Chapter 5 : Casualties
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Ginny was nervous. Members of the DA had looked to her and Neville to lead the meetings in the absence of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Over the course of the Summer, Ginny had spent more time practicing spells and studying than she ever had at Hogwarts, but now that the dawn of the first meeting of the year was creeping closer, she felt confidence leaking out of her like a cold sweat.
She wasn’t afraid of leading. Nor was she afraid of her fellow classmates refusing to follow her direction or respect her authority. On the contrary – she was worried they would. What if she led them into danger? What if she made a mistake and one of them paid the price for it?
Ginny dropped her quill on her desk and rubbed her hands tiredly over her pale face. It’s part of the job, she reasoned with herself. Harry had led her into danger many times, though, often it was more that danger had followed him around like a needy puppy and she’d just happened to be there at the time. A flash of Ron nearly being strangled in the Department of Mysteries flashed through Ginny’s mind as Harry sprinted from the room to duel with more Death Eaters. Wincing, Ginny recalled tripping over a body at Bill and Fleur’s wedding, watching Harry and the others as they disapparated away from the echoes of screams and looming death. And all the while they’d thought fleetingly that he’d left them, he’d been running towards the worst of the danger, protecting them as best he could. Yet still, some had fallen, as he knew they would.
As the tension bubbled like slow-boiling water just under the surface throughout Hogwarts, it lingered, well known, that the Second Wizarding War rumbled hungrily beneath their feet. Hogwarts was no longer the sanctuary it had once been with Dumbledore encased in his silent marble tomb. It would not be an easy year. Ginny stared ahead, appreciating the gravity of the situation.
War was filled with decisions, and the best ones were rarely easy. Mistakes would be made. There would be casualties.
It’s part of the job.
The snapping of textbooks and scraping of chair legs snapped Ginny’s attention back to the present. Hurriedly, she gathered her textbooks, carefully folding her parchment with listed spells in half and slipping it into the section she’d left off at in Defensive Spells. Snapping shut her knapsack, Ginny rushed after the queue of students now shuffling out into the hallway.
Neville bumped her arm as the pack of students thinned out, the students who used to be Hufflepuffs heading off to the dungeons for Potions with Professor Slughorn.
“Yeah,” Neville murmured quietly, “There were some bookmarked pages with some excellent offensive and protective spells as well. As usual, Hermione does everyone else’s homework better too.” He grinned, and Ginny laughed in agreement as they turned left to head to the switching staircase for Charms on the fourth floor.
“Obviously we’ve got our basics like Stupefy and Reducto down, though we’ll have to go through everything with the new members, but there’s also Ferio, Abscido, Concerpo, and tons more I’d never-”
“Longbottom, is it?” the sneer cut through the air like a hot knife through butter. Alecto Carrow stood by the switching staircase as they came around the corner, long, black robes wrapped around her like a blanket of shadows.
Neville stood with his mouth slightly open, caught off guard. Ginny noticed with a jolt that he the list of defensive spells remained clasped loosely in his hand.
Alecto took one, two steps towards the sixth-years, reaching out a black-nailed hand, palm up, inclining her head towards the parchment in Neville’s hand. Her other hand slipped down to her hip, her index finger grazing the black wood with absent-minded affection.
When Neville made no move to hand over the list, Alecto puffed out her lips into a mocking pout, “Don’t want to show me?” The sweet expression slipped off of her face like melting candlewax, curling into a dark frown. “Too bad,” she snapped, her black eyes flashing.
Ginny felt as though her heartbeat was visible in her throat as the gaunt woman raised her wand. Neville yelped like his hand had been burned and the parchment shot in between Alecto’s long-nailed fingertips.
The Death Eater’s expression remained unreadable as she scanned the list of incantations. Ginny was rooted to the spot, gravity pulling her body down by a million invisible threads. Neville’s jaw was set, and his open hand hovered over the spot where Ginny knew he had stashed his wand after class.
Alecto’s eyes snapped sharply from the parchment to the students in front of her, dark clouds building in her eyes. She took a slow, menacing step towards them, her grip tightening on her black wand until her nails pressed uncomfortably into the flesh of her hand.
“What,” she began with ominous, exaggerated enunciation…
The sound of heavy footsteps echoing off of the cold, stone walls broke Alecto’s focus. Ginny felt something akin to relief before the owner of the footsteps turned the corner.
Snape stepped into the dim light, his cloak nearly engulfing him in blackness as he came abruptly to a halt. His eyes darted between the Death Eater and the students from beneath his long hair, his expression unreadable, calculating.
“Is there a problem?” he drawled slowly in Alecto’s direction, his eyes not leaving the students.
The Death Eater smiled wickedly, holding Neville’s parchment delicately between her fingertips. She kept her eyes on the students, inclining her head ever so slightly in Snape’s direction.
“The boy’s been carrying around this fascinating li-”
Snape snatched the parchment out of her delicate grasp, her face darkening as her eyes snapped angrily to meet his, but his head was already bowed, eyes lowered, skimming the parchment hungrily.
“What’s this Longbottom? A wishlist?” he asked darkly.
Neville blinked. “A… what?”
Snape’s expression slipped comfortably into a disdainful glower as he looked down his nose at the boy. “A wish list. A list of spells you wish you were able to cast properly without blowing up the nearest cauldron,” he glanced at the list, “I’d start a little smaller if I were you. If I recall correctly, a basic levitation charm often renders you speechless and hanging from the nearest light fixture by the back of your pants.”
Neville glowered back at Snape, as Ginny stepped lightly on his foot in desperate warning.
“Rest assured, Alecto,” Snape drawled, smirking as dislike dripped thickly from his words, “Longbottom is hardly capable of stirring a potion five times clockwise, let alone successfully casting any of these spells.” With a flick of his wrist, the parchment began to rip itself up before bursting into flames as Luna’s Quibbler had done the day before.
Alecto opened her mouth to argue, an angry lines darting across her forehead, but Snape cut her off. Brushing the residual dust off his hands, he curled his lip sneeringly. “That being said, the fact remains that it appears as though Longbottom here is thinking of giving himself a few remedial lessons without the supervision of a teacher, which, as I’m sure he knows,” his mouth twitched, hinting at a smirk, “is forbidden.”
Ginny’s eyes darted back and fourth between the two professors.
Snape raised a lazy eyebrow at Alecto’s lost expression. Her mouth was slack, slightly open in a confused sort of way. Ginny thought she looked a little like Umbridge in the dim light.
Snape sighed, raising a hand to his temple. “Punish him as you see fit,” he drawled lazily, spinning on his heel and sweeping down the hallway.
Alecto blinked at Snape slipping back into the shadows, before a slow grin slid across her face.
“Right then,” she turned to Neville, pointing a long, black nail at him, “Detention, 8 o’clock, tonight. Dungeons. Don’t be late!” she nearly sang her last words, before turning to happily follow Snape’s retreating figure.
Ginny felt her pulse begin to return to normal as she and Neville found themselves alone in the stone hall once again. Neville let a breath of air rush out between his lips, scratching his ear.
“So no paper trail, then?”
Ginny nodded, and whispered in agreement, “No paper trail.”
Ginny’s eyes darted left and right as she and Neville hurried through the familiar corridors, on the look out for Amycus, or anyone else interested in sticking them in detention. The pair speed walked to the switching staircase, heads reeling. So distracted were the two that Neville stuck his foot through the trick stair that Ginny skipped over without thinking. She hauled on his arm to help him up and he muttered a gruff, embarrassed thank you before they hurried down the final hall to their charms class.
The two blew through the door a full ten minutes late, Neville jamming his elbow on the doorknob unceremoniously. As the class turned to stare at them, startled, Ginny realized they were both wide-eyed and breathing hard.
“Weasley! Longbottom!” Flitwick squeaked from his perch on a towering pile of dusty old charms textbooks on the West side of the room. “So glad you could join us at your earliest convenience.”
But Ginny noticed there was no snap to his disapproving tone. In fact, when she met his eyes he looked more relieved to see them than upset at their dramatic (and late) arrival. Hurriedly, they took their empty seats and Ginny hastily began to dig for her worn and torn copy of ‘Achievements in Charming’.
“You can partner up, then, and grab a quill and roll of parchment from the bench there before you sit down,” Neville rushed back to the bench to grab the materials, slipping on a spare cushion on the way.
“Page thirty-seven, if you please, Miss Weasley,” Flitwick chirped.
Ginny carefully turned the brittle pages (the ancient book had once belonged to Charlie) to the correct section as Neville plunked down the materials beside her, and took a sharp intake of breath when she read the title of the chapter they would be working on for the next hour. Neville grinned as he read the same words, and Ginny’s eyes found Flitwick’s. They sparkled mischievously as Dumbledore’s had so many times before.
Tears pricked the corners of Ginny’s eyes as the tiny professor cleared his throat.
“Invisibility and concealment charms - protecting your script, your secrets, and yourselves. We will begin today with undetectable invisible ink, not easily found out by counter-charms like ‘Apparecium’,” Flitwick dictated, and with a swish of his wand, revealed the concealed notes on the chalkboard, that now shone clear as day.
Neville grasped Ginny’s hand under the desk and gave it a tight, reassuring squeeze.
“Oh, and… wands out,” Flitwick squeaked, and the classroom beamed back at him.
Ginny felt a tear of gratitude slip down her cheek and she brushed it away hastily.
They were all in this together.
Ginny left the charms classroom with her newly concealed list of defensive spells for the DA meeting tucked neatly into her old charms textbook and a renewed feeling of faith.
She had mastered the concealment charm after only twenty minutes of effort, successfully disguising her list as another piece of parchment. Flitwick had commended her on her work as he puttered from desk to desk.
“Nicely done, Miss Weasley”, he squeaked, winking before lazily casting ‘Aguamenti’ in Neville’s direction to put out the flames he had accidentally lit to his own piece of parchment.
Ginny had nearly skipped to the Great Hall for lunch, pleased with herself and looking forward to the night’s first meeting with only minimal butterflies. Even the gloomy black-themed tapestries that now slung from the rafters in the once-magnificent hall could not dampen her spirits as she settled in at the Gryffindor table and ordered up her meal.
Ginny chewed her food thoughtfully, as Neville and Seamus sat across from her, heads bowed together, muttering amongst themselves. Ginny allowed her mind to wander as her eyes slipped out of focus. She wondered how Flitwick had known what to teach them, and whether or not the Order was making any progress back home…
“It’s Ginny, right? Oh! Sorry!”
Ginny had jumped violently at the voice, spilling mashed potatoes all over her lap. The girl now sitting beside Ginny was wide-eyed and apologetic.
“I’m so sorry, oh my gosh … I really thought you saw me sit down!”
Ginny brushed off her apology kindly, sopping up the worst of the mess with a napkin.
“Don’t worry about it,” she grinned. The girl returned her smile weakly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.
Ginny realized that she recognized her as the girl with the black hair from the common room that morning – one of the newest DA members. “You’re Alice, right?”
The girl nodded, “Alice Tolipan. We spoke… this morning,” she muttered, glancing around the hall, checking for teachers.
Ginny nodded. This morning she and Neville had gathered the new members in the common room and fitted them each with their own gold summoning coins. Ginny had been exhausted with the effort of embalming the new coins with the charm Hermione had taught her, and had nearly been late to Divination.
“Well, I just wanted to let you know that I have some good friends in Ravenclaw and… they’re interested, too.” She glanced around nervously once more before meeting Ginny’s eyes hopefully.
Ginny exchanged glances with Neville, whose conversation with Seamus had been interrupted by Ginny’s mashed potatoes fiasco.
“Tell you what… talk to Michael Corner. He’ll escort them – and you – tonight.”
Alice’s fair face broke out in a smile. “Great! Er – which one’s Michael?”
Ginny smiled at the girl, wide-eyed with expectation. Ginny turned her gaze to the Ravenclaw table. “On the right there, longer dark hair? He’s a seventh year.”
Alice’s eyes widened as she followed Ginny’s gaze. “Oh, him.” Ginny watched the girl blush with amusement, worry lines forming on her face. “Isn’t there anyone else? I can’t talk to him!”
“Have you seen him?”
Ginny raised an eyebrow and let her gaze trail back over the Ravenclaw table. She supposed he was attractive, his dark hair just grazing the tops of his ears. He laughed then, and Ginny remembered the dimple on his left cheek, his strong jaw and hazel eyes. “…But he’s a sore loser,” she mumbled without thinking.
Alice turned to Ginny, jaw dropping, “You know him? I mean… outside of the - you know…”
Neville snorted into his lunch and Ginny narrowed her eyes at him.
“No,” Ginny said, “Yes, a little,” she corrected quickly, wincing.
“A li-ull?” Neville asked through a mouthful of food, an eyebrow raised mischievously.
“Enough.” Ginny’s brown eyes flashed at him warningly.
“Why does ih ma-er?”
Alice looked back and forth between the two friends as if she was watching a tennis match.
Ginny sighed, shaking her head slightly, “Yes, we knew – know – each other. Anyway, he’s perfectly nice and he’ll take you and the other Ravenclaws where you need to go.”
Ginny chose to ignore Seamus and Neville’s howl of laughter. Neville began to choke and Seamus pounded him on the back, still crowing.
Alice, still looking slightly confused, saw her cue and rose lightly from the Gryffindor bench. Smiling, she said, “Thanks Ginny, see you later.”
Ginny watched her trot back to the Ravenclaw table, rejoining two excited looking boys and one other girl who seemed to be anxiously awaiting her arrival. Ginny’s gaze drifted back over Michael by accident, but this time he caught her eye and waved. She returned his smile briefly before turning back to her own table. She frowned almost instantly.
“Where you – need to go – !” Seamus was still gasping for breath at the double entendre Ginny had mistakenly used, and Neville, Ginny noticed with a jolt, still appeared to be choking.
“Anapneo!” she said without thinking, and a piece of food flew out of Neville’s throat and landed smartly in Ginny’s pumpkin juice, drenching her.
The boys roared with a new wave of laughter, (‘Thanks – for that –‘ Neville managed to repeat between gasps) as Ginny dragged a napkin over her face, unimpressed.
She grumbled, ringing her hair out at the table as the boys continued to laugh.
“Miss Weasley!” a sharp, authoritative voice made Ginny jump, nearly sending her plate flying. Professor McGonagall stood by the Gryffindor table, her mouth forming a thin line as she approached the redhead.
“Hi Prof – ” she began, but was cut off.
“I am sure that you know that the new school rules dictate that no magic be used outside the walls of the classroom.” Ginny opened her mouth to respond, but McGonagall ploughed on before she could speak, “And I am sure that you know that those who do not obey the rule must receive adequate punishment.”
“Please – Professor, Neville was choking, I –”
“And I am sure,” McGonagall continued over Ginny, pink spots forming on her cheeks, “that you know that just because you did not use a wand to preform the incantation, you can still be punished for said behaviour.”
Ginny furrowed her eyebrows. She had done the spell without her wand? Of course, she thought to herself… her wand was stowed in her book bag, which she’d tucked under the table when she'd sat down. She’d heard of wordless magic, which required immense skill and concentration… but wandless magic? Ginny glanced down at her hands as if they might hold the answer.
She looked across the table at Neville and Seamus who had not only stopped laughing, but were now staring at Ginny thoughtfully. Neville rubbed his throat absentmindedly and Seamus shrugged at Ginny’s questioning glance.
“-will not be surprised when I tell you that I will expect you in detention with me tomorrow at twelve o’clock sharp in the East tower classroom.”
Ginny’s head snapped back to McGonagall, who had kept lecturing her while she wasn’t paying attention.
“What!” she exclaimed.
McGongall’s lips thinned almost imperceptibly. “Rules change, Miss Weasley. I expect you to follow them.”
Ginny gaped at McGonagall’s retreating figure, as the leftover pumpkin juice began to make her eyelashes stick together.
She turned back to the boys, exasperated.
“Welcome to the club!” Neville said cheerfully, thinking of the detention he’d received earlier.
“Well at least yours isn’t tonight too, otherwise we’d have no one left to lead the meeting,” he reasoned.
Ginny let out a sound of exasperation and buried her sticky head of hair in her arms, pulling back quickly in disgust. The red strands were gooey and clumped. Ginny sighed.
“I hate today.”
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