Chapter 8 : Cursed
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Ginny sat next to Luna at what had long been the Gryffindor house table in Hogwarts’ Great Hall, among a sea of black robes. The walls were sparsely lit with flickering candles, throwing eerie shadows onto the walls and making the air cold and damp. What had once been a very lively room was now marked with a sullen air of unease, as students murmured quietly to one another. Ginny pulled her robe tighter over her shivering shoulders.
She glanced at the Head’s table, noting Snape’s glaring absence. The Carrows sat on either side of the empty Headmaster’s chair, an air of crushing self-entitlement rising off of each them like steam. McGonagall, shifted two over from her usual seat to the right of Dumbledore’s chair sat stoically, a muscle twitching next to her thin mouth. She looked aged and worn as her eyes met Ginny’s, though they gave nothing away.
Ginny dragged her eyes away from the Head’s table and back to her own, glancing at Neville seated across from her. The great white scar stretched oddly across his face, Alecto’s work shining smooth and white for all to see. It ran diagonally from brow to jaw, weaving through his light stubble. Neville looked hardened and older than his seventeen years. Ginny winced as she remembered pulling his crippled body from the portrait hole.
Even overnight, he had improved immensely. The dittany had done its job sealing his wounds, and most of the bruising on his arm was beginning to heal already. Despite Ginny’s medicinal skill, Neville was still suffering a lot of pain. His cracked ribs made moving and breathing painful, and while the slash to his face appeared scarred and healed, the curse had left its mark, the scar still burning beneath the shiny, new skin.
Neville looked up at Ginny staring at him, a pained expression on her face.
“What,” he grunted.
“You should go to the hospital wing.”
“For the pain – Madame Pomfrey has potions - ”
“I’m fine,” Neville snapped.
Ginny opened her mouth to argue, but just then, a gust of wind announced the arrival of the day’s post as some twenty owls burst in through the east windows of the Great Hall. Peeling her eyes from Neville’s, Ginny looked upwards as a tiny tawny owl hurtled towards her, half lop-sided with the weight of both the Daily Prophet and a letter.
She whisked the owl softly out of the air with cupped hands before he could dump her pumpkin juice all over her lap.
“‘Lo Pig,” Ginny cooed to the excitable owl, who was now hooting excitedly and fluffing his wings up importantly. Sticking his parceled leg out professionally, he promptly tipped over with the weight of the mail. The corners of Ginny’s mouth twitched up as he squeaked in surprise. Gently, she untied the letter and paper from his leg and reached into her pocket for an owl treat absentmindedly, placing the owl on the table.
Pigwidgeon hopped along the table happily and haphazardly as Ginny laid out the Daily Prophet, whipping through the pages to catch a glimpse, a whisper, of Harry, Ron or Hermione’s names. When she reached the end of the paper with no mentions, she frowned and snapped the paper shut. ‘Undesirable No. 1’ glared up at her in big, black letters on the front page. Below it, Harry’s photo grinned up at her sarcastically, pointing at the headline. Ginny smiled sadly, and felt her heart tug towards the paper.
Ginny glanced up, where sympathy and concern were reflected in Neville, Seamus and Luna’s eyes.
“I only read it in case there’s news that could help us know what’s going on out there,” Ginny said, folding the paper roughly in half (Harry’s photo frowned).
“I doubt there’s anyone working at the Prophet these days who truly knows what’s going on, let alone be allowed to publish it if they do have any information,” Luna’s articulate thought was nearly more jarring than Neville’s scar. Ginny frowned.
“You think they’ve been completely infiltrated?”
Luna began braiding her blonde hair and shrugged, her eyes uncharacteristically serious, “You heard Kingsley’s patronus at the wedding… ‘The ministry has fallen’. Surely that can only mean that those working for the Ministry, including those in the Prophet’s office, are essentially working for You Know Who now…” her quiet, airy voice drifted off.
Ginny bristled and thought of her father, snapping, “Just because Ministry employees aren’t saying anything for fear of getting their families killed doesn’t mean-”
Luna laid a tiny white hand on Ginny’s arm and smiled, her eyes kind, “I meant in principle. I’m sure there are very few ministry workers who truly support Him,” she released her hand as Ginny released a breath. “And even fewer who regularly check their offices for nargles,” Luna added, shaking her head seriously.
Neville met Ginny’s eyes and looked away grinning slightly, the tension evaporating.
“So this Thicknesse, then,” Seamus asked seriously, “You think…”
“Imperiused,” Neville nodded, his mouth full, “No question.” Furrowing his brow, he quickly lifted his breakfast plate and pumpkin juice as Pigwidgeon bounced around the table, hooting exuberantly.
“Pig, here,” Ginny called, reaching a hand out, and the tiny owl hopped happily into her hand, hooting softly before curling up under his own wing happily. Ginny smiled sadly at the little owl, thinking of her brother.
Ginny stood, carefully tucking the letter from her family in her robes’ pocket, and stuffing the Prophet under her arm.
“I’m going to take Pig up to the owlery before class. I’ll meet you guys there.”
Neville scowled darkly, while the others shifted in their seats uneasily. Their first class of the day was Defense Against the Dark Arts, with Amycus Carrow, followed by Muggle Studies with Alecto, who had given Neville his scar.
Ginny jogged up to the ornate doorway to the Defense classroom just as the last few students were filing in. As she took her seat between Neville and Luna, her eyes darted around, drinking in as much as she could.
The room, like the rest of the castle, was darker than it had once been. Dim torches flickered off the walls, hardly giving off any heat. The stone walls felt cold and oppressive, where they’d once been warm and welcoming. It seemed as though a blanket of despair had come to rest upon the castle, as if invisible dementors were sliding about. It was unsurprising that Death Eaters had a similar effect on their environment, Ginny thought darkly.
Neville sat stiff and straight beside her, his hands balled into fists, a quiet rage bubbling just beneath the surface. In fact, as Ginny scanned the classroom, a similar stance had been adopted by nearly the entire class, most of whom, unsurprisingly, were members of the DA.
“My, my, but we are hostile today, aren’t we?” Amycus Carrow’s cold drawl drifted throughout the classroom as he entered silently from the back. Heads turned to follow the voice, jaws set and bodies tense.
Carrow seemed to slither down the stairs as he made his way to the front of the room, seemingly unbothered by the palpable enmity surrounding him. He stopped abruptly beside Ginny’s desk, dragging his eyes over her head and coming to rest on Neville’s maimed face. An evil smirk spread across his lips. And then, as abruptly as he had stopped, he continued down the stairs, taking his place behind the large, oak desk at the head of the classroom.
A deafening silence stretched throughout the room as Carrow turned to survey the class.
Finally, he spoke softly, “I never liked Gryffindors. Always so aggressive, so abrasive... so often mistaking bravery...” he looked directly at Neville, “for stupidity.”
Neville’s knuckles were white.
“And Ravenclaws...” he drawled disdainfully, “Always assured they were the smartest in the room, so much better than those around them. Again,” his eyes passed over a few students who had previously belonged to Ravenclaw, “that grandiose, arrogance can get you into trouble...” he trailed off menacingly.
Out of the corner of her eye, Ginny saw Michael Corner and Terry Boot scowling deeply.
“But Slytherins...” he continued, “Ah, Slytherins know their place in this world.” Carrow made eye contact with a student in the back, and Ginny recognized Malfoy with a jolt. He was sitting as far back as possible, half obscured by shadow, with Crabbe and Goyle on either side of him. Even in shadow, Ginny could tell he looked pale, his skin sallow, and his hair disheveled.
“In my experience, Slytherins are the only students who have a bite worse than their bark,” Carrow continued, “They understand self-preservation and see the value in sacrifice. They understand the importance in moving forward... and they know how to follow through.”
Ginny felt an involuntary chill crawl up her spine. Malfoy’s pallid face remained blank and unchanged.
Carrow smirked, seeming pleased with himself.
“I rest assured that our Headmaster’s abolishment of the school houses will eliminate these previous flaws bred by ill-conceived ideas of certain dominant characteristics associated with one’s house...” he trailed off, scanning the class again, “Perhaps, with time, each of you may come to be a useful member of wizardkind, but then...” he paused, his eyes flashing wickedly, “Maybe not.”
Ginny felt her face flush with anger as the tension around her thickened.
“Revelo,” Carrow drawled softly. The front row flinched, but the spell had simply revealed some jagged writing on the chalkboards behind him.
The students scanned the writing on the boards, swallowing and fidgeting nervously in their seats. The names of dozens of curses were scrawled across three chalkboards. Some were familiar to members of the DA, while others were more ambiguous.
Dragging her eyes over Sectumsempra (painful flashes of the attack at the Burrow and Neville’s detention passed through her mind, unbidden), Ginny was trying to decide which was worse: knowing how terrible a curse was, or having no idea what it did... and then she reached the bottom of the last board.
Beneath it all, a single phrase sent chills up Ginny’s spine once more.
Amycus Carrow’s eyes flashed darkly as he brandished his wand, “Welcome to the Dark Arts. Shall we begin?”
Neville made his way awkwardly up the stairs toward the open doors of the hospital wing, panting with the effort of holding up half of Terry Boot’s dead weight. Michael Corner grunted with effort on the other side. Terry was tall at over six feet, and not exactly scrawny. Every step sent a shock of pain through Neville’s body, thanks to his cracked ribs.
As they approached the doors, they spotted Madame Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall deep in discussion. As they approached, Madame Pomfrey looked up and paled, dropping the tray she had been holding; it clanged to the floor, medical ingredients scattering. She hurried to the door as the three boys stumbled over the threshold, tipping Terry onto the nearest available bed.
Neville looked around. The curtains had been drawn around two beds, while three others were occupied by sleeping students. Madame Pomfrey looked pale and strained as she examined Terry. McGonagall looked over her shoulder anxiously, and asked tersely, but not unkindly, “What happened?”
“Class,” Neville spat angrily.
McGonagall and Madame Pomfrey exchanged a furious look before Madame Promfrey met Neville’s eyes. After a beat, she spoke. “I’m going to need more than that, Mr. Longbottom.”
But Neville was distracted...
Michael had melted into the nearest chair, running a shaking hand through his hair, and mumbling to himself, “We were just in class – how can they do that – how... h-how is this happening?”
Madame Pomfrey scurried across the room shaking her head, returning with a smoking goblet. She pressed the cup into Michael’s hand, who seemed surprised to see her standing in front of him.
“Drink,” she ordered.
He took a sip, holding the goblet with both hands to ease the shaking. Madame Pomfrey resumed examining Terry.
“It was one of the Carrows’ classes. The Dark Arts,” Neville said. “He – ”
“This is pepper-up potion isn’t it?” Michael asked, suddenly. “It is. It is, isn’t it? It’s pepper-up potion!” and then he began to laugh.
Neville, alarmed, looked to Madame Pomfrey.
“What’s wrong with him?”
Madame Pomfrey tutted under her breath, helping Michael onto his feet and to the nearest empty bed. Murmuring something softly to Michael, Neville watched as she refilled his goblet and patted his hand gently, before pulling the curtains closed around his bed.
“Is he alright?” Neville croaked.
“Inappropriate emotional response to trauma,” she stated brusquely, “nothing to worry about.”
McGonagall turned to Neville, “You were saying, Mr. Longbottom?”
Neville dragged his eyes from the curtain shielding Michael from view.
“Carrow, he – he made us practice curses on each other.”
Madame Pomfrey glanced up from her examination, her expression dark.
McGonagall’s eyes flashed dangerously.
“Do you know what curse?” she asked tersely.
“Uh... I can’t – there were a lot...” Neville ran a frustrated hand across his sweaty brow. Madame Pomfrey’s expression darkened further as she exchanged another look with McGonagall.
“He threatened us!” Neville yelled, defensively, “We didn’t want to! We didn’t have a choice! He said – he said if we refused, he would use the cruciatus curse on one of us until – until – ” Neville’s voice broke, a lump forming in his throat.
He thought of his detention only a day earlier... of the pain that felt like his skin, his bones, his nerves, were on fire... he heard the young boy’s screams and the crack of his skull on the castle wall. Finally, he thought of a small, frail woman handing him a chewing gum wrapper...
“Shhh...” Madame Pomfrey wrapped a motherly arm around Neville’s shaking shoulders. “Now, now...” Neville blinked back angry tears as his gaze passed over Terry’s unconscious form. He felt himself sag under the weight of the helplessness that threatened to crush them all.
Shifting so she was facing him at eye level, Madame Pomfrey placed her hands gently but firmly on the top of Neville’s shoulders. There was a fierceness in her eyes he had never seen before as she spoke.
“I need you to remember the names of the curses that hit this boy.”
Neville gave an involuntary shudder, shaking his head in attempt to clear it.
“There was... the conjunctivis curse, Reducto, Locomotor Mortis Maximus... ”
Madame Pomfrey’s eyes betrayed her outrage only briefly before she returned to Terry’s side. Lifting an eyelid, she nodded, poking and prodding here and there all the while muttering treatments to herself. Turning Terry’s arm over gently in her hands, she examined his hand. She glanced over at Neville.
“There appear to be burns here. Was there anything else?”
Neville cleared his throat, “There was a... he made us cast it on his wand so that – ” he swallowed with difficulty, “so that when he touched it – when he tried to – it burned him... I don’t remember what-”
“The Flagrante curse,” McGonagall said softly. Neville had nearly forgotten she was there. He nodded, in a daze. McGonagall looked older than she had in years, her face pale and eyes grave, but behind them a veil of greatest concern for her students.
Madame Pomfrey tutted again, and steered Neville across the room to the bed next to Michael’s. Thrusting a goblet of pepper-up potion into his chest, she commanded him to drink.
Neville jerked, surprised, as Madame Pomfrey passed her fingertips tenderly over the scar on his face. Her eyes were steeped in concern.
“Does this still burn?”
Looking away, Neville nodded curtly.
Her eyes passed over the yellowed bruising on his arm, and the hand with which he’d been clutching his left side unknowingly since he arrived in the hospital wing...
“Who healed you?”
Neville met her eyes once more, surprised, “How –?”
“I have already treated two detentions, and you seem to have gotten off easy, which I highly doubt was the case,” her eyes flickered towards the two beds across the wing concealed from view by drawn curtains.
“Ginny. Weasley. She fixed my arm, and this...” he gestured hastily to his face.
Madame Pomfrey examined his arm, turning it over gently as she had with Terry’s.
She pursed her lips, “Not the worst work I’ve ever seen... she’d not make a bad healer.” She met Neville’s eyes, “But next time... you come straight to me.”
Neville nodded, and Madame Pomfrey demanded he drink his pepper-up potion along with a painkiller, and spend the night resting in the hospital wing. He acquiesced without much argument.
Poppy Pomfrey felt as though she was moving slowly, as if through water, as she made her way across the hall and back to the unconscious boy’s form. Brushing some sandy blonde hair off his forehead gently, she shook her head. He was only seventeen.
Significant bruising had already begun to form across his battered body, and the blow to his head had resulted in a mild concussion, but thankfully, no brain damage as far as she could tell. The burns on his hands would need wrapping and solvents, and would be painful for days to come. Curses left their mark, she thought, darkly. At least his vision would be unimpaired, as long as it was treated expeditiously...
Sighing, she pulled a tray of supplies toward her as she looked up at Professor McGonagall.
“Please see Professor Slughorn and alert him that I am in urgent need of a strong Oculus potion. And Minerva – ” McGonagall stopped, having already turned to leave. Madame Pomfrey continued, her eyes wet, “We cannot let this stand.”
Minerva McGonagall nodded stiffly and swept from the room in a quiet fury, renewed hatred and determination coursing through her veins. The hostile takeover of Hogwarts was spinning out of her control; she could feel her students' safety slipping swiftly from her grasp.
But the willingness of the other teachers to help was not lost on her. Nor was the fact that Ginny Weasley had successfully healed the damage done to a single person by a handful of curses, having had no professional healer training... The corners of McGonagall's mouth twitched.
There may be hope yet.
Ginny had crawled her way awkwardly through the Gryffindor portrait hole, swearing colourfully when she bashed her already aching head on the ceiling.
Brushing back her flyaway red hair, now full of static, Ginny waved to Lavender, Pavarti, and a couple of third year girls huddled around the fireplace, who were pouring over Defense. Their class textbooks lay strewn aside, forgotten. Each of them was sporting bruises and bandages - their own rewards from their first Dark Arts class. The nodded at her, turning back to their reading.
Ginny had wanted to go to the hospital wing with Neville, Terry, and Michael, but Neville had insisted she return to the common room. All things considered, Ginny had escaped the class with only minor wounds; she had some considerable bruising on her left arm and leg, as well as one hell of a headache as a result of a particularly strong reductor curse that had sent her crashing over some desks. Rubbing her aching head, Ginny began to climb the winding stone staircase to the girls’ dormitories.
At the landing, she crossed the empty room and tossed the Daily Prophet onto the trunk at the foot of her four-poster. Lifting the now-crumpled letter from her family out of her robes’ pocket, she brushed the envelope with the tips of her fingers. ‘Ms. Ginevra Weasley, Gryffindor House’ was scrawled elegantly across the front, but the house name had been scratched out with malice. Ginny brushed the crumpled seal across the back – a bronze ‘W’ for Weasley - it had been torn open, and roughly, checked for traitorous messages or news of undesirables.
Ginny traced her name and pulled at the crumbled seal gently, as though it was made of glass. There would be no real news in her mother’s words, Ginny reminded herself silently. If there were, the parchment would have been burned and scorched beyond recognition, and would never have been delivered. Unfolding the parchment easily, she drew her four-poster’s curtains around her, and began to read.
Your father and I are missing you terribly (yes, already). Hopefully, your first few days have gone smoothly and you are enjoying your new classes. Your father has, of course, been busy as ever at work, and Fred and George have been busy with their shop. Bill and Fleur have finally gotten settled at the cottage after all the excitement this summer, and Charlie’s decided to stay at The Burrow for a while (just as well that he leaves those dragons where they are and finds himself a girl, if you ask me).
We know you haven’t decided if you’ll be home for the holidasy or not, but we do hope you will consider it. Until then, stay safe, dear.
Missing you always,
Mum and Dad
Ginny traced each one of her family members’ names with delicate fingertips, her eyes watery. The glaring omission of Percy and Ron’s names stood out to her like a burnt hole in the parchment. To an outsider, the letter was normal; a loving note from a girl’s mother. To Ginny, it was a carefully orchestrated reassurance of a family still alive, still fighting.
Regret was etched into every word penned by Molly Weasley, who, Ginny knew, rose every day with regret and fear etched into her mind, having allowed Ginny to return to Hogwarts.
Stubbornly blinking back tears, Ginny reached a small hand under her bed and pulled out a tiny box of unfinished wood with no visible hinges.
Alohomora, she thought.
The box sprung open, revealing several letters, the parchment folds worn and tired from being routinely opened and refolded. Carefully, she folded the most recent letter, adding it to the others. Some of the letters swelled in areas where tears had long dried, betraying the redhead’s outward display of strength. Ginny brushed the letters from her family with her fingers, feeling the sharp folds pass over the flats of her fingers. The pieces of the people she loved lined up in a row - tiny connections of words with no meaning, silent and deafening all at once.
One letter swelled more than any other, its folds near tearing. It leaned, unassuming, against the back half of the box. Ginny brushed all the others, pointedly avoiding the last. She knew its three lines by heart… It was a simple, rushed scribble from Harry, sent last year to the Gryffindor tower from Hogsmeade, letting her know he and Ron would be later to return than they’d intended (Ron had not been able to resist taunting the Slytherins about Gryffindor’s Quidditch Cup win, which had resulted in him and Harry laying low in the Hog’s Head until Malfoy recalled his cronies to the castle). Hermione had huffed disapprovingly, pursing her lips and shaking her head as she’d continued to work on her arithmancy chart, mumbling something about ‘unbelievable pigheadedness’ and ‘irresponsibility’.
Ginny closed the lid with a gentle click, the memory swallowed by the darkness inside the box with no seam. Her thoughts drifted to Harry, Ron, and Hermione… hollowly, she wondered, out of habit, where they were, if they had made any progress…
A wave of emotion engulfed the redhead unexpectedly and she squeezed her eyes closed against the billowing curtain of tears that threatened to fall. Her four-poster curtains still drawn, she breathed ‘Muffliato, and dropped her head to her knees. And only there, in the dark of the abandoned tower that had once belonged to Gryffindor, she allowed herself to cry.
Hermione pulled the locket out of the pocket of her robs and handed it to Ron.
It was as large as a chicken’s egg. An ornate letter S, inlaid with many small green stones, glinted dully in the diffused light shining through the tent’s canvas roof.
[...] She passed it to Harry, who turned it over in his fingers.
© JK Rowling, Deathly Hallows (p. 275)
Hi all. I had actually intended for more to occur in this chapter, but it would have been a novel in and of itself had I continued. The good news is, over half of the next chapter is already written, so it should be a fairly quick update!
My intention here was to show the gravity of the situation sinking in among the school staff (in this case, McGonagall and Pomfrey), as well as to show the widespread effect of the Death Eaters' influence at Hogwarts already (it's only the third day of term!) through Neville's eyes.
If you've followed this story in the past, you might have noticed that I deleted a chapter, and you'll recognize parts of that chapter in this one. I had to do a bit of back tracking, as I realized I had progressed the timeline too quickly. HRH break in at the Ministry of Magic happens on September 2nd, and I wanted to get news of that to Ginny earlier (same week) than what had previously been written (two weeks later).
I hope everyone enjoyed this chapter, despite events being a little limited! Please review, if you like, and keep your eyes out for the next chapter in Ginny's sixth year. Thanks so much for reading!
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