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: Yeah, I know. It's been forever. I was having trouble with inspiration. Hopefully the length of the chapter makes up for its lateness. Thanks to Lizzie for the beta.
Heart in her throat, Ginny staggered backwards and looked up… and up. She let out her breath, relieved. It was only Hagrid.
“And jus’ where d’yeh think yer goin’ this time o’ night?” he thundered.
“Keep your voice down,” Ginny hissed. “Do you want Filch to catch me?”
“There’s worse n’ Filch about. There’s the Carrows.”
Hagrid had lowered his voice, but not nearly enough in Ginny’s opinion. It still seemed certain to attract unwanted attention.
“Well, I don’t want them to catch me, either.” She kept her own voice low, hoping Hagrid would catch the hint. The volume of his reply, however, made it clear that he hadn’t.
“That’s why yer not supposed to be out wanderin’ in the first place. Look, they’re making the teachers patrol all year. We’re supposed to turn anyone we find over to the Carrows for punishment.”
Ginny’s eyes widened in alarm. “Are you going to turn me in then?”
“’Course not. But Snape’s about. He will turn yeh in if he sees yeh. Go on, get back to yer dormitory.”
Ginny started to move off, but she paused mid-step.
She hesitated. Should she ask?
“You…. You haven’t heard anything from Harry, have you?”
She half turned, looking up into his beetle black eyes. Hagrid was looking back at her, his expression softening into sadness. “Nope. Can’t say that I have.”
“If you do hear anything, you’ll tell me, won’t you?”
“’Course. As long as you do the same for me.” He stopped and gave a visible shudder. “Now, get goin’.”
Ginny made her way back to Gryffindor Tower with considerably less bounce in her step. All the excitement that had previously been bursting from her had completely drained away, leaving nothing but a cold, empty feeling.
As the week passed that space began to fill. The only problem was, it was filling with frustration as one thing after another went wrong. The book she’d taken at random from the library shelf held nothing that would help her learn to cast non-verbal spells, which resulted in her earning a pile of extra homework. Arnold had managed to make a meal out of her Potions essay, and she had to write it over. Amycus Carrow was still keeping a very close watch on her.
But worse than all of these were the other DA members’ complaints, which they voiced loudly at the next meeting. It seemed as if the Muffliato spell she’d taught them wasn’t working as expected. She had expected that this might be the case. When she’d got Fidelia Bonham to cast the spell on her, she’d still had to sit through an interminable lesson on the horrors perpetrated on the medieval wizarding community by Muggles. She’d hoped it had only been a case of Fidelia not performing the spell properly – something that a little practise might rectify. Apparently the problem lay elsewhere.
“I don’t understand why it’s not working,” she said for what felt like the thousandth time. “It always worked when Harry cast it.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” said Anthony Goldstein, looking thoughtful.
“What? Harry has to be the one who casts it?” asked Luna. “I’ve heard of spells like that. Spells only one person can do.”
“Well, that’s just great, since Potter isn’t even here,” said Zachariah Smith, smirking.
“That’s not quite what I meant,” said Anthony. “Only that the person who doesn’t want to be heard has to be the one who casts the spell.”
“Oh wonderful!” said Smith, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Do you think the Carrows would do us all a favour then if we asked nicely enough?”
Michael Corner told him to shut up and Ginny threw Michael a look of gratitude. “It doesn’t matter, anyway,” she said quickly. “I’ve got something else.”
Reaching into her bag, she began to pull out two-coloured sweets by the fistful. The rest of the DA members recognised them immediately, and held out their hand to receive a good supply of Fainting Fancies, Nosebleed Nougats, Fever Fudge and Puking Pastilles.
But the Skiving Snackboxes didn’t have the desired effect, either, as Ginny found out at her next Muggle Studies lesson. Five minutes into class, as soon as Alecto Carrow turned to the backboard, Ginny put a hand into her pocket and withdrew a Nosebleed Nougat. Keeping her eyes fixed on Carrow’s back, she raised the orange end of the chew to her mouth and bit into it.
A warm stream of blood immediately began to dribble over her lips and chin, covering the parchment on which she’d been pretending to take notes with red splotches. Carrow turned back to face the class, obliviously jabbering on about Muggle atrocities. Ginny put up her hand, but Carrow ignored her.
The parchment in front of her was completely red now, and the front of her robes was shiny with blood. There was no way Carrow could have failed to notice Ginny’s predicament. “Excuse me, Professor Carrow,” she called out at last, “I think I need to go see Madam Pomfrey.”
A malicious smile spread over Carrow’s features. “Yeh can stay right where yeh are.”
“But…” Red splotches were beginning to appear on the floor at Ginny’s feet.
“Stay put, or it’ll be detention,” Carrow replied with a leer. “A little blood ain’t no reason to miss class.”
Ginny was painfully aware of an uncomfortable stickiness all down her face and neck, penetrating her robes. She got the distinct feeling that Carrow would let her bleed to death before she allowed Ginny to leave her class. With a sigh of resignation, she waited until Carrow’s attention was focussed elsewhere and ate the purple end of the sweet. She did the best she could to clean up the mess with her handkerchief but only succeeded in smearing the blood across her face.
When the bell rang signalling the end of class, Carrow addressed Ginny once again. “Looks like yeh’ve got over your little problem, and no harm done. Yeh can stay behind and clean up the mess yeh’ve made now.”
Ginny, sighed and pulled out her wand.
Carrow tittered. “No magic!”
Ginny was quite thankful she hadn’t chosen to take a Puking Pastille.
Neville felt as if he should have known, on some level, that the Skiving Snackboxes wouldn’t work on someone like Amycus Carrow. The principle behind the Snackbox depended on one’s teacher being human, after all. At the beginning of today’s Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson he had spotted Parvati slipping something orange into her mouth. When, seconds later, she had slumped forwards onto her desk, Carrow didn’t even seem to take notice.
Parvati was still sprawled across her desk now, halfway through the lesson. At least she wasn’t having to listen to Carrow expound on the theory behind the Cruciatus Curse. He was going about it in all too loving detail for Neville’s taste. He felt sick to his stomach as Carrow explained to the class how channelling their hatred would cause the victim more pain.
Neville concentrated hard on tuning him out. He didn’t need to be reminded of Bellatrix Lestrange and how much hatred she had been able to dredge up when she’d gone after his mother and father. Just thinking about Bellatrix caused anger and hatred to boil up in Neville’s own veins. He felt that, if faced with Bellatrix at this very moment, he’d be able to cast a very successful Cruciatus Curse on her, and that idea bothered him. Performing this particular spell was something he’d never imagined himself doing.
Carrow’s voice jerked Neville back to the present.
“Could yeh repeat to the class what I just said?”
“No,” Neville mumbled.
“What was that? I couldn’t hear yeh.”
“No!” repeated Neville defiantly.
“Malfoy, tell Longbottom here what I was just saying.”
Across the room, several of the Slytherins sniggered as a smirk spread over Malfoy’s face. “I believe you were asking for a volunteer, sir,” he drawled.
“That I was, that I was. And since yeh were listening, how would yeh like to volunteer someone?” crowed Carrow with the air of offering Malfoy an extra large Christmas present.
Malfoy made a great show of considering his options; then he grinned. “I think Longbottom should be the volunteer, sir.”
Carrow fixed his beady eyes on Neville. “Longbottom, get up here.”
Neville knew he had no choice but to obey. Carrow would not hesitate to resort to the Imperius Curse if Neville decided to be recalcitrant. He walked to the front of the classroom, knowing full well what was coming. Carrow was going to demonstrate the Cruciatus Curse for the class, but instead of using a spider like Mad-Eye Moody had back in their fourth year, Neville was going to be the guinea pig.
Except the expected curse didn’t come. Carrow stared at Neville, his tiny eyes narrowing even further. He seemed to be considering something. Neville could almost imagine he saw steam issuing from Carrow’s ears, he was thinking so hard.
“Yeh heard me. Pick someone!”
So it was going to be a torture of a different sort. Instead of being subjected to intense physical pain, Neville was being forced to choose the victim instead. Whoever was to experience the curse in his stead, Neville would know just what that person was going through and know that it was all his fault.
He looked over towards the Slytherins who were sitting as a group, watching him eagerly. As tempting as it was to remember their past transgressions against him, Neville wasn’t sure he could put even Malfoy, Crabbe or Goyle in his place. Besides, he was sure that Carrow would simply tell any of them to choose another victim. He swallowed hard, knowing what was coming.
“I choose… me.”
His voice was surprisingly steady. Carrow’s smile faltered and his eye glinted evilly. “Yeh can’t do that.”
“Yes, I can. You told me to pick someone. I’m someone. I pick myself.”
“On yer own head be it,” Carrow said, raising his wand. “Crucio!”
The curse hit Neville before he could brace himself, and he dropped, writhing and screaming, to the floor. He’d been on the receiving end of the Cruciatus once before at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange herself. He didn’t know if he’d blocked the memory or not, but this seemed to hurt more. It was pain unlike anything he could ever remember experiencing. Was Carrow’s anger at being thwarted channelling itself into the curse?
Suddenly the pain stopped, and Neville found himself face down on the cold flagstones, shaking and sweating. Carrow yanked him to his feet by his hair. Neville’s knees felt wobbly, and he was afraid they would buckle, but after another moment, he was able to stand on his own.
“Now,” said Carrow, “who wants to have a go?”
None of the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws or Hufflepuffs met his gaze. They were staring, either at the blackboard ahead of them or down at their desks – anywhere but at their teacher. The only movement in the room came from the Slytherin’s corner, where Vincent Crabbe was rising to his feet, a stupid grin spreading over his features.
“You can’t do this!”
Everyone turned and stared at Hannah Abbott, who was now going scarlet.
Carrow narrowed his eyes at her and moved until he was standing right in front of her desk, glaring at her menacingly. “And why can’t I?”
“B-because it’s unforgivable. I-t’s a life sentence in Azkaban. W-we learned that back in f-fourth year!”
“Not anymore, it ain’t. And in my class, yeh’ll do as I say! Looks like we’ve got another volunteer for next time. Anyone else want to volunteer?”
He stared around the classroom. No one dared make a sound. Crabbe lurched to the front of the room, leering at Neville, as he drew out his wand.
Neville did not drop this time. Crabbe’s curse hurt him, but not anything like Carrow’s had. He clenched his jaw to keep from crying out. He was able to maintain enough awareness to notice when Carrow called Crabbe off.
“That weren’t bad for a first try. Yeh need to think about really wanting to hurt yer victim though. Think about something yeh hate. Now let’s try again.”
Neville couldn’t ever recall a time when a teacher had said anything that could be term laudatory in regards to Crabbe’s performance in any subject. Not even Snape, who demonstrated unfair bias towards his own House on a regular basis, had ever found anything the slightest bit praiseworthy about anything Crabbe had ever done in Potions class. For Crabbe, Carrow’s pronouncements were like winning the Barnabus Finkley Prize for Exceptional Spell-Casting. He seemed to swell under this teacher’s gaze.
Carrow may have emphasised a focus on hatred as beneficial in the casting of a successful Cruciatus Curse, but obviously receiving a pat on the back was helpful as well, or at least it was in Crabbe’s case. His second attempt left Neville panting on the flagstones. As he got shakily to his feet, Crabbe was grinning broadly.
“Very good! Very, very good!” Carrow shouted. “Now who’s next?”
Neville stole a glance at his fellow Gryffindors. Lavender looked as if she was going to be sick, but Neville was sure she hadn’t ingested a Puking Pastille.
Pansy Parkinson was getting to her feet and stepping forward. Suddenly Hannah Abbot jumped out of her seat, blocking Pansy’s progress.
“No, let me try!”
The words were meant to sound defiant, perhaps, but they didn’t quite come out that way.
Carrow cackled. “You? Ain’t yeh worried about going to Azkaban?”
Hannah’s face went pale but she didn’t sit down. “No, I’ll do it.”
“Don’t think this’ll get you out of being volunteer next time, missy.”
Neville saw her swallow. Perhaps she’d been counting on clemency if she cooperated. However, she still approached him, her eyes round with fear. She seemed to be having difficulty holding her wand steady.
Neville had no idea what to think. She was in the DA with him. She’d always supported Harry for the most part. She’d always seemed like such a nice, decent girl. Neville couldn’t imagine why she was playing along with this game now, and a feeling of betrayal began to spread throughout his body, burning almost as badly as the Cruciatus Curse had.
Hannah was staring at him fixedly, and he wondered if she was having trouble summoning up the courage to curse him. He raised his chin, and she shook her head almost imperceptibly. Was she trying to communicate something to him without words?
And then, when she’d brought up her wand and said “Crucio” he understood. There was no conviction in her voice. She was simply going through the motions. But why? The answer came to him in the next moment. She was buying him time. If she could waste enough of it pretending to work on a spell she had no intention of ever learning, she would get him that much closer to the end of the lesson without being tortured any more than necessary.
Neville closed his eyes, hoping that Carrow was too thick to cotton on to what Hannah was doing. She was already in trouble for daring to speak up.
“Sit down and stop wasting my time!” Carrow barked at her. “Who can do this and mean it?”
Half the class stood up. They seemed to have worked out Hannah’s ruse. Ernie MacMillan moved to the front of the classroom, cutting in front of Gregory Goyle, and went through the motions in his turn. Padma Patil followed him. Before another of the Slytherins had a chance at Neville, the bell rang, signalling the end of class. Carrow was livid, but there wasn’t anything he could do besides set them all extra homework.
“I want two feet of parchment on the right way to cast the Cruciatus curse due next lesson,” screeched Carrow after their retreating backs. “’Cept for Crabbe here. He’s the only one as done it right.”
Neville ignored him. He had no intention of doing the assignment, and he didn’t think he’d have any trouble convincing the other DA members to do the same. For the moment, however, he had something more pressing on his mind.
“Hannah! Hey, Hannah! Wait up!”
In the press of black-robed students, a blonde head turned. It looked to Neville as if her face was growing pinker as he approached.
“I just wanted to say thanks for just now. That was a brilliant idea you had.”
Hannah smiled at him but looked away rather quickly. “It was the least I could do, really.”
“Well, I’m glad you thought of it. It saved me a fair amount of pain, I’m sure.”
Hannah had gone pale and Neville was sure she was thinking with dread of their next lesson with Carrow.
“We’ll do something before next lesson,” Neville reassured her. We’ll make sure he doesn’t put you through that. If anything, we can all pretend again.”
“I don’t know… The Slytherins won’t pretend. Besides, don’t you think he’ll see through it?”
“I don’t think he’s that clever.”
Hannah grinned. “He doesn’t give you that impression, does he?”
“We’ll come up with something. The DA stands together.”
Hannah seemed to realise she was going to be late for her next lesson at the same time Neville did. The corridors were now deserted. With shy smiles at each other they each went their separate ways.
Neville’s heart was still racing. He’d been on his way back to Gryffindor Tower after supper when Ginny had hailed him, nearly causing him to jump out of his skin. She’d been lurking in a niche that housed a suit of armour.
Luna’s disembodied voice floated out from behind the suit of armour. Neville looked past Ginny but saw nothing behind her. “How did you do that?” he asked. “Where’s Luna?”
“Oh good, it’s working,” came Luna’s voice again.
Ginny was looking extremely pleased with herself.
Neville was still lost. “What’s working?”
“My Disillusionment Charm,” Ginny informed him. “You can move now, Luna. See if Neville can see you.”
There was some sort of disturbance in the air behind Ginny, something that looked like a summer heat shimmer.
“That’s very good, Ginny,” said Neville. “Where did you learn to do that? Flitwick didn’t show us that last year.”
“I got it out of a library book. I had extra homework, and I pulled something out at random. It didn’t help me with my homework, but it did teach me how to do this.”
She rapped Neville over the head with her wand.
Neville felt as if something cold and viscous was trickling down his head and over his body.
“Ooh, lovely,” said Luna, and Neville reckoned that he’d just blended into the background.
“Now you try it on me, Luna,” said Ginny.
There was another shimmer of movement behind her, and she winced. Then she began to change colour before Neville’s eyes, starting with her vivid hair and ending with the hem of her worn school robes, until she perfectly matched the rough hewn stone of the walls.
Another shimmer of movement, and then Ginny’s voice said, “Muffliato! There. Now we don’t have to worry about being overheard. I think we’ll be okay to talk here for a bit.”
“What’s going on?” Neville asked, intrigued. “Just an idea I had,” said Ginny. It was strange standing and having a conversation when Neville couldn’t see the other participants. “I think it would be useful to teach the rest of the DA how to do this.”
“But why? What we really need to work out is a way to get people out of class. The Skiving Snackboxes –“
“—aren’t working. I know.”
“We need to find a way to get Hannah Abbott out of the next Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson,” Neville insisted. “Carrow’s going to make us practise the Cruciatus Curse on her.”
“He can’t do that!” Luna’s normally dreamy voice sounded all the sharper in her indignation.
“Well, he’s going to, whether we like it or not,” said Neville grimly. He didn’t particularly want to tell the girls that he’d been the guinea pig in today’s lesson.
“When’s your next class?” asked Luna.
“Friday, right after lunch.”
“Then a bit of Puking Pastille ought to do it,” said Ginny. “If she gets sick in front of everyone in the Great Hall, one of the other teachers will send her to see Madam Pomfrey and she won’t have to go to class.”
“Yes, that should work,” Neville agreed. “Now what about the Disillusionment Charm?”
“I thought if we were all able to cast it on each other we could get away with doing loads of graffiti and we’d be harder to catch. I thought we could do a massive raid—“
Neville cut her off. “Graffiti? What good is graffiti going to do? Carrow is torturing students in his lessons and you want to write slogans on the walls?”
He wasn’t quite sure where this anger was coming from. It had erupted within him without warning.
“Well, if you think it’s a bad idea, we’ll just forget the whole thing,” Ginny said, sounding offended. “Only the whole graffiti thing was your idea in the first place.”
Before Neville could reply, Luna’s quiet voice cut through the pair of them. “Who did Carrow do the Cruciatus on last time?”
“Really?” Luna persisted. “It wasn’t you then? I was sure it was the way you’re yelling at Ginny.”
Neville’s mouth dropped open, but of course Luna and Ginny couldn’t see it. He suddenly felt contrite. He wasn’t being fair – Ginny had no way of knowing what Carrow had put him through.
“All right,” he admitted. “It was me.”
“All the more reason to do this then.” Ginny still sounded angry, but Neville didn’t think her fury was directed at him any longer. There was a new note of underlying determination in her tone. “It’ll be a diversion, you see. If the lot of us are spread out all over the school writing graffiti, then a few of us can stake out the headmaster’s office.”
“And why would we want to do that?” asked Neville, certain that by “a few of us” Ginny had meant the three of them.
“To get the password, silly!” said Luna, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“Yes, you need to know the password to get past the gargoyle,” said Ginny.
“And why do we want to get into Snape’s office?”
“Graffiti is all well and good, but we need to do something more. You’re right about that. We can do something to help Harry. We can steal Gryffindor’s sword for him!”
“How is the sword supposed to help Harry?”
“Dunno. All I know is that Professor Dumbledore left Harry the sword in his will. The Minister for Magic came to our house last summer and told him that, but he couldn’t give Harry the actual sword. He claimed it belonged to the school and wasn’t Dumbledore’s to give away.”
“But what’s Harry going to do with it?”
“Maybe use the sword to cut off You-Know-Who’s head,” suggested Luna.
“Maybe,” said Ginny. “I don’t know, but Dumbledore must’ve had a reason for leaving it to Harry.”
“All right,” said Neville. “Say we manage to steal it. How do we get it to Harry? No one knows where he is.”
“Maybe we can use the Uzbeki Underground,” said Luna. “Daddy says they helped the goblin Ukbar the Ugly get his magical ukulele back.”
Ginny gave an audible sigh. “Maybe Dobby can find him. He helped me before.”
Neville froze. He assumed the others had too, even though he couldn’t see them. No one spoke. Mrs Norris was sniffing suspiciously at the suit of armour’s sabaton. She moved closer so that she was mere inches from Neville’s left foot. Would a Disillusionment Charm work on a cat? Even if it did, Neville didn’t think the charm would mask their scents.
If Mrs Norris went for Filch, they’d have a chance to run for it, but Mrs Norris didn’t seem inclined to do that. She’d hunkered down, looking as if she was about to pounce, her lamp-like eyes alert and her tail thrashing. She let out a loud yowl that echoed down the corridor. She wasn’t going to go for Filch, Neville realised; she was going to call Filch to her.
Neville had no idea what the others were thinking – since they couldn’t see each other, they couldn’t communicate by any means other than vocal.
“D’you think the Muffliato thing works on cats?” Neville ventured in a whisper, hoping Mrs Norris’ continued yowling would cover his words in case she could overhear him.
“I don’t suppose it matters,” said Ginny. “She obviously knows someone’s here. She’s going to keep that up until someone comes and we get into trouble.”
“But no one can see us,” said Neville.
“There’s a spell they can do,” Ginny replied. “Even if we’re Disillusioned, they’ll know we’re here.”
“Then let’s run for it before anyone gets here. If we split up, she can’t follow all of us.”
But it was already too late. Filch was wheezing his way along the corridor, and by the sound of things he wasn’t alone. There was another pair of footsteps accompanying the caretaker’s.
“I’ve got an idea,” whispered Luna. “Take the spell off of Neville and me, and then you run for it. We’ll distract them.”
“But – no!” Ginny protested.
“Just do it, Ginny.”
Neville had no idea what Luna had in mind. A voice in his head was asking quite forcefully if it was really a good idea to go along with any scheme Luna had cooked up. It hardly mattered, though. They were caught either way. They may as well try to get out of a detention as best they could.
Neville felt another sharp rap on his head, which was followed by a warm, liquid feeling flowing over him. Luna was visible now as well. There was a shimmer, and he felt Ginny brush past him – no doubt she was now streaking down the corridor away from trouble. Luna moved so that she was standing next to him. This was probably as close as he’d ever been to her since his fifth year when they’d all piled into the phone box that was the visitors’ entrance to the Ministry of Magic.
Mrs Norris gave a triumphant yowl. Filch and whoever it was accompanying him were almost upon them. Without warning, Luna leaned in and kissed him.