The rest of the holidays past far too quickly for Ginny’s liking and all too soon she was back on the Hogwarts Express with Neville and headed back to the madhouse. It was not that she feared to go back to the castle but being home was such a calming experience. Not having to continually worry not only about your safety but also that off 50 or so other DA members was very tiring. There were definite advantages to being over-mothered. The journey was fairly uneventful and they spent much of it discussing their most covered topic, Luna. They had returned several times to the Lovegood’s’ house but still received no answer to their knocks. The more pressing matter now was how to react at school. Despite her misgivings, Ginny had agreed with Neville that there was nothing to be gained from going after the Carrows and demanding to see Luna. The best case scenario was that she might end up getting detention, the worst being that she might actually get her wish, and get carted off to Azkaban. They wondered how Luna must be feeling, alone in her cell. “It’s the Dementors that I feel sorry for,” Ginny said whilst they were hurtling through a Scottish glen flanked by snow-capped mountains, “She’ll probably bore them silly telling them about Blibbering Humdingers.” Although this was little comfort to the sickening worry that engulfed her every time she thought about Luna, it was some comfort nonetheless.
It was only as the serpentine Hogwarts Express entered Hogsmeade station and the students disembarked that Ginny noticed that their seemed to be far fewer students getting off the train than had got on at the start of the Christmas holidays. Maybe it was her imagination, or perhaps the Carrows had managed to drive many students away. She shared this thought with Neville as they trundled in their thestral-drawn coaches toward the castle, but he seemed preoccupied, the nerves of returning seemingly gaining exponentially with every metre they travelled closer to the school.
Once they arrived they were all bustled into the Great Hall where the very few students who had remained over the winter were eating their dinner. As soon as everyone had taken their seat, Headmaster Severus Snape stood up and everyone fell silent.
“Welcome back everybody, it is good to see you all returned safely.” His words were icy and cold; few felt any welcome whatsoever. “Now last term there were large numbers of breaches of discipline. As everybody knows, we live in dangerous times. Threats of terrorism and violence are never far away. Our enemies are gathering strength and we must remain vigilant and united. With this in mind, Professors Carrow and Carrow have asked me to deliver this message. Any student found to be committing acts of vandalism, violence toward another student or member of staff, breaking curfew, or any other serious breach of the school rules shall be punished with the Cruciatus Curse.”
At these words there was a sharp intake of breath across the hall, from all tables including that of the staff. Amycus Carrow smirked and Alecto Carrow looked smugly at the Gryffindor table, which had been largely responsible for a loud cry of “What!” The Slytherin table on the other hand looked positively delighted.
“This,” Snape continued over the babble of talk, “is in accordance with Ministry of Magic policy and for your own safety and is to be taken deathly,” he enunciated that word particularly strongly, “seriously. Any questions on the matter should be addressed to either Professor Carrow. I’m sure they will be pleased to enlighten you should you have a query. Off to bed now, curfew starts in thirty minutes!”
Neither Ginny nor Neville were sure how they were going to get through their first Dark Arts lesson. It would be the first time that they had come face to face with Carrow since Luna’s arrest and they knew that Carrow would taunt them mercilessly. They would have to stand firm.
‘Think of the DA’ Ginny repeated to herself over and over again as she approached the classroom. There was a meeting organised for that evening and she really did not want to be in detention. ‘Whatever he says, about Luna or Harry, just ignore it. He will get it soon enough.’ She sat down in the back row of the classroom so as to attract the least attention possible to herself.
Carrow, as always, entered late, to ensure no one could interrupt his dramatic entrance. He swept into the room, cloak billowing as he did so. He stood on his spot in the centre and he rose into the air, giving a slight chuckle as he did so.
“Well well I see that we ‘ave a missin’ student... oh no, my mistake, its Miss Lovegood, our crazy little criminal.”Ginny suppressed a number of well chosen and, in her opinion, well-phrased retorts at these words. “Luna Lovegood was arrested cos ‘er and ‘er father were conspiring ‘gainst the Ministry of Magic. Let this be a warning to all of yah.” His black eyes focussed on Ginny as he said this. “Disobedience and criminals will not be tolerated. Understand? Miss Weasley,” he addressed Ginny directly, “do you understand?”
“Yes what, Miss Weasley?”
“Yes, Professor Carrow.”
“Well done Weasley, you’re finally learning. Better late than never eh!” He chortled at his own joke. “First your boyfriend Potter on the run, now Loony Lovegood as I am told she is known. Sooner or later there won’t be anyone left fer yah!”
Ginny, after a brief pause, simply smiled and glanced down at her textbook until Carrow moved on.
“And you didn’t try to stun him?” Neville asked Ginny, incredulously. “Didn’t even shout at him? Why?”
“I just thought, ‘what would Luna do in the same situation’, and not being acquainted with many of her creatures, I thought that I would attempt that dreamy look that she gives when she’s walking around the place.”
“And did it work?”
“Well he did sort of leave me alone for the rest of the lesson. Maybe Luna had it right all along; maybe being a hot-headed crazy Weasley isn’t such a good plan...” Ginny trailed off. The fact was that she had been desperate to shout at Carrow and it had taken all her self-control to hold it in. Luna had got just as much abuse as she had, and yet she had always taken it all in her stride with nothing more than a smile and a glazed look in her eyes. How had she done it?
As she pondered this question they both arrived at the Room of Requirement. Neville did the honours and paced in front of the room, repeating in his head ‘I need a place where Dumbledore’s Army can meet and practice in secret’. After his third pass, a very small handle appeared in the wall, so small in fact that if they had not been expecting something to appear then they would have missed it completely. Before there had always been a door that the DA had always been concerned was very conspicuous.
Ginny clapped Neville on the back. “Well done Neville, this is much better, you must tell me how you did that. Every time I do it I get this whacking great door that you would need to be blind as a bat to miss.”
Neville explained what he had done to her, and she wrote it down on a piece of parchment, which she promptly charmed to be invisible to everyone but her. “Best make sure this doesn’t fall into the wrong hands,” she said, placing it in her pocket.
DA members were filing into the room, greeting the two as they arrived. The usual suspects were there: Ernie and Hannah leading a group of Hufflepuffs with Demelza Robins who had brought a couple of friends along with her close behind. Terry Boot followed soon after with his mates and just after them came the rest of the Gryffindors led by Seamus Finnegan and the Creevey brothers. The rest of them came in ones and twos until the room was filled, new chairs and stools appearing with every entrant into the Room. When it seemed clear that no one else was coming, Ginny stood up to make her customary speech.
“Welcome back everybody and thank you for coming tonight. I hear that the SS are increasing their patrols so well done for all making it,” she paused. “As you all know we are a member short today, a very important and founding member of Dumbledore’s Army. Luna Lovegood was arrested as you all know on the Hogwarts Express on the way home this Christmas. We don’t know where she is and have not heard from her and I don’t mind telling you all that I am worried for her safety. I spent a long time this winter, being angry at the injustice of this, but then I realised... she is a martyr to the cause, our first casualty of this war. We will continue to try to get in touch but until then we must keep her in our minds. She must remain an inspiration to us all.”
Neville shuddered a little bit at Ginny’s words. It was almost as if she was reading Luna’s obituary. He felt that he needed to say something to change the tone. He looked up at Ginny, who noticed his gaze and asked, “Neville, would you like to add anything?”
“Umm,” Neville said uncertainly, “nothing really, was just wondering what Luna would say right now.”
“Probably something about Blibbering Humdingers!” piped up Demelza Robins and everyone laughed, including Ginny.
“Ok everyone have fun today, we aren’t doing anything in particular, just general practice. If you want a hand, the senior members will be over here as usual.”
It was an unusual meeting. Normally DA meetings were full of bangs, shouts and spells flying through the air. Today, however, the members seemed content just to talk and catch up. With the level of suspicion around the castle rising and with potential informers and traitors everywhere, the DA offered a safe haven to talk and be talked to. As Ginny wandered around she noticed one topic of conversation that continually came up, the legalisation of the Cruciatus Curse.
“The Carrow’s were scary enough before, but now with this! I mean, I knew times were bad but now they’ve legalised torturing children!”
“How can they do this, surely they must see that You-Know-Who is behind this.”
“I tried to tell my parents that something was up at Christmas and they didn’t believe me, they have to now!”
Ginny moved around the room, taking in all of these comments. It was only when she moved around the room and did a headcount that she realised that numbers were down from last year. Clearly Snape’s threat had had an impact on numbers. The DA was scared, and if the DA was scared then the rest of Hogwarts must be terrified.
A week into the new term and Hogwarts had settled back into its new routine once more. The Carrows strutted around the castle as if it was their own personal abode and where they went their private army, the Special Squad were never far behind. Their patrols seemed to have increased. Draco Malfoy, the leader or ‘Commander’ as was now known were everywhere and no one was under any illusions about the reason for this escalation. The legalisation of the Cruciatus Curse had given even more power to the now almost omnipotent Carrows and they wanted to demonstrate that power, they wanted to make an example of someone. The question was who. Fear was gripping the castle and everyone was on edge.
The Muggle Studies lesson on Friday had been the quietest that any could remember. Usually the DA liked to cause minor disruption, not enough that the Alecto Carrow would notice who was causing it, but enough for it to be an annoyance. With the threat of the Cruciatus Curse hanging over the Great Hall, however, this did not happen. Alecto Carrow was more buoyant than ever throughout her lesson. She punctuated her usual racist sermon with a triumphant swagger and the odd cackle. For Ginny and Neville, it was torture. They were also acutely aware of the fact that they were both purebloods, and so the lesson was not even directed at them. Neville had deliberately ensured that they sat next to Jess for this lesson to make sure that she didn’t speak out again. She had gained a bit of a reputation from the Carrows for being squeamish. Luckily they had not thought to investigate why so Jess’s secret was, for now secure. If the Carrows were to find out that Jess was muggle-born.
After the morning of torture had ended Neville and Ginny decided to head outside for a walk to the lake. The air was crisp and refreshing, a contrast to the stifling atmosphere inside the castle. They had just made it down the steps, when they heard someone shout their names from behind. They turned around and saw Jess, blonde hair flailing behind her in the brisk January wind rushing off the lake.
“Hi Jess,” Ginny said kindly, “want to come with us, we were just going for a walk. My mum has always been in favour of working up an appetite before lunch.”
“Yeah cool, that would be lovely,” Jess replied. They walked quite quickly, both to keep warm, but also to get away from the school. The sky was bright blue and the air so clear that they could almost see all the way to the opposite bank of the lake. The mountains in the distance were still snow-capped and eagles were circling overhead. For most of the journey no one said anything, they just took in the breathtaking scenery.
“So how was your summer?” Neville asked Jess, breaking the silence as they reached the banks of the lake.
“Oh you know, nice.” She picked up a stone and chucked it as far as she could into the water. “It was great to see my mum again; she had been kind of worried about me after the incident at the platform.” She picked up a larger stone and threw it with all her effort, creating a huge splash. When she turned around again, her blue eyes were full of tears. Ginny went to her and hugged her, pulling her close.
“What’s wrong sweetie?” Ginny asked into Jess’s hair, holding her head close to her shoulder.
“I dunno, how about everything,” sniffed Jess. “I can’t tell mum about how bad everything is here cos she would make me come home, but I can’t go back. You can’t go back to ordinary life with GCSE’s and maths lessons when I know there is this whole world where I can make things fly with a flick of my hand, or make a simple potion to cure a cold but then there’s that horrid woman telling me that I am scum, the lowest of the low.”
“I know it must be hard...” Neville started.
“But you don’t, not really,” Jess interrupted. “You come from pure-blood families. You can’t know what it is like. I need to fight back, I need to resist. I want to join the DA!”
“Yes I know you said that first years can’t join,” interceded Jess again, “but I need to do something.”
“I’m sorry Jess,” Ginny said, still holding Jess close, “but we can’t. It’s too dangerous. If we were compromised... we’d be in enough trouble but you would be in real danger, your mother too. We can’t let you take that risk.
“But I have to do something!” Jess was shouting now. She pulled away from Ginny and stood a few paces away. “Please let me join! I need this!”
“We’re sorry Jess,” Ginny said, trying to calm her down, “but we can’t. It’s too dangerous.”
“Fine, have it your way!” Jess turned and stomped off back to the castle.
“Jess!” Ginny shouted after her but she got nothing but a rude gesture for her troubles.
“We did do the right thing, didn’t we?”
Neville and Ginny were walking back to the Common Room after having spent an evening toiling in the library over their homework. Professor McGonagall still had Ginny working on animation spells. Now that they had mastered the animation of small objects like matches and turning them into slugs, they were now attempting to transfigure much larger objects, like their desks. Neville had been working on his Charms homework, attempting to successfully cast a bubble charm. After almost suffocating himself inside a bubble that he accidently cast over his face without casting an oxygenating charm, he had decided to give up for the night. Ginny had been more than happy to accompany him having accidently created a beautiful wooden sculpture of a pig from a library desk instead of a live one. Not wanting to draw Madam Pince’s attention to her piece of artistic and unintentional vandalism she had hastily picked up her things and ran away.
It was only after they had climbed five floors that Ginny noticed that she had left her quills back in the Library. Knowing that anything left in the Library was unlikely to survive the night she quickly made her apologies to Neville and hurried back down the stairs. Deciding to wait for Ginny, Neville watched her disappear, then sat down and tried to focus on remembering everything that he had been studying that day. His thoughts were interrupted by a muttering that was coming from around the corner. Recognising the voice, he rounded the corner and found Jess, blonde hair covered in red paint, attempting to daube a message on the wall using her wand. She had made a bit of a mess of it, but the words were still intelligible.
Muggles = Humans, Wizards = Humans. We are all the same
Jess started, and a great deal more paint splattered onto her robes. “Oh Neville you scared me.”
“What are you doing?”
“Writing a message, making a statement,” Jess replied indignantly.
“C’mon, let’s get out of here before someone sees you!” Neville grabbed the girl and tried to lead her away, but she struggled.
“No you can’t...” She stopped in mid-sentence, fear etched across her face which was now as white as freshly fallen snow. Neville turned and saw Draco Malfoy, dressed in his grey SS uniform, flanked by three others. His heart sank and he wondered how he would talk his way out of this one.
They were led to the dungeons, where they were met by both Alecto and Amycus Carrow, their fat piggy faces alive with glee. At the sight of them, Jess gasped and struggled against the grip of the SS member who was holding her, but she was about half his size so made no impact at all.
Both Neville and Jess were forced into huge metal chairs which restrained their arms, necks and legs. Neville looked over to Jess who was completely dwarfed by her chair; her legs didn’t even reach the floor and her head barely reached the middle of the chair’s back. If the situation had not been so serious, it might even have been funny.
“Well well, if it ain’t our little pretty blonde girl,” mocked Alecto Carrow, circling Jess’s chair like a shark, “would you like a lolly dearie?” Jess said nothing, clearly fighting a battle to stop herself crying. Amycus Carrow then took over and crouched down in front of Neville. “My my Neville, what is someone like you doin’ here. Surely yeh too thick to get into any real trouble?” He let that comment sink in for a little while. “Well there ain’t no need to tell yeh why yeh here. You ‘ave been caught vandalising the school, the punishment for this, is the Cruciatus Curse.” Jess gave an involuntary gasp at those words. Hearing this both Carrows cackled loudly. They both raised their wands, but Amycus lowered it suddenly and whispered something into her ear. Her smile, if it were possible, widened as she listened and she cackled again when he finished. She waved her wand, and Neville’s chair released him.
“Mr Longbottom,” Amycus Carrow said, a smirk spreading across his face, “we are gonna give yeh a chance to redeem yehself. If you perform the Cruciatus Curse upon you Miss Pretty Power over here, then you can go free.” At these words Amycus’s smirk seemed to pass to all the watching members of the SS, including Draco Malfoy. Carrow beckoned to Malfoy who handed Neville’s wand to him. “Go on Longbottom,” he said, “save yehself.”
“N-N-Neville,” Jess had given up her fight against her tears and now streams were gushing forth from her eyes.
Neville reached out for his wand and Jess gasped. ‘I must fight’ he repeated to himself. He knew that he should take it, and attempt to fight his way out and free his friend, but he knew that there was no way out, and nowhere to hide. He pulled back his hand and folded his arms and stared at Carrow in what he hoped was an obstinate way.
“A foolish choice Longbottom, as she will get it anyway.” Amycus Carrow raised his wand at the 11 year old Ravenclaw and cried, “CRUCIO!” Jess was screaming, screaming so loud that the SS had to cover their ears and she even drowned out the laughter coming from the Carrows. Neville was shouting at Carrow, pleading with him to stop. Finally, after a few seconds that felt like a few years, Carrow lowered his wand.
His sister then pointed hers at Neville and repeated the cry that had haunted Neville’s dreams since he was a year old. Pain could not describe the shock convulsing his system. He could feel every nerve, every synapse cry out in pain. The curse was merciless, pressing invisible, viciously sharp pins into every part of Neville’s body. Carrow was pitiless and refused to lower her wand. Neville cried out as his vision blurred and he drifted towards unconsciousness.
The room disappeared, melting into a new one, one that he had seen many times before. He was at ground level, and in front of him were his parents. Their faces convulsing and contorting as four figures clad all in black stood above them, wands raised. His parents’ eyes were glazing over but their mouths were clamped shut. Frank Longbottom glanced at him, and Neville could make out the moment, when the last moment of sanity left his body.