“This is unbelievable,” Ginny grumbled, dropping onto the bench beside Neville and the other seventh years in the Great Hall, nursing her sore left elbow. “We manage to get out of trouble just long enough for them to come up with a way to make sure we get punished anyway!”
They had all just survived their first day of their new detentions; the Carrows had demanded that each time she had a free period, Ginny should report to Amycus’s classroom, where she would receive curse after curse. She had had the misfortune of encountering only Slytherin lessons that day, and though their spells were nowhere near as nasty as the Carrows’, she had still left with a distinct headache.
“All right?” Seamus asked, nodding at her elbow. Once his minor scrapes and bruises from being caught in the entrance hall had been treated, he, too, had been sentenced to play practice dummy for the Carrows’ new lessons.
“A bunch of third-years aren’t going to do much with the Cruciatus Curse,” Ginny said, flexing her arm. “I did it myself on my way out the door.” Seamus gave a snort of laughter, but Ginny smacked his arm. “When do you have your first go, then?” she asked, and his expression sobered.
“Had it already, in our Dark Arts lesson,” he said, nodding to the others. “The one with the Hufflepuffs, and I’ll be honest, seeing Macmillan’s face was just about the best—”
“You do realize that you’re talking about having a curse used on you, don’t you?” Lavender snapped suddenly. “It’s not a Quidditch injury you’re showing off! People die from the Cruciatus Curse, and you’re treating it like some big joke!” Ginny felt a twinge of guilt and looked over at Neville, who was picking at his food. No wonder he was so quiet.
“It’s sick, what they’re doing,” Parvati said, shaking her head. “Teaching us to torture each other, so they don’t have to.”
“Not that they wouldn’t love to,” said Seamus sourly. “I can’t wait to see Malfoy. I can’t wait to make him—”
“Seamus,” Parvati said sharply. “Enough.”
Ginny was not paying attention. She was frowning over at the Ravenclaw table, where Michael Corner, Anthony Goldstein, Terry Boot, and Padma Patil were having a hushed, worried conversation. She touched Parvati’s arm. “What’s your sister talking about?”
For some reason, Parvati visibly stiffened, and she stabbed her potatoes rather ferociously with her fork. “I wouldn’t know,” she said through gritted teeth. “I…er, lost my temper with her. Back when—you know—they all stopped coming to the D.A. meetings.”
“You haven’t talked to her for a month?” Seamus asked incredulously.
“It’s her that won’t talk to me!” Parvati burst out angrily. “She wouldn’t tell me why they were all—”
“Hello,” Neville said under his breath, drawing their attention. “What’s going on here?”
They all looked around to see Ernie Macmillan approaching the Gryffindor table, looking distinctly uncomfortable. He stopped directly between Neville and Ginny and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, as though he didn’t quite know what to say.
“Something we can help you with, Macmillan?” Seamus asked, a little rudely.
Ginny shot him a glare. “Hi, Ernie,” she said kindly. “How are you?”
“Oh—er, fine, grand,” Ernie said airily, waving a hand and nearly hitting a passing fourth year in the face. “I—er—well—”
“Say it, Ernie,” Neville said. “What’s on your mind?”
Ernie glanced over at the Hufflepuff table, where Ginny saw Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones watching the scene anxiously. “We—er—that is to say—Hannah and Susan and I—we were wondering if—if there might be another D.A. meeting…anytime soon.”
“Carrow finally scared you enough to come back, then?” Seamus demanded. “Worried you’ll be the next volunteer?”
“Shut up, Seamus,” said Parvati and Lavender at the same time.
Ginny could see the small cluster of Ravenclaws watching Ernie, as well. “We—well, we could probably have one,” she said slowly, looking at Neville, who nodded. “It sounds like there may be some things we all need to talk about.”
“Seamus,” Parvati snapped.
“Keep your coins on you, then,” said Neville. Ernie made a slight face, but it disappeared quickly.
Ginny frowned. “If that’s all right with you?”
“Of—of course,” he answered. “We’ll wait for your message.”
“Thanks, Ernie,” said Neville, as Ernie turned to leave. He paused, facing Ginny and Neville slowly.
“It’s not right, what they’re doing to you all. You shouldn’t have to take it alone,” he said. “And—” He broke off, looking upset, and hurried away.
Ginny released a slow breath. “I think we’re about to find out just what happened with them.”
Though Ginny never once encountered a Cruciatus Curse that was anywhere near as powerful as the Carrows’ in her remaining detentions, Alecto and Amycus did not seem discouraged from their newfound interest in turning the students against one another. As Neville pointed out, the Carrows obviously had every intention of making the experience worse and worse every time they were punished. This was the appeal, of course, of allowing students to curse each other. Still, as far as Ginny was concerned, less pain meant that she was able to keep her anger and unhappiness in check, which in turn allowed her to avoid getting into further trouble and focus on reuniting Dumbledore’s Army. This was proving difficult, as the Carrows always seemed to be paying very close attention to the Room of Requirement corridor.
“We just won’t get caught,” Seamus said simply.
“Says the one who pitched himself at Carrow and punched him in the face,” said Ginny, and Seamus’s expression soured.
She also kept the nature of the new detentions from Fred and George, whom she heard from on a regular basis via the enchanted Galleons. They could never pass enough information for Dumbledore’s Army to create a newsletter as they used to, but one day in mid-February, Ginny received a message telling her to tune in to Potterwatch that Saturday night.
“See, that means they’ve found a safe place,” she said excitedly, showing the coin to Neville. “We should get everyone together and listen!”
“Brilliant,” he agreed. “All right. I’ll talk to Ernie.”
And so it was with great anticipation that Ginny, Neville, Parvati, Lavender, and Seamus left Gryffindor Tower that Saturday night. Lavender went first, alone, to open the Room of Requirement, and the others followed her in pairs, sticking to the shadows and keeping their eyes and ears open for any sign of Filch or the Carrows. They arrived without incident to find Lavender turning the knobs on a wireless radio that now stood on a table in the middle of the D.A. practice room.
“What’s the password?” she asked, raising her wand.
“‘Gideon,’” said Ginny. “You have to tap—”
At precisely that moment, the door to the Room of Requirement opened, and Ginny looked up. One by one, Susan Bones, Ernie Macmillan, and Hannah Abbott trailed in, followed momentarily by Michael Corner, Terry Boot, Anthony Goldstein, and Padma Patil.
Almost unconsciously, Ginny and Lavender slowly got up and moved to stand with the other Gryffindors. For a moment, nobody spoke, the three groups simply facing each other. It struck Ginny just how small they were, even together; there were precisely twelve people left in Dumbledore’s Army.
Neville, Ernie, and Padma each made a sudden movement, preparing to speak.
They froze midsentence, looking awkwardly between each other.
“Neville’s leader,” Ginny said quietly. “Why don’t—”
“That, right there!” Ernie barked suddenly, pointing at Ginny. “Neville’s the leader, so he gets to speak! He gets to decide what to tell the rest of us! He gets to dictate what we know and how we know it!”
Ginny stared at him. Everyone had been stunned into silence by this outburst. Even Seamus had nothing to say.
“What?” Neville asked at last.
“I mean,” Ernie said angrily, “It was one thing when—when it was just the three of you—you, Neville, and Ginny, and Luna, deciding when to include the rest of us—but then to have to find out—as an afterthought—that Luna had been kidnapped—”
“Afterthought?” repeated Ginny incredulously. “We didn’t tell anybody—”
“We didn’t even know until we came back for the start of term!” Parvati said furiously. “What a stupid thing to get worked up about—”
“Neville and Ginny knew the moment that it happened, apparently!” retorted Padma. “And they hid it from all of us!”
“We weren’t hiding anything!” Neville answered. “We didn’t know what to do! We wanted to protect everybody, and if we all came back to school knowing that Luna had been taken, it would’ve drawn some attention! So we thought we ought to wait, have a meeting, and we’d tell you then—”
“But that’s not what happened, is it?” Michael Corner demanded. “We all just ended up hearing about it one by one, in bits and pieces—”
“I heard about it over the holiday,” Ernie interrupted.
“That is not our fault!” Ginny shouted. “It’s not our fault if you heard about it from anyone else, we intended—”
“You had information,” Ernie said stoutly. “Important information, and you withheld it until you personally felt it was all right to share. You thought we didn’t care enough about Luna to tell us when it happened, right, Neville?”
“That’s not true at all! It was for your protection,” Neville said.
“Why do you think we all need protection?” Padma asked. “It’s downright unfair! Luna was in our house, and you didn’t even think to warn us that she’d been kidnapped, or probably worse—”
“Don’t finish that sentence, Padma,” Parvati spat.
“All right, everyone just shut up for a minute!” Ginny shouted. Her voice echoed around the room. She faced Ernie, holding his gaze for nearly a full minute before she finally spoke. “Ernie, you’re not stupid, but this is idiotic and you know it. Whatever news you heard about Luna, you know that nobody in this room would keep it from you. From any of you,” she added, throwing sharp looks at the other Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. “I didn’t want to risk everyone’s necks by giving them information they shouldn’t have had in the first place. You can be angry at me all you like, because I told Neville to wait until school started again to explain everything.”
She faced Ernie again, who now wouldn’t look her in the eye. “But this isn’t what you’re really angry about, is it?” she asked. “You just wanted a reason to be upset.”
Now, Susan, Hannah, Padma, and the other Ravenclaws were looking curiously at Ernie, who was plainly uncomfortable.
Ernie sighed. “We—” Hannah elbowed him, annoyed. “I thought you were trying to keep us out of your plans. We’re tired of being outsiders.”
“So your solution was to put yourselves on the outside?” Parvati asked Padma, who was avoiding her gaze. “We needed you!”
“Stop, Parvati,” Neville said quietly. “Their solution was to make us feel how they felt. I’m not saying it was a good idea, but…I get it.” He sighed heavily. “And if you all want, I’ll stop being the leader—you can pick somebody else—”
“That’s not what we want, Neville,” Hannah said suddenly. She nudged Ernie’s arm, giving him a pointed look. “Is it?”
As though it cost him something, Ernie met Neville’s eyes and mumbled, “No, it’s not. You’re—you should stay in charge, Neville.”
“Especially since he’s the only one who’s shown that he doesn’t let his emotions decide what we’ve all got to do,” Hannah said firmly, looking around the room. Everyone avoided her eyes, embarrassed. Ginny felt as though she were being told off in a classroom, and stared down at her feet. Hannah’s voice softened. “We never had this problem before. We used to just wait for Harry’s signal and hop to, right then.”
“Harry’s not here,” Padma said, and Ginny felt her heart twist.
There was a sudden crackle, and the radio blared to life. Everyone turned around, startled; Lavender was leaning over it, looking sheepish. “Sorry, I just—we were here to listen—I thought—”
“If you’re tuning into Potterwatch for the first time, welcome,” said a familiar, crackly voice. “It’ll be a short broadcast this evening…”
“Is that—?” Ernie began.
“Lee Jordan,” said Ginny, unable to stop a smile from spreading across her face.
“This is your host, River, and I’m joined as always by my faithful cohorts and protectors of my secret lair, the Rodents,” Lee said. Two more familiar voices made sounds of irritation in the background of the broadcast as Ginny and the rest of Dumbledore’s Army burst out laughing.
“Rodents?” Michael asked.
“It’s Fred and George, you prat! Now, shh,” said Anthony, stepping forward and turning the volume up.
“You’ll be hearing special reports from them in a later broadcast. Tonight, we’ve got an extra-special appearance from new correspondent Rhea. Welcome to the program, Rhea.”
“Tonks,” Ginny said happily, clapping her hands over her mouth. She knew immediately; this was what Fred and George had wanted her to hear. Not only was their family alive and well, but so were Remus and Tonks.
“Thanks, River, glad to be here,” she said.
“We brought you on because we’ve heard you’ve some experience in liaising with our good friends out there, am I right?” Lee asked.
“I’ve had a few encounters with some of the Chief Death Eater’s favorites, you’re correct,” Tonks answered.
“And come out none the worse for wear, I can tell you, listeners,” said Lee, and Tonks snorted.
“But what I’m really here to do tonight is take the job of your regular reporter, Romulus, and his ‘Pals of Potter’ segment,” she said.
“And a wonderful segment it is, a shame Romulus couldn’t be with us this evening, but he will be back next time, folks,” Lee interjected quickly.
Tonks laughed. “I only want to remind everyone listening that they’ve still got a reason to hope. Harry Potter is alive. He’s out there, and maybe, with a little bit of luck, he can hear us right now. And if you listeners can hear us, then that means you’re on his side as well.”
“And what do you have to say to those who stand with Harry?” asked Lee.
“I say protect each other and yourselves,” Tonks answered. “Don’t start fights you can’t finish, but if you have to, then finish on top. If you put yourself in danger, make sure you know it’s because you’ve done what’s right, not what’s heroic. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned lately, it’s that our own desires matter far less that what we’re trying to do together.”
Ginny glanced at Neville, who was staring intently at the radio, and at the rest of the D.A., who were gathered around the table, unconsciously drawing closer to the voice that was speaking to them, reaching through the castle walls to find and reassure them.
Tonks was still speaking. “But that being said, I also have it on good authority that there are some people listening tonight who need to be reminded that they’re not alone, and that they have our full support, no matter what. We’ll be there for them when the time comes, and until then, we all believe in them to stick it out.”
“Well said, Rhea,” Lee agreed. “We thank you for your appearance…”
Ginny reached forward and turned the volume down just slightly. She faced the others, who were all crowded around the radio with the strangest looks on their faces. Hannah’s chin was quivering, and Parvati and Padma were both crying as they embraced. Neville and several others looked as though they didn’t quite know what they had heard, or at least how they ought to respond to it.
As though a spell was being lifted, one by one, everyone seemed to startle back to reality and notice that they were standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder around the little table.
“…That’s it for tonight, everyone. Keep listening. It may be several weeks until our next broadcast, but the password is going to be ‘Phoenix.’ Keep faith. Good night.”
With a last crackle, Lee’s voice faded into silence.
Ernie was staring down at his feet. “I was…”
“An idiot?” Hannah suggested, sniffling, and every one laughed. Ernie even chuckled, raising his head.
“I’m sorry, Neville,” he said, extending one hand. “Really. I haven’t given up, even if I’ve acted like it.”
Slowly, Neville shook his hand. “It’s all right.” He glanced around at Ginny, Parvati, Lavender, and Seamus, who was unusually quiet. “We’re glad to have you back.”
“It’s well past curfew,” said Susan Bones, looking at her wristwatch.
“Who’s up for some dueling practice?” Neville asked. There was a general laugh and murmur of approval. “All right! Divide into pairs,” he called. “Disarming and Stunning at first, and work on your Shield Charms!” As he moved away from her, barking orders and watching everyone jump to obey them, Ginny couldn’t help but grin.
“…John, Lillian, Katie, and Michael Horner, a Muggle family living near Godric’s Hollow…that’s it for today, folks. That list was a bit shorter, but we’d like to stress again the importance of keeping an eye not only on your own families, but taking a moment to ensure the safety of your friends and neighbors, magical or otherwise,” said Lee. “We’d also like to confirm sightings of werewolf Fenrir Greyback, previously thought to have been operating only as a Snatcher for the Muggle-Born Registration Commission. Greyback has been seen with other confirmed werewolves staging attacks against Muggle and wizarding families alike…”
Lavender gave a shudder as she approached Ginny, who was scribbling down Lee’s every word. “That werewolf is disgusting. Murdering children…”
Ginny shook her head. “Don’t think about it. He’ll get what’s coming.”
“Yeah, and I wouldn’t have a problem giving it to him,” Lavender answered viciously.
“How’s it going?” Neville asked, breaking away from the other members of the D.A., who were gathered around a spellbook, trying to learn a new jinx.
“Fine, the broadcast is nearly over. Lee’s started talking to Kingsley again about ways to protect yourself, no more news,” Ginny replied, turning the volume down just a bit. She was feeling in an especially good mood, as she had had the chance to hear both Bill and Charlie over the wireless tonight, as well as Remus. “Listen, I wanted to ask you…how do you want to give these flyers out?”
“Er,” Neville said, “The usual way, I suppose. Why?”
Ginny bit her lip. “I was thinking…maybe we’ve been going about this all wrong.”
“What d’you mean?” asked Lavender.
“Well, thanks to Malfoy, the Carrows know that as soon as Filch or Mrs. Norris spots anything out of the ordinary, they’ll be able to track us down to one room. Even if we all get in safely with the new protections, they can just wait us out,” Ginny explained.
“Okay,” said Neville slowly.
“And now,” she continued, “They think they’ve narrowed us down to just the five of us.” She gestured from herself to Neville and Lavender, and then over to where Seamus and Parvati were practicing nonverbal Impediment Jinxes. “What if we scatter throughout the entire castle? Forget about trying to target one big place and get as many small places as we can?”
“The Charms corridor…near the common rooms,” Lavender said slowly, nodding. “I kind of like it.”
“We’d go in pairs,” Ginny said quickly, for she had seen uncertainty in Neville’s expression. “We can write on the walls, and we could drop as many flyers as we want.”
“And if one of us is caught, and the Carrows drop them in Dark Arts to get tortured for the whole group?” Neville asked.
“That’s no longer a reason to hesitate,” Ginny insisted. “Everyone here is tired of being left behind, or feeling forgotten.” Neville said nothing for a moment. “Ask them. Ask them if they’ll be willing to risk it. If anyone says no…I’ll drop it, but…well, you know which way I vote.”
“And me,” Lavender said immediately. Ginny gave her a smile.
Neville sighed and turned away, facing the others. “Hey, you lot!” he called. People fell silent mid-jinx and a few Disarmed wands clattered to the floor as they stopped what they were doing. “Listen for a minute. We’ve got something interesting to discuss with you.” He nodded at Ginny, who was taken aback.
“Er…okay,” she said, standing. It took little more than a minute to explain her idea, and when she had, she was met with nine concerned expressions. “Really—if anyone—you know—isn’t willing to wind up in detention for all of us, we’ll find another way.”
“Now who said anything about that?” Ernie demanded. Hannah threw him a sharp look and dug an elbow into his ribs. “Ouch—er, I meant…I was just thinking…and I don’t know if anyone else thought this…but it sounds like you want to really start an all-out confrontation. Am I right about that?”
Ginny bit her lip. “Well, I’m not saying we ought to start dueling in the middle of Muggle Studies, but…in a manner of speaking, yes. I think we ought to step up our resistance. If the Carrows want to torture us, or have our friends do it, fine, but they had better be prepared for a hell of a lot of trouble, because—because they don’t scare me. And I don’t think they scare the rest of you, either.”
Ten pairs of eyes swiveled over to Neville, who was staring at Ginny, his expression unfathomable. “I think,” he said slowly, “it’s high time we started paying the Carrows back with a bit of their own medicine.”
“Just to be clear, we’re talking about sneaking out a lot?” Susan asked.
“Well…er, every night, if we want,” said Ginny.
Neville nodded his agreement. “As much as it takes, I’d say.” He looked at the others. “Who’s ready to really make Snape’s life hell?” Grins were flashing around the room, and Ginny couldn’t stop herself from beaming at Neville. “Right, then!” he said enthusiastically, clapping his hands. “Let’s—”
“—This just in, we have a first on the Potterwatch program, listeners, we have a breaking news bulletin.” Lee’s voice burst suddenly, loudly through the air, breaking the normal chatter of the broadcast, and Ginny hurried to turn the volume up, her heart racing. Something irrationally hopeful that had sprung suddenly to life in the bottom of her heart told her that perhaps tonight she would hear some word of Harry, Ron, or Hermione—
“Following a report received only moments ago by two of our correspondents, we regret deeply to inform you all of the deaths of—of Frank and—Roxanne Johnson, and of Henry and Mei Chang…”
The pit of Ginny’s stomach seemed to fall away. “Johnson?” she whispered, as Terry Boot gasped, “Cho.”
“We can confirm with—with absolute certainty,” Lee pressed on, though he sounded as though something was caught in his throat, “That the Johnsons’ daughter, a recent graduate of Hogwarts, is alive, and—and we are awaiting confirmation—of the same—regarding the Changs’ daughter. The Johnsons’ remains were found hidden in their—their home after weeks of search—oh, bloody hell—” There was a clunk on the other side of the wireless, and the distinct sounds of Lee walking away from the table.
A slow, deep, reassuring voice came over the radio almost instantly. “Listeners, please allow us a moment to resolve an issue with the broadcast,” said Kingsley.
In the beats of crackling silence that followed, Ginny felt her knees give way, and she sank ungracefully into her chair. She didn’t know why she had thought for a moment that it would be good news, even if it had been about Harry. She was so lost in thought, numb with shock, that she almost didn’t hear Neville’s words.
“Get in contact with Cho, I don’t care how you do it, just don’t let the letter get intercepted. And I want someone to have word from Angelina by tomorrow!” he was ordering, his jaw set. “They may not be here with us, but they’re still on our side!”
Ginny gaped at him. In one, infinitesimal moment, he had ceased to be Neville. He had ceased to be the boy who had shyly, fumblingly asked her to the Yule Ball. He had ceased to be the boy who had pocketed his mother’s gift of a bubblegum wrapper. He had ceased to be the boy who had tried to kiss her. He was someone else entirely.
“Seamus, you’re on the best terms with Katie Bell, so you’re in charge of collecting all information on Angelina. Just in case anyone else hears from her, tell Seamus straight away!” he said. “Terry, the same for Cho. Find her, find out where she is and what she might need.” He faced Ginny. “We should get the twins to check on anyone else they can find, too. We’ve been ignoring them all for months,” he said furiously. “But we’re going to need them, and they need to know we’re here when they need us. I feel so stupid, we should’ve—we should’ve paid more attention—”
“Neville,” Ginny laughed weakly, placing her hands on his shoulders. “It’s okay.”
He took a deep breath and nodded once. Then he turned and faced the others. “We’re going out tomorrow night, you lot. Ready?”
“Beyond ready,” said Hannah immediately.
“Partners from different houses?” asked Michael Corner.
Neville nodded. “All right. Meet here tomorrow night an hour after curfew.”