Tom to be bold enough to come to Hogwarts in person. He had suspected an agent to come after the Stone, after what Nicolas and Perenelle had shared with him. After watching Quirinus's behaviour in September, he was sure he had found his prey. The recent trip to Albania had stuck out like a sore thumb.
As long as he had not harmed any student, he had allowed Quirinus to teach. Merlin knew he needed his Defence teachers. With the Board of Governors' ban in effect since 1932, Albus had been unable to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts. He had appealed the decision on numerous occasions, but they had refused, citing his 'non-traditional methods' as being disruptive to their education policy.
Perhaps it was for the best, given the curse Tom had put on the position. There was no denying it; no other possible explanation accounted for the untimely tenure of all his Defence teachers. His repeated attempts to deal with it had been in vain. He had no idea how.
Severus had asked for the position repeatedly, but Albus was sure that it was a bad idea. The risk wasn't worth it. And after the confirmation he got in June, he was now confident of it.
In any case, Albus was disappointed in Severus's behaviour all of last year. His treatment of Harry was fuelled by a hatred that the man should have gotten over by now.
Albus's thoughts turned to the boy on who his hopes lay. Harry. The events of last year had proved that the boy was a true gem.
Even after all these years, the decision to leave Harry Potter in the custody of his aunt weighed on him. Had he done the right thing?
Thinking back, he had repeatedly considered any other possibility that was available to him then. But he still came to the same conclusion.
Albus had been in the Ministry when the news of the attack reached his ears. When he learned that Harry had survived, there was no denying it. The boy needed to be protected.
Knowing that the Ministry would never let him take custody of the child, he had sought the next best option. Lily's sister was family, and thus acceptable to them; in addition, he had been able to invoke the brilliant magical protection that Lily's sacrifice provided. In some ways, it was even stronger than what he could provide himself.
His decision to send a message to Hagrid had been timely; minutes later he had found out that Minister Bagnold was going to try and take custody of the 'national hero' for her own political agenda.
Hagrid had taken care of the baby for the day, while Albus had moved the necessary pieces in the ministry. The first of November had been a long day.
When he reached Surrey in the evening, Minerva had advised him against leaving Harry with Petunia. She had brought up the nature of Petunia and her new family, how it was not the ideal environment for the boy to grow up in. His friend Arabella, who he had asked to keep an eye on Harry, had reported how poorly they treated the boy.
But they did not know the repeated plots that had been attempted to harm the boy-who-lived. Voldemort may have disappeared, those that believed in him had not. After all, the attack on the Longbottoms was proof of that. Harry may have to suffer in his childhood, but at least he would make it out alive. He had to.
Turning back towards his desk, Albus glanced at the empty golden perch in the corner. His companion was out hunting today. Sighing, he took his seat on his chair. His attention was then drawn towards the appointment letter for one Gilderoy Lockhart.
Albus sighed again, this time audibly. Lockhart had been the only qualified applicant this year, that is, if his qualifications had any real weight.
He remembered the Ravenclaw's tenure here as a student. Lockhart had been an average student and had gotten an O in his Charms and an E in his Defence NEWTs. His record in the decade afterwards, however, had been exemplary.
Albus had heard excerpts about some of these extraordinary incidents from his friends around the world. From what he could tell all of them seemed genuine. But something - something felt off. He chalked it off to the inflated ego of Lockhart. After all, humility and magical skill were not related to each other.
Nevertheless, Lockhart had somehow managed to get a foot into the Board of Governors. They had wholeheartedly approved the booklists for this year. Albus had been surprised by this, for the Board rarely approved defence books on the first go. They usually had some objections, specifically with any books that leaned more towards the practical side.
When he saw the lists, Albus had been doubly confused. The lists for all the years were same and contained all of Lockhart's own works, which were essentially storybooks. The man wasn't planning to teach using storybooks as texts, was he?
As the Headmaster, Albus had little control over the manner in which subjects were taught. Teaching autonomy was a privilege given to every member of Hogwarts staff and fell under the scrutiny of the Board of Governors. How that man managed to get this approved, Albus didn't know. Perhaps he promised Lucius some cut of the profit from the boosted sale of his books. It certainly seemed likely.
Lucius Malfoy. The man had too much influence for a former Death Eater. He was still on the Wizengamot and the Board of Governors solely on the strength of his money and family name. Ever since he was acquitted at the trials after the wars, Malfoy had used his resources to continue the agenda of pureblood supremacy, thwarting any attempts at what he called 'radicalization of wizarding culture.'
Thankfully, the Muggle Protection Act had passed despite Lucius's vehement opposition. It was an excellent piece of legislation, and Arthur Weasley had done a great job with closing some of the loopholes. It would be a big blow towards all the muggle-baiting that some of the conservatives wanted to uphold.
Lucius, however, would not sit idle. The man was not someone who accepted failure easily. He had already appealed the act twice in the Wizengamot, and had managed to increase support for his stand.
Albus just hoped that Lucius would not go after Arthur personally. Thankfully, all the younger Weasley children were coming in through the Express today, with young Ginevra joining in for her first year. Lucius wouldn't dare come after them at Hogwarts. They would be safe here.
AN: Another chapter done, and the first meeting between Mark and Ginny. Their relationship is one of the major plotlines of the story, and I hope you enjoy it.
Lockhart will not be depicted as a complete idiot as he was in the books, but with a more sinister and con-man type personality. He's unskilled with a wand, but he did manage to fool people. Anyway, there isn't any direct interaction with him until about ten chapters later, so he'll only appear in "recall" sections like this.
As for as the upgrading goes, I'm done with chapters 5 and 6. Both had major issues with POV consistency and that had to be changed. Plus originally chapter 6 was not s per my original vision, so I ended up rewriting it completely. Majorly, nothing plot-critical has changed, so there's nothing to fret about. But then, I ended up with double the wordcount in that chapter. If you guys felt that those earlier chapters weren't up to the mark, do check them out now. I hope you like them.
Plus I've now added a poll to my profile page. Its just for fun, and because I want to know what you guys think of Mark as a character and where you think the story is headed. I'm not going to be influenced by the results, I just want to see how many people guess correctly. So do check that out.
Feedback is welcome. Please read and review. Thanks!