Summary: With Harry off hunting Horcruxes, Ginny, Neville and Luna reform the DA and do what they can against the new regime at Hogwarts. Contains spoilers for DH!
A/N: Before we get started, more than one reviewer has asked me why I think Draco Malfoy was at Hogwarts for his seventh year. The answer is simply because canon heavily implies that he was. For one thing, all students, except Muggle-borns, were required to attend Hogwarts that year. Secondly, when Harry and the gang get captured and taken to Malfoy Manor in chapter 23 of DH, Narcissa says that Draco is home for the Easter holiday (and thus he is available to identify Harry, Ron and Hermione), which implies that he's been attending school.
Hogwarts castle had always been especially draughty in the winter. This year, it felt as if the chill and dankness of the darker months had settled in already – with September barely a week old. An icy current of air glanced over Ginny's robes, causing them to swirl around her ankles.
The corridors were eerily quiet this early in the morning, and her footsteps sounded unnervingly loud to her ears. Any moment, she expected Filch to accost her and demand what she was doing out of bed. Not that she was doing anything wrong. She wasn't out of bounds, not technically. The atmosphere in the school this year might be palpably different, but it still wasn't against the rules to borrow an owl to contact her family.
She paused for a moment; a prickling sensation crawled unpleasantly up and down her spine. Was there a second set of footsteps following after her, or was it simply an echo of her own feet in the empty corridors?
She waited a bit longer, wondering if it might be a better idea to send her owl during the break between classes. Her breathing sounded unnaturally loud, but it was not enough to drown out the ghostly hissing of the wind. Ginny's eye fell on a high window, barely wider than an arrow slit. Its pane was broken and the chill pre-dawn air was rushing in. That had to be what she'd heard, and yet….
She still felt as if she was being watched. The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. "Stop being stupid," she told herself. "You're not doing anything wrong!"
There was only one corridor to go, but she still put a hand in her pocket and gripped her wand.
"And just where are you off to so early, missy?"
Heart pounding, Ginny snapped around to face her challenger. It wasn't Filch; it was Amycus Carrow. His face was level with hers, leering unpleasantly and revealing mossy teeth.
He took a step closer. Too close.
"Answer me, girl!"
The whiff of sour breath that accompanied this command made Ginny take a step back in spite of herself. She raised her chin. It helped that she could feel she was looking down on him somewhat.
"I didn't know it was a crime to post a letter," she said.
"Depends on the letter. Hand it over!"
Ginny placed a protective hand over her school bag, clutching the sides together. "That's none of your business! It's private!"
Before she could react, Carrow raised his wand. "Accio!"
His spell forced her hand from her bag, and the folded square of parchment flew into Carrow's possession. His brow furrowed as he began to read.
"Patented Daydream Charms? Fainting Fancies? Puking Pastilles? Magic Markers? All banned! Don't look private to me. Looks more like an order form for that joke shop. What's the name? Weasel something?"
"Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes," Ginny grated.
"That's it!" Carrow looked her up and down. "And you'd be one of ‘em, wouldn't yeh, with the red hair and freckles. A much prettier version, I must say. Too bad yer whole family's full of blood traitors. Might be hope for yeh, though if the right Pureblood showed—"
A loud cackle interrupted him. A little man with a bell-covered hat and an orange bow tie was floating just above them, his arms laden with library books. Ginny had never in her life been so happy to see Peeves.
"Oho!" cried Peeves, smiling broadly. "What do we have here? Early lessons? I've got something to help out with that, I do!"
He threw a book at Carrow's head; Carrow had to duck quickly to avoid the tome, which hit the wall with a heavy thud. Ginny took advantage of the distraction to snatch the letter out of Carrow's hands. Ducking herself, to avoid flying library books, she streaked off down the corridor.
Ginny waited until she was two floors and a secret passage away from Carrow before she slipped behind a suit of armour to catch her breath. She was extremely thankful that he'd only seen the order she'd been planning on sending her brothers. She couldn't imagine that Carrow would have been very happy of he'd seen the other side of the parchment where she'd described what actual lessons with the Carrows were like.
The encounter with Carrow brought yesterday's Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson to Ginny's mind. It had been one of the oddest lessons she'd ever experienced; its focus was certainly something she'd never expected to cover in a class that was supposed to be about defence. For Carrow had asked the class to focus on their hate….
"Hate," he said. "It's the strongest feeling there is. If yeh get to know yer hate, yeh can use it. It can help yeh. So I want yeh all to stop and think about who you hate. How does it make yeh feel? And what can yeh do with that?"
But whom did Ginny hate? Zacharias Smith? No, he was just an annoying git. The same went for people like Draco Malfoy or Romilda Vane. They were simply thorns in her side at times. While she might not want them near her and there had been times when she wanted to hex them into next week, she certainly didn't wish them in pain (at least not great pain) or dead or Kissed by a Dementor.
Professor Umbridge was another story, however, but Ginny didn't stop to consider her very long, because there was someone she hated more – someone she did wish those things on, she realised with a chill. Preferably all three at once and with as much pain as possible.
Tom Riddle. Voldemort. Whatever he called himself she did hate him. Deeply and with a passion.
She hated him for taking advantage of her when she was only eleven and innocently told all her secrets to him. She hated him for what he'd forced her to do. It was sheer luck that had saved her from being responsible for the deaths of her peers, her classmates, her friends.
He might have won that battle, but he could just as easily have lost. How close to dying had he actually come? And she'd been the bait. She'd been the entire reason Tom had gone after Harry in the first place – because she'd been the one to tell him about Harry.
But she hated Voldemort for more than just that. He had been ultimately responsible for taking her mother's brothers – uncles she had never known – from her. And how many other families had he and his followers torn apart? There were the Boneses, the McKinnons; Hannah Abbot whose mother had died just last year. Neville, whose parents had been tortured to the point of insanity in Voldemort's name.
And then there was Harry. It always came back to him. If it hadn't been for Voldemort, Harry would have grown up knowing a loving family, rather than being raised by relatives who would rather pretend he didn't exist at the very best of times. Harry had had his childhood stolen from him, and he was still paying the price. He was off facing Merlin only knew what sort of danger in order to fight Voldemort. In order to kill him, if what Harry had let slip the day of his birthday was true, and Ginny knew in her heart that it was.
She tightened her fist around her quill to stop her hand from shaking. It wasn't fair. Not to Harry. Not to her. If it wasn't for Voldemort, Harry wouldn't have felt obligated to end their relationship. He would still be here at school, waiting to meet her in the courtyards for a few minutes' stolen kisses at break time, seeing how much they could get away with before they were both late to their next lesson….
Yes, she hated Voldemort for everything he had taken from Harry and from her. She would gladly see him rot in hell herself if it was within her power. Voldemort and anyone who did his bidding – and that included the little man teaching this lesson.
Her breakfast began to roil in her stomach, and she wasn't sure why. She thought about asking to be excused, but one look at Amycus Carrow told her the attempt would be futile. He wanted them all there, a captive audience of sixteen-year-olds, so that he could pass this darkness along to them, as if they were receptacles he could fill to the brim. It didn't matter if it was he that they hated – just as long as they hated. That was when they would be most vulnerable. She shivered. The classroom had suddenly gone cold.
She folded the parchment up and returned it to her bag, hoping she'd told her brothers enough, but not so much that they'd worry. There was no way she'd be able to send it from school now – Carrow would see to it that her post was watched. If she waited for a Hogsmeade weekend, she could use the post office there.
But what was everyone going to do in the meantime? There probably wouldn't be a Hogsmeade weekend for two months. She wasn't going to be able to sit through two months of the Carrows' lessons and not land herself in trouble the same way Seamus had. She doubted any of her classmates could stand it, either.
They needed a way to block their hearing, a sort of anti-Extendable Ear. Not a Silencing Charm – that would be too obvious. Then a memory from last year struck her. She thought she remembered the wand movement well enough. It just might work, at least until she had a chance to place an order with her brothers.
A noise somewhere ahead alerted her to the fact that she was still out of bounds. The last thing she wanted was for Carrow to run into her again. She doubted she could trust to luck – or Peeves – a second time. It had to be almost time for breakfast, in any case. With that thought in mind, she moved off towards the Great Hall.
Neville was worried. The first thing he noticed when he awoke that morning was Seamus' bed, which looked as if it hadn't been slept in. Seamus had gone to serve his detention the previous evening. What had the Muggle Studies professor made Seamus do that lasted all night? Neville shuddered to think. He had served very few detentions in his tenure at Hogwarts, and only one that had kept him out past midnight. That had been back in his first year when he'd gone into the Forbidden Forest with Harry, Hermione, Draco and Hagrid. Whatever Seamus was being forced to do, it had to be worse.
Neville dressed hurriedly and headed down to the Great Hall. Perhaps Seamus had gone directly to breakfast. Scanning the Gryffindor table, Neville immediately saw that this was not the case. Neville was the only seventh-year present. Ginny was already seated and halfway through a plate of bacon and eggs.
"You're up early," he commented as he sat across from her. "You haven't seen Seamus, have you?"
"No," she replied. "Listen, we have a problem."
"What?" said Neville, taking a piece of toast from the rack and beginning to spread butter over it.
Ginny glanced around to make sure no one was listening in. "I tried to send out an order for supplies this morning," she replied, lowering her voice and leaning across the table, "but I got caught."
"No, worse. Carrow."
Neville paused, the slice of toast halfway to his mouth. "You didn't get a detention, did you?"
"No, but it was close. Anyway, he saw what I was up to. He got hold of the order form. He's going to be on the lookout from now on…."
She broke off as Lavender and Parvati joined them at the table. Nodding to them, she continued in an undertone, "We'll have to find some way around that. I think—"
"Oh my God!"
Lavender's horrified exclamation cut Ginny off. Turning, Neville followed the line of Lavender's gaze. Seamus had just stumbled into the Great Hall. One of his eyes was blackened and swelling shut, his lower lip was split and puffy, and an inch-long gash on the side of his face looked as if it was still oozing blood.
There was a burst of laughter from the Slytherin table as Seamus staggered towards his own house table. "Rough night, Finnigan?" shrieked Pansy Parkinson, while Draco Malfoy reeled drunkenly in his seat. "You might want to leave off the Firewhisky next time!"
Ginny, glowering over at the spectacle, put down her fork and began to rummage through her bag.
"Why aren't you in the Hospital Wing?" Neville hissed to Seamus as he sat down heavily.
"Oooh, what happened to you?" asked Lavender at the same time.
"It's nothing," Seamus replied to both questions at once.
"It is not!" Neville protested.
"Just drop it," Seamus insisted.
Neville stared at him for a moment, and the he looked up at the staff table. The teachers couldn't have failed to notice Seamus' condition. Judging by the expressions on Professors McGonagall's, Sprout's and Flitwick's faces, they, at least, hadn't. McGonagall's mouth was pressed into a thin line, while the other two simply looked appalled. Professor Snape's face was impassive; the Carrows were wolfing down their breakfast as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Neville's hand closed convulsively on the piece of toast he was holding, reducing it to crumbs. Before he could reach for his napkin, however, another shriek from the Slytherin table caught his attention. Turning, he saw Draco Malfoy jump to his feet. His hair was falling out in clumps. Several of his housemates were glaring suspiciously in the Gryffindors' direction. Neville looked around for the culprit. He immediately caught a smirk on Ginny's face.
"I didn't know it was going to do that," she muttered, sounding satisfied.
"What was that?" asked Neville.
"Just something I nicked from the twins." She giggled. "They said it was experimental."
"And you gave it to Malfoy not knowing what it would do?"
Ginny nodded. "Between the stunt he tried to pull on the train and just now, I'd say he deserved it."
"But how did you…"
"Just Transfigured it to look like a piece of bacon and Banished it to his plate. I wonder how long he'll have to wait for his hair to grow back." She stole a glance over at Seamus, who was having a great deal of difficulty chewing his toast. "Reckon we ought to have a meeting tonight?"
Neville nodded. "Listen, you lot," he said a bit louder so the other seventh-years could hear him. "DA tonight, usual place. Make sure you bring your Galleons and pass the message along to the other members if you can."
Ginny watched as Luna fell neatly onto the silk cushions. They'd been practising all the basic spells Harry had taught them two years ago for over an hour now, and she was getting frustrated. This was all old hat to them, and she couldn't see how practising Stunning spells was going to undermine Snape's regime or help people get through the Carrows' lessons unscathed. Not unless someone Stunned the Carrows themselves, but that would hardly keep the person who did it out of trouble.
She revived Luna and put up a hand to catch Neville's eye. "I think we ought to try something new," she called.
"What did you have in mind?" Neville asked. The rest of the DA members turned their attention to Ginny as well.
"It's a spell that we could actually use in lessons," she explained, "and if we're careful, it shouldn't get us into trouble."
"What does it do?" asked Anthony Goldstein.
"Let me show you." Ginny waved her wand. "Muffliato!"
A look of surprise came over Anthony's features. "My ears are ringing!" he said in a voice louder than normal, as if he were speaking over a din.
"Finite incantatem! That's what it's supposed to do. If we can cast it on each other, we won't have to listen to the Carrows' rubbish. We can look as if we're model students without actually having to hear any of it."
"Where'd you pick that one up?" asked Michael Corner.
Ginny looked her ex-boyfriend straight in the eye. "Harry showed it to me."
"Of course he did," said a dreamy voice. "I imagine it was useful if you wanted a little privacy."
Ginny felt a blush begin to creep up her cheeks, as some of the other girls began to giggle. How had Luna known? How did she always know?
"Why don't we divide up and practise?" Ginny said quickly to cover the moment.
She couldn't help but notice the smirks on the other members' faces as they complied with her suggestion. Before long the Room of Requirement sounded as if it had been invaded by a swarm of angry bees. Neville was obliged to shoot sparks from the end of his wand to catch everyone's attention when it was time to go back to their dormitories.
"It's almost curfew," he announced with the last of the buzzing had subsided. "We'd best split up and go back to our dormitories before Filch has a chance to catch us."
"When's the next meeting?" asked Hannah Abbot.
"Keep your Galleons in your pockets," Neville advised. "I'll set a time and let you know that way."
"What if we've lost ours?" asked Susan Bones, going rather red.
"You'll just have to rely on your friends," said Luna.
"Yeah, and we'll see if we can't work something out," added Ginny. "We're going to need more Galleons in any case. Don't say anything to anyone for now, but there ought to be more of us, don't you think?"
The rumble of general agreement from the rest of the members was broken by a single dissenting voice.
"Unless someone decides to rat us out," said Zacharias Smith.
Ginny drew her wand. "I wouldn't advise that."
Neville, Ginny and Luna lingered behind as the other DA members began to wander into the corridor.
"I think that went very well," Luna commented, as the polished door disappeared behind them, leaving only a blank expanse of stone wall in its place.
"I do, too," said Neville.
Ginny was silent as she walked back towards Gryffindor Tower with Neville. It wasn't that she disagreed with him and Luna. The meeting had gone well. It was just… There had to be something more. Finding ways of not having to listen in class was all well and good, but that wouldn't help Harry. She wished there was something she could do to help him on his quest.
And then she had a brainwave. It was the evening of Harry's birthday and dinner had been interrupted even before it had started with the arrival of the Minister for Magic. He'd brought Dumbledore's will and bequests for Hermione, Ron and Harry. Only one was missing – Gryffindor's sword.
Ginny had no idea why Dumbledore would have left Harry the sword, but there had to be a reason for it. The only reason that made any sense at all was because the sword would play a vital role in whatever Harry had to do.
She knew where that sword was. It was hanging in the headmaster's office, encased in glass just behind the desk. She'd seen it when she was called to his office to hear the terrible news about her father just before Christmas of her fourth year. Retrieving it would be tricky; it would take a lot of planning.
"Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve," she reminded herself, as she followed Neville through the portrait hole.
A/N: Thanks to Lizzie and Carissa for looking this over for me!