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Notes: The Order's chief strategist is accustomed to sacrifice. Warnings for sexual content, semi-gratuitous military tactics and character death. Hermione/Ginny with hints of Snape/Dumbledore.


Brown Ribbon
by switchknife


Wars are meant to be loud, perhaps, but this one's just cold most of the time--cold, very cold, and hungry. Ginny's fingers are numb around the quill she holds, moving it in straight lines to draw the map of their latest target perimeter. Her notes are quick and precise. Position the first Auror contingent here, move to the right on command, here, withdraw at the first volley to give a semblance of defeat. Come out when the enemy moves forward, come out in full numbers, each Auror pulling out a vial and taking a swallow of Snape's Phoenix Serum, an antidote to the invisibility potion they'd have taken upon retreat. Aurors appearing out of the fog--Ginny imagines this, imagines the thrill of fear among the Death Eaters, the emptiness of shock, the pounding of pulse when they're forced to leave. Too many. Too many. An ambush.

It's ironic, she supposes, how much like chess this is--the famous Weasley knack for chess, although it was only Ron who'd made it famous, years ago, and she's the only other member of their family who'd ever been able to challenge him. Not so much of a Weasley knack after all. It's ironic that she's in here, his fierce Ginny, the one he always tried to protect--it's ironic that she's in here, pushing paper, drawing maps, whereas Ron's outside, deep in the soil in front of what is no longer Hogwarts, flesh melting in the rain.

She's rather good at strategy. Fewer Aurors have died since she started planning their missions--fewer still when Snape decided to work with her, weaving Potions with wards so that their plans were, if not indestructible, then at least not suicidal.

It's ironic that Snape calls her a Slytherin sometimes--that his eyes glint with rare pleasure when she suggests something particularly sly, particularly vicious--and it's strange that he retires each night to Dumbledore's quarters, old, injured, nearly-dead Dumbledore, even though Snape himself is old and his hair has bled out to an oily grey.

Ginny wonders, sometimes, what comfort they give each other--perhaps it's nothing but the comfort of warmth, the comfort of memory--because here the cold corridors are as thin as veins and just as vital, a network of underground pathways where torchlight gutters like a pulse. There is no heat here but the heat of human bodies, when one is fortunate enough to encounter them.

It's ironic that Hermione is still assigned to share her bunker whenever their contingents collide--the second and the fifth regiments, meeting at the nexus of corridors under Hogsmeade, a maze that used to be a part of Hogwarts in older times, but is now little more than a group of war-time capillaries. Opened for the conduction of food. Medicine. Potions. Weapons.

And soldiers, of course.

It's ironic that the Order still insists on same-sex bunking, as though one kind of body will make any difference from another in this cold. It's ironic that clever Hermione, the one never to be seen without quill or parchment at school, is the soldier now--the one who goes out to fight, that survives it, and returns to tell the tale.

It's ironic that Ginny's the one who heats the cup of thin soup for her when she arrives--the one who has to set work aside, books and piles of scrolls and a few bedraggled, cracked quills--the one who watches Hermione's pale throat swallow hungrily around their meagre sustenance--the one who asks about how it is out there, how the fight's going, and Hermione's the one who answers with dull eyes, rubbing the tiredness from her face, her mouth thin and pinched and her body scarred with curses.

They are both so thin now, and both quite ugly with what the war has done to them--Hermione's hair now a short, burnt brown, her firm shoulders rounded with strain and with carrying rations--her thighs as thin as a child's, and her wrists, and her arms, although her abdomen is still soft under the scars.

Both thin, and both so cold--these corridors are deeper than the dungeons were at Hogwarts, after all, and let in no light. No heating charm seems to work on them. Hermione is still a little sun-darkened, thanks to days spent on the battlefield--but Ginny is pale as chalk, as sand, her eyes circled with grey and her skin ashen under its requisite layer of dirt.

They bathe each other carefully, whenever they meet--wash-cloth passed from one hand to another, up one leg, down another's arm. They don't need to do this for each other, of course, but need is a relative term--and Hermione's hand is warm, just for an instant, something so different from the cold stone that surrounds them these days.

It's only natural when, one day, Hermione returns with a face white with pain and Ginny undresses her--rubs salve onto Hermione's healing wounds and settles them both into the tub, where the pink of Hermione's blood mixes and curls in the water, a red sea-plant, tendrils thin and waving. It is only natural when Hermione wraps two bare legs around her and doesn't let her leave--and they've never touched like this before, because holding each other was enough, but it's so natural now for Hermione to reach around and cradle Ginny's breasts, weighing them as though for a test, smoothing wand-calloused thumbs over each nipple before sliding gently, under the spell-warmed water, to slip two fingers into Ginny's cunt.

So easy then. It doesn't strike Ginny to ask why, or when, or how this happened--because all of that has lost meaning, all of it, and there is only Hermione's breath, still a little tight with pain, at her shoulder--there is only Hermione's mouth warm and opening, soft, and Hermione's fingers thrusting slowly in and out of her, making the water ripple--there is only the ash-bitter sweat of Hermione's neck, the trembling hollow of her throat--there are only quiet motions back and forth, back and forth, as they turn to suckle at each other's mouths until Ginny comes, slickening and tightening around Hermione's fingers, her juices melting into the water just as Hermione's blood had before.

Hermione comes later, in bed, with the both of them nestled onto Ginny's bunk as they have been for the last two years--no one in their right mind would sleep separately if there was the luxury of body warmth to be had. When Hermione comes she keeps her eyes open, gleaming in the darkness, two lamps lit only for them.

Ginny wonders, during the nights that follow, what Hermione thinks about it all--about whether she would have chosen Ginny as a lover in other circumstances, in a time of peace--if she wouldn't have preferred a Ravenclaw, dark-haired and dark-eyed and soft and full-mouthed, quiet and academic, instead of Ginny's small, thin body that curls, tight as a fist with nightmares and memories, next to her on the bed.

But nothing else changes--Hermione vanishes for training sessions during the day, and Ginny goes back to her maps. Snape descends in his black robes and with his armful of Potions books, and they draw map after map for each coded area, numbering it per regiment and concentration, bundling each scroll up--green ribbon for the first contingent, yellow for the second, brown for the fifth, and so on and so forth--before sending it to the respective commander by messenger.

The brown-ribboned map Ginny keeps for herself, to give to Hermione when she comes home (home, what a novel concept for this stinking little hole of a bunker) because Hermione belongs to the Fifth, after all, and she might as well carry the message to her commander when she leaves for training the next day.

When Hermione returns that evening they fuck, as usual, untangling only when Hermione, shivering, reaches over to pull on her nightclothes again--and then Ginny says: 'I'm sending you on a mission,' and steps out of bed to pad over to the desk, where the brown-ribboned scroll still waits.

Hermione's eyes flicker oddly when she opens the scroll and reads it--Ginny thinks she sees something like pleasure, that Ginny isn't protecting her--and something like fear, and something like bitterness.

'You've stationed me on the front line,' Hermione says finally, a little blankly, and Ginny goes on to explain: they need a Transfigurations expert to rework the Death Eaters' wards, not to collapse them but to open a hole through them, just long enough for the rest of the fifth regiment to get through.

So it comes to this.

Ginny knows that Hermione wonders, for a moment, if what they do together has any meaning at all--because Harry's gone, and Ron's gone, and Ginny's voice sounds bland, so entirely bland, when she talks of sending Hermione off to fight. Perhaps, Ginny can hear Hermione thinking, it's because Ginny doesn't want to get attached; or perhaps she can't afford to express her fears, her attachments. One and the same thing, these days.

Lovely, methodical Hermione.

Only nine days to go.

They fuck regularly after that, hungrily--as though Ginny's scroll, with its carefully drawn out strategy, its cold-voiced, precise terminology, has loosened all bonds between them. Hermione seems ferocious, angry--on their little shaky pallet, on Ginny's bed, Hermione's mouth is hot with tongue and teeth. One morning Ginny forgets that the time for her daily session with Snape is drawing near, and that Hermione's only staying because she has leave from training today--Ginny simply forgets, forgets, until the door swings open and Snape stands there.

A few years ago they would have stopped at this--would have been horrified--but now Hermione only lifts the blanket higher over them and lowers her mouth to kiss Ginny again, and Ginny catches a glimpse of Snape's eyes, wide and yet somehow not surprised, before he closes the door and heads back up to Dumbledore's quarters.

No strategy today.

Nor the day after that, nor the day after that--because it isn't necessary anyway, not until this mission is carried out and the results are in. Nine days become six become four, and four days finally become one, and Hermione's packing her clothes in her bag again, shrinking it for easy carriage. She spends all night not making love to Ginny but sitting at the edge of their bed, casting glamours on herself--shape-fading glamours that blur a body's physical co-ordinates so that an enemy will find casting an accurate hex that much harder, as well as masking charms on her wand, so that the spells cast from it are harder to trace. Hermione does this all night, until her eyes are heavy with exhaustion and she's taken all the precautions she can afford to take, and Ginny finally pulls her back to bed, warm and soft and inviting, thighs parted and mouth sighing. They fuck each other slowly before dawn until they both come, and again just after dawn, a little faster this time, before Hermione pulls away, presses a damp, exhausted kiss to Ginny's shoulder and says: 'I've got to go.'

It's 9 a.m. The Muggle clock--yet another effort to conserve magic--does make life simpler. Hermione should be gone by 9:30. She is to meet up with her contingent and then move out with them, timed two hours exactly before Neville Longbottom's group will meet with them at the designated co-ordinates, Voldemort's latest hide-out. Then the fighting will begin in earnest, with Hermione holding the shields open for the others to pass--and she'll be on the front line, and she'll be--

--Ginny doesn't say, as she slips on her own cold bra and rough sweater--she doesn't say: 'You will come back', because she can't command this, she can't control this, and her strategy's out of her hands now, playing itself out, but she manages to kiss Hermione fiercely, and not just a little coldly, before Hermione leaves.

Hermione doesn't say 'I should be back tomorrow morning, as planned'--she doesn't say: 'take care'--she doesn't say 'I love you'. All false things. Incriminating things. There's nothing to feel, Ginny tells herself, but then Hermione's pocketing her wand and stepping out, and all she says is: 'Goodbye', and she sounds a little terse, or maybe that's just because Ginny doesn't try to stop her.

The day progresses as usual after that. Snape comes downstairs, and knocks before entering this time. Ginny lets him in distractedly, sits him down, and immediately starts making him tea. Snape always asks for it anyway, so there's no point in waiting every time--and he doesn't flinch when he meets Ginny's eyes, and their voices are curt and to the point when they stretch the central map between them. Ginny is oddly, absurdly grateful for that--until Snape says, abruptly: 'Her contingent has left on time to meet up with Longbottom's; the strategy is uninterrupted.'

And Ginny simply answers 'yes' and pours herself a cup of tea too, which Snape watches her drink in silence--and then they're back to working, far into the night, but no word comes from the fifth contingent, none at all, and Snape doesn't pat her arm consolingly--he simply shakes his head and leaves, wishing her a good night, which surely is an irony because all Ginny sees that night are nightmares, with Hermione in them, broken, bloodied, hexed to pieces.

You will come back, Ginny says to the empty air the next morning, and the next morning, and the next, until finally a brown-tied scroll arrives--from Foultin, Commander of the Fifth, saying that Hermione Granger will be publicly lauded for her sacrifice.

Sudden. Too sudden. Even though Ginny expected it.

Ginny makes a cup of tea for herself afterwards, but forgets to drink it--and it's only when Snape comes in later, and starts to speak, that she notices it's gone cold. Snape's face is cold too, as is his hand on her shoulder--but she doesn't feel it, she doesn't feel anything at all. Her hand is almost steady when she pulls out her quill, and then Snape says quietly: 'You did what was necessary. She was needed on the front line. We won.'

The words don't quite make sense to her. She only moves her quill, concentrating on keeping the lines straight as usual, as the newest map forms beneath her fingers. Snape finally removes his hand and opens his book. 'I've completed the latest draft of the Phoenix Serum, but we have only a limited dose. I suggest we give it to the third regiment first...'

The brown-ribboned letter is pushed to the edge of the desk when Ginny unrolls the map further.

Foultin is a fool, anyway. The sacrifice wasn't Hermione's at all.


* FIN *

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