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Witching Hour by LilyEvans613
Chapter 4 : Any Questions?
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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The weather remained gloomy and dark as the Hogwarts Express wound its way between rolling hills and dense, mountainous regions. The compartments on the train felt colder than usual to Ginny, who clutched her thin robes tighter around her small body. As she watched the hills rush by the train like they had somewhere else to be, Ginny noticed the blades of grass wilting and curling in on themselves, drying up. Buckling under to prepare for the storm that would soon be Winter. It was Autumn, Ginny reminded herself, but as the scarlet steam engine crept closer and closer to the castle she’d once longed to live in, the death and disintegration that came naturally with the Fall weather seemed a bad omen.

“ - they’ve gone then, yeah?” Neville’s voice drew Ginny’s attention back to the conversation.

She blinked at the young man sitting across from her, nodding gently at his inquiry about Ron, Harry, and Hermione. The onset of the war had changed Neville, like it had changed so many others. Seventeen-years old with the haggard and haunted eyes of a much older man, little Neville Longbottom had grown taller, slimmer, and more muscular over the Summer. A shadow stretched across his face, courtesy of the stubble that had grown over his once-pudgy cheeks and across his now pronounced jawline.

“You look different,” Ginny said aloud, unintentionally. Neville’s eyes met hers, the shadows behind them even more pronounced.

“My gran says I look the same, still not the Grandson she’d hoped for.”

Ginny snorted, “Anytime she’d like to join us one of our fun little life-or-death excursions, she’s more than welcome.”

The right side of Neville’s mouth twitched upwards in a smirk. “I wouldn’t dare tempt her,” he muttered, “She’s had me practicing defensive spells for hours every day since I lost the trace in July, as if I haven’t learned anything at school.”

“I thought you looked tired,” Ginny noted. “Anything useful?”

“Mostly the stuff we’d already touched on during meetings with the DA. Harry covered a lot of it, to be honest…” Neville carried on, mentioning how he’d seen a curious mixture of surprise and irritation in his Gran’s expression when he’d misfired the Reducter curse and blew apart her entire China cabinet with one blow, but Ginny’s eyes had slid out of focus at the mention of Harry’s name.

She fought back the avalanche of thoughts that threatened to burst through the cracks in the wall she’d fought to build up in her head over the remainder of the Summer. Were they safe? Where were they? Where did they really have to go? Ginny mulled over the options in her head… Grimmauld Place, Sirius’ old hideout outside of Hogsmeade, Hogwarts… her heart leapt at the fleeting possibility. What if he was already there, hiding out in the Room of Requirement, waiting for Ginny, Neville, and Luna to arrive – right under Snape’s greasy nose!

Ginny shook her head, scoffing at her own ignorance. Hogwarts was the last place anyone wanted to be this year, let alone ‘undesirable number one’, she thought acidly.

“Perhaps it’s your hair…I think you may have more of it than usual,” Luna’s airy voice floated through Ginny like a cool breeze, gently moving her away from her thoughts. She smiled, realizing that Luna was still considering what exactly had made Neville look different.

Ginny looked at Neville who grinned and shrugged, reaching for the Quibbler the petite blonde was offering him, upside down.

“No mention of the Carrows or Snape in here, I see,” Neville noted.

“Father has to be careful now, with The Ministry in the state it is,” Luna sighed airily, “Fortunately they don’t seem to be too offended by his pieces on foreign magical beasts, otherwise the two months we spent studying shrivel-fanged greywarts would have been a complete waste of time…” she trailed off dreamily.

Ginny wrinkled her nose as she tried to imagine exactly what a shrivel-fanged greywart might look like.

Neville rubbed his face tiredly with one hand, “I expect the curriculums for Muggle Studies and Defense will have changed noticeably,” he spoke bitterly, like he’d tasted milk that’d gone bad. He leaned forward in his seat, his elbows resting on his knees, “We’ve got to start meetings immediately.”

Ginny nodded, pulling a double-sided gold coin roughly the size of a galleon out of her robes pocket.

Neville swore under his breath, reaching into his own pocket for his matching coin, “I don’t know how to work these ruddy things, and without Hermione…”

“I can do it,” Ginny said, and Neville and Luna looked up at her in surprise. “She taught me, before – before they left,” Ginny muttered, taking out her wand clumsily. Her hands trembled slightly. It was the first time she’d discussed out loud their departure and she was surprised at how much it still shook her. “When?” she asked Neville, turning her attention back to re-assembling the DA.

Neville met her eyes with fierce determination, “Soon.” He paused, thinking. “We’ll leave tonight for the feast, see what we can glean from Snape’s speech. Tomorrow. North corridor, same old – everyone should know how to get there.”

Ginny nodded determinedly. Taking a deep breath, Ginny settled her nerves, muttering the incantation Hermione had made her practice over and over again in the sweltering heat of her bedroom at The Burrow. Focusing her mind on the gold coin in her left hand, she touched the tip of her wand to the metal coin.

‘Annuntiationis.’

A magnetic feeling shot up Ginny’s wand arm as she repeated the date and time of the meeting over and over in her mind. The coin warmed in her hand, the edges becoming liquid before twisting and bending into numbers before her eyes.

Neville’s eyes studied Ginny’s face as she focused her attention on the coin in her hand. Her brow was furrowed in concentration, beads of sweat threatening to form across her forehead. Abruptly, she finished, raising her wand and smiling the first true smile he’d seen her wear since he and Luna had joined her in the compartment. He jumped as the coin in his hand warmed suddenly, the date shining like new gold across the edge.

Luna examined her own coin that she’d pulled from her handbag. “Hermione must be a good teacher,” she commented appreciatively.

Ginny opened her mouth to respond, but before she could answer, the compartment door had been thrown open with a crack, the glass shattering to the floor like hail. A towering, thin man dressed in robes of black and darkest emerald slid out from behind the shadow of the doorframe. His face was hollow, and the sallow skin seemed to be stretched across his cheekbones and jawline. His dark eyes flashed as a sly grin crept onto his face. Ginny was reminded sharply of Bellatrix’ manic laugh, the same sallow skin, her black eyes flashing in the moonlight in the field outside The Burrow…

His voice bled into the compartment as the air grew dry and dense, “We’re not doing magic on the train, are we?” His eyes slid over the redhead, her wand still poised.

Don’t look at the coin. She thought desperately.

“That a crime now?” Neville jibed rudely.

As Amycus Carrow turned his attention to Neville, Ginny smoothly pocketed the coin, relieved. The Death Eater’s lip curled upwards as the sneer lit up his face.

“You’ll find things have changed, this year, Longbottom,” he seethed, “certain restrictions have been lifted, certain punishments have been … condoned.” Neville met his blackened eyes with a loathsome glare.

“Students are no longer permitted to use magic beyond the walls of their classrooms this year – no exceptions.” He sneered at the three students, “We wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.” Pointing his wand lazily at the glass on the floor, he muttered ‘Reparo!’ as if to taunt them. The shards of glass glinted and danced in the air as they folded themselves back together seamlessly.

Carrow grinned wickedly and turned his attention back to Ginny, who was still holding her wand. “Put that useless stick away, girl, not that you know how to use it anyway,” he spat, closing the door behind him with a careless swish of his wand.

The corners of Ginny’s mouth twitched upwards as she looked up at Neville and Luna.

Little did Amycus Carrow know that throughout the scarlet train several students were examining warm, gold coins, each engraved with the very same curious markings...090297 NCRR 2100.

It meant nothing to most. But to the members of Dumbledore’s Army, excitement mingled with apprehension, warming them through the remainder of their frigid train ride. To them, the message was clear as day…

September the Second, 1997.
North Corridor, Room of Requirement.
9:00pm


***

“Firs’ years! Firs’ years, this way!”

Red tendrils licked Ginny’s face like flames as the wind sent her red mane flying. Ginny craned her neck to catch a glimpse of Hagrid, a billowing black shadow in the low-lying fog. “All righ’ you three?” he asked Ginny, Neville and Luna with forced cheerfulness, his grizzled mane framing his face. His face was lined with worry, his smile not quite reaching his eyes – Ginny knew he was thinking worriedly of another three students he’d greeted the same way for the past six years.

The three friends waved a greeting to Hagrid, who nodded before bellowing for the first years to follow him to the edge of the lake, where several small boats awaited them. Hogwarts gleamed in the distance, as majestic and intimidating as ever.

“They’re here,” Luna said softly, her large eyes shining in the moonlight.

The large carriages rolled to a halt, and the older students began to file into them. Ginny pulled her cloak tighter around herself as Neville helped her step up into the carriage, which creaked and groaned under the added weight.

Two excited-looking blonde boys clambered into the carriage after Ginny, Neville and Luna had gotten settled. Neville had barely greeted Dennis and Colin Creevey with a half-smile before the latter started talking a blue-streak.

“Mad, isn’t it? Absolutely mad!” Colin sputtered excitedly, looking around at his carriage companions, “I mean, horseless carriages, it’s so eerie! Don’t you think it’s eerie, Dennis? Bloody brilliant. How do you think they do it? What d’you think Dennis?”

Ginny exchanged meaningful looks with Neville and Luna. The carriages were not horseless, though she had once thought so herself. Since the Department of Mysteries last year, Ginny, Neville and Luna could each see the thestrals clear as day, their black coats glistening, bones shifting visibly as they stretched their wings.

“Yeah,” Ginny said softly, “It’s eerie.”

***

Ginny, Neville and Luna filed into the Great Hall, taking their seats at the Gryffindor table. Students continued to file into the magnificent room, hoping to escape the gloomy weather outside. The weather inside the castle, Ginny thought, glancing up at the enchanted sky, was not much better. The air remained frigid and damp inside the castle walls: the hall felt like a dungeon. Tonight the enchanted ceiling was black and overcast.

Ginny frowned. The Great Hall felt empty in the absence of all muggle-born witches and wizards, the house tables now only sparsely occupied, and the usual hustle and bustle of the welcome feast seemed to have leaked out of the hall almost entirely. Her frown deepened when she noted that the Slytherin table held the most students by far.

Her eye trailed up to the Heads table, where Snape sat in the middle seat, his lip curled as he glared down at the young witches and wizards through his greasy black hair. On either side of him sat the Carrows, so obviously Death Eaters in their billowing black robes and manic grins it struck Ginny as almost comical. McGonagall, no longer Deputy Headmistress (the Carrows now shared that position) sat two seats away from the new Headmaster, the line of her mouth as thin as Ginny had ever seen it. The other teachers, Flitwick, Sprout, Sinastra, Vector, Slughorn, and Trelawney, sat unsmiling, looking grim. Hagrid had taken his seat at the very end of the table, having returned from his trip across the lake with the first years, looking haggard and grave.

The immense doors to the Great Hall shut with a snap as Snape lifted himself out of Dumbledore’s chair, and a deafening silence smothered the room. As Snape surveyed the students through black, unblinking eyes, Ginny was certain her pounding heartbeat could be heard easily at the next table over.

“Bring them in.”

His voice slid through the air like poison, monotone and dripping with displeasure. McGonagall moved slowly from her chair down the length of the Heads table. From a door on the left of the hall, the first years filed in, wide-eyed and shivering. Ginny noticed it with a jolt just before Neville had breathed behind her, “Where’s the sorting hat?”

The first years lined up before the Heads table, turning to face the panel of Professors. McGonagall returned to her seat with pursed lips, angry lines tracing her forehead.

Ginny’s heart beat faster.

Snape slid his eyes over each of the first years before addressing the entire hall; “Doubtless you will have heard by now that many changes have been made at Hogwarts…”

“What? No introduction?” Neville muttered bitterly behind Ginny, who bit her lip.

“…the first of which I will address now. Hogwarts has undergone an educational revolution in the interest of improving the education received by young witches and wizards. It is our staff’s belief that certain elements of Hogwarts’ previous structure have been… disadvantageous to the effectiveness of this education…”

Ginny’s eyes darted down the staff table. Each Professor shifted wearily in his or her seat, McGonagall’s mouth a thinner line than ever before.

“…for this reason,” Snape continued to drawl, “Hogwarts will no longer divide students into Houses,” confused chatter began to bubble out across the hall as Snape continued in the same monotone inflection, “Instead, you will all belong to Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as one. We hope that this forward movement will eliminate leanings of… competition.”

“Not likely,” Neville muttered. Ginny glanced back at the Slytherins, now glaring daggers at the Gryffindors.

Ginny’s heart leapt into her throat as Snape raised his wand and murmured “Castigo!

A translucent blanket seemed to form over the students in the Great Hall. As it lowered from the ceiling, the colours on the house banners melted away, as if they were being peeled off to reveal solid black banners beneath them. As the spell settled over the students, Ginny felt a subtle warmth spread to her fingertips. Looking down, she noted her red and gold tie had turned black, as had the Gryffindor crest on her cloak, which now shone silver in the dim light of the hall, and read simply, “Hogwarts”.

Snape waited until the surprised murmurs had died down, before turning to the first years with exaggerated enunciation, “You may sit… anywhere.”

They scurried away like mice startled by a loud noise. A wide-eyed blonde girl took a seat in front of Ginny, who attempted to offer her a forced, welcoming smile.

Snape had begun again, “There have also been some changes in staffing due to… unfortunate… events,” he spoke slowly and casually. Ginny gripped the edge of the table, white-knuckled as he continued, “Professors Amycus and Alecto Carrow will serve as your new Defense Against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies teachers, respectively.”

He paused as a smattering of chatter broke out and died just as quickly as it had begun.

“Additionally, both of these subjects are now mandatory for every student of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is our strong belief that both subjects are necessary for young witches and wizards to achieve an… adequate education.”

Ginny glanced around the hall at confused faces, paying rapt attention to Snape’s speech.

“Furthermore, on the subject of adequate education, certain distractions have been removed…” his black eyes passed over the Gryffindor table as he enunciated his next words carefully, “Hogsmeade trips, and the in-house Quidditch League have been abolished, in addition to any on- or off-campus… clubs,” he looked directly at Ginny and Neville as he sneered, “Some of you may do well to remember this as Educational Decree number sixty-eight.”

He paused, his eyes sliding meaningfully over every known member of the DA.

“I will warn all students that any illicit activity this year will result in punishment equal to the heinousness of their crimes.”

The Carrows grinned wickedly, exchanging a look. McGonagall’s nostrils flared visibly.

“The grounds are to be considered off limits at all times in the absence of staff supervision, and all post will be monitored for your own safety.”

Neville snorted in derision from behind Ginny.

“There is to be no magic preformed outside of classroom walls, regardless of age, or reason,” Snape sneered, his lip twitching slightly, “This is another precaution in the interest of your protection. There is no reason for any student to be using magic outside of the practical application in the classroom, an area supervised by staff. Any who chooses to neglect this rule,” he paused, “Shall be punished.”

Ginny’s head was reeling and she began to feel sick to her stomach. This was not Hogwarts, this was something entirely different…

“As part of Hogwarts’ revolutionized education structure, the Daily Prophet will be delivered to each student, daily, in the interest of keeping up with current events. Any media outlet other than this will be burned,” his eyes bore into Luna, who clutched her Quibbler to her chest. The corner of his mouth twitched as he murmured, “Accio Quibbler!” The newspaper flew out of Luna’s clutching hands and landed neatly into Snape’s. With a sneer, he tossed the paper into the air.

“Incendio!” he demanded, and the paper burst into flames, curling ashes falling, broken, to the floor.

“Any questions?” he drawled.

***

Ginny had laid awake most of the night following the feast. Her feet had felt like lead as she’d marched out of the Great Hall with the other students. They’d passed by the grand hourglasses that had once borne the crests of the Hogwarts Houses on their way to Gryffindor tower: the hourglasses were now empty, shattered, and feeble-looking.

The trunk full of her belongings and keepsakes from The Burrow had not brought Ginny any feelings of comfort. Hogwarts seemed alien to her now – her mother had been right, it wasn’t the same. Grabbing one of the many books Hermione had left her, Ginny clambered into her four-poster, drawing the maroon curtains, and curling up with her wand.

‘No magic outside the classroom.’

She shook her head disbelievingly. Muttering ‘Lumos’, Ginny opened Defensive Spells and Their Practical Implications to the page she’d last left off at. Hermione had left Ginny a library’s worth of books to help her prepare lessons for the DA. She, Neville and the rest of the DA certainly had tons of material to sift through and cover for the year, but Ginny had been unable shake the feeling of unease that had wrapped itself around her like a blanket.

Ginny awoke the next morning as suddenly as if someone had shaken her awake roughly. Pulling back the curtains on her four-poster, she realized the common room was empty. Haphazardly pulling on her newly blackened robes, she rushed out of the dormitory. Tripping on the landing, Ginny’s feet fell out from under her as she found herself sailing down the smooth, silver slide that had appeared where there was usually a spiral staircase.

Planting her feet firmly on the ground at the bottom of the slide, Ginny’s jaw dropped at the amount of people gathered in front of her. It seemed that every Gryffindor had convened in the common room, and they were all staring at her.

“Morning sunshine,” Neville greeted, walking out from the centre of the crowd, “I tried to come get you but, er…” me motioned to the slide now behind her, “…forgot about that,” he finished lamely.

Ginny blinked, confused, “What’s going on?”

“We want to join!” a pretty girl with black hair said enthusiastically. Murmurs of excited agreement rumbled through the crowd of people.

Neville turned back to Ginny, grinning, “It seems we’ve got some new members.”

Ginny scanned the crowd. Determined faces glowed up at her, hope dancing in their eyes. She let out a breath in a whoosh.

“Well then,” she grinned, “Let’s get started.”
 


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